“It’s not a Vampire game until I punish someone for being heroic.” —Jason
“Must go faster,” Anstis squawks.
“No argument here.” I kick the scooter back up and race toward the exit of the parking lot, watching the thing in the mirrors. For the moment, it seems focused on the bus, roaring and swiping at it with twisted, spiked arms. The bus careens through the parking lot, swerving around light poles with squeals of its tires.
And maybe I’m imagining it, but over the sounds of monster and machine, I think I can hear the faint sound of Georgia screaming.
Goddammit…. I wheel the scooter around and stop while I think of a plan. The best course of action would be to bring in bigger guns, but, as previously discussed, my idea of “rolling heavy” barely hits the low bar for my clan.
Which means I probably should call the person who set the bar.
Bell: “…Mr. Lytton.”
Me: “Heeeeeeeeeeeey!” *Garbled roaring in the background* “How are you?”
Bell: “…What was that?”
Me: “Um…. Some sort of…giantTzimitscianhellbeast—” *Loud crash* “—And that was the car it just plowed through.”
Bell: *Several seconds of silence* “A Tzimitscian—Where are you, Tom?”
Me: “I’m at the Shark Tank, at the Monomancy! Things went well.” *Another crash*
Bell: “What? Where is the Tzimitscian hellbeast?!”
Me: “About…fifty yards in front of me.”
Bell: “Are you on a bike?”
Me: *Looks down* “No I most certainly am not.”
Bell: “Are you outside? The thing is outside!?”
Bell: “Oh…fuck…. You’re at the Shark Tank?”
Me: “Well, rapidly leaving but yes!”
Bell: “Okay. Tom…I know how this sounds: Keep it busy.”
Me: *Many moments of silence* “…With WHAT, a handjob!?”
Bell: “Tom, keep it busy and keep it out of downtown San Jose. This is very serious, if it gets out I will have to sterilize every Kindred in the South Bay. Do you understand!?”
Me: *facepalm* “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu—“
Bell: “I don’t know the area. Lead it somewhere out of the way, somewhere open and empty. I’ll have people scrambled.” *pause* “Paul’s on the other line, is he about to tell me the same thing?”
Me: “Probably. He’s with Norton, though, so I don’t know what they’re up to.”
Bell: “Alright, well, do what you can.”
He hangs up. I put away my phone and gun the scooter to pace along the path of the monster at a good distance.
Paul has been having similar thoughts. He first calls his Myrmidon guys, but the moment they hear “30-foot Tzmitscian hellbeast” they immediately advise he try someone with more power, perhaps military-level access. Which is why Paul calls Bell next. Bell assures Paul that he has, quote, some “heavy movers” inbound but they will take a while and we need to keep the thing occupied and in an isolated place until then.
So, Georgia’s busride of terror is going well.
“Van Brugge!! Van Brugge!!!!” she yells over and over, with no response.
(Jason: “I have arbitrarily decided that when Ben’s not available, van Brugge is not available. He’s busy doing other things.”
Me: “Yeah he said he’s on his way back from lab, he had to collect some equipment.”
Jason: “There, you see, van Brugge is on his way back from lab.”)
Georgia screams and wrenches the bus into a turn, avoiding a fence at the edge of the lot. The howls of the vozhd blast through the torn rear end and reverberate inside the bus. She weaves around the scattered cars and shit in the lot, trying to put obstacles between her and the monstrosity on her tail.
Paul is still in the car with Norton and the driver, the latter of whom is looking paler than the rest of us combined. He’s staring out the window at the monster, obviously shocked senseless by what he’s seeing.
Paul decides to get some epic leadership on. He blasts Awe: “Driver, we need to keep that thing distracted.”
“We need to what!?!” The driver snaps his head around, eyes wide.
“We’re not going to get too close, but we need to keep that thing in the parking lot, running around in a circle.”
The driver sputters. Even Norton raises an eyebrow.
Paul leans toward the driver. “I know it sounds scary, but, one: if we survive this, I will pay you $200,000 dollars. And two: I have faith in you.”
The driver hesitates, staring between Paul and the rampaging monster outside the window. “Goddamnit!” he finally yells, putting the car in gear and turning back into the lot.
I follow the path of the bus and the vozhd at an oblique angle. Paul’s car soon joins me, honking to try and get the beast’s attention, but it’s so intent on the bus it doesn’t even notice us. I glance around, looking for inspiration for a plan.
I finally notice something: silhouettes of trees on the far side of the arena, rising from an area devoid of streetlights. I remember that there is a large park over there, with the Los Gatos creek running through the middle. The whole area is slightly recessed below the land surrounding it. It’s not the perfect trap for a 30 foot monster, but right now it’s a lot better than any other options we got.
I call Paul and let him know my plan.
Paul agrees and instructs his driver to continue trying to get the thing’s attention. The driver gulps and honks harder.
But Norton has a better idea.
Somehow, he finds the button to retract the sunroof, and before Paul can react, he stands up through it, waving his broadsword overhead. Norton roars a challenge to the beast, but Paul can’t hear what he says over the bellows of the vozhd.
(Jason: “Yes, amazingly enough, the vozhd is actually louder.”)
Georgia is rapidly running out of parking lot. She tries to whip the bus around in a turn, using a line of cars for cover. At the last moment, though, the vozhd lashes out with one skeletal appendage and tears out the rear axle in a single strike.
The bus skitters and groans, then, slowly, like a dying elephant, collapses onto its side. Its momentum carries it forward, plowing through more parked cars. Georgia is thrown against her seatbelt in a hail of glass. She crumples helplessly against the belt as the bus slowly shudders to a stop.
The sparks and shrieks of grinding metal cease, but the shrieks of the monster grow louder.
Paul’s driver, following closely and intent on his mission, wasn’t expecting the bus to crash, and certainly wasn’t expecting the creature to stop so suddenly and throw itself upon it.
Which is why the car is the next to crash.
I watch the bus collapse and the vozhd descend on it, howling and tearing at the undercarriage. Moments later, Paul’s car careens into it.
Shit shit shit shit. I scowl grimly. Looks like someone’s gonna need to be the fucking hero. No good can come of this….
I stop the Vespa and unstrap Aquilifer from me. She’s still obviously dazed and unable to fly on her own. I leave her wrapped in the remains of my leather jacket, hoping it will provide some protection if she needs it. “Anstis! Take Aquilifer, I gotta move!”
Anstis flutters off the handlebars and
grips it by the husk grabs onto the jacket. He labors up to a clear altitude and carries her toward the shelter of some trees.
Once they’re clear, I unstrap one of my shotguns and race toward the monster.
The vozhd is momentarily stunned by the impact from the car, knocked onto its side. Shrieking, it hoists itself back upright and looks for its assailant, beady eyes peering out through rolls of flesh.
Which is when I roar up and shoot it with my shotgun loaded with acid-rounds.
A nauseating smell roils off the skin from the impact site. It arches and shrieks with a sound loud enough to shatter windows across the parking lot. It turns its head—or, rather, heads—
—and sees me.
Spidery limbs grab the concrete and the edge of the bus, hauling its massive weight around to face me. It opens all its mouths then leans down and roars with a sound so loud it physically pushes my scooter back a few inches.
Georgia, dazed, slowly comes to in the wreckage of the bus. She’s hanging by her seatbelt and instinctively reaches up to release it.
CRASH, she falls to the wall of the bus, which is now the floor. She stands up slowly, but the roars of the vozhd bring her back to her senses.
Her first thought: Marcus wasn’t belted in.
She scrambles through the seats and finds him in the third row, collapsed against the shattered remains of the window. She climbs down carefully. He’s unconscious again, a new array of cuts and bruises adding to his damage from before.
Also one of his arms is missing, apparently shredded off where it was trapped between him and the parking lot beneath him as the bus skidded to a stop. Vitae is smeared all over the exposed asphalt below him and the rest of his black armor is shattered.
Moments have passed since the bus crashed, but—despite the roaring—the’ve been fairly calm. She can see the undulating wall of flesh of the vozhd through the back of the bus, but for the moment it seems to be facing the other direction.
Georgia gathers Marcus up and climbs stealthily out the shattered front windows.
Paul is also recovering from his crash, peering around the car. There’s no sign of Norton, and Paul assumes he was thrown from the sunroof by the sudden stop. The driver’s airbags deployed, dazing him, but he seems to be coming to.
Paul reaches forward and grips the driver’s shoulder. “How you doing? You still with us?” The man groans but nods. “Think this car still works?”
The driver turns the key. The engine chokes a few times, smoke pours out from the smashed hood, but it sputters back to life.
The noise of the car pulls the vozhd’s attention from me. The vozhd twists its upper body around and sees Georgia climbing out of the bus. Long threads of saliva drip from its mouths as it bares its teeth and growls.
The car wheels around backward, pulling up next to Georgia. Paul wrenches the door open and pulls her and Marcus inside.
Anstis is approaching the relative safety of the trees. Aquilifer, though, is rapidly regaining consciousness and has just one thing on her mind: Get to Marcus. She thrashes against the confines of the jacket, screeching and throwing off Anstis’s stability.
Anstis—obviously not Aquilifer’s #1 fan even at the best of times—thinks the pirate-y equivalent of, “Fuck this shit,” and drops her.
Aquilifer plummets down for a few breathless seconds, then explodes out of the jacket, leveling off and flying back toward the fray, leaving a hail of shredded black leather to drift toward the parking lot below.
I see the vozhd turns from me to growl at the front of the bus. Beyond it, I can just make out Georgia climbing out the front, carrying a small figure.
(Kara: “I can’t believe I botched the stealth roll. What are the chances of that!?”
Jason: “Around here, about 8 in 10.”)
Undeterred, I calmly load another shell and shoot the monster again. The shot thuds into its skin but this time it doesn’t react; it’s too focused on Georgia. The car roars back and I see Georgia dive into it.
Then, milliseconds later, the vozhd tries to dive in after her.
The car is shoved to the side and flips, bouncing off the vozhd’s slavering face. It spins through the air and lands with a sickening crunch on its roof. The vozhd roars and crawls closer.
I shoot it again.
This time it turns to me, glaring at me in uncharacteristic silence. A near-subsonic rumble vibrates from its chest as it hauls itself around. Two of its limbs, shaped like two-pronged pinchers of solid bone, unfold, spines clicking against each other.
Then it leaps at me.
My ridiculously-tiny tires on my ridiculously-pink scooter squeal as I race away across the lot, the vozhd close behind.
Paul and Georgia—badly battered but still conscious—notice that the vozhd is running away and use the opportunity to climb the hell out of the car. Paul is barely mobile and pulls himself out through force of will alone. He sees the driver, unconscious and still belted in upside down.
“Georgia,” he groans weakly. “Get the driver, he’s still alive.”
(Kara: “Ok, I fetch the driver.”
Jason: “Fetch how? He’s hanging upside-down from his seatbelt whilst unconscious and broken.”
The driver slumps to the ground, lying amidst the wreckage of the roof of the car.
(Jason: “His neck is at a very bad angle.”
Kara: “I correct it.”)
Pleased with her rescue, Georgia drags the driver’s body over to Paul then goes back in to find Marcus. Marcus is also unconscious, and his neck is also at a bad angle, but for him that matters less.
Paul takes Marcus from Georgia, Georgia grabs the coat of the driver to drag him, and they slowly limp their way across the parking lot to the only other method of vehicular escape left available, Paul’s Tesla.
About halfway across the lot, Georgia checks on the driver.
Yeah, he’s dead.
Well, waste not want not. Georgia drinks him as they walk.
I exit the lot and race along the surface streets paralleling it, heading toward the park, the vozhd close behind and getting closer.
Anstis, meanwhile, has been circling high above, watching the proceedings. Though I am but a pink streak in the darkness, he sees the monster gaining on me and decides to make an attempt to slow it down.
(Jason: “My god, Jim is contributing!”)
He folds his wings and dives, shifting back to human-form midair and extending his claws. He aims at the vozhd, gaining velocity and spreading his talons for a rending full-weight strike—
—Which does nothing.
Anstis’s claws plunge into the flesh, tearing foot-wide gouges, but the thing doesn’t even break stride. One meaty limb reaches up, grabs Anstis, and pile-drives him down into the pavement.
(Jason: “Give me a stamina check, please.”
Jim: “Umm…five successes!”
Jason: “Five successes, that’s very impressive, very impressive indeed—”
Jim: “THIS is why you pump blood into stamina! And have Fortitude!”
Jason: “It is, it is, and this is the reason you only take four levels of lethal! I want you to think about that for a minute!”
Jason: “This is a vozhd! This is not some fucking asshole!”)
Anstis is left smashed into an Anstis-shaped divot in the asphalt while the vozhd continues charging after me.
They’re almost to the Tesla when Marcus finally begins to stir, twisting out of Paul’s grip and crumpling to the ground.
Paul leans over. “Marcus? Marcus Sertorius?”
Marcus lifts one head and mumbles but doesn’t seem able to focus on anything.
Georgia wanders up, fangs buried in the wrist of the limp driver, and stares at Marcus. Paul stares at her. She looks up, stares back at Paul, then wordlessly offers him the other wrist.
“That’s alright,” he grumbles, turning back to Marcus, but then a sound draws his attention up.
Aquilifer is circling overhead, and dropping fast. Paul steps back. Aquilifer backwings and drops to the ground next to Marcus. She walks to him, keening softly, then looks up at Paul. She keens again.
“I can’t understand you,” Paul says. She looks at him, then leans down to bob her head at Marcus and cries again.
Georgia looks around. “If we don’t get to the car soon, none of us are going to be in a position to understand anything.”
Paul bends down to pick up Marcus again. Aquilifer watches him like…well, like a hawk, but doesn’t seem to protest. They continue making their way to the car.
I am approaching the north-west corner of the park. In front of me I see a dark line of trees and shrubs, but no clear way through. I pull a hard right and race along the road dividing the park from the arena grounds. Grinding crunches echo behind me as the vozhd pulling itself around the same turn. I glance in the mirror. Its menagerie of limbs, thirty in all, scrabble at the road, gouging deep rents through the asphalt.
(Me: “Wait, I thought it had twenty limbs?”
Jason: “It did.”
It’s close enough now that I can feel its stinking breath on the back of my neck. I urge the scooter faster. There’s a path up ahead, leading into the park, if I cut left onto that maybe I can dodge around the trees and—
BAM! The thing swipes me with one outreached limb, scooping me off the bike and flinging me into the park. I tumble through the air for a few endless seconds then crash down in the —thankfully—full waters of the creek.
Paul, Georgia, and company finally get to the Tesla.
(Jason: “Ahh, and the damn windows are cracked!”
Jason: “And someone keyed it!”
Chris: “Fuckers! I bet it was Ellison!”)
Paul grumbles and unlocks the car. He puts Marcus in the back—with a SEATBELT this time—and everyone else piles in, including Aquilifer. The car starts up just fine, but most importantly starts up silently.
Paul drives out of the lot and finds a semi-protected alley nearby. Here he drops off Georgia, Marcus, and Aquilifer, then returns to find me.
Georgia checks on Marcus, Aquilifer standing forlornly nearby. He’s still unconscious, and probably is missing more mass than he has left. She donates some more blood to him and impassively watches as some of his organs regrow and his chest partly seals.
A moment later his eyes flutter open.
“Wh-Where are we?” he croaks through a crushed trachea. She gives him more blood. He heals more, clears his throat, then tries again. “What happened?”
“We were chased by a vozhd!” she says, inexplicably bright and cheery.
He sits up slowly, examining his injuries. “I gathered that,” he says, glaring at his missing arm. “Where are we?”
“Just outside the Shark Tank parking lot.”
He looks around. “Where is the vozhd?”
“Uh, chasing Tom?”
“He was, ah, luring it away.”
Marcus groans. “Luring it to where?”
“I…actually have no idea, but it was not in this direction. Paul dropped us off here and went back to…help?”
Marcus stares flatly in the direction of the arena. “Idiots….” he mumbles.
(Jim: “Lol, Marcus has to help Tom and Paul or else he loses a path rating!”
Jason: “Unfortunately you’re right. But that doesn’t mean he has to like it.”)
“Where are they?” he asks, climbing unsteadily to his feet. Georgia points in the general direction she saw Paul’s car go. Marcus tries to walk that way but wobbles noticeably.
Georgia reaches out a hand instinctively. “Marcus I really don’t think you should be going after them….”
Marcus glares at her with a look significantly steadier than his posture. “I…am not…a child,” he hisses. He lifts his good arm. “Give me your hand.”
Georgia takes his hand tentatively, and is instantly plunged into absolute darkness.
Paul, still in his car, creeps along the edge of the area. He finds the vozhd tearing its way through the park, clambering down into the creek. But there’s no sign of me or the scooter.
He does, however, find Anstis, climbing out of a hole in the asphalt and, dazed, transforming back into a parrot. Paul drives over and picks him up, then sets out to look for me.
I sputter back to my feet in the middle of the creek. There’s no sign of the scooter, but the vozhd is descending the embankment toward me, roaring and tearing up the landscaping as it goes.
I take a brief moment to review my plan so far:
Step 1: Distract the vozhd from Paul and Georgia
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Profit
Really need to work on that Step 2, I think to myself as I wade to the other side of the creek as fast as I can.
It plunges into the water just as I get to the other bank. Even with the mud and the water, it’s clear it’s moving faster than I am on dry land. I start running up the embankment, hoping to come out into more park, but I hear a new noise over the roaring of the monster that stops me.
It’s the roar of a freeway.
The park ends about thirty yards ahead in a line of fencing cordoning it off from the Guadalupe Parkway. From down here I can just make out the top halves of vehicles as they race past.
I decide to pick a new direction. I pop Celerity and run upstream, staying close to the water.
Georgia pops back into existence in the middle of a park, Marcus next to her and the vozhd wallowing around in a creek some dozen yards ahead. She can see me on the far side, rapidly scrambling away through the trash and the reeds.
But, she estimates based on the speed of the monster, not rapidly enough. She stands helplessly, staring at the vozhd’s impending attack in shock.
Moments later, the incorporeal figure of van Brugge (gets back from lab and) appears next to her as well.
(Jason: “Ben, let me paint the scene for you. You were doing something important and busy that I am not going to speculate upon right now, but now you have time to devote yourself to the fact that the only other Tremere in the city has been frantically calling you for the last half hour, desperate for your assistance in some damn matter that she has gotten herself wrapped up in, yet again. You are annoyed by this. You resent the fact that your time is being wasted once more.
“When you finally look in on what her situation is, you see her standing there, beat to shit, and she is holding up Marcus who is in the the worst condition you have ever seen Marcus in. He looks like he’s been simultaneously skinned and had half his limbs ripped off.”
Kara: “He’s only missing one arm!”
Jason: “Yes, one arm has been ground down, as if by a mortar and pestle. His organs have been ripped out and he’s missing an eye.
“But that, amazingly enough, is not the focus of your attention right now! The focus of your attention is a small creek across the way, wherein, in the middle of that creek, is a vozhd. A biiiiiiig vozhd, one of the biggest you’ve ever seen, and you fought the Omen War. The vozhd is chasing Tom down the waterway, who obviously using Celerity to try and keep away from it.
“Basically, all this needs is the Benny Hill theme.”)
Van Brugge stares, jaw and glasses slack on his face. “Well…at least I wasn’t summoned over nothing….”
“Van Brugge!” Georgia throws her arms up.
His image shakes himself out of his shock. “Well. Okay. I see you’ve found a vozhd….”
“Haha, haaa….” Georgia laughs brittlely and stares at it.
Marcus looks up at her. “Who the hell are you talking to?”
“My boss!” she says, gesturing at van Brugge’s apparition, which apparently this time is only visible to her.
“He’s here? Can he hear me?” He glares up in van Brugge’s general vicinity. “Adrianus!” he barks.
Van Brugge raises an unseen eyebrow and looks down at him. “I take it you need help with a vozhd?” Georgia passes the message along.
“NO I NEED LOTTO NUMBERS!! WHAT DO YOU THINK!?” Marcus roars. Georgia looks at the vozhd nervously, but it’s too intent on me to notice them.
Van Brugge smirks and straightens his glasses.
(Jason: “Normally I like to keep the big guns off-screen because it’s the party’s game, but you guys are dancing around with a vozhd, so….”
Ben: “Yeah, um…in this case, I think I’m going to have to break out the death.”)
Now twenty yards away, the vozhd flounders in the creek, reaching toward me with every available appendage….
….Then suddenly erupts into flame, as if a thermite bomb had just gone off.
A pillar of fire roars skyward, blasting heat across the park. The vegetation nearest the vozhd withers and curls, and the creek boils beneath it. Georgia staggers back, simultaneously shocked and exhilarated.
Then, as suddenly as it started, the fire cuts out, cutting the light and heat instantly. A breeze swirls the park as cooler air returns. Georgia peers into the creek, looking for the remains of the vozhd.
But she sees the complete vozhd. As in, still standing, still very much alive, and now even angrier. It’s flailing around, trying to decide between chasing me and coming after the new targets that have just been brought to its attention.
“Well…shit,” van Brugge says.
Paul pulls up at the edge of the park just in time to see flames erupt from the creek. He gets out to stare at it. Anstis gets out too, waddling through the open door and launching into the air. Paul doesn’t notice, focused as he is, and when the fires go out a few seconds later he continues staring into the gloom.
Moments later he hears the roars of the vozhd yet again. He frowns and remains with the car.
“Marcus,” Georgia turns to him, “What do you want us to do? Should we let the vozhd chase Tom, or should we lure it somewhere else….?”
Marcus’s expression is caught somewhere between serious and weary. He wobbles slightly as he looks around the park. “Keep it…off the highway,” he says as forcefully as he can. “If it reaches there, there’ll be no stopping it. Keep it here, in the river.”
Georgia nods, and that’s when it hits her.
Without even pausing to tell them what she’s doing, she scrambles down the bank and plunges her hand into the water.
The water in the creek heaves once, then explodes, twisting out of its bed and rising up into a solid wall of flowing liquid twenty feet high. A wall that bends itself to fall between the vozhd and the freeway.
The vozhd crashes into the it. The liquid wobbles like a rubber sheet but holds. I—thankfully on the other side—stumble and turn around, gaping at the sight before me. The creature howls and tears at the force separating us, but can’t even make a dent.
(Kara: “Is my delight at my own ability enough to gain me a willpower back?”
Jason: “No! You cannot gain willpower from your own magic!”
Kara: “Why not!?”
Jason: “Because you use willpower to produce the magic!”
Kara: “Argh!! BUT LOOK HOW COOL I AM!!!”
Jason: “Fine, you know what, you can get a point back for one reason and one reason only:”)
Georgia watches the scene gleefully, then happens to glance down at Marcus. He’s staring at the wall, obviously unaware of Georgia looking at him, and for the briefest flicker of a moment, something passes across his face.
(Jason: “Neptune’s Might is not a common thaumaturgical path.”
Kara: “Yaaaaaay I impressed Marcus!”
Me: “Yaaaaaay! That’s better than surviving! It’s harder to do!”)
The wall isn’t that long, but luckily the thing is so dumb it remains in place trying to rip through to get at me. I collapse to a seat and wave at it.
Van Brugge steps forward, not bothering to hide the impressed look on his face. Now that the monster is stationary, he decides to try a different attack. He raises his arms.
Clouds appear out of nowhere, gathering above the park. They circle, the vortex centered right above the vozhd. A deep rumble shakes the air.
And then lightning starts raining down from the sky.
The creature shrieks as bolts lance into it in rapid succession. It flails and arches back, but the lightning doesn’t do more than scorch the skin. It ignores the storm and throws itself at the wall with renewed vigor.
It gets worse. Not only is the lightning not very effective, but—as an AOE spell—it’s not very discriminatory. As a result, I barely have time to comprehend what’s going on before a bolt strikes my skull and everything goes black.
Anstis has been circling above the fight, hesitant to join, partly because of his last failed strike against the vozhd, but also because he is running really low on blood and is getting hungry.
So when he sees me get knocked unconscious behind the wall, out of sight of everyone else, he is reaaaaaally interested.
(Me: “AWWW HEEEEEELL NO!!”)
He spirals down.
(Me: “REALLY!? After I BOUGHT YOU A PARROT!?”
Jason: “He doesn’t have to take all of it!”
Me: “I only have three points!!”
Jason: “Yes but he doesn’t know that, does he?”
Jim: “Look at the fucking glee on Jason’s face!”)
Anstis shifts into human form, and then, after a long night of metaphorically stealing all my blood from me, proceeds to LITERALLY steal all my blood from me!!!!
AND THEN IT GETS WORSE!!!!!!1!!!
(Jason: “Do you wish to diablerize the Brujah?”
Me: “Remember I’m useful to you!”
Jim: “That’s true….”
Jason: “So is power.”
Jim: “That’s true too!”
We leave Jim racked with temptation and indecision as I glare at him across the kitchen and do dishes angrily.)
A terrible smell of ozone and burnt hair drifts across the park, even after the storm dissipates. The vozhd shrieks, driven to the brink of complete insanity by frustration and pain.
Georgia pulls at Marcus’s arm. “Marcus, we should go….”
Tired and unsteady as he is, her tug barely jostles him. “Not yet,” he says grimly, staring intently at the monster. Georgia looks around and sees Paul by the car at the edge of the park. She leaves Marcus—and van Brugge’s apparition—and jogs over to climb into the relative safety of the car.
Anstis has made his decision. He bends over toward me once again….
…And hoists me over his shoulder, carrying me up the embankment, away from the creek and the flailing vozhd.
He’s about halfway up the hillside when a new sound starts echoing through the park, growing steadily louder. Anstis looks up, confused, not sure what it is.
Everyone else—who is conscious—knows what it is, though.
It’s the sound of airplane engines.
The vozhd, exhausted, finally pulls away from the wall and looks around for another target. The first thing it settles on is Paul, standing next to his car on the other side of the park. The thing may be dumb, but it definitely realizes one thing:
There’s no wall between it and that side of the park.
It turns around. Paul dives back into the car, reversing it to head back toward the arena.
(Kara: “Oh my god…this is the third vehicle the vozhd is going to destroy with me in it….”)
From inside the car, they see the thing screech and leap forward, launching itself up the embankment—
—Then, suddenly, stop, collapsing to the ground, out of sight.
The park echoes with a new crescendo of howls, loud enough to drown out the engine of the car, if the car had an engine that made noise. Paul pivots the car around to make a quick getaway if needed, but stops and peers out the windows.
“Marcus is still back there!” Georgia says.
Paul nods, then blinks. “Wait, how did you guys get here? I left you back in the alley!”
Georgia shrugs. “Marcus…wanted to help.”
A piercing shriek sends new cracks spidering across the glass. It’s followed by the sound of splintering wood.
Paul frowns and turns back to the window. “That’s…nice of him.”
Paul backs the car up to a spot where they can see through the foliage. Below them, the vozhd is down on its side, writhing against massive cables of pure darkness wrapped around it like a Burmese python around an Everglades alligator. No matter how much it flails, tearing and flinging mud and grass in every direction, the darkness keeps the monster bound to the earth.
And then, apparently, the earth decides to get in on the fight too. Multiple trees nearby uproot themselves and march over to start pummeling the vozhd.
(Kara: “Jesus, how many thaumaturgial paths does van Brugge have?”
Ben: “Um…a lot of them.”
Jason: “I think he has full mastery of something like eight.”
*A few moments of silence as we let that sink in*
Jason: “This is why I keep these guys off-screen most of the time.”)
They stare at the weird Lord of the Rings LARP that has just broken out before them, then something draws their attention skyward.
A plane is approaching from the north, moving slowly at a relatively low altitude. It’s a prop plane with four engines and wide wings. They stare at it, then realize that it’s not so much that it’s moving slowly, is that it is very large, getting larger as it gets closer.
Paul’s phone rings. He answers it, still staring bemused at the plane.
My phone rings at the same time. Anstis digs it out of my pocket and answers it.
Bell: “Stewart. Lytton.”
Anstis: “Lytton be unconscious at the moment.”
Bell: “Anstis then. Get away from the vozhd.”
Anstis: “Presently doing just that.”
Bell: “Get away from it rapidly.”
Georgia: *yells in the background* “Marcus is still down there!”
Bell: “That’s his problem.”
Anstis starts running up the slope toward the highway, while Paul uses some of the last of his reserves to Summon Marcus away.
The plane roars overhead and banks over the park. Most of the people on the ground in the game identify it simply as a Big Fucking Plane.
But many of us out of game know exactly what it is.
(Jason: “The AC-130, otherwise known as the Specter, is a four-engine C-130 Hercules transport plane. It’s basically a bomber, but here’s the thing. Instead of bombs, the AC-130 carries a 75mm Howitzer in its side—”
Jim: “Isn’t it 90?”
Jason: “Hmm. I don’t think so…I’m pretty sure it’s a 75 Howitzer.…”
Kara: “And…a Howitzer is a gun….?”
Jason: “A Howitzer is a cannon. It carries a Howitzer, it carries a 40mm autocannon, and it carries a 20mm Vulcan machine-cannon.”
Kara: “Those sound like guns!”
Jason: “They are enormously powerful guns used to hunt tanks.”
Me: “…Did you say HUNT. TANKS??”
Jason: “They are designed to hunt and destroy tanks. What the Specter likes to do is bank slightly and circle around its target raining fire upon it. And, because it’s a prop plane, it can stay up there all. fucking. day.”
Jim: “…Ooo! We were both wrong! It’s 105mm!”
Jason: “Even better!!”)
The Specter banks hard to the left and starts raining artillery fire—4-inch wide shells, launched every two seconds—down upon the vozhd, pinned below. Moments later the Vulcan kicks in as well, firing so fast it sounds like one solid block of noise ripping through the night air, drowning out the howls of the monster. The entire creek bed boils into a cauldron of fire and wrath.
The plane continues to circle above the park, raining destruction down in a ceaseless torrent.
(Jason: “It probably won’t stop for another hour. …It’s a vozhd, would you?”)
Everyone stares in awe from their respective locations. After a few minutes, Bell’s voice echoes from the phones that Paul and Anstis are still holding.
“Thank you. I think that will do. I’ll see you all back at the Pyramid.” He hangs up.
Things start to wind up rapidly after that. Anstis carries me onto the freeway and tries to commandeer a car, but only succeeds in causing more panic and confusion.
(Which, incidentally, continues Jim’s grand tradition of Ridiculous Chains of Events That Spiral Out of Control, which, to date, has included:
1) The time when Isaac was trying to kidnap an unconscious Paul and was hauling him from house to house in Bayshore, dodging cops and crack dealers, and ended up having to jump out of a moving ambulance to escape.
2) The time it was 30 seconds from sunrise and Elizabeth panicked, broke into a house in the Marina, and murdered a family of three (a choice that Marcus eventually executed her for, incidentally).
3) The time that werewolves attacked the Douchehaus, crashed Clarence’s helicopter, and then Clarence spent an hour avoiding them by running around the roof and then falling off of it.)
While Anstis is distracted, Aquilifer drops in, grabs me, and carries me back to Paul’s car, leaving Anstis to say fuck it and fly back to Paul’s car himself.
Marcus also shows up at the car, having shadow-stepped himself into the trunk. He’s looking a little steadier, but still missing most of his body. He does concede, though, that this is only the second worst Monomancy he’s ever participated in.
Paul is exhausted and at the end of his willpower reserves, which is a problem since he is the only one who can reasonably drive the car. Marcus actually gives it a shot, but he, predictably, is too short. Georgia finally steps and says that she will do her best (though she’ll probably be like inches off the wheel and driving granny speeds the whole way home).
Thus, beaten and exhausted, and with a car full of birds and beat-up vampires, everyone heads back to the city. Before they leave, though, Paul has enough energy to text both Bell and Liedesdorff the following:
“If I may suggest, perhaps Larry Ellison wanted a plane demonstration this evening.”
(Now, this evening, we actually have a new addition to the regularly-scheduled writeup. Jim decided to try playing around with writing up a summary of key events from Anstis’s perspective, which I asked to include here. It’s wonderfully pirate-y, thus I am pleased to share with you:)
THE CAPTAIN’S LOG: The tale of the events of the 4th of March, having seen things of a Most Questionable nature, Being of sound mind in an Unsound time, wherein battle, thundyr, flash, and fury were unleash’d ‘pon foe, and the subsequent fleeing from greater foes, Abridged.
I circled overhead, safely out of reach of the beastie. Fighting it be suicide, I reckoned, but me only connections to this world be condemned ‘pon the ground, directly in the wake of Hell itself. I could just let them die. I could escape. Escape again; it be what I’m good at. But then where would I be? Another dead crew, another lost ship. Starting over yet again. The wake of corpses ever growing at me feet. Friend, foe, the pall of death grows ever harder for me to bear.
The beast roared, the sound itself hitting me like storm and wave, rocking me to and fro, and Lytton ran. He wouldn’t make it. Not this time. So I mustered me strength and dove. Wings tucked back, plummeting to the earth, I fell towards the beast. At the last moment, my body morphed back to the shape of the man I once was, but with 8 inch razor claws, and with all me might I hurled meself at the beast’s spine.
I struck true, but strong as I be, I was but an insect upon its ravening mass. It hurled me to the ground, shattering me body, but I had bought Tom time, and time be a precious commodity. Stitching me wounds, I took back to the air. I’d been testing me reserves with a great alacrity, and found meself fast hungry.
The Tremere hit the beast with a Hellish firestorm, enough to lay waste to the lot of us, but it forged on. The battle raged on, and the Tremere finally slowed it by harnessing the power of the seas, then called storm and thunder ‘pon it.
The lightning struck Lytton as well as the beast, and he fell unconscious, safe on the far side of the wall of water the Tremere had gathered. Cut off from the rest.
Me own beast voiced his ‘pinions, and I must say, for a moment, I considered it. The power. But for better or worse, Lytton be part of me crew now. I know the bitter taste of betrayal, better than most, and no man shall ever rightly ‘ccuse me of it.
Still, if I wished to survive this, I’d be needing blood, and it just so happens Lytton had no use for his at the moment…
Unfortunately, Lytton had little in reserve, so I picked him up and carried him away from the battle. The others seemed to have the beastie occupied, so there was precious time. I found one of the grand roads of this new age, complete with dozens of these wheeled contrivances they call “cars”. It happens however, that at this moment, furious cannon was unleashed from the very Heavens upon the beastie. Night became day in flashes and fury, and screams from the monster voiced its malcontent. The cars stopped, crashing to and fro, the mortals amazed as I to see the fire of God himself unleashed on our foe. I took advantage of the distraction, rushing up to one and diving inside. The man at the wheel aimed pistol ‘pon my head, so I drank from him ’til he was no more.
I left the car, to share my bounty with Lytton, but in those seconds he vanished, and could not be found. Likely the child Marcus’s work—or that of his infernal bird, no doubt—so I took flight. It took but a brief time to locate them, and finding Lytton inside the conveyance with the rest, I swooped down to join them. Battered, wounded, missing limbs, the tattered tale of a night of Hell the likes of which I have never seen before, despite my unquiet life centuries before. But we had survived. I split that blood which I’d gathered from the cross man who had attempted me murder, ‘that Lytton not succumb to the anger of the beast ‘pon his ‘wakening.
Now back in the city, this chapter over, ’tis time to handle me personal affairs. I’ll be needing a ship. I’ll be needing more crew. It’s time to find those responsible for me time under the seas, and show them the price of betrayal, beyond the grave or nay. Me time is yet beginning.
I don’t regain consciousness until we arrive back in the city. Paul, Georgia, and Anstis are heading to the Pyramid, as Bell requested, but they decide to drop Marcus off at Paul’s SOMA penthouse on the way. I—muddy, bloody, and beaten six ways from Tuesday—also decide to bow out of the Bell meeting; partially to keep an eye on Marcus, but partially cause I hate it when Bell sees me looking like shit.
Everyone else continues to the Pyramid.
(Jim: “Now that there’s space, I’ll return to human form.”
Jason: “You sure you don’t want to do octopus?”
Chris: “DO NOT octopus my car!”)
They walk into
the prince’s Bell’s office—or, rather, Georgia and Anstis walk, wheeling Paul in a wheelchair—to find it filled with a near army’s worth of people, setting up piles of equipment on tables and stations around the room, turning it from a lavish office to some sort of NASA-like control room.. Bell is in the middle of the room, surveying the constrained chaos, and turns as they enter. He tenses, then gestures for the workers to stop.
He folds his arms and looks the three up and down. “That bad?”
Anstis: “A fine evening!”
Paul: “Actually it went better than anyone else could have expected.”
Georgia: “You should see the other guy!”
Bell smirks. “Bring it in,” he calls over his shoulder. One of the workers walks out and comes back with a tray loaded with a pitcher and four glasses. She sets it down and fills the glasses with, obviously, blood.
Bell gestures to the glasses. “Donated blood, from SF General. Slightly chilled, I’m afraid, but we live in fallen times.” He walks to the desk, still at the head of the room, and sinks into the chair. “Drink up, there’s more where that came from.”
Bell watches as everyone dives on the glasses. “Where’s Lytton?” he asks, frowning.
“He wanted to stay with the little one,” Anstis says.
“He’s also barely conscious,” Georgia adds.
Bell raises an eyebrow. “But he made it out?”
“Barely,” Anstis says.
Bell leans back in the chair. “Then I’d say you all have a clean sweep. If circumstances were different you’d all be appointed to high positions in the Camarilla. You destroyed a Sabbat archbishop, unseated his princedom, we could march in tomorrow and take the entire city.” Bell clasps his hands in front of him and watches them a moment. “But I expect you’re here to convince me why we shouldn’t do that.”
Paul glances around the room, at the various people watching silently, and clears his throat. “Well, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about that, and I suspect any sort of action like that would invite retaliation from the Sabbat.”
“Yes, I’ve thought that as well,” Bell says.
“Also….” Paul hesitates. “I have an arrangement with…well…. Have you heard of the Archbishop of Palo Alto?”
“I’ve heard of the bishop of Palo Alto, who I assume is no longer being called such.”
“No, ah…he and I seem to be on agreeable terms for the moment.”
Bell frowns. “Ah. Is he the one who…arranged all this?”
“Hmm. Well, then maybe we can come to an arrangement as well. In any event,” Bell looks at the equipment around the room, “We have greater things to worry about right now than what the Bishop of Palo Alto wants to call himself. He could declare himself Cardinal of the West Coast for all I care.”
(Me: “That’s Marcus’s job!”)
They give Bell a summary of the fight, but Bell is mostly interested in the vozhd and what has happened to it and/or them. They say that Marcus mentioned there were three and that he supposedly took care of two of them, so with the gunship they should be clear. Bell is…understandably impressed that Marcus took out two on his own and mutters that he feels a lot better about having lost his last fight with him.
They also mention that Norton and Doc were there. Georgia gasps and tries to call Doc to let him know she’s ok, but her phone is still smashed. She asks if anyone else has his number. Bell grumbles and says that Doc has been ignoring all of his requests for an audience since he arrived in the city.
Bell asks if there was anything else of note. Georgia and Paul shrug, saying besides the vozhd, not really.
“There was the light burning flesh,” Anstis blurts out. Paul’s face grows dark.
Bell leans forward in his chair. “The what?”
Paul twists around in the wheelchair to glare at Anstis. “You will take that to your grave,” he hisses.
“Oh, will I?” Anstis asks, face flat.
Bell stands up and holds out a hand to them. “Gentleman, a moment. Everyone, out!” he barks. All of the various workers in the room leave, clearing the room in moments.
Bell stares at Anstis until the door closes. “No, captain. There was no light burning flesh. Nothing of the sort happened. Paul Stewart was dragged before a Sabbat ritual of some sort, in which horrible, bestial things were being done.” He starts slowly pacing around the desk. “And like the good Camarilla warrior he is, Paul managed to overcome the depraved, debased Sabbat lords who were in charge of the ritual, slay them with the help of his,” he nods at Georgia and Anstis, “stalwart allies, and restore civilization to the good people of the southern Bay Area.”
Anstis listens quietly, face still expressionless, and when Bell finishes he nods tersely. “Tis a tale as good as any.”
Bell stops his pacing to face Anstis. “It’s better than any tale, it’s the truth,” he says, looking straight in his eyes.
“It’s the way I remember it,” Paul mutters.
Bell glances down at him. “It’s the way everyone will remember it or they will lose their capacity to remember. We are not starting an open war with the Sabbat for the west coast because someone decided to get cute with fiber optics. I want to make that clear. I will incinerate this city before I let that happen. Are we clear on this?”
Bell takes their sullen silence as agreement and nods. “Good.” He walks back to his chair.
They spend the rest of the meeting discussing the next items on everyone’s to-do lists, which include, in no particular order:
- Perpenna, fuck that guy
- Accio, probably fuck him too
- Himmler, who is holed on on the Farallones with an army of gargoyles and at least one captured werewolf (though right now I’m the only one who knows Sophia is there)
Bell frowns. He says that the Farallones are…tricky. Normally he’d simply call in another firebomb airstrike, but apparently there’s high-level political arrangements at work involving the place. Anything dealing with it involves contacting certain parties and that will not be easy.
As to who these parties are, well…apparently that’s classified.
Bell shakes his head and sighs. “The Camarilla can’t intervene directly in anything going on on the Farallones, but…who’s to say we did? If you do go out there, try to be as discrete as possible, and for god’s sake, don’t destroy anything that doesn’t belong to a Kindred. There are…other factors out there.”
He glances out the windows, at the reach of bay just visible through the skyscrapers and drifting fog.
“And whatever you do, don’t go in the water.”
Marcus, Aquilifer, and I all stumble up to Paul’s penthouse apartment, each of us a different flavor of exhausted. “I’ve had hangovers that were better than this,” I grumble as I close the door behind us.
Marcus sighs and shakes his head. “You know, you would think that at my age one would grow out of these sorts of situations.”
I limp over to the fridge, more out of habit than anything else. I know Paul doesn’t keep blood around, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have liked his food even when I was able to eat it. Sure enough, theres nothing in it but some tofu, an entire case-worth of SmartWater, and—inexplicably—three heads of cabbage. I stare forlornly at the shelves and sigh.
“It’s alright, I’ll order delivery,” Marcus says and pulls out his phone. He dials a number, holds it up to his ear for a minute, then hangs up without a word. “It’ll be here in an hour,” he says.
“Um…do they need a tip? I don’t have any cash on me….”
“I’ll wire it to them.” Marcus walks wearily over to a sitting area and collapses on a wide, expensive looking couch facing the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the city. Aquilifer watches, then–apparently judging him safe for the moment–wanders off on foot to explore the apartment.
“Well. That was singularly unpleasant,” Marcus grumbles, staring out the window.
I rub my face. “Yeah. I tried to keep a low profile like you asked, but….”
“You did fine,” he sighs. “You did just fine.”
My own weariness lifts just a little. “Thanks Boss.” I amble over to the window. The flat takes up most of the top floor of the building and the windows look out the north side. It’s a perfect panorama of the skyline, from the glittering lights of the Bay Bridge, to the fog pouring in over Twin Peaks to the west, lit by the blinking red lights of Sutro Tower. The two of us are silent for a few minutes, watching patches of fog drift like ghosts across the city.
“I need to work on a plan to get my girl back,” I finally say.
“Sophia?” I hear his voice behind me, though I can’t see him in the window reflection.
I nod, a little surprised he remembers her name.
“Yes, it appears you and Paul both need to do this don’t you. I’d assist but I don’t think I’d be welcome.” His tone darkens. “There’s still bad blood there. A lot of it. As with everything….”
The weariness starts to descend again. As usual, more Marcus vaugebooking. History and plots and intrigues half-alluded to, but now in my exhausted state I have far less patience for it.
I turn around and scowl at him. “Yeah, well, Boss, they’re gonna find I’m with you eventually. If I’m going to go through with this I’ll need to know the full story in case I need to deal with it!”
Marcus doesn’t even bat an eye at my tone. “Deal with it how, Tom? You going to make peace?”
“I don’t know! Right now I seem to be doing ok with winging it as problems come up.”
He sighs and shakes his head. He stares out the window a few moments before responding. “Look. How long have you been a Kindred? Twenty years? Thirty? I won’t say you can’t know how the world works at your age, but…there are mistakes that cannot be atoned for by someone’s good wishes stepping in hundreds of years after the fact.
“You seem for some reason to have gotten in fairly well with a few werewolves too young or stupid to know better than to involve themselves with our kind, and that’s fine. If you can somehow maintain that, that’s fine. Just bear in mind we are immortal and they are not. Your werewolf friend will die, violently most likely, of old age if not. And where will you be left? With the same damn enmity inherited along with the rest of this wonderful curse we call a bloodline.”
I bristle. I don’t need to be reminded about outliving friends.
“The werewolves,” Marcus continues, “hate us collectively and one werewolf choosing to see past that wont change anything. Now…me they may hate more than most, but your associations with me wont do you any favors with them. And there’s nothing I can do to change that even if I wanted to.” He sighs. “Not anymore. It happened seven hundred years ago.”
My eyes narrow. “Yeah, funny how a short-lived…species…has such long memories.”
He chuckles. “They say that’s what they were created for. Or at least that’s the rumor. I’ve heard thousands.” He waves his remaining hand. “Some mystical mumbo-jumbo about earth-spirits. No one knows where any of this comes from. Or anyone who does is insane.”
He regards me a moment. “Why do you want to know what happened? It can’t be to tell the werewolves, they already know what they know, and nothing will convince them otherwise.”
Why do I want to know? The last time I brought the topic up, he gave me a long story about a vengeance plot against the werewolves that got out of hand, which…makes enough sense, I guess. But something about it has been rubbing me the wrong way. Something tells me there’s more to the story, and that same part of me just has to know, especially considering how tangled up my life has gotten with his.
I shrug. “I’ve never been good at keeping out of bad business for long.
His eyes narrow. He seems to evaluate me. “Tell me Tom, how many mistakes have you made in your life? Serious ones, in your twenty years of time.”
Memories flash through my mind. My father yelling at my mother with Isabella hiding in a corner. The last view of my house out the rear window of a car. Fearful rumors on the San Francisco streets. Rob wracked with pneumonia, dying in the bed we shared.
The dark face of a stranger in a club, whispering promises of a final escape from all of it….
I quickly turn back to the window. “A few,” I mumble.
“Imagine what you accumulate over twenty centuries. No one’s perfect, after all.” I hear him sigh. “What is the name the werewolves have for me? The Devourer?” He chuckles lightly. “Marcus the Devourer. I suppose it has a nice ring to it….”
“Yeah, that’s not the full name,” I mutter to the glass.
Another moment of silence. “No,” Marcus says flatly, “I suppose it isn’t, is it? So what is the full name, if I might ask? It’s changed several times.”
I feel his gaze boring through my back but I continue to stare out the window. “The Devourer of Innocence.”
This time the silence stretches to almost a minute. “Well I suppose that’s fair enough isn’t it,” Marcus finally mutters. He sighs. “You want to know? You really want to know?”
“Well, if you’re good at…removing innocence, then perhaps it’s only appropriate.” My voice is a lot colder than I expected. I turn around.
He stares up at me from his spot on the couch. I’m suddenly struck by how small he looks, sprawled broken and exhausted across overstuffed pillows that almost dwarf him.
But his face is flat with a seriousness far beyond his apparent age, and when he speaks, his voice is deadly so. “Have you ever heard of an organization by the name of the Seventh Generation?”
“Well you shouldn’t, they’re more or less extinct now. At least I hope they are. Horrific group. Some…sadistic cult dedicated to the most inhuman of practices imaginable.”
I raise an eyebrow. Glass houses…. “Vampires?”
“Some. Mostly not. A hedonistic cult of some sort. The philosophy was around…abuse, as a method of gaining some form of hidden knowledge about the ways of the world. Generational abuse, you understand. Started off…young. Kidnap children, abuse them until they’re adults, and then let them feed back into the system to do it again. Generation after generation, in the hopes of producing some purified form of corruption. Disgusting people. They’d have to be to get the enmity of all the people they wound up with.”
He lapses into silence again, eyes staring far past the skyline before us. “I…helped found them.”
The following silence stretches long. Marcus doesn’t meet my gaze. For my part, I am suddenly paralyzed, afraid that any movement will send all my emotions crashing out at once.
Marcus breaks the silence first. “…Or at least one of their chapters. I don’t know how old the cult actually is. I don’t think anyone does. But I helped create it. Gave it strength, gave it life, for decades. Now can you imagine what the werewolves might have to say about something like that?”
I continue to stare at him. He shakes his head. “The full story is…complicated. But that’s essentially what it is.” He looks up at me. “Surprised, are we?” he asks sardonically.
I turn back to the window. Emotions still roil within me. Confusion, anger, more than a little concern, but…as I stare, trying to get ahold of my mind, I realize that I’m not as surprised as I probably should be.
And denial isn’t present at all.
“Have I shattered your innocence, Tom?”
“No,” I say after a moment. And that’s probably the most frightening part….
“I could give you the reasons why, I could tell you how it was done, I could even tell you who was to blame, but…none of that matters necessarily. I made enemies and some of those enemies…well there were consequences to that. We all live forever. They knew how to come at me. They knew what would work. And this is what they tried. And it’s what worked.”
More silent moments. “No questions? Do I sense…outrage? Boiling and burning within you?” Marcus’s voice is calm, but theres a hint of mockery in it. I’m not entirely sure, though, if it’s mocking of me or himself.
I shrug. “Just…frustration.”
“Frustration with what?”
I turn back to him. “This world. Just when I seem to have a grip on something, it changes. And the general trend seems to be a downward one.”
“It’s the way of things, Tom. No one’s what you think they are.” He smiles a smile that’s more a grimace. “Want the full story then?”
I throw my arms out. “I apparently have nothing but time.”
He laughs darkly. “Do you know of a clan by the name of the Setites?”
“I’ve heard the name around.”
He nods. “Yes I’m sure. Popular bunch. Ask Helgi about them.”
Helgi was at war with the Setites when I first met him. I followed him to Africa and back in pursuit of them. They’d done something to piss him off. Killed someone. It’s what they’re good at. We killed a horde of Setites. Piles of them, burned them out of house and home. Purged the entire city as best we could.
And they remembered. For hundreds of years they remembered, and watched. It’s what they do. They fancy themselves the puppet masters and the string pullers. They watched from the darkness and waited for the opportunity to come at me in the perfect possible way.
How would you do it?
“What, attack you?” I snort. “Well considering that a fucking Tzimitscian hellbeast wasn’t enough to take you out, I’m totally out of options.”
He smirks. “It was close, and there were two of them. But assume for a moment that you can’t attack me directly because I can destroy Tzimitscian hellbeasts. What would you do…. What weaknesses would you look for?”
Well the Setites, as it turns out, are very good at finding them, and they went in at precisely the right point. They set me a trap. Not a violent one, but…a perfect trap.
See, there aren’t many vampires my…apparent age. They don’t live long. Those who do tend to get wise to various tricks, but I wasn’t wise to this one. The Setites sent me…another. One they’d been grooming for centuries. They sent me a helpless little Cainite, embraced at a tender age. Assailed by all the horrible things in the world, desperate for help. And I fell right into it. Because it was what I was ready to believe.
I helped her for decades. We survived the wrath of the Inquisition, the Omen War, the chaos that ensued when the Giovanni took over. And around the time of the Black Death she got an idea. She wanted to thank me for how much I’d helped her, for letting her survive. She said oh Marcus, there are so many others being preyed upon in these terrible times, from plague and war and devastation and brigandage (because it was the late 14th century and it was a bad time to be alive). If only someone were to gather them up like the pied piper where they could all be made safe, away from the ravages of the word.
Setites can be so…persuasive when they want to be.
She wanted me to save the children, orphans and runaways and people left abandoned by the Black Death. (It killed a third of the continent in six weeks, you know, you have no idea the dislocation it left in its wake.)
We made a wonderful team. She established a home base in some isolated spot in the Pyrenees and I went out and…collected. I collected hundreds. For fifty years, I criss-crossed the continent. And it never even occurred to me to ask what I was collecting for. Because I knew her, you see. I knew her for a hundred years.
Probably would have gone on forever, until she had enough to present me with a fait accompli, till she could turn me to whatever ends she wanted. (I don’t know what the Setites actually wanted, I don’t think even they do.) But I eventually heard enough rumors from enough trustworthy people that I went back by surprise, once. And I saw what was truly going on.
But it didn’t matter what I did at that point. What I did was already done.
I burned the castle down, killed everyone in it. Staked her through the heart and left her to watch the sunrise. But…you can’t burn out things like that. You cant apologize. Who are you going to apologize to? The responsible parties are dead. It’s between you and your gods.
But as you say, the werewolves have a long memory. They never forgot. I wouldn’t, in their place. You see, by the time I went back it was far too late. There’d been three generations by then. Worst of all, she had been directing me toward…Kinfolk. Werewolf Kinfolk. I’d been “rescuing” their children from their own grasp and sending them to the most hellacious pits imaginable.
So no, Tom, I’m afraid you’re not going to bridge that divide. There was a time before the modern world caught up with us in atrocities when the werewolves considered me one of the worst offenders they had ever seen. I had packs of them hunting me across the continent. To the New World and back. I spilled more werewolf blood than most of the Kindred who have ever lived. But you cant fight your way out of the werewolves, that just encourages them.
Your friend may not know who I am directly, but she’s heard the stories. They’ve all heard the stories. And that cult, the one I helped found, ever so often still pops up. Here and there. I heard it was in New York not long ago. The werewolves took care of it there, but it will be back. As long as there are Setites or people like them, it will be back.
“So there you have it. Theres the grand secret. Live long enough Tom and you might have something on your record just as bad.”
I stare at him a moment then turn back to the window, focusing out on the city. I think about those first nights after I was Embraced, when I thought I had been lifted beyond all the cares of the world. I think about all the people—strangers, lovers, friends—I accidentally infected with my other curse before I knew any better.
And all the people I’ve possibly infected even now that I do.
“I don’t know….” I mutter. “I seem to be tallying up the score fairly early.”
“How so? If you’ve been going out and founding child abuse cults, Tom, we need to have another conversation.”
I snort. “No, but…I came to San Francisco to get away from my family, and I came to vampirdom to get away from my disease, but….”
“…But low and behold, you couldn’t get away from either.”
“Yeah….” I say. “Though it took me a long time to realize that.”
“Well congratulations, I know vampires eight times your age who have never come to that realization. See, we can’t just wait for our problems to die. Our problems are as immortal as we are. But, we can kill them. Paul has been demonstrating that fairly effectively recently, hasn’t he?”
(Chris: *stage-whisper* “Paul is a frickin’ psychopath! He killed like fourteen people last night!”
Me: “That’s true, that was awesome!”)
I smirk. “Yeah, but you can’t just punch a virus in the face.”
“You can with enough Vicissitude.”
I tense, then turn around slowly. “…What?” I ask softly.
Marcus nods once, face serious. “Enough Vicissitude can accomplish wonders. Yes it has a reputation, but you’ll find as you increase in power that every discipline has a myriad of effects that it’s good at doing. Take Obtenebration, for instance. I can put the lights out, but I can do far more than that.”
He looks down at his torn-up chest cavity and grimmaces. “Not always enough, it seems, but a fair amount.”
My mind reels. When my disease survived the transition to undeath, I had assumed that, like a bad tattoo, it would be with me until I reached my final grave. In twenty years, I never thought there might be some way to effect it after the fact….
Marcus watches the shock and confusion on my face for a moment before continuing. “What are you going to do about these immortal issues of yours, Tom? Find a cure? Find an Assamite?”
I wince, but he continues. “Ask yourself a wider question. Say you do find this Assamite of yours, say you find her sire and say you give him what he needs to be given. What then? There’s no guarantee she’ll even rememeber you, let alone want anything to do with you. The embrace does things to people, Tom, and it doesn’t always do them in a uniform fashion. How long has it been, really?”
I clasp my arms around me. “She looked like she was in her early 20’s in the photo I saw….” But not that much older than I remember. Young with blood on her face—
“So it could have been quite some time then. Decades. She may not want you to do anything. Believe me, those whose sires abandoned them tend to be the lucky ones.”
“I wouldn’t count myself as lucky,” I grumble.
“Consider the alternative. I dare you.”
I smirk to myself. I guess I’m not the only one around here with metaphorical daddy issues. “Yeah…there’s a whole bunch of holes in the Tenderloin to remind me of that.”
He rolls his eyes. “Thats another story, and a long and ugly one. But as I said, we can’t outrun our enemies. Perpenna and I have been doing this dance for 2,000 years. But if I’m being perfectly honest with myself it’s been going on for longer than that. He was my father’s enemy before I even existed.”
Clicks echo across the polished bamboo flooring. Aquilifer walks into view, back from her explorations. She leaps up and settles herself on the arm of the couch next to Marcus. He watches her as she shifts her weight a few times then starts preening.
“So what’s your next move?” I ask.
“Find him,” he says flatly, still watching Aquilifer. “Through Accio if possible. Via other means if not. Accio and I are overdue for a conversation anyway.”
He turns back to me. “In any event, Tom, you don’t need to come up with these answers now. You may not even need to this decade, but eventually they’ll come knocking, and if you have nothing to say then things can go very badly.” He straightens slightly on the couch. “But at least you have one advantage.”
“Well, if you sister does come back, knocking on your door and asking for your assistance, you’ll know not to believe her. I didn’t, and look where it got me.”
I close my eyes and look away.
“You may not consider that particularly comforting, but the alternative might be getting a werewolf title of your own. Or far worse.”
I stare at the skyline. “Well, like I said, if everything’s going to hell anyway, then I might as well have a cool place to stand.”
He chuckles. “Well, I’m no prophet, who knows what could happen. And like I said, the cult continues to exist, but it also continues to be destroyed. The world is what it is. Use it to your advantage and it could destroy your enemies for you. We all have the same problems, even those opposed to you. Even Perpenna has his enemies. Even Perpenna has enemies that do not die and do not sleep. As do I, as do you, as does every Kindred who will ever darken your door.”
I turn back. “And the longer you live the more you collect?”
He wobbles his head. “Tends to be the case. But on the flip side, the longer you live, the more you realize which ones can be safely ignored, which ones can be held in enmity for, and which ones will be dealt with by…natural selection. After all,” he meets my eyes and raises an eyebrow, “Accio isn’t Perpenna’s only grandchilde, and not all of them are still with us.”
I frown, processing this. He smiles and continues. “And besides, there is one thing you should also keep in mind. Your worst nightmares can sometimes, sometimes, be turned around into your greatest strengths. Before I met that wondrous Setite, I was seventh generation.” He leans forward slightly, and for a moment I see the shadows in the room flicker in the corners of my eye. “I’m not any longer. And in a strange, wonderful way, I have the Setites to thank for that. And believe me, I have been thanking them, for a long, long time.”
I turn back to the view. Thoughts and emotions are still battling in me, but everytime I look at the skyline I feel myself relaxing, momentarily swept away by its majesty. What was it Anstis called them? Mountains of light?
“You’ve…seen a lot of cities through the course of time?” I ask suddenly.
“Eons of them, yes.”
“How does ours compare?”
He’s quiet a moment, probably studying the same view I am. “Oh, it’s an interesting little one. I’ve seen it’s like before. Reminds me of Florence, to be honest, and Athens. Classical Athens, that is.”
I nod, suddenly realizing that, as beautiful as the skyline is, the true heart of the city is hidden from me right now. “What of its people?” I ask slowly.
He snorts lightly. “How shall I put this? People doing the same thing they’ve always done in radically new ways? Isn’t uncommon. We haven’t had people walking around with magical glasses or electrified vehicles for too long, but what you call ‘hipsters’ is nothing new.”
I roll my eyes but smile. “God, don’t tell them that.”
“Oh I think you should tell them that. But yes. Nothing new at all. History changes but time repeats itself. Or was it the other way around.
“But it’s a nice city, whatever I say. Temperate enough. I rather like its views.” He’s quiet a moment, and when he continues his tone is harsher. “But it’s a city like any other and there will come a time when it will crumble. I fell asleep in Rome when it was the greatest city in the world, bar none. The finest, the largest, the most powerful, the most prosperous. I woke up in a decrepit ruin, abandoned by everyone but the Pope, of all people. Living in the shadow of monuments they could not even recall the purpose of.”
For a moment, put myself in his place, imagining what it would be like to wake up one night to find that the entire world that I knew and loved had crumbled down around me all at once, that the people and the places and the art and the songs and the mountains of light were gone forever.
It makes me feel sick.
He sighs. “But…it’s still there. It’s not the Rome I knew, but it’s a Rome of sorts. I find you can never go back, but what can you say. Even my old hometown is still there, under a new name with a new language and a new people, but it’s there. So too will this city continue, in its way. Perpenna and I might reduce it to rubble but it will come back. They always come back.”
I hear him shift on the couch. “In any event, Tom, fascinating as I’m sure this is to you, I’ve had quite a night. Even by my standards. I think I’m going to go pretend to be as dead as I actually feel for awhile. Find an interior room if I may suggest. I’m going to avail myself of more commodious accommodations to be found…somewhere else. I’ll be back in the evening.”
I turn to see him lift a clenched hand. Shadows erupt from it, enveloping him, and moments later he’s gone.
Aquilifer stares down at the place he was, smeared with more than a little dirt, blood, and other things. She looks up at me and keens softly.
The doorbell chimes. Ah yes, the take out Marcus ordered. They announce they’re here with a delivery, but I still scope it out carefully before opening the door. I let them in and watch as they wheel in several forty-gallon drums, auto-chilled and filled with blood. They drop them off in the kitchen and leave without another word. I stare in surprise but my hunger quickly takes over.
I dig through the cupboards but find only high-concept glasses that have more design in them than volume. “Fuck that,” I say, and dump a vase of cut flowers into the sink and fill that up with blood instead.
I walk back to the couch and flop down near Aquilifer. I stare at the view and sip my blood, thinking, until the earliest fingers of dawn tint the edges of the sky.
END OF NIGHT