2/13/14

After the riotous fun of last week, this night was fairly calm. I referred to it as more of a “Politics Night,” filled with discussion and preparation for the next major plot points. I will elaborate on these discussions, of course, but if you want the thumbnail sketch, you can just read Chris’s summary:

“Everyone argues in Paul’s kitchen. Paul takes a shower. Everyone leaves. Paul shows a pirate how to use a cellphone. End of night.”

***

This evening was particularly notable because it heralded the arrival of our very first NPC Guest Star! See, when Jason was preparing the world of our game, he populated it with many characters from previous World of Darkness games he has played. Most of them are his own, but some of them are the characters of friends of his, which he used with permission.

Interestingly, though, some of these friends actually volunteered to play these characters for us in the game. The friends are rather far-flung so have to Skype in, but actually this ends up working out for the better since they can just Skype in and out as needed.

Anyway, tonight we were introduced to Ben, a PhD student in behavioral ecology at the University of Texas, Arlington (so very very slowly, the biologists are starting to outnumber the non-biologists. Muahahaha.). Ben is a pretty cool guy who doesn’t afraid of anything, but things started off kind of slow since we had to catch him up on a few major points:

Jason: “When last we left off, we had actually finished Sunday! It is now MONDAY!”
Kara: “March 2nd!”
Me: *flips through notes* “Jesus, it’s only Day 19??
Jim: “Day 19…fourth character—”
Ben: “Oh my god!!”
Jason: *to Ben* “Yeah, Jim here is on his fourth character, Chris is on his first but went through a second on the way there. Kara is on her third…oh wait no, second. Yes. All the death has been Jim’s.”
Chris: “Yes, but who caused all the death?”
Everyone, simultaneously: “COLLEEN.” *everyone looks at me*
Me: *Sputters for a few seconds, then hangs head in shame*
Jason: “…Yeah.”
Kara: “Stop killing us!”
Me: “Wha, it’s not on purpose!! …Except when it was on purpose—“
Jason: “Uh, it was, in nearly every case!”
Jim: “You have been directly or indirectly responsible for Every. Single. One!
Me: “Except Clarence!”
Jason: “Well Clarence may or may not be dead! But besides him, every single one!”
Me: *hangs head in shame……..but also a little pride.*

#

Recall that Paul had Gates arrange for Georgia and himself to be shipped to the Portola house over the course of the day, so as the night opens, they are in crates in the garage.

(Kara: “What, they didn’t unpack us??”
Chris: “Oh, yeah, I’m going to have human people just randomly remove my, for some reason, unawakening corpse-like body into my garage.”
Jason: “Generally you don’t want UPS to find your undead shriveled corpse.”
Me: “Yeah, they can barely handle my Amazon packages.”)

Anstis is one of the first to wake up, just after sundown. After he secretly stole Fatima’s contact info from me, he went outside to sleep, burying himself in the loose dirt of Paul’s recently-created flower bed. Once twilight falls, he digs himself out of the recently-created flower bed.

Which of course ended up nearly-destroying Paul’s recently-created flower bed.

Anstis hears a crash coming from the garage and goes to investigate. He finds Paul kicking himself out of his packing crate.

Anstis frowns. This complicates things. See, he had been hoping to get a jump on kidnapping (literally) Marcus and contacting Fatima before everyone else woke up (that or trying to diablerize him. Jim hadn’t decided, though he aaaagonized over the decision all week, not really liking any of his options. He couldn’t figure out how he got shoehorned into becoming the party villain, again, for the fourth time!!).

Anstis turns to leave before Paul notices him, but it’s too late.

“Ah, Mr. Anstis! You’re up early! Here, walk with me.” Paul strides out, heading toward the garden. Anstis grumbles and follows.

Paul walks along the path in the gathering twilight. “Mr. Anstis, do you have a trade?”

Anstis eyes him suspiciously. “Aye, that could be….”

“You captained a ship, did you not? Would you say you have leadership skills?”

“In a manner of speaking….”

(Jason: “His crew did murder him.”
Chris: “Yeah but I don’t know that.”)

Paul nods. “Can you size up a man pretty quickly?”

Anstis nods, wondering where this is going (as are we all).

“Would you mind doing a job for me?”

“Depends on the job, but speak yer piece.”

Paul stops and turns to Anstis, putting his back to the flowerbed. “You are in an area known as the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s on the west side of the continent of North America. The body of water we flew over last night, that’s the bay. On the east side of it is a place called Oakland. There is a relatively new player there, a man named Helgi. Old vampire. Possibly a viking.”

Anstis scratches his (damn-fool) beard. The name seems passingly familiar, but he’s not entirely sure where he’s heard it before, nor does he remember any details.

Paul picks up a hose and turns to the flowerbed, then stops. “Jesus, the gophers have gotten bad,” he mutters, then starts watering the undisturbed parts of the bed. “Anyway, he showed up six or seven months ago and he’s been giving the local management of Oakland some problems. I want to know why he’s here, what he wants, and what conditions he would find acceptable for cooperation.”

“And what be yer stake in the matter?”

Paul is silent for a few moments, watching the water spray. “I have a vested interest in the power structure of the Bay Area remaining stable.”

“Interesting. Then why don’t you solve this problem yourself?”

Paul finishes with the bed and starts on the shrubs. “I’m spread a little thin lately,” he says, still not turning around.

Anstis frowns and looks at the house and the grounds. Paul is obviously a man of some means to be the purveyor of such a fine manor. Perhaps a governor or something. “How soon do you need this handled?”

“Tonight would be ideal. If possible I would have Tom go with you. He knows the area, he could keep you up to speed. You two…” Paul glances over his shoulder, expression carefully neutral, “might complement each other well.”

Anstis nods, also keeping his real opinions of me silent for the moment. “I have been at a bit of a disadvantage in the modern age.”

(Jason: “You know, between the two of you, you’d make one pretty good vampire.”)

“And what are you offering for payment?” Anstis asks, always one to keep his eye on the ball. “I seem to be without a ship.…”

They haggle about compensation for a bit. Paul offers money but Anstis, of course, prefers gold. (Jason points out, though, that pirates didn’t often deal in gold, as much as they would have liked to. Hard currency was mostly silver, but what they dealt in most often was commodities. Jim points out that if Paul was smart he would offer to pay Anstis with the spices in his kitchen.)

But they reach an agreement. Anstis will either be or lead a delegation to meet with Helgi, in exchange for financial compensation, as well as continuing lessons on how to survive in the modern age.

(Kara: “Oh my god, he’s going to learn everything about modern vampire society…from…PAUL!!”)

#

I wake up in the cellar not much later. I lay on the flagstones, staring up at the dimly-lit wine racks, trying to remember where I am.

Then the events of the evening, specifically the conversation with Fatima and Anstis, come back to me. I bolt to my feet.

Marcus is still there, untouched but apparently still unconscious. I relax a little and examine him closer. His skin is still deathly pale, obviously, but it seems slightly less pale than the night before.

“Tom!” Paul is approaching down the aisle of the cellar, followed by Anstis. “Good evening.”

I nod at them. “Paul. Captain. Has anyone checked on Norton?”

We look around. When I last saw him, he was in a corner near the stairwell, but now there is no sign of him. The dust where he was sitting looks a little disturbed, but there it doesn’t look like there’s been a struggle.

“We best be finding the emperor,” Anstis says.

I’m a little concerned, but not overly so. So long as he doesn’t wind up captured and tortured by the Tremere again he’ll probably be alright. He can’t see, of course, but something tells me that won’t stop him. I’m really hoping he just wandered off toward home so he can feed his dogs. I’ve been meaning to check on them for days now and haven’t gotten the chance.

(Speaking of Malkavian primogens, we decide that Gates had the tote bag containing Sebastian’s head also shipped to the house and that it’s now in the fridge.)

Anyway. “We do,” I nod, “But right now I’m more concerned about Marcus….”

“Aye,” Anstis nods, giving me a Significant Look. I glare at him.

“Alright, I will look for the Emperor. Tom, see if you can rouse Marcus.”

“And what should we do about that?” Anstis asks, still with a winkwinknudgenudge tone to his voice that I don’t like at all.

I ignore him. “Paul do you have any blood on hand?” It just so happens that he does, he gets small shipments of (organic grass-fed) cow’s blood delivered to the house every day. It’s not much, but it’ll help. Still ignoring Anstis’s grinning face, I fetch Marcus’s body and bring him to the kitchen.

We lay him on the granite countertop. Paul pulls two large industrial-looking metal flasks from the fridge. “The blood isn’t very strong, so you might need to use yourself as a filter,” he says as he plops them down in front of me.

I hesitate. My first concern is, of course, my disease, but then I remember that duh, vampires can’t get AIDS. My next worry is accidentally instigating a blood bond. On a cursory level, something like that might be beneficial to me, but I also know about Marcus to suspect that he’s had experience with unwilling bonds in the past and doesn’t. like it.

“I don’t know,” I mutter, staring at the flasks.

Anstis steps forward. “Or I could do it.”

I glare and grab a flask. “Nooooope, I’ll do it.” I pry the lid off and start choking the cow blood down.

The three of us lean in, watching Marcus’s reaction carefully as I bite my wrist and drip blood into his mouth. He stirs very slightly but doesn’t wake up. Still, that’s better than we’ve seen so far.

Anstis wanders off, possibly to try and steal something. Paul announces that he’s going to take a shower, and not-so-subtly suggests that I use it myself when he’s done with it. It’s true, I am currently still splashed with mud from the marsh, dust from the explosion, and even dirt from waking up on San Bruno mountain the night before. Right now, though, I don’t want to let Marcus out of my sight, especially with Anstis prowling around ominously. Paul leaves, and I drink the second flask to repeat the feeding process.

#

About this time, Georgia wakes up in her crate in the garage. She too kicks her way out and spills out onto the floor of the garage, coughing up packing peanuts. No one is around so she checks her phone. Unfortunately, it is dead from saltwater, likely during her relaxing Alcatraz swim yesterday evening.

She sighs. On the one hand, many of the Tremere leadership who are likely currently trying to get ahold of her can’t reach her. But on the other hand, many of the Tremere who would normally try to reach her are quite possibly currently dead. She puts the phone back in her pocket and leaves the garage to find the rest of us.

She finds Anstis skulking around the garden and he leads her to the kitchen. I’m still leaning over Marcus, dripping blood into his mouth.

“Hey, do you know where Paul is?”

“He’s in the shower,” I mutter, concentrating on my task at hand.

“Ah. Um, do you have a phone that I could borrow…?”

I roll my eyes and stop what I’m doing to pull my phone out (since I still only have the one hand) and hand it to her.

“Thanks.” She dials the phone number for the Seattle Chantry. Anstis watches her carefully.

The call picks up almost immediately.

Speaker: “Yes? Who is this?”
Georgia: “Hi, this is Georgia Johnson, calling from San Francis—“
Speaker: “I’m sorry, we don’t know any Georgia Johnson.”
Georgia: “…From the San Francisco Chantry, checking in?”
Speaker: “I’m sorry, ma’am, you must have the wrong number. Have a nice day.”

The call hangs up. Georgia stares at the phone in confusion.

(Jason: “You called from a number they don’t recognize. There is no Tremere Chantry. There is no Georgia Johnson. There is no vampire-dom. There is nothing.”
Kara: “Goddamit, there isn’t, like, a phone-tree I can call or something?”
Jason: “Well, there is another number you could try. You do know the number for the San Francisco Chantry.”
Kara: “What? Why would I call that?”
Jason: “…That’s a good point.”
Me: *Gasp* “You should call Bell!”
Kara: “That’s not a bad idea actually.” *mumbles* “Except Georgia thinks he’s incompetent.…”
Me: “…What!?”
Kara: “He is kinda incompetent! He showed up and was like, I’m going to fix everything! And then everything fell more apart!”
Chris: “Yeah, he tried to punch it back together.”
Me: “I know! That’s why he’s amazing!!”)

Georgia decides that Bell is probably the next best option—if he’s still alive—so gives his number a try.

Bell: “…Yes?”
(Me: “Yaaaaaay he is alive!”)
Georgia: “Mr. Bell?”
Bell: “Is this Johnson? Where are you?”
Georgia: “I’m…with everyone else, for the moment.”
Bell: “And where the hell is everyone else?”
Georgia: “In a safe place, for the moment.”
Bell: “I think you should be a little more specific. Are you certain that where you are is a safe place for the moment?”
Georgia: “Yes.”
Bell: “How is—nevermind. What’s going on?”
Georgia: “What happened at the Chantry last night?”
Bell: “That is a very good question. Something ate everyone.”
Georgia: *barely keeping the excitement out of her voice* “Did it eat Max?”
Bell: “…I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. Last I saw of Max, well…it wasn’t pretty.”
(God we can only hope so.)
Georgia: “He didn’t eat you?”
Bell: *pause* “Not for lack of trying.”

Bell says that the court of the city—what remains of it—is slowly gathering. He has plans to lead an investigation to the Chantry later that evening to see if there’s any other information about what happened, and possibly to simply burn the whole place to the ground. He needs her to talk to Seattle to try and spin this, since they’re not going to be pleased to hear he ordered the Chantry destroyed. She agrees to meet him in the city as soon as she can.

Bell: “So…you said everyone else is alright? Who is ‘everyone else’?”
Georgia: “Uh, well, Tom and Paul, so, there’s that, at least. I don’t know anything about Clarence.”
Bell: “I unfortunately do.”
Georgia: “Is he alive?”
Bell: “That’s the bad news. Yes.”
Georgia: “…What’s the good news?”
Bell: “There isn’t any.”
Georgia: “What’s…the more bad news?”
Bell: “He’s not…. Well, I don’t know what Perkins did to him, but he seems to have…cloned him or something.”
Georgia: “Oh yeah! We noticed that! That was kinda fun, actually.”
Bell: “Really. How fun was it?”
Georgia: “Uh, well he kept coming at us with enchanted swords that ate us—“
Bell: “I had to kill him eighteen times on my way out the door.”
(Ben: “That got surreal.”
Chris: “Oh, well you missed the part where my character fought him by dual-wielding his own severed right-arms holding swords.”)
Bell: “How did you escape?”
Georgia: “We, ah, used a Chantry exit point….”
Bell: “I’m going to need you to be more specific.”
Georgia: *hems and haws* “Urg, well…a teleport circle.”
Bell: “…Alright. Where is it located and where does it go?”
Georgia: “It’s in the basement of the Chantry and I don’t know if it goes to the same place every time.”
Bell: “…Goddammit. I’ve had SFPD staking out that building since early last night. Nothing has come out of that damned building, but if there’s teleport circles riddled through it….” *frustrated pause*  “I assume, then, that that was you guys on Alcatraz?”
Georgia: “….Yeah….”
Bell: “Do I want to know what happened out there?”
Georgia: “Umm….”
Bell: “Is it relevant to what happened yesterday?”
Georgia: “Not…really, actually. I mean, there will be an accounting of it—“
Bell: “Oh you have no idea. Were you party to what was going on there?”
Georgia: “No, and if I had been, I would have blown it up before last night. Also, have you heard from Van Brugge, the high-ranking Tremere that Max was calling in?”
Bell: “…No.”
Georgia: “Well, when you hear from him, I need to speak with him immediately.”

Someone suddenly appears in the kitchen, directly in front of Georgia. She yelps and jumps back. I tense, grabbing for the sword at my belt. Anstis bares his claws.

“Situation report. Now,” he barks, arms folded sternly across his chest.

Georgia gapes at him. “Bell, uh…. I’m going to have to call you back….” She ignores Bell’s confused protests and hangs up the phone.

Now that I’m passing my initial shock, I’m able to examine the man a little more closely. He is semi-translucent, the edges of his body shimmering in odd ways. I realize that he must be some sort of projection.

But I still don’t take my hand away from my sword.

His clothes are simple—a well-cut but rather stodgy set of tweed—but the things layered on top of the suit are not. He’s sporting armor, a combination of chain-mail and kevlar, and a rather not-stodgy sword hangs at his waist.

“So,” he says in a voice accented somewhere between German and Dutch, glaring right at Georgia. “I am here at the Chantry, and someone has eaten everyone! To use an English expression: What. The fuck.”

Georgia buries her face in both hands. “Sir! I am so glad to see you, everything has gotten completely fucked, and I don’t know how much if it is Max’s fault, and how much of it goes all the way up to Seattle, but there is so much you need to know!”

She starts rattling off about Max letting demons into the chantry, and the gargoyle factory on Alcatraz. Anstis and I trade a look and start to stand down somewhat. It’s obvious that she knows this guy, so we’re probably alright for now.

But it’s also obvious that this is probably the high-ranking Tremere everyone has been talking about, so I don’t stand down all the way.

The man listens through Georgia’s spiel without interrupting, nodding. “I see,” he says when she drifts to a halt. “The gargoyle factory, has it been neutralized?”

Georgia glances at us. “Uh, yes? Mostly. I mean there might still need to be some cleanup done—”

“Who else knows about this facility?”

“Well, Max, who is completely MIA. And…everyone in this room, obviously. And Paul, who is upstairs taking a shower.”

The apparition looks Anstis and I up and down. “Other factions? Sects? Clans?”

“No, just everyone in this room,” Georgia says confidently, but her face falls as she remembers something: her meetings with Abelard, the ones that tipped her off to something weird going on at Alcatraz in the first place. “And…maybe the Nos..fera…tu….” she adds.

The man’s face remains flat, but his eyes narrow. “Scheisse.”

“Yeah, I mean, they don’t know whats’ going on there, but the Nosferatu have been very, very suspicious of kidnappings that have been going on for the last couple of months—“

“And rightly so!” Anstis chimes in, staring intently at the man while idly dragging one claw across the granite countertop.

“—And based on what I saw yesterday I’m about ready to let them go nuclear.”

The man sighs. He produces a handkerchief from somewhere under the armor, takes off his glasses and starts cleaning them. “Ok. So this is a clusterfuck. So. Here’s the problem. What do you know about the person who ran the place?”

“Leopold? He, ah, got away….”

“Oh, wunderbar….”

“Oh, and by the way, Emperor Norton knows too, but he’s missing.”

The man nods, still focused on his glasses. “Ja, he’s Emperor Norton.” He makes no other comment. Georgia looks at me. I shrug.

The man holds his glasses up to the kitchen light to inspect them, which is rather ostentatious considering that, for him, they’re not really there. “Ok. And why do you have Marcus on the table?”

I freeze. Christ, why is it that when Marcus is awake, he can run around town like nobody’s business, but the minute he’s incapacitated, everyone in the world knows exactly who he is.

Georgia looks at me again. This time I look at her stoically, but I tap the hilt of my sword idly with my missing left hand.

“Because…he’s not feeling well….” she says carefully.

“Right. Ok.” The man puts the glasses back on. “So. You mentioned a demon eating everyone in the Chantry. I need to know everything.

“Ok, well, he goes by the ‘Night Devil,’ or ‘The Man of Wind,’ or…. Gnaeus Perpenna?”

The man’s body remains still, but his eyes go very, very wide. “Mother of god,” he says.

“Yeah, apparently he’s…Marcus’s sire?”

“Yes. I know.” He doesn’t say anything further. We watch as his form pauses to rub his temples. “Ok. So. First of all, if anything happens to Marcus, I will slaughter you all, no questions asked. We are old friends.” He pauses. “Or at least frenemies.”

Well, I don’t know if I really trust this guy—survey results all point to “no”—but at least I have no problem following those instructions.

Anstis, though, apparently gets a very different idea on what it takes to, quote, “keep things from happening to Marcus.” While the man rattles off more imperious commands to Georgia and the rest of us, Anstis walks to the kitchen table, snaps off a leg of a chair into a stake, and comes at Marcus with it.

(Jason: “Christ. Ben, do you see? Do you see what I have to deal with??”
Ben: “Well I can’t really see who’s doing what yet….”
Jason: “Our pirate-y friend is running at Marcus with a stake.”
Ben: “Ah. Well, Jim, I hate to say it, but you may be going through a fifth character….”)

It happens fast, before anyone understands what he’s doing. Anstis lifts the stake and—

STOP!!” a voice commands from the doorway to the kitchen. It’s commanding with Awe, so we all immediately obey. It’s Paul, of course, who’s definitely getting better with his Presence abilities.

Although, to be completely honest, at least part of the Awe’s effect might have come from the fact that he has just run into the kitchen completely naked.

“What the HELL is going on in my kitchen??”

Georgia, Anstis, and I have varying expressions of deer-in-the-headlights on our faces. The man, though, is still calmly standing with his arms folded.

“Guten Abend,” he says.

Paul whirls on him. “Who the hell are you?”

“I am Adrianus van Brugge. What the hell is that pirate doing?”

Anstis grumbles and puts the stake down. “You specifically said you wanted Marcus delivered. I’m ensuring that be the case.”

Van Brugge—whose identity I suspected but has only now been confirmed—looks at Anstis flatly. “Your ensuring him will not be required. In his state I don’t think he’s going anywhere.”

Paul pulls himself into Diplomacy Mode, nudity-be-damned. “Mr. van Brugge, I didn’t expect to see you in my kitchen…if you are in my kitchen….”

Van Brugge looks down at his incorporeal self. “Yes, well, this is somewhat more expedient than having to communicate by telephone or…using my feet.”

“Ah. I assume you’ve been filled in my Ms. Johnson?”

“We are in the process of it, yes.”

“Well. I’ll leave you to it then.” Paul turns to me. “Tom, the shower is available….”

I nod. Now, though, I am even less inclined to let Marcus out of my sight. I lean against the counter next to him, trying to keep Anstis and van Brugge in my vision at the same time. Paul rolls his eyes and leads Anstis to the shower instead (and then has to hang around to show him how to use it).

I feel Marcus stir slightly. I immediately lean down to check on him. He’s still unconscious, but muttering words I can’t make out. I bite my wrist open and try feeding him some more, hoping this time it will catch.

I’m so focused that I momentarily forget I’m not the only person in the room.

“I take it,” van Brugge says, “that this is to deal with his current condition?”

I glance up. Van Brugge’s apparition has moved across the kitchen to get a better look at what I’m doing. “Yeah, he seems to be…marginally improving.”

“What is the cause?”

The blood flows briefly faster as I clench my fist. “Whatever the hell that shi—“ At the last moment, I remember who I’m talking to and stop.

Van Brugge rolls his eyes. “You can go ahead and say it, I was probably going to kill that bastard anyway.”

“Right.” Huh, never say the Tremere never did anything for you, I guess. “Whatever that jackhole Max and his douche-squad gave to him, then.”

Now that Max’s name has been brought up again, Georgia leaps at the opportunity to throw him under the bus. She says she thinks he’s been working with the Sabbat, which van Brugge doubts, until Georgia points out that Sebastian had been seen hanging around with the Sabbat and he seemed to be doing some sort of gargoyle-trade deal with Leopold when we snuck up on them.

Van Brugge…really doesn’t like this. He glances at me and grudgingly concedes that Leopold might have been working off-reservation. He says that he and Georgia need to talk about these things further, but he would rather do it someplace safer: the Chantry.

Georgia blinks. “Um…isn’t the Chantry, first of all, destroyed, and second of all, being watched by the mortal police?”

“It is secure now.”

“Ah. Ok, I’ll…be there as soon as I can. Oh, also my cell phone isn’t working, so I’ll be out of contact until I get there.”

“No. You won’t be,” van Brugge says, his expression still carefully flat.

“Ah. Well then, I’ll…see you soon?”

“I have already taken the liberty of calling you a cab.”

Paul and Anstis return. Antsis is freshly showered, but unfortunately still smells like something freshly beached (apparently it’s a Flaw). He has, though, acquired new clothes, courtesy of Paul.

But since it’s Paul, the only clothes the had to offer were jeans and a black mock-turtleneck.

The cab arrives then. Before Georgia leaves, Paul takes her to his office and digs out an extra phone and SIM card to give to her. Anstis and van Brugge’s apparation have also followed, though. Paul hides the phone from both of them and taps a quick message in the notepad app before handing it to her:

DONT DIE

Georgia reads it and embraces him in a quick hug, much to the confusion of Paul and everyone else. By now the cab is honking, so Georgia bids us all a goodbye and runs out. Van Brugge observes her departure out the window, looks at the rest of us, then disapparates without another word.

“Guy’s worse than Ellison,” Paul mutters.

That’s a pretty high bar, but…I don’t protest.

Paul looks at Anstis and I and claps his hands. “Right, well…. Tom are you going to stay here with Marcus?”

I look down at him. He hasn’t improved any further. “I guess. I mean, we still don’t know what’s wrong, and…I guess here is safe enough….”

Even as I say those words, though, I start to doubt them. Not one but two Assamites have wandered into this house over the last couple of weeks, and I’m starting to get concerned that Fatima might change her mind about waiting for a formal contract before coming after Marcus. Van Brugge, of course, also knows we’re here, and he’s definitely an unknown entity I’d like to avoid entirely.

Paul looks between Anstis and me. “Why don’t you two get better acquainted. See if you can work together.”

I sigh. Right, yes, and there’s also this to deal with….

Paul grabs a flashlight from a kitchen drawer. “In the meantime, I’m going to see if I can find Norton.”

Obviously Anstis can see me glaring at him, but all he does is grin. He looks at me and jerks his chin toward Paul.  “I do believe your boss here had a job for you.”

My glare goes from icy to glacial. “I do believe my boss HERE,” I jerk my head toward Marcus, “needs me here at the moment.”

Anstis turns to Paul. “You haven’t told him yet?”

Paul sighs and walks to the door. “He’s…willful. And there’s not any…well…we can wait a while and see if Marcus improves.”

I turn my eye-daggers onto Paul. “Tell me what?”

“I thought there was a rush on this,” Anstis says to Paul.

Paul sighs, hand on the door, and turns to address Anstis. “A few hours won’t make any difference. A day will.”

Oh heeeeeeeell no. This talk-about-me-like-I’m-not-even-there-like-you-would-a-child is getting shut down ASAP. Christ, I wonder if this is the shit Marcus has to put up with….

I’m about ready to blow up when Paul finally turns to me. “I need someone to go to the East Bay to talk with Helgi.”

I lean back against the counter and fold my arms. “I’m not going anywhere until Marcus gets better or we figure out something to get him better.”

“We can always bring him along,” Anstis says. “It’s not like he weighs a lot.”

Seriously?? What the fuck is wrong wi— “Yeah, I’m sure that bringing an unconscious Methusula into the middle of an Anarch den is a great idea!”

Anstis shrugs. “Do you not have crates in this age? Maybe a barrel?”

Pretty sure I have to spend some willpower to avoid face-palming. Instead, I set my face into the flattest glare possible. “Even if we did that, things that are valuable to me tend to get taken away from me lately, so…no. Still a bad idea.”

Paul finally opens the door to the garden. “Well, a half hour won’t make a difference. You guys talk. I’m going to find Norton.” With that he walks out.

Anstis and I stare at each other across the counter, Marcus lying between us. Anstis looks down at Marcus and looks like he’s about to say something, but then my phone rings.

I pull it out. It’s Bell. Urg, thank god.

“I gotta take this,” I mumble, and turn away to answer.

Bell: “Lytton. What the fuck is going on down there?”
Me: “Well right now we’re looking for Norton, but besides that…not that much.”
Bell: “Where. Is. The Tremere?”
Me: “She’s headed back to the Chantry.”
Bell: “She’s what?”
Me: “Yeah apparently they have it secured again.”
Bell: *silence a few moments* “I have a hundred cops camped outside that building! No one has been in or out!”

“Who are ye talking to?” Anstis growls, eyeing me suspiciously. I wave him off.

Bell: “Where are you and what are you doing?”
Me: “We’re at Paul’s place.”

Anstis moves around the counter, trying to get a closer look at my phone. I pivot out of his reach.

Bell: “What happened last night?”
Me: “Well we found a pirate, and he is very irritating.” *glares at Anstis* “And we went full Michael Bay on The Rock—“
Bell: “Yes, no shit, I saw. The Tremere is heading back to the Chantry now? By what means?”
Me: “Cab. She can’t drive for shit.”

(Kara: “Hey! I have…one dot in drive now!”
Jason: “Which is one more than Marcus has.”
Me: “Well…he’s a little short.”
Jason: “He can see over the wheel if he…stands. In certain types of cars.”
Ben: *fake-sneeze* “SmartCar.”)

Bell: “Fine. Are the rest of you secure?”
Me: *glances at Marcus* “As…well as we can be for the moment, yes.”
Bell: “What happened on Alcatraz?”
Me: “Well, we escaped the Chantry through some teleportation-circle and wound up there, where we found a full-on gargoyle factory that the Tremere have apparently been running for some time now.”
Bell: *Silence* “Did you just say…a gargoyle…factory?
Me: “Yeah, with conveyor belts and everything.”
Bell: “…Did you find gargoyles there?”
Me: “We found a couple, and a whole bunch of those freaky Tremere caskets they transport things in. Oh, and a heeeell of a lot of blood, like full on microbrewery-vats filled with it.”
Bell: “So how did Alcatraz come to be destroyed?”
Me: “Right. Yes. So apparently Alcatraz has been run by Heinrich Himmler for the last couple decades, and he doesn’t like visitors, so…”
Bell: “Heinrich– You’re being literal?”
Me: “Yes. Remember what Paul told you about me and metaphors.”

The line devolves into a long string of cursing for a full minute. I wince and hold the phone away from my ear.

Bell: “What did you do to the place??”
Me: “Well some of the missing Semtex just happened to be there on a ferry that was—OH!! A ferry that was driven by Sebastian! Who apparently was in league with Himmler and his dudes! We took some of the Semtex and…redistributed it.”
Bell: *Long pause* “…Alright. Is Himmler alive?”
Me: “We can only assume.”
Bell: “And Sebastian?”
Me: “Oh no, he’s dead.”
Bell: “…You sure?”
Me: *Looks toward the fridge* “Yeah. Paul has his head in a tote bag. I’m looking at it now.”

I gotta say, as much as I love the excuse to flirt snark at Bell when he’s not able to point a gun at me, I’m starting to feel bad for the guy. This is all definitely way beyond what he was expecting, and probably way beyond his capabilities.

I look at Marcus again. Way beyond everyone’s capabilities, it seems.

Bell: “Alright.” *Another long pause * “I need you to come back to the city as soon as possible.”

Urg, dammit, that probably doesn’t mean what I’d like it to mean.

I go to rub my face with my free hand, forgetting that it’s missing. I rub my neck with my forearm instead. “I…kinda got some other things I gotta—“

“I said, as soon as possible. If you have other things going on…do what you have to do. But I need everyone back in the city as soon as they can. You do not know what could be running around the South Bay.”

Things like rogue Assamites…. “Right,” I say.

“As soon as anyone finds out what happened here last night, it’s going to be open season. The Sabbat in San Jose may decide to move on the city. You do not want to be on the Peninsula when a war party shows up.”

At the same time, though, I can’t help but think that my dealings with the Sabbat as of late have been…rather neutral. I mean there was Alejandro, who was a dick, but I smoked him, and then when the time came for a reckoning they practically threw me a parade instead.
“Well…my fan club is supposed to be getting my bike detailed for me, so….“

There’s another long pause before Bell replies, and when he does, his voice is significantly more menacing. “That had better be a joke and it had better be the last one.”

Ahh, there’s the hard-ass I’ve come to know and love. …I mean, wait, no that’s not what I—

I sigh. “….Yes. Sir.”

“Get back to the city with all haste. If you do not, you will be killed. Not by me, but by the ravening hordes of the Sabbat that are coming.”

Chriiiist. Assamites coming, Sabbat coming, Perkins coming…. I stare silently into space, trying to process my next move.

AM I SPEAKING ENGLISH??” Bell yells.

I jump, immediately back in the present. “Yes!”

“Good. Come to the Pyramid. No where else. Not the Chantry, not Elysium, nowhere.”

Pssh, right, like I’d be caught undead in the Chantry ever again. And it’s Monday, Elysium probably wouldn’t be tonight anyway….

Oh wait! It’s after Saturday! “Yeah ok, but I really gotta pick up my whip from my leather guy in SOMA.”

“Your wha—nevermind. Just do what you need to do and get here. And bring anything you managed to retrieve from either the Chantry or Alcatraz with you.

I glance down at Marcus. “…Kaaaaay…”

“This is not a joke, Mr. Lytton.”

“Oh, I know.”

“No, you don’t. But you might find out if you stay there too long. Just…move quickly. And make sure the rest of those idiots move as fast as they can as well.” Bell hangs up.

“Who was that?” Anstis growls.

I shove the phone back in my pocket. “That…was someone whom we should all probably respect more than we do.”

“How do you bring this to life?” Anstis asks. For a moment I think he’s talking about Marcus, but when I look at him, I’m surprised to see him holding a phone too. I remember that Paul gave a spare phone to Georgia, but somehow I doubt that he purposefully gave one to Anstis as well….

“Um, well, first you need a contract signed in blood.”

He frowns suspiciously. “With whom?”

“With a data carrier.”

“Who is Data Carrier?”

I roll my eyes, then snort as something occurs to me. “You know, actually, I got a guy at the Verizon store in the Tenderloin. He should be out of the hospital now and can probably get you a good deal. Especially if, um, I was with you. But I don’t have time to introduce you right now.”

Anstis’s frown deepens and he continues to eye me suspiciously.

#

We now backtrack to the moment that Georgia got in the cab. She flops in the backseat, sighs in exasperation, then leans forward to give directions to the driver.

It’s the same driver she had before. The pale man in black and sunglasses, who dropped her off outside the creepy house in Russian Hill some nights ago. Even though the last time she was using a completely different car service.

She stares at him. He doesn’t react, nor apparently does he need directions because he pulls out of the drive and heads toward the freeway.

“Business in the city?” he finally says after a few minutes.

“Yes….” she says slowly, still staring at him, sitting tensely in her seat.

“Interesting night to be out and about.”

“It is…. Haven’t I seen you before?”

“Oh, that’s possible.”

“What was your name?” She looks around for one of those cab license certificates but none are displayed.

He’s silent for a few moments. “Adam.”

“Weren’t you…driving SideCar the last time I saw you?”

“Oh, I drive a number of things.” He glances in the rear-view mirror. “We all drive a number of things.”

Georgia stares back. “I suppose…that could be metaphorically true….”

(It’s certainly not literally true for Georgia, she can’t drive for shit. Although, ironically, it is literally true for Jim-in-Real-Life. See previous discussions of his days as a truck driver and his fixed- and rotary-winged pilots licenses.)

“Strange days in the city,” Adam says.

“Oh, well, you know how it is in San Francisco.”

“All too well. Do you?”

“Well, it’s a strange city….”

“Stranger than most. Especially these nights.”

Georgia’s suspicion ratchets up a notch. Not many mortals around that use that expression. “Oh? What’s strange about ‘these nights’?”

“Odd folk about. You see all kinds when you drive a cab. It’s one of the perks of the job.”

“So, you like the job?”

He’s silent for a moment before answering. “I’ve had worse.”

They reach the onramp and merge onto 280 north. Traffic at this time of night is, expectedly, light, so they start to make good time.

“What brings you to the city?” he asks, voice a little higher to be heard over the roar of the wind outside the car.

“Meeting a business colleague. One of my superiors, actually. Little nervous about the meeting.”

“Really. What line of business is that?”

“Umm…technology discovery?”

“Hmm. Must be intriguing. Solving all sorts of natural mysteries.” He glances in the mirror again. “Producing wonders.”

For the moment, Georgia forgets to be suspicious and is flooded with excitement about her thaumaturgical research. “Yeah, it really is, actually! I really enjoy it. Do you have experience with it?”

“Oh, a little. Just a hobby.”

They lapse into silence, once again the only noise in the car the wind of its passing.

“So…what are you going to do when you meet this big scary boss of yours?”

She waves a hand dismissively. “I don’t know if he’s that scary….”

“You mentioned you were apprehensive.”

“Oh, no, it’ll be fine.

Another long pause. Her concern about him starts to ebb, and boredom is setting in, so she turns to stare out the window at the rolling moonlit landscape.
“It’s an odd time in the city,” he says finally. “People acting…very strange.”

Georgia shrugs. “Well, that’s not unusual for San Francisco.”

“Oh, this time I think it is.”

She looks up at him again. “What makes you say that?”

She can see his face scrunch a little through the mirror. “Oh, just a feeling is all. You live with the night long enough you start to feel you can understand it. Feel the difference between one and the next.”

Suspicion back in force, she decides to read his aura. The color indicates that he’s mortal, that’s obvious enough, but whether he’s a mage or something more exotic isn’t clear. What is odd, though, is that the aura is very placid. Instead of pulsing and flowing, like many auras apparently do, his looks like an almost solid stroke of color around him.

She stares at him. “So…you drive mostly at night?”

“It’s my preference.”

“Why is that?”

He bobs his head side to side. “Oh, you get to see a different side of the world. One that doesn’t like to be seen.”

“And…you like to see things that don’t like to be seen?”

“Oh, who doesn’t. What about you? You like finding things out?”

“I do, actually,” she says, smiling as she remembers her passion for magic once again.

“Is that why you’re here? To…find things?”

Now she frowns. “In…a manner of speaking, yes….”

“What sort of things are you looking for?”

“I…suppose that’s between me and the things that I’m finding.”

“I suppose it is.” He smiles at the mirror, something unsettling lurking beneath the amusement.

“So…how long have you been driving in the city?”

He chuckles. “Sometimes it feels like forever.”

“Like…decades?”

He chuckles again. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that…. Long enough to have met a few interesting folk. Like you, for instance.”

Georgia bristles slightly and looks down at herself (which, note, is clothed in mud-stained and saltwater-crusted robes). “What’s so strange about me?”

“Not everyone wanders around these parts dressed that way. But there’s more to it than that. I don’t find many who would walk through some of that which this city has to offer and come out still wanting to know more secrets.”

Georgia picks futilely at her robes. “And what do you think I’ve walked through?”

“Fire. And water.”

Georgia’s head snaps up. He is staring at her through the mirror once again, but doesn’t say anything further.  “I…see…. And how do you know so much about me?”

“I’m an observer of human nature. I see all kinds.”

“Well how is it that you’ve come to know so much about me, when I’ve only met you a couple of times?”

He grins his unsettling smile again. “Just lucky I guess. Always was.”

By now they’re at the outskirts of the city, looping around in a dive through Potrero and Dogpatch, plunging straight towards downtown. Any normal person would be dazzled by the impressive vista of the skyline spread before them, but Georgia ignores the view, staring at him instead.

“You don’t like to help with the discovering of things, do you?”

He chuckles again. “Oh, I’m not an inventor. Or an explorer. I just like to watch the world go by.”

(Jason: “That was not helpful to you at all, was it?”
Kara: “No!!!
Jason: “Good!!”)

#

Paul, meanwhile, has been wandering aimlessly through the woodlands around his house, searching for signs of Norton. He finally gives up and heads back toward the house. On the way, his phone buzzes with a new text message.

It’s from Sophia.

Her messages are terse, but are basically the same as everyone else’s who has contacted us this evening: Where are you and what the hell happened at Alcatraz? Paul gives a brief sketch, mentioning the gargoyle factory and the fact that Sebastian is dead, and asks if she can meet in person.

Many minutes pass. Finally a reply comes back saying she might be able to talk, later that evening. At Kezar Stadium. Which is in the park. Golden Gate Park.

I.e., the park full of werewolves.

Paul concedes, though, and agrees to the requested conditions to come alone and stay quiet.

He puts his phone away and continues back to the house.
#

Back at the house, I’m getting antsy. Paul’s not back, Anstis is all up in my grill, and Bell’s words are gradually weighing heavier on me. Without any new data, my paranoia is building and I am starting to succumb to my natural instinct:

Run.

Run back to the city, stash Marcus somewhere that isn’t full of Assamites and assholes, and figure out what to do from there.

Anstis is still pestering me about the phone but I brush him off, saying I need to get back to the city for some things so I’ll show him later.

There’s only one problem, though. Anstis wants to come with me.

I glare at him. “I have some things I need to do.”

“And what might those be?”

“I gotta see a man about a dog,” I mutter, pulling my phone out again. Unlike van Brugge, as a true San Franciscian I know better than to waste time trying to call a cab. Uber runs out of Palo Alto now so I put in a request through them.

He quirks his head. “Dog? What dog?”

“It’s an expression,” I mutter, then curse quietly. The nearest car won’t be here for 20 minutes.

Anstis, though, has carefully observed my behavior with my phone and is copying it with his stolen phone. Unfortunately he can’t do much with it, so he’s mostly just pawing at the screen, gaping at the lights and colors.

While he’s distracted, I pick up Marcus, carrying him in a way that he just looks like a kid who has fallen asleep instead of a kid who has fallen dead, and leave the house to go wait for the car in the front drive.

(Ben: “Aw come on, you gotta have a suitcase big enough!”
Me: “…I thought about it.”
Jason: “What?? He’s not two!”
Ben: “You can fit a nine year old in a suitcase.”
Jason: “How do you know that??”
Ben: “Because I had a nine year old cousin.”
Jason: “That you PUT IN A SUITCASE?”
Ben: “…He was willing. He laughed the whole time.”
Jason: “…I don’t want to know any more about this!”
Jim: “Kids loved to be shoved into small containers.”
Kara: “Yeah, I’m not surprised, they really do.”
Me: “They’re like cats. ‘Ooo, there’s something small! Let me fit in it!’ “
Chris: “Ok, then you can load Indy the next time he needs to go to the vet!”
Kara: “What? He sleeps in that crate!”
Chris: “He does, but he doesn’t want to go in it when he knows it’s going to be taken out of the apartment.”
Ben: “You know, that cousin is in medical school now….”)

Marcus stirs slightly when I lift him but doesn’t wake more than that. I sit down on the front steps. Paul arrives back at the house then, sees me, and walks over, looking perplexed.

“What are you doing out here with Marcus?”

“I’m calling a car to take us back to the city. Bell wants to meet with me.”

Paul frowns suspiciously. “You’re taking Marcus back to the city?”

“I’m going to put him somewhere safe.”

“Where is that?”

Fuck if I know. “It’s…probably better if I don’t say….”

Paul glares. “You haven’t gotten it through your head that I have worked to save him as much as you have, and you still don’t trust me?”

I roll my eyes and look around. From where I’m sitting, I can see through some windows into the kitchen. Anstis isn’t where I left him, but I can’t see where he is. My paranoia rises again.

“There definitely are some things we need to talk about later, but for now….” I eye him significantly, “…I am very concerned.”

Paul folds his arms. “I need to talk to Marcus as soon as possible.”

“Yeah, so do I!”

“Do you have a fight to the death with a Sabbat Archbishop in two days?”

“No, but….” I look around. I still don’t see Anstis but I decide to risk it. “I may have had a brief encounter with an Assamite….”

“What? Where??”

“Here. Last night.”

Paul throws up his arms and curses the fact that every supernatural force in the Bay Area seems to be stopping by his house whenever they feel like it these days. I really can’t argue with that.

The car arrives and honks. I head to it, still with Marcus. Paul demands more information, but at this point I am angry and overwhelmed and can’t think straight. I promise him I’ll get Marcus secure and get info to him as soon as possible. I open the back door of the car and put Marcus inside in a way that it won’t be immediately obvious to the driver that he’s not showing up in the mirror. I turn around to say goodbye to Paul…

….And find Anstis standing behind me instead.

Fuuuucking— “Captain. I gotta…go take care of these chores. Go with Paul to the Pyramid and I’ll meet up with you guys there.”

“Aye, we’ll meet up. I’m coming with ye.”

Nope. Nope nope nope… “Ahh, no, these chores are…of a delicate nature. I can’t have other people around.”

He eyes me sidelong. “How delicate?”

I rub my face. Time for the big guns, so to speak. “They got sodomites where you come from, Captain?”

He raises an eyebrow. “Sodomites? Aye….”

“Right, ok, imagine that times about four. That’s the crowd I roll with. I gotta go deal with them about some shit.’

He ponders that for a moment, then smirks. “I’m sure you can handle four.”

I glare back. “Oh, I can…. Look. I gotta go see my guys about some things and then meet up at the Pyramid. I can meet you and Paul there.”

I turn to see where Paul went. He’s inside the house, standing in the kitchen window, calmly holding a mug of tea and grinning at me.

Sonofabitch….

Anstis tries to climb in the cab. I shove him out. We argue. I eventually get the driver to kick him out by proving I was the one that called the car. I climb in, slam the door, and glare at him through the tinted glass as the car drives away.

Anstis goes back inside to ask Paul about these cars (pronounced “cAAAARRs!”) and how to get one to this Pyramid I told him about. Paul sees him holding the stolen cell-phone and decides to get him set up with something more appropriate: an old Nokia, one of the near-indestructible ones.

And then, laboriously, over the course of the next hour or so, Paul teaches Anstis how to use it.

#

The car is quiet as we speed toward the city. I stare out the window, trying to gather my thoughts and figure out a plan. I need to get Marcus somewhere safe enough where I can leave him and go out and get some some of this other shit done. My apartment is the obvious choice. It’s shitty, but he can’t really blame me for that, since it was Aitor who set it up in the first place.

However, I’m a little concerned that my place isn’t as unknown as I want it to be. That ghoul of the Prince’s knew I was there, after all. Thinking outside the box, I consider installing him at Norton’s, cause god knows no would would expect that. But with Norton missing, and blind, and probably skating the edge of the Malkavian crazies more than usual, I don’t like the thought of what would happen if he showed up at his house and found Marcus unconscious there.

My place it is, then. I lean forward and give the address to the driver.

As I shift in the seat, Marcus stirs next to me and mutters something. I lean down but I can’t make it out. Whatever it is, it’s not English.

“Everything alright?” the driver calls over his shoulder.

“Yeah…. Long party, you know. My nephew. He conked out so I’m taking him home.”

“He didn’t look great when you were putting him in the car….”

“Yeah… We think he might be coming down with the flu or something.”

The driver nods but still glances at me suspiciously in the mirror.

I watch Marcus over the next couple of minutes. He stirs and mutters some more, then actually opens his eyes. They’re bleary and unfocused, but they are definitely conscious.

“Bo—Marcus….” I say, awkwardly forcing myself not to call him “Boss” in front of the driver. He mutters something else. This time I can tell that it’s Latin, but I sure can’t understand it.

“Marcus,” I say again, leaning down. “Are you feeling better?”

“…Wh…where….” he murmurs.

“We are on the Peninsula, heading back to the City.”

“City….” he mutters, looking around. He’s too short to see clearly out the window from the position he’s in, but something tells me he wouldn’t be “seeing clearly” even if he could. “Insula in the city….”

He looks towards me but not really at me. “Subura?” he asks.

I shake my head, glancing nervously at the driver. “I…don’t know what you’re saying….”

“Esquiline?” he says. My mind races, grasping for, like, etymological roots for clues to what he’s saying, but this one stumps me.

(Me: “This is less fun than when everyone was speaking German and I still understood what they were saying.”)

He clenches his face and rubs at his head, a gesture that’s becoming disturbingly common for him. “How far to the city?” he mutters in English, finally.

I look outside. We’re coming up through Colma, the lights of the suburbs spread out below us to the east, the dark shapes of the San Bruno mountains looming over them. “I don’t know…ten, fifteen minutes?”

He nods vacantly. “Tell me when we can see the Palatine.”

I stare at him in concern. “In…San Francisco? There isn’t a building called that….”

He doesn’t respond, his focus starting to drift off again. Dammit, given enough time, and a fucking library, I could probably look all this shit up—

I sit up. Wait a minute, I live in the fucking future!!

I pull out my phone—my top-of-the-line Verizon iPhone with the highest bandwidth data plan—and call up Wikipedia. I carefully type in “palatine” and skim the entry.

Unfortunately, it just confuses me more. I look back at him. He’s leaning against the door, eyes half-closed. My concern is overcoming my need for subterfuge. “Boss, do you know where you are?” I ask urgently.

“Are we there yet?” he mumbles without turning.

“We’re nearing the outskirts of the city,” I say, which is true.

He frowns. “I can’t smell them.”

“Smell who?”

“I can’t smell the pomerium….” he mutters. I feed this into my phone as well, but unfortunately every spelling I try is the wrong one (I get stuck on derivations of “Pomeranian”) and nothing comes up.

Marcus opens his eyes further and tries to pull himself up against the door so he can see out the window. I lean over to help him. He peers around at the suburban landscape speeding by, seemingly looking for something.

“Marcus,” I say softly. “Where do you need to be taken to?”

He stares for a moment. “Erebus.”

I haven’t been having much luck with my drive-by research so far but I give it another shot. This time, I don’t like what I find at all.

“Where are we?” he mutters, still staring out the window.

I look at him in concern. “We’re in San Francisco,” I stress. “In the real world….”

Another pause. “In America?” he asks.

I sag in relief. “Yes.”

“Of course….” He turns to me, blinking, but there’s a steadier awareness to his gaze. “Tom,” he says. I can’t tell if it’s a greeting or some sort of reminder to himself.

He looks around. “Where are we?” Although he’s said these words repeatedly over the last few minutes, this seems to be the first time he’s really asking them.

“We’re in a car going back to the city. I was going to hole you up at my place until you got better or…I figured something else out.”

“What happened?”

“You mean…after Alcatraz?”

“Alcatraz….” he mutters. “We were on Alcatraz, yes…. We…burned it.”

“Yes. There were many Tremere (So explosion. Wow.).”

“Yes…. And now they’re dead,” he says, a note of satisfaction in his voice.

“Well, Himmler got away….”

“Oh, yes…. Himmler was there….” He sighs and shakes his head, turning back to me. “I am sorry, I thought we were somewhere else.”

“I…gathered….”

“What…why are we in a cab?”

Christ, where do I start. I actually take a deep breath. “Because I am very concerned about Anstis. The pirate. I am concerned about what he might do with you, considering some attempts he has already made….”

He frowns. “Attempts?”

“Well at one point he tried to stake you again. He thought that would be the most convenient way to get you back under control….”

Marcus gropes at his chest, feeling for a wound.

“No, you’re fine, we got it. Paul stopped him.”

Marcus looks angry, but also confused. “What was his plan?”

Right. This. Fatima’s offer rings through my mind, specifically the unspoken flicker of hope it offered for finding and saving my sister. I stare at Marcus for a moment, then close my eyes and sigh.

“We…were visited by an Assamite….”

“An Assamite??” Marcus sits up, fully focused now.

The driver glances back. “You guys alright back there?”

I cast Awe without even thinking about it. “We’re talking about his favorite kids’ show here,” I call towards the front of the car.

“Oh, right….” The driver mutters and returns his attention to the road.

I turn back to Marcus. “An Assamite showed up while you were passed out—“

“Looking for me?”

I hesitate again. “Looking for…my sister….” I look away. “…Who is apparently one herself….”

Marcus leans forward. “What?”

I shake my head, staring out the window. Saying the words out-loud has brought back my initial feelings of shock and disbelief, now coupled with the guilt of essentially giving her away. Again. “I don’t know….” I mutter.

I can feel his heavy gaze on the back of my head. “You didn’t tell me you had a sister who was an Assamite,” he says darkly. As if I was somehow keeping this from him for my benefit.

My head snaps around. “Because the last time I saw her she was a fucking sophomore in art class!!” The last words echo through the cab like a gunshot. “I didn’t! Fucking!! Know!!!”

Something in the back of my mind grabs ahold of my anger, reminding me that I have just screamed in the face of a Sabbat Methusula and maybe I should calm my tits. I continue to stare at him, though, not bothering to hide the fear and grief on my face. He stares back, his face unreadable.

“Hey!” the driver barks. “If there’s a problem, guys, I can pull over right now.”

Marcus watches me another moment, then leans forward, putting himself in line-of-sight of the rear mirror. He glances into it. “Keep driving,” he says. The driver goes quiet, focusing on the road once again.

He sits back again and sighs. “You have an Assamite in the family,” he says, more statement than question. “How the hell do you know about this? They show up to tell you out of courtesy?”

I shrug. “This other Assamite—Fatima, she went by—is looking for her. Apparently my sister is part of a rogue Assamite cell.”

Marcus frowns. “Rogue Assamites? Did she give you any details?”

“Just that it’s this one guy who’s apparently gone rogue and turning Assamites on his own initiative, and has been for some time now.”

He rolls his eyes. “There’s been so many Assamite schisms it’s hard to keep track.”

“Anyway, the point of the matter, Boss, is she was there, and saw you, and was very interested in you….”

He chuckles darkly. “I bet.”

“…And Anstis was very interested in her offer.”

He shakes his head. “I’ll tell you what. The next time you see her, invite her to my presence and we’ll discuss her little offer. I’m not afraid of an Assamite.”

He doesn’t ask what the offer was, though, which I am grateful for. I’d tell him about the money, but…I don’t think I’d tell him about the favor. Better to just forget the whole thing happened, act like the hope wasn’t even there in the first place.

The car rounds a curve of the freeway. We can see the lights of the city in the distance. “Where are we going?” Marcus asks.

“I was gonna hole you up at my place in the Tenderloin, but if you have a better location, we can change plans.”

He rubs his head again. “No, your place will suffice. I need to…find someone….”

I look at him quizzically. He gives me a Signifiant Look. “She’ll be looking by now.”

Oh, Aquilifer! Yaaaaaaay! “Well, I have a couple extra steaks in my fridge—“

“You don’t understand. I’ve been poisoned and I gave some of my blood to her in order to keep her whole. The blood carried the poison so I need to find her. What effect it’ll have on a bird….” He shrugs.

(I make another plug for the fact that avian immune systems are really robust. Just saying.)

“Where are you going?” Marcus asks.

“Well, Bell has summoned me—“

“Ahh,” Marcus chuckles. “So Bell survived? What does he want?”

“I don’t know, but it’s probably too much to hope that he’s asking me for coffee.”

“Justicars don’t look for coffee.” (Oh, cool, so maybe he’s not the type to play games then, hey-o) “Where are the others of your…intrepid crew?”

I think for a moment, then my eyes go wide. “Oh! Shit! Yeah, we got visited by this guy, van Brugge, who showed up via some Emperor Palpatine shit—“

Marcus’s face darkens. “Van Brugge…. Adrianus van Brugge? What’s he doing here?”

“He’s been sent by Douche High Command—“

“The Tremere sent him?”

“Yeah, he’s apparently retaken the Chantry—“

“I imagine he might have.” He rubs his head again, though this time it looks like it’s out of frustration rather than pain. “Well that complicates things…. So you met him?”

“Well I met his…hologram….”

“That’s close enough, he can work his magic through it.”

Well, that’s…a concerning piece of information. “Anyway, he called Georgia to him. Paul’s coming back to the city to meet with somebody. I ditched Anstis as soon as I could but told him to go to Bell at the Pyramid too.”

Marcus nods slowly. “Well…thank you,” he says, meeting my eyes. I raise an eyebrow. Coming from Marcus, that is some high praise indeed.

“I’ve…not had a great run of things recently,” he continues, rubbing his head again, “but one perseveres.”

For the briefest, flickering instant, I see him at face value: as a kid, exhausted and overwhelmed by circumstances beyond his understanding or control. I quickly shove that vision out of my mind before it turns into something much more dangerous: pity.

“Well…you’re still kicking ass and taking names when you can, Boss.”

He sighs. “That gets old too.” He stares out the window a moment. “Van Brugge is at the Chantry?”

“Yeah.”

He nods. “Don’t go there. Don’t go into his presence. Don’t go anywhere near him. Avoid him as much as you can.”

“He did see you when he was—“

I’m not worried about him, but van Brugge will quite gleefully kill every non-Tremere in this city if he has to to keep his secrets. I know the man.”

(Kara: “Is that true Ben?”
Ben: “…Yeah.”)

“He’s Tremere, the Tremere do such things, and he’s not just any Tremere. Last I heard he was what they call a ‘Fireman.’ They don’t send a Fireman unless something’s burning.”

(Kara: “Or they want something burning!”
Jason: “…Occasionally.”)

Marcus meets my eye. “If van Brugge is in town, do not go near him, do not cross his path, do not look him in the eye. He will kill everyone if he must. And there’s enough Tremere laundry being aired here to warrant wiping the city clean of Kindred. I’ve seen them do it before.” He pauses. “I helped them do it before.”

That….brings up something that’s been eating away at the back of my mind for days (real-time months) now. “Speaking of secrets, Boss….” I say hesitantly. “Can I ask you something?”

“What’s that?”

This is quite possibly a mistake, but…I have to know. I take a breath and meet his eyes again. “Why do the werewolves have a name for you?”

He raises an eyebrow. “Oh do they? How did you find that out? Or do I know already….” I nod. “What name did they give you, cause I’ve carried a couple in my day.”

“The Devourer,” I say flatly.

He nods and sighs. “That…is a long and very bloody story.” He turns to the window again. “We all…do the best we think we can do. Vampires and werewolves do not get along. Our paths seldom cross when we can arrange it, but sometimes we can’t. And when that happens there can be…complications.”

He lapses into silence for a moment, still facing the window. “I had a…client. Many, many years ago. In Europe. Another one like me. Another one embraced…before his time, if you know what I mean.”

Urg, Christ, yeah I do, but I go right back to not thinking too hard about it.

“I killed his sire, helped him as I could. And then he met a pack of werewolves who saw him as an abomination and tore him to pieces. I…overreacted.” Another beat of silence. “I killed them, I killed their Kinfolk, I killed the ones they knew, I killed the ones they did business with. I slaughtered the entire pack, across half a continent and two decades.”

(Chris and Jim: “Not just the warriors, but the women! And the children! I killed them all!”
Jason: “Noope! Stop that!!”)

“I killed them like the dogs they were.”

(Ben: “…Woof.”)

“I am not the last, and not the first. And given the opportunity, I would do it again.” He looks at me. “You see, you may know some werewolf who thinks of herself as the peacemaker. You may even think that you can build a bridge. But the fundamental reality is, we live in a world of death, and they object to it. To the entire world, and everyone who inhabits it.”

Damn. I’m glad the driver doesn’t still think we’re talking about a children’s show….

“99.99% of werewolves you encounter will kill you so quickly, you will not know they were even there. They will not stop to ask questions, they will not wish to know what you were,” he emphasizes the last word, “or what you stood for. They will rip you to pieces, unless you rip them first. I was fortunate enough to meet mine when I was capable. Not everyone is.”

I groan and rub my face. “Yeah, well, I’m hoping to pick up my whip sometime in the next century, but beyond that…I’m doing what I can.”

Marcus turns to the window again. “That’s all any of us can do.”

The car slows and pulls up to the curb outside my building. The driver idles the car, staring straight ahead. I scope out the area. There’s a man passed out in the doorway of my building, and another one standing in the middle of the street, yelling at cars and waving a broken bottle.

So, you know, nothing unusual.

“You getting out here Boss, or….”

He nods, leaning slightly against the door. “I think I’ll stay here for the moment. I can do what I need to do remotely. Where are you going?”

“Well, I can let you into my place and—“

He eyes me. “Oh, you don’t have to,” he says. Right. Yes. Shadow-teleport. Awesome. “Do you have a telephone in the apartment?”

“Ah, no, you’ll find the apartment is…still rather sparse. …Oh, but there’s a Verizon store down the street if you want me to—“

He waves me off. “No, I don’t need a store. I’ll find one.” He eyes me significantly again. “You’re going to meet with Bell?”

I hesitate. “…Yes….”

“I would watch Bell carefully. He’s a Brujah and he’s been pushed to the edge that very few Brujah push.” Great, maybe we can form a club…. “They’re unpredictable, I’m sure you know that.”

“Yeah, I’m…getting there….”

He eyes me another moment then opens the door of the car. “I will acquire the phone and inform you of its number. In the meantime, I have business to attend to. Especially if Adrianus is here.”

Before he gets out, he leans forward in sight of the rear-mirror again. “Take him where he needs to go,” he says, “Then go home and sleep it off. You’re drunk.” 

He looks at me again, nods, then exits the car and walks off. I close the door and give the driver the address of my leather guy in SOMA. The car quietly pulls away and merges into traffic again.

I stare out the window at the passing lights of the city, processing everything he said. Most of it seemed par for the course, but my mind keeps coming back to the conversation about the werewolves. On the surface it seemed rather distressing, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s…actually kinda not. Just in the last few decades, I’ve heard multiple tales of epic battles against werewolves and the vampire warriors known for taking them down. Bell, for instance, is—unsurprisingly—supposed to be able to hold his own against them, under the right circumstances.

But Sophia didn’t even know who Bell was.

So for Marcus to have a reputation and a name that has lasted centuries longer than a single werewolf’s lifespan, well…. It seems like there must be more to it than that.

For starters, that’s not even the complete name. If Marcus was familiar with the first part, he’s undoubtedly familiar with the second, but he didn’t mention it, nor did he ask me if I knew it. My stomach churns as I remember.

The full name that Sophia told me was “The Devourer of Innocence.”

#

Georgia arrives at the Chantry to find it…totally quiet. Obviously there’s no one to meet her when she arrives at the door, but there’s also no sign of Bell’s cops. She walks right up to the building and lets herself in.

The Chantry has definitely seen better days. There’s no signs of bodies, or blood, but many of the decorations and furnishings are ravished. Georgia stares around the entry hall, letting the heavy front door close behind her.

The second it shuts, van Brugge appears next to her, this time not as an apparition. She jumps.

“Right. So. Here is the problem,” he says by way of greeting. “Normally with these sort of situations we would simply kill everyone who knows about a certain…factory of gargoyles. Needless to say, we can’t do that in this case. Not readily.” He folds his arms behind him and paces slowly around Georgia. “In the middle ages we would have simply wiped out the entire city and…you know, blamed the Tzimitze or something. But in this cause, that is not a viable option as well. “

He stops his pacing and faces her. “So we get to something that I’ve been wanting to do for quite some tim. Mainly, about sixty years.”

She looks around nervously. “Oh? And what is that?”

He tilts his head dramatically. “Take out Himmler.”

“I…can get behind that….”

He nods once. “Good.” He returns to pacing. “We’ll have to spin this, being as, of course, people only ever perceive the Tremere as doing these things, so we’ll have to be on political damage control.”

Georgia nods slowly. “How…can I help with that?”

“Do you have any idea where Himmler could have gone?”

“I do have a strong suspicion that he escaped via the teleport circles on Alcatraz, though Im not sure where that goes. We can maybe pop over to Alcatraz and check?

He shakes his head. “No, I already checked. Someone burned it out of the floor. Speaking of which…. You listed off a number of names for…a certain demonic entity. I need to know all of the aliases you  know him by and what he is apparently capable of doing.”

Georgia gives the rundown:

Walter Perkins, aka the Night Devil, aka the Man of Wind, aka Gnaeus Perpenna Vento.

Stats: Crazyballs.

Talents: Looking like someone else, possession, cloning, being killed and coming back from the being killed, teleporting around, trying to kill Marcus (or worse).

Van Brugge processes these, cursing a couple of times. “Speaking of the other thing…. Let us say that I…owe Marcus a favor, with respect to this individual.”

“You…mean like to help him out? Or to take him out?”

“Ah…neither. It’s….complicated. Suffice to say, we knew each other long ago, before the Camarilla existed, and…let’s leave it at that. Marcus is a Sabbat Cardinal, or some sort, but that does not mean that our interests have always been…oppositional.”

He looks at her intently over his glasses. “But he is very, very dangerous, as I’m sure you are aware. You must take extreme care with your dealings with him, if you haven’t already. You have been extremely lucky. Do not reveal secrets to him. Ever.”

“Uuuuuuuhhhhhh…” is all Georgia can say.

Van Brugge glares. “You are hiding something. Do not make me rip it from your mind, I would prefer not to damage your free will.”

Georgia shifts nervously. “Through a series of events which can really only be described as “fortunate,” unfortunately I seem to be blood bound to…Paul Stewart….” (Note: apparently Jason read up on differences between the rules early editions and 20th Anniversary edition and they retconned that Marcus’s blood did not override Georgia’s blood-bond to Paul. Jesus fucking christ this shit gets complicated fast….) “See, he saved my life a couple times by giving me some blood.”

Van Brugge stares flatly. “I see…. Paul Stewart? The one who is the non-Tremere and was in the room naked?”

“Uh…yes. Well…I suspect that he is blood-bound to Marcus.”

NEUK MIR HET OOR!!!” van Brugge yells and throws his arms. He paces faster. “So what have you told Marcus?”

“Well, not really anything, but he did see the island.”

“What have you told him about everything else? What Tremere secrets have you spilled?! If you are blood-bound, you have been throughly compromised!!”

Georgia groans and rubs her face. Things are definitely going from bad to worse (I, meanwhile, am just amused that Team Marcus seems to be developing a new cross-town team rivalry).

“I haven’t told secrets, I simply informed them of the problem with Max (What, that he’s a douche? Yeah, the whole city knows that) and they were unfortunately here for the attack on the Chantry which means that they saw many things.”

Van Brugge stares at her. “And…how am I supposed to believe any of this? How do I know that they didn’t simply sit you down in a chair, and give you little doe-y eyes and invoke the love of that blood bond?”

Georgia holds up a finger. “Well, I am not entirely sure that Paul is even aware of the blood bond….”

“So, he’s incompetent then? We cannot take that particular risk….”

Georgia hesitates, blood bond effects starting to leak in. “He’s…not a very good vampire. He’s new.”

“Then he will be easy to deal with.”

“He’s…a nice guy.”

Van Brugge rolls his eyes. “You would say that. So. We have two choices. We could kill him or subordinate him to our interests. That is effectively all.”

Georgia sputters. “But…the blood bonding was done in an effort to save my life, which was effective.”

He stares at her imperiously. “And this is relevant to me how? You do a job. You were sent here to figure out what the fuck Max was up to!”

“Well I’ve done that, haven’t I??”

Van Brugge looks around the remains of the foyer. “I suppose, but you’ve managed to make yourself an intelligent asset of a Toreador and a Sabbat in the process!! You are lucky I have not merely vaporized you!”

He throws his arms out. “You do realize that the entire Chantry is destroyed, ja? You’ve manifestly failed in that particular mission. The mission was to preserve the Chantry in some sort of order, but everyone is dead!” He hesitates. “So to speak….”

“Except for Max,” she mumbles sadly.

“Ja. I think. I’m not sure he’s alive or not at this point.”

“Can we track him?”

“Normally yes, but there is a ward of some type in the way. A particularly potent one. More potent than Max could produce.”

“Do you think Perkins kidnapped him?”

He folds his arms thoughtfully. “Kidnapped, or in league with, I have no idea. He did, for example, open the door for him to kill everyone.” He shakes his head. “I would not…fear for Max’s survival, in this case. One way or another he will be tried…in Vienna.”

(Jason: “That’s some bad shit. Guys that go to Vienna don’t come back.”
Chris: “Then how do people know it exists?”
Jason: “….”
Ben: “Well, sometimes people come back…as a talking chair.”
Kara: “Oh, huh.”
Ben: “…By ‘talking chair’ I mean an armchair made out of their own skin.”
Kara: “……Wow. Good job, Tremere, way to be weird.”)

Van Brugge sighs, softening slightly. “There’s no point in arguing about mistakes. I am somewhat certain that certain individuals need to be killed, certain individuals suborned, certain others have interests that align with ours. What we really need to do is locate Max and…Perkins…and all other relevant participants. We can sort what to do with each of them later.”

He stares at the remains of the room again. “Unfortunately, Perkins is manifesting powers beyond anything on which I was briefed. There are…some things I need to check up on.”

“Are you telling me we’re going to have to call for more backup?”

“Hopefully not, if we’re careful we can deal with this ourselves.” He hesitates. “Besides…there is no more backup. Unless I want to bring in the Council of Seven, which no one wants to do. That would end up with me going to Vienna.”

“It…sounds like that’s what it took last time Perkins was subdued….”

Van Brugge stares into space. “Ja….” he says quietly.

“What evidence is there to suggest that it is not necessary this time?”

He hesitates. “There are…Reasons why we cannot call the council to San Francisco. Let’s put it that way and leave it at that. We’ll have to deal with the situation ourselves.”

They discuss places to start looking for Max. Apparently the Tremere have other bolt-holes around the city, so those are the best places to start. They also rant for awhile about how much Max sucks. Georgia hesitantly brings up the Nosferatu again and that they might actually be an asset to this cause. Van Brugge would prefer it remain an internal matter, but finally concedes that she can pursue a temporary alliance of sorts with them if she thinks it will help. She is, of course, to share as little information as possible and lie whenever necessary (which, since she’s Tremere, will be often).  They decide that the public story will be that Max, Himmler, and who/whatever else is working with them are Sabbat infiltrators, and van Brugge is here to annihilate them all.

Van Brugge asks about other resources. She mentions Paul again and that he has a lot of wealth and technology.

Van Brugge frowns. “Paul Stewart is a massive liability. We may need to destroy him.”

Now Georgia frowns. “Why?” she asks, voice wavering slightly.

Van Brugge rolls his eyes and bobs his head side to side. “Oh, I don’t know, it could have something to do with that blood bond he has to Marcus—and thus back to the Sabbat—that he also has on you, have we not explained this properly?”

She wilts. He stares at her and rolls his eyes again. “Urg. If your blood bond makes this impossible, other arrangements could be made.”

(Chris: “Let’s hire an Assamite assassin!
Kara: “Oh, yeah, that’s worked out well….”
Me: “Yeah, cause we need more of them in the city….”)

Georgia seems have a similar line of thought because something occurs to her. “You know, Paul Stewart did talk an Assamite out of killing me….”

Van Brugge sighs. “For now, at minimum, I need some sort of assurance that he will not run his mouth.”

“Well, he’s been discrete so far—“

Van Brugge tenses again. “NOBODY in this city has been discrete! This is a city comprised of rank indiscretion!!” He throws up his arms. “The competence in this city, I….I don’t even know!! How do these people survive?? How did Max gain rank?? I have NO CLUE! If vampires valued sexual favors I would ask whose dick he sucked, but NO!! I have never seen ANYTHING this fucked! And I engaged in a 500 year war with the Tzimitsce!!!”

Georgia throws up her arms right back. “And yet you sent me here to deal with this city, alone!!

He glares. “I sent nothing. That was the Oberchantry, and they will have to be…chastised.”

“Well, I will say that I am very glad that you have arrived.”

Van Brugge calms down, returning to merely glaring at her. “As well you should be. …Or not, depending on your level of competence.”

He asks for any other things he should know about. Georgia points out that Bell is in town. Van Brugge rolls his eyes but doesn’t seem worried, mentioning that Bell is in over his head. She also mentions our “werewolf problem,” how there’s packs everywhere and Everton’s statue and rumors about some sort of werewolf apocalypse. She also specifically brings up my name in connection to all this and how I have a werewolf “pet” of some sort. Van Brugge concedes that this is…unusual.

“This…werewolf pet of Tom’s…would it be possible to bring it here?”

Georgia hesitates. She does know where Sophia is at the moment, and as far as she knows, Sophia is still incapacitated, but…. “I have no idea,” she says. “But…Tom is able to summon it….”

“Hmm. Can you manipulate him into doing this?”

“Maybe?”

Van Brugge nods, thinking about this. “The werewolf will have more information about what’s going on in their community, obviously. But they also have their own grapevines. This might allow us to track down Perpenna. …Slash-Perkins, Slash-Nachtteufel…. Whatever he wishes to be called this week.”

“Well….I  can certainly ask Tom if he can tap into that network.”

He gives her a look. “Do that. The werewolves actually tend to tune into anything that is horrifyingly disastrous. It’s almost as if they have apocalypse-magnets inside their snouts. They may be hunting Perpenna as we speak. Where was this werewolf the last time you saw it?”

Georgia hesitates, squirming under van Brugge’s impatient glare. “It was…at Sutro Tower…. Recovering from some wounds…. It was attacked by what we think was Perkins, with silver.”

He frowns. “And you took it to Sutro Tower with those injuries? That does not make sense. What is in Sutro Tower that the other werewolves would not be able to assist it better? Unless you simply feared for your life or something, which is perfectly understandable.”

“Well, there was a bit of fearing for the life, but there was also….the…” she gulps. “The…mage in Sutro Tow—“

WHAAT???” He takes a step back. “Theres a MAGE in the—It knows you’re—WHY AM I HEARING that there is a tradition mage in Sutro Tower right now? First off, what tradition?”

“Uuum….Etheric?”

His face goes blank. He actually whimpers. “How…how many death rays?” he asks quietly.

“Umm….eighteen….”

Georgia tries to convince van Brugge that Siegfried is A) really nice and 2) actually wants to remain out of our vampire dramas, but van Brugge points out that the worse things get, the less likely that he will be able to remain neutral.

“So….” He rubs his eyes. “You took a werewolf…to an Etherite… And who knows what the Etherite will do  to the werewolf when he’s done healing it…. For all you know, it will be turned into a cybernetic monstrosity!! Why did you take the werewolf to him?”

“Well…it was going to die….”

He stares at her for a full minute, jaw slightly open. “Why do you care if a werewolf dies? If you save a werewolf, it will just rip your face off later! It’s a werewolf, it’s what they do!

“Well, it has just been in a fight with Perkins—she, actually, the werewolf is a female….“

She trails off as van Brugge full on Picard face-palms. “Can the mage be worked with?” he asks, voice muffled by his hands.

“Well, yeah….”

“Does he seem civil and…slightly sane?”

Georgia nods enthusiastically.

He sighs and folds his arms. He watches her another moment, drumming his fingers against his arms. “I am beginning to worry about the quality of your judgement. You seem to think that everyone is affable and workable. This worries me. See, I am neither affable nor workable, so this is unusual for me.”

“Actually so far you’ve seemed very pleasant. You’ve been quite reasonable!’ Georgia says with literally no trace of irony.

Van Brugge stares again. “I have simply been too confused to do anything else! Who the hell have you been working with??”

He starts making another slow circuit of the room. “When I enter a situation like this, I try not to be too heavy handed. I mean, I will kill everyone, if necessary, but I’d prefer not. It’s messy.”

“That’s…very reasonable!”

He glances at her. “It’s pragmatism,  not kindness.”

Georgia shrugs. “Well, in my experience, everyone is trying to kill everyone else and you shouldn’t take it too personally. So, you know, when you find someone who isn’t trying to kill everyone else…it’s a nice change of pace. You seem like a decent fellow.”

He stares at her for a long moment again, then waves the conversation away. “All of the insanity aside, we can’t sit here all night. Perkins is up to whatever he is up to. For all I know he could be trying to summon Satan. Because he practically is Satan!”

He approaches her. “Here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to need to figure out what he’s up to. I want you to search the Chantry bolt-holes, all of them. Find the Nosferatu primogen, and work this werewolf and this mage. By which I mean suborn them to the will of the Tremere. Ok?”

She sighs and nods.

His eyes narrow. He unfolds one arm and holds out a finger. “Explicit orders. Suborn. Will. Of. Mortal. Beings.” He hesitates. “And werewolves, whatever the fuck they are. You may do this in whatever order you wish. I’ll be keeping tabs on you to make sure you don’t dilly-dally.”

He sweeps his arms open, gesturing through the room again. “I know it’s a log, but right now you are the only Tremere within a hundred miles who is not myself, dead, or captured by Satan. You will have to make do. Ja?”

She nods. “Yes sir.” She hesitates. “I’d…I’d like a pay raise.”

#

Paul and Anstis have left the South Bay by this point, in separate cars. Paul sends Anstis to the Pyramid, but Paul heads to his meeting with Sophia at Kezar Stadium.

It’s still relatively early in the evening, early enough to expect late night joggers using the track, but no one is there. He walks down the stairs, footfalls ringing across the empty stadium, and takes a seat halfway down the bleachers. He’s brought his tea with him in a travel mug and sits there, breathing the steam and absorbing the warmth with his hands.

Minutes pass. No one arrives. Paul pulls out his phone to check for messages. As he’s holding it, though, it rings with a call from an unknown number. He answers it, though he doesn’t say anything.

Hello??” says a clipped voice.

Paul affects a ridiculous fake accent. “Hallo??” he mimics.

“Who is zis?”

“Zes es ze other person at the other end of the phone!”

“…Are you French?”

“I am tonight!”

Pause. “I am looking for Paul Stewart….”

“And who es zes?”

“ZIS IS DOCTOR VON NATSI!!”

“Oh!!” Paul drops the accent immediately. “Doctor! Good to hear from you! I didn’t recognize your number. What can I do for you?”

“Ahhh….” Siegfried’s voice has a clear note of anxiety running through it. “Zis is delicate, how do I put zis…. Your werevolf, the one you left up at the tower?” (As if we have other werewolves lying about….)

“Yes, is she alright?”

“Ehhhhmm…. Possibly?”

“That’s….better than ‘no,’ I guess….”

“She has….vell…. I may have misplaced the werevolf….”

Paul frowns. “As in she…went off on her own?”

“Nein, nein, not on her own….” He sighs. “Zis is sort of ze reason I didn’t want to get involved in zese situations, see,  zere were other werewolves.

Paul’s eyes widen. “Ah. I’m sorry to hear that. Are you alright?”

“Everything is perfectly fine. Zey did not break anything zat could not be replaced. But, ehm… Vell I should not be saying anything, but…. Zey asked many questions. Of me, and of the werevolf you brought…. I did not find it politic to deny zem. The one in charge, vell…he was of uncommon size.”

Paul’s usual cool starts to waver a bit. He glances around at the looming trees surrounding the stadium. “I see….”

“He had a, vell…. A tool, shall we say?”

“I’m sure he was quite persuasive,” Paul says grimly, staring into the shadows.

“Ja, he vas. I call you because…vell…he may have heard your name, und…he may have asked questions…concerning….you……”

Paul goes still. “Well, you don’t know that much, you couldn’t have said too much….”

“Ja, vell, zat is something of ze problem. Ze werevolves, zey…do not care for ze vampires, so…. Zey assume, generally speaking, the worst. Especially ven ze werevolf shows up vith ze silver….” Siegfried fidgets audibly in the background. “I tell you zis cause you may vish to know zis so that you might be prepared. Vith…something on the order of a teleporter, und…a death ray, und…more death rays….”

Paul glances at his mug of tea. “Those…sound like fantastic preparations.”

“Anyhow, I vished simply to suggest that given that zere is a werevolf of this size attempting to locate you, it might be best if you vere to relocate to…Sri Lanka?”

“Well…come Thursday I may be able to do that.”

“Zat…may not be a good enough time. Ze werevolfs, zey vere here….not long ago….”

Paul looks around him. Still no sign of anyone, but his exposed position is feeling more exposed by the minute. “Well I appreciate the heads-up, and I’m probably in a very bad place to be right now—“

“Vere are you located at ze moment?”

“Oh I’m, you know…in the park.”

“…….Vat?

“Our…former patient asked me to meet her here, but now I’m not sure that it was her whom I talked to….”

“You are certain you do not have ze teleporter?”

“Um, entirely certain.” Paul looks behind him. It’s about fifty feet back up to the top of the stadium bowl, and then maybe a dozen yards to where his car should be waiting for him. “Well…thank you for the heads up, I am…going to get out of the park—“

He scans the stadium again, then stops. A figure has appeared, stepping out of the shadows on the far side of the bowl. Humanoid, but only just barely, bulging with muscles in places that no human has ever had them. It’s large, and as it lumbers closer it only grows larger.

As details resolve, Paul can see that part of its bulging shape is actually from an enormous sword slung across its shoulders. He can also see that it looks angry.

But then, it’s almost impossible for something this large to not look angry.

END OF NIGHT.

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