A monster is walking out of the black waves. Ten feet tall with brawny arms and legs but topped by a hulking shark head with jaws big enough to bite a human in half–
(Me: *gasp* “Like a Street Shark!”
Jason: “Yes, exactly like a Street Shark!”
Chris: “What is a Street Shark?”
Me: “…Where were you in the mid-90’s?”
“I was wondering how long this would take,” Max says, approaching Georgia slowly.
Georgia looks around the room. She now realizes that the overstuffed, overbearing decor is the same style as Max’s original office. She also notices that there don’t seem to be any visible entrances or exits. “Not…very long at all,” she says, watching Max curiously.
“Who did you come with?” Max asks, folding his arms.
“And who does ‘everyone’ consist of now? Cause that number seems to be winnowing.”
Georgia sighs. “It is…. Well, van Brugge is dead, so…good job contributing to that.”
Max raises an eyebrow. “Is he?” He turns and walks to a cabinet behind the desk. He pulls out a decanter of dark liquid, pours a glass and drinks.
Georgia watches him. “Whose is that?”
Max takes another leisurely sip before responding. “Not van Brugge’s.” He takes another sip.
Georgia glances around uncomfortably. “So…you’ve just been hanging out here the whole time…?”
Max puts the glass down on the desk with a muffled thump. “You mean ever since the fountain of all evil decided to devour my Chantry? Yes, yes I have. It seemed like a safer bet than going outside.” He turns to her. “What are you doing here? It must occur to you, Ms. Johnson, that if van Brugge is dead what chance do you have? What chance do any of us have?”
Her eyes narrow. “What would you have me do then? Run away and hide and just wait for everybody else to die? It seems like a pretty great plan for you. Congratulations, I hope you enjoy the next several decades down here.”
She pivots and walks back to the wall, groping at the stone, but unfortunately whatever magic triggered to bring her here doesn’t seem to work going the other way.
“You’re not going to find the way out that way,” Max says as he pours himself another glass.
(Jim: “Computer! Arch!”)
Georgia sighs and turns back to face him. “Where are we?”
“A bolthole I prepared a long, long time ago. In case something like this were to descend upon my head. I hadn’t anticipated anything quite this extreme, but still.”
She frowns. “Alright, well…it’s been a lovely chat, so if you’ll just show me the exit….”
He finishes pouring and stoppers the decanter. “I think before I show you the exit you’re going to answer a couple questions for me.”
Georgia rolls her eyes. “Oh I love answering your questions, Max.”
“And I love listening to you answer them.” He raises his glass and smirks at her. “What do the Tremere know about the loss of van Brugge?”
“They…know he’s dead.”
“And when you say ‘they,’ precisely who is they?”
“I assume at this point the Council of Seven.”
Max glowers over his drink. “Wonderful….”
“I assume that is not to your liking?”
Max sighs. “Do you really have no idea what the Council of Seven is likely to do in a case like this?”
Georgia shrugs. “I imagine they will fall upon the entire city.”
“No, no they have no need. They will sink it.”
Georgia processes that a moment. “Well…then maybe the Nosferatu will get what they want. And maybe I’ll get a new assignment.”
“Assuming you’re not all dead. Assuming they don’t dissect you just to find out what happened. You don’t think I’m hiding in here just from Perpenna, do you?” He takes a sip, watching her over the glass. “I’ve been through things like this before with the Tremere. When something this…crazed happens, they tend to be of the opinion that it’s better to sacrifice everyone involved than to sully the reputation of the clan even further.”
“Well…if that happens I’ll be sure to let you know. Now…how do I get out?” She gropes at the wall again.
Max watches her fumble for a few moments. “What have you learned about Perpenna to date?”
Georgia turns around and glares chastisingly. “That…we should really stop using his name.”
Max raises an eyebrow. “Oh it’s like that? Then what have you learned about our mutual friend…Mr. Peabody?”
“That…you shouldn’t be using his name and that he’s pretty scary.”
Max chuckles. “Pretty scary? We’re all pretty scary.”
“He also has an army of Clarences. The Ventrue that was with us, whom he apparently kidnapped or…ensorcelled or something during the attack.”
Max sighs and stares beseechingly at the ceiling. “Behold our glorious Ventrue leaders who will lead us into the dawn.”
Georgia sighs and nods. “Indeed. Aren’t we all so grateful that we have them?”
Georgia blinks. “Oh my god, we just agreed on something, Max!”
“I know, it scares me too,” Max says, rubbing his face.
(Chris: “Colleen, are you changing the Georgia shipping pair?”
Me: “…Oh, no, Max/Georgia was already a ship!”
Jason: “Oh god…”
Kara: “Yeah, it was really early on.”
Chris: “Is this why it takes you so long to do the writeups? Are you writing out ship-fanfiction of our characters?”
Jason: *mocking* “Maaaaybe!”
Kara: “Oh my god, are you?”
Jim: “Are you writing fic about Max and Clarence?”
Me: “What? NO! I do not cross the streams!”
Chris: “Max and Clarence are crossing streams?”
Jason: “Oh myyyy!”
Kara: “Wow, Max/Clarence! That’s interclan, I don’t know if I can ship that.”
Jason: “Says the person who was talking about Georgia/Doc.”
Kara: “Whatever, we don’t know what clan Doc is.”
Jason: “True, but he’s probably not Tremere.”
Kara: “You don’t know that!”
Jason: “…Uh, I do know that, as it happens!”)
“Do you have any specifics about what Per—what Mr. Peabody is intending to do?” Max continues.
“Uh, I think he is planning to do exactly what you said the Council of Seven might do.”
Max gestures with his glass. “See, here’s the problem, I’m not so certain about that. If all he wanted to do was burn the city down, I’d happily stay here and let him do that. The problem is I’m afraid his ambitions stretch farther than that.” He glares at her. “Do you know what he intends, do you know what he’s been doing? Do you know anything at all, Georgia?”
She sighs. “No Max, I don’t know anything at all. That would be for my direct superior to figure out. Which was you, until you decided to leave and hide in your underground library. This is what happens when you leave neonates to solve your problems for you.”
Max sets the glass down slowly. “This is not my problem, this is everyone’s problem.”
“Well, then this is what happens when you leave neonates to solver other people’s problems for you,” she snaps.
Max stares a moment, then takes a few menacing steps forward. “Do you know all of the myriad ways in which my life has been enriched since they sent you to me?”
“Well I know that you enjoy our conversations.
“Oh I look forward to them,” he snarls. He gestures to the wall, which Georgia is still pressing her hand against. “Why do you want to go so quickly? I can take you anywhere else.”
“Well, there are still a couple people I like back in the Chantry, and I’d like to make sure they don’t get eaten.” She pauses. “Or, your know, at least, be there when they do. Something sentimental like that.”
“Who?” Max asks cautiously.
“The other neonates. The Brujah, the…Toreador….” Georgia’s voice stumbles slightly when she says the latter but Max doesn’t seem to notice.
He leans a hand on the desk. “You’re referring to all these other vampires who are not Tremere…? To whom your first loyalty…is not….”
“Yes, because of the Tremere–to whom I could be loyal–there is you–.” She looks him up and down. “–Which is an interesting dynamic, I will admit there are some complicated layers there…and then there is van Brugge, who is now dead, and the Council of Seven, whom you have just informed me would like to kill me, so….what would you have me do?”
“I would have you tell me something a little more useful for someone who has been running around the city that Perpenna is presently in!” Max barks.
The room rings with silence for a moment. “…Mr. Peabody,” Georgia chastises.
Max glares back. “You truly have no ideas then?”
“All I can gather is he pretty much wants to end everything,” she shrugs.
Max scoffs. “Does he have a method?”
“There was mention of some kind of ritual…something about needing to take back all of his Vitae into him, which involves murdering everyone he sired and everyone they sired.”
Max frowns thoughtfully. “Given his age that could be a long list.” He walks back around the desk and rustles some papers. “I don’t know of rituals like that but I’ve heard of ones that require you to have a holistic bloodline. It’s not exactly proper Thaumaturgy but they exist.”
“Well, our options are to kill him before he kills everybody else or to disrupt the ritual after he kills everybody else.”
“Do you have the means to kill him?” he asks, turning from the desk and running a hand along one of the bookshelves. “Who else is working with you? Besides just a bunch of neonates.”
“Um…well Bell,” she rolls her eyes. “He got here finally. Also, of course, the Methusula.”
“The child?” Max asks over his shoulder, pausing his browsing.
“Yes, the Sabbat Methusula has been helping us, which is really kind of hilarious. We’ve been getting more help from the Sabbat than the Camarilla.” She laughs to herself. “This city runs kinda backwards, I don’t know if you’ve noticed that….”
Max snorts. “I have noticed that. This…Mr. Peabody needs all of his childer to perform this ritual?”
“Well I think he has to eat them.”
Max drums his fingers against the shelf. “His childer may be in relatively senior positions at this point. Some of them may be public figures.”
“And…how does this information help us?”
“Well it may help you find, or perhaps warn them.”
Georgia blinks. “Shouldn’t we just report this to New York and let them take care of it?”
“Lasombra aren’t in the Camarilla, Hardestadt won’t care.”
“Well…isn’t there an equivalent structure in the Sabbat that they communicate with—“
Max laughs. “Do you really have no idea how the Sabbat functions? They don’t have a hierarchy, or at least none to speak of. The Black Hand has a hierarchy, they have a…lord of sorts, for all the power she wields, but no one there has total power the way our Council wields it.”
Georgia sighs and folds her hands. “So what you’re saying is…this is a giant problem that affects everyone but you want the neonates to take care of it?”
Max glares. “You’re the one who wants to do something about it. I’m not going back to San Francisco. I have been nearly killed enough times by this thing.”
Georgia looks around. “Wait, are we on the Farallones?”
Max blinks. “What? Why would we be there?”
“Well because Himmler is out there with the gargoyles.”
Max rolls his head and collapses into his chair. “Urrrrg, I knew it. What a catastrophe…. Why is Himmler on the Farallones!?”
“He’s…building a gargoyle army…?”
Max sinks into a Picard face-palm. “I ask for a gargoyle expert and this is what they send me….”
“Why did you ask for a gargoyle expert?”
“Because I wanted to make gargoyles!” Max snaps.
Max glares at her over his hand. “Yes…yes it is. Report me to the Nosferatu. I’ve already got a death sentence on my head thanks to this thing from the Chantry and I’m sure you will soon.” He reaches over and pours himself another drink. “No, we are not on the Farallones, and I don’t think I will be telling you exactly where we are. Are you planning to go to the Farallones then?”
“Oh god, not tonight.”
“So that would be a yes.” Max rolls his eyes at her. “Himmler is already under interdict. If you kill him no one will object. But you won’t, not out there.”
“Well, not without help, no….”
He places the decanter back on the table with a thud. “Himmler knows about your Methusula. He’s…prepared against it. There are practical steps that can be taken, not to mention the fact that the Farallones are not easy to get to.”
Now Georgia rolls her eyes. “Well I’ll be sure and let you know before we leave. You’ve been so helpful on my other quests so far, Max.”
He glares at her. “You seem to have mistaken me for someone who is here to help you. My understanding of the original arrangement was you were here to help me.”
“Isn’t the entire function of having a structure that we’re supposed to help one another?”
He stares at her flatly. “And once again you’ve mistaken the Tremere for the Friar’s Club.”
Georgia throws out her arms. “How can I help you, Max?”
“Well for starters you can find out more information about what this ritual actually is.”
She points at the bookshelves. “You’re the one with the Thaumaturgical library!”
He glances at the books. “Of sorts, yes. Why, do you need something?”
She shrugs. “I don’t know, got any Sabbat books? Dark Thaumaturgy?”
“That is not something you’d want to get into lightly,” he says, sipping his drink. He jerks his chin at the shelves. “But if you see anything you think you need I won’t stop you.”
Max busies himself with his papers while Georgia wanders over to peruse the shelves. She grabs some books on Dark Thaumaturgy, and one called The Hereziarchs.
(Jason: “It’s written in Latin.”
Kara: *sadly* “Oh, my other language is Italian….”
Jason: “Hmm, too bad. What are the chances of you meeting someone who is fluent in Latin?”)
“Can I take these?” she asks, holding them all up.
Max waves without looking up. “Take what you need. If there’s a chance you can avert this thing without getting everyone killed, why not. And if you can find me anything more concrete about this…plan of his, I might be able to be of assistance to you, but I can’t do much with merely the fact that he wants to perform a ritual. I don’t know Abyss Mysticism as well as some.”
(Chris: “You mean…Abystiscism?”)
Georgia carefully places the books into her satchel (which Kara just decided she has, because books). “So…if I want to talk to you, I should just show up here?”
“Well that’s one way. Or…try this….” Max pulls out a drawer and removes a small item. He tosses it to her. It’s a bracelet made of some kind of silvery metal. “Hold that, spend blood and soak it into the metal. It will establish the appropriate connection.” He meets her eyes. “And I would appreciate it if you would keep my name out of the conversation you are about to have with Bell and the others.”
Georgia rolls her eyes. “Alright, I’ll keep you secret.”
Max nods and points behind her. Georgia steps back to the wall carefully, reaching a hand out.
This time she goes right through.
Georgia rejoins us in the empty basement room. Though her conversation with Max lasted almost half an hour, she only appeared to be gone a few seconds. She gives us a cover story about there being a secret bookshelf back there, but apparently only Tremere can reach it.
Paul is suspicious. I really don’t care.
We all head back upstairs and continue our various attempts at
looting scavenging. This took quite some time, and involved both on-scene and secret off-scene components for everyone. I will summarize the on-scene components as follows:
1) Anstis steals a bunch of gilded shit and finds eight heavy grimoires of books that appear to be necromantic in nature. He finds a box and hordes these with even more urgency than he hoarded the gold he stole from the storage locker.
2) Paul steals some silverware and aura reads all the things.
3) I find a massive stone-worked hall, like a keep or an old chapel. It’s filled with crates of weapons, though the weapons seem to be mostly outdated swords and rifles. It also has four small Tzimitscian hellbeasts, alive and jabbering in cages. At some point I check my phone and see that Marcus has finally texted me back, with nothing but the phrase, “Legion of Honor.”
4) Paul runs into Georgia, clutching a new book she’s found, bound in brass and with elaborate decoration. Paul makes her open it and they see the writing is in some non Roman-character language.
(Jason: “Oh and by the way, the pages aren’t paper.”
Chris: “…Oh no….”
Jason: “They’re made of metal.”
Chris: “…Oh thank god.”)
Paul falls into a bibliophilic trance and asks to keep it. Georgia sighs and agrees. As Paul goes to put it away, a jewel falls out of the cover. It’s an amulet, mounted on a chain, with words in the same cryptic language inscribed on the back. Georgia picks it up and keeps it.
We all eventually wander back to the main atrium and find Bell talking to some of his men. He looks up as we approach. “We have a slight problem,” he grumbles, waving the men away.
“Not enough matches?” I suggest.
“This place won’t burn,” he scowls.
“Ah. So definitely not enough matches, then,” I say, looking around.
“I thought all the magic was out of it….” Paul says.
“So did I, but it still won’t burn.”
I shrug. “It’s San Francisco, everything explodes. Just give it time.”
Bell rolls his eyes. “We’ve been trying to set the kindling for some time now, it doesn’t want to go up.”
Now that the subject seems to be leaning toward Tremere mysteries, Georgia steps forward to change the subject. “What was the result of your phone conversation with Seattle?” she asks.
Bell sighs. “I informed them that it was going to be necessary to destroy this entire place, because it might be of aid and comfort to the enemy, so to speak. They were…of mixed opinion as to whether or not that was a wise decision.” He glares at the stone walls around us. “As it turns out the question may be somewhat moot.”
Paul too is staring around thoughtfully. “Do we have any theories as to why…What’s-His-Face went after van Brugge? Or the Tremere in general?”
“The most powerful Tremere in the city? The man who was deputed here to try and stop him? I can think of several reasons.” Bell scowls. “The problem is I’m convinced none of them are right. I’m certain there was a personal reason for why he’d go after van Brugge, that he wanted something from him, and since I don’t know what that is, that concerns me.
“Perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that he aided in the near-death of…’P,’” Anstis suggests, scowling at the nickname. “He was with Helgi and Marcus when the deed happened.”
“When?” Georgia asks.
Anstis shrugs. “Long time ago. Centuries. Before even my time.”
“A personal vendetta then, perhaps,” Bell muses, staring into space. The room falls silent for a few moments as everyone contemplates this. “What else have you found?” Bell finally asks.
I decide that a picture is worth a thousand words and show him the shot I took of the four hellbeasts in the cages. Bell darkens noticeably and tells me to show him. I lead him and the others through the Chantry to the crate room.
The things start chittering again as we come in. They throw themselves at the bars, snapping at Bell as he paces in front of them. “Does anyone,” he looks at Georgia pointedly, “know why the Tremere were keeping four zslatcha locked up in this place?”
Georgia shrugs. “To study?”
“It’s a possibility, but what were they studying? I would have thought the Omen War taught you people everything you needed to know about this sort.”
“I didn’t even know this place was here,” Georgia says, staring curiously at the bloodstained walls and the crates.
Bell finishes examining the last of the cages and turns to us. “Does anyone see any reason as to why these things should remain alive?”
We shake our heads.
“Good. I thought not,” Bell says before pulling out his shotgun and dispatching them all in rapid succession.
Paul, incidentally, who did not follow us to the room, tries to absorb himself in his book and ignore the gun blasts echoing into the hall.
Now that he’s been staring at it awhile, he’s realized something: the strange letters the text is written in aren’t some freaky mystical runes, they’re Greek. He pulls up GoogleTranslate on his phone and starts laboriously typing lines in. The first one he tries, obviously, is the title:
“Commentaries on Metaphysics and Material Dynamics. By Phaethon of Rhodes.”
Bell pokes through the crates. “This is all old stuff, why were they hoarding this?”
“Well, they also have this,” I say, holding up a belt of machine gun ammunition I found in one of the boxes.
Bell frowns and takes it. “Well if they have this, where’s the machine gun?” He looks around at the other boxes.
I shrug and gesture to myself, clad in skin-tight leather pants and a t-shirt. “Well I’m certainly not hiding it.”
He rolls his eyes. “Why would the Tremere have a machine gun belt?”
I spread my arms. “Why would they have four zslatcha?”
He glares at me and pulls out his phone. He calls someone and tells them to bring the large crates. “We’re taking all this out too,” he says to me, gesturing with his other hand. “We’ll box it and sort it out later.”
“Great. Stash it next to the Arc of the Covenant?”
He glares at me and turns to Georgia and Anstis. “Anyone found anything else?”
All of us have found secret stuff, and all of us pointedly do not bring these items up. Antsis is also noticeably loaded down with gilded shit and art, which he doesn’t declare but Bell decidedly ignores.
We return to the hallway. Georgia hurries up to Paul and starts pouring over the book with him, like two teenagers working on their homework together. Like two lovesick teenagers, even, what with how close they’re—
A realization suddenly hits me. I frown. They have been sharing an awful lot of blood back and forth lately, usually for good reasons, but still…. Georgia may be the only Tremere left in town, but that also makes her the only Tremere left in town, and what with everything going on, sooner or later being bound up with her might not be good for Team Marcus interests. I make a mental note to keep an eye on that.
We discuss a few more points with Bell—the trip to the Farallones, this creepy Gus guy and the crows, Perpenna’s plan to apparently Eat All The Things—but things aren’t going anywhere and I gotta make my appointment with Marcus before the night is up. I bail to head across town.
Georgia, meanwhile, gets a call from Dr. vonNatsi, who is asking about the acquisition of an etheric transducer array. Georgia doesn’t have one on hand, sadly, but offers to check some thrift stores. Dr. vonNatsi agrees to this plan, but in the meantime he is also going to try and make one. To that end, he needs some specific components.
One of which is werewolf bone.
Georgia sighs and agrees to at least try and track some down for him. Paul says he’ll help, so they head off on this new quest, as well as find somewhere safe to put Paul’s new fancy book
Anstis is left pondering what to do about his own fancy new books, and how he can find a place to store them without letting anyone know what they are.
Now. Ladies and gentlemen, I have a special new surprise for this writeup. See, as I have been extolling Jason’s virtues as a GM, one of the things I focus on especially is the voices he comes up with for many of the characters. Everyone loves Norton and Dr. vonNatsi, but you don’t really get them until you hear them in their original dialect.
Thus–as suggested by others–for the first time, I have edited an actual sound-byte from the original recording file capturing a scene with one of these beloved characters. This time, the scene in question is Dr. vonNatsi’s phone call to Georgia, which I summarized above, but now you can hear it in all its erratic Etherite detail.
Please to enjoy.
I arrive at the Legion of Honor to find it deserted, as usual. There’s no sign of Marcus, but the fog has lifted enough that I can see up into the trees. I wander a bit till I find one with a suspicious-looking lump on a branch.
“Hey Quill,” I call, taking out a steak I picked up on my way over and holding it over my head. I barely see her move before the steak is snatched out of my hand. Moments later she is back in the tree, tearing into it.
I find Marcus in sight of Aquilifer but further down-slope. He’s deep in the shadows of a tree, watching me. I glance around again to check again that we’re alone before ambling up.
“I appreciate the discretion,” he says as I approach, “but I doubt it will be necessary here. I already searched for cops and social workers.”
I shrug. “Well, apparently other enemies can pop up anywhere at any time, so….”
“If they wanted to you would not find them by walking around, believe me.” He stares into the distance a moment. The lower part of his is arm is still missing, but it has noticeably begun to heal. “What did you find?”
“Well, we had an interesting conversation with Everton about possible motivations for…certain parties.”
Marcus frowns. “And what are those things?”
“Well, something about a werewolf prophecy about Armageddon—“
He snorts. “—The werewolves have nothing but prophecies about Armageddon. They prophescize Armageddon with their breakfast.”
I shift my weight. “Yes, well apparently the…other…one—by the way, can we say his name, Boss?”
Marcus stares at me. “What are you talking about?”
“Your…sire…. ” I take a breath. “We have suspicions that saying his name seems to call down whatever evil demonic powers he’s rolling with these days and that’s why he’s been popping up all over town.” I hesitate. “We’re…pretty freaked out, Boss.”
Marcus stares at me flatly for almost a minute. I shuffle nervously under his gaze.
“…I see,” he says finally. His expression is still unreadable. I can’t tell whether he thinks I’m an idiot, or that I might be on to something.
Honestly, he’s possibly thinking both….
“Well, call him what you would then,” he says with a shrug.
“Right.” I take another breath. “Ass-face is apparently planning something that has to do with this werewolf Armageddon. It involves capturing their Messiah and twisting it somehow to use it against them.”
Marcus raises an eyebrow. “Well he’s certainly gone up in the world. Then again, Perpenna,” he looks me in the eye as he says it, “never lacked for ambition, did he? Misplaced though it might have been. He thinks he’s going to become the…what’s the Christian term…Werewolf Antichrist? Since when does he have an interest in the Lupines?”
I shrug. “I don’t know, that’s just what Everton said he found out.”
Marcus waves the comment away. “Everton sees ancient conspiracies everywhere. I know the type. But…I thought Perpenna dead a month ago, so….” he shrugs.
“Everton says that part of the plan seems to involve becoming…not exactly mortal but…something in between.” I glance around nervously before continuing. “This…involves some sort of blood ritual that involves eating…all of his extended Vitae.”
Marcus looks at me silently for a moment before responding. “Oh he wants it back, does he? Funny that. All of it?”
“Yeah….” I rub my neck. “I was actually going to ask you about that—“
Marcus, though, is deep in thought. He starts pacing across the grass. “Perpenna had other childer but they’re not with us anymore. At least none that I know of….”
I scurry to follow. “Everton said that he thinks it also means the Vitae that has extended down the generations—“
Marcus stops. “What? He wants…my childer?”
I nod. “And any of theirs, and any of theirs….”
Marcus hesitates a moment, glowering into the darkness, then continues walking. “Of course he does, I should have thought of that.”
“I haven’t kept in contact with all my childer,” Marcus continues, wandering aimlessly as he thinks. “Not all of them were amenable to such things, and not all of them are still alive, but there are some. I can place a call. But if he wants his Vitae back I assume we know who he’s going to try and start with.”
I slip on a wet patch of grass as I catch up to him again. “Yeah, about that, Boss, the way Everton said it, he didn’t just say it was all those of his direct descent, he said it was Vitae, and….” I gulp. “I’m concerned it extends through blood-bonds.”
Marcus stops and turns to me. I slide to a stop. He stares at me a moment, face unreadable. Out of the corner of my eye I see Aquilifer drop onto a branch in a tree nearby.
“Really?” he says finally. “Well I’d try and reassure you by telling you that most such things do not, but at the same time it’s not like he lacks for reasons to kill you anyway. You did rather tweak his nose, didn’t you?” He smirks.
I beam, remembering my epic burn about Perpenna’s armies. It’s true, Perpenna did already threaten to kill me to my face, and I have no doubt he will make good on the offer the next time we meet. But it’s one thing for someone to off you for being an irritating prick, and it’s quite another to know an ancient, mutated monster of unmeasured power is gunning for you—and your soul—as part of his plans for world domination and will not rest until he succeeds.
Marcus looks at me appraisingly a moment, then frowns. “Where’d you get that?” He points to one of the swords stuck through my belt.
“Oh, I stole it from the Chantry….” I pull it out and hand it to him. It’s much larger than his gladius—nearly as tall as he is—but he still handles it effortlessly.
“Now where did this come from….” he mutters, sighting down its length then looking up at me. I shrug. “I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something to it….” he continues, taking an experimental swipe. “Interesting,” he says, handing it back. “Well if the Tremere felt the need to have it around, might be useful.”
“So what now?” he says, gazing across the park toward the ocean. “Still planning on heading to the Farallones?”
“As soon as I can,” I say, fumbling with the swords in my belt. “Everyone says getting out there isn’t easy, but since they never have any constructive suggestions to add….”
“There was a time when things that were not easy prospects were done for that reason alone.” Marcus glances at me. “This…Himmler fellow is out there? I don’t know him well and I don’t know his group, but I know people who do. They would…appreciate it if someone were to make his day worse.”
Yes! Allies! Definitely need more of them. “And these people are…?”
“Well, Helgi for starters, but not just him.” He takes a breath. “The Tremere are an interesting clan. They profess to almost Assamite-levels of solidarity and insularity, and then engage in Lasombra-levels of infighting. Simultaneously. It’s impressive.”
“Sounds like my high school,” I mutter.
“You don’t get to be my age without developing a few contacts. I remember running into a Tremere. An interesting man. In Spain, some…seven centuries ago, during a particularly bad period for the region. He’s still around, I believe, it’s only been several decades since last I heard from him. He might have an interesting thing or two to say to someone who wanted to bring him Himmler. He was a Kabbalist, that’s why the Tremere picked him up, and Himmler’s ilk have some…difficulties…with Kabbalists in particular….”
I nod slowly, understanding dawning. “Yeah, I don’t blame them….”
“I can make a call, if you wish. He might have some advice as to what to do. Last I heard, he found excuses to get some of those type transferred to his care, and…well, accidents happen. He must be fairly senior now, at least as senior as Adrianus.” He pauses. “Did you find Adrianus, by the way, at the Chantry?”
“Ah….” I have no idea how Marcus is going to take the news but I plunge ahead anyway. “No. He was talking to Georgia through their telepathy-shit when the call got interrupted by…Ass-face…and then we got attacked by the Clarence-zombies and Georgia stabbed one with the Time-Out Dagger and—“
“Oh…yeah, that’s…the dagger that Clarence used on you…back at Elysium when you fought Bell. Georgia had it, I think she stole it from the Chantry, but then—” A sudden realization plunges my stomach to my feet. “And…Bell has it now…Oh noo….”
Marcus’s gaze turns icy. “Bell has that dagger? Well, that’s an interesting situation now isn’t it.” He rolls his eyes. “Well, Bell still has to actually use it, so we’ll deal with that later.”
“Right, well speaking of Georgia, I’ve been noticing that she’s getting a little buddy-buddy with Paul, and considering how much you keep warning us about her—“
“Are they bonded?”
“Oh, yes,” I nod vigorously.
He rolls his eyes. “Well, that’s on her head, Tremere aren’t supposed to bond outside their clan. But yes, the depths to which the Tremere cannot be trusted are more extreme than even you can imagine. My advice would be to watch her closely and if she shows the slightest sign of disloyalty, kill her. Immediately and remorselessly. With the Tremere it’s the best way.” He stares stoically across the lawns. “If you give them time, they will unmake you.”
“Into…an armchair?” I mumble.
“No, thats the Tzmitsce. The Tremere will simply unmake you.”
I nod, debating whether or not to tell Marcus about Adrianus’s fangs, but before I can decide he continues, “My advice to you is to get this Farallones business underway as soon as possible, and not just for the reasons I elucidated earlier. If Perpenna has anything to do what’s going on in the Farallones, it would be best to retrieve whatever you have to before he has a chance to acquire it.”
No argument here, I think, following his gaze into the driving fog.
Aquilifer suddenly gives a sharp cry. We look up. She’s staring to the east, bobbing her head intensely, and as we watch she takes off. A shape is approaching from that direction, high above even the tallest of the cypress. It’s small, and fluttery, and passes overhead without pausing. In the dim ambient glow of the fog, I catch flashes of blue and gold.
“Now where in Tartarus is he going?” Marcus mumbles.
Anstis has been doing some interesting housekeeping. First, he somehow convinces Paul to store his stolen Chantry loot—including the Necromancy books—without telling him what they are. Once that’s set, he makes a beeline for the ocean.
He’s almost to the water when he notices another shape following him, circling overhead. Even through the fog, he can tell that it is eagle-shaped.
He grumbles to himself and ignores her.
Anstis circles around Lands End. The windows of the Cliff House stare out silently over the ocean, the observation deck and road deserted. He lands on a small spit of beach exposed by the low tide at the base of the cliff.
He shifts back to human form, glares up at Aquilifer–still circling overhead–then strolls out waist-deep into the cold waves.
And then Summons sharks.
(Jason stares at Jim. “….Really?”
“Yep!” Jim confirms enthusiastically.
Jason exhales slowly. “Alright, gimme a roll!”)
Anstis stares at the water for minutes, undertow sucking at his boots, until he sees a dark shape slice the waves in front of him. A fin bobs through the water, followed by the tip of a lashing tail. It’s at least fourteen feet. By that size, and our local habitat, there’s only one thing it could be: a great white.
(“Alright, I would like to…feed it some blood!”
Jason leans back and folds his arms. “Now how are you going to pull this one off, I’d like to know!”)
“What in the world is that man doing?” Marcus says, staring vacantly to the east.
I follow his gaze but can’t see anything but trees and fog. I frown in confusion, then it hits me.
I shrug. “I don’t know…piratey things?”
Marcus frowns, eyes still unfocused. “Going for a late-night swim is he? The currents out there are something to be seen.”
“Huh. Well, he does have a swim form. It’s…rather gripping….”
The shark is an unequivocal predator, but not a stupid one. It circles a dozen yards out, not approaching any closer. Anstis wades out deeper, deep enough that he has to tread water, then bites his wrist and releases a thin ribbon of blood. He skulls back a ways and commands the shark to ingest the blood.
(Cameron’s voice cackles through the computer. Jason stares. “Well…this is a thing that is happening…. Um, alright….”
“And you guys yelled at me for summoning Himmler,” Chris grumbles.
“Yeah, that’s looking better every day….”)
The shark knifes through the water and snatches up the drifting cloud of blood, then flips around and disappears into the darkness of the waves. Anstis nods, satisfied, and turns to head back to shore.
But the beach is now further away than he remembered. He was so focused on the shark he didn’t notice the sucking tide pulling him deeper. He starts crawling back to shore, but barely makes headway against the current.
A creeping feeling descends on him as he swims. There’s something else. Something else in the water.
Paul and Georgia have been having a quiet evening at Paul’s penthouse when something decidedly unquiet shows up.
He rolls in, inexorable as the fog, and proclaims a toast to their shared survival of the Monomancy (cause oh yeah, he got ejected from Paul’s car when it crashed into the vozdt and then we kinda forgot about him…do do dee do….) Norton asks Paul about his next great adventure and Paul mentions the Farallones. Norton scowls and rants about evil Tremere and dark things in the waters, blah blah blah…. Norton also points out that Paul and Georgia look a little worse for wear after our last battle and perhaps they would do well to seek out additional healing from a “practitioner” of which Norton may be acquainted with.
“These…practitioners you speak of,” Paul says, staring at the blood in his hand-blown modernist glass. “They can accelerate healing?”
Norton, who has been pontificating about Tremere and gargoyles, pauses mid-rant. “Yes, in a sense. I have known two in my time. One I think you are acquainted with. The other…perhaps less so. I can fetch one for you now.”
Before Paul can respond, Norton turns to the door, still partly open. “JUPITER!” he shouts. His dachshund suddenly appears in the crack, noses the door open wider, and gallumps his way into the flat. He sits down at Norton’s feet and stares up expectantly.
Paul and Georgia stare at the dog and trade a glance. “Umm…does he have any treats he likes?” Paul asks.
Norton frowns seriously. “He is rather partial to…sausage.”
Paul glances at the fridge. “I…think I have spiced tofu?”
Norton considers this and shrugs. “Well it’s worth a shot.”
Paul pulls a package of tofu out of the fridge and places it on a plate in front of Jupiter. The dog sniffs tentatively, then inhales it in one gulp. He stares up at Paul, then immediately vomits the tofu back onto the floor.
Norton frowns. “Perhaps it’s best you try the other practitioner, then. I believe you know him.” He meets their eyes, lingering for a moment on Georgia’s. “Holliday.”
“Ahh,” Paul says. “But…wasn’t he a dentist?”
“At times. But are we not all creatures who must care for our teeth?” Norton grins and momentarily flashes his own fangs. “Holliday is more than he may seem, and he may be able to help you. But what price he would ask I cannot tell you.”
Norton leans forward. “But fear not. We will burn Leopold to the ground. Incinerate his works and send his colleagues fleeing into the night. I HAVE SEEN IT!!!!” He smashes the coffee table with a fist, upending it. He tenses and stares at it, aghast.
“It’s alright, I can get another,” Paul says with a wave. “I don’t believe I have his contact information, and I think it would be rude to show up unannounced.”
“With Holliday that is the only way. He does not carry your contrivances,” Norton says. “If you wish to speak with him, you must speak with him directly, or he will you. He is a classicist in this way.”
Norton gets up suddenly, stepping over the flipped table, and strides to the window. “When do you plan to strike?” he growls, staring to the east.
“Well, soon, but we have a mage friend of sorts who wants a favor from us—”
“The madman in the tower?” Norton turns and scoffs. “How you can stand to steal with madmen I will not understand!!”
“Umm…. Small doses. Very small doses…. Anyway, dealing with Holliday seems less terrifying than that quest—“
“I would not be so certain of that,” Norton says darkly. “Holliday was dangerous when he was alive and he remains one today.”
“Well, Holliday doesn’t involve werewolf bones, so….” Paul shrugs.
Norton blinks. “Werewolf bones? Oh my….” He sighs and looks to the east again, this time toward the crest of Twin Peaks, currently socked in by fog. “The crazed man in the tower has been here some time. I met him once. There is…” he hesitates, “….there is something unfortunate circling him. A fate perhaps, I cannot tell. The Sight is bothersome at times. Perhaps it circulates around his apprentice, the German lad who disappeared some time ago.” He shakes his head. “Perhaps he will destroy himself, or possibly us all.”
Paul processes that silently a moment before turning to Georgia (which IRL requires Chris to yell across the room to Kara, who is dozing on the couch). “Ms. Johnson, how would you feel if we visited Dr. Holliday before getting the werewolf bones?”
“Ok,” Georgia says (sleepily, from under a blanket, which is a pity cause I’m sure if she was awake more she’d have better shippy things to say or insinuate about the situation).
Norton nods. “I believe Holliday resides in Colma, in a store.”
(Me: “I thought it was a strip mall.”
Jason: “It’s not a strip mall, it’s a store.”
Me: “A store in a strip mall!”
Jason: “No! It was just a corner store!”
Me: “He could be in a store in the corner of a strip mall!”)
“Yes, a store in Colma,” Norton repeats emphatically.
Paul nods and gathers up Georgia to head out.
Anstis stops swimming and glances around. He can’t see anything around him, but he can’t shake the feeling that something else is in the water. He ducks his head under and peers through the gloom. It’s inky dark under the fog-shrouded sky, but he can make out…something…in the near distance, a shadow within shadows.
The longer he looks, the larger the shadow seems. He surfaces and swims faster.
Suddenly the tide accelerates, sucking toward the sea like the forefront of a tidal wave. Even at top strength he can’t fight it any longer, so he finally relents and shifts into octopus. He jets against the current, angling for the beach as fast as he can. Conveniently, though, his new form gives him eyes that can not only see better in the dim water, but can see behind him. But at this moment, he probably wishes they couldn’t.
A shark is sliding through the water behind him, but it’s not the shark from before. The outlines are indistinct, melding with the darkness around them, but even with that this shark is obviously immense. Anstis doesn’t know paleontology; if he did, he could have described it more succinctly.
It’s not a great white. It’s fucking Megalodon. Built like the great white but fifty feet long, with stocky jaws wide enough to swallow a car. Whole.
Anstis freezes in the water column, molluscian eyes staring. The shark circles around, then turns toward him.
(“I…continue swimming away, but leave a small amount of blood and tell it to…eat that.”
Everyone in the room stares at Jim. The Skype call is silent too, but I glance at the chat log. “Julian just sent, ‘*HEADDESK,*’” I report.)
Jim throws his hands out. “What!? I want a Megalodon ghoul!”)
Anstis…does just that, slashing a tentacle with his beak to release the blood and gurgling his command through the water. The shark whirls around, making another wide circle through the shadows. Anstis scoots away a few meters, watching patiently.
Then a voice responds, felt more than heard as it reverberates through the water and crawls across his skin. It’s a strange tongue, gutteral and lyrical at the same time, with an unexpected edge to it: a feminine one.
“Defile Unsea if you must,” the voice says, “But this is the price of defiling my waters.” With that, she whirls around again and torpedoes straight for Anstis, jaws wide and distended.
Anstis darts out of the way just in time. Her jaws clash shut like a thunderclap, releasing a shockwave that rocks him. He jets toward the beach, hoping that shallower water will impede her.
(Jason: “What’s your current damage?”
Jim: “Um…completely fine!”
Jason: “Oh, good! …Five ag.”)
The shark hits him like a freight train, tearing out a chunk of flesh the size of his human body. Gore and Vitae spill into the water as she shakes him like a dog, then releases. She flips back through the water to make another speed strike, while Anstis continues grasping feebly for shore. Nearly delerious, he barely registers it as something rough rubs against his underside.
He crawls his way out onto the beach, watery eyes peering around. He is further down from where he started, but can still see the cliffs of Lands End and the shape of the Cliff House looming over him. Relieved, he pulls himself further out of the water, turns back into a human, and collapses onto the sand. He lays a moment, healing up some of his gaping damage, and rolls over to look at the water. Then immediately wishes he hadn’t.
A monster is walking out of the black waves. Ten feet tall with brawny arms and legs but topped by a hulking shark head with jaws big enough to bite a human in half.
(Me: *Gasp* “Like a Street Shark!”
Jason: “Yes, exactly like a Street Shark!”
Chris: “What is a Street Shark?”
Me: “…Where were you in the mid-90’s?”
It pauses at the edge of the tide, water sluicing off the grey flesh like oilskin. The broad, clawed hands clench as it sees Anstis.
It advances up the beach.
Marcus suddenly freezes. He looks up at me, eyes wide. “Oooh…Neptune’s cock, what did he just find!?”
I look around the park. “What??”
“The beach! The beach that way,” he points south. “GO!”
I take him at his word and bolt blindly toward the water.
Anstis—still badly wounded—drags himself up the beach away from the creature, trying to gain enough time to shift back to flight form.
I, meanwhile, sprint down Point Lobos Ave, past the Cliff House, and skitter to a halt on the cliffs overlooking Ocean Beach. My position is a good vantage point to see Anstis dragging himself backward through the sand below me, pursued by a monster from the mid-90s.
“Oooh, son of a bitch….” I stare, paralyzed by shock as I process the situation. Anstis’s form is shrinking, taking on a soft, feathery cast, but it’s clear that the process won’t complete before the creature reaches him. There’s not enough time for me to get down there and fight—not that I would particularly want to—but perhaps I can buy him some time.
I pull out a shotgun and fire it into the air, arcing over the beach toward the water.
The creature whips its head toward me and stares with inky black eyes. It growls—a deep, gurgling noise—which even from this far away sends shivers down my back.
But it works. Anstis shifts down into a bleeding, bedraggled excuse for a bird and lumbers his way into the air. The creature snarls in frustration and grabs at him, but he clears to a safe altitude and soars over the park.
The creature turns back to me, growls again, then starts climbing up the cliff.
Nope nope nope nope…. I turn and run back up the road, climbing higher back into Lands End. The thing roars like crashing surf, spurring me faster, but then the noise stops. I’m fifty yards away before I dare to stop and look back.
There’s no sign of the monster on land, on the road or the beach, and nothing but rocks break the lapping swells of the waves below.
Anstis—exhausted and starving—circles higher, looking for high ground and/or a snack. Fortunately, he finds both, as he soars over Sutro Castle and sees a couple homeless people curled up against the low walls of the ruins. He lands, shifts back to human, and crawls to the closest one to begin feeding.
He finishes when the guy is dead. Some of Anstis’s superficial damage starts to heal back together as he crawls toward the second sleeping person.
He’s just started feeding again when a noise makes him stop. He drops the man and looks up. Aquilifer is perched in the tree overhead, staring at Anstis intently.
“What do you want?” he squacks at her.
She ducks her head and mantles her wings open. “Angry angry angry with you!”
“For what?” Anstis scowls.
Then Marcus steps out from the shadows beneath the tree. “Ask directly, Captain,” he says darkly.
Anstis regards him. “You are angry with me?”
Marcus folds his good arm against his body. “What the hell was that?”
“The incident in the sea?”
“Take a wild guess!”
Anstis shrugs, affecting a nonchalant look. “Twas a beastie beyond any I’ve seen before.”
“You don’t say.” Marcus continues to frown. “You were warned against the waters around here, Captain.”
Anstis glances toward the ocean. “And apparently with good reason!”
“Yes, but there’s something else I’d like to know.” He points to the other homeless man lying a few feet away. The dead one. “Shall we have a discussion about that?”
(Me: “Ooooh no….”
Chris: “It’s just like Elizabeth….”)
Anstis looks at the body. “I take it this is not something you approve of?”
“Does it look like I am approving?” Marcus says flatly. “Who was he?” His glower grows darker at Anstis’s blank expression. “Whose client was he? His patron? You know nothing of these things!”
Anstis shrugs. “You are from a different time than I.”
“And you from this. It concerns you so little to leave them dead, then?”
Anstis regards the body cooly. “I choose those at the fringes of society. The ones that won’t be missed.”
“Of course. How convenient,” Marcus hisses. “I served with the Sabbat for four centuries, Captain, I’m not new to this. But I do like to know who it is that I’m dealing with.” He glares silently for another moment. “Please. Don’t let me interrupt your meal.” He steps back deeper into the shadows, but doesn’t walk away.
I arrive at that moment, having followed Anstis’s flight path to the top of the park, but stop as I see the staredown in front of me.
“Fine compatriots you have here, Tom,” Marcus says without looking up.
I notice the two unconscious forms nearby on the ground and frown. “Well…I found him in the Chantry, so….”
“Fitting, isn’t it.” They continue to stare at each other. I look back and forth between them.
“Tom,” Anstis calls, “Did you see the thing out there?”
“I saw a thing, I have no idea what the hell it was—“
“Neither do I,” Marcus says, still staring at Anstis, “Which should tell you something by itself. There is talk of things in the water out here, which is why I suggested to be carefuL. What in the world were you doing in the sea?”
Anstis shrugs. “I thought we could use some sea-born allies.”
“Funny way of acquiring them. What did you do in there?”
Anstis draws himself up. “What do you think I did?”
“Captain,” Marcus steps forward from beneath the tree, but somehow the shadows on his face grow darker. “I have long since stopped trying to figure out what you’re trying to do, so why don’t you just answer me.”
Anstis stares a moment before responding. “I was trying to make a ghoul.”
Marcus rolls his eyes. “I should have known. And did you get one?”
“Well these things take time—“
“Oh, of course they do, well by all means, dive back in, Captain!” Marcus throws his arm toward the water.
Anstis scowls at the sea. “I may have to let this one go. To big for the line, shall we say.”
“Too big for the boat. And the skipper,” Marcus scowls (with Jason’s laughter breaking through). “And speaking of time, this must delay your plans somewhat.” He looks Anstis up and down. “You’ve looked better. …But, then again, so have I.” He shrugs his mutilated arm.
Anstis stares at him, then points to the dead man behind him. “Would you like an arm?”
Marcus glares at him, the shadows growing perceptibly longer around him. Anstis stares back and smiles. “Waste not,” he says with a growl.
Marcus watches him another long moment, then turns and walks away.
Aquilifer barks an angry cry at Anstis, then soars off after her master. Anstis turns to me, his face challenging. I hesitate a moment, looking between him and the bodies on the ground, then I too turn and follow Marcus into the trees.
I hear a mean chuckle behind me, carried by the breeze of the fog, but I ignore it and keep walking.
I catch up with Marcus on the cliffs overlooking Sutro Baths. He stops as he hears my footsteps crunching across the gravel path.
“Watch that one,” he says as I approach, staring out into the sea. “He kills too easily.”
“Well, he is a pirate,” I say, glancing behind us.
“And a Gangrel, but nevertheless. Those who kill too casually tend to wind up casually killed, in my experience.” He shrugs. “But that’s me. I’m long past the point where I had to kill every one of them.”
I follow his gaze toward the ocean. The fog obscures everything beyond a few yards away, merging sea and sky into a fathomless blackness, as if we were standing at not just the edge of the continent, but the edge of the world.
“If you mean to take him to the Farallones, I would see to his injuries. I suggest you find some means of accelerating this matter, you can’t wait for him. There are means about. Talk to the one in Colma, he might have something. But get it done, and get it done quickly. Not just for your sake, and not just for your friend’s. There are other matters at work.”
I nod, and continue to stare silently into the abyss.
Everyone—independently of one another (and/or asleep on the couch)—decides to actually take the hooks for once and converge upon Doc’s place in Colma. I go to collect Anstis, and in the process of which we finally about setting up a training-exchange, teaching each other Potence and Fortitude, respectively, and exchange blood points. That completed, I call a car to take us to Colma.
Which, of course, is being driven by fucking Adam. He grins at us as we climb into the car. Anstis collapses in the back. I take the front, tell him our destination, and return his grin with a glare.
We sit in silence for the ride.
Paul and Georgia arrive at the Doc’s store first. They’re directed toward the back by the clerk and walk into the storeroom to find Doc dealing cards to himself at a table surrounded by dusty shelves. The table is lit from above by a half-shaded hanging bulb, directing the light down onto Doc, leaving the rest of the room in darkness.
“Good evening!” Paul calls as they walk in.
“Mr. Stewart,” Doc says without looking up. “Welcome. How do I find you this night?”
“Um….” Paul looks down at himself. “Truthfully, worn a little thin.”
“It is a wearing time.” Doc glances up from the shadows under his hat. “We have all been through interesting times. We may yet live to find more.”
“Yes….” Paul smooths at his torn, stained clothes. “Our friend the Emperor said you might be able to…aid the healing process.”
“The healing process is a difficult one, Mr. Stewart. It cannot always be performed.” Doc gathers the cards and taps them into a stack. He place it on the table and looks up. “Tell me Mr. Stewart, what is it you wish to be healed of?”
Paul decides the best summary is to simply take off his shirt. “Most of these,” he says sadly.
Doc looks him over. “Those are physical injuries, Mr. Stewart. The essence of healing lies deeper than that. Not all men are capable of it.”
Paul inclines his head. “Go on….”
“Well there is not much more to tell.” Doc idly fans the cards out in front of him. “I am a doctor, or was at one point, but I do minister in other ways now. Some are not commodious to some, and some are. You wish to be cured of your many afflictions, do you?”
“I suspect disaster will strike sooner rather than later. I worry I am not up to it in my current condition.“
“I suspect you may be correct.” Doc looks up. “You wish to oppose disaster then, do you, Mr. Stewart? Disaster may not brook with opposition. And what form of disaster do you see on the frontier?”
“Well, the most immediate one is getting across an ocean filled with angry beasts of some sort—or other malice—to fight a Nazi who should have died seventy years ago.”
Doc raises an eyebrow. “Nazi. I have heard this term. It was not applied to men whose existence I approve of. You wish to fight this Nazi?”
Paul nods. “To rescue someone from them.”
“And who might that be?”
“…Another friend. Someone who has done well by me.”
“It is wise to keep council of your friends, Mr. Stewart. And you fear you have not the constitution to take on the man of this caliber, or the things that may ring him in?” He leans back in his chair. “Well, Mr. Stewart, I have the knowledge of certain techniques that some may call into use in a term like this. I was once a dentist, and then I was another thing. Whose services are you asking towards?”
Paul frowns. “I’m…not sure I follow….”
Doc leans forward, deepening the shadows across his face. “I am no longer a dentist, Mr. Stewart, I have not been one for some time. But I am, perhaps, not wholly what I replaced that with either.”
“Well my teeth, as far as I can tell, are in good order….”
“That is good. I would say they are the only ones you will ever have but we know that to be untrue.” Doc gathers up the cards again, shuffles them, and starts dealing them into two even piles. “Tell me, Mr. Stewart, are you a gambling man?”
Paul watches the quick movements of the cards. “Not in the traditional sense.”
“I do not tend to trust those who do not gamble a little. To gamble is to live, in a sense.”
Paul thinks a moment before responding. “I believe in taking risks. I believe in reaching as far as we can. I feel, in many ways, I have contributed to that at Tesseract.”
“But what do you do, Mr. Stewart, when the risks cannot be calculated and the events to come cannot be measured? What do you do when confronted with…” he finishes dealing out the piles. “…chance?”
“Trust my gut.”
“And what does your gut say in this case, Mr. Stewart?”
Paul stares at the two stacks of cards, then looks up to meet Doc’s gaze. “It says strike fast and strike hard.”
Doc watches him a moment, then gathers the cards together back into one pile. He starts dealing again, but this time it is a game of solitaire. “I knew a man once who employed such strategies. It was effective in his case. Though I cannot say I follow his path.” He shrugs. “I am a man of some persuasions but I do not know everything. Not even everything I have seen.” He falls quiet, the snap of cards echoing in the room.
“This friend of yours,” Doc continues, “Have they been of use to you in binds in the past?” Paul nods. “And is that why you wish to retrieve them? Reciprocity, Mr. Stewart?”
Paul shrugs. “I have a certain vision of how I want the world to work.
“And does the world work according to your vision, Mr. Stewart?”
“I make it so,” Paul says evenly.
“Thus speaks the Malkavian, and few others.” Doc starts moving the cards in his game. “This friend of yours…is she worth the price that may be required?”
Paul frowns. “I don’t believe I mentioned it was a she….”
Doc deals more cards. “No, Mr. Stewart, I don’t believe you did. But I assumed that a man of your persuasion would not go to such lengths if not for a woman. But perhaps I was mistaken.”
“I would like to think that I would act this way in any case when someone I respected and valued was on the line.”
Doc nods. He gathers up his discards and starts dealing new hands. “Then what can you offer me in return?”
“Well my natural response would be money, but I have a feeling that would bore you.”
“I have sufficient funds for my purposes, and I prefer to acquire more through…other means.” He glances up and smirks. “Payment in cash for services rendered is so pedestrian, you understand.” He looks back to the cards. “But there might be a matter on which I might request your assistance. After you have completed your business on those islands.”
“If you can tell me the matter ahead of time I can give you an answer.”
Doc moves a stack of cards, snapping the top corners to the table. “There is a man I knew once. I have not seen him in some time. But I have been told that he is here, in these environs. I do not know if that is true, but I have been told it by men whom I profess to trust. This man and I have had our disagreements in the past. He is an ignorant skunk, I do not approve of his continued existence, if you understand me. Now, in short order I would ordinarily go and strike him dead on the spot for the offense of having marred my sensibilities. But there are obstructions to my capacity to engage in my ordinary activities here.” The snap of cards echoes through the room. “The man in question has proven elusive. He does not enter the Bay itself. He hides in the margins, watching and waiting. I do not know his purpose, but I do know it is likely to be inimical to my interests here.”
He looks up. “I do not ask you to kill this man for I am better suited for that task, I think, than you may be.” He looks over Paul’s injuries and glances at Georgia (who is now formally parked, as Kara is fully asleep). “Or perhaps not so much better as I imagined. What I ask for you to do is to find this man and relay to me his location, as well as what purpose he may have in this city. The last I spoke with this man, he had purposes in the city in which I presently was in that were not conducive to its existence.”
Paul nods, processing this. “It is good you did not ask me to kill him, cause I would have had to turn you down.”
“It is good you would do so. A man must know those he kills, and know the reason. Even if that reason is something petty.” He flips more cards. “The man resides, last I was told, in Hayward, but he may be ranging anywhere from there to Antioch. His name is Samuel, though I do not know what name he goes by now. I can give you a description of what he was when last I saw him, but he is a man who knows best how to change his appearance. However, I have a feeling you may know those who are capable of finding him.
Paul frowns. “My social circles do seem to be widening….”
“They do. Moreover, you know men of the East Bay. My credit in those parts is sadly depleted. There was an incident.” He looks up. “Something has kept Samuel in these parts for some time now. I wish to know his interests. I have a feeling, Mr. Stewart, you will wish to know them too.”
Doc turns suddenly, looking toward the door leading to the front of the store. “I have a feeling there may be others approaching,” he says, gathering his cards.
Adam pulls the car up out front of the store. This time, he lets us go with nothing more cryptic than some pleasantries and a wave. I return the wave suspiciously as he drives away into the night.
We enter the store, heading straight to the back—(yaaaaaay the party is united again!)—and find Doc at his table, Paul and Georgia looming in the darkness next to him.
“Mr. Lytton,” Doc says, stacking his cards in front of him. “We were just discussing reciprocity and the nature of healing.”
“Yes, actually, speaking of, I wanted to introduce you to our friend here.” I stand aside so Anstis can step forward.
Anstis nods. “We met already, but you saw me in a different form.”
“I’m afraid I don’t recall….” Doc tips his hat. “Jonathan Holliday. I’m known to some.”
“Captain Thomas Anstis.”
Doc looks him over. “Why, Captain… You look like you’ve been bit by a shark.”
Anstis glowers. “Yes…the oceans are a bit treacherous around here, it would seem.”
“You will find all the waters in these parts are treacherous, and I do not simply mean the ones in the sea. You will come to understand if you live that long.” He leans back in his chair and turns to me. “And how do you fare in these nights, Mr. Lytton? May I assume you have come here for the same purposes as the good Mr. Stewart and Ms. Johnson?”
Actually, I am noticeably undamaged compared to the other three.… “No, actually, I just thought I’d come by and…pay my respects.”
“Well I’m always open for respect.” He smirks. “We were discussing an acquaintance of mine, one whom I knew from some time before. A man whom I have had the misfortune to incur the…pleasantries of more than once. A man by the name of Samuel.”
(Jim: “…L. Jackson?”
Jason: “Yes. Samuel L. Jackson. Who is not a vampire, he’s just a bad mother-fucker.”
Jim: “Lol, so no one wants him to become a vampire because—“
Jason: “—Everyone is terrified of the thought. They’re pretty sure blood-bonds wouldn’t work on him and if they embrace him he will proceed to be Caine.”
Chris: “I have to believe that there are a few vampires who would try anyway.”
Jason: “Probably, but none of them have survived the experience of getting close enough to Samuel L. Jackson to embrace him.”
Chris: “So he’s a Hunter?”
Jason: “…By default yes. He has no supernatural powers, he’s just Samuel L. Jackson.”
Me: “The actual Hunters don’t want him around cause they’re afraid he’d make them look bad.”
Jason: “And he would. He’s like the Anti-Ellison.”
Me: “There are two real powers at work in the World of Darkness, Ellison and—“
Jason: “—Samuel L Jackson, yes. They are the twin poles around which the world operates.”)
“This man by the name of Samuel,” Doc continues, nodding at Paul, “Mr. Stewart contracted to give me information on his whereabouts in exchange for some assistance that I might provide.”
I frown. My mind immediately jumps to Samuel Clemens, which seems a little far-fetched, until I recall that I’m standing here talking to Doc Holliday with an actual pirate of the Caribbean and was sent here by a fucking Roman who knew Caesar personally. I sigh.
You know, my math teachers always told me that paying attention in their classes might someday save my life, but I sure never expected that it should have been my history teachers giving the advice….
Doc regards Anstis and I appraisingly. “Samuel is an ignorant skunk. I wish him to stop being so, by one means or another. I can handle as much, as long as I can locate this man. But I do not know his whereabouts, though it is likely in the East Bay. All sightings have been in the East Bay.”
“Is he Kindred?” Anstis asks.
Doc nods slowly. “Indeed, though of a sort I cannot say. I last saw him quite some time ago, in the Year of our Lord 1906. It was not a merry meeting.”
Doc shuffles the cards, still staring at us. “If you will contract to assist me in his location, or possibly in his removal, I may in position to help. Contingent of course on the answer to a question: what form of help are you seeking?”
I look at Anstis. He returns the gaze cooly. “When were you looking to get underway?” he asks.
“And what be the harm of waiting a couple of days?”
“Possibly the end of the world,” I say flatly.
(Jason: “So…no pressure.”)
Anstis stares a moment, then sighs. “Fine, fine. End of the world.”
“Someone’s world is always ending, Captain,” Doc says. “In my experience, there are only personal Apocalypses.”
Anstis considers this and nods. “In mine as well.”
“And mine as well….” I add under my breath, avoiding anyone’s gaze.
Doc looks us all over. “Am I to assume that you all will be attacking in defense of Mr. Stewart’s associate?” We nod.
“Tom, when we get a chance, I need to fill you in on the game-plan,” Paul says to me.
“Oh, do we have a plan now?” I ask innocently.
“Yes,” he says, glaring at me.
“I recommend we don’t swim,” Anstis adds. We stare at him, and the gaping hole in the side of his chest.
Paul’s plan, by the way, is to…wait for it…SUMMON HIMMLER AGAIN. This time, though, he’s going to Summon him to a secure, fortified location where he and Georgia will be waiting with reinforcements. Meanwhile, Anstis and I will make our run on the island to try and locate and rescue Sophia.
It’s…not the worst idea in the world, and at this point—both in and out of game—I don’t really care what the plan is so long as we’re trying something. I’m sure no matter what we do it will eventually boil down to gunfire and punching anyway.
“Mr. Stewart,” Doc says suddenly, voice low. “This associate of yours…is she Kindred?”
I tense and glance at Paul. He shakes his head tersely. “No.”
Doc leans forward, his hat casting his face into shadow. “Now how came you to have an associate who is not Kindred to whom you owe this much?”
Paul shrugs. “Repeated mutual gestures of trust.”
“Something in short supply, I warrant,” Doc says.
“Mr. Stewart here seems to have an affinity for making all sorts of friends with humans,” Anstis adds.
“Oh I don’t think anyone spoke of humans,” Doc says, still staring at Paul.
Paul stares evenly back. “You’re pretty sharp.”
“I have my moments.” Doc leans back and pulls a flask from his pocket. “Shall we seal our agreement with a toast then, perhaps?”
“Actually, I was hoping I could have a word with you first. Tom, Georgia, Mr. Anstis, would you mine giving us the room? We will only be a moment.”
We exchange curious glances but step out of the room, back to the front of the shop. Paul closes the door behind us and turns to Doc. “When you were discussing healing, you implied there was more than physical things you could heal. Spiritual, perhaps?”
Doc lifts an eyebrow. “Things I can heal? Perhaps. I spoke in general terms, of such healing as may be found.”
“Indeed. Well…nonetheless, you seem to have some expertise in the area, and it doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Doc shrugs and tilts his chair back. He pulls a small blade out of his pocket and start idly cleaning his fingernails with it. “I have a handful of skills I believe. Some not involving pistols.”
“What can you do to…well…let’s say I had some issues with my inner Beast.”
Doc glances up. “We all have issues. The trick is understanding that we have never not. Not before the embrace, not after it. What we call the ‘Beast’ is really a facet of who we are.”
Paul processes this silently, staring at the storage shelves lining the room. “In life I never seemed so…violent, or panicked.”
Doc points his knife at Paul. “The embrace refines you, down to a fine edge. One that can whet, or cut, as you see fit. It burns away irrelevancies. And what it leaves behind, well…. That is the trick, and the question. What has it left behind, Mr. Stewart?”
“What indeed….” he says quietly, fingering some of his own wounds through his clothes. “I tried starving myself awhile ago….”
“And how did your experiments with asceticism go?”
Paul stares at the shelves unseeingly. Instead, he remembers the visions he had, that night he locked himself in the concrete bunker in the headlands.
Visions of his lost lover Lisa. Visions of tearing her apart.
“It flung them back in my face,” Paul says softly.
“It has that tendency.”
Paul turns to Doc, still leaning back in his chair, lit by the spotlight of the hanging bulb. “Is that a line of inquiry worth continuing?” Paul asks.
“All lines of inquiry are worth continuing if they teach us something about ourselves. I am not you, I do not carry your bloodline. But I have not found the answers in fasting, I have always been a…continent man.”
Doc settles his chair to the ground with a thump and starts shuffling the deck of cards. “There are all manner of things to be found in this world, Mr. Stewart, if you know how and where to look, and how and where to listen. All manner of mysteries and all manner of answers to them. I wonder…are you capable of witnessing them? Of experiencing them?”
Paul watches Doc’s hands deftly snap and fold the cards. “Well, I have experienced more than a few mysteries lately….”
“And you will experience more, I should warrant. This need not be a curse. Unless you wish it to be.” He finishes shuffling and stacks the deck in a neat pile. “Perhaps you and your friends would care for a drink, to seal this matter. And when you have returned from your sojourn to the Farallones, perhaps we will speak at greater length?”
Paul nods and walks to the door.
“Oh, one more thing, Mr. Stewart, before you call them in.” Doc leans forward. “Your associate. The small one. What is your tie to him?”
Paul stares at the door a moment before turning around. “Similar to the one I’m going to the Farallones for. He spared me when he had no cause to and he has come through for me when he again had no cause to.”
Doc nods. “I do not wish to tell you your business, Mr. Stewart. I am not a perfect man, and I doubt you are either.” He looks up, meeting Paul’s gaze. “Marcus Sertorius is not a perfect man either, and there are those—which are more than a few—who regard him as far more imperfect than I think you can imagine.” He pauses a moment before continuing. “I am not a man who tells one to abandon his friends, but there are paths that cannot be walked with others, and there are insights some are not ready to see. Be certain that you do not blind yourself through association with those who will not open their eyes.”
Paul nods silently, processing this, then calls the rest of us back in. Doc grabs the flask he removed earlier and pours us each a shotglass of the red liquid inside. We each take one, sniffing curiously at the cool contents, which smell richer than normal blood.
Doc takes the last glass and lifts it. “To your success, then.” We all toast him back and drink the blood.
Then immediately pass out on the floor.
We wake up under stars, faces brushed by a breeze fresh with the scent of dry grass and sage. We slowly sit up and look around. Everyone else stares blankly at the landscape around us, but I, at least, have been here before.
The top of San Bruno mountain.
“Son of a bitch,” I mumble, climbing to my feet.
Paul, Georgia, and Anstis, arise more slowly, investigating themselves in surprise. Their clothes are still a mess, but their bodies are completely healed.
Paul, though, finds something else during his pat-down: a piece of paper tucked in his pocket. He opens it and stares at it. It’s a note, written in an elegant hand he doesn’t recognize, with just a single short phrase. The wind tugs at the note as he reads it.
“Be careful when staring into the abyss.”
END OF NIGHT