“I need a few supplies. A gun with no bullets, some bullets, and three of my MacGyver writers.” –Chris
Georgia starts to panic as she realizes Perpenna is in her head, but at first the rest of us don’t notice.
“Dr. Everton,” Paul asks slowly, “What exactly did you see in…wherever you went?”
Everton shifts on the dusty armchair and glances around the darkened parlor. “Horrific things,” he scowls, “Nightmares. I’m not entirely certain what it was. Countless hideous shapes, deformed and…undulating. Like the shadows of a Lasombra writ in flesh.”
Paul and I—both with more Lasombra shadow experience than others—shudder. “Why aren’t they here now?” Paul asks.
Everton shakes his head. “They’re…in the Umbra, I believe. I can’t be more specific than that.”
“The…Umbra is different than the Abyss?” I ask, glancing at Paul. I don’t remember the time that Marcus stashed us there, but supposedly Paul was awake for a lot of it. He avoids my gaze, staring stoically ahead.
“In a sense, yes. The Umbra is the entirety of the spirit realm, the Abyss is a section of it.” Everton pauses. “A particular and rather…inaccessible section.”
Georgia, meanwhile, is desperately whispering for van Brugge under her breath, but there’s no response.
Or, rather, there is a response, but not the one she wants.
“What’s the matter…Georgia?” Perpenna’s voice whispers in her ear.
Georgia shudders, but her polite sensibilities override her fear. “Well I was in the middle of a conversation and you’ve interrupted it!” she says to the air, hands on her hips.
We turn to her. “Um…what do you mean? You were quiet there a moment ago….” Paul says slowly.
“No, I mean I was talking to van Brugge and then Perpenna interrupted,” Georgia says matter-of-factly.
We stare at her. After a few moments, Everton rises slowly to his feet. “Where is…Gnaeus Perpenna?”
“Um…I don’t know.” Her eyes go unfocused. “Where are you?”
“…Everywhere,” he whispers.
“I mean physically, at the moment.”
She looks back to us, eyes wide. “He’s here, guys!”
Many things happen at once. Everton draws his sword and moves swiftly through the house. I draw my own and follow. Anstis jogs to the back of the house, opens a window overlooking the multistory drop on the edge of Russian Hill, and launches himself through it in bird-form. None of us can follow because of the drop, so Everton yells to make our escape in any way possible.
But over his shouts, Paul and I hear something else.
“Woooosh…Woooosh….” Mr. Tails whispers in our heads.
Paul looks at me. “Any guesses what that means Tom?”
“’Man of Wind,’ he’s said it before,” I respond flatly.
It’s soon clear that there’s no immediate means of escape that don’t lead back to the street. I run upstairs to get a better view/vantage point of the front of the house. Georgia tries to peer through the windows flanking the door, but between the curtains and the grime she can’t see much. Paul, though, decides to take the direct approach and opens the front door.
The house is at the apex of a cul-de-sac, so Paul has a clear view down the street. All of the streetlights have mysteriously gone out, as have the lights in the few neighboring houses. The only illumination comes from the dim ambient city light diffusing through the fog. Through the gloom, Paul can see shadows moving at the end of the street. Dozens of them. As he stares harder, they start to resolve.
They are humanoid figures, and they’re moving closer.
Paul…closes the door.
Upstairs, I run to a window facing the front of the house, tearing off the heavy curtains and peering through. I too see the figures approaching from down the block, arranged in lines, in such numbers that they disappear back into the gloom. They come steadily closer, and about halfway down the block I recognize them.
They are Clarence. They are all Clarence.
Anstis soars out of window over the cliff, circles the house a couple of times, then comes to a landing on a flat rooftop nearby where he can observe the house and the street. He sees the Clarences approaching and eyes them owlishly. There’s still some time before they reach the house, so he pulls out one of his rocks—a blank one—and carefully writes a new name on it.
Paul, Georgia, and Everton peer through the ground floor windows and soon recognize Clarence as well.
“Your friends….” Mr. Tails wheedles at Paul. “They’re here to plaaaaaay….”
“Don’t they need to get home? Isn’t their mother going to worry about them?” Paul asks grimly.
“No, they want to have marshmallows!”
Paul frowns and weighs his options. There’s so many of them that they’re now almost completely filling the street. It’s obvious we won’t be able to escape easily, and there’s no way we’ll be able to fight them. The best bet is to hunker down and call for help, and the faster it can get here the better.
Which is why, rather than using his phone, Paul decides to Summon Theo Bell.
(Me: “Oooooooo, he gonna be maaaaaaad.”)
I load up a shotgun with my acid rounds and kick out the window. There’s way too many for me to take them all out, but bereft of options I figure there’s no reason not to try shooting at them.
Before I can, though, the front door opens beneath me. Paul steps out and walks to the sidewalk in front of the house. Before I can yell at him for being an idiot, he spreads his arms and casts something else.
“Friends!” he cries into the night. “There is a greater darkness than the one we fight! The darkness of the soul that has lost its way! The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair! Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams….”
Paul trails off. The Clarences haven’t slowed, haven’t been affected at all. If anything, they seem to be marching faster. Now that they’re closer, he can see that they are armed, with the same sword they used against us in the Chantry.
Paul hesitates a moment, then runs back inside and slams the door. I roll my eyes, level the shotgun, and fire at the front of the mob.
Anstis finishes inscribing his rock, but before casting his scrying spell he also decides to call in reinforcements, through more prosaic means. He pulls out his phone and also dials Bell.
Bell: “What is it?”
Anstis: “There is a high likelihood that Perpenna is here—“
Bell: “Yes I know. I’m on my way. Tell that Toreador if he’s still alive that this is not the way to call for backup!”
Bell hangs up. Anstis puts phone away and thumbs the rock, watching the Clarences advance below.
Paul and Georgia convene in the foyer to discuss a plan. Luckily, the events of last night give them an idea.
They need water. And lots of it.
Paul runs to the bathroom and turns on all the faucets, plugging the drains so water pools in the basins.
Everton stands in the doorway, watching. “What do you need the water for?”
“If we can get enough of it, I can barricade us!” Georgia calls from the front.
Everton nods. “Thaumaturgy then. Very well.” He draws his sword, steps into the room, and severs one of the exposed pipes leading to the shower. Water gushes out, soaking everything and pooling on the floor.
Satisfied, Paul and Everton move to the kitchen.
My first shot blasts a Clarence at the front of the crowd, hitting him full in the chest. Puckered cankers bloom across his clothes and skin as the acid spreads and a nauseating stench rolls off of him. He stumbles but continues to move forward with the same determination as the others around him. After a few steps he stumbles, collapsing onto his hands and knees, but he continues to crawl slowly toward the house. The other Clarences just keep walking.
(Me: “I got 99 problems and Clarence is ALL OF THEM.”)
I frown and take another shot.
Georgia tears the curtains off one of the windows by the door. The Clarences have reached the sidewalk. She sees the first one I shot crawling in the middle of the mob, then sees a second one stumble as my next shot clips him across the shoulder. He staggers but keeps moving forward.
“If you guys have any better ideas, now’s the time to use them!” I shout from upstairs.
Georgia nods to herself and takes a step back from the window. She raises her hand and casts fire into the darkness.
The flame gouts through the window glass and crashes into one of the Clarences in front. He staggers, breaking the line, but remains on his feet. Georgia watches helplessly as he and his brothers march in a wave across the landscaping and start pounding at the door.
I stare at the sea of douchery below me. I don’t have direct line-of-sight to the Clarences pounding on the door from this angle and shooting the other ones is pointless. In desperation, I grab a sideboard table and chuck it out the window. It crashes into the crowd but doesn’t seem to have much effect.
Moments later, I hear more splintering wood as they break down the front door.
On the nearby rooftop, Anstis decides to cast the scrying spell on his Perpenna rock. Unlike before, where the spell showed him a series of images and sensations relating to its target, this time nothing happens.
But then a voice slides into his head.
“I…seeeeee…you….” it whispers mockingly. “Looking for meeee, are we? Little…Gangrel…thing….”
Anstis immediately shuts the spell down. He pockets the rock and turns back to the house just in time to see the first of the Clarences march in, swords held high.
Georgia and Everton scramble back down the hallway and up the stairs. Water has now pooled enough in the upstairs bathroom, overflowing the tub and spilling onto the floor. Georgia falls to her knees and plunges her hand in.
The water swells out of the tub and spills onto the floor, moving in an undulating ribbon down the hall. It pours down the stairs and piles up into a translucent wall bricking up the bottom of the stairwell. Everton and Georgia stagger to the stairs and see the dark shadows of the Clarences flickering through the wall.
“As impressive as that is, I don’t think it will hold them for long,” Everton says darkly.
“Well, they’ll have to cut around it, the wall will hold till morning.”
“No…I don’t think it will….” Everton points. As they watch, one of the Clarence’s swords pierces the wall, followed by an outstretched arm.
(Kara: “THAT’S NOT—“
Jason: “I know what the book says!”)
Georgia gapes. “That’s…that’s impossib—“
“There are powers in this world greater than thaumaturgy,” Everton says as the Clarence steps through the wall and glares up the stairs with flat, dead eyes.
He is soon joined by another.
Anstis is considering what to do when he hears footsteps on the roof gravel behind him. He whirls around.
A man is standing there, someone he’s never seen before. Tall, very thin, with a heavy black frock coat and hat. White-gloved hands clutch an elegantly carved walking stick. He stares down his hooked nose at Anstis, eyes blinking unusually often. After a moment of silence, he smiles unsettlingly.
Anstis frowns. He’s not Perpenna, at least. “Yes?” Anstis asks.
“Evening,” the man says softly.
“And you are…?”
He takes a breath. “Taking the night air.”
Anstis hesitates. There is obviously something occult about this guy—as if the fact that he suddenly appeared on a three-story rooftop wasn’t indication enough—but Anstis can’t tell what it is. He eyes the man cautiously then smiles. The man smiles back and leans on his stick, blinking.
“Is this your property?” Anstis growls finally.
“In a sense,” the man says, not breaking his gaze.
“In which sense?”
“Everything is mine,” he says amiably. “I just haven’t taken it all yet.”
Anstis smiles to himself and nods. “Aye.” He glances over at the siege. “Do you work for anyone?”
“In a sense. A large, old concern.”
Cracking wood echoes across the cul-de-sac. The crowd of Clarences are tearing at the doorframe, enlarging it so more can squeeze through. Anstis looks back at the man, who still hasn’t moved or broken his sickly-sweet smile.
“Are ye waiting for something?”
The man tilts his head with a jerk and smiles broader. “To see if you fly away. Like the other parrots.”
Anstis frowns. “Do you have a habit of scaring parrots?”
The man considers this a moment, cocking his head. “Yes,” he says sweetly, smiling and blinking. He still hasn’t moved, yet somehow he is becoming gradually more and more menacing.
Anstis eyes him. “Well, if this be your city, then I should at least make introductions, don’t you think?”
“I know who you are. I know many things.”
Anstis frowns. “Then what should I call you?”
The man cocks his head the other way. “Gus. You can call me Gus.”
“And what do you want with me?”
He shrugs, still smiling. “Nothing. Just here to take the night air.”
Gus doesn’t elaborate further. Anstis watches him in silence, then glances down at the siege.
“Lot of people down there,” Gus says. “They don’t look very happy. Did you make them angry?”
“I certainly didn’t,” Anstis grumbles, still staring at the douche-crowd.
“Oh, I don’t know if I believe you. I think you might have done something.” He jerks his chin to the street in a quick movement. “Those men look very angry. I think they’re gonna eat ‘em all. The ones still in the house, that is.”
“And which ones are those?”
Gus grins. “Blood-suckers. Leeches.”
Anstis looks at Gus suspiciously. “And what do you think of the ‘blood-suckers’?”
Gus winces through his smile. “I’m not a great fan.”
“Which ones do you like?”
His head cocks the other way. “Haven’t met one yet.” His eyes flutter over his wide grin.
Paul and I hear Everton’s yells and Georgia’s cries for help. I head toward the stairs, grabbing my gun.
Paul…grabs a mattress.
He hauls it to the stairs and shoves it down, but ends up tripping over himself and collapses down the stairs after it. He rolls and slides all the way to the bottom, to the feet of the Clarences already through the wall. Fortunately, though, Paul has wound up underneath the mattress. Stuffing flies as the Clarences stab their swords through the mattress trying to get at him.
With Paul relatively protected under the mattress, I level my gun and take a shot down the stairwell. The gun coughs but nothing else happens. Dead shell. I curse and reload.
Georgia has the same idea, blasting fire down the stairs. It pours around the first Clarence and lights his hair on fire. The Clarence doesn’t react, though, nor does the other one. They continue stabbing the mattress with the same mindless determination. Moments later, a third one steps through the wall and joins them.
“And me without my tools….” Everton grumbles next to us. “Damnation.” He pulls out his sword and runs down the stairs, chopping one of the Clarence’s heads off in one stroke. Georgia follows and tries to grab Paul but slips and collapses on top of the mattress.
(Jason: “This is becoming a Marx Brothers skit.”)
Anstis gestures at the siege. “I do believe that the one that brought on these angry men might argue with your claim of supremacy in the city.”
“They all argue. For awhile.”
“What would you like to do about that particular individual?”
Gus looks away a moment, staring off into the drifting fog. “Well, I don’t know yet. I’m not much for doing things. I just like to watch.” He looks back, grinning again. “What are you going to do?”
“Well that’s the big question isn’t it?”
Gus shifts his weight on his cane. “Well you gonna sit here and talk all day, or you going to do something? I thought leeches liked to do things?”
Anstis glares. “Well then I’ll show you a magic trick.”
Gus brightens. “I like magic.“
(Me: “ILLUSIONS, DAD!!!!”)
Anstis hesitates a moment, then shifts down into parrot-form and launches into the air. He circles the building once, eyeing Gus. The man is still leaning on his cane, motionless, watching Anstis with a grin on his face.
Anstis peels off and soars away.
Paul, under the mattress, starts trying to climb up the stairs, dragging both the weight of the mattress and Georgia on top of it.
(Jim: “I think we all knew their characters would end up in bed together.
Mr Tails: “Awww yeaaaah. Bow chicka wow-wow!”)
The Clarences continue chopping at the Paul-Georgia-Mattress-Turtle, until Everton chops off both their heads. There’s a brief moment of calm…and then two more Clarences step through the wall.
“I will not be able to maintain this for long!” Everton yells, taking a swipe at the newcomers.
I holster the gun and draw my sword instead, running down the stairs to join Everton in the fray. I lunge at the closest one, cutting him in half instantly. Another steps through the wall next to me. I whirl around and—
(Jason: “Oh! Hey! I just saw a shooting star!”
Me: “Ooo! Make a wish!”
Jason: *deep voice* “I wish for you all to die.”
Chris: “Make a nice wish!”
Jason: “I wish for you all to die with slightly less pain than the previous wish entailed.”
Chris: “…I guess that counts.”)
—slice through him. He falls, revealing another one right behind him. I slice at him too, but he simply staggers back and keeps moving forward.
(Me: “Oh my god, they’re adapting.”
Jason: “You will be assimilated.”
Me: “…YEAH, actually! We WILL!”)
Paul and Georgia disentangle themselves from the mattress and try to scramble up the stairs. A Clarence steps over the mattress and lunges at Georgia. With no time to cast—and few resources left to do so anyway—Georgia grabs the first weapon at hand: the enchanted Primium dagger, which has been in one of her robe pockets since she stole it from Max’s office. She swipes at the Clarence, who jumps back just in time. The knife whooshes harmlessly through the air.
It’s followed by another whoosh: rushing water as the wall suddenly collapses. Clarences pour into the stairwell. We scramble to our feet and retreat up the stairs.
Anstis soars across the street and circles the house we’re in. Shots and yells echo from within, and the front of the house is almost completely plastered with Clarences chopping at the door and windows. Anstis considers the situation and decides there is only one reasonable course of action:
Go have a snack.
Useless fucking pirate. We’ll catch up with him later.
Georgia, Paul, and Everton clear the stairs and run down the hallway. I hang back, taking another shot down the stairwell. It hits the lead Clarence in the chest. He stumbles to a halt, hesitates….
….Then waves a chastising finger at me.
I stagger back, fumbling to reload. He steps forward, lifts his sword, and stabs me through the shoulder, driving me back and pinning me against the wall. I yell and try to pull my gun up but he bats it away.
“Call to Paul,” he says, voice flat.
I glare at him. “Seriously? You don’t seem the movie-reference ty—Argh!”
He twists the sword in my shoulder. “Call to Paul. Now.” It’s Clarence’s normal voice, but there’s a subtle edge to it that grates against my mind like sand on the surface of reality. More Clarences come up the stairs and level their swords at me, inches from my throat, like an inverse porcupine.
I sigh and lower my gun. “Paul,” I mutter.
Clarence twists the sword again. “Louder.”
I wince. “Hey Paul,” I call down the hall, keeping my eye on the Clarence who stabbed me.
Paul, Everton, and Georgia have holed up in the bathroom down the hall, Georgia trying to collect more water and Paul and Everton rifling through the cabinets looking for weapons. They stop, both clutching aerosol cans, as my voice drifts down the hall.
“Tom?” Paul calls back. “Why do you sound sad?”
“I think we have an idea,” Everton whispers.
“Do we have a lighter?” Paul whispers back.
They both look at Georgia.
“Delay them,” Everton whispers. “I’ve done this longer than you have.”
Paul nods and steps out of the bathroom. He sees me down the hall, pinned by one Clarence and surrounded by a cluster of others three-men deep. They turn as he enters the hallway.
“Hey Clarence!” Paul calls. “You’re a bad businessman! Your investments are Grade F! You’ve trailed the market 32 quarters in a row—”
(Jason: “—Ok we’re done.”)
The Clarences stare at him, then, as one, all of the ones who currently aren’t trained on me lift their swords at him.
(Chris: “I need a few supplies. A gun with no bullets, some bullets, and three of my MacGyver writers.”)
Paul considers his options, then turns and runs the other way down the hall.
I watch him retreat, resignedly. “Paul there’s art over here,” I call weakly. He continues to run, toward the open window at the front of the house, a cluster of Clarences following.
The Clarence who stabbed me is still staring at me flatly. I look into his eyes and glare back. “Clarence?” His face remains unchanged.
I hesitate. “…Perpenna?”
All the Clarences around me turn, and the one in front breaks out in a smile. I smile back grimly and lean forward.
“Can you tell Clarence I say thanks for the scooter? I’m gonna get it tricked out with some bling. It’s gonna look like it was fucking vajazzled.”
Clarence smiles wider, then lunges forward and bites me.
Georgia and Everton are lurking in the doorway of the bathroom, dagger and aerosols at the ready. They duck out of the way as Paul runs past, followed by Clarences, and stick their heads back out just in time to see one of the Clarence’s bite me.
Paul reaches the end of the hall and starts kicking at the window, trying to enlarge the hole so he can crawl out. His pursuers catch up quickly and raise their swords. Georgia instinctively rushes out to help. With no time for magic, she lunges at the rearmost Clarence with the dagger.
The strike goes wide, only catching a shallow gash on his arm. The Clarence turns to her, expression ominously flat, and raises his sword. Georgia gasps and backs away.
A second later, every Clarence in the building explodes.
Foul black ichor fountains into the hallway in a torrent, washing me down the stairs and shoving Paul and Georgia through the front window and out of the house. Paul and Georgia hit the ground and cower under the cascade, which flows for almost a minute before finally trickling out.
Georgia scrambles back to her feet first. She raises her fist and shouts triumphantly at the house. “THAT…is what the TREMERE do!!”
Anstis has been leisurely snacking on homeless people in the nearby neighborhoods and finally decides to make his way back to rejoin us. He does wisely decide that it would probably behoove him to bring along some extra firepower as well.
He calls upon his animalism to Summon Dogs. He waits, expecting a pack of strays to descend upon him at any moment, but moments pass with no sign of anything. Finally, he hears a low growling and shuffling in some nearby foliage. It’s obviously just one dog, but it will do.
He extends a hand toward the noise. “Come with me. Protect me,” he commands. The growling stops. A shadow parts the leaves as the dog steps out into the streetlight.
It’s a shitzu.
(Jim: *laughing* “Son of a bitch!”
Me: “What did you expect? It’s Russian Hill!”
Jim: *laughing harder* “You’re totally right!!!”)
Anstis stares at the dog. The dog stares obediently back. After a few moments, Anstis sighs and heads back toward the house, the dog trotting along at his heels.
Once they’ve overcome their daze and are confident all the Clarences are gone, Paul carefully reenters the house to find me and Dr. Everton. He finds me first, crumpled at the foot of the stairs, the sword still jabbed through my shoulder, beaten and sticky with ichor. Paul helps me to my feet and out of the house.
(Kara: “Can I have a willpower back for doing successfully awesome magic?”
Chris: “Can I have a willpower back for architecting the hole in the wall?”
Me: “Can I have a willpower for—oh wait I didn’t spend any willpower….”
Jason: *exasperated glare*
Chris: “Can I have some of Tom’s willpower?”
Me: “Can I have more blood?”
I stumble outside and lean against the low fence lining the front walk. Now that I’m stationary, Paul reaches up and pulls the sword out of my shoulder. I hiss and jerk away.
Paul turns the sword over in his hand but there doesn’t seem to be anything notable about it. “Tom, want another sword?” he says, offering it. I glower and take it.
“I stabbed them!” Georgia yells, slogging through the muddy ichor of the yard to join us. “I stabbed the Clarences!” She waves the primium dagger—aka, the Time Out dagger—over her head.
I stare at the dagger, frowning. “You stabbed him with the dagger…and they all exploded….” I say slowly.
She nods excitedly. “I don’t know if this is the dagger that has…whats-his-name’s…bone in it or not. If it is the one that has his bone in it, maybe that explains something.”
The only way to confirm if this is the enchanted bone-dagger is to check if the bone is inside the hilt, but despite us all trying, the hilt does not come off.
“Well this is a new development….” says Everton’s voice from behind us. We turn to see him descending the front steps from the house, staring around, covered in ichor himself. “What in the world did you do?”
Georgia draws herself up proudly. “I blew them up.”
“Well yes I rather gathered that. What did you do?”
“I stabbed them with a primium dagger.” Georgia holds it out.
Everton frowns. “Primium wouldn’t do this….” He takes the dagger and examines it. “What did you do to this?”
Georgia hesitates. “It…was specifically crafted by a…mage. It is imbued with Science.”
“Science?” Everton says, eyes narrowing. “You’ve been speaking with that Etherite….” He looks around at the ichor all over approximately everything. “He has weapons that will do this?”
Georgia hesitates again. “…Yes.”
Everton raises an eyebrow and hands the dagger back. “Well then I suggest we pay him a visit.”
(Me: “Yay, he loooves that!”)
“Well whatever we do, we need to bounce,” I growl, staring down the street. I don’t know where the fuck Anstis got to but we can’t wait around for him….
“Leaving so soon?” comes a new voice from behind us. We turn, swords and daggers at the ready.
A tall, well-dressed, skinny man is standing in the doorway of the house smiling at us. As we watch he descends the front steps, cane clicking on the stone.
We glance at each other. “Who are you?” Georgia asks.
“My name is Gus,” he says, stopping a few feet away from us, smiling and looking between us.
“Ah. I…don’t think we’ve met before….?”
He cocks his head with a quick movement. “I don’t meet many leeches.”
We trade another glance. “Iiiinteresting….” Georgia continues. “Are…you not a vampire?”
Gus scoffs and chuckles. “No, no…. I am something else.”
I stare at him, frowning. Something about him is rubbing me the wrong way. He’s blinking a lot, for starters, which is weird, but what really grabs my attention is his head movements. They’re quick and jerky and seem to be focusing his attention on me and Paul. He only looks at Georgia to answer her questions, and he doesn’t look at Everton at all.
“Gus, well, nice to meet you!” Paul declares, strolling up to him and slapping him amiably on the shoulder. “Well, we’re leaving now. I hope this wasn’t your house…um…have a delightful evening.”
Gus stares at him, face squelched into an unreadable expression, somewhere between horror and amusement. “Leaving…so soon?”
“Yes, yes we are. It’s getting late. Or early, depending on how you look at it.” Paul beams at him, copying his rapid blinking for a moment, then turns and walks to the car, followed by Everton.
I hang back. “Do you know anything about what happened here?”
Gus turns to me, head cocked again, grinning. “I know a lot of things.”
“Anything…you’re willing to share?”
Gus shrugs, bony shoulders rolling awkwardly under his heavy coat. “Well, not for free….”
We never get the chance to ask him what his price might be, though, because at that moment Georgia sneaks up from behind and stabs him in the back.
Gus arches his back, shrieking a cry that is more like a squawk. He spasms and falls onto the ground.
I jump back. “Georgia!! What the fuck!?”
She shrugs, dagger still in hand. “What? He looked sketchy! Let’s get out of here!”
That’s true, but I’ve learned my lesson about unwarranted attacks on creepy people. I glance down at his body, then freeze.
He’s gone. Milliseconds ago he was at my feet and now he’s gone.
Georgia stares at the ground where he was. “…Wow…. See? That’s bad….”
I rub my face. “Yeah, well I guess you weren’t there, but Paul and I learned a lesson about shooting strangers in the face—“ I stop as I notice something on the ground, half buried in the mud and ichor where he fell. I pick it up. It’s a piece of wire, a simple uninsulated copper wire, but it’s been twisted and sculpted. Into the shape of a cockroach. I frown, suspicion dawning.
Paul and Everton, meanwhile, have rejoined us. “…I have an exceedingly bad feeling about what is about to happen,” Everton mutters, staring around the darkened street.
The sound of the wind rustling through the trees suddenly picks up, growing steadily louder. A few moments go past, though, before I realize that there is no wind. I look up.
Dark shapes are descending upon us from all directions, peeling out of the fog as if they were made of it. I tense, expecting another Clarence attack, but as the shapes come closer I realize what they are.
Crows. Murders upon murders of them.
(Me: “GET TO ZE AUTO!!”)
We bolt to Paul’s Tesla, which—as we recently learned—automatically unlocks as Paul approaches. The flock is approaching rapidly, shrieks and caws joining the noise of their wings in a cacophonous storm. Everyone dives into the car and slams the doors shut moments before the birds reach us, pummelling themselves into the glass and the frame in mindless fury.
Anstis finally returns to our quiet cul-de-sac, having commandeered himself a taxi for a lift. He steps out of the cab to see the black cloud of birds mobbing our car at the end of the street.
The shitzu hops out behind him. It too stares at the birds and growls.
Anstis frowns and decides to try and Summon the birds off of us. He only succeeds in calling a quarter of them, but a quarter of the massive flock is still hundreds of birds. A huge swath peels off the main flock like smoke and barrels down the street toward Anstis. The cab driver screams and wrenches his car around to GTFO but crashes into a telephone pole across the street. Anstis—and the shitzu—stand their ground.
The birds swirl around Anstis in a maelstrom, then rise up to circle him in a torus twenty or thirty feet off the ground. They are still cawing occasionally, but—in this flock at least—the anger seems to have abated.
Anstis looks up the street to our car, attention drawn by the sounds of cracking glass.
The glass of the Tesla—originally cracked by the supersonic shrieks of the vozdt the night before—are slowly failing under this new onslaught. Snaps echo through the car as cracks spiderweb across the front and rear windshields.
Between the fractured glass and the feathers and the blood we can’t see shit, but Paul still boots up the car and tries driving down the street.
We’re able to get a full dozen feet before Paul crashes into a parked car.
(Jason: “It’s a Hummer. The license plate says ‘WINNING.’”
Us: “Of course it does.”
Jason: “It also has a bumper sticker. I’ll let you think of the most obnoxious one possible.”
Jim: “Too bad it’s not a Dodge Ram, cause then it could be one of the ones that say, ‘Dodge the father, Ram the daughter.’ “
*silence in the room for many moments*
Ben: “Yeah, that’s…a little bit rapey….”
Kara: “I’m offended you repeated that!”
Jason: “Jesus, is that a real bumper sticker?!”
Jim: “Yep! Saw it on a truck back in Michigan!”
Kara: “…I need to go back in time and leave Michigan faster.”)
The jolt of the collision cracks the front windshield all the way through. Birds pour in, shrieking and beating around the car, pecking at any exposed flesh. Everton reacts first, leaning over the front seat and igniting the aerosol can he stole from the bathroom. The shrieks increase and the car reeks of burnt feathers, but for the moment they stop coming through.
Unfortunately, though, a gout of flame going off right next to his head is too much for Paul. He panics into a full Rotshriek, struggling against his seatbelt, flailing toward the cracked window. Before he can do anything more destructive, Georgia leans over the seat, grabs his head with both hands, and Dominates him.
(Kara: “I’ve never Dominated anyone before!”
Me: “Yeah girl!!!”)
“Calm,” she says, staring into his eyes. His face relaxes slightly from its wild panic, but theres still an edge to it.
(Jason: “He’s still in Rotshreik, she just told the Beast to calm.” *rolls* “The Beast starts up the car and drives away.”)
We race down the street, passing what looks suspiciously like a pirate dragging an unconscious cab driver out of a car while being barked at by a shitzu. I stare out the window as we roll past. “Seriously….?” I mutter.
“Anyone want to call Bell and tell him we made a mess?” Georgia calls hesitantly from the back seat.
I whirl on her. “WE made a mess?! GIRL—”
I can’t yell more, though, because at that moment, Paul’s Beast—apparently at the limit of its drive skills—drives us straight through the T-intersection at the base of the street and ploughs into a house.
Paul’s knocked unconscious. The rest of us are brought back to our senses by the sounds of the birds approaching again.
“Can someone competent please DRIVE THE DAMNABLE CAR!!!!” Everton roars. I drag the unconscious Paul out of the driver’s seat and climb in, but no matter what buttons I press it refuses to start.
I turn around and stare at the approaching birds. “Any magic you can do here, girl?”
“Nothing that would stop a flock of birds,” she frowns.
“Can you do that wall trick you did with more than just water?” Everton asks.
“Well, yes, but we don’t have any other liquid….“ Georgia says, looking around outside the car. I, though, freeze as something occurs to me.
There’s a tank of gasoline in the trunk, leftover from the attack on Sebastian’s club last fall.
I mash buttons on the dash till I hear the trunk pop, then climb out and race around to the back. I hold the tank aloft, grinning.
“That will do,” Everton says and climbs out as well. Georgia follows, but looks concerned.
“I don’t know if this is enough to cast an entire wall….” Georgia says hesitantly, staring at the tank.
“It doesn’t have to be particularly strong!”
“But it has to cover a large area….” That’s when it hits Georgia: it doesn’t have to be a solid wall, it can just be a net.
Georgia throws out a lattice of gasoline, arcing over us in a dome, just in time to cut off the advance front of the birds. They shriek and beat at the barrier, and some are small enough that they start to squeeze through the holes.
But moments later, Everton lights the entire thing on fire.
A fireball erupts overhead, searing through the fog and rolling skyward. We’re blown back, crashing into the rear of the Tesla. The air reeks of smoke and feathers and charred, meaty chunks rain down around us. The rest of the flock that wasn’t caught in the explosion circles overhead, screaming, then peels off and disappears into the night.
We lever ourselves back to our feet, staring at the carnage around us. The fireball ignited the margins of some of the nearby landscaping, and a few of the birds are still twitching on the ground.
“Thaumaturgy….” Everton says slowly, then nods to himself. “…Well. Never let it be said the Tremere weren’t useful for something.”
We look at the Tesla—smashed, cracked, beat to shit. I don’t know much about these cars but for the moment it’s clear it’s totaled. We hear a shout from up the street, though: Anstis, waving at us, saying he has a car up there.
(Me: “Does Paul need to be carried?”
Me: *sigh* “Hodor.”)
We stagger back up the street. Anstis is standing proudly in front of the cab—driver passed out on the curb and looking suspiciously pale—and holding a shitzu under his arm.
I dump Paul in the backseat, then turn and slap Anstis across the arm, hard. “Thanks for the help, Squid-for-Brains!” I yell.
He glares back. “Ye think I didn’t help?” He points up. A chunk of the birds are still circling him overhead, and as I watch he dismisses them with a wave.
“Were those yours?” Georgia asks, staring upwards.
“Not the ones that attacked you, but that flock I gathered. I met a strange man on a roof—“
“Did you?” I say flatly, glaring.
We compare notes. Yep, same guy.
“Did ye learn anything?” Anstis asks.
“We were going to, but then our Tremere friend got…cheeky,” I say, glaring at Georgia.
Just then, the sound of a car engine cuts through the fog. It’s a black Lincoln town-car. It turns onto the street and roars up to us, stopping a few feet away. Two identical cars pull up behind it. We watch owlishly as the doors fly open and well-armed men pile out and approach us.
At the front of the crowd, conspicuously un-armed, is Bell, and the expression on his face is enough to melt glass.
I throw up my arms as he approaches. “For once, none of this was my fault, sir!”
“Shut up,” he barks, leveling a finger at me. “Where the fuck is Stewart? He better be fucking dead. What the fuck happened!?”
“We were attacked by…What’s-His-Face….” Georgia says slowly.
Bell turns to her. “By what?”
His finger tracks over to her. “You got ten seconds.”
“Well, I got to the house and walked in to find Everton. I called Paul and Tom, and they—“
Bell holds up a hand. “Everton’s here?”
“Well yeah he’s….” We look around. Nope. Everton has mysteriously disappeared. “Well that’s strange,” Georgia continues. “Everton was just here. Anyway, he said that What’s-His-Face—“
“Who the FUCK is What’s-His-Face!?!”
I wave my hands to get Bell’s attention. “Sir! Marcus’s sire was just here, but don’t say his name, there’s some freaky Beetlejuice shit going on here.”
Bell stares at me flatly for multiple seconds before turning back to Georgia. “What did Everton want?”
“He told us that What’s-His-Face had dragged him into the Abyss or something and it had been hella creepy there—“(—“Georgia doesn’t say ‘hella’ but you know what I mean.”)
“And then there was a great army,” Anstis chimes in.
“…Of Clarences,” I grumble. “Clones of them.”
“And What’s-His-Name was talking to her, through her head,” Anstis concludes, pointing at Georgia.
Bell stares a few moments then rubs his face. “This is not the place to be having this conversation. Get in the car.” He turns to one of the men. “Burn the Tesla, make this look like…drunk driving or something.”
(*A few moments of silence around the table as we quietly bid goodbye to Paul’s Tesla, trusty companion on many advenures so far.*
Jason: “If only you could afford another….”)
I grab Paul and haul him to Bell’s car. Georgia and Anstis follow, Anstis still hauling the shitzu (whose collar, incidentally, says “Boopsy.”).
Bell holds up his hand and stops Anstis from entering. “What’s this?”
Anstis looks down. “This would be a dog.”
Bell stares at Anstis for almost a minute, then walks away and gets in the car.
Bell’s cars drive us back to the Pyramid. He starts walking through the building without a word to any of us, which we take as instructions to STFU and follow. We follow him up to his office. He strides wordlessly to his desk, sits down, and stares at us across it.
“What in the blue fuck was that? How did you people ever survive a Monomancy?” he snaps.
(Me: “…Better rolls?”)
“The Monomancy involved planning. This did not,” Antsis says.
“Yeah, that much is really apparent.” Bell points to Paul, slung unconscious over my shoulder. “Wake him the fuck up.”
Georgia scurries over to share some blood while Bell continues to berate us. “Do you people have any idea the calls 911 got? The shitstorm you people started? Some kinda sewer leak followed by the Hitchcock movies!?”
Georgia glares. “It was a picnic for us too!”
“Oh I’m crying for you, I really am. Who called the birds in?” he barks, looking at Anstis.
“I did not call them. Someone else did.”
“And who would that be? This…What’s-His-Name of yours!?” We glance at each other and shrug.
Bell leans forward. “You said the house was attacked by…Clarences. Where are they?”
“We blew them up,” Georgia says.
Georgia hesitates. “With…Tremere magic….”
Bell’s eyes narrow. He rises slowly to his feet, still leaning on the desk. “I know the Tremere like their secrets, but let me remind you that I am a Justicar. It’s best if you assume I know a few of them. With. What?”
Georgia shifts uncomfortably. “I…used a particular implement that was given to me by—“
“I ain’t gonna ask again!” Bell snaps, leaning further forward.
Georgia sighs. “I used the dagger,” she says, and pulls it out of her pocket.
Bell snaps his fingers and holds his hand out. Georgia hesitates a moment then hands it over. He examines it, frowning. “You used this to blow up the Clarences?”
“I stabbed one of them and they all exploded. It was…pretty cool.”
Bell fiddles with the handle, tapping it against the desk and twisting at it, but he’s no more able to remove it than we were. “What’s in this thing?”
“We think it’s one of…What’s-His-Face’s bones.”
“And the metal?”
Bell frowns, turning it over in his hands. “I see.”
“Can you…do your object-read thing on it to get more information?” I ask.
Bell flicks his gaze to me. “What do think I did when she handed it to me?”
“Well…can you try it on this one?” I step forward and hand over my extra sword, the one that the Clarence stabbed through me (and for some reason didn’t disappear when the rest of them did.) Bell takes it and examines it too. After a moment, he lifts the dagger and whacks it against the blade of the sword. Instantly the sword melts into the same ichor that the Clarences did, spilling through his fingers and onto the desk.
We stare. “What happened there?” Georgia asks first.
“Alchemy.” Bell sits back down. “You didn’t fight Clarence. You didn’t even fight a bunch of clones. You fought a bunch of alchemical homunculi.”
We’re silent for a moment, processing this. “And how does one make these?” Anstis asks.
Bell shrugs. “I don’t know the exact specifications, your Tremere would know better than I, but in essence you imbue a whole vat of chemicals with your own blood. Give them life. Sort of like a gargoyle process, I imagine, just a little less stable.”
I tense. “The…sort of thing that would require lots and lots of vats of blood?” I say slowly.
“I don’t see that it would hurt.” Bell twirls the dagger in his hand. “It’s interesting, though, that this would destabilize it. I thought he created this?”
“Well, it was specifically enchanted to attack Marcus, perhaps that extends to whole blood line?” I ask, looking to the others for verification.
“Reasonable theory,” Bell says, swiveling back and forth in his chair. “Worth considering. What about this other fellow you’re telling me about? The one who showed up after? Do we have any ideas about who this idiot was?”
I do, actually, and to illustrate my point I pull out the metal cockroach fetish. “He dropped this, after his body disappeared.” I hand it to Bell.
Bell tenses the moment he touches it. “This is werewolf,” he says slowly, sitting back and examining it.
“That’s what I thought,” I say. “Cockroaches have been associated with…my contact.”
“Glasswalker?” he asks, flicking his eyes up. He looks at it another moment then tosses it idly onto the desk. “Now why would he have that?”
“Perhaps they sent him?” Georgia offers.
“Well, if they did, you did a bang-up job of welcoming him.”
Georgia throws her arms out. “Am I actually being reamed now for not being welcoming to werewolves?”
“Was that a werewolf you stabbed? Cause I think if it was you’d be dead.”
“Well it wasn’t Kindred,” Georgia says, sulking.
“Well then there’s an infinite number of possibilities.” Bell places the dagger on the desk then gets up and walks to the window. “So assuming whatever it is ran off, and assuming you managed to disable this little army of Perpenna’s….” he pauses and looks at us significantly a moment, “…at least for awhile, well…you still hell-bent on going out to the Farallones?”
Paul—who is finally starting to come around—and I glance at each other. “As soon as we can get a plan together,” I say.
“What kinda plan you looking to put together? Cause I told you, I can’t get authorization to flatten those islands.”
“Well it would be useful if we had a boat,” I glance at Anstis. “I know we have our pirate but it would be nice if we had a mode of transport that was less…hot.”
“I was thinking helicopter, but redundancy is a good idea,” Paul chimes in.
I nod. “How much influence do you have with the Coast Guard, sir?”
“It’s not the Coast Guard you need to worry about, it’s what’s in the water.” Bell says darkly.
“So…can you get us a big boat?”
He raises an eyebrow. “Big enough for that? I don’t know. There’s no battleship in town anymore and the carrier’s been mothballed.”
Paul turns to Georgia. “What about how Himmler escaped, can you use a similar method?”
“I…don’t know, but van Brugge might. Van Brugge?” Georgia calls to the air, but she gets no response. “He’s still not answering,” she reports to us, concern on her face.
“Is it possible…What’s-His-Face was visiting van Brugge when your call was interrupted?”
“That…seems possible, yes….” We watch as Georgia’s face slowly falls. “Shit, we have to get to the Chantry.”
She turns to Bell. “I’ll get a car,” he says. He pulls out his phone, then hesitates mid-dial. “…In fact, I’ll get many cars.”
Not long later, we roll up in front of the Chantry in practically a fucking parade of unmarked vehicles. Motorcycles block off both ends of the street and armed personnel pile out of the fleet of town-cars and vans. We get out as well and follow Bell up to the doors of the building. We we walk, I am reminded of the last time I walked willingly into the Chantry. Like last time, I take a moment to glance up.
A dark shape is circling overhead, outlined against the ambient glow of the fog. As I watch it dips lower, clearly revealing wide feathers spreading to each wingtip. I smile.
Anstis follows my gaze. “That accursed bird,” he grumbles.
Bell notices our expressions and glances up as well. He looks at me questioningly. “Is there a reason I shouldn’t shoot that down?”
“Umm, unless you want Boss gunning for you with both barrels.”
“Oh that bird.” Bell glances up again, then at Anstis. “Can you speak bird?”
“Tell it to fuck off.” He pivots on his heel and continues toward the building. We follow.
Bell stops on the font step and turns to Georgia. “Lead the way. The wards won’t eat you.” She steps forward and grabs the handle, then stops.
The wards are down. All of them.
“Ooooh…shit….” She turns to Bell. “So…the Chantry is no longer the Chantry. The wards are all gone.”
He blinks at her. “Gone?” She nods. Bell looks up at the doors then gestures with one finger. Two dozen armed guards stream past us into the building. After a moment’s hesitation, Georgia hurries after them.
She rushes through the halls, the lack of enchantment echoing around her in a deafening magical silence. She heads immediately to Max’s office, which—both unwarded and unlocked—opens instantly at her touch.
The office looks the same as the last time we visited—tackily decorated in overbearing blood-red decor—but there is one unmistakable addition. In the corner of the room, a large circle has been burned into the carpet, perfectly overlapped with a ritual circle that lay in the stone underneath the carpet (which Georgia discovered on a previous visit). In the middle of the circle is an elaborate wooden staff inlaid with silver runes but it has been snapped in half.
Georgia recognizes it immediately as van Brugge’s staff.
“Bell?” she calls, staring at the staff. He walks in and stops next to her. “That was van Brugge’s staff,” she says, pointing. Bell strides forward and picks up the pieces. The moment he does, two things roll out from underneath them. Two white things.
Georgia stares in shock as Bell picks them up. “Bell…were they van Brugge’s?”
By now the rest of us have joined them in the room and stare perplexed at the scene before us. Bell puts the staff pieces on the desk and rolls the fangs around in his hand thoughtfully. After a few moments, he places them on the desk as well.
“These…are Adrianus van Brugge’s,” he announces. “I believe it is logical to assume…well, I think you know.”
He turns to us, face stern. “Collect what you want from this building. In ten minutes I am burning it to the ground.”
Bell starts to stride from the room but Georgia grabs his arm. “The books,” she pleads. “We have to save the books!”
Bell stares at her, rolls his eyes, then radios instructions to the men to start grabbing books.
The rest of us split up, but we all have one goal in mind: Loot the castle.
Paul starts grabbing anything that catches his eye—which is many things—but finally finds a set of hand-illuminated books that he becomes engrossed in.
Georgia starts rifling through Max’s desk, discovering that the other Primium dagger, the supposedly not-enchanted one that Dr. vonNatsi made for her as a demo of his 3D-printing deathray, is missing. She then sits at the desk and uses the phone to call Seattle and report on the situation to the main Chantry there.
I go to the mantle and steal the other magically-sharp Tremere sword in the decorative crest, bringing me up to a matched set.
Anstis…wanders into another room and does his blood scrying spell on “Adrianus van Brugge,” but once again we couldn’t hear what was said but supposedly it was cryptic and spooky as shit.
After stealing the sword, I go wandering the hallways looking for more things of interest (aka, weapons). Unfortunately, I mostly only find the same sort of shit I saw the last time I was here: library-rooms, study-rooms, lounges, a wooden door, another library, an office—
I stop. Wait… I back up to the unmarked door. I can’t say for sure, but something tells me that this door wasn’t here the last time I was at the Chantry. Also, unlike the current rooms I’ve seen so far, this door is locked.
I kick it down. Behind are stairs leading down—much like the ones leading to the dungeon we found Marcus in, but these ones seem to go deeper.
“Hey!” I shout down the hall. “I found a secret stairway!”
Paul sticks his head out of a room further down, books clutched to his chest, then comes over to join me.
“What are you guys doing??” Georgia shouts from Max’s office.
“We found secrete Tremere shit! We’re going to check it out!” I shout back.
A moment of silence. “….Can you not?” she replies.
“…Nooo, Sorry!” I say, groping for a lightswitch in the stairwell. Shaded bulbs hanging from the ceiling flicker to life. Paul and I glance at each other, then head down.
“Seriously, guys! I’m on the phone!” Georgia shouts out of the office. Just then a woman’s voice comes across the line. “Hello?” the woman says. “Who is this?”
Georgia pulls the phone back to her ear. This is obviously a Tremere superior that her case has been escalated to. “Hiii, this is Georgia Johnson, currently in San Francisco.”
“Yes, I know who you are. What is your situation?”
Georgia takes a breath. “Van Brugge is missing and…we found his fangs and his staff.”
“You found his fangs? Where?”
“In the Chantry. The staff was broken in half, the fangs were underneath it.”
There’s a few moments of silence. “Where’s the rest of him?” the woman asks, voice clipped.
“I have no idea—“
“Someone placed van Brugge’s fangs underneath his staff? …Is Theo Bell there?”
“Yes,” Georgia says, glancing up at Bell, who has conveniently come back into the office at this moment.
“Put him on the phone and tell him to be very quiet while I tell him what to do.”
“Umm…ok….” Georgia looks at him nervously. “My…boss wants to talk to you. She’s…angry.”
He glares at her. “Who the hell is your boss?”
Georgia shrugs, eyes wide. “Sir, you should…um…I mean this with the most respect possible, but…please be quiet and listen to what she has to say.”
Bell strides forward and snatches the handset from Georgia. He glares at her as he shoves it to his ear. “Who is this? Who the fuck is—“ Suddenly he stops, face dropping from furious to just glowering. “Yes sir…yes sir….” he says tersely, glaring significantly at Georgia.
She takes the hint and leaves the office to find Paul and me.
At the bottom of the stairs, Paul and I find a heavy metal sliding door. This one is locked, but we are able to successfully force it open with a wrenching shriek.
We step into a square, empty room, with walls of unpainted cinderblock and floor of rough-poured concrete. No decor, no tools, nothing. The only item of interest in the room is the metal grate in the middle of the floor, and the streaks of dried bloodstains seeping toward it.
“Because of course there are….” I grumble to myself, staring at the floor.
Georgia joins us then, relieved that we haven’t stumbled on any dark Tremere secrets, but she notices something about the room that we don’t. Something looks…off about a section of the back wall. The shape of it doesn’t seem to quite mesh with the other angles in the room. She walks up slowly and touches it.
And instantly vanishes.
Paul and I jump. “What the…?” Paul rushes forward and touches the wall as well, but nothing happens.
For him, it’s just a solid wall.
Georgia finds herself in another room, but this one is very different from the one she just left. It is richly furnished, with heavy furniture and thick, blood-red carpet. The walls are also windowless cinderblock, but they are lined with bookshelves and cabinets. The room absolutely reeks of magic, and possibly some darker things as well.
Georgia is not alone. Someone is in the middle of the room, leaning over a table with his back to Georgia, carefully studying a spread of papers.
“…Hello?” Georgia calls. The figure stands up and turns around.
It’s Max. Maximillian von-fucking-Strauss.
“Ms. Johnson,” he sighs, wry smile on his lip. “I was wondering how long it would take for you to get here.” He folds his hands in front of him and walks toward her slowly. “We have a thing or two to talk about….”
END OF NIGHT.