4/10/14

Chris: “Can I see Tom?”
Jason: “No the octopus is in the way.”
Chris: “Can I see Georgia?”
Jason: “No the octopus is in the way.”

***

The combined battles of the arena hesitate for a brief moment as everyone turns to stare at Norton, who in turn stares back, obviously trying to process what he is seeing.

But then the moment passes and chaos resumes.

#

I haul myself upright on the ice, focus slowly returning. The arena is filled with the sounds of gunshots and shouts, overlaid by thin smoke and a thick stench. I grope around for my rifle, hoping it fell nearby, but I can’t see it.

I can, however, see the giant fucking octopus that is Anstis squirming nearby as he munches on an unidentified body. I glare at him, assuming he’s on top of the thing. The next thing I see, though, is Paul, lying very badly broken on the ice. I scramble over to him.

“Tom,” he gasps through a torn ribcage, “is there any blood around?”

I grab the body of one of the ghouls that fell from the catwalk and drag it—skull crushed but still warm—over to Paul. I flop it onto his face and he immediately starts feeding. Once I see him start to heal, I turn around to look for another one. I see one a few feet away and reach for it.

Antis, though, decides to be helpful and tries to bat it toward me. He still doesn’t know the strength of his own tentacles, though, so the body slides right past me, all the way across the ice and into one of the goal nets. The score-klaxon blares through the arena.

I glare at Anstis, but he just stares back with lidless, squiggly-pupiled eyes.

Speaking of vision:

(Jason: “Paul, Tom, and Anstis, roll Perception checks.”
Me: “Um…one success.”
Jim: “….Double botch!”
Jason: “Wow, ok, not only do you not notice what’s happening, you get in the way of Colleen noticing what’s happening!”
Me: “WHAT!?”)

Something flies over the top of Anstis’s slimy, hulking form and skitters across the ice, rolling toward Paul, who is still helpless. It takes me a moment to process what it is.

A grenade.

I have just enough time to lunge forward and throw myself on top of it before it goes off.

#

Georgia is frenzying all up ons a bunch of Andre’s ghouls. One of them shoots at her but she batters right through, lunging at him and feeding mindlessly.

Moments later she regains control of herself. She drops the body in shock, stumbling backward, but she can’t dwell on things for long because more shots are whizzing past her.

She whirls around and the first thing she sees are two men on the ice, approaching Paul and the rest of us. As she watches, one of them lobs a grenade. She responds by running toward the ice and lobbing a ball of fire at them. They scatter out of the way.

Anstis watches Georgia’s attack, still calmly munching on his ghoul. He decides to go after the men while they are summarily distracted. With a series of slurps, he starts glomming his way across the ice toward them , dropping pieces of masticated ghoul as he goes.

Distracted as they are, a 26-foot octopus is a little hard to miss. One of the men whips out what appears to be an elephant gun, shooting Anstis right in the head bell. The shock of the bullet sends ripples across Anstis’s skin, but otherwise he barely feels it. He continues pulling himself toward the man, who is starting to look more concerned. He takes a couple steps back, away from the tentacular monstrosity approaching him….

…And right into Georgia’s knife, which stabs him in the back.

The man roars in pain, whirling around to grope at her, and when she dances out of his reach he pulls out a gun and shoots her in the face.

#

Paul heals enough to climb to his feet. The other man on the ice has ducked around Anstis and is making his way toward Paul, brandishing a sword, face plastered with fury. Paul looks around for a weapon but finds none (not even a disembodied arm holding a sword, for once).

But then he remembers he already has one, in his pocket.

He pulls out the remote. The spotlight is still on, illuminating Andre’s rapidly decomposing corpse. He can’t move it toward the man without him noticing, though, so Paul turns it off and tries to maneuver it in the metaphorical dark.

#

Once again, I am sprawled out on the ice, groaning.

The grenade tore out most of my chest and abdominal cavities, but my spine is still in one piece. I roll up to a crouch, smearing what appears to be largely my blood and viscera over the remains of my clothes.

I paw the leather dishearteningly. Fuck my couch, this was brand new….

I forget about the clothes as I see the sword man approaching Paul. I whip out a shotgun, brace myself in a one-legged kneel, and fire at him. My focus, though, is wobbly—possibly from an eight story fall followed five minutes later by a grenade blast to the chest—and goes wide. He pauses, glower deepening, and adjusts his course to come at me instead.

He swings his sword at me in an overhand strike. I drop, roll out of the way, then come up shooting again. He dodges, moving faster than I can see.

“Aww heeeeell no, there can be only one…Brujah….” I grumble, trying to literally hold enough of myself together for another attack. He grins at me and starts mouthing-off something snarky in Russian….

…But only gets about halfway through it before the beam of sunlight comes up on him from behind. Flames erupt from his skin and his pithy come-back devolves into screams.

“Good job Paul,” I call weakly.

“Call me Daybringer,” Paul replies, staring cooly at the vampire burning between us.

#

The shotgun blast nearly takes Georgia’s head clean off. She stumbles back, skull exploded like a Gallagher watermelon. Then, as her opponent watches, it seals up instantly like the fucking T-1000.

(Jim: “Advantage 8th Gen!”)

He stares at her, taking a step back, but before he can react more than that Georgia lunges at him, grabbing his arm and casting Blood to Water. He staggers, surprised and woozy. Georgia releases him and he tries to lurch away.

But instead he lurches right into Anstis’s waiting tentacles, instantly wrapping around him and grinding him into hamburger meat.  Anstis drags the pieces to his beak and idly tries to suck some blood out of them while he stares around the arena for his next target.

#

The burning vampire stumbles out of the spotlight, still screaming, and lurches toward Paul. He grabs at Paul, but luckily Paul is so wet from being tossed around the ice that the flames don’t catch. Unfortunately, though, Paul falls into full Rotshriek frenzy. Screaming himself, he grabs the man, throws him bodily across the ice, then turns and runs scrambles away across the ice.

I watch calmly as the burning man skids to a stop next to me. He screams and squirms, trying to get back to his feet, but before he can I draw my sword and slice him nearly in half.

He’s still alive, but his flames are guttering out. I watch impassively, kicking him over once to smother the last patches. I’m getting  hungry and have a shitload of damage to heal and I figure this guy will be my best bet.

Just as the last flames die out, something shoots along the ice and grabs the man’s leg. Before I can process what’s happening, it drags him away…

…And into Anstis’ waiting maw.

I gape at him while he munches contentedly. “SERIOUSLY?!!?

He just stares back with his glassy stare. I sweartogod I hear a burp after he finishes.

#

Georgia is getting desperate for blood, but her first concern at the moment is still Paul’s safety. She looks for him and sees him yelling and scrambling across the ice, away from all immediate sources of battle at the moment.

Georgia apparently decides that this is safe enough and turns to head back into the bleachers to look for someone to eat.

#

(Jason: “Okay, Paul’s frenzying, but I’ll need a perception/alertness check from everyone else.”
Kara: “Three successes.”
Me: “One success.”
Jim: *laughing hysterically* “BOTCH AGAIN!”
Jason: “Again!? Okay, well, once again, you get in the way of Colleen, by moving over to eat her guy.”
Me: “AW HELL NO WHAT THE FU—“)

I turn away from Antis’s giant fucking useless derpy body and look for Aquilifer. She’s in the rafters directly overhead. I throw up some WTF? arms, and I could swear she does a wing-face-palm in return.

#

Paul scrambles across the arena, making a dive toward the bleachers, but is suddenly dragged to a halt by someone grabbing his head. He screams and struggles, but the panic evaporates, leaving him staring into the eyes of his captor.

Eyes pressed up very close to his own.

“MISTER STEWART!!!” the man shouts, identifying himself by volume alone.

“…Emperor Norton,” Paul says, trying to remove himself from Norton’s grip, but the emperor holds firm. “Um, glad you could make it….”

“What has TRANSPIRED here, Sir?!? WHEEEERE is Andre Roussimov??”

Paul reaches up to point over the emperor’s shoulder. Norton drops Paul’s head and turns. A large smoking lump is disintegrating a few yards away, melting across the bleachers where it fell.

“My God….” Norton mumbles. “What happened, Sir?! Did you consume him in hellfire!?”

“Close enough. Daylight.”

Norton turns to him, eyes wide. “Daylight?” He reaches into his overcoat and pulls out an elaborate pocket-watch. “But…it will not be daylight for some time!”

“It’s always daylight somewhere,” Paul says absently, peering around the arena. Much of the crowd has cleared out by this point—one way or another—but pockets of fighting still litter the bleachers, and by the looks of things, many of them involve vampires. “Emperor, help me round  up everyone we like and bring them to that spot over there.” He points across the arena to the spot opposite from the green floodlight.

Norton stares where he’s pointing. “And how shall I make this determination?”

“Well, if they haven’t tried to kill people who work for me, kill innocent people, or kill me, I say they’ll do.”

Norton surveys the fighting scattered across the arena. “I suspect that is a thin crowd here.”

(Chris: “Well, I guess…can I see Tom?”
Jason: “No the octopus is in the way.”
Chris: “Can I see Georgia?”
Jason: “No the octopus is in the way.”)

“From whence came this CALAMARIAN HORROR!?” Norton suddenly yells, pointing his sword toward Anstis.

Paul follows his gaze. “That’s…a fantastic question, but Georgia Johnson and Tom Lytton are here.”

“Was is CRAFT of the SABBAT!?”

“The…calamarian horror? I have no idea.”

Norton brandishes the sword skyward. “THEN IT SHALL PERISH!!!!!”

“No!” Paul grabs his arm. “Make a priority to grab Tom and Georgia Johnson and gather over there.”

Norton, though, is building up another head of battle-steam and barely comprehends what Paul says. “AVAIL YOURSELF OF THE EXIT SIR!!! The GREAT BEAST has severed them from me!! I shall CHOP A PATH through him!!11!!”

(Chris: “Okay, so two things. I still have the remote right?”
Jason: “Yes!”
Chris: “Fantastic. And the other thing, since I’m not in frenzy anymore, wound penalties apply again, right?”
Jason: “Yes!”
Chris: “Okay, so I’m back to incapacitated.”)

Paul suddenly collapses at Norton’s side. Norton looks down, sword drooping. “Oh dear….”

“Emperor,” Paul mutters from the floor, “Could you defer what I asked and help me over to that spot on the bleachers I pointed out?”

Norton sheathes his sword. “Of course sir! Come this way!” He grabs Paul by his black turtleneck collar and half carries, half drags him across the ice to the other side of the arena.

I, meanwhile, am peering around. I can hear Norton’s voice booming across the arena over the sounds of battle, but I can’t see him. I finally notice him when he starts dragging Paul across the ice and make my way toward them.

#

Georgia is making her way up the bleachers when she notices Doc, gun drawn, peering out one of the doorways with a headless body at his feet, ignoring the chaos and gunshots echoing behind him. Georgia changes course and makes her way to him.

He turns as she approaches and nods. “Ms. Johnson. This has proven quite the festivities. I feel the need to abandon this area.” His voice is still its usual authoritative drawl, but there is a note of strain around the edges. “Will you accompany me out of the immediate vicinity?”

Georgia stares at the body on the ground. “Um, is that fellow….?”

Doc glances down. “Quite dead, I’m afraid. I was forced to remove his head.”

“Is he safe to drink?”

“He should be, but there will be not much left within him. I am afraid I was forced to sever his head in a rather violent fashion.”

Georgia nods, but eyes the body greedily. “Well, circumstances do seem to call for such a thing.”

“That they do.” A bullet strikes the wall between them. Doc doesn’t even flinch. “Shall we adjourn, Ms. Johnson?”

She stares at the bullet hole. “Yes, lets!”

#

Anstis is still sitting in the middle of the ice, contentedly munching on his latest stolen snack, when something drops out of the rafters and lands on the ice next to him. His eye swivels down, expecting to see Aquilifer come round to mock him about something.

But it’s not a bird. It’s a bat. As he watches, it shifts into another Gangrel, claws extended, and lunges at him.

(Me: “He’s a Gangrel with bat form? What a loser.”)

The claws slash through empty air as Anstis hauls himself back just in time.

#

Norton, Paul, and I collect in the supposed safe-zone opposite the green floodlights. Paul looks around for Georgia and any other friendlies.

(Jim: “Have you worked out who the octopus is?”
Chris: “You know I’m not sure….”)

“Tom,” Paul twists under Norton’s supportive grip to face me. “Is the octopus with us?”

“Oh, yeah that’s Anstis,” I reply, scanning the area for new attacks.

Paul sighs. “Naturally.” Paul keys up the spotlight and starts angling it toward the man Anstis is fighting.

By now, though, anyone left in the arena knows what that spotlight is about. The Gangrel sees the light coming and dashes out of the way, ducking behind Anstis (probably cause he also knows Anstis is good at blocking shit).

From our viewpoint, I watch this battle impassively. “What’s the plan?” I ask my companions.

“The plan?!” Norton cries. “I must ENGAGE WITH THE ENEMY!!” He unloads Paul onto me and draws his sword, taking a step forward.

“No, I mean, Paul…I know you got something going on with the lights, what’s your plan?”

He looks up at me, face serious. “Once we get everyone here I’m going to light this whole place up.”

“You—Ah shit! Emperor!!” I look up. Norton has already scrambled two rows away. “You have to STAY! HERE!!!”

Norton stops, staring around. “But THERE IS NO FOE HERE!!”

“There will be plenty of foes after I deal with the vampires!” Paul calls.

Norton lets his sword drift to the ground then turns to face us. “What manner of foes?” he asks darkly.

“There’ll be ghouls left.”

Norton snorts. “Ghouls. Ghouls are nothing.”

Paul nods. “Indeed. There won’t be any Kindred left, though, and if we move from here, we won’t be left either.”

Norton scowls. “What sorcery is this!? Speak plainly sir!!”

Paul, to his credit, barely hesitates. “Technology. You know how you can pipe water from place to place? I can do that with sunlight.”

Norton tilts his head, a strangely intent look on his face. “Are you Helios?” he asks slowly.

(Everyone: “IF SOMEONE ASKS IF YOU ARE A GOD, YOU SAY YES!”)

“I am tonight,” Paul answers.

“Well…your chariot awaits,” Norton says, climbing back up the bleachers to rejoin us.

#

Georgia and Doc enter the concourse. No one is around out here, the only sounds are the echoes of gunshots coming from the arena proper. Doc stops them and looks around.  “Would you find it untoward if I suggested we withdraw?”

Georgia glances back at the door to the arena. “I do fear for Paul’s fate….”

“I am afraid I lost sight of the good Mr. Stewart in the confusion. There were bullets heading in my direction.”

Georgia nods, still staring at the door. “Understandable. Well, it did look like Norton and Tom were with him, so….”

Doc raises an eyebrow. “Oh, the Emperor has arrived then, has he? Well, we shall see if he is wearing clothes. That said I do not council withdraw on sheer account of gunplay.” He glances up and down the concourse. “There are other matters at work in this facility, matters I do not believe anyone else appreciates entirely.”

Georgia turns to him. “Such as?”

“This was the base of operations of Andre Roussimov for the better part of thirty years, Ms. Johnson. There are secrets to this place that he alone knows and he is telling no one, not at this juncture.”

“I see….” Georgia hesitates. “Should we not alert the others?”

He scowls. “Alert them to what?”

“That they need to get out?”

He glances at the door. “Oh if they don’t know that already they will find out abruptly, but if you have a means of alerting them I would suggest it.”

Georgia pulls out her cell and sends a text to Paul and me, saying that Doc says this was Andre’s base and there might be crazy stuff here, so we should get out ASAP.

She then puts the phone away in her robes and follows Doc down the hall.

#

Paul shouts across the ice as best he can, trying to get Anstis to come join us. Anstis, though, is still occupied with his Gangrel. The two swipe at each other with tentacles and claws. Anstis is inches from a good hit but the man leaps away at the last second, flipping over him and dancing back with a mocking yell.

The man is so busy gloating he doesn’t notice he’s danced his way right into the solar spotlight. He screams as he bursts into flames, stumbling out of the light, but the flames hold. He shifts back into a bat and takes off to the rafters, trailing sparks and smoke like a literal bat out of hell.

Anstis then decides to finally drop octopus form, returning to human and dashing across the ice to join us. The moment he scrambles over the last row of bleachers, Paul lifts the remote.

“I am the Daybringer,” Paul says softly, “I am the Sunbearer. And now, Andre’s servants…. Lighten up.”

Paul pushes the red button.

The extra panels of light boot up everywhere except over the section where we are standing. There’s a millisecond of silence, as if everyone in the arena stopped to take a breath at once.

Which is quite possible, as in the next millisecond, guttural screams erupt through the space. Fire and smoke pour into the air from locations all around and a terrible, acrid stench rolls over us. We look around nervously but hold our ground, suffering no more than a light sunburn from reflected light.

After a couple minutes, the screams stop. We still hear some shouts and voices—ghouls most likely—but the billows of dark smoke filling the air obscure their origins. Paul hits the blue button, shutting the solar lights down.

“My God….” Norton says, staring off into the smoke. “What sorcery have you brought forth?”

Paul looks into the arena, at the smoke and the bullet holes and the blood sprayed across the bleachers. He smiles grimly. “The Information Age.”

Norton stares another moment, but battle-lust soon overcomes his shock. He turns to Paul and draws himself up. “FIAT LUX!” he shouts, saluting Paul with his sword. He nods to me then, with that, stalks off into the smoke. After he disappears, we can still hear his voice drifting further away, shouting declarations of battle, and, occasionally, “DON’T RUN! DON’T RUN!”

A scream pierces the air, but not like the screams we’ve been hearing. We look up to see Aquilifer circling overhead. She dives toward one of the concourse doors, further along the wall of the arena, then lofts back up and screams again.

I look at Paul, still slumped against me. “Let’s go to that one!”

(Me: “Am I gonna have to carry you?”
Chris: “Yes!”
Jason: “Yeah, he’s still really damaged, his tendons have all been severed.”
Me: “UURRRG. Fine. Hodor. Come on….”)

I sling Paul over my shoulder and we make our way to the door (although on the way we stop for snacks, and I’d like to state for the record that Jim—even though he has NO DAMAGE and is BARELY HUNGRY—hogs the majority of the available blood, **AGAIN**).

I glare at Anstis as I kick open the crash-doors leading to the concourse.

#

Georgia and Doc are making their way to an exit out of the concourse when they see a group of men, standing around calmly talking.

Georgia grabs Doc’s arm. “Oh Doc, look! Snacks!”

Doc stares at the men and raises a hand lightly. “I’m not so certain.”

Five men are in the group, most of them armed—two with flamethrowers—except for the man in the middle, a dark-skinned man with a heavy mustache. Georgia remembers having seen him before, talking to Paul before the Monomancy began. The man looks up and sees Georgia and Doc. The other men turn and tense, the flame-thrower men raising their wands

Georgia holds up the dagger Doc gave her, though honestly it comes off more as a pleasant wave than a threatening gesture. “Are you friends with Paul Stewart?” she calls, voice echoing clearly down the empty corridor.

The leader holds up a hand to his men. “You’re…the Tremere,” he replies.

“Currently, yes!”

The men look at each other. “Currently?” the dark man asks.

Georgia shrugs. “Well, except for one other I seem to be the only Tremere in the city, so ‘The’ Tremere is fairly apt.”

The man rolls his eyes. “Well, I’m glad we settled that, cause that is the most important thing I have to deal with right now.” He walks toward Georgia and Doc. Some of the men follow, but the flame-thrower men leave to wander down the concourse.

“Mr. Holliday,” the man says once he’s close enough. “I trust the evening’s entertainment has been to your liking?” Doc smiles grimly but otherwise doesn’t respond.

The man—goddammit, he didn’t introduce himself, but it’s Liedesdorff, of course, so I’m going to go ahead and use that—Liedesdorff turns to Georgia. “Do you know where I can find Mr. Stewart?”

“I think he’s somewhere still in the stadium,” Georgia says, peering back down the corridor behind her.

“Is he? I would have hoped he’d make his exit by now. Things seem to have gone to a head in there.” Liedesdorff jerks his head toward the arena. “Do you know what’s going on?”

Georgia sighs. “I don’t.”

“Well what was the situation when you left?”

Georgia gives a brief account, saying that the last she saw any of us was in the company of Emperor Norton, helping Paul out of the arena, who looked rather injured. Despite having professed the fact that he’s looking for Paul, Liedesdorff seems more interested in the first part of her statement.

Norton is here?” he asks, eyebrows raised. “What is Norton doing here?”

“I…imagine Paul called him? They’re friends.”

“Of course,” Liedesdorff grumbles, glaring off into the distance.

Georgia glances at Doc. “Norton…has been a good ally,” she offers.

“Maybe to you. You don’t know the man like I do.”

There’s another tense moment. Georgia shifts her weight nervously. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?” (Crap, NOW she asks.)

He turns back to her. “William Liedesdorff. Archbishop of San Jose.”

(*The room laughs grimly.*
Me: “And no one had a problem with that that day….”)

Georgia curtsies. “Georgia Johnson.”

Liedsdorff nods at her, then to Doc again. “If you’ll excuse me, these men and I need to ensure that my reign continues in an uninterrupted fashion.” He issues some commands to the rest of his men in a language Georgia doesn’t understand. The men turn and march off down the corridor.  Liedesdorff starts to follow, but at the last minute stops and turns back to Georgia and Doc.

“What was Norton up to?” he asks slowly.

Georgia shrugs. “It looked like he was rescuing Paul.”

“From whose associates? Mine, or Andre’s?”

Georgia stares a moment, then shrugs. “The…ice? I’m not sure, Paul was Rotshrieking—“

“That seems to be going around at the moment,” Liedesdorff says sharply. “I am asking you if Norton was in the process of massacring my men or not.”

“That…is an excellent question, and…I do not know the answer.”

Liedesdorff rolls his eyes. “Well I suspect it will behoove me to find out.”

Georgia, like the rest of us, seems to be worrying that Norton’s usual rampaging around will get him in trouble and tries to speak up on his behalf: “Well, Mr…um…your Eminence, Norton is a good ally.”

Liedesdorff regards her flatly, then takes a step closer. “Ms. Johnson. Emperor Norton is a Malkavian, and I more than most know what a Malkavian is, and is not. Malkavians are many things, but they are not good allies. None of them.”

Liedesdroff’s imposing posture and the subtle threat to his words bounce off Georgia. She shrugs and smiles sweetly. “Well, nonetheless, I merely ask that if you are given a choice, please don’t kill him.”

Liedesdorff sighs and shakes his head. “I know Norton well. I knew his sire. Norton is unstable. His strain of our…problem…is more extreme than some—”

(Kara: “Yeah, but she’s OUR witch!”)

“—Norton could be in the process of decapitating every one of my men at this instant. Would you have me…watch?”

“Of course not,” Georgia says.

“Good.” Liedesdorff turns to Doc and nods to him again, a little more exaggerated this time. “Doctor. If you would see the lady to the door? I trust you all had a fine evening but I’m afraid the Shark Tank is closed.” He smirks. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

And with that, Liedesdorff walks off for good.

#

The rest of us are in a different part of the concourse, following Aquilifer—

(Me: “Is Paul walking yet?”
Chris: “No!”
Me: “What? But he had a bunch of blood before Jim hogged the rest—“
Jason: “He has NOTHING but AGG damage, he can’t heal that yet.”
Me: “GAWD, fine! Hodor!”)

—And apparently I’m still carrying Paul. Anstis tries to help, so we hoist him between our shoulders like a log.

(Chris: “I struggle to rotate so I’m at least laying on my back like I’m being carried as a champion!”

Jason: “You do so, and, strangely enough, Queen music starts to echo through the arena.
Me: “Nice.”
Chris: “So, we had ‘The Final Countdown’ for the showdown with Andre, and now ‘We Are the Champions,’ but what was playing when the rest of the arena lit up?”
Jason: “Oh, I looked this up ahead of time.” )

Aquilifer glides down the corridor and lands on top of one of the closed food stalls. She maneuvers around to face us and keens. We walk over. As we approach, the employee door to the stall opens, and Marcus walks out.

He’s…looked better.

Fully half of his face has been charred, burned black almost to the bone. The scar runs down his neck, disappearing under his tunic, which is also scorched. The arm on his burned side is limp at his side, hand stuffed into a pocket.

I wince and almost drop Paul in shock.

Marcus walks to us and rubs his temple with his good hand. “Well…I suppose that worked better than I expected, didn’t it?”

Paul—barely in one piece himself, and stretched out between the shoulders of a gay guy and a pirate—bursts out laughing. “It…could have been worse!” he gasps between bouts of laughter.

Marcus sighs, but I see a trace of humor in his face. “Alright. The next time you tell me about some super…magical…techno…wizardy nonsense of yours, I’ll just…smile and pretend to nod.”

Smoke is still rising off Marcus in faint wisps. He brushes futilely at his charred clothes. “Well, it was real sunlight, I’ll vouch for that. What happened to Mr. Roussimov? You’ll forgive me, I didn’t stay around to watch.”

Anstis and I look up at Paul. He rotates in our grip to face Marcus and clears his throat. “Ah, he is…a puddle of goo.”

“I know the feeling,” Marcus grumbles. “He’s dead then. And his associates?”

“The ones that were still in there are dead.”

Marcus nods. “What of Liedesdorff?”

“There were some ghouls that came in. They weren’t shooting us so I assume they were his men.”

“I can still hear the firing.” Marcus stares a moment at the wall separating the concourse from the arena, then sighs and waves his good hand.  “Presumably he can handle the rest, I have no particular need to go running back in there.”

“Yes. Also Norton is in there.”

Marcus turns back, surprised. “Oh Norton decided to show up? And what is the good emperor up to?”

Paul makes an attempt at a shrug. “Cleaning up in there, but actually….” he frowns. “I don’t know who he’s cleaning up….”

Marcus folds his mobile arm against his injured one. “Well let me ask you this, Paul, do you care?”

Paul is quiet for many moments, staring at nothing while he ponders this. Finally, he answers slowly, “I think…I’d like the relationship with Liedesdorff to be better than it was with Andre.…”

Marcus regards him. “Isn’t that Norton’s problem?”

Paul gives a sort-of shrug again. “Maybe. I’m going to try and Summon Norton anyway.” He focuses on doing that. We wait for a minute or two, but there’s no sign of the good emperor.

I glance up and down the corridor. Things are quiet, but I’m still feeling nervous. “We gonna catch a ride back to the city Boss?—oops—“

Once again, Marcus doesn’t seem to notice that I’ve called him that again, or chooses not to acknowledge it. He also looks around the concourse. “Yes, I think we will. The car should be waiting for us outside.”

I nod. “Well, Paul’s gonna want his Tesla—“

Marcus snorts. “I don’t think Paul is in the current capacity to manipulate his Tesla.”

I groan. I just knew this was gonna happen, that I was somehow gonna get stuck driving everyone back to the city. “Well, I’d like my bike if I can get it, but I’d like to get out of here more.”

“Well I have a car, so if you’re able to drive your bike, go and get it on the way.” Marcus shrugs, then winces, grabbing his burned shoulder. Aquilifer keens softly and leaps down to land next to him.

“Are you well?” Anstis asks.

“I…will admit to having felt better. The effect was stronger than I think I had anticipated. Which reminds me,” he looks up at Paul, “we need to talk at some point about full production. It just so happens there’s a few people I think could be introduced to this sort of thing.”

Paul stares back. “Yep,” he says tersely.

Marcus chuckles. “What’s the term you use? ‘See the light’?”

“There’s…an entire field of puns for the picking, there,” Paul answers flatly.

“Well we Romans were inveterate punners,” Marcus says (Jason: “They were. Latin’s a good language for it.”) “So…if you’ll all follow me, I have a particular interest in being somewhere else at the moment.”

Marcus turns to leave, Aquilifer close behind, talons clicking on the polished concrete. Anstis and I adjust Paul on our shoulders and start to follow.

Then a deep, trembling sound rocks the arena, a wrenching roar like the grinding of the earth.

Marcus stops. He looks up, face furrowed. “Well that’s not good….” he says, voice barely above a whisper.

#

On the other side of the arena, Doc and Georgia hear it too. Doc reaches out a hand and stops Georgia, staring into the air as the sound dissipates.

“Doc?” Georgia asks nervously. “Is that our cue to leave?”

“I’m afraid not,” he says, still staring into the air. “That is our cue that we have missed our cue to leave.” He holsters his gun. “Ms. Johnson, may I make a suggestion? A forward one, if that is alright?”

“Yes, my dear Doctor,” Georgia says, batting her eyes just a little.

(Me: “I ship it.”)

“May I suggest that we avail ourselves of some of the..restricted facilities of this location, perhaps that we may move…upwards? At a rapid rate?”

Georgia smiles. “Lead on!”

“I believe I will.” He offers an arm then leads them, quickly, toward one of the staircases.

#

I look around. “What…what was that?”

“I assume another Tzimitscian hellbeast?” Paul says.

Marcus nods slowly, also staring into the air. “I’d give good odds that it was. There are many types of ‘hellbeast.’ “ He frowns. “But why would he have one here….” he mutters.

“Furthermore, is it our problem?” Anstis asks.

Marcus smirks. “Well, we did just murder its master, so it may well be our probl—“

The roar comes again, louder this time, inexorable as an earthquake. I flinch instinctively. Anstis pops his claws.

Aquilifer’s head swivels about, beak gaping as she pants in a panic. She sidles up next to Marcus and lets out a soft keen. Marcus, still staring into the air, reaches out a hand to her neck, but instead of soothing her, he grips her feathers very tightly.

Courage, my dear bird,” Anstis says to Aquilifer, smirking.

Her beak immediately snaps shut. Her head whips around and shoots Anstis a withering glare.

“We should…get out of here now?” I ask, glancing behind us.

Marcus nods. “Yes…yes, that’s a very good idea, go. Now!” The sudden panic at the edge of his voice scares me more than the unidentified roars did.

We scramble into action. Aquilifer lumbers into the air to lead us, followed by Marcus on foot, and Anstis and I shouldering Paul not far behind. We don’t get far, though, before (JIM FUCKING BOTCHES AGAIN AND) Anstis trips, sending Paul and I crashing into a heap.

Marcus stops and turns to us, his face now showing visible signs of fear. He whistles and Aquilifer responds, circling back and grabbing Paul by the collar. She lumbers into the air and half-carries, half drags him down the hall. Anstis and I scramble to our feet to follow.

Another roar blasts through the space, this one loud enough to rock the lighting fixtures overhead. This roar is also followed by screams. Distant, but unmistakable, and punctuated with gunfire.

We run down the concourse, finally spotting and approaching a fucking exit, when Marcus suddenly stops. He stares around a moment. “Oooooh my….” he groans.

We all look around but there’s nothing immediately visible. “What is it?” I ask.

He takes a breath. “Tom? Could you and the pirate do me a favor? Take Mr. Stewart out to the car. Use that door,” he nods to the hallway leading to the exit, “and no other, cause we have a slight problem right now.”

He turns to us. “You hear that sound?” Just in case it wasn’t clear what he’s referring to, the roar comes again. “It’s not coming from the same creature.”

My eyes go wide. “There’s multiple ones?”

“I think there might be.”

I instinctively look behind us. I still don’t see anything, but somehow that just frightens me more, that Marcus is terrified by something we can’t even see. “What are they!?”

Marcus frowns. “I don’t know, but if I had to guess?” He turns toward the arena, face hardening. “Vozhd.”

“Do the vozhd like sunlight?” Paul says, pulling the remote from his pocket.

“No, but the vozhd isn’t inside your little sunlight room. In fact the vozhd is going to be here in about twenty seconds so I suggest leaving now.”

Marcus gestures to Aquilifer, who resumes carry-dragging Paul to the door. Anstis follows and I do too, but I only get a few feet before I realize that Marcus isn’t following us.

I turn back. He is standing in the same place, staring back down the corridor. His burned arm is still tucked into his tunic, but his free harm is clenched at his side.

Oooooh no…. “Boss?” I call, too scared to think of anything else to call him.

“I think you just heard me, Tom,” he barks, not turning around.

I clench my face in pain. “Right, okay,” I say, and bolt down the hallway to the door. Aquilifer is still carrying Paul, but she’s starting to slow down. I pause to pick him up and sling him over my shoulder (“Hodor!”) and continue.

We’re mere feet from the exit when the lights go out (BECAUSE OF COURSE THEY FUCKING DO!) but at least we can see the lights of the parking lot ahead of us. As we approach, though, we notice a lumpy shape lying in the doorway.  And the whole hallway reeks of gasoline.

We stop. I approach cautiously and find a flame-thrower; or, rather, the remains of a flame-thrower, as well as its operator. Everything—machine and flesh—has been torn open and strewn about the entryway, smearing blood and chemicals everywhere. The doorway too has been smashed, glass and metal ripped out and scattered across the hallway. We pick our way through the mess and reach the blessedly clear air of the parking lot beyond.

I relax a bit, as does Anstis, but Aquilifer suddenly looks more agitated. She’s panting again, walking in circles and staring into space.

I watch her, concerned. “Anstis, what’s going on?”

He turns to her. “Speak!” he commands.

She stops circling and starts a fluttery, repetitive keening, still staring off in every direction. “Where is he where is he where is he where is he….

Marcus? Or the beast?

She turns to him. “Where where where where where?” she screams, panting so hard it’s choking her voice.

Meanwhile, I’ve spotted Marcus’s car, idling nearby with the driver inside. I go over to unload Paul into the backseat. Anstis comes over to help.

When we turn back, Aquilifer is gone.

I stare at the doorway to the arena and in all other directions, but there is no sign of her. Another roar echoes from the arena, and even though we’re outside this one seems closer than any before. It sounds like nothing so much as an unholy spawn of a Balrog and a Tyrannosaur. I stare at the dark rectangles of the arena doors and frown.

The driver of the car peers around at Paul. “Um…sir? Can we leave now, please? Right now?”

Paul nods, staring out the open car door. “Put some distance between us and the stadium but don’t—“

“YES, IMMEDIATELY SIR!” Before Paul can finish, the man hits the gas. Paul’s door slams closed as the car turns in a tight circle and peels off across the parking lot.

Anstis and I stare off after it. “What…the hell….” I mutter.

#

Georgia and Doc find a stairwell leading up and take it. It winds up multiple floors and comes out in a plain hallway lined with doors. Most of the doors lead to small offices, or closets, or are locked, but one opens up onto what seems to be a control room.

Though most control rooms aren’t usually filled with four headless bodies and blood sprayed all over the place.

Georgia turns to Doc. “Did you want a room with a view?”

“Oddly enough I believe I might,” Doc says, walking into the room. Georgia locks the door behind them. The windows of the control room, looking out into the arena, are dark, though some ambient light from emergency floods filters up from below. Georgia and Doc walk to the windows and peer out. There’s no sign of any of the fighting in the arena they saw earlier, but the reason for that is immediately obvious.

A pile of heaped flesh, thirty-feet high, is crawling through the arena, pulling itself along via twenty twisted legs, each a different size and shape. Eight more limbs rise above them, pawing the air with mutated talons, and above them lie four heads, rising out of the body mass like putrid bubbles, each with a gaping maw screaming like the gates of Hell. The thing crawls through the arena, dragging itself over a carpet of bodies and pieces of bodies—obviously the remains of any ghouls that were left fighting when the rest of us bailed.

Georgia gapes through the glass, furiously trying to comprehend what she’s seeing. Next to her, Doc stares quietly, face blank. “Well….” he says softly.

“Well indeed,” Georgia agrees. “I…suppose we should settle in for the night?”

“I’m not so certain that would be wise. Do you know what it is that we are looking at, Ms. Johnson?”

“A… Tzimitscian hellbeast?”

Doc inclines his head, still staring out the window. “Of a sort. Have you heard of the term vozhd before?”

Her eyes narrow. “I have.”

“You are looking at one.” He jerks his chin toward the arena. “That is the apex of the Tzimitscian hellbeasts. A monster. They used to employ them as siege weaponry. Back in the days of castles and knights.”

Georgia stares around. “So…you’re saying this control room is not properly fortified against it?”

“It is not, Ms. Johnson. For the moment, I do not believe it is aware of our presence. I cannot guarantee that will persist as a state of affairs.”

Georgia collapses into the least blood-stained of the chairs. “Then what is your best advice?”

“At this juncture my best advice is that we attempt to evacuate this facility by means over than its presence.” He turns to her. “Is there a way out of here you know of?”

Georgia shrugs. “I have no idea.”

“I do not either. If there is not, are you capable of creating one?”

Georgia thinks for a second, then shakes her head slowly. “No, no I’m not. But…let me try something.”

Doc gestures. “Please do.”

“Van Brugge?” Georgia asks the empty air. Moments pass with no response. She frowns. “Ok, well…that’s not going to work. Maybe he’s busy…. Um…. Perhaps we should try one of those locked doors back in the hallway?”

Doc nods. “That would strike me as a good plan.”

They quietly leave the control room and approach the nearest locked door. Georgia blasts it with fire and it swings open. Behind it they find a short hallway leading to an open-frame freight elevator. Georgia tries the button, but it appears the power is out.

“Well,” she says, peering through the gate. “We can always climb up through the shaft.”

Doc asks for his knife back from her, then uses it to pry open the gate. Georgia helps him force it open. After a few moments, it clears the fail-safe point and slides all the way open with a crash.

A roar echoes up the shaft, coming from deeper in the facility. Doc and Georgia look at each other. “Climb quickly,” Doc says.

She hesitates. “Do you think that was for us?”

“I have a sneaking suspicion it might have been. Climb!” Doc leaps out and grabs the cables. He swings for a moment then starts climbing.

Georgia nods, gulps, and peers into the shaft. In the darkness, it’s hard to get a good sense of depth, but she can see the cables swinging from Doc’s movements. She takes a few steps back and makes a running leap into the air to grab them.

And misses.

She clatters down the shaft, grabbing at anything she can reach, but her momentum is too strong and tears her grip away. She tumbles in the air, bouncing off concrete and metal, and opens her mouth for a scream…

…then crashes to the roof of the elevator, at bottom of the shaft eight stories below.

She’s still for a moment, then groans and rolls over. Head spinning, she climbs to her feet, leaning against the wall for support, and peers up. High above, she can see Doc hanging on the cable, lit by the emergency lights from the hallway they just left. He’s peering down at her, though she’s too far away to see his face.

She reaches for the cable, but an explosion of pain stops her. Her left arm and hand are badly damaged, broken in a few places by the feel of it. She’s already close to starving, so she knows there’s no way she can heal herself enough to make the climb.

She looks up at Doc, hesitates, then reaches a hand toward him. “Go,” she says softly.

He stares back a moment, then, quietly, tips his hat to her. With that, he grabs the cable again and resumes his climb, disappearing out of the light and into the darkness above.

(Me:
 )

Georgia, then, is left alone in her own darkness. She presses against the wall of the shaft and peers around uselessly. She reaches for her phone to use as a flashlight, but instead pulls out a smashed oblong of plastic and circuitry that used to be her phone.

She hesitates a moment, trying to decide what to do, but an echoing roar in the distance spurs her to action.

She gropes the floor till she finds a grate leading down into the elevator car. She’s able to wrench it off and climb inside, dropping down with a muffled thump. The car is lit by an emergency LED next to the control panel, enough to lead her to the doors. She listens for noise on the other side, then pries them open.

They open onto darkness, a pitch darkness with a cool breeze and unfinished floor suggesting a basement, or subbasement, level of the arena.

(Kara: *cries* “I don’t want to be in the basement!”
Jason: “You are in the basement!”
Kara: “I want the power to come back on and the elevator to take me to the roof!”
Jason: “It ain’t gonna! :D”)

With nowhere else to go, Georgia takes a few tentative steps forward. The space is as dark as the bowels of the earth. She gropes blindly for a few seconds, feeling the weight of the darkness pressing on her from all sides, then finally relents and spends some of her last remaining blood to conjure a ball of flame in her hand. She holds it aloft like a torch.

She’s in a hallway, extending off in each direction, lined with rough concrete, with pipes and cables running the length of the ceiling and walls. She can only see a few feet in each direction, but directly in front of her are a large set of metal double-doors. She approaches them cautiously and presses her ear to one. She hears movement on the other side—soft, but unmistakable—and the sound of something breathing. Her hunger nearly sends her into a frenzy at this sign of prey, but she’s able to quell it and keep a hold of herself. She wanders down the hallway to find other options.

She finds more doors, some of which seem to be blocked by heavy objects, but one door opens into what seems to be a large storage and service room for hockey equipment. She shines her light around and catches a sense of something moving on the other side of the room.

This time she does frenzy (fourth one tonight. True story).

When she comes to, she feels a lot better hunger-wise, likely due to the dead dude at her feet, one of Andre’s ghouls by the looks of it.

She’s just about to leave the room when a new noise makes her pause, a heavy scraping noise coming from behind another door on the far side of the room. She freezes, then slowly starts to sneak toward the exit.

Suddenly the far door flies open, crashing against the wall. Something staggers into the room, stumbling over some of the equipment, then collapses onto the floor. She hesitates a moment, and when the thing doesn’t move again she goes to check it out.

It’s Marcus. He’s sprawled face-down, covered in some sort of dark, shifting substance that’s conforming to his body like a second skin. Georgia reaches out a hand tentatively. The stuff is cold, cold like the blackness of space. What little warmth Georgia has in her hand is immediately sucked out of it.

She peers into the room Marcus just left. There are gouges in the concrete of the walls, dripping oily black ichor. She looks at the ichor—likely “lubricant” from a Tzimitscian horror—and compares it with the stuff covering Marcus. Even in the firelight, the ichor looks sickly, with a slight green cast. The substance covering Marcus is completely bereft of color and form altogether.

She touches the icy substance again long enough to roll him over, then gasps. The entire front of his body has been split open like it was rent by a can opener. The gash slices through the blackness and his flesh alike, the edges curved like it was peeled open to expose his chest and abdominal cavities.

Within these cavities, it appears that most of his organs are missing.

His eyes are closed. Carefully, she bites her wrist and drips blood into his mouth. At this his eyes flutter open, but they still look glassy and unfocused. He works his jaw like he’s trying to speak, but the lack of lungs makes this impossible.

Which leaves Georgia to do all the talking. She glances around. “Alright, um, Marcus…. We gotta get out of here…. You don’t look great.… Umm…. Would it help if I gave you more of my blood?”

His eyes flutter, but he seems to shake his head no.

“Okay. Umm…. I’m going to go check the other door, so…. Wait here.”

She scrambles back to the hallway and tries the next door down. This door leads to a room that looks like a press conference room, set up with lines of chairs and a draped podium in front. A side door leads from this room, and this door has a lit “Exit” sign hanging above it.

She rushes back to collect Marcus, dropping her fire to scoop him up carefully. She heads back to the exit door, following wan green light of the sign leaking into the hallway, but just as she reaches the hallway, a sound makes her stop. It’s the sound she heard before—the sound of something moving and scraping. She tenses, listening as hard as she can.

And jumps as the sound is followed by a bellowing roar. Bangs and wrenching, metallic screams echo from the room Marcus came from, followed by another roar. She runs into the conference room, but the sounds follow, coming closer. She slaloms through the chairs and kicks open the exit door, which leads to another long, featureless hallway. She slams the door behind her and runs down the hallway, focused on the light of another green exit sign at the far end.

She’s only a dozen yards down the hallway when she hears more roars and crashes as something destroys the conference room behind her.

She’s only a half dozen more yards down the hallway when she hears the door she just left get wrenched off its hinges like so much tissue paper.

She doesn’t look back.

The hallway ends in a roll-top door. She runs up, lays Marcus at the base, and lifts at it with all her strength.  As she pulls she sees Marcus ’s mouth move, repeatedly forming the shape of words with no sound.

Howls and roars echo down the hallway behind her, along with a gritty thudding noise like something digging. She scrabbles harder at the door, lifting and pulling through the pain of her battered body.

Suddenly the door gives way, clattering up. She grabs Marcus and bolts through, not bothering to close it behind her.

The doorway leads to a massive garage, the thin light of the emergency lights over the doorway not nearly enough to illuminate it all. Nearby, though, is an exit ramp, spiraling up and out of sight.

She looks around. Bolted to the wall next to the door is a board with keys hanging on numbered pegs. She grabs one at random, set number 47 (BECAUSE WE SAID SO THAT’S WHY!) and runs off into the darkness to find its match.

As she runs, the roars from the hallway echo louder, and the floor shakes with massive thumps as the monster half-squeezes, half batters its way through. She finds space number 47 just as the garage echoes with the rattle of the roll-top door being ripped from its frame. The roars reach a new timbre.

She skids to a halt. For a brief moment, she forgets the raging, tearing, squelching monstrosity behind her as she stares at the vehicle in front of her. “Oh…dear….” she mutters.

#

Paul’s car speeds across the parking lot. Apparently Paul is inside yelling at the driver to stop and come back to get us, but Anstis and I don’t know this, so we set about finding our own transport.

I glance back at the darkened doorway. Still no sign of Marcus or Aquilifer. I can see Paul’s Tesla a dozen yards away and know my bike lies beyond it, but I can’t bring myself to leave just yet. I sneak carefully back up to the doorway and peer inside.

The hallway leading to the doors is dark, but…I hear something. Not roars, but…something. Something moving, something heavy sliding across the concrete with a sound that somehow sounds both slickly wet and scaly dry at the same time. I glance back at Anstis. He looks at me quizzically, gives me a frustrated, “Come on!” wave, but I can’t tear myself away. I concentrate on remaining as still as I can and focus on the doorway.

Without warning, something flies out of the darkness directly at my face.

I instinctively scream and duck to the ground. The object—much smaller than I was fearing—flies out the ruined doorway, over my head, and skids to a stop a few feet away. I come out of my crouch and glance at it.

It’s Aquilifer.

“Oh crap,” I gasp and scramble over to her. She’s alive, and conscious, but just barely. Her feathers are battered and caked with dirt, many of her primaries snapped in half or torn out entirely. Her head reels around, focusing on everything and nothing, and a thin trickle of blood leaks out one nostril and drips down her cere.

I immediately fall to my knees and strip off my gear, enough to get my jacket—or what remains of it—off. I wrap her in it, carefully folding her wings against her body. I belt her closed with one of my bandoliers, reload the rest of my gear, then carefully lift her and stand up.

Time to bail.

I lead Anstis over to the Tesla. Now that we have wounded, a car is going to be more useful than my bike.

(Jason: “You go to the Tesla?”
Me: “Yep.”
Jason: “You don’t have keys to the Tesla.”
Me: “Fuck.”)

I sigh. The Rune it is. I’m happy to get it back, of course, but escape is the priority. I walk around the car, already formulating plans to tie Aquilifer to myself—maybe with the purple hemp rope I keep in the seat compartment—and I guess Anstis can fit too if he doesn’t mind riding bitc—

The bike’s not there.

(Me: “Oh, you fucking ass….”
Jason: “No no, there’s something there, but…it’s not shaped right….”
Me: “…What?”
Jason: “Jim, what does Tom see?”

Jim, giggling, hands me his phone, which has a picture already loaded on it:

IMAG0916

I gape at the phone, barely comprehending what I’m seeing, or what Jim says next:

“And it has a bow on it! With a note, saying, ‘For everything you’ve ever done for me! Love, Clarence.’ “

I rise to my feet, staring at Jim’s phone gripped in my hands, while everyone around me collapses on the table, shrieking and cackling like fucking. hyenas.

“Six!!! Months!!!!” Jason gasps through bouts of laughter. “He’s been planning that for SIX!! MONTHS!!!!”

I finally find my voice. “Is…is this that fucking pink Vespa that’s always parked off Valencia street?”

“Yes!!” Jim yells, devolving into another round of cackles.

I’m completely at a loss for words for another minute. “I…do I have keys to it?”

“Keys are in it!” Jim shouts helpfully.)

I-as-Tom am similarly shocked. I stare at Clarence’s note for another full minute before crumpling it in my hand. I tear off the bow, tie Aquilifer to me with another bandolier, and get on the fucking bike.

(Jason leans in close. “It’s not a bike,” he says in a rationally-patronizing voice, “It’s a scooter.”)

I settle myself on the seat, bracing my feet on the ground on both sides like I’ve always seen greasy Italian Eurotrash do in the movies. Anstis is watching me calmly, thankfully having no context with which to mock me. Also thankfully, there isn’t enough room for him to ride bitch. I turn to glare at him. He gets the message and shifts into parrot form, fluttering up to land on the handlebars.

I kick up the engine and ride across the parking lot.

#

Paul finally gets his driver to stop at the edge of the parking lot. Before they can turn around, though, there’s a knock at Paul’s window. He rolls it down.

It’s Emperor Norton. Paul opens the door and slides over for Norton to climb in.

“You rang sir?!” Norton says, obviously referring to Paul’s Summons. “What in the name of the SEVENTH LEVEL OF HELL is GOING ON!?”

“I think Andre left some presents for us,” Paul says, gesturing back toward the arena.

“Did he,” Norton says darkly, turning to peer out the rear window. “There are terrible, terrible creatures afoot. We must abandon the region.”

“When you say ‘region’….?”

Norton turns back. “I mean the city of San Jose. At this juncture, there is evil afoot, evil which does not sleep.” He leans closer to Paul. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT I HAVE SEEN SIR!?”

“No, what?”

Norton reaches out to Paul’s face slowly. Paul tenses, fearing some new Malkavian mind trick. Norton’s shaky hand drifts closer, then suddenly drops. “Terrible…things….” he spits, then leans back in his seat to glower at nothing.

A sputtery, high-pitched buzzing suddenly echoes across the parking lot. Paul frowns and tries to peer through the tinted windows. The buzzing gets louder, then suddenly cuts out.

And I roll into view, perched on a pink Vespa with a parrot on the handlebars, looking into the car through the open door window.

Paul and Norton turn to stare at me. “MY GOD SIR!” Norton yells. “What happened to your conveyance?”

I stare at them flatly for a long moment, then, wordlessly, putter away.

Paul’s driver turns around. “Sir, can we leave now, please?”

Paul looks back at the arena. “Emperor, did you see anyone else in there?”

“No, none living,” he says darkly. “I’ve scarcely escaped myself. None but monsters and nightmares are left. Best to let the Sabbat handle it. It was them that set them loose.”

As if on cue, a roar echoes from the arena. Paul glances back again. “How fast can those things move?”

“They cannot outrun us inside this conveyance,” he glowers, “One would not expect to FIND THEM IN THE OPEN were they CONTROLLED!” He glances at Paul. “But their controller has met his end.”

Paul nods slowly. “Indeed. Driver, head to exit to the lot and idle there. Be ready to go, but not just yet.”

#

Meanwhile, I am puttering in the same direction, somewhat under my max speed of 60mph. At this rate, on surface streets, I can maybe expect to be in Burlingame by the time I’m melted by sunlight. If I don’t die from embarrassment first. Anstis is oblivious to the ridiculousness of the situation, perched proudly in front of me, leaning into the wind as it slicks his feathers back.

Another roar echoes from the arena, which is nothing new, but this time it’s followed by something that is. The roar of an engine, and a shrieking, metallic crash. I turn to look, slowly letting the bike scooter putter to a halt.

A freaking BUS, painted with the Shark’s logo and colors, has just exploded out from what appears to be a recessed driveway leading under the arena, a roll-up security grate draped across the front like a matador’s cape. The bus leaps over the crest of the driveway, crashing to the pavement in a shower of sparks, and accelerates across the parking lot. The lights of the lot show that the right side of the bus is scraped with huge rents, all the windows smashed.

The windscreen windows are still intact though. Through them, I can see Georgia at the wheel, white-knuckled in terror.

The bus careens to the left to avoid a light pole, and as it turns I see that the entire rear of the bus is gone, trailing shards of metal and upholstery. Moments later, I see why.

A giant, mutated, THING erupts from the doorway, twisted arms grabbing onto the ground and the sides of the building to move it through. It defies all laws of rational form and my mind struggles to comprehend it. In essence, it looks like something that H.P. Lovecraft might have created if you told him the concept of Human Centipede and he decided it wasn’t fucked up enough. The creature clears the confines of the driveway and lunges after the bus, howling at the sky with a sound loud enough to wake the dead.

I stare, frozen in terror. Anstis stares too, then turns one beady eye up to me.

“Bwak!! Must go faster!!!”

END OF NIGHT

***

IRL EPILOGUE:

The very next day, I was walking along Valencia street and passed that damn Vespa. I took a picture to let everyone know what I think of their big joke:

photo-4I will have my revenge. One day.

This entry was posted in Story and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 4/10/14

  1. amagi82 says:

    For the newcomers, Tom origionally had an older Harley Davidson, until that bike was lost. Then Clarence bought Tom his dream bike, with… some strings attached™, a Honda Valkyrie Rune, with the understanding that Tom would be appreciative, courteous, and forthcoming with any and all relevant information. Tom, however, wasn’t willing to show Clarence the respect he deserved, so the decision was made to repossess the bike, which was done, during the day, by ghouls, after which the bike was sold and subsequently shipped out of state. The scooter is a slap in the face, a reminder that Clarence owns Tom.

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