“When HITLER accuses you of not having a conscience, you might want to check yo’self.”
As indicated last time, we all wake up on the top of San Bruno mountain just after nightfall, with clear views of the suburbs spread below us and the fog pouring in over the hills to the west. There’s no sign of Doc or anyone else and no indication how we got to where we are or what happened here. We collectively decide that the best thing will be to simply get on with things.
We discuss the plan for the Farallones mission (which, I apparently got wrong last time I mentioned it: Paul wants GEORGIA and I to go to the islands while he and ANSTIS Summon Himmler to some fortified location). None of us seem particularly excited about the plan but agree to go along with it anyway.
Or, well, I take that back: Mr. Tails is excited about the plan, which means we should probably be even more worried.
The plan for the early part of the night is to round up as many resources and reinforcements as possible. Paul decides to see about getting help from the Myrmidon guys, Anstis decides to talk to Helgi.
On our way down the mountain, I decide to call Slayer.
He picks up after three rings. “Who the FUCK is—“
“Heeeeeeeey boy,” I say, adding just a dollop of gay to my inflection.
Slayer drops his tone real fast. “—OH! Shit, man, what do you want, I got what you need, I—“
I grin into the night. “How are things?”
“—I got your stuff man, I got your stuff back from the place—“
“Did you sell it?”
“And you kept the painting?”
“Good! Keep that safe, I’ll need it in a bit.” I smirk. He’s no ghoul, but perhaps this arrangement will work out after all. “What about the pad?”
“Oh…I talked to some boys, I got you a place. It’s…” he hesitates. “It’s in Richmond….”
My face falls. “Richmond-District or Richmond-East Bay?”
“…East Bay….” he whimpers. “Look man, it’s the best I could do!”
“Well that’s not gonna help me when I need to crash in the city! No one can cross the fucking bridge!” My shouts rings down the hillside. Paul glances back at me. I roll my eyes at him and slow down to drop back from the group.
“Do you know how hard it is to find a place in the fucking city!?” Slayer protests.
“Yes I do! I had to have a fucking 7th-gen Lasombra get one for me last time!”
Slayer makes a gurgling noise. “Look, I’m trying man! Most of the guys won’t go near me when I got this shit on me!”
“…What shit on you?”
I stumble, startled, but immediately grin again. “Really? What are they saying about me?”
“That you’re a fucking crazy motherfucker man! That you run around killing werewolves! No one goes near fucking werewolves!!!”
My gait picks up just the slightest hint of swagger. “Yeah, well, I’m trying to go near one in particular later this evening, which reminds me, where are we on that dragonsbreath?”
“I…well I got some, but…it…. It’s still in Reno….”
Swagger gone. “Seriously? You’ve had—what has it been, two nights?”
“DUDE I’ve been WORKING on it!”
“You’ve been working for two nights and all you’ve got is one apartment in Richmond and no dragonsbreath!”
“I had to fence an entire warehouse full of shit man!”
I roll my eyes and drop my tone. “My shit is not shit, son!”
“I….” I can hear Slayer mentally backpedaling. “I’m sorry! I don’t know people into that bu—that…kinda thing….”
“…Into what kind of thing?” I say sweetly.
“You know…. your kinda…thing….” There’s a pause. “GAY SHIT, man! What the FUCK you think I’m talking about!”
I keep my tone low, but outwardly I’m grinning. “You know some of those dildos were cast from life from real porn stars, I hope you got a good price for them—“
Another choked gurgle. I grin at the mental image of Slayer cutting off his own hands to remove the gay taint (HA!) from handling my toy collection. “Then why the fuck didn’t you sell them!!?” he cries shrilly.
“Cause I gotta go save a werewolf from a fucking Nazi!” I pause a moment to let that sink in. “Which is why I need the dragonsbreath! If you can’t get that, you got a lead on anything else with some firepower? And by lead I mean in the city! Tonight!”
Slayer hesitates a few moments before responding. “I…might have something. It’s not dragonsbreath, it’s not shotgun rounds, it’s…look, give me a couple hours.”
I sigh. “Seriously?”
“Look I gotta see a dude and rip him the fuck off, man!”
I groan. “I thought you said you got funds, man!”
“I have funds! This dude ain’t selling!”
My spider sense starts tingling. “Who’s the dude?” I ask suspiciously.
“Man, you don’t fucking want to know, some gangbanger asshole outta Oakland—“
I think for a second. “It’s not Helgi, is it—“
“DO I LOOK LIKE SOME STUPID MOTHERFUCKER GOES NEAR HELGI!?”
Everyone else in the group is twenty feet ahead of me but they all turn at Slayer’s shout echoing from my phone. I ignore them. “No, you look like some stupid motherfucker who sends everyone else to steal from him instead then brags about it. If you’re gonna rip off some asshole yourself, I gotta know who it is in case it gets traced back to me!”
“I’M GONNA FUCKING KILL THE ASSHOLE, ALRIGHT!?” Slayer screams, voice near breaking. I can hear him actually panting for a few moments afterward.
I smirk again. “You sound kinda tense there, son, need a massage or something? Cause I got some oils—“
“Man, FUCK YOU!!!!”
(Jason: “I love Slayer.”
Me: “I knooow! Me too!”)
We’re approaching the outskirts of Colma at the base of the mountain, but I’m not quite done punishing Slayer yet. “So, how’s the new bike treating you?” I ask sweetly.
He groans. “Who the fuck drives one of these fucking things, man!?”
“Uh, well, you do now, so….”
I hear a gasp that sounds suspiciously close to a sob. “Man, fuck this shit, man! This is some bullshit!” he sputters, voice wavering.
“Well, it’s a good lesson for you,” I say patronizingly. “I hope you think about what you’ve done every time you ride it. Give me a call as soon as you got a line on any of that shit.” With that I hang up and rejoin the group.
Anstis eyes me. “He seems a mite touchy.”
I shrug. “Yeah. I feel kinda bad, but…not too bad.”
We discuss more plans. Georgia is understandably nervous about going into a situation like this with no idea what magic will be present but unfortunately there don’t seem to be any Tremere left around for her to get advice from. I call Marcus and leave a message asking if he is planning on attending as well.
Mr. Tails, meanwhile, has been chattering continuously to Paul, asking about the “new friends” we are going to meet. Paul stubbornly decides to ignore him and talks to Anstis about procuring weapons and explains to him why his trip in the ocean killed his phone. Not to be deterred in his creepiness, Mr. Tails turns his attention on me.
“Where are we going?”
“On a cruise,” I grumble.
“Are we going to meet friends? Are we going to meet the man with the iron heart? I want to meet him and be his friend!”
I frown. “The iron heart? Is that like an iron cross?”
Mr. Tails doesn’t answer.
At that point we reach the parking lot outside of Doc’s store and split off to our new tasks. Anstis transforms and takes off, and Paul takes his BMW motorcycle. Georgia and I call a car.
(Jason: “Well, I think you know who’s driving it….”)
“Interesting night?” Adam says with a grin as we get in.
“Could you just maybe give us your phone number so we can call you directly?” Georgia asks as she fumbles with her seatbelt.
He smiles. “Have you had any trouble getting me?”
I glare at him.
Thus, with predictably pointless conversation, we head back to the city.
Georgia and I head to the Pyramid. Bell is out but we come across a herd of ghouls sorting and sifting through the crates of stuff that were brought back from the Chantry. Georgia sidles her way in, with a mind to hide and/or steal anything that looks like Secret Tremere Things™. Unfortunately for her, it looks like everything has been largely picked over already, although there’s no way to tell if it was done by Bell and his people, or Perpenna before them.
While we’re rummaging, Georgia gets a call. It’s Dr. vonNatsi—who, incidentally, for someone who hates being bothered, sure seems to love bothering Georgia a lot. Anyway, he says that he’s, quote, “heard a rumor,” and would like to meet with her in person to discuss it. She offers to come up to the lab, but he declines, alluding to some recent…incidents. She suggests meeting at a bar instead.
For someone who has lived in the city for almost four decades now, Dr. vonNatsi seems woefully unfamiliar with the local attractions, but Georgia’s obviously no better. She asks me for a suggestion, and I recommend Twin Peaks Tavern, at the corner of Castro and Market, right in sight of the big fucking rainbow flag so it’s impossible to miss. Dr. vonNatsi agrees but emphasizes that he will be incognito and warns her she might have trouble recognizing him.
I, meanwhile, still poking through the crates, have gotten bored with this antiques roadshow and consider my next move. The wire cockroach I picked up from Gus is still in my pocket. I toy with it, thinking….
The cockroach is a symbol of the Glasswalkers, which is of course Sophia’s…tribe or whatever. Gus was kinda a creepy fuck but since it’s possible he’s associated with her, I’d really like to talk to him and see if I can get him to join up with us in the Farallones raid to rescue her. He’s obviously not going to be keen to talk to me after what Georgia pulled, but maybe if I can get him alone I can explain that she’s a Tremere, backstabbing is kinda what they do, and maybe we can start over on neutral terms.
But where to find him? I’m not going back to Russian Hill anytime soon if I can help it, that’s for sure. But if he’s somehow associated with the werewolves, then there’s one place in town that I should probably look first.
Golden Gate Park.
It’s risky, of course, but since there supposedly are no werewolves left in town, I figure the risk is the lowest it’s going to get. I drop the crap in my hand back into a crate and leave the room.
Georgia arrives at Twin Peaks Tavern. It’s Friday night, so it’s fairly crowded with middle-aged gay men and tourists who tentatively picked it for a low-key gay bar experience. Georgia makes her way through the chattering crowd, peering carefully at the people lurking in corners. She finally spots Dr. vonNatsi sitting by himself at a small table toward the back of the bar.
His stained labcoat stands out even in the shadows of the bar and barely covers the bandoliers of death-rays strapped across his body. His hair—wilder than usual—is sticking out underneath and between the two pairs of ether goggles on his forehead. He doesn’t notice Georgia at first, muttering and fiddling with what appears to be a pocket watch clutched in his heavy-gloved hands. A few people nearby are staring at him, idly sipping their drinks and asking each other if there’s a steampunk convention in town. Georgia sidles past them and sits down at his table.
VonNatsi looks up, startled. “How did you recognize me!?”
“Um…. Well your hair is sticking out a little…?”
He gapes. “But…I am vearing ze camoflauge!” He holds his arms out. “Zis is ze grey labcoat!!”
“Well, it’s…um…how about I get us some drinks?” Georgia flags someone down and orders peppermint schnapps for vonNatsi and a martini that she won’t drink.
“I can’t believe ze grey labcoat did not verk….” vonNatsi mumbles, picking at his lapel.
“Well….maybe it wore out?”
“Hmm. It has been some time since I have tried to blend into society….” vonNatsi peers around at the denizens of the bar, eying their outlandish t-shirts and jeans suspiciously. “Ze last time I attempted to do so vas…March 4th….”
Georgia blinks. “That…was just a few days ago….”
“…1978,” vonNatsi finishes, taking a sip of his schnapps.
“Ah. Well. Maybe it is time for a new one….?”
VonNatsi tosses an arm. “Bah! I am a scientist! I do not have time to keep up vith ze current fashion trends!”
(Jim: “But maybe you can do that for him! You can be his personal fashion assistant!”
Me: “Fashion show! Fashion show! Fashion show at lunch!”)
“Anyvay, I vished to speak with you on a subject….” vonNatsi beckons at Georgia and leans across a table. “I have heard…a rumor…. Something I vas not expecting to hear….”
Georgia frowns and leans in. “Okay…about what?”
vonNatsi glances around. “Ze Tremere,” he whispers, “und ze people zat ze Tremere have been employing in zis place….”
“Um…what people? What do you mean?”
His eyes narrow. “I am referring, Fraulein, to ze Nazis,” he hisses. “NOT—“ he sits up and levels a finger at her, “ze VONNATSIS!”
Georgia waves her hands dismissively. “Oh, no, nonono, it’s just a couple of rogue Tremere in the city who have gone completely off the deep end–”
“Fraulein,” vonNatsi says seriously. “I know zat I am not vearing ze correct labcoat, ja? Und I am sitting in ze bar und zere are ze peoples zat are playing ze musics zat I do not understand, und zey are gawking around vith their cameras und saying, ‘Oh let us laugh at ze German because he is a scientist, ja!’ I understand this.” He glares at her. “But I also understand other things, such as vat it is zat the Tremere vill say ven zey vish to lie!”
Georgia sighs. “You’ve known me a while now, you know I’m not good at lying—“
“Ja, vich is vhy you are not succeeding at zis moment, ja? I have heard it said before zat zere vere ‘rogue Tremere,’” he says with air quotes—though they are at disparate heights —“Doing ze things zat no one vanted zem to do. Vat this means is zat zere are Tremere doing things zat no one vants to talk about.” He scoffs and takes another sip of his drink.
“Look, all I know is that right there there are at least two separate factions in the Tremere and as far as I know, I am in the correct one.”
“Und vich one is ze correct one?” vonNatsi asks flatly, setting his glass down.
“The one that doesn’t work with Nazis! But does work with you!”
He regards her a moment. “Ve shall see….”
“The other faction are traitors!”
“Traitors to whom?”
“To the rest of the Tremere!”
He barks a laugh. “Ja, because the rest of the Tremere are BOYSCOUTS!” he slams the table to punctuate his point. A few people look over.
Georgia glances at the crowd nervously. “I’m…not certain that the Boyscouts allow vampires….”
VonNatsi sighs and leans forward again. “Fraulein, perhaps I am not speaking correctly. I appreciate that you are dedicated to the Science—ze true Science, not ze mysticism of ze quantum theory—but I am not stupid. I understand vat the Tremere are und vat zey are not. Zey are not ze…Gentlemen’s Club of Niceness!”
Georgia’s eyes narrow. “Well, let me tell you something, then. Some friends and I are planning to exterminate the Nazi Tremere. And if you would like to help, we would love your assistance.”
(Me: “And some deathrays, please!”)
VonNatsi’s face suddenly morphs from suspicious to interested. “Exterminate the Nazi Tremere?” he says slowly. “…Vere are ze Natsi Tremere?”
“The Farallones. The islands off the coast.”
His eyes widen. “Ooooh! Ze islands! Vith ze science, und ze sharks!”
(Jim: “Yes. The sharks. >:|”)
“Oh, so you’ve heard of them.” Georgia hesitates. “Wait, what kind of science?”
“Ze bird science.” He sips his drink thoughtfully. “Vhy are zey on zose islands?”
“Um, it’s private?”
VonNatsi nods, but is still eyeing her intently. “Tell me, Fraulein, are you a believer in ze Scientific Method?”
“Theories are tested through experimentation.” He examines his drink, a strangely smug look on his face. “Perhaps I should perform a test….”
Georgia blinks at him. “On…the Farallones?”
VonNatsi makes an exaggerated shrug. “If the Nazis are zere und ze test is here…who is to say vhy I have done ze test, ja?”
VonNatsi trails off, grinning to himself. Georgia is perplexed by his sudden self-satisfied tone but quietly plays with her own drink.
“You vish to…impede the Nazis, ja?” vonNatsi says suddenly, leaning across the table, the lights of the bar glinting simultaneously off his eyes and the goggles on his head. “Ven you see ze Nazis, I think you should give me a call.” He glances around and drops his voice to a whisper. “Und perhaps…I can produce a test of mein theories.”
Georgia leans back slightly. “Your…theories?”
“Ja. Mein theories of…animation.”
He grins at her and finishes his drink.
Paul arrives at Tesseract. There’s no visible sign of Myrmidon but he can still feel eyes on him as he blows through the campus and heads to his office. Klaus is waiting for him there, looking somewhat less rumpled but no less irritated. He stands up as Paul enters.
“Klaus!” Paul cries, grabbing the man’s hand. “Good to see you. Good to be able to see you.”
“Paul,” Klaus says stiffly. “How long are we going to be dealing with Myrmidon?”
Paul’s excitement deflates a bit. “A while longer. They’re not overstepping their authority, I hope?”
“No, but they will not acknowledge mine.” Klaus walks to the window and scowls across the campus. “They operate independently without reference to me and I don’t know who they’re talking to. Their leader keeps placing calls, I don’t know to where.”
Paul has an idea of the ultimate destination of those calls, but he doesn’t say anything. “I’ll look into that.”
Klaus nods, still staring out the window. “Please. I don’t like mercenaries.”
Paul sits at his desk. “I understand. So, about our…friend I brought to you last week…from the Third Reich….”
Klaus sighs and turns to him. “Right, because now I live in a world where that happens. What about him?”
“He’s been sent away, as we discussed?”
“For the moment, yes.”
Paul nods. “His boss is taking an interest in…well I’m not sure what he’s taken an interest in, but lets just say that it concerns me that one of the greatest war criminals in history is just off the coast doing whatever he pleases. I aim to end that.”
Klaus folds his arms. “How?”
“I can…lure him supernaturally to a place of my choosing.”
Klaus raises an eyebrow. “Really? And he has to come?” Paul nods. “Well what is to stop him from coming with an army?”
“Nothing. Which is why this is to be the mother of all ambushes.”
“Won’t he know it’s an ambush?”
“Probably, but it won’t stop him. Which is why we have to be better prepared.”
“Than an undead wizard?” Klaus snorts. “Paul I know you hired me for my expertise but this is a bit beyond my paygrade!”
Paul shrugs and spreads his hands. “I tell you because you were interested. If this is something you don’t want to be involved in, I understand.”
Klaus throws an arm toward the window. “Destroying that man is something I would love to be involved in, assuming I have the means! What is it you expect me to hire, the US Army?”
“There are some other interested parties, but I’m hoping to rely more on guile for this one.”
Klaus drops his arm and eyes Paul suspiciously. “What did you have in mind?”
“An abandoned facility somewhere, not to0 many entrances and exits. Large enough to keep a few tanks of liquid nitrogen around. Something to be opened on his way to me.”
Klaus starts pacing the room, continuing to eye Paul. “Underground? Above? Fortified? Public? Private?”
“Something he can’t easily see through. Underground would work. Private, preferably. I’d like to keep this away from everyone if possible.”
Klaus nods slowly. He stares into space a moment, then turns back to Paul. “Funston. Fort Funston. The tunnels go miles throughout that area and they’ve mostly been sealed off. There won’t be anyone around at night, and they were designed to stop battleship fire. Best I could think of. I know someone at the national parks service, I can get us access and very few questions.”
Paul smiles and taps a note into his phone. “Perfect. Do you know where we could acquire a few thousand gallons of liquid nitrogen on short notice?”
“You’re the engineer Paul, I just work here.” Klaus glowers, suddenly dropping his professional tone. “Ask your mercenary friends, they seem to have contacts everywhere.”
Paul eyes him. “I’ll do that. Are there any other concerns you wanted to bring up?”
Klaus turns his glower back to the window. “I don’t like mercenaries, and there’s a great many reasons why I don’t like them. You can file most of my concerns under that. They’ve been the scum of the Earth since the Trojan war. They turn on you on a dime and are willing to sell their own grandmothers.”
Paul nods slowly, face flat. “Well. For the moment they have access to things that may be useful.”
“Who do they work for?” Klaus asks suddenly, turning back to Paul.
Paul regards Klaus for a few moments. Klaus returns the stare evenly. Finally Paul speaks. “You recall my disappearance?”
“Yes. I assume you weren’t in India.”
“No. Actually I wasn’t far away at all, I was in Marin.” Paul sighs. “Unfortunately I was staked for most of those six months—“
“Ah. Vampire weakness. Apparently putting a stake through the heart doesn’t kill a vampire but paralyzes them. Us.”
Klaus rolls his eyes. “Of course. Because now real life is an Anne Rice novel.”
(Me: “Actually it’s more a Dresden novel, thank god.”)
“Anyway, I wasn’t just staked, I was also stored in some alternate hell dimension.” Paul’s face falls. “I didn’t…really like that, I’d rather not discuss it…. In any case, I was running an errand with some other people and someone arranged for us to meet an overwhelmingly powerful vampire and be lost in the process. Things didn’t go quite as they planned, but things didn’t go quite as we planned either.” Paul looks away, out the window to the dark landscape of the campus. “That…powerful vampire and I have, for the moment, a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Klaus stares a moment then gestures toward the window, and the unseen figures of the Myrmidon guys lurking in the shadows beyond. “They work for another vampire?”
“Yes. He claims he founded them.”
Klaus stares at the ceiling beseechingly. “Gott im Himmel…. Paul we have thousands of people working at this company. If that vampire tells them to go farm him some blood—“
“As far as I can tell that doesn’t seem to be his MO.”
“And you know this how?”
Paul swivels back and forth, still staring at the window. “He’s saved my ass a few times in the last few weeks. He’s…stuck up in that curiously principled way.”
“How old is this vampire?”
“Maybe 2,000 years old. Whenever Ancient Rome was.”
Klaus stares at him. “He’s a 2,000 year old monster who has existed by drinking human blood for century upon century, but you trust his armed men around your employees because you think he has principles?”
Paul shrugs. “As far as I can tell, he is interested in protecting my employees because he’s invested in this company up the ass. I trust him because he gets very personal when people mess with his clients.”
Klaus processes this. “Am I working for this vampire now?”
“I suppose indirectly, but I don’t think he thinks of it that way.”
“Oh, well, wonderful. When do I get to meet him? When is the company picnic?” Klaus strides across the room and drops into one of the chairs facing the desk, glaring at Paul. The two men stare at each other in silence for a few moments.
Again, Paul breaks the silence first. “Can you work in this environment anymore?” he asks calmly. “I have never had cause to doubt you, but I have given you more than enough things to drive anyone else off the edge.”
Klaus sighs. “Paul, I am still waiting for the alarm to go off and for me to wake up. This is madness beyond imagining.”
“The feeling lasts awhile,” Paul mutters. Klaus glares and looks away.
“Listen,” Paul says, “I don’t like having mercenaries around my employees any more than you do, but right now they’re the best thing we have against everything that’s out there.”
Klaus takes a breath. “I will help you do this Paul but I want something in return. I want you to show me this vampire. I want to know what I’m working for. What,” he snaps, holding out a finger, “Not who. I want to see or meet whatever this puppetmaster is. If he’s the most powerful thing in the city, as you say, then I want to know where the ceiling is.”
Paul’s face darkens. “There’s more powerful things out there. Things not nearly as…nice.”
Klaus stares at him. A few moments pass before he speaks again. “I opened the paper this morning and read about missing persons. Some in the East Bay, one in the south, and I thought to myself how many of them were people who wandered off, and how many of them were eaten.”
The room is cold, but Klaus’s gaze cuts through it like fire. Paul, though, meets it evenly. “It’s a distressing thought,” he says flatly. “But I don’t have an answer for you.”
“Well then we shall see if he does.” Klaus stands up. “I will help you Paul. If you find a source for the nitrogen, I can arrange to have it delivered to Fort Funston tomorrow evening. But as for this…magic….” He suppresses a shudder. “Paul I will not put my men in front of that…thing coming in from the Farallones.”
Paul nods tersely. “I neither expect nor want you to. I am involving you as a…courtesy, I know Himmler is as distasteful to you as he is to me.”
“Himmler is distasteful to everyone on the Earth. I doubt you will have difficulty finding people willing to attack him.” He jerks his chin toward the door. “Talk to your mercenaries. Even they might be interested.”
With that, Klaus strides from the room.
Paul meets with the head of Myrmidon—
(Jason: “—Whom I still haven’t named. Give me a name for the head of Myrmidon.”
Me: *reading the Skype log* “Slab Beefsteak!”
Jason: “Rolf Fizzlebottom!”
Me: “Big McLarge-Huge!”
Cameron: “Bob Johnson!”)
—Vincent, downstairs in the lobby. Paul tries to play coy about his situation, but Vincent makes it rapidly clear that Paul can cut the crap and get to the heart of the matter. With that out of the way, Paul says he needs help killing a Nazi wizard with an army of gargoyles. Vincent is at least mildly surprised, but says it’s not the strangest request he’s had this week.
Additionally, Paul says he needs to get a small team of people out onto the Farallones, via helicopter or boat. Vincent says they can get a chopper, but a boat going too close to those islands might run afoul of the Coastguard.
(Me: “Yeah, they’re going to be looking for whoever fucked up the lighthouse lens on Alcatraz.”)
Vincent suggests the helicopter as the better option and says he can get a Huey no problem.
(Jim: “Really? He’s going to have them sneak up on the island in the loudest helicopter in existence!?”
Me: “I was just thinking that!!”)
Vincent doesn’t bat an eye at the idea of ferrying the rest of us assholes around in his helicopter, but does tense when he finds out that the rescue target is a werewolf. He says he’s worked with them before—usually in the context of werewolf kill teams—and doesn’t like the implications. If she Hulks-out, a helicopter won’t contain her.
But, then again, a battleship wouldn’t either, so he might as well go along with it.
I arrive in Golden Gate Park. I figure that in order to find this Gus character, all I need to do is be seen somewhere visible, preferably in a public place where he won’t just attack me outright. Since it’s Friday night, there is one place that fills this niche nicely:
Free-Night Fridays at the deYoung.
The car drops me off and I stare up at the copper-plated wall of the museum looming above me, its severity incongruous against the lush palms and bright lights of the concourse. With the park normally off-limits to vampires, this is my first time seeing it in person since it opened in 2005. People are steaming past me toward the front door and I can hear the drifting music of a live band coming from inside. I smile to myself. Even if this Gus doesn’t show up, this looks like a pleasantly…mortal way to spend an evening. I silently congratulate myself on my idea and swagger toward the door.
I’m approaching the clustered line of people in the courtyard around the front entrance when something suddenly nags at me. A sense of…something. Something off. It doesn’t feel immediately threatening but it does feel intense. I stop and look around.
A man is approaching me. It’s not Gus, but it’s no one else I recognize either. He’s wearing a linen suit of a classic, well-tailored cut, striking enough to stand out on its own even if it wasn’t white. The rest of him is pretty striking as well. His hair is long, falling freely around his shoulders, and much paler than one would expect for someone of his apparent mid-50s age. His skin is wan like a vampire’s, but as he comes closer I can see him breathing.
(Jason: “He…well, he looks like a vampire, except he so looks like a vampire that he can’t be. Frankly he looks like Tilda Swinton from that movie.”)
As strange as his whole appearance is, though, my gaze is drawn to one feature: his eyes, strangely bloodshot and staring at me intently as he slides through the crowd. Many of the people he passes also turn and stare at him. I watch him approach quietly.
He stops in front of me. He doesn’t remove his gaze from my own but I still get the sense he’s looking me up and down.
“Now…. What do we have here,” he says in a light southern accent, some sort of regional inflection I can’t place.
I stare back evenly. “I could ask the same thing….”
“You could, but I asked first.”
“Name’s Tom,” I say tersely. “And you?”
“Charles Steinhart. Curator, California Academy of Sciences.”
My gaze flicks over his shoulder to the other museum on the far side of the concourse. Unlike the deYoung, Cal Academy is dark tonight, the shadowy swells of its roofline blending into the real hills behind it. Their weekly evening event is on Thursdays, but of course I haven’t been to that yet either. I make a mental note to check it out before the werewolves come back.
I nod. “Ahh. What do you think of the new museum, sir?”
“Oh well I had it built. I think quite highly of it. I wasn’t here for the old one, I came into the project midway through the construction of the new.”
I sigh. Of course.… Steinhart is one of the names on the outside of the building, being the name of the aquarium. Charles here must be another important historical city figure, or at the very least a member of the same family.
He is still staring at me, on the very boundary of uncomfortably close. People are giving us strange looks as they pass. I’m no stranger to strange looks—both before and after becoming a vampire—but there’s something different about these peoples’ expressions.
There’s something different about this guy….
“Can…I help you with anything?” I ask hesitantly.
He watches me a moment before responding. “I haven’t seen you around before. I know most of the regulars over here at the deYoung.”
“Ah. Yes, well, it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to make it over to the park. …A couple decades or so….” I mutter.
“A couple decades?” His bizarre eyes widen. “Well you don’t look that old!”
“Ah, yes, well…. You know what a good gluten-free diet will do for you, these days.” I smirk, slapping my abs.
He chuckles lightly, but the mirth doesn’t reach his eyes. “You needn’t look so strange, by the way. I won’t bite.”
“Ah. Well…I can’t always say the same about myself….”
“No I can’t imagine you do.” His smile drops. “What brings you to the museum?”
“I’m looking for—or, rather, I know where a friend is, and I’m looking for friends of hers to—“
“A friend?” His eyes narrow suspiciously. “What friend would that be?”
I hesitate, again suddenly hesitant to throw Sophia’s name around among strangers. “Um…a teenage friend of mine….”
“A teenage friend of yours.” His gaze flicks across me momentarily. “Now, you’ll forgive me, but you look a little old for that.”
My face flattens. “Not that sort of friend.”
“Of course not. And you think you’ll find her here?”
“No, but friends of hers might be….” I glance around. Still no sign of this Gus character, but it’s possible he is around and is scared off by the same creepy vibes I’m getting from this Charles guy.
“And what friends are those? I don’t know too many teenagers who hang out at art museums.”
I shrug. “Members of her…family, perhaps, or ones who know where her family is.”
“Her family….” He shifts his weight, moving himself almost imperceptibly closer. “And what family would that be?”
“A…rather wild one.”
“Wild? Well now…. How fascinating….” He smirks slightly, and that small expression sends shivers down my back. “And have you found what you were looking for?”
I glance around the concourse again. “Well I only just got here.”
“That’s true. You have only just got here.” He shifts his weight again, placing himself another fraction of an inch closer. I watch him carefully. His eyes drill into me, something about them deeply unsettling—I try to recall if I’ve even seen them blink yet—and the longer he looks at me, the deeper my concern penetrates. My Beast actually starts to squirm—not enough to panic me, but enough to tell me that it’s time to leave.
I came here to help Sophia, though, and though this is a different sort of risk than I was expecting to find, I resolve to see my way through it.
I straighten my back and stand my ground. “Well, if you run into any of Sophia’s family—“
“Sophia?” he says, tone lightly surprised. “Now that is a name I think I have heard….”
My stomach drops. Ah shit, I shouldntna said that….
Charles and I stare at each other tensely (as, IRL, Jason and I stare at each other equally-intensely over tea). Finally, Charles looks away and gazes thoughtfully across the concourse. “Where have I heard that before…. Somewhere recently….” His gaze snaps back to me. “Sometime before all the unpleasantness downtown.”
My stomach drops further. “Right….”
“Gas leaks, from what I understand. Tragedies, really. I understand some people were killed.” He stares at me and takes a clear step forward. “Terrible, terrible really. I made sure everyone inspected the gas lines around the concourse to make sure nothing of the sort could possibly happen here.”
I…take a step back. “Ah, good, good….” I say nervously. “We need better utilities regulation in this city.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” He takes another step forward. “That’s why I tend to see to these things myself. It is my museum, after all.”
I point behind him. “I thought that one was.”
He continues to stare at me, ignoring my gesture. “That’s the one I mean. But they’re all of a part, really. I can’t very well have this one catch fire either, can I?”
“Well…it is made of copper….” I’m suddenly aware of the walls looming behind me, and that they are blocking my retreat from this strange, intense man.
“There are temperatures at which copper burns.”
“And…I bet the flames burn green….” I mutter, then instantly regret it. I take another step back.
Charles stares at me a moment, then smirks. “As a matter of fact they do. It happens they do. But I wouldn’t worry if I were you. Afterall, I’ve seen to it that nothing of the sort can happen here.” He steps forward. “Nothing. Of the sort.” Step. “Because if something were to happen here, well….” Step. “…That would make me very sad…” Step. “…And when I get very sad, I’m not myself.”
He’s now barely inches from me, warm breath washing my face. I gulp. “So…what, is that like…Opposite-Hulk?”
He grins. “In a sense.” He stares another moment, then takes a step back, away from me. “But if I see this…Sophia…or hear of her again, I’ll be sure to let her know that—Tom, was it?—was looking for her. But since I’m pretty sure she’s not here, well…that’s pretty much it, isn’t it?”
He chuckles and smooths at his suit. “Afterall, it’s getting late. You must be hungry. And we don’t have any food here.”
I glance forlornly at the museum entrance, music and light still spilling out from inside. “I thought there was a cafe….” I mumble.
“There is,” his voice drops to a hiss, “But they don’t serve anything gluten-free.”
I stare at him another moment, then finally succumb to the pleading urges of my Beast and walk away.
Looks like I am 0-3 for impressing Sophia’s friends.
The few stragglers still arriving at the museum turn as I storm past them to the taxi queue. I wrench open the passenger door of the frontmost car and climb in, slamming it behind me. I slouch in the seat and turn to the driver. “WHAT!!?” I roar.
Adam is there, staring at me with a lightly bemused expression. “I see you met Charles.”
“URRGH!” I slide further down and scrub my face with my hands. “Yeah! Nice guy!”
“He has his moments.”
I sigh and look at the museum. Charles has disappeared from the entryway—I think I catch a glimpse of white hair in the crowd filing through the door—but I still feel the intensity of his bloodshot eyes on me. I shudder.
“Where to?” Adam asks.
I stare out the window another moment. “Just drive.”
Adam nods and drives off the concourse.
(Now, in the interests of time, many if our next scenes ran simultaneously and, since both had rather loud complicated dialogue, the recording is kind of a clusterfuck. Also, because I’m a fucking idiot, I paused the recording at a couple points and forgot to restart it in time so a few chunks are missing. Thus, rather than parse out the details, I will summarize the main points:)
Anstis meets with Helgi, at his bar in Oakland. Anstis is hoping to convince Helgi to help us on the Farallones mission, but the Viking plays surprisingly coy. Not even the promise of hunting down Nazi Tremere is enough to get him to commit outright, citing other plans.
Anstis accepts this, but mentions to Helgi that, should his plans take him near the waters off of Lands End, he should probably keep his eyes out and stay out of the water.
After leaving Dr. vonNatsi, Georgia returns to the Pyramid to find an unexpected visitor waiting for her: Paul’s gargoyle. He is relieved to find her—whom he still calls “Second Master”—and warns her that “the Master on the island” is very, very angry. Despite that, though, he has actually been sent with a message: the master wants her to come to the island.
In other words, Himmler is summoning her.
The gargoyle gives her a phone number, which apparently his master bade him give her. She makes a note of it and texts it to Paul as well, then leaves the gargoyle at the Pyramid and goes to run some other errands while she waits for Paul to return to the city.
Paul, meanwhile, is taking care of some political correspondence. He calls Leland and thanks him for introducing him to Liedesdorff. Leland accepts the thanks but seems a little frazzled; apparently, late yesterday evening, he received a visit from “The Englishman,” who showed up at his door rough and wild-eyed and babbling about all manner of thoughts and conspiracies. Leland, naturally, got mad and told Dr. Everton that if he couldn’t pull his shit together, his lecture series would be cancelled.
Paul, though, is a lot more concerned by this than Leland seems to be. Paul lists off all the other shit we’ve been going through the last few nights, including all the Perpenna drama. Gradually, Leland seems to realize the severity of the situation, and he doesn’t like it one bit.
“Uuurrg,” Leland growls at one point. “Are you telling me this man is coming this way?”
“I haven’t heard any evidence that he’s heading your way, but the Bay Area isn’t as big as it once was.”
“No of course not,” Leland says, voice slightly muffled like it’s coming through a palm to the face. “As if my day weren’t bad enough…. I have a labor dispute to adjudicate, the damn protestors are back in the tree, and now I have this!!”
(Kara: “It’s Berkeley. On what day are the protestors not in the tree?”
Me: “I like how it’s ‘The Tree’ singular.”
Chris: “It’s the only one left. That’s why they’re in it so much.”
Me: “And that’s why you never get out of the tree.”)
Paul promises to try and keep the drama from spilling over into Berkeley, but no one—not even him—believes that will be the case for long.
Next Paul contacts Liedesdorff, to formally congratulate him on his new position. Liedesdorff, in turn, congratulates Paul on surviving not only the Monomancy, but the…unpleasantness…that followed. (Liedesdorff: “I must confess, I didn’t expect that the Monomancy would be the nice part of the evening.”) Paul says that, as promised, he will deliver Sebastian’s head to Liedesdorff. He also briefly outlines the Farallones mission, mostly to see if Liedesdorff has any new information that might help us, but Liedesdorff seems just as surprised at the continued existence of Himmler as we were.
“Well, if there’s anything else I can do for you, just let me know,” Paul says.
Liedesdorff chuckles. “Trust me, I don’t say this very often, but you have done quite enough. This has been the most pleasant experience I have ever had working with the Camarilla. That isn’t saying much, but you understand. Now, if I can do anything for you to assist you in this matter—though, of course, I can’t do anything above board.” He sighs. “Officially I hate you and everything you stand for and we must fight to the end of time, you understand,” he says, his tone bored.
“I understand. My chief concern is making sure my employees stay safe.”
“Well I’ve put a moratorium on any further raids as far north as Palo Alto. I put some word out about how I’m going to be taking over all the business in Silicon Valley and taxing them, and anyone who messes with it will be interfering in the income stream of an Archbishop and that’s a bad idea. I don’t know if anyone believes me, but no one left in the area should have the balls to try and stop it.” He pauses. “No one of course except that…Priscus who showed up at our little engagement, but then I think you already have an arrangement with him, don’t you?”
“Indeed,” Paul says flatly, staring out the window of his office.
“That’s a dangerous game you’re playing there, Paul. Of course so is every other game around here, but that one in particular is messy. You mess with Methusulas and you’ll get dragged into all manner of bad news.”
Paul watches as two Myrmidon agents on patrol cross the campus quad, guns carried openly. “I know a bit of what you’re speaking of.”
“I imagine you do, probably more than I do, but nevertheless. We have our share in the Sabbat too, and it’s not a pleasant share.”
They finish exchanging pleasantries—such as promises/warnings not to reveal each others’ names should they be captured and tortured, etc—and end the call. Paul immediately leaves his office and starts making his way back to the city.
(Me: “I like Liedesdorff.”
Chris: “I do too. All of Paul’s working relationships seem to be improving.”
Jason: “Well he has killed off most of the people he had the worst ones with.”
Chris: “And the ones that are still left are on the list!”)
Kara returns to the backup-Chantry/bolthole at City College to check on her new ghoul friend Bob, who is as nervous and overwhelmed with brittle cheeriness as the last time she saw him. He’s apparently been spending the last few nights puttering around waiting for someone to tell him what to do. She asks him if he got the computers and internet set up like she asked, which makes him look more confused and suddenly panicked.
(Jason: “He takes you to a desk on which there is a computer…you think? And wires…you think? They are kinda plugged in at random to various things, including a toaster…you think?”)
Georgia stares at the mess. Sadly, she actually isn’t any more equipped to troubleshoot the situation than Bob is.
“I think it needs magic,” Bob says, wringing his hands.
“It doesn’t need magic, but…I don’t know how to make this work. I can bring you something that will work, though, and show you how to use it.”
“I’ve seen computers before,” Bob says helpfully. “They were in the warehouse.”
“Well, they’re smaller now,” Georgia says, gesturing at the hulking, yellowing equipment on the table.
“Really? How many rooms do they fit in?”
Georgia stares at him. “Um…they fit in your hand, see….” She pulls out her phone and hands it to him.
Bob takes it and turns it over in his hand, perplexed. “But…that’s magic….”
Georgia frowns thoughtfully at the phone. “…Kinda, yeah, actually….”
She asks him if he knows anything about the Farallones. Surprisingly, he does; he apparently used to go there with “the mining company” in the 1940’s, sometime before he was with the Tremere. He doesn’t seem to have much to say about the islands beyond that, and gets sidetracked when he asks what year it is currently and has to process that for the first time. Georgia consoles him as best a Tremere can, essentially by telling him to deal with it and then leaving to go get some of her own shit done.
Paul and Georgia both arrive back at the Pyramid and head up to visit Paul’s gargoyle. He’s alone in a conference room, crouched in a corner staring out the windows. He turns and stands as Paul and Georgia enter. “Masters,” he rumbles.
Paul nods. “It’s good to see you again. I was worried about how things ended last time.”
“I…do not remember, Master,” the gargoyle says haltingly.
“He’s still loyal to Himmler,” Georgia mutters to Paul.
The gargoyle, though, hears this and nods. “Yes, Second Master. I obey.”
“Why are you here?” Paul asks, frowning.
“You…called, Master.” He hesitates. “Other Master wishes to speak to you, Master.”
Paul and Georgia share a glance. “You were on the island? When did you leave?”
The gargoyle shuffles nervously. “I do not remember, Master. I think a night, Master.”
“And how did you know to come here?”
“I…did not know, Master. It was the place where I thought you might be, Master. They said you were here.”
“The…people below, Master. The mortals.”
Paul nods. “Alright. You’ve done well.” The gargoyle looks visibly pleased at this simple praise. Paul sits himself down in one of the conference chairs. “Can you tell us more about the island? About your life on it?”
The gargoyle straightens. “I obey, Master. Other Master makes us obey, Master. He makes us kill those who come to the islands.”
“How many people come?”
“Not many, Master. We kill them.”
Paul watches him a moment. “How many are you?”
“Many, Master. I do not know the numbers.”
(Me: “One, two, many, lots.”)
“Hmm. More than twenty?”
The gargoyle’s face looks pained. “N-No, Master. I think…yes, Master.”
Paul frowns. “More than 100?”
“No Master. …Maybe, Master.”
Paul and Georgia share a glance. “Who else is there?” Paul asks.
“Other Master’s Master, Master.”
Paul stares at the gargoyle silently as that sinks in. “Can you describe other master’s master?”
The gargoyles face scrunches in concentration. “He is…thin, Master. Tall. He has…light hair.”
“Do you know his name?”
The gargoyle shakes his head slowly. “I…I have heard him called Reinhard.”
Paul pulls out his phone and does a Google search for “Reinhard+Nazi war criminal.” Unfortunately, though, this brings up a lot of possible options. He switches to image search and shows the screen to the gargoyle. “Do any of these look like the same man?”
The gargoyle peers at the phone then shakes his head. “I do not know, Master. He does not show his face. But Other Master obeys him, Master.”
Paul nods and taps the back of his phone thoughtfully. “What does other master call you?”
“‘Gargoyle,’ Master,” he says, somewhat surprised at the question.
“How does he distinguish you from the other gargoyles?” Georgia asks.
“When he speaks to me, Second Master.”
“Georgia,” Paul waves her over. “I have an idea. I don’t know exactly what Himmler can do, but I want you to take…our friend here and step out into the hall. Make sure I don’t leave unexpectedly or do anything weird.” He pauses. “While you’re out there, why don’t you look up some new names for our new friend, see if any strike his fancy.”
Georgia agrees and leads the gargoyle outside. Paul picks up his phone…
…And calls Himmler, on the number the gargoyle gave them. While it rings, he walks to the window to stare out over the city.
On the fourth ring, someone picks up.
“Mr. Stewart,” says a voice, accented with well-refined German.
“Heinrich, I presume?” Paul says.
A pause. “Ja, there is no need to go by any other names now, is there? I see you have received my message.”
“I have. Took me somewhat by surprise….”
“Well, I imagine it’s not the first surprise you’ve had in the last few nights. Is the Tremere with you?”
Paul glances at the door, checking that it’s closed. “She’s around, but she’s not here right now.”
“Good. It would not do for her to hear what I have to offer you.”
Paul tenses. “And what is that?”
“Life. Power. The ability to command events, Mr. Stewart.”
Paul turns back to the window, and the city below him. “…Go on.”
“You are an impressive specimen, Mr. Stewart,” Himmler continues in a pleasantly conversational tone. “There have been bishops, and archbishops, and men of wind and shadow arrayed against you, and you are still here and many of them are not. Our facility on Alcatraz was quite secure against most dangers, but not you. Not yours.” Himmler chuckles. “And now you know about our instillation on the islands, yes? And you are planning to come here?”
“Why would I plan to do that?” Paul says flatly.
“Because you are a Toreador, Mr. Stewart, and you think of yourself as a hero. A champion who fights against the Nazi menace, ja?”
When Paul doesn’t respond, Himmler continues. “Is this not right? You watch the Captain America and you are Captain America.”
“I have a better costume at least,” Paul mutters. “But you have the gist of it.”
“I have more than the gist of it, Mr. Stewart. I have…a werewolf. A very interesting werewolf.”
Paul nods, fist clenching around his phone. “Indeed…”
“And you want this werewolf, I think?”
“You think right.”
“And what do I get in return for it?”
“A lack of unexpected visits, perhaps?”
Himmler chuckles. “Oooh, Mr. Stewart. I don’t want to buy your security like some store owner who must pay protection to the mob. I want something else.”
“And what’s that?”
“I want you, Mr. Stewart. I want you…and your Tremere friend, and the sodomite—“
(Me: “Fuck you!”
Jason: “Fuck you too, this is Himmler talking!”)
“—I want all of you to come to the islands. I will show you things, and we will talk. I will show you why you have been, up until this point, in error in opposing me, and us, and all that we are trying to do.”
Paul glowers at the widow. “And what is it you are trying to do?”
“We are trying to make a new world, Mr. Stewart. A better world. It is all we have ever tried to do.”
(Kara: “Oo, you have a chance to be a vampire-supremacist!”)
Paul stares at the city a moment before responding. “So…we just show up, you let us know what you are planning, and you let us go with the werewolf?”
“No, no Mr. Stewart. I let the werewolf go. You and your associates, you stay. You stay here with me and my friends.”
“Helping us. Helping us make a better world. A world free of weakness and impurity.”
“And what constitutes purity?”
“Well, you should know, you’re the one with the sunlight weapon!”
Paul’s face, reflected in the window, suddenly drops.
“Yes, I know about it,” Himmler continues. “The weapon which can burn out all impurities. You want to use this weapon I think, to use it to purge all of those who have oppressed the world, who have held it back and sucked the very life out of it. You want to use this weapon on a wide scale.” He pauses. “I also want this. I can help you get it. We can help you get it.”
(Cameron: “Yes, join us and we can rule the West Coast as Fuehrer and Son!”
Jason: “…Cameron I swear to god I will punch you in the soul…”)
“How many monsters have you found in your travels in this one little city?” Himmler continues. “How many beasts and creatures of the night who exist only to despoil, to retard the progress of civilization. How many have you found? How many have you fought?”
Paul stares at the shadows of the city below him. “A few.”
“A few? You were dead Mr. Stewart, for six months, and then you were not dead. You returned under the auspices of…some other thing, something that took your company. Took your will. Made you do as it said. Took your weapon and repurposed it to fight his enemies.”
Paul is quiet a few moments before responding. “And what’s left in your world? The perfect world?”
“The righteous. The pure. Those of us with the vision to seize the future.”
Paul suddenly straightens. “The future isn’t seized, it’s built.”
“Then perhaps you will help me build it, Mr. Stewart. Help me build it…atop the old world.”
Silence fills the room for many moments. “I’ll call you back,” Paul finally says, and hangs up. He stares out the window, then starts to pace the room.
During all of this, meanwhile, I have been slowly cruising around the park with Adam. There’s no sign of Gus, or Charles, or any other supernatural thing lurking in the shadows of the trees, but as we circle the parkways I still can’t shake the sense that I am being watched.
At some point in all this, Georgia contacts me and says that she and Paul are interested in checking out the park this evening as well. I have Adam take me to the Whole Foods parking lot in the Haight just outside the park. The street kids start to circle as our car pulls into the empty lot, but they scatter like minnows as soon as I get out and glare at them. I loiter in the lot, waiting for the rest of the group to show up.
Anstis, meanwhile, has also been up to some shit, but it’s secret necromancy stuff involving one of the books he nabbed from the Chantry so thus we do not know what it is.
Georgia and the gargoyle look up from her phone as Paul suddenly comes out of the conference room. “So, find a name you like?” Paul asks the gargoyle, voice unnaturally cheery.
“No Master, I do not know the meaning.”
“It’s…for yourself. Something to identify yourself with.”
“I…do not know, Master.” He starts to look a little panicked, so Paul lets the subject drop.
Paul looks at the gargoyle thoughtfully. “Has…other master ever described to you the world he wants to live in?”
“I…do not know, Master. Other Master commands, we obey.
“Do you like other master?” Georgia asks.
“I do not know, Second Master. He is Master, Second Master.”
“Do you like master?” Georgia asks again, gesturing at Paul.
The gargoyle turns to Paul, face still worried. “I do not know, Second Master. He is Master, Second Master.”
“Do you like me?”
“I do not know, Second Master. You are Second Master, Second Master.”
(Jim: “Fifteen points to whomever can get Jason to say ‘master’ the most times in one sentence!”
“Do you like other master’s master?” Georgia asks (as Kara fights giggles).
The gargoyle (and Jason) look at her flatly. “No, Second Master.”
Georgia and Paul exchange a surprised look. “Why?” she asks.
“I…do not know, Second Master. He is…different, Second Master.” The gargoyle shifts uncomfortably and his eyes dart briefly around the room.
Paul decides not to push the issue. He pulls Georgia aside. “We need to meet Tom in the park but we can’t bring him with us,” he mumbles, then turns to the gargoyle. “Are you comfortable waiting here awhile?”
“Yes, Master. I obey, Master.”
Paul nods. “Good. You are doing a good job. I am glad we got to meet again.”
“Yes, Master,” he says, brightening visibly.
Paul gestures for him to reenter the room. Paul and Georgia leave him there, crouched back in his corner, staring out over the city.
So Anstis has been doing secret necromancy things in a secret location—I think maybe it was on the docks somewhere? Or a rooftop? I don’t know—and has apparently come close to finishing his work when he sees a tall figure approaching, dressed in black.
A figure who, as he comes closer, appears to be smiling and blinking a lot.
(Jim: “Oh FUCK THIS GUY!”)
“Hello,” Gus says amiably as he ambles up.
“Welcome back,” Anstis grumbles, hastily putting his things away. “It’s good to see you tonight.”
“Is it?” Gus whistles, cocking his head. “Your friends might disagree.”
“Which friends might those be?”
Gus grins and leans forward on his cane. “The ones who have the knife.”
Anstis frowns. “Knife? What happened with the knife?”
“Well, what usually happens with knives?”
“Do be more specific.”
Gus smiles wider. “Ok,” he says and draws a long, shining knife from under his long coat.
Anstis backs away a bit. “Is that the one?”
Gus smiles and watches the—streetlight? Moonlight? I don’t know, where the hell are they?—reflecting off the blade. “No. Just a demonstration.”
Anstis stares a moment, then gestures at the unconscious person next to him. “Well, then, be my guest.”
(Me: “Wait, what unconscious person?”
Jason: “The one he ate.”
Gus, though, stares at Anstis, still twirling the knife in his hand. “Nice book,” he says softly.
Anstis tenses and glances around. “Well, if there’s nothing else, I’ll be on my way—“
“Very nice book….” Gus repeats, grin growing wider.
Anstis glares and straightens his coat. “Goodbye, Mr…Gus. Tis a pleasure meeting you again.”
Gus takes a step forward. “Can I see the book?”
“And what book might that be?”
“That one,” he says, pointing at Anstis’s coat pocket.
Anstis frowns. “No you may not.”
Gus cocks his head again and pouts. “Well that makes me sad.”
“Well we all have to deal with sadness from time to time.”
Gus tilts his head the other way. “What makes you sad?”
“Interruptions,” Anstis grumbles.
Gus stares another moment, then smiles and bows. “Well. My apologies then. I won’t interrupt you any longer. Have a good night.”
There’s a sudden flash of…shadow, just a brief interruption of the light, then a millisecond later Gus is gone.
And so is the book.
(Jim: “…………….What the fuck was that?”)
Anstis curses and pulls out a rock, quickly inscribing “GUS” on it in blood and casting the ritual. He sees…clouds, moving rapidly past him. He catches glimpses of the city below, enough to tell that he’s headed west, toward the ocean. Beyond that there’s no other details about Gus or how he is traveling.
As he watches, though, the vision starts to descend toward a high point in an area of trees. Anstis is still learning the city, but he can see enough to tell what it is.
Golden Gate Park.
He shifts into parrot and launches into the air.
Paul finally contacts me and says that he and Georgia are heading to Strawberry Hill, in Stowe Lake. I grumble and say that I already checked it out during my car-tour of the park but there was nothing there. Paul is insistent though (actually, rather, Georgia is insistent to him, because she has reason to believe this is the best place to look for werewolf bones for Dr. vonNatsi) so I sigh and agree. I call a ride-service car—which, to no one’s surprise, is Adam again, in full defiance of the fact that he was just driving a taxi a half hour earlier—and head to the lake.
Paul and Georgia arrive at the lake first and wander cautiously around the outer path. Strawberry Hill is a wreck, quilled by charred stumps of trees stretching toward the sky. The fires are all long out, but the breeze still carries whiffs of smoke and ash.
I show up not long after and join them at the base of the north bridge. We duck the police tape and cautiously make our way up the winding path. Nothing stops us. The only sounds we hear are our footsteps crunching the charcoal and the distant echoes of sirens from the surrounding city.
We reach the top. The cleared trees give us a commanding view over the park and the surrounding hillsides of the city, but the only thing we find here is more ash.
“This is the werewolf den?” I ask, kicking at a fallen branch. I pull out one of my swords and start poking at the ground.
Paul shrugs and turns to Georgia. “Do you know what you’re looking for?”
“Um…an etheric transducer….” Georgia says, peering at the ash.
“Do…you know what it looks like?”
“Yes. It is 18 to 36 inches long and can be made of bone. And is often puce.” She scans the hilltop. The ground is ragged with char and the footprints of firefighters, but she notices something. Holes are scattered around, dug through the ash and into the dirt, as if someone went around digging things up. Georgia stares at them and frowns. “I’m guessing werewolves don’t leave bones just lying around,” she says thoughtfully.
I snap my head up. “Wait, we’re looking for werewolf bones? That cannot be a good idea.”
Paul looks at me then turns back to Georgia. “Maybe something of sentimental value would be good enough. He seemed to indicate that stainless steel would be good for the moment, so maybe there’s some error room.”
“I guess,” Georgia says, poking at a hole.
I narrow my eyes. “What are you guys talking about?”
They exchange a glance again. “Dr. vonNatsi…needed some help.” Paul says slowly.
I stab my sword into the ground and fold my arms. “Help with what? Cleaning his lab? Cause he should hire someone for that.”
They don’t respond. I roll my eyes. “Fine, well if you guys start collecting werewolf totems I’m peacing out.” I pull my sword out of the ground but something makes me pause. There’s a weird sense of…heaviness…to the sword as I pull it out. I look at the ground. The soil here is rocky but I don’t see anything else unusual about it. I stare at the sword, perplexed.
At that moment, a shadow flutters through the trees. We look up and see a parrot-y shape circling the hilltop. It makes a full revolution, then banks and dives toward a charred group of bushes casting a shadow that looks suspiciously darker than the ones around it.
Moments later, another shadow bolts out of the sky and smashes the parrot into the dirt in an explosion of ash and feathers.
I shove the sword back in my belt and walk over. “Hey ‘Quill.”
Aquilifer stands over Anstis, hackles raised, pinning him to the ground with one foot, screaming what one can only assume are bird-insults. She only lets go after Anstis shifts back to human form, flapping up to continue screaming at him from a few feet away.
I look around. Where there’s smoke there’s fire…. “Boss?” I call.
The deep shadows under the bush peel away and Marcus steps out of the gloom, looking somwhat better than the night before but still missing much of his arm. Aquilifer leaps over to him. Anstis glares at her and rubs his shoulder.
“So,” Marcus says, idly stroking Aquilifer’s head. “Lovely place you’ve chosen.”
I glance around. “I assume it was nicer before.”
“I’m sure it was. I didn’t make a habit of coming here. There were…impediments. Angry, furred impediments.”
“Fancy meeting you all here,” Anstis grumbles, wandering over to the group.
“Yeah, why are you here?” I ask him.
He regards me. “Looking for someone,” he says after a moment.
“Looking for whom?” Marcus asks.
“Someone named Gus,” Anstis says. My face falls. Anstis points at me. “He knows.”
Marcus turns to me questioningly. I shrug. “Yeah, we met this creepy guy over in North Beach during the attack on the house last night.”
Anstis nods. “Aye. I followed him here.”
“Hm. Fascinating. What else did you want?” Marcus asks me.
“Ah, well, we’re trying to plan for the Farallones mission. I keep trying to drum up some allies who might be on Sophia’s side, but I seem to keep running into…less than amiable sources,” I say, glaring at the lights of the museums to the east.
“Well the world is an unfair place.” Marcus looks at Paul and Georgia. “So which one of you did call this?”
We look at each other. “Call…this?” I ask.
Marcus glares at me. “Which one of you sent the message? I don’t memorize phone numbers.”
“I…left a voice message earlier tonight—“
“Not that message, you fool.” He pulls out a phone and shows me the screen. It’s currently displaying a text message politely asking Marcus if he can meet at Strawberry Hill.
It’s from my phone number.
My eyes go wide. “I didn’t send this, Boss.”
His arm drops slightly. “What?”
We turn as one to stare at the remains of the forest around us, no sound but the cold night breeze stirring the ash. I draw my sword. Anstis pops his claws. Marcus gestures for Aquilifer to crouch down as the shadows around him start to undulate.
“Well if it was Perpenna I assume we’d know about it already,” Marcus says slowly, then lifts his voice. “So why don’t we stop pissing around. Whoever it is, come out before I rip this entire mountain apart looking for you!”
Theres a few moments of silence, then flapping echoes through the trees. A large, dark bird drops out of the sky to land on an exposed branch overhead and peers down at us.
Aquilifer tenses, while next to her Marcus stares up at it. “Well this is new….” he mutters. “Would this be Gus?” he glances at me.
“Um….” I say, staring up at the bird. “Well he wasn’t a bird before….”
“No, but you mentioned crows.”
“Yeah but that’s not a crow.”
“No it’s not a crow, it’s a Corax.” Marcus sees our bemused expressions. “They’re a changing breed, and like most changing breeds they don’t have any particular interest in our kind, which is why I’m wondering why one would call five of us here!” He shouts the last line up toward the tree. “Please don’t make me dissect you for the answer!”
The bird cocks his head. Suddenly its shape pulses, growing and unfolding into a human form. It’s Gus. He sprawls on the branch, long coat unfolded around him like, well, wings, back against the tree, idly twirling his cane and grinning at us.
“One. Two. Three. Four. Five leeches,” he mutters, grin widening. Aquilifer mantles her wings and barks a wheezy cry at him.
“This is the one from last night?” Marcus asks us. We nod. He sighs and steps toward the tree. “What do you want?” he calls up.
Gus simply tilts his head and blinks at us.
“Well you must want something,” Marcus says, “You went through all this to get us out here. A massive ambush of your kind? Are there werewolves waiting in the woods?”
“I don’t want anything,” Gus says, tapping his cane against the trunk. “The Parkmaster wanted a word.”
We all exchange glances, then stare out into the shadows again. “I was under the impression the werewolves were gone, but if that’s a mistaken impression, tell him to come out,” Marcus says. “Cause I’ll rip the mountain apart for him too if I have to.”
Gus grins wider and continues tapping his cane.
Marcus glances around and sighs. “Alright, I’ve had enough of this. We’re leaving now, and if you try and stop us I’ll tear you limb from limb.” He turns to us and gestures toward the path. “Walk calmly, don’t look away, and don’t look afraid. If there are werewolves out there they will see it as a sign of weakness.”
“Never run from anything immortal,” I mutter, glancing at Gus as I walk away.
“Precisely,” Marcus says. He places a hand on Aquilifer’s shoulder and pulls her away too.
Suddenly a noise washes over the hilltop, low, deep, and undulating. We stop. Moments later it comes again, louder, with a soul-rending timbre that drives straight to our cores.
It’s a growl. A growl that seems to come from all directions at once.
Marcus tenses. “What…in Jupiter’s name…was that….” Aquilifer looks around, panting in panic, and sidles closer to him.
Most of us are frozen in terror, our individual Beasts panicking and trying to drive us away, but not sure where to drive to. I look at Marcus. “You…don’t know?”
Marcus looks up at me, eyes wide. “No…I’m afraid I do.”
“Oooooh, poor leeches,” Gus croons from the tree. “Who said anything about wolves?”
The growl comes again, closer. The barren stumps around us shudder visibly, and one tree drops a branch. The noise dies away, and once again the only sound in the clearing is the slow tapping of Gus’s cane against the tree.
Suddenly the taps grow louder, each strike making the ground reverberate. After a moment, I realize it’s not the cane making the noise; the cane is tapping in time with something else.
Footsteps. Heavy, heavy footsteps. Each strike louder than the last.
“Call Bell,” Paul whispers to Georgia.
Marcus holds up a hand. “Don’t call Bell,” he says, voice unnaturally calm. “It’s faaaar too late to call Bell. Do you have a car anywhere?”
“Um, Georgia and I came on a motorcycle—“
“Which direction? Don’t point, just say.”
Marcus nods. “When I say so, head northwest, away from the bike, as fast as you can. When you see it—and you will see it—scatter. Don’t look back, and don’t look at it for any length of time, or you will panic. And then you will die.”
I stare into the darkness. “Boss, what is it?” The growl comes again, louder. “I assume it’s not a hellbeast, doesn’t sound right….”
Marcus meets my eyes. For a moment, they are more terrified than my own.
“No….” he whispers, “…it’s a Mokole…and it’s hungry.”
The growl erupts into a soul-shattering roar.
END OF NIGHT