“In Tom’s Hierarchy of Sins, levels 1-5 are “Not Doing What Marcus Says,” and levels 6-10 are “Not Doing What Marcus Implies.” —Chris
Marcus nods toward the twisted data tablet in my hand. “I found that in the street, after everyone had left. “
I barely register his words. Fear and disbelief are battling in my head, but both are rapidly losing to something else entirely:
Marcus sighs, staring out at the empty park around us. “Tom, I know it must be…galvanizing, having werewolves at your beckon call. They are powerful creatures, filled with rage and destruction. They can unleash terrible power when they need to.” He pauses until I meet his gaze again. “But they were not ready for what you sent them up against. They couldn’t have been ready for what you sent them up against, not if they had a hundred years to prepare.”
His eyes narrow. “And given that that one was being counted upon to deploy her arts at the Monomancy tomorrow, I have one question for you: Do you happen to know where else we can find a master computer hacker in the next eighteen hours? Because somehow I don’t think we’re going to have access to this one.”
At this point, though, duty or not, the Monomancy is the last thing on my mind as I stare at the tablet. “She…may not be dead?” I say softly.
He raises an eyebrow. “You’re right, she may not be. But if she was a friend of yours, then I would find some gods to pray to that she is.”
(“Me: “That’s way harsh, Tai.”)
My hand clenches the tablet, splintering off more chunks of glass, but I don’t protest. He’s right, of course, thus the shame.
(Me: *fake-sobs* “Why does everybody I love DIE!?”)
Speaking of people I love (or at least crush):
“Your Justicar was there, in the aftermath of the fight.” Marcus says. “So was a certain Tremere I’m acquainted with. They didn’t see me, I’m afraid. I have my own arts.” He glances toward downtown. “There were dead werewolves scattered about. Not your friend, I’m afraid, but others. I wouldn’t know the tribe, I’m not an expert in the subject. But given that,” he points at the tablet, “I would guess she is not in the best of conditions at the moment. And I’m afraid also, given who she was fighting, I couldn’t possibly tell you where she is now.”
He straightens and folds his arms. Though he is of course considerably shorter than me, and slightly down-hill to boot, right now I feel as if he is towering over me. “So the question becomes, Tom, what are you going to do about it?”
Silence falls, the only sounds around us the distant crash of waves and a boat horn on the water. I continue to stare at the tablet, though I barely comprehend it.
The answer to Marcus’s question, though, is simple: Get her back.
Almost a full minute passes before my mind finally starts to pull itself back together. “Were…there any clues to follow? Any leads?”
Marcus shakes his head. “The area had been rather badly worked over. It’ll be interesting to see what Bell concocts to explain this one away.” He smirks. “Gas explosion, perhaps, I think there’s been a few in the area.”
He’s referring, of course, to the cover story the last time someone tore the shit out of the Tenderloin, which was when Carlos went on his rampage. I manage a sardonic smile. “Yeah, PG&E’s gotta get on that….”
“There is an outside chance Perpenna is dead, but I don’t think either of us believe that’s true. So I’ll ask you again, Tom, what are you prepared to do about this subject?”
A realization hits me and my stomach twists again. Not only did I foolishly plunge one of my only friends left on this Earth in mortal peril, but I may have inadvertently done the same thing to one of my only other ones. “We need somebody else for tomorrow….”
“We do,” he says sternly, “but that’s not the subject I meant.”
I look up. “Well, I need to find her! But, I don’t know how, or where….” I trail off, staring at the tablet again.
“So are you going to sit around complaining to the heavens that you don’t know how? Or are you going to act?” His tone pulls me back to the present. “You may not believe me but I’m not being willfully obtuse. I don’t have any answers to give you. I’m here to ask you what you plan to do.”
He watches me a few moments. “This werewolf,” he says slowly, “Who was she? Relative to you?”
I shrug. “She was…a friend. As much as we can be. And I know you don’t believe that, but….”
He sighs. “Tom I’m not certain what I believe anymore. I don’t believe it, but I do believe you do. So…what’s the English for this…. I think you may wish to put your money where your mouth is?”
He watches me for another few moments. “She was young as werewolves go, wasn’t she?”
“Perhaps too young to know better than to involve herself in these sorts of affairs?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time someone young fell in with things they weren’t supposed to be in,” I grumble.
“But it might be the first time you were responsible for it.”
I look at him, my gaze hard. “I don’t think it is.”
His eyebrows lift. “Don’t you? Well then, since you have such experience with the subject, what are you going to do? You can answer me or you can answer her associates, but they won’t be asking in words.”
Her associates…. The other werewolves. Shit, they’re the last people I’d like to see but they may be the only chance I have. “Do you think they might be able to track her somehow?” I ask, voice rising in hope.
“I’m sure they’re going to try.”
My mind tumbles down this new line of inquiry. “She also knew the mage,” I say, turning to look at the glimpse of Sutro Tower visible to the east. “Maybe he will be able to track her.”
“I’m not asking this question idly, Tom, and while I am asking it out of some degree of self interest, it’s not entirely that.” His tone draws my gaze back. “You employed her for a purpose,” he says sharply. “What happened became your responsibility. Now, not many hold to these old-fashioned notions anymore, but the way I look at these things there’s a term for that.”
“Client,” I say tonelessly. I’ve picked up some things from hanging around him.
A flicker of surprise crosses his face. “Yes. It has survived the millennia, hasn’t it. So what are you going to do, Patron?”
(Me: “Arrgh!! OMG, here I’ve been running around town being all ‘Sophia’s my girl!’ and now the one time I have to REALLY prove it I don’t know what to do! It’s like when the one time you goof off at work is exactly when the boss walks by.”)
Marcus walks slowly up the hill, giving himself a clearer view toward the east. “The werewolves will be searching for you,” he says, staring off into the distance. “They’ll be searching for you with intent to kill, with extreme prejudice. And the prejudice they can bring is an extreme thing indeed. This of course assumes that they have any conception of what happened but I’ve found it unwise to assume that werewolves don’t know what they shouldn’t.”
He stares for another few moments, then sighs. “As to the Monomancy, well…we shall have to see what we can do.”
(Jason: “Who had the Common Sense merit?”
Me: “Me! IRONICALLY.”
Jason: “Ok. Something Perpenna said, an offhand remark, is actually relevant here….”)
I stare at his back. “What happened when you talked on the phone with Perpenna, Boss? Or…whatever you did instead of talking….”
He doesn’t turn around. “We talked. Via other means, but…we talked. If you can call it a talk.” Silence for a few moments. “He…wanted to appear magnanimous.”
I frown. “To you?”
“Yes, to me. You’re not the only one who has to make these sorts of decisions, Tom. As to what you’re going to do.”
I stare at him a few moments. He still doesn’t turn around. “What does he want from you?”
“I could say ‘everything’ and I could say ‘I don’t know.’ Both would be true.” He turns to look at me out of the corner of his eye. “But I’m sure you’ve guessed by now who he is relative to me. The story should have told you that much.”
I nod slowly. “Well, you weren’t in the article—“
“No,” he says, tone sharpening further. “The article concerns the living and if it wasn’t apparent to you I wasn’t living for very long.”
He turns back to the east. I stand quietly, processing his words.
So feels. Wow.
Marcus finally breaks the silence. “What he wants I couldn’t possibly guess at this point. I don’t even know what he is now. He was supposed to be dead six centuries ago. If he’s been roaming about ever since then he could be anything and have any goal. He didn’t elucidate what he wanted to me, he just made his….” Marcus’s fists clench, “…usual promises.”
I nod. “He made a lot of promises to me.”
“I’m sure he did.”
I don’t mention the fact that I even found some of the promises tempting, but by the tone of Marcus’s voice I probably don’t have to.
I reflect back on my conversation with Perpenna. “He also offered me a bunch of stuff I don’t actually want,” I say.
Marcus scoffs. “He doesn’t know what you want. It’s been millennia since he knew what anyone wanted. He’s so far gone from the rest of the world.”
I shrug, though Marcus still has his back to me. “Well, he knew what I don’t want and that’s to see the city burn.”
“Then I’d suspect that were he more concerned about you and less about me he would proceed to burn the city. As it happens, he knows that this city is not the one I call home and he…has other goals in mind.”
I nod to myself, processing this. “He…knew about my sister….” I mumble, thinking outloud more than anything else.
“That doesn’t surprise me. He knows many things. What the means are to know those things I couldn’t tell you.”
I stare at Marcus’s back again, this time thoughtfully. Someone able to gather such information on someone—information that person might not even know themselves, as was the case with Isabella—doesn’t really strike me as one “far gone” from the rest of the world. Perhaps Marcus means something else, but still….
I don’t know which is scarier: that idea being true, or Marcus being wrong.
Marcus sighs and turns back to me. “I don’t admit this about many, but he is more powerful than I am in largely every respect. I killed him last time with the assistance of those as mighty as I was and it was a close run thing then. Obviously it didn’t take.
The mention of “assistance” reminds me of something: “He also said that Accio is working for him,” I say.
Marcus freezes. “….He did? Accio is working for him?”
(Jim: “Ooo, is that the thing?”
Me: “YES!! I GOT THE THING!!!”)
“That’s what he said. I can’t remember the exact snarky way he put it—“
Marcus blinks in obvious shock for a few moments, then runs out a string of curses in Latin. “Figures,” he finally spits out, rubbing his face. “Accio is Perpenna’s grandchilde. I didn’t think he knew his own parentage in that regard but I guess it’s entirely possible.” He sighs. “Accio is my fault. I took him too lightly the last time. I regarded him as a non-entity, irrelevant to the case at hand. I destroyed his sire and let him live. That was an error. One I haven’t had the opportunity to rectify until recently.”
He shakes his head and scans the ocean horizon visible through the trees. “Nevertheless, if he’s working directly for Perpenna, well…that does change a few things, doesn’t it? But why would he have him here…Perpenna is capable of anything he wants to do here, he doesn’t need minions.”
That’s a good point. Perpenna seems to work well as a one-man show, so why the additional acts? “Well…Accio is collecting a lot of Semtex, but then again apparently Perpenna can just blow up whatever he wants, whenever he wants.”
Marcus nods darkly. “Perpenna doesn’t need Semtex to destroy this city. He doesn’t need Semtex for any purpose, as far as I know.”
Not only that, for someone who, by all accounts, is nearly omnipotent, he seems to be acting through a lot of intermediaries…. “Why did he need me to get to you?” I look around the empty park, suddenly suspicious of every bush. “Can’t he just show up wherever…?”
“He didn’t know where I was. And he can’t call my…allegiance the way he once might have. He wanted you to draw me out, so he could do…whatever it was he had in mind to do.”
Something tells me Marcus has an idea of what it is Perpenna “had in mind to do” but if he’s not venturing it I certainly am not going to push the issue. I scrub my face. “Well…I tried to stall for as long as possible.”
He nods, still staring at the water. “I appreciate that.”
For a moment, I beam in the darkness
“…Though I would question your methodology.”
Aaaand moment over.
Marcus pauses thoughtfully, then shakes his head. “Although confronted with Perpenna there are no methodologies that are sure to work. I know that better than any.” He turns back to me. “This mage of yours? You think he can be of any help? Can he be relied upon?”
“Um… As much as any mage can?” I answer hesitantly.
Marcus rolls his eyes. “Good answer. Well I leave the matter to your discretion. The werewolves and I do not have a pleasant relationship. If you don’t want a similar sort of relationship hanging over your head, I suggest you engage in this matter.” His eyes narrow as he stares into mine. “It would also, by the way, be the right thing to do. So far as you care about that.”
I stare back. “I do,” I say sharply.
He tilts his head, gaze still piercing me. “Do you? There are very few who do.”
My hand clenches around the tablet. “For the moment I do, and I would like to keep that moment as long as possible.”
He regards me for a few silent moments. Neither of us break the stare. Finally, he smirks. “Then go forth, Brujah, and see what needs to be seen.”
(Chris: “What level Brujah are you going to go?”)
He chuckles to himself and looks around. His gaze falls on the museum up the slope from us, spotlights flooding the columns and marble even at this late hour. “You know…Carthage was a city of Brujah,” he says suddenly.
“So I hear, but I missed that lecture and didn’t get the Powerpoint slides….” My face falls momentarily. Fuck, Dr. Everton! I’d almost forgotten about him, we probably should rescue him too eventually….
“Yes, well, should you locate the good doctor, I’m sure he’ll provide you with a synopsis. Anyway, yes. Slightly before my time, I’m afraid. But…the Brujah fought Rome to a standstill for fifty years over Carthage, despite all the efforts of many clans to destroy them. Including mine. They took them too lightly, I suppose….” He meets my confused expression with a smirk. “Just a thought.”
I frown to myself. Even I can sense the subtext here, and he’s not wrong. My sire dumped me and disappeared immediately after I was Embraced—I never even learned his name—and this city seems sparsely populated by others of my clan. In the last twenty years, the one I knew the best was Daunte, and he was an irritating thug who got himself eaten by a Costco monster (Although, I realize suddenly, the Costco monster was Alejandro, and I kicked Alejandro’s ass, twice, the latter of which being to his eventual death, so…there’s that.)
The result of this, of course, is that I know precious little about my clan—thus my desire to risk the wrath of Bell and Prince Adrianna just go to Dr. Everton’s lecture—and what it means to be one. Shit, maybe that’s part of the reason I’m fangirling over Bell so hard, since he’s the first real role model I’ve had….
Anyway. God only knows what other Brujah would think about me taking clan advice from a Lasombra Methusula.
But…you know what, a lot of them are probably assholes anyway, so fuck what they think.
Marcus lifts a hand and points at me. “If I were you—and I’m not, but if I were—I’d ruminate on that subject for a moment. And then I’d go about seeing what you can do for your Client. Because a Patron who does not protect his clients does not deserve to have them. It’s that simple. Some might disagree , but….” he scowls. “Well, you’ve already met them.”
He stares off for another moment, then pulls himself back. “Anyway. I have to go. There are consequences to tonights actions that I must discover. But…one last thing—
(Me: “Yes, Colombo?”)
“—Tell your Justicar that I’ll meet him. Tell him I’ll see him Thursday at the Pyramid.”
I blink in surprise. “Really? No more stipulations?”
“Circumstances have changed. And to be perfectly frank, there is nothing that Theo Bell is capable of that Perpenna isn’t capable of far worse. I can handle a Justicar.”
I nod sadly. “He does seem to be in way over his head.”
“Which, given that man, says quite a bit.” He regards me another moment before nodding curtly. “Good luck. And should you need it, call. After all…” he raises an eyebrow, “a Client’s clients are still clients. Even if they want to kill you.”
With that, he walks off.
(Me: “…That’s it? No show?”
Jason: “That’s it. He doesn’t disappear, he just walks off.”
Me: “Son of a bitch!”
Jason: “You know if you use the show all the time it gets old.”)
Georgia and Paul are still hanging out by the side of the road—Georgia staring at the stars while Paul answers emails on his phone—when they suddenly hear something approaching in the distance. It sounds like flapping. They peer through the trees to the north and see a gargoyle in the air, approaching at speed.
Neither of them recognize it.
“They have found you!” van Brugge suddenly yells in Georgia’s head. “Run!!”
“What, who?” Georgia looks around.
“That is one of Himmler’s gargoyles! Go now! Schnell!”
She turns to Paul. “Van Brugge says that’s one of Himmler’s gargoyles.”
Paul peers at it. “Hmm, maybe we can question it….”
“Did you not hear me?! SCHNELL SCHNELL!!!”
“I don’t know what that means!” Georgia yells.
“For the linguistically challenged… GO FAST!!! RUN!!!!!”
They mount back up on the bike and take off up the road, further into the mountains. The gargoyle spots them and starts to chase. The road winds through oak woodlands, but through breaks in the canopy they can see the gargoyle slowly gain on them, silhouetted against the sky.
Suddenly Paul peels off to a pullout on the side of the road. He gets off the bike and faces the approaching gargoyle. The gargoyle stalls a moment, then wings over in a forward dive, claws extended. Paul tries to cast some sort of mind-control but doesn’t get the chance.
The gargoyle crashes into him, full weight, at top speed. The two barrel off the road into the brush. Paul is instantly incapacitated, slashed nearly to bits, but the gargoyle springs up and gains altitude for another strike. Georgia scrambles off the bike and raises her arms to blast it with a gout of flame.
The fire washes over the gargoyle, setting the thinner spans of his wings aflame. It shrieks in pain and terror and wheels off, launching off into the night like a flaming meteor.
Georgia squeals and claps, excited that her spell was so successful. Meanwhile, Paul groans and crawls out of the brush, the rends in his torso slowly knitting back together.
(Kara: “Do I get a willpower [for celebrating her successful magic]?”
Chris: “Do I get a willpower for architecting myself a new torso?”
Georgia’s excitement is short lived, though, as she hears a car engine roaring up the road, getting rapidly closer.
Georgia helps Paul to his feet. She shares more blood to help him heal up enough to drive the bike (at this point, she’s basically been his canteen all night) but he’s still woozy. Desperate, she drags him onto the bike and climbs on the front to drive it herself.
Which, considering she only just learned to drive a car all of a week before, should be nothing but entertaining.
She gets it balanced and pointed in the right direction just as a black SUV comes around a turn about 20 yards down the road and accelerates. She rips back onto the asphalt in a hail of gravel and dust and races away.
Paul comes-to a little more and calls Klaus using the bluetooth headpiece in his helmet (because, we realized, anyone asshole enough to walk into a BMW dealership and buy three bikes without pause would totally get that too).
Paul: *voice still wheezy* “Klaus! You think that Heinrich Himmler guy’s an asshole, right?”
Klaus: “….Paul are you drunk?”
Paul: “No. Himmler’s a vampire now and he’s chasing me. Can you maybe get some of those Myrmidon guys to follow my location?”
Klaus: *long pause* “…You’re being chased by Heinrich Himmler?”
Paul: “Yes! This isn’t a joke! I’m on Route <26?> near my place in Portola Valley, heading west.”
Klaus: “Scheisse! It’ll be fifteen minutes before they can get out there!”
Paul: “Well…we’re on a bike so maybe we can outrun them for now—“
Klaus: “Them? …Are you being chased by Nazis??”
Klaus: *another long pause* “Is there anyone else I can call?”
(Me: “Uh, Indiana Jones?”)
Paul: “Someone closer than fifteen minutes? …Stand by….”
Paul puts Klaus on hold and, in a complete hail-Mary, gives Norton’s phone number a try.
Georgia, meanwhile, has been weaving their bike up the road, slowly gaining confidence—and, with it, speed. The car, though, is still gaining. During a long straight-away, Georgia glances into the rear mirror. She sees the sunroof open and the guy with the grenade launcher stand up through it.
(Jim: “Must go faster! MUST GO FASTER!!”)
Paul’s call rings. We haven’t seen or heard from Norton in nights now, so Paul isn’t holding out a lot of hope, but he was last seen in this area so you never—
The call connects.
Norton: “THIS IS EMPEROR NORTON!”
Paul: “That Leopold guy is chasing me in an SUV, if you’re anywhere in the Portola Valley area—“
Norton: “PERFIDY!!! Where are you, SIR?!”
Paul: “I’m on Route 26 heading west on a motorcycle—“
Norton: “ROUTE 26!!! …I am not near that area. But I shall arrive PRESENTLY!! DESTRUCT the heathens! I will STRIKE DOWN THE DOGS!! How shall I discover your location sir!?”
Paul: “Umm…I’ll share it with your phone…”
Norton: “Share it with the universe! I shall DREDGE IT FROM ITS COFFERS!!!”
Paul: “Um…? Okay thank y—“
A grenade flies over the bike and explodes a few yards ahead. Georgia instantly loses control. The front tire skitters and catches on the road, flipping the bike and launching them toward the asphalt.
(Chris: “You know, maybe this summoning Himmler thing wasn’t such a great idea….”)
The two crash down in the brush, sliding away from the road in a cascade of leaves. They stop out just out of sight of the road in the shadows under the trees. Paul tears off his battered helmet—the bluetooth is shot anyway—and scrambles over to Georgia just as the SUV pulls up. Armed men pile out, peering around into the darkened woods surrounding the car.
The last person out of the car, of course, is Himmler. Arms clasped behind his back, he walks slowly to the battered bike. He nudges it with his toe, then stares off into the woods, moonlight glinting off of his thin glasses.
“Georgia, stay down,” Paul hisses. He crawls toward the edge of the trees, then leaps back into the open. “Stand down!” he yells, blasting Awe.
The men whip around, instinctively raising their guns. Himmler turns to Paul, regarding him calmly. There’s a tense moment as Paul waits for the Awe to kick in.
Fire rips toward Paul. He drops to the ground, moments before the rest of the men open fire with everything they have. Bullets, dragonsbreath, even more grenades tear through the foliage. The stretch of road lights up like a fucking fireworks show. Georgia screams as some of Himmler’s fire finds her too. Himmler stands in the middle of this firestorm, face impassive. He raises his arm and takes a step toward Paul cowering on the ground.
Then Adrianus van Brugge steps out from behind a tree on the far side of the road.
A massive wall of flame erupts from the ground around the car, completely overwhelming the gunshots and grenade explosions. Himmler and the men are swallowed instantly in roaring brilliance like the surface of the sun. Paul gurgles a scream and tries to drag himself away.
Hell roars across the roadside for what seems an eternity, then—just as suddenly as it arrived—it stops. The charred skeleton of the car continues to burn in the middle of a circle of melted asphalt, but the pillar of flame is gone.
Leaving no trace of Himmler or his men.
Van Brugge crosses the road, brushing ash off his coat. “Ahh, I’ve been wanting to do that for awhile.”
Paul is still writhing in the dirt, but the Rotshriek panic is slowly wearing off. Van Brugge—completely corporeal this time—storms up to him. “Okay, what the fuck? Just…what the fuck? Tell me why I shouldn’t do the exact same thing to you right now?”
Georgia—herself torn up and burned—stumbles out of the woods and collapses next to Paul. Van Brugge stares at her impassively. “You will give me answers immediately or I will vaporize you!” he barks.
Georgia sputters, choking on her words and smoke at the same time. “He…well…we…. Did you see what happened at Paul’s house?”
“I was a little busy at the time but I got the gist of it,” van Brugge says, folding his arms.
“Well…that fight wasn’t over, so…more of it happened….”
“It seemed to me like it was over when it ended!! When Himmler retreated! Why did you stop and wait for him to return? Standing around in the same place while he regrouped?”
“Umm….” Georgia looks over at Paul, who is still gasping on the ground, completely incoherent.
Van Brugge throws his arms out. “Did you think he was just going to go home and sulk? It’s Himmler!!”
“It…seemed like Himmler was weakened from our fight earlier, and…we figured that this was our best possible chance of taking him out all the way….”
Van Brugge stares at Georgia. Smoke and flame are still rolling off of the car behind him. Snaps and small explosions echo across the road as chunks of the frame give way.
“So…” van Brugge says slowly, “You waited for him to regroup, instead of taking him out immediately…. You do realize, he can drink people and heal just like you can.”
He stares at Georgia and Paul a few more moments. Finally he sighs, mutters to himself….
…and stakes both of them.
(Ben: “Ahhhh, now to turn both of them into flesh-chairs….”
Me: “We’re never gonna make the Monomancy, are we….”
Jason: “We will, just not tonight. I wasn’t exactly expecting them to summon Hitler. …I mean, Himmler.”
Chris: “Ooo, can I summon Hitler?!”)
I walk out of Lands End, processing everything Marcus told me. I have to find Sophia, and Dr. vonNatsi is really my best bet for that at the moment. As soon as I hit a major road, I call a car to take me up to the tower.
On the way, I call Bell. This is going to be interesting….
Me: “…I’m sorry about downtown.”
Bell: “…Was that you?”
Me: “No. Not directly.”
Bell: “Good, cause if you have access to this level of fire I hope you would have told me. I assume I know who that was.”
Bell: “What was he doing in the Tenderloin?”
Me: “Well, he came to see me.”
Bell: “…You? What the hell did he want with you?”
Me: “Well, he wanted Marcus and thought that I would be the way to get to him.”
Bell: “…And were you?”
Me: “Well the werewolves showed up first, so….”
Bell: “Yes. That doesn’t seem to have gone very well for them.”
Me: “Yes, I hear. I’m…very concerned….”
Bell: “…For once I am as well. Do you have any other evidence to put forth what happened here? Cause we got there in the aftermath.”
Me: *Paints him a picture of green flames, terrible howling, and decapitated heads*
Bell: “Alright. Do you have someplace else to stay that isn’t that place?”
Me: “I’mon my way to the Tower now, actually, to—“
Bell: “No, no, wait. Stop right there. Don’t tell me where it is, don’t tell anyone where it is, don’t vocalize it aloud, try not to think about it too hard. Find somewhere to hole up and go there. Contact me by phone after you’ve set yourself up.”
Me: “…So it’s come to that, has it?”
Bell: “Oh it came to that a long time ago. For that matter, destroy this phone after this call and get drop phones for all future contact.”
Part of me is…well, for lack of a better word, touched by Bell’s concern. I mean he’s just doing his job, but I’ve pretty much been nothing but a problem for him for as long as he’s been here. He could just as easily tell me to go fuck myself and get myself eaten, or worse.
At the same time, though, I know that his advice is largely futile. Marcus is already off the grid, is imminently more powerful than me, and even knows Perpenna, and yet is barely able to keep ahead of him.
I decide not to point that out to Bell. He’s already upset enough as it is.
Me: “…I talked to Boss briefly. He’s on the move, but he says that he wants to meet with you on Thursda—“
Bell: “Fine. Tell him that’s fine. Wherever he wants to meet.”
My heart wrenches at the note of desperation in Bell’s voice.
Me: “He says he’ll meet at the Pyramid, if the Pyramid is still standing at that point.”
Bell: “Well, it should be. I’m making my own arrangements. Look…if you run into this asshole again, do whatever he wants, try to keep him placated and quiet for awhile. Signal me if you can and we’ll see what we can do about this bastard. He’s been running around without anyone to stop him for far too long.”
Me: “…For thousands of years.”
Bell: “Well he’s run into the wrong city this time. I’m making arrangements. Signal me and then go along with whatever he asks. Whether he Dominates you or not. Understood? We’ll have something for him that he won’t like.”
Me: *closes my eyes and sighs* “Something tells me that whatever you have planned it won’t be enough.”
Bell: “That’s why I plan for it to not. I have to go, I have to square this with the police and the fire department. We’ll blame PG&E again. That’ll be all.”
Bell hangs up. I stare miserably out the window of the car as it climbs its way up to Sutro Tower.
Anstis wanders out of Chinatown, but not before lifting a tourist map from one of the nighttime vendors. He’s of a mind to look for churches. Specifically Church of England churches, but of course there aren’t really any of those in the States. The closest we have is Episcopalian.
And the closest Episcopalian church to him is Grace Cathedral.
He starts heading up there. On the way, he gives me a call:
Anstis: “How are you this fine evening?”
Me: “…I’ve had better. How are you?”
Anstis: “Quite well. Be ye busy tonight?”
Me: “…Little bit. We may have to delay our boat-shopping. Some stuff came up. And then caught on fire.”
Anstis: “That was you?”
Me: “No, it was Perpenna. He showed up at the house, and then things blew up. Because of course they did.”
Anstis: “…You keep strange company, Tom.”
Me: “Yeah, well…it finds me.”
Anstis says he will try me some other time when I am not otherwise engaged and hangs up. He tries Paul next, but gets no answer.
Anstis arrives at the cathedral, glowing like a crown at the top of Nob Hill. He checks the message board out front for their schedule of services. He copies down the information, takes another long look up at the building, then leaves.
He spends the rest of the evening using the map to get the lay of the city, then ends up holing up for the night in a park down by the waterfront.
My car arrives at the Tower. This is my first time back since we brought Sophia here, after she’d been shot. Since I am in less of an immediate panic, I take more time to scope out the buildings and peer up at the Tower itself.
I can’t help but think about the fact that the last time I was here I almost died. Funny that the thing bringing me back is an effort to save Sophia once again.
I wander up to the guard house but find it empty. I hesitate a few moments, then head up the drive to the buildings on my own. I don’t see signs of anyone as I enter the buildings, but something does jump out at me as I approach the elevators down to the lab.
Blood. Not a lot, but there’s drips of it leading noticeably down the hall, with more collected in the elevator. I stare at it a moment then draw my sword. I step in and press the button to take me to the lab.
The elevator churns down, then bings to a halt. The doors open. I tense and peer out into the lab. Everything looks normal, but there’s no sign of Dr. vonNatsi, or anyone else.
I lean out cautiously, sword at the ready. I can hear something, a rumbling coming from deep in the lab. The more I focus on it, the more familiar it sounds. It sounds like growling.
I hesitate. That can only mean one thing. My instinct yells at me to GTFO, but I came here to help Sophia, and that sense of honor is stronger than my base panic. Besides, I had already considered the option of tracking down Sophia’s pack to share what I know. Perhaps this will be the best of both worlds.
I snort to myself. Unlikely, but… I’ll do the best I can. I put away the sword so as to appear less threatening, but keep my hand free and near my whip just in case. I take a deep breath and step out of the elevator.
“Doctor?” I call.
There’s no response, but the growling sounds suddenly stop. I take a few steps forward, peering around cautiously. No sign of movement. I slowly walk deeper into the lab.
Something rustles to my right. I stop and look over. There’s nothing there but more benches laden with eclectic equipment. My fingers flutter on the handle of my whip as I peer through the gloom.
“VAMPIRE!!” roars a voice out of the darkness, deep and harsh like the rending of flesh. I jump, clenching the whip. The voice echoes through the lab, coming from no direction and all directions at once. “Where is the MAGE?!”
My instinct starts beating at me again, telling me to run, but I fight it down. I spread my arms and spin around. “I was gonna ask you!” I shout to the gloom. “Who are you?”
“…STORMWALKER,” the voice roars agin, just as its speaker materializes right in front of me, parting the shadows like the prow of a ship.
He is huge, almost half-again as large as Sophia in her full form, larger even than the werewolf I punched to death last fall. He towers over me, head brushing the exposed beams in the ceiling of the lab, a head that is snarling down at me in a three-foot gape of razor-sharp death. One hand clenches at the air, flashing talons almost as long as my forearm. The other hand clenches a sword, a giant broadsword held tilted at me as if it was light as a rapier.
And even in the dim light, I can see that the sword is made of silver.
My instinct finally overtakes me. I scream and bolt for the elevators.
(Me: “Goddammit, there goes my street-cred….”
Julian: “Well, there’s only the one witness….”
Jason: “And he probably understands.”)
I only get a few steps before the werewolf grabs the back of my coat and drags me back. He lifts me up by the collar and dangles me three feet in the air. I twist and scream, still beside myself with panic. He holds me there for some time, examining me and growling.
A new set of footsteps echo through the lab. Stormwalker turns, still keeping me in his grip. Dr. vonNatsi is standing down one of the rows, staring at the werewolf and visibly trembling in his labcoat and goggles.
“Doctor,” Stormwalker growls, long muzzle gnashing just feet from my head. “I require your services.”
Dr. vonNatsi stares a moment longer before nodding, eyes wide. “J…Ja, ja, of course I’ll help, Stormwalker….” He spreads his arms and flashes a brittle smile. “…Welcome!”
“I wish her found!” Stormwalker shakes me for emphasis.
“Who? Oh. Oh, of course I know who you mean, I…” Dr. vonNatsi smiles weakly at Stormwalker then looks at me. “…Who does he mean?”
Luckily I’ve gotten ahold of myself once again, though I’m still pretty fucking concerned. “Sophia,” I answer, staring at the sword in Stormwalker’s other hand. It’s a good thing I didn’t try my whip….
Dr. vonNatsi waves his hands emphatically at the floor. “She is not here! I did not take her again!”
“You will find her!” Stormwalker roars. “If you do, there will be a debt I will repay. If you do not, I will kill you where you stand!”
The werewolf drops me. I scramble away and put my back against a wall. Dr. vonNatsi continues to stare up at him, slowly reaching up to shakily lift his goggles to his forehead.
“J-Ja, ja of course, I can do zis. Let me….” His eyes dart around the lab then land on me. “Tom! Vill you assist me vith the science?” he asks, smile brittle once again.
I glance at Stormwalker heaving over us. “It…won’t be the first time I assisted you with the science—“
“Ja, and it vill not be ze last so please assistmeviththescience!!!” he hisses through clenched teeth, eyes pleading.
“Yes, yes I will assist with the science!”
“ZANKYOU!” He turns to the werewolf. “Ve vill do the science now, Herr…Stormwalker, so please come vith me to the science, over here, vere the science is….”
Dr. vonNatsi scurries off through the lab. Stormwalker growls down at me then stalks after him. I follow.
As we walk—and now that I’m not at immediate threat of death—I get a better look at Stormwalker. Although he is intimidating, he is not in the best shape. Deep gashes streak his body and blood is matted in his fur. Many of the patches that aren’t torn and bloodied are obviously burnt, in some places almost to the skin. He’s wearing a vest, kevlar armor of some sort, but this has also been noticeably torn open across the chest.
Dr. vonNatsi runs up to a pile of equipment indistinguishable from the others in the lab. “Ve vill do the science, ja!” he assures us again before diving into the equipment, sending most of it clattering through the ground as he digs for something. Stormwalker hefts his sword to his shoulder and turns to growl at me, seemingly for the hell of it.
Now that my panic response is drained, my other instinctive response comes to the forefront: snark. I glare up at him and spread my arms. “Look, I came here to see if the Doctor could help me look for her, so I have no problem with this plan, Brah!”
Stormwalker’s growl deepens. “How did you know she was missing, vampire?”
Ooooh shit. “Cause…I was in the Tenderloin this evening….”
His large eyes narrow. “And what were you doing there, vampire? I am not a great believer in coincidences.”
My panic starts to gear up for another round but I beat it down and maintain a veneer of cool. ‘Well, I was mostly trying to survive and escape from the assfuck who showed up and decided to tear apart the city one piece at the time.”
“That is unfortunately a large group of individuals so be more specific.”
I look him up and down. “The same one I think you met. The new one. His name is Perpenna. He’s very old. And very strong.”
Stormwalker growls again. I fold my arms, meeting his gaze as best I can. Inside, though, all I can think is, “Don’t mention Marcus, don’t mention Marcus, don’t mention Marcus….”
Dr. vonNatsi suddenly reappears from behind the pile of equipment. “Zere…is a requirement, ja? I need something that belonged to the verewolf zat I am trying to locate—“
“Ah, her tablet!” I say. I pull it out of my jacket and extend it out to the doctor…
…But Stormwalker’s long claws pluck it from my hand instead. “Were did you get this….” he growls slowly.
My stomach drops. Ohhh fuuuuuuuu—
Stormwalker peers at the tablet, then looks back at me. “You have ten seconds to start explaining, and I’d better like the answer.”
I throw out my arms. “Look, I got a report on what happened and this was found at the scene! I knew it was hers!” Don’t mention Marcus, don’t mention Marcus, don’t mention Marcus….
Stormwalker’s growls deepen, enough to vibrate some objects on the nearby tables. Crackling sounds come from the broken tablet as his claws clench tighter.
Dr. vonNatsi steps between us. “Please!! Do not engage in ze combat in ze laboratory! Zere is delicate equipment about! Give me ze tablet!” He wrenches it from Stormwalker’s claws.
“You,” Dr. vonNatsi says to Stormwalker, “You know the verewolf vell?”
“Very,” he rumbles, still staring at me.
“Zen you come vith me. I vill use you in the location chamber.” He hurries off.
Stormwalker points a talon at me. “You have a few moments, vampire, I suggest you rediscover the truth. I have your scent now. I can hunt you throughout the city at my leisure.”
Don’t mention Marcus, don’t mention Marcus, don’t mention Marcus…. I meet his eyes and shrug. “I’ve…been working on and off with Sophia for weeks now. She’s…not exactly a friend, but I respect her and I’m concerned for her wellbeing and whereabouts. I’m trying to help however I can!” I point to the tablet. “That was delivered to me by another vampire who was at the scene after it got cleaned up. I wasn’t there for that cause I got the fuck out of Dodge.”
Stormwalker’s growl softens a bit but he still eyes me suspiciously. Before he can question further, though, Dr. vonNatsi comes back. “Zis way, please! Ve are ready!” Stormwalker and I glare at each other another moment then follow.
The doctor leads us to a small room off the lab that seems to have once been some sort of storage room, but now it is completely lined with hotplates. “Zis is the Etheric Location Device. It vill enable us to locate the verewolf in question zat ve are trying to find. But it vill not verk unless you vear the Etheric Location-Enhancing Helmet.” He hands Stormwalker a giant stock pot.
(Julian: “I was expecting the colander.”
Jason: “No, that’s for the Etheric Trans-Substantiator. “)
Stormwalker stares at the pot then looks at me. I shrug. “He means it, Brah.”
Stormwalker snorts and takes the pot. “The things you do for your packmates,” he grumbles, shoving the pot awkwardly on his head.
(Jim: “You should make a crack about him being a pot-head!”)
Dr. vonNatsi leads Stormwalker into the room, closes the door, then returns to a computer console near me. “Zis is exactly what I vas trying to avoid,” he hisses at me under his breath as he types.
I glance at the door. “Yeah, I didn’t want this to happen either, Doctor—“
“Ja, vell it happened. You are ze vampires, ja? You run ze city? You make the conspiracies that make everything happen?!”
I burst out laughing. “I’m pretty sure nothing that we run actually goes to plan and no one’s in charge of anything.”
“Ja, you don’t say.” He glares at me. “And now I have a verewolf in my etheric chamber, and if zis does not verk, zen I vill have an angry verewolf in my etheric chamber, and zen ve vill be dead!” He looks me up and down. “Or…re-dead, in your case.”
He turns back to the console, angrily smashing more keys. “I am not a fighter, I am a scientist! All I have are ze deathrays. VAT GOOD ARE DEATHRAYS IN ZIS SITUATION!?”
I glance at the door to the chamber again. “Doctor….” I say slowly. “Did Sophia tell you anything else when she came to collect the dagger? Or talk about anything else?” I tell him how I suspect that the dagger she got from Dr. vonNatsi was the one that ended up in the hands of Perpenna.
He stops typing. “Hmm…are you sure it vas the same one?”
“I don’t know, have you made any more daggers?” I ask, expecting him to mention the copy he made for Georgia.
He shrugs. “Vell I had to make the prototype in order to test the concept.”
He starts typing again. I stare at him. “So…you’ve made three etheric daggers….”I say slowly.
“Zats right,” he says cheerfully. “The prototype is around here somewhere.” He tosses a hand vaguely over his shoulder.
I turn around and stare at the mess of the lab. The giant warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc is less intimating.
“Ah, ve are ready.” He announces. “Tom, vould you do me a favor? Zere is a plunger over zere against the vall. Pick it up und put it against the door of the locator and pump it as hard as you can.”
I grin and snap him a pistol-hand. “I’m good at that,” I say and do as he asks. Dr. vonNatsi settles his goggles over his face—these ones made from an old Viewmaster—and flips a switch.
A hum spins up. Sparks and smoke pour out from under the door. The doctor mutters and clicks through the Viewmaster.
“Interesting…. It is verking, but…zese vere not the results I vas expecting.” He lifts the goggles slowly. “I have identified the location, though I cannot tell you vat condition the verewolf is in.”
I glance around. “Ok, where is it?”
“Vell…I do not know vat it is called. I did not study ze geography.” He take a breath. “Ze islands, off the coast to the west, vat do you call them?”
“The Farallones,” I say, perplexed.
“Ja! The machine informs me at ze verewolf is located zere.”
(Son of a bitch………)
I open the door to let Stormwalker out. He stalks out of the room, untouched (I see he didn’t lose an arm) and tears the pot off his head, tossing it across the lab.
“Ze verewolf you are looking for is on ze islands to the west. Ze…Farallones? Ja. Although….” Dr. vonNatsi turns to me. “I vas under the impression those islands vere under the control of the vampires?”
I shrug. “I thought those islands were under the control of the National Park Service.”
Dr. vonNatsi laughs. “And who do you think runs the National Park Service, mein Herr?”
(Me: *GASPS* “I want to be an NPS Vampire!!!”)
Stormwalker glares at me, but nods curtly at Dr. vonNatsi. “Thank you, Doctor.”
Dr. vonNatsi wrings his hands nervously. “Oh, um, you are most velcome, Herr Verewolf. But…um…may I ask you vat you intend to do? Zat place…zere are stories. Zere are people who go zere and zey do not return.”
“I am not most people,” Stormwalker growls.
Since he seems to be in a downright chipper mood after assisting with the science, I decide to try and parlay information. “Stormwalker, the last time Sophia was here, she picked up a dagger from the Doctor here. This dagger—or one just like it—ended up in the hands of the dude who tore up downtown. Would you know anything about that?”
The werewolf stares at me a moment before answering. “No,” he says flatly. “But I intend to learn.”
I turn toward the lab. “Alright, well the Doctor says there is also a third dagger, so I’d like to make sure they are all accounted for—“
“Vampire I do not care about your priorities!” he snaps. “I have let you live. That is enough.” He glares once more at me and Dr. vonNatsi, then stalks out of the lab.
The doctor almost collapses in relief. “Vell…I have apparently now been running the clearinghouse for all of ze crazed creatures in ze city.” He spread his arms plaintively toward the ceiling. “BRING ZEM ALL to Doctor vonNatsi, he vill help zem ALL vith zer problems! He is DOCTOR PHIL!!”
I snort. “Well at least you’re not Doctor Oz.”
Dr. vonNatsi rants for awhile longer as he storms about the lab, straightening up some lab benches and making an obvious mess of other ones. I ask him about the rifle I left behind last time I was here. He says it’s around, and then gets off on a mental tangent about ways to etherically-engineer a flak jacket out of adhesive tape and kale. While he’s distracted, I step away to call Marcus.
Me: “Doct—the mage was able to track the location of the missing werewolf to the Farallones.”
Marcus: “Impressive. Well, I guess you know what you have to do then, don’t you?”
Me: *sigh* “I gotta find my captain. And a boat.… Are our funds liquid yet? Or have you not had time?”
Marcus: “I…have assets available should you need, but I wouldn’t suggest you go through the process of buying one. You do have a pirate with you, don’t you?”
(Me: “OSHIT HOW PIRATEY IS THAT!?!” *I high-five Jim*)
Me: “I love this plan, Boss. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Marcus: “I’m glad you are. Is there anything else I should know?”
I glance at Dr. vonNatsi. He’s currently peering intently at a cracked frying pan, muttering to himself.
Me: “There’s…a possibility that there’s actually three of those daggers floating around….”
Marcus: “Oh, for the love of Jupiter, THREE? Of those fucking things?”
Me: “Well, we know there’s the one that Sophia picked up—“
Marcus: “Sophia? That’s the werewolf?”
I wince. Shit. Until this point I have been very careful not to mention her name to Marcus, just in case of…I don’t even know what. But I guess all things considered it’s a rather moot point anyway.
I continue running through the known instances of the rest of the daggers, and their last known locations: the “real” one with Georgia, the duplicate in Max’s office, and this newly discovered third one…somewhere in the lab in which I am standing.
“Does the mage need additional persuasion?” Marcus asks.
I glance around the lab. “No…he needs an episode of Hoarders.”
“…I’ll pretend I know what that is. If you can locate that dagger and either retrieve or destroy it, I would consider it a favor. I don’t know what in the world those things are but I don’t like having them around. Anything else I should know?”
I run through the rest of the events of the evening. “Um, Bell says he’ll meet with you. He’s scared as fuck, Boss.”
“He should be. When a man like Theo Bell gets scared he gets very, very dangerous. I would watch yourself around him.”
I recall Bell’s comments about having a “plan” in the works to deal with Perpenna. I frown suspiciously.
“I recall some background research I’ve done on your islands,” Marcus continues. “There’s nothing on them. Which of course means there’s something terrible on them. What that is I don’t know, but the Farallones have been off limits for quite some time. If your werewolf is on the Farallones I would suggest that you bring firepower, and lots of it. But…you have obligations of your own tomorrow, don’t you?”
My heart sinks. It’s getting late, so there’s no way I can pull together the plan to rescue Sophia tonight, and the Monomancy is tomorrow. Which means she’ll be trapped with Perpenna for two days at least.
I look around the lab. The last time I was here—hell, the last time I saw her—she was torn open and bloody in my arms, mere breaths away from death. I recall Stormwalker’s wounds and try not to think of her being once again in the same condition, only this time in the demonic clutches of Perpenna.
I stare at my missing hand, resolve hardening.
“I expect to see you at the Monomancy,” Marcus says, “And thereafter, I expect you to deal with this in whatever manner you can.”
“Yes Boss,” I say, mind already racing through plans.
“Good. …Stop calling me that, by the way. This isn’t an order, this is a suggestion. There is a difference, whatever you might think.”
I reel a little bit at his reprimand. I’ve called him “Boss” for the entire time I’ve worked for him now. I mean, when I started, I used the word ironically, snapping it out in distain and frustration.
But now? I can’t imagine referring to him by anything else.
“Anything else?” Marcus asks.
I shake it off. “Um, well there was another werewolf here, a lot of him—“
“Here at the lab. He’s also looking for Sophia. He was very interested to know how I knew she was missing and how I acquired her tablet—“
“What did you tell him?” he asks, tone dark.
“Nothing!” I yell. “For ONCE! I was able to effectively lie and not mention you when I wasn’t supposed to!”
“You lied to a werewolf? Bullshit, you’re not that good a liar.”
I droop. First the “boss” thing and now this. “Thanks….” I mutter.
I give Marcus a rundown of what happened at the lab, and what I did or did not tell Stormwalker. When asked for a description, I mention that he was, well, giant, and noticeably carrying a silver sword.
Marcus processes all this and sighs. “Well. Don’t get any airs about whether you are capable of dealing with that. A warrior werewolf is beyond the ken of almost all of us.”
“But apparently not Perpenna….” I mutter darkly.
“No. Not Perpenna. And frankly not me. But almost everyone else.”
Marcus points out that it’s too late to go searching for her tonight myself, but with luck Stormwalker will handle everything on his own. In the meantime, he advises me to hole up at the Tower for the day and be ready to move ASAP tomorrow.
Because tomorrow…we are finally going…to the goddamn Monomancy.