2/20/2014

“I feel like the arc of the plot for the rest of the game is to asymptotically approach the Monomancy.” —Chris

Unfortunately, this night ended up being more of a Politics Night yet again. Not because Politics Nights are bad, necessarily, but I realized last time that they end up being more work for me since there’s less down-time spent on dice rolls and discussing action.

The good news, though, is that our “guest-star” cast has grown. Tonight we were once again graced with the presence of Ben as van Brugge, but we also met two more of Jason’s comrades in sadism: Julian, from the exotic lands of the Great Frozen North, and Cameron, a physicist from Jersey. I could tell you up front who they played but it should be inherently obvious so we’ll just get to it then shall we:

***

Paul is at Kezar Stadium, alone with his tea, but is being rapidly approached by a large, misshapen stranger carrying an even larger sword. He could run, but it likely wouldn’t do any good anyway, so he remains seated and watches the stranger approach.

As well as being large, the man is hairy, but not even in the normal Eastern-European hirsute sort of way. His hair, which at a distance might be mistaken for a mullet, is actually more a mane, cascading down his shoulders and onto the upper reaches of his back. As he gets closer, Paul can see that it’s actually not hair at all.

It’s fur.

So, obviously, this guy has something else going on than just an unusual thyroid problem.

The guy is hulking and angry, but the sword hasn’t been brought to bear, and he’s approaching slowly enough that Paul gets the sense he’s going for intimidation at the moment, instead of brute aggression. That could—and will—probably change at any moment, but for now Paul carefully holds his ground. And his mug of tea.

Paul stands up. The man ambles up at a measured pace and stops in front of Paul, one row down the bleachers. Even though he is standing lower, he still towers over Paul.

“So, vampire,” the man growls. “You’ve either got a death-wish…or you wish to talk.”  He looks Paul over, sneering at the last word. “I will assume that your admirers—the ones who call you the next Steve Jobs—are at least somewhat correct.”

(Jason: *stage whisper* “Call him the next Larry Ellison!”
Julian: “He’s done nothing so far that would warrant such abuse!”)

Paul steels himself. “Let’s talk. I wasn’t expecting to see you, I was expecting someone else.”

“If you mean Sophie, she’s…indisposed.”

“You’re her friend?”

“Packmate,” he says, lifting his chin.

Paul nods to himself, suspicions largely confirmed at this point. “Did she ask you to come here or did you take your own initiative?”

The man grins, revealing teeth unmistakably sharper than normal. “Oh no, I am here on my own initiative.”

“Well…then I guess the question is what can I do for you?”

His grin widens. “Excellent. We will get along…fabulously.”

“Well. Why are you here and what can I do for you?”

Still grinning, the man affects a relaxed posture that somehow makes him look even more intimidating. “I am here regarding some business that Sophie seems to have gotten herself caught up in.” His grin drops. “It’s trouble I don’t need and don’t want.”

“You’re referring to myself?”

He bares his teeth again, and this time it’s not a smile. “I am referring to the whole vampiric mess she’s in. I have bigger fish to fry.”

“Well, look at it this way. We are all orbiting each other. Plans are being messed up by everyone elses—“

“That’s not how I look at it,” the man growls. “I want to free Sophie from her current entanglement so I can get the more important business done.”

Unsettled, Paul starts sliding into Full Stewart mode. First rule of negotiation: figure out what your partner wants, then offer it to him. “Might I ask what that more important business is?”

“You can ask, but I’m not going to tell you.”

Aaaaaaaaand negotiation shot down. “Fair enough….” Paul regroups. “I have my own arrangements with Sophia. Are you stepping in on her behalf?”

He cracks a fist. “One could look at it that way.”

“Well her orbit and mine have crossed a few times now, and I would say we actually have a…reasonable functional relationship. I have a job in a few days, a simple one. No violence, just software. Something she’s uniquely well-suited for. I wanted to speak with her about it. That’s why I’m here tonight.”

The man glares at Paul for a few moments. “She’ll be indisposed for awhile. But if you want Sophie’s hacking skills, she’ll be well enough to use Skype.”

(Jason: “Oh my god, it’s become META-SKYPE!”)

Paul nods. “That is all I require of her. She’s recovering well, I hope?”

The man is silent for another moment. “…Yes.”

“Good. Glad to hear it.” Paul’s shoulders sag a little in noticeable relief. “You are…obviously already familiar with me, but I didn’t catch your name?”

“You can call me…Stormwalker.” Stormwalker folds his arms. “What is your specific business that you need Sophie to assist with?”

Paul talks about his need to commandeer the sound- and light-board at the Shark Tank to control his laser-sun show, without specifically mentioning the Shark Tank, nor the laser-sun show. But his careful phrasing is for naught because Stormwalker has already heard about Tesseract’s solar-piping optics, most likely from Sophia herself.

Stormwalker cracks his knuckles again, but this time it’s more thoughtfully than aggressively. “What leeches are you trying to kill in this particular trap? I need to understand the repercussions of this act.”

“South bay gangster, by the name of Andre. He’s started picking off my employees.”

Stormwalker laughs. “Well what did you expect, baby Camarilla? We play hardball where we’re from.”

Paul frowns. “It seems…unproductive to me.”

“If you grow up to be a real vampire, maybe you’ll understand.”

Now Paul clenches his fists, though it is obviously far less impressive. “From what I’ve seen of real vampires, I have no desire to become more like them.”

Stormwalker chuckles. “Don’t misunderstand me, I have no problem with your desire to kill your kind in large quantities. I, however, have to deal with what happens after your attempt to do so. Which means I want my hands very much clean of this particular business.” He points a finger at Paul, displaying an unusually long and sharp nail.  “The Fiends do not forgive this. They are very sensitive about their home territories. And I already have a war on my hands.”

“Seems everyone does these days….”

Stormwalker bares his teeth in a lolling grin. “Oh, baby vampire…. You know nothing yet.”

As unused-to as he is to such brash condescension, Paul pushes through with diplomacy. “Are you concerned Sophia’s hacking attempts will be noticed by someone? I’m sure most attention will be directed my way, particularly after this goes down.”

“I just want to make sure she isn’t dragged too far into this particular mess. And it will be a mess. The Fiends are…perceptive.”

“Well…. All I am curious about right now is if you have any plans to…well, get in the way.”

He chuckles again. “No. I welcome vampires killing each other.”

Paul frowns, but nods. “Good. Can I trust you will pass on the message?”

Stormwalker draws himself up and folds his arms, expression unreadable. “…Yes,” he says after a moment.

“Good. Time is of the essence, so if there’s nothing else I can do for you, I’ll be on my way. Sophia knows how to get in contact with me.”

“A pleasure doing business with you,” Stormwalker growls, no trace of sarcasm in his voice at all. Nope. No-sir-ee.

Paul lifts his mug of tea to him, then very, very calmly, turns and climbs out of the stadium.

(Ben: “…That was disturbingly cordial….”)

#

Georgia is finishing up her audience with van Brugge at the Chantry. She has things to do, people to suborn, so van Brugge sends her off to get started. Before she leaves, though, he folds his arms sternly and does the double-finger “I’m Watching You” eye-point. Georgia, though, ever the un-intimidatable, leaves cheerfully. She goes to her room to clean up and change and sets out on her first major task: search the the local Tremere bolt-holes and safe-houses for signs of Max.

Getting around the city, though, will require a car,—cause lord knows a Tremere isn’t going to be caught dead on MUNI—but she’s still a little unnerved by Adam the Sunglasses Man who seems to keep showing up to give her rides. Instead, Georgia goes to the garage to requisition one of the Chantry cars, but finds that all of the ghoul drivers, too, have mysteriously disappeared. She decides to flaunt her new one-point of Drive skill by taking a car and driving herself. She finds a set of keys in the valet room and matches it to one of the “P.O.S.” cars, a brown ’92 Civic. She gets in the car, sets herself up, turns the key in the ignition….

…And the car explodes.

(Me: “Why does everything in this city explode??”)

Fortunately, the door was still open and she wasn’t belted in yet, so she’s merely blasted across the room. She rolls, groaning, on the concrete for a few moments, then scrambles away from the wreckage of the car burning a few yards away.  She hauls to her feet and bolts toward the stairs.

And immediately crashes into van Brugge as he runs down the stairs to see what happened.

He gapes past her to the smoky, sooty, burn-y room beyond. “Oh, verdamp…”

She holds out her hands, scraped and sooty themselves. “I really, really, really need a driver.”

He shakes his head. “You didn’t check the car for explosives, did you?”

“I did check the car for explosives, I didn’t find any!”

Smoke is starting to pour into the stairwell and up to the Chantry above. Van Brugge’s eyes narrow. “Apparently you missed something….”

She throws her arms out. “What, is this…standard procedure?!”

He rolls his eyes. “Nein, it is not standard procedure to bomb our own cars. That would not make any sense.” He takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “Ok. So here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to call a cab, you’re going to ghoul the cab driver and make him into your personal slave. Does this make sense to you? Are you grasping this concept?”

“But…that takes time!”

Van Brugge sighs belaboredly. “Or you could Dominate him. Either way. Go. I’ll deal with the fire.”

(Jason: “Adrianus is officially too old for this shit.”
Ben: “Yeah. Well, he has to work with what he has, and….”
Jason: “Well, what he has now is fucking nothing. He has one neonate and an empty Chantry house.”
Ben: “Yeah. And it would be a bad investment to just kill the neonate. At the least, it can absorb bullets.”)

Georgia goes back upstairs, gets herself cleaned up, again, then downloads an entirely new rideshare app—Lyft—to call a car, hoping that Creepy Driver doesn’t work for them too.

#

Anstis and I are both angling toward our ultimate destination of meeting Bell at the Pyramid. On the way, I swing back to SOMA to FINALLY pick up my whip from Bruce my leather guy. As per my commission, the last three feet of tail have been re-braided with a couple strands of fine silver chain woven in amongst the leather.  I give it a couple good test cracks, then, satisfied, head back downtown.

Anstis arrives at the Pyramid first. He gets out of the car and gapes up at the building. He wanders around the base of it for a few minutes before someone comes out and leads him inside.

The man, a security guard, leads Anstis to the bank of elevators. Anstis jumps as the doors slide open, then cautiously steps inside at the security guard’s urging.

“Thirty-third floor, sir,” he says, then steps away as the doors close.

Anstis stares around him at the metal and mirrors lining the strange small room (Jim: “Mirrors are…extremely valuable! I make a note of this!”). He notices the bank of buttons and presses a couple at random.

The room groans and shakes. His sensation of weight pulses strangely. He reacts instinctively: he shoots out his claws, digging both hands into the walls on either side of him. The claws plunge through the metal of the walls and into the tracks and equipment lining the shaft. The elevator groans and shudders harder, but continues its climb.

Anstis hits a few false-stops but eventually makes his way to the 33rd floor. The elevator doors open, but the car has stopped a full foot or more below it’s normal level, so Anstis has to climb up to get onto the floor. Luckily for him he doesn’t realize there is anything unusual about this.

He gets out and stands up at the same time I arrive on the floor, in one of the other, undamaged elevators. We exchange pleasantries—or, as pleasant as one can be with someone whom they do not trust—and I lead him down the hall to the Prince’s Bell’s office.

Bell is pacing the office on his phone, sporting his standard outfit of leather coat, sunglasses, and irritation. He hangs up as we enter.

Anstis jerks his chin at Bell. “Who be this?”

Bell’s eyes narrow. I wince. Well, we’re off to a great start….

“Theophilius Bell. Justicar. Who the hell are you?”

“Thomas Anstis,” he drawls. “Captain of the Good Fortune.”

Bell looks at me questioningly. I roll my eyes. “We found him in the basement of the Chantry. Staked. He’s a Gangrel so we assume they had…plans for him.”

Bell looks Anstis up and down. “You as old as you sound?”

Anstis hesitates. “…Apparently.”

Bell shakes his head and stares up beseechingly. “They had a 300-year-old Gangrel staked in the basement. I’m not even surprised anymore.”

He looks at me and his face hardens again. He folds his arms and strolls closer. “Your friend coming? Your little friend?”

Crap, I knew this was coming. I shrug, trying to look as blase as possible. “He…had other errands to do.”

“Well I’m glad to hear that. Have you talked to him?”

I shrug again. “A little.”

“And? Are we going to have a problem again?”

“…I think he has other problems to deal with right now.”

“Oh I think we all have other problems to deal with right now, which is why I’m asking the question.” Bell is now just a few inches away from me, face clenched like a drill-sergeant.

Dammit, why is he only ever this close to me when he’s pissed off….

I force myself to stare calmly back and hold my ground. “Well, I think he might be one of the best ways we have to deal with the problems.”

“The last time I laid eyes on that man he tried to rip me apart,” Bell snaps. “The time before that he knocked me out the window. So ‘I think’ isn’t going to get it done right about now. What is his agenda and what is he planning to do?”

I sigh. “I don’t know what his plans are, but I know that they are above and beyond whatever was going on before. Circumstances have…changed.”

“Circumstances may have changed, but if you haven’t noticed, vampires that old don’t change very easily.”

I lift an eyebrow. Sounds like a good segue-way to me…. “Speaking of old vampires, you know that Perkins guy running around?”

Bell’s eyes narrow. “We’ve met….”

“Yeah. He’s older.”

“Older than that one? How do you know?”

Oh the ephemeral joys of our world. Bell doesn’t know…and I get to be the one to tell him.

I look him right in the eye. “He’s his sire.”

Bell’s face goes blank. I successfully resist smirking.

“So….” he finally says. “They working together?”

I snort. “Nooooooo….”

“Oh it’s like that, is it?”

I nod.

“Alright.” Bell takes a step back and rubs his face. “To what degree of reliability can you assure me that he’s not gonna march up here and try and kill everyone again?”

“Which one?” Anstis asks.

Bell glares at him. “The little one.”

Anstis decides to be helpful. “He’s a little…indisposed at the moment.”

Now I glare at Anstis. “He’s better now.”

“How so?” Bell asks Anstis, ignoring me.

“Some sort of Tremere blood poison, they called it.”

Bell turns to me. “This true?”

“He’s better now,” I repeat with the same glare.

“Alright.” Bell holds a finger out at me. “I have to make a number of moves in this city and I can’t do that with a 2,000 year old elder from the Sabbat watching my every move, waiting to jump me! Do I need to deal with this problem first or do I need to deal with something else?”

“I think you can deal with something else—“

“‘I think’ isn’t what I asked you right now!”

I look him in the eye again. “You can deal with something else.”

We stare each other down for a few moments. Finally, Bell nods. “Alright. I’d say I’d hold you to that, but honestly, I don’t know that anyone will.”

Bell leans against the Prince’s his desk and outlines the first of his apparent planned moves. Seems he too has heard of Helgi of Oakland and the trouble he’s causing. He doesn’t give a rats ass about whatever the hell Adrianna wants, but he would care if Helgi decided to roll over to our side of the bay to stir new shit up, so we might as deal with him before things get worse. Bell doesn’t want us to start a fight or anything (so lord only knows why he’s sending me, then), but he does want us to figure out what Helgi wants so we can get him the hell out of here.

Anstis is intrigued by the Helgi situation. Partly it’s because the name sounds familiar to him, though he still hasn’t been able to put his claw on where he’s heard it before. Partly, though, it’s because he’s seeing it as a unique opportunity for personal growth:

“I’ll take care of yer problem, but I’ll be needing a ship to do it. Helgi will not…think well of anyone not coming by sea.”

I raise an eyebrow. This…could be fun. “Man’s got a point,” I say.

Bell rolls his eyes. “I somehow don’t think that’ll be a problem. He hasn’t been asleep as long as you have. The way I hear it he travels by bike now.”

I open my mouth to make another crack about my bike being with the Sabbat but Bell stares me down. “Best I’ve been able to determine he’s in a bar on 55th. Near the waterfront. Old Hell’s Angel’s knocking ground. Go there, see if he’ll talk to you. See if you can find out what he has to say. You piss him off, and it’s on your head. You have any problems with this?”

None on my end. This is totally in keeping with Bell’s MO: glower, threaten, make me go do something. I shrug and shake my head. Whatever, it’s a(n un)living.

Anstis, though, is new to this, and has an angle I never thought of before: “What be in this for me, then?”

Bell raises an eyebrow above his sunglasses and looks to me. “Does this man not understand what a Justicar is?”

I shrug. “He’s a pirate, sir.”

He turns back to Anstis. “What’s in it for you, Gangrel?” he barks. “It’s that I do not take this shotgun, shove it up your ass, and pull it till it goes click.”

Whoah. I bite down a grin.

Anstis’s swagger droops somewhat. “Oh, it’s like that then….”

“It is like that then. But if you absolutely must know, you will all be compensated well for your services to the Camarilla in general, am I making myself clear?”

Wait, what? This is the first I’ve heard of some sort of reward for dealing with this bullshit—

“That…not be clear. General assurances are not hard numbers.”

Bell stares at Anstis a moment, then takes off his sunglasses, folds them, and carefully puts them in his pocket. “You want hard numbers?” he asks, voice low. “We all survive this little altercation, you help me out in a way that I think appropriate—and I’m talking long term here, until this situation is resolved….”

Bell leans back and folds his arms. “Twenty-five million. Dollars. Cash.”

My jaw drops, but I quickly gather my senses. “—Each?” I chime in.

Bell glares but doesn’t reprimand me. “I can write liens on that much for travel expenses. Yes, twenty-five million apiece. Hell, if you want it, you can get yours in gold doubloons. How’s that sound for you?”

Anstis regards him for a moment, then smiles. “Very well, we have an accord,” he drawls.

Huh. Imagine that. I’m impressed, but…well…. Shit around here has obviously been getting real bad, so I fully expect that I—or, quite possibly, the entire Camarilla of the Bay Area—will be destroyed long before I can ever cash in on such a thing. Still, I will accept the offer just in case (especially since I was gonna do what Bell wanted me to do anyway).

Bell stares at us, then nods. “I want this handled tonight,” he says, walking around the desk to sit down in the Prince’s his chair. “The sooner we can deal with one problem the better. Besides, there’s always the chance he knows something about what’s going on around here.”

Excuse me while I don’t hold my breath on that.

We catch Bell up on other things. I mention that Norton is missing, again, and this time he’s somewhat blind. Bell shrugs it off, but I beg him to at least send someone out to the Cliffhouse to check on Norton’s dogs because he’s been kidnapped and/or missing for days now and I am getting very concerned. Bell rolls his eyes and says he’ll take a look.

“How we be getting over there?” Anstis asks, about the trip to Oakland, probably again hoping to wrangle a boat for himself out of this deal.

Bell, though, is obviously thinking about the more prosaic method of The Bridge. “I’ll give you a writ of deputization. That should square you with any officials you meet over there.”

Ha, probably not but ok. “Should we roll heavy on this one?”

“I’d roll heavy but not use it.

I look down at myself. I am still in torn, stained clothes, the shitty corduroy coat I found in SOMA, and right now the only weapons to my name are my whip and the Tremere sword I stole from Max. Not exactly the picture of intimidation.

Then something occurs to me for the first time. “Is…there an armory here we can use?”

Bell sighs, says yes, we can avail ourselves of it, within reason, although unfortunately no they do not have any dragonsbreath rounds.

Anstis also asks about some new threads, as he is not feeling very pirate-y at the moment in Paul’s tech nerd hand-me-downs. Bell rolls his eyes, reaches into one of the desk drawers, and tosses us a stack of hundred dollar bills a couple inches thick. My jaw drops.

“You know this city better than I do,” he says to me. “You’ll take him somewhere?”

I look at Anstis and grin. “Oh, yuuuuuuuuuuuuuup.”

(You know what that means, right?

!!!!!!!SHOPPING MONTAGE!!!!!!!


#

After his meeting with Stormwalker, Paul heads downtown. But instead of going to the Pyramid, he heads to the place on the map he saw me head to when got back to the city with Marcus, because apparently he’s been stalking me through Find My Friends on my new iPhone.

Urg. I gotta get Sophia to scramble it again.

Anyway, he arrives in the Tenderloin outside my apartment building. He lets himself into the building (because the methhead assholes on the third floor are always propping the fucking door) and starts tracking down which apartment is mine by the most expedient method available:

Knocking on all the doors one by one.

Luckily he doesn’t go too far before one of them opens, revealing Marcus standing there in surprise.

(Me: “Really, I live on the first floor?”
Jason: *glowers at me* “Yes.”
Me: “Huh, I always imagined myself on the fourth floo—“
Jason: “TOO BAD!!!!!”)

Marcus is confused and a little irritated, probably because every time he has tried to go to ground in the last month one of us assholes has been able to find him right away. Paul wants to talk, but Marcus says my place probably isn’t the best. They go to Paul’s car and the driver just starts driving.

And…they talk. For a very long time. About the Monomancy and Paul’s sun technology plan.

It’s…not a happy conversation.

So here’s the deal. Marcus is concerned about Paul’s ability to control/direct the sunlight, partly because he is a vampire, partly because he is a Lasombra vampire (and thus extra sensitive to sunlight), but also because…well, Marcus put it best:

“Ever seen what happens to a group of vampires trapped in sunlight? They get desperate, yes, but they do not lack coordination, just…discrimination. You’re going to drive them all into the fear of God. Those that don’t cook instantly will become ravening, savage beasts willing to do anything necessary to Get. Out. And many of them have means you cant even conceive of.”

And of course once they get out that doesn’t mean the madness would end. Paul would effectively be releasing crazed Tzimitsce onto downtown San Jose, and no one—not the Camarilla, not even the Sabbat—would like that.

Paul suggests directing the light just to Andre, through spotlights. Marcus, though, points out that it is a hockey arena, which means the floor is made of ice, and ice reflects. Paul doesn’t think that this will be an issue, since hockey ice is a little more matte than natural ice, but Marcus is still very concerned—concern which is probably hiding actual fear—and warns Paul not to over-assume his control over the light.

Speaking of control of the light, he asks Paul how he’s planning to control the light system to begin with, since the arena is staffed by Andre’s people. Paul says he has a hacker, which Marcus realizes is “your werewolf,” aka Sophia. This gives Marcus a segue-way to—like everyone else we have met who has found out about her—warn Paul against playing around with werewolves, as they are wont to change their minds about cooperation at any time.

Still, Paul wants to push through with the plan, as it is the best—aka ONLY—one he’s had so far. Marcus, though, wants to be clear about what’s going down before he walks into the place. Also note that, as Paul’s sponsor, if Marcus doesn’t walk into the place, Paul forfeits by default.

They review the details of the thing which is, quote, “standard battle to the death crap.” Weapons will be decided by Paul, as he is the challenged party.  In normal Monomancy rules, there might be an option for sparing someone, but in this case Paul has no choice. Andre will definitely try to kill him, and if he gets the upper hand, he MUST kill Andre. Using unapproved weapons justifies a forfeit, and technically this “sunbeam” of Paul qualifies, but if theres no one left to object….

Marcus brings up something he calls the Golden Rule: it’s not about what the rules are, its about whose enforcing them. If Andre and his his people are dead, then no one will be left to say what’s what except Marcus himself.

But…that will be a lot of people. All of Andre’s associates will be there, along with many others who just want to see the show. Marcus points out that quite a few of them might just be there to see him himself, since rumors of his death have been rather common through the ages.

Paul decides to think positively and asks what will happen if Andre goes down. Paul’s smart enough to know that there will be a power vacuum, which is often more dangerous than the person who left the vacuum, so will there be someone to fill it? Marcus says he himself could lay claim, but he won’t (and I don’t blame him, San Jose suuuuucks) and he doesn’t know anyone else offhand who would be interested.  Camarilla might try to move in, maybe even Anarchs. Anything could happen (at Zombocom).

Marcus is far more concerned about how the Sabbat outside of San Jose will react. If the Sabbat find out how Paul did it, they will, quote, “move Heaven and Earth to find you, and you are not a hard man to find.”

If Paul wins using heretofore unknown technology, there will be investigations from serious people. If they take scrying readings—or whatever—on the arena, they will know everything that happened. If that happens, the Sabbat will be less concerned about the fact that Paul killed an archbishop and more concerned with the fact that he has a weapon that can kill vampires, in the dark, en masse.

Mexico City will notice, Marcus says. The Black Hand will come looking. They’ll figure out the weapon was in the lights, and they’ll look around their havens and see lightbulbs. And then they’ll be afraid. 

Marcus suggests doing something else on top of the solar lights to disguise the thing as a routine hit. Something more pedestrian, like killing all the witnesses and blowing up the arena so there will be nothing for investigators to investigate. Such a plan is tricky, and risky, but it just might work.

Paul is thoughtful for a while, but then he asks…. What if he DOESN’T want to cover it up? What if he WANTS everyone to know what he did with the lights? Reveal enough information to frighten everyone away from messing with him or his people for good.

Marcus doesn’t like that plan. The Hand would definitely come after Paul after that. To kill him, to enslave him, maybe with an admission form. He doesn’t know. But they would come.

More to the point, if Paul openly reveals how he did it, EVERYONE will want this technology. The Sabbat, the Anarchs, the Camarilla, hell even the werewolves. Some will try to buy Tesseract out from under Paul, but (un)fortunately Marcus already took care of that months ago. So those factions will probably try to come to Paul direct and make a deal.

But then there are some factions who will show up when Paul’s asleep, cut his head off and use it in a some kind of thaumaturgical ritual to figure out how the technology works.

Marcus says if Paul wants peace with the Sabbat he has to show them he’s worth having peace with. He points out that the Sabbat don’t share Paul’s…shyness…for violence. If Paul wants to make a statement that no one is to mess with him, then he has to be ready to deal with the people who are going to object, whomever they might be.

All these points that Marcus is bringing up are good ones, but aren’t leaving Paul with many options that he likes. Paul feels like he’s being backed into a corner, and nobody puts Paul Stewart in the corner. 

Paul points out that such a drastic reaction from the supernatural community will only occur if what people want is in limited supply. His response to that is…unconventional:

What if EVERYONE had the sun technology, openly? What if every streetlight, every flashlight carried this technology? If everyone has the weapons, why does anyone have to bother Paul or his people about it ever again?

Marcus goes very still. “You can’t mean that…. You want to give this to every goddamn asshole out there? Do you have ANY idea what that would do?”

Paul glares. “Well, my people aren’t much affected by sunlight. Besides, it seems like this can come out bit by bit, people fighting wars to have a hold over one another, or it can land all at once.”

Marcus stares at him. They’re still in the car, driving aimlessly down 101, the only sound the rushing of the wind past the windows. “…You’re serious?” Marcus finally asks, softly. “You would seriously do this?”

Paul shrugs. “I am open to better ideas, if you have them,” he says, stressing the last part (cause it’s true, Marcus is being kinda a Negative Nancy about this whole thing). “But it sounds like any small step is just going to defer the problem a few weeks down the line. Someone else is going to come along, want the same thing.”

“Welcome to the nature of the Kindred,” Marcus says, face still carefully flat. “It’s enough to drive you out of politics altogether, isn’t it?”

Marcus leans forward, face darkening. “You hand this out to every vampire in existence, and you have no idea what will happen next. I don’t either. But it would be abject chaos.”

“Well, your principal thesis is that I wouldn’t have any idea what happens next anyway.”

“It wouldn’t be this. Other than the fact that you’d be among the first victims, you certainly wouldn’t be the last. And your people may not burn in the sun, but some people’s do.” Marcus glares through the gloom of the car. “Mine do,” he adds, in case his implied point wasn’t clear.

Paul refuses to be cowed. “How many people die if there are wars fought over this technology? And how many die if the technology is just out there?”

“More,” Marcus answers without hesitation. “And even if it isn’t, I don’t do that kind of math.”

“Then what do you do?” Paul says, barely able to keep the distain out of his voice.

“What we all do. What I have to do.”

Paul meets his gaze evenly. “Well it seems to me I have to do what I can to protect the people I brought into danger.”

“And you’re going to do that by sparking a world war?”

Silence in the car as Paul and Marcus stare at each other a few moments. Paul breaks the silence first. “Here’s something to think about. How many atomic wars have been fought?”

Marcus’s eyes narrow, obviously unsure where Paul is going with this. “One, far as I know.”

“Right. How many atomic powers are there?”

“…Eight or nine, last I checked. Why?”

Paul shrugs. “Doesn’t always end in doom and gloom—“

Marcus barks a laugh. “You think you’re going to set up mutually assured destruction?”

“I’d rather not.”

Marcus laughs more, shaking his head. “You are playing with something you cannot possibly understand—“

“Then what about this can I understand?” Paul snaps.

Marcus’s eyes narrow at Paul’s tone but he doesn’t comment on it. “The simplest possible thing. Whether you kill Andre with this sunlight weapon of yours or your bare hands, someone else is going to come. You can hand out these light weapons like candy, and someone. will still. come. Vampire, werewolf, a mage, some other damn thing none of us have heard of. Something! Else! Will come! This is the world. You can’t burn it all away.”

Marcus leans forward again. “And when some of these vampires go down from your little light shows, they’re going to bring something with them. Who do you think actually are the nuclear powers in this world?”

Marcus leans back. “You wanna burn this guy to death? You wanna announce to the Sabbat that you have the means to do it again? You do that, you take what comes. Night by night. Challenge by challenge.”

Paul is rapidly losing his thin veneer of cool. He asks what the hell the point of making preparations is if there’s nothing he can do about the results of things anyway. Marcus snaps back, saying that Paul should be taking steps to protect him and his but he should not start making plans to blow the whole planet up because he thinks that’s going to be too hard. 

It is probably important to note here that this is a recurring point of contention between Marcus and Paul. Marcus was really disturbed by the idea of the sunlight technology back when he first found out about it, when they first met in Marin. Back then, though, Paul’s idea was to use Tesseract’s data satellites and their big relaying mirrors to create focused beams of light to shoot down out of the sky on people. Marcus tried to shut the whole thing down by buying out much of Tesseract and liquidating resources involved with that project. The fiber-optic technology only occurred to Paul later, after Marcus released him, and he’s been developing it on the sly ever since.

And, of course, in the great irony of things, the fiber optics are even scarier than the Sunlight Star Wars plan, because they allow far more insidious applications of sunlight in a wider variety of locations.

A fact which, I think, is finally occurring to Marcus for the first time.

Conversely, I think Paul is realizing that Marcus is realizing this, and is starting to grow irritated that Marcus—like so many vampires throughout history—is getting his bloody hands all over human business, corrupting what Paul feels is the natural course of human technological progress.

In essence, ruining Paul’s Great Work.

Anyway. Marcus lays it out like this. If Paul is using the sunlight plan, then he has two basic choices to manage the inevitable blowback. One is to flatten the building so theres nothing left for anyone to scry and hope for the best. The other is to let knowledge of the technology leak out after the Monomancy, then announce his intentions and dare the world to do anything about it, although keeping in mind that somebody will.

Paul doesn’t really like these options, though, so he decides to Kobayashi Maru the thing. He asks his driver to take him to the airport. Marcus frowns and asks where he’s going.

Mexico City, Paul says, to try to talk to the Sabbat big-wigs before the Monomancy and broker…I don’t think he even knows what exactly, but something impressively unexpected, cause gods know no-one is going to expect him to do that.

Marcus sure doesn’t. Rather aghast, he tells Paul that he didn’t mean he should do such a thing now. Additionally, to them, Paul’s a nobody, he wouldn’t even get past the front gate. But, he says, if Paul is  really interested in pursuing such a path of intimidation, Marcus might be able to…make the necessary introductions.

“That said,” Marcus says, “there is something that would help a great deal.”

“What’s that?” Paul asks suspiciously.

Marcus looks at him evenly. “If you weren’t in the Camarilla.”

(At this point I choke on my drink and grab my phone to text ChrisM cause HOLY FUCKING SHI—)

Paul frowns. “Do you mean not in the Camarilla, or in the Sabbat?”

“I think we understand each other,” Marcus says, glaring. “They are more inclined to look favorably upon one Bishop replacing another than they are upon the Camarilla conquering San Jose.”

Marcus regards Paul for awhile, then advises him to “do what he needs to do” to Andre. If Paul wants to pursue this path, Marcus can make the arrangements—even on short notice—but warns that it might involve making commitments to people Paul would not otherwise want to commit to.

Paul glowers, likely thinking to himself that he is already well on that path already.

Paul cancels his airport plan and heads back to the city to drop Marcus off at the nearest Bart station. Marcus gets out of the car, but hesitates at the door turns back.

“You can’t possibly know what you’re getting yourself into, but I suppose theres nothing for that at this point. Even I couldn’t explain it all to you. Even if I had a year. Just be aware this is no turning back after you do this.”

Paul stares straight ahead. “Is there an alternative to not doing this?”

“Running.”

“Would my people be safe if I run?”

“No,” Marcus says flatly. “Not even slightly.”

Before Marcus leaves, Paul has an Oh Just One More Thing moment of his own, mentioning the szlachta Klaus caught at Tesseract. Marcus is very surprised, both that it was caught and that it was there in the first place. There’s obviously no proof that Andre sent it to fuck with Paul, but Marcus can’t think of any other explanation besides it being sent by Andre to fuck with Paul. Marcus is intrigued and asks Paul to ship the thing to his old hideout in Marin so he can investigate it himself further.

Marcus closes the door and disappears into the shadows—prosaically, this time. Paul tells the driver to take him back to Portola Valley.

#

Anstis and I have finished requisitioning new threads and are rolling up like ballers.


I, naturally, am back in black, literally. I’ve dumped all my shitty ruined clothes and replaced them with a new motorcycle jacket and—this time—leather pants, which I’ve always wanted but could never really afford, but since the Prince is buying this time, make it rain, son. I’ve got a new bulldog-harness over my black t-shirt, which normally is a noob move but I’m not going to be that guy walking around shirtless all the time so fuck you. The point is rather moot anyway since it’s hard to see the harness under the double bandoliers of shotgun shells across my chest, one for each gun slung cross-wise on my back. I’m still missing my left hand, of course, so I can’t take full advantage of both of them yet, but I’m working on it.

Anstis, though, is less happy with the results of our shopping trip. He wanted something more befitting his station—i.e., baroque and frilly—but unfortunately all the good steampunk Burner stores that would have passable pirate-y garb are closed at this hour, so he will have to make do with my late-night shops.

(Jim: “What’s available?”
Me: “Leather. And…more leather. And…skimpy girl lingerie. Actually, there’s probably a Sexy Pirate outfit!”
Kara: “…For girls.”
Me: “Well honestly there might be a guy version too but that’s not as funny.”)

Anstis selects a long leather trenchcoat, as that’s passable, but gets stuck on what to choose to replace Paul’s turtleneck and jeans.

(Me: “Uuuuh, we got vests…we got ass-less chaps…we got a lot of latex, but that can cause allergies so be careful—“)

Anstis finally settles on a similar pair of black leather pants and digs around the Sexy [N] outfits until he finds one with a frilly-enough shirt.

(Ben: “Oooh mai gaaaaawd, that shirt is sooooo 1780’s!”
Me: “Oh my god, I have the exact same blouse!”)

Anstis refuses to leave the stores until he finds himself a suitably grand hat. Luckily he spots something that he falls instantly in love with: a costume pimp hat, in purple velour with a large feather glued to a leopard-print band.

Montage over, we step out and call a car to take us to Oakland. This time, no one stops us as we cross the bridge, so we go straight to the location Bell gave us: a biker bar on 55th, huddled amongst the warehouses and abandoned lots of West Oakland. We pull up out front and scope the place out. It looks pretty much like any other dive bar I’ve been to, complete with line of bikes out front—all Harleys, no crotch-rockets ruining the tableau.

What is notable, though, is one particular bike, larger than the rest and as glisteningly pristine as new-fallen snow. It has all sorts of custom mods, but the most eye-catching are the patterns of runes and sigils and shit painted and embossed across the body. It’s parked right in front of the door to the bar, but despite the choice location, there’s a full four feet of space on either side. It’s as if it parted the sea to park there. I stare at it longingly, missing my own bike, which is still with the Tzimitsce valets at the Shark Tank (although, as Jim points out, I couldn’t drive it with one hand anyway).

Anstis peers through the car windows. “What be Helgi’s last name?” he grumbles.

I turn away from staring at the bike. “What? I don’t know.”

“Who would?”

“Uhh, Helgi.”

Anstis rolls his eyes.

“Why do you need to know his last name?”

“So we can introduce ourselves properly.”

Urg. Seems ridiculous, but I don’t know, this guy is a Viking, maybe there’s some protocol and shit I don’t know about. I grumble and rack my brain, trying to remember if, in ALL THE MONTHS people have been mentioning Helgi to me, anyone has mentioned his last name. Nothing rings a bell, but I recall that Marcus at least knew of him, so he’s probably the best shot. I sigh and give him a call.

Marcus: “Yes?”
Me: “Boss, the pirate wants to know Helgi’s last name, do you know it?”
Marcus: “…Say that again?”
Me: “I said the pirate would like to know Helgi’s last name for the proper introductions.”
Marcus: “…Well I do know, but may I ask a question as well?”
Me: “Please.”
Marcus: “When you dialed this number, were the first digits you pushed 4, 1, and 1?”
Me: *…Creeping dread*
Marcus: “Do you imagine that I’m an information service??
Me: *Many dreads. Much regrets.*
Marcus: “His last name is Isarnbjorn, and if you don’t have anything more important than this to ask me, then please don’t pick the phone up. I’ve had quite a night.”
Me: *Facepalm, flipping the finger, whether it’s to Anstis or Jim I am not sure* “Yes sir. Boss. Sir. I’m sorry.”
Marcus: “Why are you dealing with Helgi anyway?”
Me: “Bell wants us to, and Paul does as well.”
Marcus: “Well…give him my regards, will you. Oh, and be sure to tell him that Odin is a bastard. …No it’s alright, he worships Thor. There’s a rivalry. Tell him Odin is a prissy bitch and you’ll be willing to fight for it.”
Me: *Highly skeptical* “O…kay?”
Marcus: “It’ll help with him. He’s a Thor worshipper and he respects those who are willing to lay themselves down for his own faith.”
Me: “…I was always more a fan of Loki, but alright. Thanks Boss, let me know if you need anything.”
Marcus: “…We’ll see.” *click*

I turn to Anstis, glaring. “It’s Isarnbjorn…son…helger…furter…. Oh, and apparently you’re supposed to disrespect Odin…as part of his cultural tradition.”

Unfortunately, Anstis also looks skeptical about this. “How well do you be knowing this Marcus?”

As far as Anstis is concerned? “Quite well.”

“And is he being a one for practical jokes?”

I snort. “Noooooo.” Man, it must have been a weird night for him.

We get out of the car and enter the bar. It’s sparsely populated with the usual grizzled biker types, many looking like they just left a ZZ Top concert. People look up as we enter but no one reacts otherwise. Anstis and I amble up to the bar.

The bartender comes over, wiping down a glass in the way that all dive-bar bartenders are required to do. “What’llya have?”

“We’re here to speak with Helgi Isarnbjorn,” Anstis announces.

The bartender laughs. “No, you’re not.”

“And why not?” I ask.

He puts down the glass. “Cause you’re not.”

I frown. “And what would we have to do to be?”

The bartender rolls his eyes and snaps a hand. One of the larger bikers wanders over. He stares me in the eye and grins. “Suck my dick!” he laughs.

I look him up and down. “Well, I’m usually more of a top, but…I got some skills.”

Anstis turns to the bartender. “I be not with this one.”

The bartender folds his arms. “Ya’ll better get out of here. You guys ain’t got no choppers, I saw you rolled up in some kinda company car.”

I bristle. I’m already missing my bike—hell, being around here is making me miss my old Harley, the one I had restored myself before I was a vampire, the one Alejandro shot up—and this is just insult to injury. “Yeah, well, I left my bike with Andre’s guys to get detailed so we had to make do.”

The bar goes quiet. The bartender raises his eyebrows. “Oooh, ok….” He lifts his voice. “Hey boys, we got ourselves a couple of Sabbat in here wanting to talk to us! Why don’t you say we give them a big welcome?”

Eight guys get up and walk toward us. Anstis tries to step away from me but he’s caught in the circle.

I freeze, instantly regretting my snark. “Maybe I should have name-dropped my werewolf friend instead,” I mumble.

The guys don’t hear me but Anstis does. He turns to me in shock. “You have a werewolf friend too?” he says. “I’m outta here—“

Just then, a door leading to a back room of the bar opens and…the largest man I have ever seen walks into the room.

Well, I say walks, but he actually has to duck to get through the doorframe, as he’s easily pushing seven-feet. Also, on his shoulders he’s carrying a war-axe larger than some of the bikes parked outside.

Everyone in the room stops and turns to him. He looks at Anstis and me, and smiles.

#

Georgia, meanwhile, is off on her quest to search the various secret Tremere bolt-holes in the city. The first one is apparently hidden at City College, the Ingleside campus.

Georgia arrives in the facility and finds that on the surface, everything surprisingly fine. The equipment is all there, nothing is disturbed, there’s no signs of scuffle.

But there are no people anywhere. No vampires, no ghouls, no one. She pokes around a bit then does what any sensible person would do in such a situation: raid the fridge.

While digging through the fridge for blood packets, though, she hears the sound of someone sneaking up on her, poorly. She stands up and turns around.

It’s a man, a ghoul, in a lab coat, thin, middle-aged, and shakily holding a lab stool above his head. When Georgia turns around he screams, drops the stool, and dissolves into gibbering hysterics, shouting about how, quote, “He ate them all!”

Georgia calms him down enough to get some more information out of him. Seems that the “he” the man is referring to isn’t Perkins/Perpenna, or even Max….

…But a Ventrue.

(Jim: “Oooo, wow, what have I been up to?”)

This ghoul—a lab assistant by the name Bob—escaped the slaughter by hiding in, quote, “one of the vats.”

Yeah, vats. Yeah…they’re gargoyle vats.

Georgia sighs and tries exerting some leadership.  It turns out Bob has worked at this facility for a long, long time, and hasn’t even left the facility in ages. He doesn’t have a phone, doesn’t have an outside residence, hell he’s not entirely sure what year it is. He is used to the vampire Head of House taking care of everything, as they have for decades, and now that they’re dead he doesn’t know what to do. Georgia calms him down, says that he’s gotten a promotion, and she’s deputizing him to help her in her investigation.

“A promotion?” Bob says nervously. “Does…does that mean I can leave?”

“Umm…No.”

Georgia does magnanimously give the man some blood to help maintain his ghoul-hood, but since she is a Tremere the reason she did this was largely for her own benefit, as it means he is now bonded to her.

(Me: “Hey, are Tremere ghouls more susceptible to bonding like the Tremere are?”
Jason: “You know I’m actually not sure about that….”
Me: *into the Skype computer* “Are Tremere ghouls more susceptible to bonding like the Tremere are?”
Julian: “No, it’s just the standard bullshit.”
Jason: “Long-term ghouls who have had the same bloodline blood can take on elements of their parent bloodline, but it takes a long time.”
Julian: “Yeah, Nosferatu blood does not do anything good for your looks.”
Jason: “…And Malkavian blood doesn’t do anything good for your sanity.”
Julian: “Yeah, well working for Malkavians doesn’t do anything good for your sanity so it’s hard to tell.”
Jason: “Ha, yeah, that’s true, it’s hard to tell if it was the blood that drove you crazy or the fact that you were made to strip naked and fight a pillow-fight in a swimming pool full of whipped cream for four hours.”
Me: “Fun!”
Jim: “Yeah, that sounds like a good time actually….”
Jason: “Yeah, it sounds like a good time until you realize your opponent is a vampire with Potence.”)

Georgia says that she will get Bob set up with a phone and the internet.

Bob: “What’s an internet?”
Georgia: “…How long have you been down here, again?”
Bob: “Since they built it!”
(Kara: “When was City College built?”
Jason: “…That’s the wrong question.”)

In any event, Georgia assures her new ghoul friend that he will be fine and she will be back to check on things once she finishes her errands. She leaves him nervously wringing his hands in the middle of the lab and heads off to check the next bolt-hole.

#

Anstis and I stare at the giant man in shock. There is absolutely no question that this is Helgi. He too is wearing motorcycle leathers, but the metal studs and buckles covering his gear have the legit look of worn armory metal, instead of the shiny plated Chinese-made shit covering mine. He’s wearing a plain shirt under his jacket that looks at least two sizes too-small, but I realize that it was probably actually the largest size the store had (at least he has a shirt, though, which means he is also not being that guy, so…there’s that….).

He walks further into the bar, footsteps noticeably shaking the wooden floor. As he steps into the light, I realize that the war-axe slung across his shoulders isn’t just a war-axe; it’s also an axe-axe, in that it has also been modified to be an electric guitar, strings strung along the handle and bolted to the poll of the blade (Me: “I once saw a guy playing a shovel that had been made into a guitar, at a bar in the Mission, so this doesn’t surprise me at all).

Helgi is also conspicuously armed, and I mean beyond the axe. He has two guns slung in holsters on each hip. They look like pistols, but they are the size of sawn-offs.

As he gets closer, though, I realize they are sawn-offs.

(Me: “I think I have a new crush.”)

Everyone in the bar is still watching him silently. He looks at Anstis and me, then surveys the room. “Alright, who is making such a commotion?” he asks in a rough voice like the grinding of glaciers.

The guys surrounding us step back, leaving us exposed in the middle of the room. I tense and glance toward the door.

Anstis, though, grins and throws his arms wide. “Helgi! We meet again!” (Yeah, so, although the name has only seemed passingly familiar to Anstis all this time, it isn’t until Anstis sees him that he realizes he’s met him before. Because yeah, theres no way to forget seeing this guy.)

Helgi looks him up and down, then recognition dawns. “Well that explains the smell. Did they drag you out of the bottom of the ocean, Anstis?”

“Aye!”

“Mmm.” Helgi shakes his head sadly. “Messy business. I heard about it. I would have offered to help hunt down your crew, but I think they all found their way there anyway.”

I, meanwhile, am staring back and forth between them, still not entirely sure I shouldn’t try and make a run for it.

Anstis looks around the bar. “Ye’ve been busy in yer time.”

Helgi chuckles, a sound loud enough to rattle nearby glasses. “I always have. Always some new fight, some new place that needs…a proper northern touch.”

Helgi unslings his hybrid-axe and drops it head-first to the floor, divoting the wood. He leans on the handle, pressing it in even further. A quick look around the place reveals multiple divots of suspiciously similar size.

“So, they dredged you from the bottom of the ocean. How long have you been awake?”

“Ooh, not long. The city has changed…a lot.”

Helgi chuckles. “Yes, you missed quite a bit in that rest. Cities have changed. We’ve even been to the moon.” He chuckles again at Anstis’s shocked face. “Not much there, though. I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Helgi catches a nearby chair with his foot and drags it over. The wood squeals in protest as he sits. “So,” he says, still leaning his arms on the handle of the axe, “You heard I was in town and decided to seek me out?”

I speak up finally. “There are many who are interested in talking to you.”

Helgi turns to me. “Yes, yes. And who are you, exactly?”

I glance around the room. The bartender is still eyeing me suspiciously. I clear my throat. “Uh, the name’s Tom Lytton, sir.”

Helgi nods. “I see.” My name doesn’t seem to spark any recognition in his face. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed. “Well then, my name is Helgi Isarnbjorn Ogenherdi. For short.” He tilts the axe-handle toward Anstis. “Are you with him, or…did you dredge him out?”

Anstis interrupts. “I’m not ‘with him,’ if that’s what you mean.”

I glare at Anstis. “We found him,” I say to Helgi. “In the basement of the Chantry. And no I’m not ‘with him,’” I make air-quotes, “but circumstances seem to have thrown us together. My actual boss, though, said to send his regards.”

“Oh, and who do you swear service to, precisely?”

Urg. That’s kinda a douchey way to put it but I can’t really deny it. I rub my face. “Ah, a short guy by the name of Marcus.”

Helgi looks at me thoughtfully. “How short? You’re all sort of just…down there, for me.”

“Shorter than me, sir. Shorter than your…quite handsome bike out there.”

He tilts his head, absently scratching his chin with the handle of the axe. “Does he have a last name?”

I sigh. “He has two. Sertorius Posthumus…probably because he thinks that nobody else can understand Latin—“

“Oh, Marcus,” he leans back, nodding in recognition. “So you’re working for him?”

I shrug. “It…seems.”

“So you’re with the Sabbat?”

I look around the bar. Everyone is staring at me again, including the bartender, who is wiping down another glass in a surprisingly ominous way. “I…don’t actually know who I’m with at the moment….”

Helgi chuckles. “Well it’s a good thing you weren’t sent by someone else. I was starting to get bored with all the killing. I think we ran out of all the good ones after, what, the third night?”

“The second,” a voice calls from the crowd. The room rumbles in laughter.

“That’s right, that’s right,” Helgi agrees. “So…what does Marcus want?”

“He doesn’t want anything, actually. But…other forces are interested in finding out some more about you, since…you seem such an intriguing man.”

“A certain Theo Bell thought you were…interesting,” Anstis adds.

Helgi raises an eyebrow. “Mr. Bell, you say? I’ve never run across him before, but his reputation is one to be respected. Even if he is the Camarilla.” He leans forward conspiratorially. “It would be best not to mention his name around here, most nights.”

“Yes,” I say,  “I hear the lovely Prince Adrianna has…some frustration with him as well.”

“Oh no, it’s not that. One of my children, they…have a history. You don’t want to get involved.” He sits up again. “So, you’re working for Marcus, but you’re at the beck-and-call of Theo Bell as well…interesting….”

Light laughter rolls around the room. Anstis shoots me a smirk that’s bordering on a sneer. I try to glare stoically back but I’m concerned it comes off more as a pout.

“And what it is that Mr. Bell wants?” Helgi continues.

We pause for a minute while we try to remember what the fuck we’re supposed to do now that we’re actually talking to Helgi, after real- and game-time months of trying to get here.

“He wants to know what your price is,” Anstis says first.

Helgi chuckles. “Is he going to offer me Normandy? I didn’t know he had French blood in him.” More laughter rolls around the room as Anstis and I look at each other blankly.

“So,” Helgi continues. “I am guess he is asking on behalf of the Prince of Oakland?”

I snort. “Actually he doesn’t really want to deal with her at all. This is mostly his concern. He’s been blowing her off for some time now.”

Helgi trades a surprised look with some of the other men in the room. “That’s interesting. So, she’s not getting the support of the rest of the Camarilla…. Good to know.”

Ahhh, well, I may have just accidentally shot down any of Adrianna’s chances at…anything, but…whatever. Fuck her.

“So. Theo Bell wants to make sure that this doesn’t spill over. So what is it that Theo Bell is here for? Certainly not me.”

Now I laugh, tossing a hand dismissively. “Oh, no, he’s here for all the other shit that’s been going on. You are very low in his rankings, but he just wants—“

I stop, suddenly realizing what it is that I have just implied. The room goes quiet, all eyes turning to Helgi again. Anstis shoots a look at me.
Helgi gets slowly to his feet, leaning his axe against a nearby table. Anstis and I take a cautious step back. I can’t read Helgi’s mood, since his face is now cast in shadow, and his voice—even when it’s laughing—always sounds angry.

“So,” he says slowly, spreading his arms. “Here I am, so alone and eager, and he thinks he can just buy me off. A few million dollars, perhaps, or a shiny new bike. Some new toy to marvel at. Maybe he’ll give me a smart phone.” He pauses thoughtfully. “I never care for those, by the way. They break too easily.”

“Yeah, I recommend getting a good insurance plan,” I mumble.

“I much prefer the old ones, what were they called? The Nokia,” Helgi continues.

Anstis beams. “Aye, like this one!” He pulls out his new-retro bar phone and holds it up proudly.

Helgi peers at it and nods. “Ah yes. Though mine is a little bigger. For my fingers.” He’s still looming over us so I avoid making the double-entendre remark that just begs to be remarked upon.

Helgi folds his arms and stares down at us. “So. You expected to barge in on behalf of Theo Bell who views me as an annoyance, but not a real threat.”

Anstis, wisely, takes the lead on the backpedaling. “He did suggest that you may be a threat, just that you weren’t directly in his way.”

“Ah yes. And he’d rather see the churning of the oceans head another direction?” He chuckles. “As much as one can control the oceans.”

The tension in the room drops noticeably. Helgi sits back down, tilting the chair back and folding his arms. “So. Tell me. What…grand threats does Theo Bell need to worry about, that I am but a pittance to him?”

Anstis and I trade a glance, and then the info dump starts. Perkins/Perpenna is the top story of the evening, of course, but we don’t need to provide too much info on him because apparently Helgi and he have met. Some centuries before. When Helgi supposedly helped Marcus kill him. Helgi has no idea why or how he might have survived that, but he sure doesn’t like it. Helgi calls him “a servant of jotunns.”

Our next story: the shitload of werewolves everywhere, with more showing up every day. Helgi is unperturbed by this, saying that “Freyja’s children” show up anywhere “Jormungandr rears his head.”

“You see,” Helgi explains, “in battle, Odin takes half of the souls that die, and Freyja takes the other half. She plants them in her garden where they root and grow. Like the seasons, they die and then grow again. Whereas Odin’s sentinels are eternal, though limited to the night, where his favor can protect them. ”

I frown thoughtfully. I don’t know much about vampire mythology, but this is definitely a different interpretation than anything else I’ve heard. I glance around. Anstis also looks a little perplexed, but many of the men in the room are nodding.

In any event, Helgi advises us to stay out of the werewolves way. Which is great advice, I’m glad he mentioned it, it hadn’t occurred to anyone else to warn us of them yet.

Anstis tries to turn this info dump into an information exchange.  “So tell me, why have the seas brought you to this realm?” he asks.

Helgi shifts in his chair thoughtfully. “Well, I’ve always enjoyed the frontier, and a hundred years ago this was the frontier. Now, the frontier is the open road.”

“Well, it’s a new type of frontier. A digital one,” I add, with more than a small touch of local pride.

“Ahh, but you can’t breathe that in. You can’t live that. It’s a fascinating tool, don’t get me wrong. The pictures of the cats are quite entertaining. But other than that….” He shakes his head. “I’ll take a bike. Or a boat, though it’s been a while since I’ve captained a longship.”

Helgi agrees that Perpenna being around is a bad thing indeed and he can understand why Marcus and Bell are concerned, but sadly he has other matters occupying his time at the moment. At the top of this list: he is apparently missing some Semtex.

MISSING SEMTEX!!?!? YOU DON’T SAY!!!!!

…But yeah, no, even though it’s still unclear whether or not Helgi stole Esteban’s Semtex in the first place, in an interesting twist some of the Semtex in Helgi’s possession has subsequently been stolen from him.

Funny he should mention that, since we just happened to run into a load of Semtex in Sebastian’s possession just the night before, which quite possibly was unloaded onto him by the Tremere, likely under the orders of one Heinrich Himmler.

“Himmler?!” Helgi jumps to his feet again. “He yet lives?”

“Er…sort of,” I say.

“I did try to diablerize him,” Anstis chimes in, “but he vanished.”

Helgi growls.“Well, the soul-bite is not something that is to be done under normal circumstances, but for him I would make an exception.” He stares across the bar, gaze boring through time as well as space. “I came across the camps back in the war. If he was not a was a servant of evil, I don’t know who was. Fitting he was embraced by the Tremere….”

“Yes, he’s been working for them for some time now,” I say. “…Er, well obviously, I guess—“

“Making gargoyles, you say?”

“Yes.”

Helgi nods. “That is also fitting, somehow.”

I frown, remembering my first meeting with him, with Norton. “Yes…. They say he built that place to remind himself…of who he was….”

Helgi steps forward, glowering, but this time it’s clear the aggression isn’t directed at us. “I think I have something for you. Bring me the person who sold my Semtex to him, and bring him to me…still moving. Then we will talk about Theo Bell’s price.”

(I bury my face in my hands. “Oh my god it’s been fucking months, I am never going to find this fucking Semtex….”)

END OF NIGHT

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