“Because that’s exactly what we need going into the Monomancy, a coked-up Toreador.”
Wednesday night falls.
Anstis wakes up where he spent the night, buried in the ground in Bayfront Park down in Mission Bay.
(Me: “OH HEY that’s across the street from my office!”)
He’s taking care of some business—working on his ghouled animals, feeding on some drunk dudes—when he gets a phonecall.
It’s Marcus, calling to make sure the good captain is in to play for our team tonight. Anstis begrudgingly agrees but points out he’ll need a ride. Marcus says to meet him at the Palace of the Legion of Honor so he can roll out with the rest of the crew.
Anstis agrees and hangs up. He checks his tourist map. Land’s End is on the literal opposite corner of the city from him at the moment. He still doesn’t have funds so he can’t call a car, and hiking there would take the better part of the night.
But, luckily, he recently has procured more efficient means of transport.
He morphs into his new Protean 4 flight form, then leaps into the air to head northwest across the city.
(Chris: “How much does the he weigh now? Is it less than human-form?”
Chris: “Is it super-hot? Is he on fire?”
Jason: “…Um, no.”
Chris: “Then where’d the missing energy go?”
Jason: *glares* “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Dr. vonNatsi.”
Chris: “I mean, if the energy isn’t conserved, then even a Level 1 discipline would—“
Jason: “Where do you think cabbages come from?”
Chris: “Umm….cabbage seeds?”
Jason: “No. They actually come from residual energy from mass transformations.”
Kara: “Then…what happens when he turns back into Anstis?”
Jason: “Somewhere, somehow, a cabbage disappears.”
Me: “This is, like, some Terry Pratchett-level ridiculousness right here.”)
Speaking of Dr. vonNatsi, I wake up on a cot in his lab, having successfully avoided being killed by werewolves during the day. I don’t see the mage, but I hear muttering and puttering around on the other side of the lab.
I get up and head toward it. “Doctor?”
There’s a crash of equipment spilling to the floor. “Ja!? Was ist los?” Dr. vonNatsi calls out.
“Good evening? Is…everything ok?”
“Ja, ja!” He sounds fine, though somewhat harried. “Everything is ok! One moment please….”
More crashes, then he appears from around a stack of equipment, this time in a completely new set of goggles. The goggles are rather incidental, though, because my eye is immediately drawn to the fucking bandolier of deathrays strapped across his chest.
I stare him up and down. “Pretty cool threads there, Doctor.”
“Ja, ja, thank you….” He wrings his hands and looks around nervously. “I have been practicing vith…this verdammte contraption.”
“Were…there more werewolves while I was out?”
He sighs. “Nein. Nein…it vas very peaceful. Something…something seems to have happened vith the verewolves, ja….”
Something…in the region of the Tenderloin, ja? “Ah. Yeah. That. Do you have any information on that cause…it was pretty crazy from where I was standing.”
He shrugs. “All I can tell is someone used excessive quantities of etheric energy to produce…pyroclastic effects. Extremely crude.” He scowls. “Zere is no proper science anymore. Everyone says, ‘Oh! I vill blow up the street! I saw it in The Avengers!’”
I stare at the piles of
junk science things around us. “Yeah, it’s a good movie,” I say absently, “Lot of hot men. Say, did you happen to find that third dagger? Or my gun?”
He perks up. “Ah, yes I have discovered both of zese things.” He walks to a nearby table and lifts my Kalashnikov and bandolier of rounds out from amongst the piles. He hands them to me. “Here is the rifle, and ze dagger is here.” He produces a small wooden box from a pocket of his lab coat and hands it over as well.
I sling the rifle on my shoulder, over the shotguns I’m already sporting, but I hesitate when I look at the bandolier. It’s covered in small metal pipes and tubes, like the overpriced steampunk gear I see in Burner stores across town, but something tells me this is more than just some shit that was hot-glued on. One clue is the fact that these pipes are warm to the touch.
“Doctor…what is this?” I ask, pointing to a cluster of pipes.
“Ahh,” he beams. “Zis is mein latest addition to the arsenal. It is something zat will help you significantly, I believe.”
“Really?” I ask, suddenly hopeful.
“Ja! This bandolier has been modified to alert you to the presence of cabbage! So that you may avoid it!”
“Ahh,” I say, hope evaporating. “That’s…useful? I won’t take it to any farmer’s markets then.”
He nods enthusiastically. “Ja, zat is a good idea. I had to ensure the means of alert is perfectly obvious to everyone!”
“And…what is the means of alert?”
“It vill catch fire!” He beams at me.
I hold the bandolier a little further away from me. “Really? Um…are there any risks of…false positives?”
His smile dims. “False positives? Zis is SCIENCE, mein Herr! Not some primitive mysticism!!”
“Yeah, well, Type 1 statistical errors are—“(“—Wait, sorry, Tom wouldn’t know that. I’m sorry. I’m sorry….”)
He glares at me, hands on his hips. I hesitate, then, under his accusatory gaze, carefully strap the bandolier around my waist.
Almost ready to roll. As an afterthought, I pick up the dagger box and open it.
“…Doctor?” I frown and tilt the box toward him.
His face falls. “Vat did you do?”
“I just opened the box?” I look around on the floor but there’s nothing there.
(Kara: “Did you put your dick in the box? Cause that’s Step 2.”
Me: “…Gonna need a bigger box, sweetheart.”)
Dr. vonNatsi takes the box from me and peers into it. “I don’t understand…the dagger vas just there, a few hours ago….”
I stare at him. I have no idea what’s going on, but I am absolutely positive that it’s nothing good. “Did…you do any modifications to the dagger?” I ask cautiously. The last thing we need is another soul-dagger or whatever the fuck floating around.
He tenses, his eyes darting around. “I…see, I don’t get to work with pure primium too often, I vanted to…perform…one or two tests…. But nothing that vould make it disappear!”
My eyes narrow. “What did you do to it?”
His fingers drum on the box. “I, ah…applied…Quintessence to the dagger….” He holds up a finger. “The risk it would cause the local atmosphere to ignite was less than 2%!”
I blink. Fuck if I know what that’s about, but it’s probably not good. I make a mental note to ask Georgia about it.
He holds up the box, beaming again. “I vill attempt to ascertain vat happened, ja!”
I nod, still processing all this. ‘That…would be good, thank you Doctor. Okay, well, I got a thing, so I need to bounce, but let me know if the werewolves come back around.”
Dr. vonNatsi’s smile turns grim. “I do not think this is likely.”
“Really? Did you do something?” I look around the lab, half expecting to see the walls plastered in silver paint.
He chuckles and shakes his head. “Nein, someone else did.”
I freeze. “What do you mean?” I ask slowly.
He gestures across the lab. “Zat is vat I vas working on when you came in. Something happened to the verewolves in this city last night.”
I stare at him. “The…entire city? Not just downtown?”
He nods and folds his arms. “Ze readings were quite clear. There are no more verewolves in this city.”
Georgia and Paul both wake up (fortunately) in plain wooden boxes. They each climb their way out—
(Me: “Step 3, make her open the box.”)
—and find themselves in Lands End, in a backlot maintenance area behind the Legion of Honor. In front of them is a golf cart, and sitting on the golf cart—arms folded, glaring at them—is Marcus.
“You’re a far prettier sight than I expected to see,” Paul says as he climbs out.
Marcus smirks. “I’m a far prettier sight than you would have seen. What…in the world…happened?”
Paul gives a brief rundown of awakening the gargoyle, which was subsequently tracked by Himmler, and the battle that followed. He carefully omits the part where he summoned Himmler.
Paul does mention that the gargoyle identified the Farallones as Himmler’s base. Marcus frowns, perplexed. This is the second time in as many nights that leads have pointed to the remote islands.
“The Farallones are a dangerous place,” he says darkly, staring to the west. “There are…things out there. Things in the water. Things that even we shouldn’t be messing with.”
Anyway. It’s time for everyone to get their shit together and get ready to head to San Jose. Georgia and Paul are both still pretty wounded and low on blood, so they decide to use their time to heal and gather as much blood as possible.
What follows is a real-time hour of events that can best be summarized by the following media asset. I suggest you listen to it while reading my bulleted summary of what happened:
1. Marcus provides homeless people to feed on but Georgia can’t. It’s obvious Georgia will need to hunt so she tries to heal up some of her damage to do so….
2. …And ends up frenzying from hunger. Marcus tackles her with his shadow tendrils, preventing her from doing damage to anyone. They hold her down and force-feed her some of Paul’s blood. This brings her back to sanity but puts Paul dangerously low. After that….
3. Georgia goes out to hunt around Lands End and attacks a jogger out for an evening run. She only takes a little blood then goes off to find more targets, leaving him staggering around drunkenly with a loopy expression on his face. She wanders off to find more. Meanwhile…
4. Paul has a long conversation with Marcus about the Monomancy plans, then heads out to hunt in the area himself. He comes across a guy in jogging clothes staggering around vacantly but decides to avoid him. He goes to the restaurant at the Cliff House and seduces an old man in the bathroom, which isn’t filled with creepy closeted-homoerotic subtext at all. Meanwhile…
5. Georgia finds another jogger and decides to rinse and repeat her tactic. This guy, though, is ‘roided up (“What the FUCK, crazy bitch!?”) and maces her (“Yeah, you WANT SOME? Do you even lift!?!”). She collapses in pain. He runs off, arms over his head, yelling “Winning!!!” as he disappears into the night. Meanwhile….
6. Paul leaves the restaurant and returns to the park, looking for more people. He comes across a jogger running down the path and inexplicably yelling, “Winning!” over and over. Paul is able to successfully attack him, but unfortunately as well as a mouthful of adrenaline, he gets a mouthful of the cocaine lacing the dude-bro’s system.
Because that’s exactly what we need going into the Monomancy, a coked-up Toreador.
And so—Paul wired and jittery, Georgia maced in the face—they return to Marcus. Marcus takes one look at them and nearly falls off the golfcart laughing.
Which is good. Poor kid probably doesn’t get enough chances to laugh these days.
Anyway, the main take-home from all this drama is that Marcus recovered something from the site of Perpenna’s attack on the werewolves, which he gives to Paul. It’s a remote, like an old TV remote, with a few colored buttons and a D-pad rocker switch. The back is engraved with the image of a cockroach, which Marcus points out is the symbol of the Glasswalkers. He’s not sure what it is, but it’s possible it was part of Sophia’s plans for hacking the lighting system at the Monomancy.
And frankly, now that time is up, they have nothing to lose by giving it a shot.
A shadow flutters through the trees above them. Marcus glances up. “Ahh, I see we’re all here….”
Georgia looks up just in time to see a massive blue-and-gold macaw drop out of the darkness and land on her shoulder. She shrieks and jumps, but the bird spreads its wings and keeps itself balanced on her robes.
Paul sees this as an excellent opportunity for free animal prey and immediately lunges at it. The macaw leaps back into flight and circles the group.
“Bwark! Don’t eat the parrot!”
Paul stops. “That…is a pretty contextually-sensitive parrot….”
Marcus rolls his eyes. “Gangrel….” he mutters. “Ah, excuse me, Polly, we have somewhere to be, can we get on with this?”
The macaw—who, naturally, is Anstis, because what form did you expect a pirate Gangrel to take?—circles around again, then comes in for another landing.
This time on Marcus’s shoulder.
Anstis doesn’t get within a foot of Marcus, though, before a massive blur streaks out of the trees and barrels into him. Four-inch talons wrap around him and smash him to the ground. Anstis squawks and flutters, twisting his head, trying to bite at his assailant. The talons squeeze harder, with easily enough force to suffocate him (if he needed to breathe).
Marcus watches the whole thing impassively. “Aquilifer….” he chides.
The great eagle looks up at her master, glares once more at Anstis, then steps off him. She lumbers over to Marcus, wings half-spread, and stands between him and the macaw squirming on the ground.
Marcus smirks. “I have to thank you, Captain, Aquilifer hasn’t had practice like that in a while.”
Anstis rolls to his feet and rouses his feathers vigorously. He cocks his head to glare at Aquilifer through one beady eye. She puffs up and ducks her head threateningly.
“Not for you! Not for you! Get away!” she screams, though only Anstis can understand her.
“You’d better stay away, bwak!” Anstis squawks back, spreading his own wings and baring his beak.
“She’s not afraid of you, Captain,” Marcus says, stroking her shoulder. “Comes with her age. She won’t go near you as long as I tell her not to. Will you, Aquilifer?”
Aquilifer’s feathers gradually relax and smooth under Marcus’s touch, but she doesn’t take her gaze off of Anstis. Marcus reaches up to scratch the back of her head. With this, she relaxes all the way, fluttering her eyes closed.
“I’m glad to see she still has it,” Marcus says softly.
Anstis makes grumbly bird-noises and flies up to land in a tree instead.
With that, Marcus declares play-time over and says they need to get moving. He tells Anstis to change back to humanoid form, since the drivers won’t be expecting a 20-pound parrot.
(Jim: “Fine, I turn back into fucking human form.”
Jason: “While still on the branch? Okay!”
Jim: “Well you said it was a big branch.”
Jason: “Yeah, it is a big branch, for a bird.”
Jim: “How high is the branch?”
Me: “The cypress in Land’s End? They’re pruned high.”
Jim: “Alright, then I go down to the ground to change.”
Jason: “Ahhh, I don’t think you said that initially! I’m sorry sir, you did not clarify!”)
Marcus, Aquilifer, Georgia, and Paul all watch patiently as Anstis changes back into a human while still in the tree and plummets thirty feet to the ground.
(Chris: “Tonight is off to a great start.”)
I leave the tower not long after Dr. vonNatsi tells me about the werewolves being missing. He has no idea how, or why, but doesn’t seem too broken up about it.
I, though, am very concerned.
I have just enough time to run down to SOMA to visit my clubs and fill up on blood— which, incidentally, gives me enough to FINALLY HEAL MY MISSING FUCKING HAND!!! I clench and stretch the fingers, admiring it under the dim light of the club.
I try to swing by my house to check on Slayer but the street is still cordoned off. They’re not letting anyone through for at least two days. Well…he’s not going anywhere, so I leave and walk down the street to call Marcus.
Me: “Boss I’m ready to roll heavy—I mean, no, Not-Boss, sorry, argh—“
Marcus: “…We talking heavy by your standards or heavy by your clan’s?”
I look down at myself. I’ve got the two shotguns—which I can maybe now dual-wield, hooray—holstered cross-wise on my back, with the Kalashnikov rifle slung over them. I have two bandoliers of shells across my chest and the rifle-round bandolier draped coquettishly around my hips. The four wooden stakes that I stole from the Prince’s storage facility are shoved into inside-pockets of my jacket. My silver-tipped bullwhip is coiled on my right hip and the stolen Tremere sword is stuck through my belt on the left.
Me: “Um….heavy by my standards.”
Marcus: “…Well at least you’re realistic.”
Next I call a car-service car. It’ll be pricey, but maybe I can expense it. A car shows up right away and I climb in the front.
Yeah. It’s fucking Adam.
I stare at him as I fasten the seatbelt. He grins amicably.
“Where you headed?” he asks.
“Um…San Jose, is that outside your jurisdiction?”
“Oh, I make a jaunt down there every now and again.” He checks traffic and pulls away from the curb.
We drive in silence for a few minutes, Adam focused on maneuvering the car down Van Ness, and me watching him owlishly out of the corner of my eye. Finally, just as we’re getting on the ramp toward 101 south, I speak up.
“Not as busy as last night,” he says. His tone is conversational, but somehow I suspect he means something more.
“Yeah…. Did you hear anything about that?” I ask slowly.
“I heard a bunch of things about that. PG&E says a pipe blew up.”
“Yeah…. Funny there’s no holes in the street, I was just there.”
“Well, musta been an underground thing. Fire mostly.”
“Hmm.” I regard him a moment. “Were you in the area?”
“Naw, I wasn’t even nearby. Lucky me.” He turns and flashes a smile. “Always been lucky.”
He turns back to the road. “What brings you to San Jose?” he asks.
“Oh…got tickets to a show….”
“Really? What’s playing?”
(Jim: “Oh it’s gonna be a big light show!”)
I hesitate. I’ve gotten the clear sense by now that Adam knows more than he lets on, and maybe might be able to pass along helpful information, but I can’t just be direct with him. That’s not part of the game.
I shrug. “Some sort of exhibition game. Couple local teams.”
He smiles. “Well, it’s good to support your local teams. And whose side will you be rooting for?”
I shrug. “I’ve always been fond of the underdogs.”
“Ahh, I’ve always been fond of them myself. Comes with a lifetime of being one, I suppose.”
“Really?” I turn to him. “You seem like a self-assured man, not the underdog sort.”
“Oh, one can be an underdog and recognize it. Depends on who you match yourself up against, I suppose.” He shrugs. “Still, I’m still here.”
“Yeah….” I turn back to the window. “Me too….”
“Indeed. And has that been a difficult prospect recently? Strange things been doing down in the city. People talk about all kinds of odd stuff. Werewolves…and vampires.”
I’m suddenly a lot more aware of his gaze on me from behind his sunglasses. I continue to stare out the window at the passing lights of Milbrae and Burlingame, but I choose my next words very carefully. “Yeah, well, it is San Francisco. It’s attracted all sorts over the years….”
“This city has attracted weirder than most. I get to see them all eventually. They all wind up in my cab, and all of them got something to say. You just gotta know how to listen. And I’m very good at that.”
I snort. “You ever bartended?”
He chuckles. “Oh, I’ve done most everything in my time. You could say I’ve served up things in a fashion.”
His last words are said casually, but somehow they still send a chill down my spine. “Well…I hope I’m not putting you out too much, taking you so far out of the city,” I say quickly.
He waves a hand dismissively. “Oh, not at all. And I do like the south bay once in awhile. Change of pace, change of scenery, change of persons. Ambiance is all different down there. They tend not to mix those from San Jose and San Francisco. Not sure why….”
Yeah, definitely knows more than he lets on. I shrug. “I’ve met a couple from down there.”
“Well, there’s always someone moving up or down in the world.”
Yes, I think. Wonder which way I’m traveling….
I watch the scenery pass, pouring over Adam’s words. “You…say this city attracts strange people, you heard of any strange people leaving in the last few nights?”
“Leaving?” He seems to seriously consider the question. “No not recently. I mean there’s always someone coming or going. But…leaving imminently? No. No, I think they all want to be here. Or maybe they can’t.”
I frown. “It seems there’s been a sudden population drop recently….”
“Well, there’s other reasons for that.” He tilts his head at me. If his sunglasses weren’t so large, his eyes would be looking over the top of them significantly.
I tense, not liking the sound of that at all. “But…all of them…?” I mumble to myself.
Adam obviously hears, even over the wind rushing outside the car. “All of them? Well some may not have left. Big city. Anyone can disappear. Who is it you’re looking for?”
I turn to the window. “A friend,” I say softly. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t reasonably call her anything else.
“Oh, which friend would that be? Maybe I’ve had him as a fare.”
“She,” I say sharply. “She’s…a kid. Good with technology.”
“Well I’ve had no shortage of teenagers ride these past few nights. Can’t say I saw one recently. But they’ll surprise you, kids these days, with what they can get up to.” He glances at me. “And what they can get through.”
An image of Sophia blasted apart and lying on the mage’s table flashes through my mind. I drown it out by drinking in the lights of the cars and the suburbs flashing past.
“Well, if you’ve got a name,” Adam says, “I can watch out for her. If her fare comes up, that is.”
I tense. I’ve already accidentally name-dropped her once recently and something about Adam’s tone makes me suspicious. I wave a hand dismissively. “She likes to keep it on the DL, I shouldn’t go spreading it around town.”
Adam shrugs. “Well, that’s her prerogative.”
We’re approaching the outskirts of the South Bay. I stare quietly out the window for many minutes, thinking about Sophia and my implicit promise to rescue her from whatever the hell I’ve gotten her into. Whatever the hell I left her with when I bolted from the firestorm in the Tenderloin.
Thinking about that, though, inevitably reminds me of other people I’ve left behind.
“Have…you ever had anybody you thought was out of your life suddenly come back in?” I ask carefully.
Adam nods slowly. “More than once,” he says, with a sigh in his voice that sounds almost sad.
“Were…they the same person when they came back?”
He glances at me sharply. “No one’s the same person.”
I turn back to the window. A new image flashes in my mind: the photo of Isabella in an alley, standing over a body with blood dripping down her face.
“Then…did they really come back….” I mutter.
“Who’s to say. Maybe not. Or maybe that’s just who people are.”
I grip the edge of my seat very tightly. I honestly don’t know which of those things would be worse.
The rest of Team Marcus (fuck you I’m still using it) had a much less eventful ride down. Paul tries to decipher the remote and the conversation is dominated by Marcus and Paul discussing contingency plans and whether or not to trust Liedesdorff. Unfortunately Paul admits that he used the werewolf blood to survive the attack from Himmler, which WAS the contingency plan, so now it’s all down to the lights or nothing. Paul fiddles with the remote harder.
Both of the cars arrive at the Shark Tank at the same time. We all gather in the parking lot.
Marcus nods at me as I approach. “Good of you to come Tom. It promises to be a very interesting show.”
I nod absently, looking around the lot for my bike. “Yeah, I’m looking forward to it….”
“Tom! Do you have any theater experience?” Paul asks suddenly.
I glare at him. “That’s racist.”
They explain the situation with the remote, and how if it doesn’t work they might need someone to man the light-board manually. I may not have theater experience but I do have some experience working smaller-scale light and sound boards in bars and clubs, so I am immediately nominated as the new tech guy, though no one will tell me what for.
We head toward the entrance of the arena, watched by multiple men out front brandishing guns. As we walk, Marcus checks out my gear. “I see you’ve come well-armed.”
“Indeed, I am also well-armed.” I grin and hold up my regrown left hand, flexing it a few times.
“Huh! It grew back!” Paul says, pulling out a $50 to hand to Georgia.
“Congratulations,” Anstis grumbles. “It’s about time.”
I glare at the pirate. “Yes, well, if it hadn’t grown back, I would have asked if I could borrow a hook.”
Marcus nods. “Impressive. First time I lost a limb it took me longer to grow it back, and you have more mass.”
“How many limbs have you lost in your day?” Anstis asks him.
Marcus tilts his head thoughtfully. “…Not sure. I’d have to count. More than a few. Not as many as an Assamite I once knew. There was a point when he was up to one a week, on average.”
We’re approaching the gate. I lean over to whisper to the group. “So…what’s the plan?”
“The plan is you say as little as possible,” Marcus says flatly.
“…Good plan.” I straighten and fall into position behind him.
We stop in front of a set of armed guards in combat fatigues. They look us over—sneering at Paul, looking perplexed at Marcus—then turn to me.
“Comrade!” they shout, spreading their arms in welcome. “This is one kill werewolf!” the leader says as he slaps me on the shoulder. “He punch in the face!”
I grin in return and pretend I don’t notice Marcus’s glare.
The leader turns back to the rest of the group. “You come for event, yes? It will be big show.” He hesitates, then turns to me. “You, ah…you bring child with?”
My grin turns wooden. “Yes, we bring with.”
“He for eat?”
Paul and Anstis stifle chuckles. I studiously continue to avoid Marcus’s glares. “No….”
The guards look at each other and shrug. “Suit self. Come this way.”
The guards lead us into the arena. About fifty people are clustered in the stands, not many given the size of the arena but more than were here last time. Andre is here, surrounded by a posse of his people. Liedesdorff is nearby with a cluster of his own people. Both of them watch us as we enter. The rest of the crowd are chatting amongst themselves, a sea of strangers.
Except one. Doc, of all people, is here, sitting to the far side of the crowd, leaning back in his chair with his hat tipped low over his eyes.
We survey the scene. Anstis leans down to Marcus. “How do you feel about me taking the high ground?”
“A lot less badly than I did five seconds ago,” he grumbles, staring at Andre. “Let’s get this over with.” Marcus walks over to Andre, followed by Paul, Georgia, and myself, while Anstis shifts back into a parrot and perches on my shoulder.
Andre looks just as hideous as he did last time we saw him: clawed hands, taloned feet, horns and spines jutting out at odd angles, and a head elongated backward like a Geiger knock-off. He spreads his arms as we approach. “Marcus Sertorius. And zis is your….people.” He looks us over, barely hiding a sneer. He turns to Paul last. “Paul Stewart. I am glad you did not fail to arrive. It would have been unfortunate if I had to make an example of you.”
“Not known for failing,” Paul says, arms folded.
“I am sure you are not. Shall we…take refreshments? Before we begin?” Andre gestures. One of his people steps forward leading a cluster of women chained together in a line; four of them, all young, all vacant and dead-eyed. Most of them are in cheap clubbing clothes, though one of them is in jeans and a San Jose State sweatshirt.
“My compliments,” Andre grins at us, revealing two rows of identically-sharpened teeth. “Zey will not be missed.”
(Chris: “Paul feels awkward.”
Kara: “Georgia feels repulsed.”
Jason: “Marcus…is not too happy either.”)
We hesitate nervously, but luckily Marcus takes the lead. “I’ve already eaten,” he says, glowering. “Thank you so much for the offer.”
Welp, if the Boss has refused the hospitality then I figure I’m in the clear. I fold my arms and stare stoically. Georgia and Paul also awkwardly decline.
Rather than offending, our refusal seems to amuse Andre more. “Ahh, you are Camarilla. You do not understand how things are done down here.”
“Oh I think they understand perfectly well, Andre,” Marcus says, stepping forward. “Now, why don’t you tell me all about this wonderful facility of yours and I will pretend to care.”
Andre and Marcus walk off for a private discussion, leaving the rest of us alone.
“It’s preeeetty,” Mr. Tails whispers suddenly. “Can we make it glow?”
“Maybe we can if you can get Liedesdorff over there to talk to me,” Paul whispers through clenched teeth.
“Turn it on! Turn it on and make it glow!”
“Turn it on?” I turn to Paul. “Paul, what is he talking about?”
He ignores me. “Mr. Tails, this remote I have in my pocket. Do you know how it works?”
“You push it.”
“All of them.”
Paul rolls his eyes. “Ok. Well, if you could get Liedesdorff’s attention that would actually be helpful.”
Whether or not he was prompted by Mr. Tails, just then Liedesdorff turns to notice us. He finishes a conversation with one of his men and walks over. He greets Paul, we share introductions all around, then he and Paul step to the side to discuss private matters. Meanwhile Georgia and I decide to go say hi to Doc.
Paul quietly informs Liedesdorff that the “tech engineer” he was relying upon has become waylaid, will not be able to help tonight, and we’ll need some way to commandeer the light board in the control room. Liedesdorff says that he is already planning on having one of his men stationed there, but Andre has a man there too. To make things worse, Liedesdorff’s man is a ghoul and Andre’s man is a vampire. To make things triple-worse, Andre’s man is his own childe.
Liedesdorff is, understandably, unnerved at this last-minute change in plans:
Liedesdorff scans the crowd. “My people are not making a move unless something happens,” he whispers under his breath. “I’m not jumping Andre alone.”
“The device I have now might be somewhat unpredictable,” Paul whispers under his. “There’s much finer precision from the control room.”
Liedesdorff rolls his eyes. “Wonderful. Are me and mine going to be at risk?”
“Honestly, I would say all of us are.”
He shoots a glance at Paul. “That was not part of the deal, Mr. Stewart, and I don’t like altering deals.”
Paul looks at me, on the other side of the crowd, making my way toward Doc, periodically batting Anstis’s tail out of my face. “Tom has a reputation amongst some of Andre’s men. He may be…freer than others. Perhaps he could distract Andre’s man so your man could activate the board.”
Liedesdorff follows his gaze to me. He nods. “Or kill him. Brujah are good at that. Or so I’m told. What about the Tremere, and the Gangrel? Are they prepared to engage as well?”
“The Gangrel is. The Tremere can hold her own.”
“Good,” Liedesdorff nods. “Because Andre’s people have mine outnumbered two to one. Even with the lights, this may get nasty.”
Doc looks up as we approach. He tips his hat to us in turn—Georgia first—but keeps his pose relaxed, feet braced up on the seat row in front of him. “Ms. Johnson. Mr. Lytton.”
We nod and/or cursty to him. “Doc, I believe I owe you a stake,” I say, pulling one of my new stolen ones out of my pocket and handing it over.
He takes and examines it. “A fine example. Have you been making inquiries toward these ends, Mr. Lytton,” he asks, pointing it at me.
“Ah, yes, they are quite useful.”
“Oh they are that, for those who knows how to make use of them.” He tucks it into his jacket. “A fine night, would you not agree, Ms. Johnson?”
“Oh it’s lovely,” she says brightly, looking around the arena. “And how does it find you?”
Doc takes a breath. “Curious. Curious as to what I’m about to witness, that is. Hadn’t thought to see either of you here.”
“Hadn’t thought to see you here,” I say.
He smiles. “Oh well I go where I will. Anarchs are capable of such things.”
“Yeah….” I agree wistfully.
“You here as a spectator?” Georgia asks him.
He chuckles and changes the cross of his legs. “Oh well of course. I’m not a participant certainly. No, my days of intervening in such matters are long over, I assure you.” He looks at us slyly from under his brim. “This is not the OK Corral.”
He nods toward Paul, deep in conversation with Liedesdorff. “I am surprised your associate arrived for the event. I have a feeling our host is as well. The odds do not favor him. If I were a betting man—and I am,” he smiles, “—I would take three-to-one against.”
“I’ll take that bet!” Georgia digs around in her robes and procures the $50 bill she won from Paul.
Doc looks startled, then his face breaks out in a wide grin. “Why, Ms. Johnson. We’ll make an honest woman out of you yet.” He takes the money and pockets it. “We’ll consider it a wager then. And you, Mr. Lytton,” he turns to me. “Are you a betting man as well?”
I pat my clothes in between my layers of weapons. “I’m…afraid I don’t have much cash on me at the moment….”
Doc tsks. “Oh, well that’s alright. A man can rise in the world and fall.”
“Bwak! I’ll take the bet!” Anstis scrambles over my head to my other shoulder, closer to Doc. “One favor!”
Doc tilts his hat back, eyes wide. “Now…what do we have here? A favor, you ask? Well that is a mighty high price? Can you put a collateral against it, I wonder?”
“Favor for favor,” Anstis squawks, rocking from foot to foot excitedly. “You a betting man?”
Doc’s eyes narrow. “Oh I am a betting man, but only a sucker takes odds he can’t understand. And who might you be, oh feathered friend?
Anstis stops rocking. “Thomas Anstis. Who are you?” he says in a near-whistle.
“Thomas Anstis, I have heard this name.” Doc nods. “My name is Holliday. John Holliday. Some call me Doc.”
“Captain Anstis has been working with us for the last few days,” Georgia adds.
“A captain? And has he a ship?”
“At the moment he’s…between ships,” Georgia says. Anstis’s feathers fluff in irritation.
“Ah. Well I have every faith that will not be for long. As to your bet, sir, I’m afraid not knowing more about your reputation, I am forced to decline.”
Anstis bobs his head and bows forward respectfully, knocking me in the face with his tail again.
Doc looks up at me. “So you have decided to bring a pack of birds to this operation? I assume that one up there is with you as well.” I follow his gaze up to the rafters. Aquilifer is perched right above us, staring down intently as only an eagle can, but somehow it is clear that her stare is focused entirely on Anstis.
Anstis tries to stare back, but as macaws have a much narrower angle of binocular overlap in their visual field, this comes off as far less impressive. He decides to ignore her instead, turning his back on her and actively preening.
Aquilifer’s eyes narrow.
Paul rejoins us then. We introduce him to Doc—Paul is justifiably surprised—then he pulls me aside to talk about the new lightboard plan (after I dump Anstis bodily onto Georgia’s shoulder). He says that I need to bring new instructions on how to activate the board to Liedesdorff’s man while somehow distracting or taking out Andre’s man. He gives me the information and leaves it up to me to figure out how to get it to the control room. He says he expects Andre will probably try to toy with him for awhile, and Paul will let him, which will buy me some time.
I look around the arena. People seem to be slowly gathering and taking their seats. Armed guards are scattered through the crowd and at the entrances to the concourse. At the top of my row, I see the three guards who escorted us in. One sees me looking at him, he nods to me and smiles.
I smile back and make my way up the stairs toward him.
A man walks out onto the ice—
(Kara: “OH MY GOD is it Sebastian!?”
—another Tzmitsce by the look of him, in long dark robes, carrying a long wooden case.
“Ah, that would be the Pack Priest,” Doc whispers to Georgia and Paul. “Officiator. Here to make sure nothing goes awry.” He looks up at them. “Course nothing is going to go awry, is it?”
“Well, no! He’s here, afterall,” Georgia says with no visible trace of irony, pointing at the priest.
Doc chuckles. “Quite right, quite right. Mr. Stewart I believe you will be needed at center ice soon. Good luck to you.” He tips his hat.
Paul nods back, then leans in toward Georgia. “If you see green light, keep opposite of it,” he whispers before walking to the nearest gate leading to the ice. The rest of the mingling crowd all take their seats. Anstis flies up into the rafters and Georgia sinks down into a chair next to Doc.
“Tovarich!!” The guards call as I approach them. I smile and put on my best confident swagger. “How are you doing?” the leader says.
“Good, I am excited for show,” I reply amiably while quietly scoping out their gear.
“Good, is going to be good show,” the leader says. He glances around then gestures for me to lean in. “I am afraid ve kill the Toreador.”
I shrug. “Yeah, well, he’s kinda a dick, so….”
They chuckle. “Vell, he is Camarilla.” The leader regards me. “You…you are Camarilla…?”
Am I? I honestly don’t know anymore.… I shrug. “Well…I’ve been talking to this guy Helgi out in Oakland—“
“Helgi??” Their eyes widen. “You are vith Helgi?”
I tense. I know full well the problems that can crop up if you run around implying that you’re “with” people who would protest the association. The evidence of such a problem is currently sitting in two separate duffel bags in my apartment. Thus, instead of agreeing, I play coy and waggle my head noncommittally.
The guards are impressed anyway. “Helgi! He is big man!” one of them say.
“Yes he is. Also big bike. Oh, hey, speaking of bikes….”
I ask them about my bike, my much belabored Valkyrie Rune I had to leave here last week (though it feels more like four months ago). They say it’s around back and offer to show me, but I decline. I have another destination in mind instead.
I rub the back of my neck sheepishly. “I was wondering if I could…see the control room? Boss has some music he wanted to play.”
“Oh, no no,” they smile reassuringly. “Ve have our own music. Andre requests.”
“Oh yeah? What is it?”
(Jason: “They name some Russian band you’ve never heard of.”
Chris: “Is it Ghengis Khan?”)
Jason: *glares* “…No.”)
I try wheedling them into taking me anyway, but they are adamant that the place is off limits, under Andre’s orders. Frustrated, I pull the leader aside and Awe him into agreeing. I assume, of course, that he will be the one to take me.
But my stomach flips as three of the guards lead me up instead.
Paul and Andre both approach the gate to the ice at the same time. Andre magnanimously gestures for Paul to enter first. Paul does so and is able to make it all the way to the center of the rink before falling.
Laughter ripples through the crowd. Paul climbs back to his feet and takes an elaborate bow. The priest raises his arms and silence descends across the arena again.
“The Monomany has been declared,” he intones. “We will proceed in all honor. Interference from the outside is forbidden and will be punished, in accordance with the Code of Milan.”
Paul glances at Marcus, but his expression is unreadable from this far away.
The priest turns to Paul. “As the challenged, you may select your weapon first.” He picks up the case laying at his feet, opens it, and presents it to Paul.
(Step 3: Make her open the box.)
Inside are two polished dueling swords, carved and decorated, but not ostentatiously so. Paul hesitates then selects the one on the right, hefting it experimentally.
The priest turns to Andre and offers him the case. Andre glances at the sword, then looks up at Paul and smiles. “He may have both,” Andre rumbles.
Paul glares at Andre, wordlessly taking the second sword when the priest offers it to him.
Paul and Andrew continue to glare at each other as the priest runs through the finer details of the rules, though it’s clear that neither of them are paying that close attention.
The priest finishes his spiel, then lifts his arms again. “Bring forth the sacrifice,” his voice booms across the ice.
A ripple moves through the crowd. Paul glances at Marcus. He is glaring sharply at Andre. Andre meets Marcus’s gaze and smiles broader. Marcus shakes his head and face-palms.
A gate to the ice opens, and a man comes out leading two of the women from before: one of the club girls and the girl in the college sweatshirt. Paul eyes them, aghast, as they’re lead to center-ice.
Paul turns to the priest. “I do not accept this. Send them back.”
The priest blinks in surprise, then scowls. “This is not for you to accept. The Monomancy must be consecrated.”
“Then use my blood,” Paul says, staring him right in the eye.
The crowd murmurs. The priest stares at Paul a moment, then laughs.
“Your blood? Won’t you have need of it?” he sneers.
“I have more than enough,” Paul says levelly, still meeting his gaze.
The priest looks at Andre. Andre glares at Paul but nods. The priest shrugs and produces a small chalice and a knife as long as Marcus’s glaudius from his robes.
“The sacrifice is willingly given,” the priest says, surprise shading his voice. He chants an incantation in Latin then steps forward and slices Paul’s throat.
Blood wells out. Most of it flows into the chalice, but more than a little spills down Paul’s clothes and drips onto the ice below. The priest lifts the chalice, chants, looks at Paul, and takes a sip. He passes the cup to Andre, who examines it a moment before taking a sip as well. Andre hands the cup to Paul. Paul glares at Andre a moment, then drinks the remaining.
(Jason: “You get one point back.”
Chris: “Wooo! Good cause I really need it!”)
Andre watches stoically as Paul returns the chalice to the priest, then grins a shark-toothed smile. He gestures to the man holding the two women. The man nods…
….And chops both their heads off.
Paul jumps back as blood pumps across the ice. The crowd mutters in surprise. Even the priest shoots a glance at Andre. Andre, though, continues to grin at Paul, rumbling chuckles echoing from his chest.
“Zis is my house,” he says, spreading his arms. “I may do as I wish. Besides…” his grin broadens, “it vill make the ice easier for you to walk on.”
Paul stares back, takes a breath, then turns to the priest. “Can we get this thing started?”
The priest nods, tucking the chalice and knife back into his robes. “Yes, I think we can.”
“Good,” Paul says, then steps forward to stab both swords into Andre.
I keep my eye out for other guards as we make our way up to the control room. The concourse and hallways seem deserted, so I assume that the majority of Andre’s people are on the floor of the arena.
My guards lead me to the door of the booth and stand around chatting in Russian as the leader fiddles for a set of keys in his pocket and opens the door.
A man—tall, dark, and glowery—is standing at the control panel, staring out the windows into the arena. He turns as we enter and barks something in Russian. The guards respond, gesturing casually at me. The man glares at me but otherwise doesn’t react.
I look around the booth. It’s a standard setup—monitors, boards, chairs—so pretty much what I was expecting.
What I wasn’t expecting, however, was for Liedesdorff’s man to be missing. The Russian glowering at me—whom I reasonably assume to be the childe of Andre’s I was warned about—is the only one here. There’s no sign of the ghoul I was supposed to pass the instructions off to.
I hesitate. Paul said there would be some lead-time, maybe I could try and find Liedesdorff’s man, or maybe find a way to lead all the guards out of the room and then double back—
One of the guards glances out the window and shouts. “It’s begun! Come look, quick!” The other guards race to the window. The vampire turns too.
I take a few steps forward just in time to see Paul slash at Andre with two swords at once, skidding on ice streaked with crimson-fresh blood.
My adrenaline skyrockets. I glance at the control boards, then at the backs of the four men in front of me.
Shit shit shit shit—
Paul lunges forward but slips on the ice at the last moment. The blow glances off Andre as he jumps backwards out of the way.
Andre stares a moment. He smiles and spread his arms….
…and fucking erupts into a form two or three times his already-impressive size. He looms over Paul, muscled like a werewolf but covered in dark, chitinous scales thick as plate armor. His claws and spines have elongated, as has his face, twisting into something barely recognizable as humanoid. He roars at Paul and mantles dark, leathery batwings, thick enough to cast a shadow over the ice.
(Jason: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Zulo form.”)
Paul…takes a step back.
(Chris: “Paul needed that cocaine.”)
I see Andre erupt into…whatever the fuck that is, Uber-Costco Monster form, and I know time is up. My logical mind retreats, but my instinct has an idea, and as crazy as it seems, I let myself run with it.
I draw my sword.
(Me: “So…there’s four guys, right?”
Me: “And I have…three dots of Celerity….”
Jason: “….Yes. And—oh god, three dots of Potence, oh shi—“)
My speed is breathtaking, had I any breath to take. The first strike slices the first guard’s neck almost in half, more than enough to sever the spine and drop him to the ground. The second hit is better, sending blood across the room as the head falls free. By the third guard I’ve built up enough momentum that I barely even notice resistance as my sword passes through his neck.
I whip around for a final strike against the last one, the vampire. Alone of the four, he saw me begin to move and tries to dodge out of the way. The arc of my strike moves faster than his duck…
…And a fourth head drops to the floor.
(Jason: “Ladies and gentlemen…. Brujah.”)
Time floats by in one more extended moment as I survey the damage. Blood is arced across the windows and control boards and pooling in the carpet from the bodies of the three guards. Outside the windows, in the arena below, Paul and Andre have barely moved from where they were when I last looked at them.
My mind reels. I’ve had dramatic fights before—like the now-legendary fight with the werewolf—but most of those came down to circumstances or sheer luck. I’ve never gone into a situation with grim purpose and have it come out successful. It feels different, somehow.
Time races back to normal speed, effectively drop-kicking me out of my reverie. I fall on one of the dead ghouls to grab back some blood, then throw myself at the lighting control board, using the instructions I was given to activate it myself.
Paul lunges at Andre again with the swords, but Andre parries with one spiked arm. Andre swings his other arm and opens up Paul’s chest with three deep gashes, only a shade short of disemboweling him entirely.
Paul scrambles back. “That hulking form isn’t very sporting!” he yells, blasting Awe as hard as he can. “I’m sure you could take me down in your regular body!”
“Why would I want that,” Andre rumbles, stalking toward him, both his voice and his footfalls making the ice tremble.
“Well, they won’t say anything if you defeat me as this, but on even footing? They’ll talk of it for ages!”
Andre leans forward and slices deep rends in the ice. “You know what they say about Toreador?”
Paul hesitates. “That…we dance very well?”
“You talk too much.” Andre’s claws lash out across Paul’s face and upper chest, cutting rends to match the ones in the ice.
Georgia is on the edge of her seat, practically gnawing her hand in anxiety as she watches the fight. Next to her, Doc is also staring very intently, but it’s not toward the ice.
He taps Georgia’s shoulder. “I suspect that one of your friends is about to do something very…ill-considered. Or possibly not.”
He gestures up. Georgia follows his gaze and sees me in the control room high above, fiddling with the electronics behind windows spattered with blood.
Georgia stares, then leans in to whisper to Doc. “I recommend that if we see any green lights, we stay opposite of them.”
Doc raises an eyebrow, but he does not object.
After a few seconds of scrambled fiddling, I am able to figure out the main basics of the board, but not enough to exert any fine control over the lighting system. All I know is what Paul told me (which, incidentally, DID NOT INCLUDE THE FACT THAT THE LIGHT WOULD BE SUNLIGHT!! NO ONE HAS TOLD ME OF THIS KEY FACT YET!!!). I take a brief glance down at him struggling on the ice, then flip all the switches.
A second bank of lights come up across the arena to supplement the ones already on. I have no idea how these fit into Paul’s secret plan, but I hope whatever it is happens soon. I lean up against the windows to watch.
More lights flick on across the arena. Paul instinctively cringes…
…And nothing happens.
Paul and Andre glance up. The lights are normal halogen lights, steadily growing brighter but far from sunlight strength.
At that moment, though, Paul notices something else: the remote in his pocket is buzzing like a phone.
Paul whips out the remote. While Andre is distracted, he pops Celerity and starts smashing each of the four buttons in turn.
The first one he hits is the red one.
A third bank of lights flip on, mounted parallel to the halogen lights. The light in the arena increases noticeably.
And then the screams start. Tortured howls, barely recognizable as human, echo across the arena. A smell like scorched hair and rotting meat rolls though the space after the noise. Paul falls to the ice, writhing in agony, but has just enough sense left to mash another button, this one the blue one.
The sun lights go off. The screams ratchet down from animalistic to simply panicked. The crowd churns like an upturned anthill as people climb over each other to get the hell out of the arena.
I don’t notice at first when the sun lights come on, shaded as I am in the control room, but I see their effects immediately. I stare in horror and take a few cautious steps back from the window.
As suddenly as the lights came on, they go out. Andre climbs to his feet, though Paul remains down. Andre peers at the rafters, yelling in Russian, then stops as his gaze settles on the control room.
And sees me, gaping back at him through bloodstained glass.
He yells and points toward me. I see some of his men brandish their guns and fight their way through the crowd toward the exit doors leading toward the concourse.
Yep, time to bail.
I shove the sword back through my belt and turn to bolt, but on my way out of the room, I take a full moment to smash my hand into the music control panel.
I leave the control room just as the opening bars of “The Final Countdown” blares across the arena.
Andre is standing on the ice—somewhat singed but otherwise no worse for wear—yelling and gesturing, trying to communicate with his men over the music and general pandemonium. Distracted as he is, he doesn’t notice when Paul fumbles with the remote and presses the next button, the yellow one.
A spotlight, bright as a helicopter spotlight, flashes on, focused on center ice between Paul and Andre. Just the reflection is enough to make Paul’s eyes start to burn.
Andre whips around to Paul, so incised he doesn’t seem to notice the sunbeam between them. “Vat have you done??” he hisses and takes a step toward Paul.
Paul gets an idea. He hits the blue button, killing the spotlight, then crawls backward across the ice, trying to lure Andre to step into center ice where the spotlight hit.
Georgia and Doc are also both burned, but otherwise ok. Doc helps Georgia to her feet as the crowd roils around them.
“Ms. Johnson, are you alright?”
“Yes….” she gasps. She peers around, trying to make sense of the chaos. On the other side of the crowd, Leidesdorff is standing amongst the chaos, talking to four men. The men nod and dash off. Liedesdorff takes one last look at Paul then calmly makes his way toward the exit.
Doc’s firm grip steadies her. “Something is wrong here, Ms. Johnson, I suggest you come with me.”
She turns toward the ice. “We need to get Paul out!”
Doc follows her gaze to Andre, growling and advancing on Paul like a bull. “I don’t think that’s prudent at this moment.”
She looks at him, eyes pleading. “But I can’t just leave him! I have to save him!”
“From that? Ms. Johnson you haven’t the capacity to save him from that!”
She tears her arm from his grip. “Then I’ll die trying!” she shouts, her blood-bond to Paul ratchetting up the melodrama. She whirls around and launches a gout of fire into the area, directly at Andre.
The fire explodes off Andre’s back, halting his advance on Paul. Andre whips around, sees Georgia, then flares his wings and roars. He points one long talon at her and yells something in Russian.
(Kara: “…I think I just pulled aggro.”)
So far, Anstis has been huddled in the rafters. He got briefly blasted by the lights when they came on, but survived it with no more than a few singed feathers. He’s watching the show on the ice carefully but keeping his eye on the surroundings as well (which macaws can do with their wide field of view, the tradeoff for not having a lot of binocular overlap).
Thus he is the first to see the twisted figure materialize out of the darkness a few beams over. He’s holding a sniper rifle, which he levels and fires at Georgia.
Anstis launches into the air and soars toward him.
Georgia screams and reels back as the bullet pierces her shoulder. Doc pulls her behind him and whips out a Colt Peacemaker revolver. He sights it one-handed and fires back at the sniper. A streak of light—a tracer round—cuts through the air like a Roman candle and hits the sniper right in the head. The sniper jerks back, dropping the rifle, which falls and shatters on the ice below. The man curses in Russian and reaches down to pull out a revolver, but is stopped by a whole mess of parrot right in the face.
Anstis scrabbles at him but can’t get a good strike. The man grabs at him, so Anstis peels off and circles around for a better angle.
But another shape zooms out of the darkness first.
Aquilifer hits the sniper like a truck. Her talons dig into his skull and drag him off the catwalk. He plummets eight stories down to the arena, smashing into the ice, and lies broken and motionless on top of his own gun.
(Jim: “Aaand Aquilifer shows me up completely. That bitch.”)
Aquilifer lands on the catwalk and keens mockingly at Anstis.
Andre’s attention snaps back to Paul. Paul scrambles away as the monstrous form stalks toward him. Just as Andre crosses center ice, Paul hits the yellow button again.
Flames erupt from Andre’s skin. He stumbles and screams, falling out of the beam and rolling along the ice. The melted water collected on the ice is enough to put out the flames, but acrid black smoke still pours off of him.
Paul glances at the remote and realizes he hasn’t tried the directional D-pad switch below the four main buttons. Going on the assumption that this one directs the spotlight, he rolls further away and activates the spotlight again. The light comes on, reflection scalding his eyes again, but he hesitates before hitting the directional switch.
He doesn’t know which way is up.
(Jason: “Okay, I’d like you to give me a test. Intelligence and…either academics or computers. This is really a pop-culture test.”
Chris: *rolls* “Two successes.”
Jason: “Okay. Here’s the thing. Andre slid over toward the visitor’s gate, and the way that Sophia set this up, of course, is that the enemy’s gate is down.”)
Paul hits the down side of the switch. The beam shifts, slowly tracing toward Andre. He’s still clenching the ice and howling in pain and doesn’t see it coming. The light hits him and he erupts in flames again.
I barrel down a hallway away from the control room and come out a door onto the catwalks above the arena. With nowhere else to go, and with shouts echoing down the hall behind me, I run out into them.
The scene below is utter pandemonium. People are scrambling throughout the arena, fighting and shooting each other. Blood is smeared across the bleachers and sprayed onto the glass partitions surrounding the ice. Paul is still alive, I see, lying on the ice fumbling with something in his hand.
And Andre is on fire. So…that’s cool, I guess.
I move further out onto the catwalk, scanning the crowd for Marcus, Georgia, and/or Doc. I unsling my Kalashnikov in case I need to take out a target below.
My first target, though, comes from behind. Andre’s guards crash out the door and run onto the catwalk, shouting and pointing at me. I whip around and fire at the first guy. The shot whizzes past his ear. He hesitates a moment, then shouts and comes at me again.
…Wait a minute, what the fuck am I doing? I drop the rifle to the catwalk and pull out one of my shotguns, already loaded with my acid rounds. I back up and level the gun. As I focus on my shot, I see something blue-and-gold flutter through my peripheral vision.
Then a FUCKING. TWENTY-SIX FOOT WIDE. FUCKING. OCTOPUS. drops onto the catwalk in front of me.
(Oh yeah. Jim went there.)
One moment I see my target, the next all I see is a wall of knobbly-red flesh and a mess of tentacles the size of fire hoses. I stumble back in shock. Anstis grabs the first man, shoving him into his beak and shredding him instantly. Two other arms grab at the next men to come out onto the catwalk, coiling around them like pythons and scouring them with razor-lined suckers. They shriek and fire wildly back at him.
Their screams are soon drowned out by a new sound, though, as the beams of the catwalk twist under the sudden weight and give way with a metallic screech, dropping us to the ice below.
(Kara: “An octopus on the ice? So is this a Redwings game?”)
Georgia grips Doc’s arm as Andre bursts into flames again. “Doc! Do you have anything stabby I can borrow?”
Doc raises an eyebrow but produces a bowie knife from his coat. Georgia grabs it and runs down toward the ice. Several of Andre’s ghouls see her and run toward her with knives and guns of their own. She tries to blast them with another bout of fire, but it’s too much on her already strained resources. She frenzies and attacks the nearest one.
Suddenly the concourse doors burst open and a new set of people storm in; all armed, and all unafraid of the possibility of sunlight. They start shooting at every ghoul and vampire they can see, but notably seem to avoid Georgia, Doc, and Paul.
If anyone in the area was coherent, they might suspect what was going on:
Andre screams and writhes under the light, but is able to crawl out of the beam toward the rim of the arena. He rips one of the partitions out and scrambles up toward the stands. Paul directs the spotlight to follow him, but Andre—even wounded as he is—moves faster. Paul’s mind races. He finds himself staring at the big red button again.
Suddenly, three monstrous shadow tendrils emerge from the shadows under the second-tier balcony and fly at Andre. They wrap him in a maelstrom of darkness and pull him to the ground. He screams and struggles but can’t break the grip.
Paul—beaten, bloody, rapidly running out of blood and will—uses the last of his strength to direct the beam toward Andre.
The tentacles twist and evaporate the moment the light touches them, but it’s already too late. The flames on Andre stoke higher, then explode. Paul covers his face from the light and the heat. A scream echoes through the arena, then dies out.
When Paul looks again, all he sees is a burning, shapeless corpse.
Anstis and I crash to the ice in a hail of metal. His tentacles write across the wet ice, looking for purchase to pull himself over. I groan and lever myself to my elbows, vision spinning. I can just make out Paul to my right, staring at a giant, burning carcass, and someone that looks like Georgia is attacking ghouls nearby in the stands. Gunshots still echo through the space. I try to pull my head together and grope for my rifle.
A new crash echoes behind me. I twist around on the ice. One of the unopened doors to the concourse has been kicked open so hard that half of it knocked off its hinges. Bright light shines through, backlighting a figure walking into the arena, brandishing aloft an enormous sword. I blink and try to peer through the smoke and light, as well as the concussion still ringing my head.
Luckily, the figure identifies himself:
“ANDRE!!!! I COME FOR YOU!!!!!!!!”
Emperor Norton steps into the light of the arena, in full imperial regalia, eyes flashing brighter than his sword. A few steps in, though, and he stops, staring at the scene in front of him—people fighting, ghouls everywhere, burnt vampires, and a giant fucking octopus on the ice.
He looks around perplexed, his sword drooping a little. “Andre?”
END OF NIGHT