3/27/14 – Part 1

“I love the fact that I’m in a game where I can say, ‘Heinrich Himmler casts spells at you.’ “ – Jason

***

Paul has only just stepped into the house from the garage when he hears Georgia yell his name behind him. He stops and turns just in time to see something come crashing through one of the picture windows in the entryway.

Moments later, the entryway explodes in light, followed quickly by fire. Paul panics and runs out of the house, into the garden.

#

From the garage, Georgia can’t see whats going on but she hears the explosion and moments later she smells smoke.

She turns to the gargoyle. “Protect Paul!”

“Yes, Second Master.” The gargoyle climbs out of the sarcophagus and strides to the door leading out of the garage. He opens the door but stops, backing up. Georgia peers around him.

The room beyond is filled with burning patches of fire.

In a fit of rationality, Georgia grabs one of the large fire extinguishers from the wall in the garage. Unfortunately, though, she doesn’t know how to use it. She gropes at the pull-tab and handle for a few seconds before finally panicking and chucking the whole thing through the doorway.

Fortunately, at this point the heat builds up enough to enact the house-sprinklers. Shrieking alarms fill the house as they douse the living room and entryway.

(Jim: “Really, the house has a fire sprinkler system?”
Chris: “Well, it’s a multi-million-dollar house.”
Jim: “Hmm. I guess that makes sense. Especially in California where everything in the hills catches on fire.”
Me: “And in San Francisco, where everything explodes.”)

The flames are starting to gutter out, but neither Georgia nor the gargoyle want to step through the doorway yet. Through the cacophany of alarms, Georgia starts to hear movement outside the garage. It sounds like footsteps. Many footsteps.

“Oh, this is bad,” she mutters.

(Me: “Ha, you know, this is the second time the Tremere have sent a load of people to Paul’s house.”
Chris: “Paul’s house attracts everybody.”
Jason: *grinning* “It does, doesn’t it?”)

Georgia grabs another fire extinguisher—this time reading the directions—and successfully activates it to put the fires all the way out. She steps through the door into the entryway, spraying down every patch of flame she can see.

Someone kicks open the front door with a crash. Georgia turns to see a man step through, brandishing a shotgun. He turns to her, but before he can react she blasts him in the face with the extinguisher.

He yells and staggers back, face covered in foam. The shotgun discharges into the ceiling with a blindingly brilliant flash.  (SON OF A BITCH THOSE FUCKERS HAVE DRAGONSBREATH!!!!) He cusses and scrapes the foam out of his face….

…And is immediately jumped by the gargoyle in a flying tackle from across the room. The two fall back in a cascade of foam and smoke. Georgia hears screams, followed by crunching sounds.

(Jim: “One thing you never expect upon entering a house is being hit with a fire extinguisher.”
Jason: “Followed by a gargoyle.”
Chris: “Now it’s a gargoyle foam party.”)

Georgia can see more movement out front, through the open door. Four figures are hiding in the landscaping, but obviously hesitating about entering the house, after seeing what happened to their buddy. Georgia steps forward and raises a hand, blasting a gout of flames at them.

(Chris: “You know, between Lure of the Flames and a fire extinguisher, she’s pretty set. She has both a gas pedal and a brake!”)

The fire hits one of the men full in the face. He collapses to the ground, writhing and trying to scream through the flames pouring down his throat. Some of the fire splashes onto the guy next to him, catching on his jacket. That man panics and bolts off into the night, also screaming.

The other two men, though, raise their guns and start shooting. Georgia dives back through the doorway, barely missing the shots—which are, of course, more dragonsbreath rounds. Georgia laughs maniacally and scrambles deeper into the house, which has become a disorienting hellscape of smoke, water, sirens, and foam. Behind her she hears more shots and breaking glass, followed by yells and guttural roars.

A few seconds later, the noise dies down. She runs to another room and looks out the window toward the front. The man who was on fire is in front of the window, dead, and there is no sign of the other men or the gargoyle. She gingerly makes her way back to the front entryway to peer out.

And almost gets her head taken off by a man charging through the front door brandishing a sword.

#

Paul finally regains his senses from his Rotshriek panic, almost halfway across his property. He’s starving at this point. He collapses to his hands and knees, panting, but is able to hold his control together.

A stick cracks. He tenses and looks up. In front of him, about twenty feet away, stands a man, dressed in robes of standard Tremere blood-red. His hands, clasped calmly in front of him, are bedecked in silver rings that catch the moonlight. Wisps of smoke catch Paul’s attention and he tears his eyes away from the man to glance around. Nothing is on fire, but he can see that the grass around him and the man is charred to the soil. 

He also sees that the space separating him and the Tremere is scattered with pieces of another humanoid.

Before the man can do anything to react to his presence, Paul gropes in his pocket for the vial of werewolf blood and downs the whole thing.

The good news is Paul’s stats get a crazy good buff. The bad news is he ends up frenzying anyway.

(Jason: “Werewolf blood frenzies your ass. It’s not an automatic frenzy, but when you’re this low on blood initially and you’re near a frenzy, and you just came out of one…boom. You can roll self-control to avoid it but you have a difficulty at present of 11 so you fail.”
Chris: “When would that ever succeed!?”
Jason: “It wouldn’t.”
Chris: “I could spend a willpower—“
Jason: “You can’t spend a willpower on a self-control test. You can spend a willpower to abate a frenzy for a round.”
Chris: “Could I spend a willpower to decrease the difficulty of a self-control test?”
Jason: “No. You need Quintessence for that and you can’t have any.”
Jim: “What about Temporis?”
Jason: “…..FUCK. YOU.”
Me: “Do True Brujah even exist in your world?”
Jason: “….Well, someone’s gotta be the blood-dolls in some fucking elder’s mansion!”)

Anyway, so once again Paul spends most of the fight frenzying off-screen, out of Chris’s control.

#

The sword-wielder swipes at Georgia again. She drops, ducking under the blow as it takes a chunk out of the wall. He pulls it out for another strike as another man comes through the door.

Georgia startles from the newcomer, allowing the swordsman to slash at her. It gashes but not deeply. It does, however, move him close enough for her to grab him and cast Blood to Water. He convulses, screams, and drops to the ground.

The second man sees this and stops. He stares at the body and looks up at Georgia. “To hell with this,” he says and bolts from the house.

He only gets a few steps before Georgia tackles him to the ground and drains him dry.

After that, she stands up and takes stock of whats going on. There’s no sign of the gargoyle or Paul, but gunshots and screams are echoing sporadically from around the property, most apparently coming from behind the house. She reenters the house to try and see what’s going on out a back window.

Before she can decide what to do, a man steps into view of the front doorway, a few yards from the house. He’s carrying a gun, but it doesn’t look like any Georgia has seen before. He stares at the bodies scattered around the front walk then looks up at Georgia. Before she can react, he shakily raises the gun and fires.

Something solid hits Georgia in the chest, then the world explodes.

#

Paul wakes up—

(Chris: “I assume I’m covered in blood?”
Jason: “…You are covered in something….”)

—still in the backyard of the property and beat up pretty bad. At some point in…whatever happened, he was disemboweled. A good portion of his internal organs are either spilling out of him or littered on the ground nearby. The Tremere man he saw is nowhere to be seen.

However, another Tremere—Georgia—is laying nearby. Her chest cavity is blown open, like someone gutted her with an ice-cream scoop, and the rest of her body is charred and shredded. Many of the cuts are embedded with glass.

Paul turns to look at the house. All the windows on the ground floor have been blown out and are belching smoke.

Georgia is dazed but eventually comes to. She lies there, staring at the sky, while the hole in her chest seals itself.

As soon as she’s healed enough to be ambulatory, Georgia hauls to her feet. She scans the property and stops, noticing something to the left. She taps Paul’s shoulder. He tears his gaze away from the wreckage of his house and looks where she’s pointing.

Two figures are standing a few dozen yards off, staring at the house. One is a hulking, glowering figure in a labcoat. The other is the man in the Tremere-red robes.

“That’s Leopold,” Georgia whispers. Aka, Himmler. Since the men haven’t noticed them yet, the two take stock. Georgia donates some blood to Paul to help him heal.

Then Himmler turns his head and sees them. He stares at them a moment then raises a hand.

Georgia screams and writhes in pain, tearing her arm out of Paul’s grasp. She throws up her other arm and blasts fire back at Himmler. The flames hit Himmler in the chest, but he’s far enough away that they splash off harmlessly.

Paul staggers away from Georgia’s flames, then pops Celerity and runs toward the men. Himmler raises his other arm at him. Paul slows, shuddering and gasping as a stream of blood is ripped from his throat. It fountains toward the ground, then bends and snakes through the air, into Himmler’s outstretched hand.

Georgia, dangerously low on blood, looks around for some other weapon. She sees a sword, gripped by an arm, though the arm itself is attached to nothing. She runs to it and falls to her knees to pry the hand off the hilt.

Paul—mad at Himmler, and mad about watching his beautiful house getting destroyed right in front of him—officially goes Full Toreador. He pops Celerity again and dashes up to Himmler, tackling him. They grapple, with Paul trying to bite him and Himmler trying to throw him off. The other man—who is Martin, incidentally—grabs Paul’s shirt and tries to pull him off. Paul keeps his grip and pops Celerity again to fight harder.

Georgia runs up with the sword and slashes Martin across the back. Martin screams and releases Paul, stumbling backwards. He whirls on Georgia and pulls out a sawn-off, firing it at point-blank range. Georgia ducks to the side at the last moment. The shot scours her robes but lands in empty air.

Without Martin’s restraint, Paul is able to reach Himmler’s arm and bite him, but he’s only able to grab a few gulps of blood before an unseen force rips him off. He’s blasted across the lawn, a chunk of Himmler’s arm still in his grip. He scrambles back to his feet, popping Celerity a fourth time to throw himself at Himmler again. Himmler raises an arm to cast another spell, but it’s his damaged one. He grabs the arm, cursing in pain, and the magic fizzles and smokes out.

Martin steps away from Georgia, cracking the shotgun to reload it, but before he can Georgia tackles and bites him. Martin drops the gun and crumples to the ground.

Himmler ducks out of the way as Paul comes at him again and sees Georgia on top of Martin. He stares at her, looks back at Paul, then shouts something in German. He raises his good arm and vanishes.

Paul whirls around, but there is no sign of Himmler. The echoes of gunshots and screams have also stopped. The only sound on the property is the keening of the smoke and fire alarms from inside the house.

Georgia drinks some more from Martin, then looks up. “Paul, if you need blood….” she offers.

Paul looks at Martin. He’s alive, but his skin is deathly pale. Paul shakes his head. “No, if I take any it’ll kill him.”

Georgia looks at Martin then back to Paul. “But…they tried to kill us.”

“Yes, but we’re better than them.” He looks at Georgia, blood dripping down her chin. “…Or at least I’m better than them.” He looks up at the house, then back to Martin. He stares a moment, then kicks him in the side. “…Well, I’m alright.”

“Oh, by the way,” Georgia says, “there might be another guy with a grenade launcher out front.” Moments later an explosion echoes from the other side of the house. “…See?” she adds.

Paul grabs Martin by the coat and drags him back toward the house.

Georgia climbs to her feet. “What are you doing?”

“Going back inside. We need to regroup and find out what happened to that gargoyle.”

“Well…they’re probably going to shoot more grenades inside the house….”

“Hmm.” Paul drops Martin. “Well, lets take them out if we can, but try to avoid killing them if they’re human.”

“Okay,” Georgia says.

(Jason: “…says the Tremere who has already killed at least two of them.”
Kara: “Well, he didn’t ask!”)

Paul walks closer to the house, taking in the damage. Multiple fires have broken out across the ground floor, though for the moment the sprinklers are keeping things from spreading. The shrill cries of the alarms are echoing across the property, but over them he can hear the sounds of louder sirens approaching. He stares a few moments, sighs, then walks around the perimeter of the house to go into the garage. Georgia follows.

Paul wheels out the second of his new BMW motorcycles and collects his motorcycle gear. Unfortunately he only has the one helmet but Georgia is a vampire so she’ll probably be alright. They mount up and Paul drives off, heading away from the direction the fire engines will be coming from.

They go a few minutes down the road before stoping in a pullout just off the road. Paul gets off and casts Summon on the gargoyle.

They settle down to wait.

#

As I mentioned before, I am looking forward to a quiet night. I collect some new shotgun shells from City Arms and get back from Pacifica while the night is still young. Next item of importance on my list is getting a shitload of blood, since I need to do another round of healing on my fucking arm. If I keep this up, I will just be able to have myself back in one piece in time for the Monomancy tomorrow.

And I very much want to be back in one piece for the Monomancy tomorrow.

I head to my clubs and go through my normal song and dance of tracking my herd (which Jason has been making progressively more and more difficult) and/or locating some new HIV+ contacts. I get real lucky this time and find everything I need, then head back to my apartment to check in on Slayer.

He’s still in the bags, still staked, still looks like shit, but I give him a point of my hard-earned blood anyway. I’m starting to make plans for what I’d like him to do for me, but since I don’t entirely trust him I want to make sure he’s as bound as possible. I figure I’ll give him another point tomorrow before I go to the Monomancy.

I settle down on the floor to take stock of my gear and load up my bandoliers with the new shells. The repetitive action is strangely soothing. My mind drifts and I remember what Paul told me about the explosion in the park; specifically, that Sophia was there too. I finish loading up the shells then pull out my phone to send her a message:

Hey girl,” I type into the notepad app, spelling “girl” correctly this time because I am Very Concerned, “heard some shit went down let me know ur ok.”

There’s a knock at the door. I frown. I doubt it’s her, responding so soon. I walk to the door and peer through the peephole. There’s no-one there.

I hesitate. It’s possible someone is below the sightline of the peep-hole, but it can’t be Marcus. He wouldn’t knock, he’d just come in, probably as dramatically as possible. As I’m peering through the knock comes again. Maybe it’s a neighbor-kid or something, I think, and open the door.

It’s Perpenna. Standing there with an amiable smile, like some sort of door-to-door salesman.

I-as-Tom stare, shocked, and take a few steps backward into the room (while, IRL, I-as-Me stare at Jason with equal amounts of terror and shock and slowly roll my chair backwards across the kitchen to put my back up against the wall).

Perpenna raises an eyebrow. “The polite thing to do would be to invite me in.”

My mouth works soundlessly for a moment before responding. “I, uh…have always been told never to invite a vampire over the threshold.…”

He chuckles. “You shouldn’t trust all of the superstitions you hear,” he says as he calmly takes a step in and closes the door behind him. 

“Lytton, was it?” he asks. “Interesting place you have here….” I remain in the center of the room, following him as he slowly circles the place, examining it.

“Yeah,” I say, “It’s….” I grope for a snarky response, but am too terrified to think straight. “…it’s overpriced,” is the best I can come up with.

There’s not much to see, of course, so it’s not long before he wanders over and takes a seat on top of my mini-fridge. “So,” he says, leaning back and placing his hands on his knees. “What shall we talk about?”

I continue to stare at him, mind racing, but like a NASCAR race, everything is just running in frenetic circles.

He tilts his head. “No ideas? Cause the last time we met there wasn’t much time for conversation. I know the Brujah are not famous for words but surely you have something you’d like to say.”

“…Been doing some reading,” I finally spit out.

He raises an eyebrow. “Really? I didn’t know most Brujah knew how to read. They didn’t back when I first met them at least.”

Once again at a loss for words, and with my brain so overloaded that it has completely lost all sense of rational self preservation, I pull up his Wikipedia article and hand the phone over.

He glances at the screen, shaking his head. “Of all the ludicrous ideas humans have come up with in the last few centuries, this might be one of the worst. A repository of knowledge anyone can add to or take away from? Please.” He idly scrolls up and down. “Don’t tell me you believe this nonsense?”

“Well…they do take away my edits on the Lady Gaga page, but….”

“Of course they do,” he says absently. He hands the phone back. “So what have you been learning, then, oh scholar of the ancient ways?”

I grope for a response. “Oh, you know…things….” (“…I honestly don’t have any good response right now, I am literally terrified. …Oh my god, this is revenge for Lytton’s Life of Sertorius, isn’t it!?”)

“Well you have to be wondering what I’m doing here, of all people. I’m sure you were looking for a different Lasombra. One a little…smaller than I?”

“Actually…he tends to find me.”

“Yes, he does have that…capacity.” Perpenna regards me. “What in the world are you doing walking in his path, may I ask?”

Something in my mind shouts through the cacophony of panic, suggesting that it might be in my interest to downplay the fact that I’ve been working for Marcus voluntarily for weeks now. I mean, shit, I was ready to burn down the Chantry to find him and I wasn’t even bound to him at the time.

Outwardly, I keep my face calm and shrug noncommittally. “Well…our paths crossed, and…it was either his way or the highway. I’m sure you know how it is.”

Perpenna regards me another moment before responding. “Yes…he does have his own ways, doesn’t he. Insists upon various things like that.” He shifts his seat, leaning forward onto his knees and tenting his fingers loosely. “You’ve…stumbled into a situation that might be above your head. That is the idiom, isn’t it? It’s different in the Latin.”

I’m…considerably taller than him but I decide not to point that out. “Yeah, well, everything has been over my head for the last twenty years.…”

He smirks. “Yes, that doesn’t surprise me. Perhaps…you might want to reevaluate your position. Consider a change of heart?”

Speaking of my way or the highway…. “Are you…offering me a better team contract?”

He lifts a finger. “I am offering you a change to do the right thing. The proper thing. The honorable thing.”

“And why is it the honorable thing?” I ask, unable to keep distain from leaking into my voice.

“Because, you see, what you’ve stumbled into is a situation you can’t possibly understand the wheres and the why-fores of. So you have no idea what you’re doing, what you’re serving, and how you’re trying to serve it. That…diminutive vampire says do this, and you do it. Isn’t that about right?”

I nod tersely. “Seems to work.”

“For whom? I see you’ve profited much by the occasion.” He looks around the apartment. I follow his gaze to the bare, stained walls and my shitty curtains. One of the windows is still open from the night before, and through it I can hear someone throwing up on the sidewalk outside.

Perpenna watches my reaction carefully. When I don’t respond, he continues. “You see I’m a very elder vampire, I think you know that by now. But unlike most of those who are of my generation, I understand the need to allow newcomers to our little thing to prosper and grow in their own time. So many of my age consider your lot to simply be tools to be used and discarded. I…like to operate a little differently.”

He points to the phone in my hand. “See, you may have read a little story written by some drunken Greek about some one-eyed fool in Spain and what misadventures befell him, but the base fact is you don’t know what you’re doing here, who you’re working for, or why. So you see, who’s to say that this piece of propaganda actually happened, and who’s to say it’s a problem even if it did?”

He sits up again. “I’m here to suggest it behooves you to assist me in recovering something that belongs to me. A piece of property I lost a great deal of time ago.”

“What, a dagger? Cause from what I hear you’ve been handing those out.”

He chuckles. “No, the dagger is incidental. The dagger was a tool, a means to an end. The piece of property I am looking for is something considerably…more…valuable.”

For a moment I’m confused, trying to think of what other conceivable piece of property he might want. But then I remember that the Romans had a much broader definition of what constitutes “property.” My eyes narrow slightly.

Perpenna, meanwhile, is continuing: “And I would like you to assist me in recovering this property because you are uniquely positioned to be able to help. Would you be interested in…helping me, Mr. Lytton?”

My eyes narrow further. “Help you…like Clarence was helping you?”

He chuckles again. “Oh, Clarence and I…well we had a different relationship. Clarence has proven his worth in many ways, but Clarence can’t help me with what I need to have done.” He waggles his finger at me and continues amiably, “You just might be able to, and I’m not shy of informing you, Mr. Lytton, that that is the only reason you are currently alive.”

He glances out the window and raises an eyebrow. “You do understand that if I wanted to, I could kill not only you, but everyone in this city in a matter of minutes. Do you disbelieve me?”

(Chris: “Say yes!!”
Jim: “Ask for a demonstration!!”)

“No,” I scowl. Son of a bitch asshole vampires always threatening my fucking city….

He nods. “Good. That’s wise. That’s very wise.”

My mind is finally starting to spin down and think rationally. If I agree to help him, he’ll probably possess me like he did Clarence. If I don’t, he’ll probably possess me anyway. I don’t think for a minute that I’d be lucky enough for him to just kill me. I need to do something, and at this point anything is preferable to the current situation.

I realize that my phone is still in my hand, the notepad app still open. I surreptitiously tab over to the app and start hitting random keys in the keypad, trying to create a panicked-looking jumble.

“You see,” Perpenna continues, “I am not merely more powerful than any Kindred you’ve known. I also have powerful friends. Because in our line of work it pays to have powerful friends.” He smiles. “I am offering to be your friend, Mr. Lytton.”

The mention of friends is too much for Mr. Tails to ignore: “He’s waiting for the stars,” Mr. Tails whispers in  my head. “He’s waiting so the stars will be right before he puts…them…out.…

I process this, then fold my arms and pace the room, acting for all intents and purposes like any other thug considering a better deal being offered him. “You working on a time-frame here?” I ask Perpenna.

He smirks. “We’re all working on a time-frame, Mr. Lytton. We all have infinite time and yet no time at all. It’s the fundamental contradiction of our kind. But what I require from you is assistance in retrieving lost property that you, and perhaps you alone, may be able to help me in getting.” He shakes his head sadly, still smirking. “You see, the other one that might have been able to assist me is unfortunately no longer with us. Thanks I believe, in part, to your actions.”

I snort. “You’re gonna have to be more specific than that—“

“I’m sure,” he says flatly. “So that leaves just you. I could compel you to help me, but that might skew the matter and I’d rather not take the chances.”

I stare at him a moment, clutching my phone, which hasn’t yet buzzed a response. I decide to stall for time.

I give a wide shrug. “Well, I’m certainly willing to hear what the job is. Consulting is free.”

He smiles to himself, then leans back, crossing a leg. “You, Mr. Lytton, are a conundrum. You have remained in this city despite a number of misfortunes, and yet to all accounts seem to be interested in its preservation from threats. Such as me. Am I correct?“

I frown. How the hell does he know that…. I hide my confusion with another shrug. “Well, you did help rid us of Tremere, so…I can’t help but thank you for that….”

He chuckles. “Oh I can do far more than that. What would you say, Mr. Lytton, if I offered to make you Prince of this city?”

As soon as he says “Prince” I burst out laughing.

“Absolute. Ruler,” he continues calmly, ignoring my laughter. 

“Oh, right, because the ones we have do such a good job with it?”

“Oh, but are you the ones that we have? Someone needs to run this city, would you rather it be me?”

My laughter dies. He watches me, smiling.

“…Honestly, you’d probably do better than fucking Van Nuys,” I mumble finally.

He flicks an eyebrow and folds his arms. “I can rid you of every possible threat to your continued rule over this city and its entire environs. The Sabbat, the Anarchs, the Justicar, that…Viking elder from Oakland. I can remove them all. Every threat you could possibly have. ”

I roll my eyes and look away. Ok so Bell and Helgi aren’t exactly my friends but offering to kill them certainly isn’t the way to ingratiate himself with me. Maybe he doesn’t know as much about me as I feared.

He watches me a moment. “I can do other things as well,” he continues when I don’t meet his gaze. “Wealth. Power. Mystical knowledge. An understanding of your condition….“

Again, all things I don’t care about. Really striking out here Perpen—

“…Or what about that Assamite of yours?” he says silkily.

I freeze, staring off across the room. The terror is back, and now it’s tenfold.

“Yes, I know about her,” he says, leaning forward. “I know where she is. I know how you can go and get her. Before the other Assamites do, or any other that might want her harmed. I can even deliver the head of the one who embraced her to you on a platter.”

I turn to face the window so Perpenna can’t see my face clench shut in pain.

Behind me I hear rustling as he stands up from his seat. He walks forward to stand next to me at the window. I can see him out of the corner of my eye, but without his reflection in the glass I can’t see his expression. “I can do any of these things if I chose too,” he says companionably. “Or I can hurl you down to the ground and force your to obey every command I issue. It won’t be as good as your voluntary cooperation…” he nods to himself, “…But it will suffice, I should think.”

The phone in my hand buzzes. I’m afraid to look at it with him so close to me so I shove it in my pocket. I fold my arms and turn to pace the room again. “This…thing you need reclaimed, it wouldn’t happen to be on a boat owned by one Accio, would it?”

He laughs, a deep laugh, not a sinister chuckle this time. “No, no Mr. Lytton, Mr. Accio works for me. I don’t need anything from him that he can’t give me if I ask it. No, the item I require is something I lost a long time ago, due to, I admit, my own carelessness.” He clasps his hands in front of him. “I am man enough to admit my own shortcomings in this way. No, I lost it through carelessness and I’ve been hoping to retrieve it for quite awhile now.”

He stares at me till I meet his eye. “A piece of…personal property. It’s…somewhat important to me. Sentimental reasons, you understand? We can be sentimental, us elders. More so even than you, perhaps. We’ve had a longer time to develop sentiment.”

Isabella’s painting flashes through my mind. Somehow I suspect he knows about that too….

He smiles at me, hands still clasped pleadingly before him. “So can you help me, Mr. Lytton?”

I still haven’t risked looking at the phone, but part of me hopes it was a message from Sophia saying help is on the way. I stall for more time. “Well, I can’t really give an estimate on the job till I know the full extent of it.”

“Oh it’s very simple. I need you to deliver me my property and it’s something only you can deliver.” He pauses. “Well, perhaps not only you, but you are one of the few. I could ask the Toreador but I doubt he’ll be alive in another twenty-four hours.”

Awww, shit I hope he doesn’t kill me before the Monomancy, I’m kinda looking forward to this shit now. “Yeah, it’s gonna be a good show. You should come!”

“I’m afraid I’m busy,” he says with an apologetic shrug. “And I never had much use for the Sabbat anyway. Too…messy,” he says, with an exaggerated shudder.

I eye him a moment. I’m getting tired of all this dancing around the topic. “I don’t understand what it is you need with…this property,” I say.

He smiles. “No, Mr. Lytton, you don’t. I can’t expect you to. It’s…an old matter. A very old one. You can read the translation of a translation of a drunkard’s copy of a Greek fool. But you can’t understand the full import of what it is I require.”

He falls silent, watching me. I look away. We stand motionless for almost a full minute, the only sound in the room the echoing shouts of drunks outside and a siren as it blares past.

“It would be a simple matter. A phone call placed, a request made, and that’s all you need to do. I can supply the necessary…muscle,” he says, his voice reassuring.

For one brief, dark moment, I am tempted. It is possible he too has a weird Roman sense of honor that would make him keep his word. Maybe he would be able to save Isabella for me. Maybe I could rule the city, driving out the assholes and the bullshit so Sophia, and Paul, and Georgia—and yeah, sure, Anstis too—could all get back to their normal lives. My life wouldn’t be normal again but at least I would be protecting the things that I love.

But…no…. I realize, face hardening, …not everything….

I take a breath and turn back to him. “Well, hopefully you won’t need an army to do it, cause from what I understand you’re not very good at keeping those around.”

The reassuring look on Perpenna’s face falls. I stare back evenly. He doesn’t react outwardly, but the shadows at the corners of the room grow larger.

(Back in the real world, I am also staring down Jason. He too doesn’t react, just watches me quietly. After a few long, silent moments, he reaches out and grabs a handful of dice.)

“I would not speak on subjects of which you know nothing if I were you, Mr. Lytton….” Perpenna says slowly. The light dims further. I can feel the darkness swelling behind me, but I keep my eyes focused on him. “It’s ill…advised.”

The exposed bulb on the ceiling burns down to barely a candle’s strength. He takes a step forward. “You’ve seen what your little friend is capable of. What do you think I am?” Smoky wisps pour off of him. They pool at his feet, merging with the shadows on the floor, and rise in a twisting mass behind him. “Now…are you going to assist me, Mr. Lytton, or are you going to assist me after I make you?”

I remain very still. At this point, the Brujah in me is saying I should tell him in no uncertain terms to Fuck His Couch and then just deal with whatever happens. But the rational, Survivor side of me points out that there’s still the slimmest chance Sophia will come to my aid, so for now I might as well hold out for that.

As if on cue, my phone buzzes again.

“I…gotta take this,” I mumble, and turn to the side to look at the screen. A text from an unknown number has appeared, with the message, “?

“A friend, Mr. Lytton?” he asks.

“…In a way….” I mumble, trying to think of a response.

“You can call whatever you’d like,” he continues. “It won’t help much.”

(Jim: “You should call Bell right now!”
Me: “Ha!! ‘Heeeeeey, I think I just joined a gang, please pick me up!‘ “)
Ben: “Help, I need an adult!”)

I need to stall more. “When do you need an answer by?”

Perpenna pulls an old fashioned pocket watch out of his pocket (classy!) and pops it open. “Oh…twelve seconds?”

“Wait, now….” I hold up a hand. “Obviously I’m not one for strategy, but…just saying, if I was to work with you willingly, what’s to say I won’t just turn around and tell Marcus what’s going on?”

He smiles, but not reassuringly this time. “Because I don’t plan to let you out of my sight until the matter is concluded, Mr. Lytton. You see we can sit around and postpone everything for days on end, but I’d rather conclude this….” he snaps the watch shut, “…rapidly.” He nods at my phone. “Place your call, call him here, and you can leave. I’ll do the rest. You needn’t even watch the…unpleasant result. I doubt he’ll come quietly, afterall.”

I throw out my arms. “How do you know he’ll come at all!?”

“Oh, I have faith you’ll find a way to get him to come. After all, Mr. Lytton, I’ve known him for far longer than you have. I knew him back before he was,” he gestures at the shadows still twisting around him, “all of this.”

Goddamit, goddamit, goddamit…. I need to figure out a way to let Marcus know what’s going on while still letting Perpenna think I am doing what he’s asking. My mind runs through every plot of every movie I’ve ever seen with a similar situation, looking for ideas.

My phone, meanwhile, buzzes again in my hand. I look at it. The question mark has been replaced with a new text, “What is going on?” I glance at Perpenna then, acting like I’m scrolling through my contact list, type, “HELP” into my notepad.

“Six seconds, Mr. Lytton,” Perpenna says.

Fuck. I stop stalling and place the call.

Marcus answers. “Yes?”

I rub my head with my missing left hand. “Heeeeeeey, Boss….”

“…Something the matter?”

“Yeah, um…. You know how we talked about, getting out of town for awhile? How you suggested   I get out of the state? I’ve, ah…been thinking about doing that, seems like it’d be good for me, but I’m worried about losing my lease again, cause…you know what happened last time….”

“…I see….” he says slowly. “And you found it important to call and inform me of this…why?”

Fuck, does he remember our conversation about Perpenna on Alcatraz? No way to tell so I push on anyway. “Well…I was hoping you could organize some sort of auto-payment account to pay for the apartment while I’m gone, buuut…they need you to sign some paperwork for that so…I was hoping you could come…down…here?”

I glance at Perpenna. He’s watching me quietly, face unreadable. The shadows have receded a bit but they’re still moving more than they should.

“Tom….” Marcus says after a few moments. “Just a side question…Is there a 2500-year-old vampire sitting in your room right now?”

I close my eyes. “Maybe….?” I say, voice strained.

“Could you possibly give him the phone for a moment?”

Sonofabitch, why does this always happen…. I sigh and wordlessly hand the phone over to Perpenna. He puts the phone up to his ear, still staring at me, but doesn’t say anything. Nor do I hear a voice coming from the other side of the line. He stands in silence for half a minute, then hangs up the call and hands the phone back to me. I take it reflexively, bemused.

“Fascinating little device, that.” he says.

I stare at the screen, hoping for another message from Sophia. “Yeah…. You know if you want one, I got a guy down the street. He can get you a good deal on an insurance plan. He…jumps through windows for me….”

Perpenna, though, doesn’t acknowledge the offer. “You know, if we’d had those back in the day the Empire would still be around.”

“Actually I believe social media has taken down more empires than it’s built in its existence so far….”

He snorts. “Probably,” he concedes.

He takes a breath and folds his hands together in front of him. “Mr. Lytton…. I understand you may feel some misguided…attachment to my wayward property, and his terrible story of the horrible things vested upon him. He’s very good at turing a phrase, but…this is literally your only chance to walk away from this with not only your life intact, but your station improved. You can assist me wholeheartedly in this endeavor by doing what I say, following me to a location of my choosing so that we can have a more private conversation. Or….”

He keeps the same amiable, placating posture, but the shadows behind him swell, completely obscuring the wall in a writhing mass of darkness. “…I can strike you dead where you stand, and devour your soul,” he says calmly. “It wouldn’t be the first, and I’ll admit Brujah aren’t to my taste, but we live in a fallen world, and there are times we have to…slum it a bit.”

Yeah. Time’s up. I incline my head in a subtle nod.

He chuckles. “To put it another way, how is it you say in these times…. Come with me if you want to live?”

I roll my eyes. “We need to work on your accent….” I mutter, but I gesture to the door, indicating that I will follow.

Bzzt Bzzt, my phone buzzes again. I pull it out after Perpenna passes me.

Who are you with? F/F?” the message says.

I glance at Perpenna’s back. “Biiiiiiiiiiiig bad” I type back hurriedly, then follow him out of my apartment.

Perpenna leads us out of the building to the sidewalk outside. It’s only just after midnight, but for once my street is empty of its usual obnoxious denizens. He steps to the curb and pauses thoughtfully. The moment passes and he looks around, taking a deep breath of rancid city air. “Mr. Lytton…I have a question for you.”

“Is it about how to get a cab? Cause I got an app for that….” (“—OH MY GOD what if Adam picks us up!?!”)

“Have you ever been told of the laws of motion?”

“Umm…Newtonian motion? Just what I learned in high school….”

He nods and turns to me. “They tell me that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I’m afraid, Mr. Lytton, you haven’t been studying these effects enough. Perhaps…you need a demonstration.”

A very predatory-looking smile spreads across his face, moments before the entire section of sidewalk he’s standing on erupts into flame.

I stumble backward. The flames roar skyward, completely obscuring Perpenna. I stand in shock for a moment then look around, for once hoping to see werewolves descending upon my vicinity.

I don’t see werewolves but I see something, strange shadowy shapes darting briefly across my vision, converging on the flames. The roar increases as the flames spread, engulfing a section of the street, but over the roar I can hear unearthly howls and the shattering of glass. The heat pours over me in waves. I step back again, too transfixed by shock to do anything else.

Finally I break myself from the spell and head down the block—

(Jason: “Do you sprint?”
Me: “…No. You never run from anything immortal.”)

—at a brisk pace, until I the reach the corner. I pause to glance back behind me and my jaw drops.

The flames have turned a sickly, acid green, roaring even higher, as if a blast furnace had suddenly opened in the ground. The shrieks and howls rise louder, followed by sounds of rending metal, but underneath all that I can hear a voice, chanting repeatedly in a language I don’t understand.

(Jim: “Still not the weirdest thing I’ve seen in the Tenderloin.”)

Dumbfounded, I fall back on the strongest instinct drilled into me by our modern era and lift up my phone to take a video of that shit. After a few seconds, I finally duck around the corner and consider my next move.

Plan 1: Get the hell out of dodge.

I ping Sidecar. (Jason: “Nearest driver is 9 minutes away.”)

Sonofabitch, I ping Lyft. (“Nearest driver 12 minutes away.”)

FUCK, Uber! (“Nearest driver is 30 minutes away and we are in Surge Pricing.”)

GAAAH! I hail a cab!

(Jason: “PSSSSH, there’s no cabs in San Francisco!”
Me: “I KNOW!!!!!!”)

Plan 2: Phone a friend.

I call Marcus again but he doesn’t answer. I jump down to the next person on my emergency contact form and call Bell. He doesn’t answer either. Getting desperate, I call Paul.

Paul: “What do you want To—What is going on? Whats all that noise?”
Me: “PERPENNA IS HERE!”
Paul: “That’s….good? Shouldn’t you call Marcus?”
Me: “I did!! Perpenna made me call him so he could talk to him and now there’s green shit all over the place and flames, flames on the side of my face—“

I suddenly sense something descending above me. I instinctively jump back as a massive shape lands in front of me with a wet thud. I stare a moment, then peer closer.

It’s a head. A werewolf’s head. Burned in places, but by the look of the neck it has been twisted off. I gape at it a moment. Paul’s tinny yells echoing from the phone bring me back to reality. I bring the phone back up to my ear.

Paul: “Tom!! Tom are you in danger right now?”
Me: “YES! Yes a lot of danger!”
Paul: “Then get out of there!!”
Me: “I’m trying!”

I look up and down the cross-street. No cars, not even any fucking busses are around. Near panic, I start walking down the street at a brisk pace.

Paul: “Are you at your apartment? Can you find a place to—“

I don’t hear the rest of his statement because at that moment something grabs me in a grip as inexorable as death. I don’t even have time to scream before everything goes black.

#

Anstis, meanwhile, is still out for a pleasant stroll through the Tenderloin when he hears sounds of fire, explosions, and unearthly screams. He wanders down the block in the direction of the and turns the corner to see everything I just ran away from.  He doesn’t know what’s going on, but its obvious it’s some bad magic shit. Shapes writhe in the flames, and a sulfurous smell worse than Anstis himself drifts up the street on the breeze.

Anstis also runs through the phone tree, and when Bell and Marcus don’t answer, he calls Paul, reporting the same things I did.

#

Paul passes the information on to Georgia, who is standing next to him as they wait for the gargoyle by the side of the road.

“Green flames!?” she asks, eyes wide. “Tell him not to touch it. Van Brugge!” she calls desperately.

(Jason: “….Urg, fine.”)

Ja wohl?

“So…a couple of my compatriots are apparently in the Tenderloin being attacked by Perpenna and…Balefire.”

Ja. I am aware. I am currently en route. With Mr. Bell.

(Me: “Thank god. …Also I can’t believe I am actually happy to hear a Tremere is coming.”)

“Oh. Good. What should I do?”

Just…stay the ever-loving hell away. Beyond pay-grade, ja?”

The connection ends. Georgia passes the info to Paul. Paul decides to make some more calls, starting with Gates:

Gates: “…Paul?”
Paul: “Gates!”
Gates: “Paul are you involved in that thing down in the Tenderloin?”
Paul: “No—wait, wow, there’s news about that already?”
Gates: “No, I happen to be nearby. I can see it from my place.”
Paul: “Stay away! In fact, if you can safely, get out of San Francisco.”

Gates: “…I’ll see what I can do.”
Paul: “Also…there may be issues regarding a fire at the Portola house. There are…possibly the marks of grenade attacks—“
Gates: “GRENADE ATTACKS!?”
Paul: “Yeah, I’m making friends left and right.”
Gates: “Is this the same people who went after Tesseract?”
Paul: “Different ones. These ones are after me personally.”
Gates: “Paul how do you manage to piss this many people off??”
Paul: “It’s baffling to me. Most people describe me as charming.”
Gates: “…You sure this isn’t Ellison?”
Paul: “The thought had occurred to me, but…. You know who Himmler was?”
Gates: “…The Nazi?”
Paul: “Yeah, apparently they turned him into a vampire and now he really has a thing out for me.”
Gates: “…You’ve been fighting Nazis in the South Bay?”
Paul: “Yes.”
Gates: “…Paul is there a chance that this is all just a crazy dream that I’m going to wake up from?”
Paul: “I’ve been thinking the same thing for about sixteen months now. Hasn’t happened yet.”

Paul gets a text message, from…Marcus, surprisingly (we didn’t think he knew how to text message). Paul tells Gates to be careful, hangs up, then reads the message and replies.

Marcus: Where are you?
Paul: Portola Valley
*long pause*
Marcus: There are complications
Paul: What sort? Out of my element (obviously)
Marcus: Not here.
Marcus: Stand by.

Minutes go by and no other messages come through. Paul and Georgia go back to waiting, for the gargoyle or any other information.

#

Anstis, wisely, also decides that now is as good a time as any to GTFO of the Tenderloin and head to his appointment in Chinatown.

He arrives at the place, the Temple of Eternal Brotherhood, an impressive building decorated in Oriental Baroque, sidling out the weathered Victorians and commercial buildings spanning the rest of the neighborhood. The front door is open and flanked on both sides by two stern-looking Asian men in suits. Neither of them react as Anstis swaggers inside.

Inside the door is a small lobby. There are some other people about, standing in corners and sitting on chairs. Anstis ignores them and heads straight to the desk on the far side. The woman sitting there looks up as he approaches.

“I’m have a meeting with Mr. Xiang Li Weng,” Anstis says.

“And your name?” she says softly, completely unperturbed by suddenly dealing with a pirate in fetish leathers and a pimp hat.

“Thomas Anstis.”

“Of course Mr. Anstis. He has been expecting you. Please go up to the top floor.” She nods to the stairs at the side of the lobby.

(Good thing they don’t have an elevator cause he doesn’t do very well with those.)

Anstis ascends to a penthouse office on the top floor. The room is large, spanning the entire width of the building. The wall opposite him is lined with windows facing west, showcasing the lights of the city in a grand panorama. Most of the light in the room is coming from these windows, though a few spotlights in the room softly illuminate statues and paintings lining the room. Anstis walks forward slowly, literally appraising the decor quickly before looking out the windows. Part of the view is obscured by smoke rising from a neighborhood to the south. The smoke billows against the stars, lit from below by green light.

Anstis finally notices his companion in the room. A man is standing at the window, his back to Anstis, watching the smoke. He doesn’t react as Anstis enters. Anstis hesitates a moment, then walks to the window to stand next to him.

The man turns his head slightly. “Captain Anstis.”

Anstis nods. “Aye.”

“I am Xiang Li Weng. Thank you for coming. I am glad we have an opportunity to speak.” As on the phone, his voice is only lightly accented with Chinese intonation. “I am also glad that you are not caught up in this unfortunate business that seems to be transpiring.” He nods at the smoke.

“Do you know what’s going on?”

“I know that there are very powerful forces at work in this city, and some of them are inimical to each other.”

“Perpenna,” Anstis growls.

Weng inclines his head, still staring out the window. “That is a name we have heard. It is the name of a vampire most hated by some and revered by others. If he is here then there is much that will be coming with him.”

“Revered by whom?”

“Some spirits. Some who still live. And hated by others.”

“I have met some of…the latter ones.”

A smile tugs corner of Weng’s mouth. “Yes. I think you have.”

Anstis looks at the smoke again, then the rest of the view, the city spread before him. “Interesting times, these be….”

Weng turns to him, a knowing smile on his face. “Yes, I think they are, Captain Anstis. Interesting times indeed.”

Weng turns from the window and walks to a polished mahogany desk. He gestures for Anstis to take a seat in a low leather chairs in front of the desk, then sits down himself.

“Tell me, Captain,” he says, folding his hands in front of him, “Where did you learn to wield the spiritual arts?”

Anstis, of course, knew this was coming, but still shifts uncomfortably at someone asking him so directly. “Well, that be quite the tale….”

“And I am quite the listener.” Weng cocks his head. “And I never knew a sea captain who did not have many tales in him.”

(Kara: “Mr. Tails?”)

“I have told this tale to no soul,” Anstis asserts.

“I am not any soul, Mr. Anstis,” Weng says, inclining his head. With the cadence of his accent it is hard to tell which of those words he stresses. “I am Xiang Li Weng. I oversee operations for my clan in this city. This is a difficult task, but I am a difficult man.”  Weng lets that sink in a moment, then smiles and spreads his hands. “I can also be a generous man, to those who indulge my whims.”

He tents his fingers again. “You have some rudimentary skill in this art, do you not? I say rudimentary not to insult you but because it was an error of yours that brought you to our attention. The spirits…they talk. And when they talk they speak of those who summoned them without cause, without knowing what it is they’d do.”

His smile fades. He watches Anstis intently as he continues. “There was an incident last night in Oakland. The port of Oakland. I believe that incident was your doing.”

Anstis nods, returning Weng’s gaze. “Very well. How much do you know of me past?”

“I have done such research as I may in these recent hours.” He pulls a book out of a drawer and places it on the desk. It’s well-weathered, but not ancient, so Anstis can clearly read the title on the scuffed and faded cover: A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates

Weng continues. “You were a…buccaneer, who sailed the Caribbean Sea, and stole such things as came your way. I know that you were reported dead, slain by your own crew. Some two centuries ago.” Weng opens the book and flips through to a section marked with a note. “I also know that you stand before me now, either a very convincing impostor or the man himself.” He lays the book open on the table and flips it around for Anstis to see.

There on the page is a woodblock sketch of Anstis, sans-pimp hat but otherwise identical to the day.

Anstis looks at the picture a moment, then sighs. “Aye, I be that man. Very well, I shall tell you the tale….”

Before I was captain of the Good Fortune, I sailed aboard The Buck, with Howell Davis.

“Yes, another captain of note. I have heard of Mr. Davis and his lieutenant…Mr. Roberts.”

Antis scowls. “Aye. We…had a slight falling-out, Roberts and I.”

Anyway, I was freshly turned in those days. Thought well of Davis, my sire. Charismatic. I knew little of being a vampire then.

One night, Davis spotted a ship to the south. A sloop, flying the French colors. A fine prize. Davis ordered the attack. We sailed closer, firing cannons like thunder. The ship was stricken and began to sink. We boarded it to pull what little we could off before the depths took it. 

I boarded the ship among the rest of me crew. We fought the sloop’s men with swords and I was stabbed through the chest. When I did not fall, my attacker fled. I gave chase, and he lead me to his master. A greasy looking man in fine clothes.

Weng taps his fingers lightly on the desk. “This man…would you wager he was from Italy?”

Anstis thinks. “Difficult to say. Probably not.”

Weng frowns. “Hmm. Continue.”

This man also pulled out his sword and attacked. There was not much time for conversation. We battled for a time, but I hungered after my wound. I leapt forth and bit him. He tasted…odd. Since then, I’ve been able to see things.

Weng raises an eyebrow. “You committed the soul-bite, Mr. Anstis, on a necromancer….”

Anstis shrugs. “I was very young in those days.”

“Yet many who are younger than you have paid for their actions. This man…did you find anything else of him? His provenance, his name?”

Anstis shakes his head. “The ship was sinking. We cleared the ship of cargo and left the rest to the waves.”

Weng nods, still drumming his fingers lightly. “Captain. What do you know of the wider world that you have been brought forth into?”

“I know what me sire taught me.”

“And what did he teach you concerning those who…employ the spirits, as we do?”

“He…didn’t have much experience, but warned to be cautious.”

Weng nods. He folds his hands on the desk and is silent for a few moments. When he finally speaks, his voice is stern. “Captain. I represent an organization. A very large, very influential organization, spread across the planet. In a handful of trusted families, wherein power is kept very jealously. The same power you evidenced last night. The same power we are commanded to protect.”

The last word is especially clipped. He stares at Anstis a moment before continuing. “Ordinarily, another wielding this power would engender…a violent response. Particularly one who admitted to the soul-bite of another necromancer, perhaps one of my organization. I could not possibly know.”

He draws a breath and gazes out the window. “But these are not ordinary circumstances or ordinary times. We do not have the luxury of petty feuds and accidental enmities, you and I. We stand in the shadow of giants far more powerful than either of us, do we not?”

Anstis follows his gaze to the green-flecked smoke still billowing over the city. “That we do….” he rumbles.

Weng continues to stare out the window. “I do not know what is going on out there right now. I do know that all those I have asked have reported back…strange information in apocalyptic tones. They speak of the end of days.”

“There does seem to be a lot of that going around,” Anstis agrees.

“It is in the air, Captain. It has been in the air for some time. Perhaps since I was embraced. Perhaps, even, since you were.”

Weng gets up from the desk to slowly pace the room. “I have called you here, Captain, because I have problems in this city. Difficulties that I am not at liberty to assuage. Because of my position, because of my responsibilities. Because if I were to move openly against those who wish me harm, me and mine would be forfeit. They would strike at my allies, my deposits,” he glances at Anstis, “…My family. I cannot permit this. But you captain, are an unknown quantity.”

“Who is it that brings such enmity?”

Weng stops his circuit of the room. “Have you ever ventured to the Orient, Captain?”

“I have not.”

Weng gestures vaguely westward. “The lands of China are not dominated by your and my bloodline. I may resemble those who inhabit that land but I do not share their blood. Not in the way that you and I share blood. You by adoption, perhaps. Me through other means. There are Kindred who live there but Kindred not of our line. Not of our lineage, nor our provenance. Kindred who come from a very different culture and a very different origin. Kindred who have left the Orient and come here.”

“And you have angered them?”

Weng’s eyes narrow. “My very existence angers them, Captain, as does yours. They regard me as an abomination. They regard you as a filthy foreigner. They regard both of us as chattel to be enslaved or devoured at whatever whim they choose.”

He strides to the window again, this time looking down on the neighborhood below. “For decades now I have fought them for control of this part of the city. I have won some battles and I have lost some. But the stakes have become so high that it has become difficult for me to act with any degree of freedom. I have responsibilities to the organization that I represent. I cannot throw them all away simply because I have a petty vendetta within this city to deal with.”

He turns back to Anstis. “And so, Captain, rather than a sword, I come to you with an offer. What purpose have you put these talents of yours to in the past?”

Anstis shrugs. “Little at this point. Information.”

“Information…perhaps as to the nature of your demise? And the actors responsible for its enactment?”

“Not yet,” Anstis glowers.

“Not yet, but eventually.” Weng smiles. “What if I offered you the opportunity to engage in such researches? To cultivate your capacities, rather than shun them and hide them away? Afterall, what the organization is not aware of can’t hurt them. And I am granted leeway to do what I must to protect our interests. But…in return I would need services from you.” 

Anstis processes this a moment. “It was told to me that your clan thinks poorly of those who reveal your secrets.”

“We think incredibly poorly of those who reveal our secrets,” Weng says sharply, “but it is not my secrets I am offering you, Captain, it is yours.”

Weng paces forward, his gaze sliding over the understatedly-opulent decor of the office.“I cannot bring you into our organization, I cannot even officially know you exist, but I can grant you all the tools you require to do what it is you feel you must do. At least in matters spiritual and necromantic.”

Anstis nods slowly. “And what are you requiring?”

Weng turns back to the window. “I have a mortal enemy in this city. In this very district. This enemy takes many forms and goes by many names, but it is always the same enemy and has been the same enemy for 150 years.” He takes a breath. “I wish this enemy destroyed, once and for all. I haven’t the strength to do so myself, and I cannot and dare not send my organization or resources to the destruction of this enemy, lest I expend them all for no gain.”

He turns his head. “But you, Captain, are not of my clan. You have your own resources. Your own capacities.”

“And you are willing to throw me away for this,” Anstis growls.

Weng smiles. “Yes, Captain, I am. I am willing to give you the opportunity to prove to me that you are an investment worth making. If you can destroy this…force that has maligned my affairs over this length of time, I will be in a position to help you.”

Anstis leans back in the chair. “What is the name?”

“There are many names. The most recent was…Xia. She has used that name in the past.” He looks out the window again, peering down the length of Sacramento street below. “She is hidden, Captain, hidden very well. Deep within the bowels of Chinatown. She will be a very difficult creature to uncover and discover.”

“And she is one of these Eastern vampires you mentioned?”

Weng nods tersely, still facing the window. “Yes.”

“What are their capabilities?”

“Broad, and varied. I do not know the full extent. But they are very, very dangerous. Over short periods and short distances. They haven’t the stamina of us, but they have great power in burst.” He turns from the window and settles again at the desk. “You will have to track her down, wear her down. Survive what counter-measures she uses against you.”

“Do you know her original name?”

“I do not. She was here when I came to these shores, in 1853. Shortly after my own Embrace.” A shadow crosses his face. “It was no longer conducive for me to inhabit China. The Tai Ping Rebellion was in full swing. Millions were being slain by fanatics and warlords. And I was embraced into a clan thought…decrepit and corrupt, by all of the others in China.”

“And elsewhere,” Anstis says.

Weng’s eyes narrow. “Perhaps. But we have ways of engendering respect through strength and resource if need be.”

“What else can you tell me about what she’s capable of? What her resources are? (Again with the fucking dialogue tree….)

“I once hired an assassin to track down and destroy her. An Assamite. He assured me he was an expert in his subject. He vanished into the subterranean lairs beneath Chinatown and was never seen again. That was twenty years ago. This Assamite came highly recommended. Whatever she did to overcome him could not have been minor. I would not suggest following in his footsteps. The name he gave me was Ahmed. The Assamites might yet know of him.”

Anstis nods. “What else can you tell me about what she can do?” (Seriously, Jim?)

“She can see into men’s hearts. Understand their inner natures. The turmoil that lies in all of us. Call forth or subdue the Beast at will. She can read men’s minds and know their innermost desires, and then cater to them, such that she may bring them into her power.” Weng leans forward. “She is a very, very subtle creature.”

(Great, ok, Orientalist film noir femme-fatale, cause that’s not type at all—)

“In direct combat she employs hideous forms. Monsters from beyond imagining…”

(—ok that’s better.)

“…But she tires quickly. She has not the mastery of the blood that we do. And when confronted with violence she will retreat to fight again.”

Weng’s face hardens as he looks directly into Anstis’s eyes. “You must forbid her retreat, my son. Call her forth, draw out her hidden strength and destroy her. She will attempt to entice you with promises of power and wealth. I will not insult you by claiming that they are all lies. But I will inform you that everyone who has gone over to her side has wound up dead. Generally by her hand, and generally in a foul manner. She regards us as…an inferior, barbarous group, and that it is her duty to suppress and destroy us where she can. She will despise you all the more for being Occidental.”

He takes a visible breath. “Her attacks take every form imaginable. Economic, political. Structural. The assault of assassins by night, or poison by day. She will strike at your confidants, your mortals, your associates, your allies in government or business. She will strike at anything she thinks she can use to break down your capacities. This is why I have contacted you, Captain,” he tilts his head, “you have no political allies here. You have no dependencies to protect. You are unknown to her as much as to me. She cannot hurt you in the manner that she can hurt me. I do not say she cannot hurt you at all.”

Weng turns his head to the window. The smoke from downtown has stopped actively billowing, but lingering clouds of it are still drifting over the city like sickly-colored phantasms. “I do not claim that this will be an easy task, Captain, but I am prepared to offer you what none other in this city can offer in return.  Power of a nature that no others possess.”

He turns back. “The alternative, Captain, it that I must report your existence to my superiors, at which point our organization will be forced to attempt to destroy you. Perhaps we will fail, but the attempt will be made all the same.”

Anstis is quiet for a few moments, gazing again at the artifacts displayed in the room. When he turns back to Weng, he tents his fingers. “All else being equal, friends are more profitable than enemies.”

Weng smiles. “I was hoping you would say that.”

Anstis grins over his fingers. “Then I believe we have an accord.”

#

Paul and Georgia are still hanging around the roadside waiting for the gargoyle. It’s been half an hour and theres still no sign of him, so they’re gonna have to figure out something else to—

(Chris: “I SUMMON HIMMLER!!”
*The room gapes at him*
Chris: “See, there are a few reasons. One, he already left, and he’s not exactly having a great night as it goes. Two, if he rejects it, he spent a willpower needlessly. Three, he already came to my place unannounced, so….”
*Another pregnant pause*
Jason: “…Roll away!”)

Yeah, so Paul is….I guess mad about his house blowing up? Or thinks that right now Himmler is pretty beat and perhaps low on blood and a rapid forced counter-attack will be unexpected so they might have a chance to take him out…maybe?

(Me: “I like how quickly Jason’s sadistic smile turned to a look of pain and confusion.”
Jason: *grumble* “Welcome to this game.”)

Georgia is too dazed to protest, so Paul Summons him. Paul can sense that the call was successful, but he can’t tell if it was resisted. They won’t know for sure until Himmler shows up, or doesn’t.

They settle down to wait again.

#

I wake up. So that’s good at least.

It takes me a few moments to blink my eyes into focus. Massive cypress trees loom over me, jagged but well-pruned. My first thought is Golden Gate Park and I tense, afraid that I was grabbed by the werewolves. I listen for growls and heavy footsteps, but all I hear is the crash of waves in the near-distance.

That’s when I realize where I actually am: Lands End.

I sit up. Sure enough, I’m surrounded by the sloped greens of the park and the golf course, and the Palace of the Legion of Honor lies up the hill from me, a glowing temple in the darkness.

I look around. The trees below are jagged black silhouettes with moonlight glittering between them, reflecting off the ocean to the west. To the north I can see glimpses of Point Bonita lighthouse in the Headlands. My gaze sweeps the slope below me and sees a small figure looking toward the water.

Gee I wonder who that could be.

I haul to my feet and walk down toward him. “Boss?” I call hesitantly as I approach.

I stop a few feet away. He stares off a moment longer then turns to face me. “Hello Tom,” he says, sighing noticeably.

I glance around. “Is…anyone else here?”

“There shouldn’t be. Don’t worry, Perpenna’s not here. He’s…busy.”

That only makes me worry more. “I saw….” I say.

Marcus looks east, toward the distant glimpses of downtown visible through the trees. “You called in some problems for him. Which I guess should be thanking you for but I don’t think you’d accept my thanks at the moment.”

I bristle, confused. “Why not?”

He looks back at me, his gaze suddenly sharper. “What exactly did you do, Tom?”

I bristle again. Does he think it was my fault that Perpenna showed up at my door? “I picked up some shotgun shells for tomorrow and I got some blood and I came home—“

“What did you do when you found Perpenna sitting in your front room?” he clarifies, still watching me intently.

“I…was mostly on the border of shitting my pants.”

“Well I understand that, but I think you did something else. I think you called someone. Someone in particular. With your telephone.”

I gape. “I…he made me call you—“

“I don’t mean me.”

My mind races. It’s peaceful out here in Lands End, but Marcus’s ambiguous irritation is spinning up my panic response again. He’s warned me about getting into or starting shit and I specifically was trying to do what he told me to do, to lay low, and it’s not my fault the shit found me

“I didn’t call anyone else!” I cry, then wince at the plaintive note in my voice.

“Really? So your phone has text messages from a werewolf because…?”

“Oh….” My panic subsides. “Well…that’s not calling, that’s texting—“

“Tom don’t be foolish with me,” he snaps.

I rub my neck. “I’m sorry, Boss, I’m…a little disoriented here…. I made some good cracks at Perpenna, though,” I add in an effort to save face.

“Did you,” he says flatly. He doesn’t ask for details, and something about his face makes he think he doesn’t want them. I droop in the silence.

“Tom….” he says finally after a few moments. “Do you have any idea what happened down there?”

Visions of green fire and rending, tortured screams flash unbidden through my mind. “Um…well whatever it was it makes that shit with Carlos look like a street-festival.”

“That’s not what I’m concerned about.” He reaches down and picks up something lying at his feet in the darkness, something thin and folded like a book. He tosses it over and I catch it reflexively.

As soon as I touch it I know what it is. It’s not a book, it’s a data tablet, and it’s been snapped nearly in half. The case is beaten, the screen glass is shattered and falling out in chunks.

And the whole thing is smeared with blood.

As I stare at it, my anxiety is drowned out by deep, icy dread.

“You don’t recognize it?” Marcus says, his voice cold.

“My…friend has one just like it,” I saw slowly, turning it over in my hands.

“Yes,” Marcus says. Something in his voice makes me look up. He’s staring at me, face still expressionless.

“Yes,” he repeats. “I suppose she did, didn’t she?”

END PART 1

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