6/19/14

Chris: “…So she recognizes the English word ‘steak’?”
Me: “Well, dogs can recognize the word steak, and Aquilifer is at least as smart as a dog.”
Chris: “I’m not disputing the dog point, I just think the auditory systems of birds are probably different than that of dogs.”
Me: “Uhhh, they’re different, yeah, but they can still hear a wide spectrum of sounds. They have a coiled cochlea.“
Chris: “I’m not saying they can’t hear it, I’m saying their brain won’t do the same thing.”
Me: “It doesn’t matter what she perceives the stimulus as! Her brain will associate that stimulus signal with ‘steak’!”
Jason: “…I would just like to point out that we are arguing over the biology of a 800-year-old eagle that was ghouled by a 2,000 year-old vampire.


***

The roar echoes through the park, sending more charred branches crashing down. Panic shoots through us, but we freeze, not sure which way to run.

Marcus turns to address all of us, his face as serious as the grave. “Run. North, away from your cars. When you see it—and you will see it—do not look at it, or your Beast will take over, and then you will die.”

Another grinding roar, like the shattering of boulders, washes over us, coming from the east. Paul, Georgia, and Anstis, split the difference and take off to the north-west, crashing down the hill toward the lake.

Marcus doesn’t follow. He turns toward the roar and stands firm, the only movement the shadows coiling around him.

I hang back. “Boss, it’s coming from that way, we should head north-west—“

“No, you should head north-west,” he says.

Fuck…. “Boss, you’re not staying, are you?” I look him over, still a little beat-up and missing most of an arm. “It’s going to be the voshdt all over again!”

“No, it’s going to be considerably worse.” He looks over his shoulder, face shadowed. “Tom, you have no idea what this thing is or what it’s capable of. I have scarcely any idea, but I have options you don’t, something beyond just running through the trees.” He turns away. “Take Aquilifer and get the hell out of here.”

Aquilifer is huddled to the ground next to him, gaping in panic, staring around in every direction. “Quill!” I call, trying to get her attention. She ignores me and starts keening at Marcus. He turns and stares intently at her. The roar comes again, noticeably closer. I fight down the urge to flee, waiting to see what Aquilifer does.

Finally, with a shuddering cry, she lumbers into the air, heading north-west after the rest of the party. I run to follow.

I don’t look back.

#

Everyone stumbles and slides their way down the hill, fetching up at the bottom in a cloud of dirt and ash. The lake is an uneven shape, but even at its narrowest points it’s still a good ten yards across, far too wide to cross easily. Paul and I lead the way toward the nearest bridge.

New noises echo across the lake from the other side of the hill, sounds of crashing and more rending roars. We glance up as we run and see the top of the hill silhouetted by flashes and flickers of light coming from the other side.

We also see something else, silhouetted against the night sky: a bird, circling overhead. It’s large, and it’s dark, but it’s not Aquilifer.

We turn the corner to approach the south bridge, then stumble to a halt. The bridge is gone. Not as in it’s been torn down, it’s flat-out missing, the path leading to it sheared off cleanly on both ends. There’s another bridge we could try, but it’s on the other side of the lake, towards the sounds of fire and destruction.

Without hesitation, we all turn and throw ourselves into the lake, thrashing our way through to the other side.

We’re nearly halfway across when Georgia notices something. Something feels…wrong. “Guys!” she sputters. “There’s something wrong with the water! Get out!!

She’s a water mage so she’s in the best position to know, but I’m sure as hell not going back to the island. I grit my teeth and try to swim faster.

Something grabs my ankle, something slimy and cold. I yell and kick at it, but more tendrils clasp on, pulling me irrevocably down. Everyone else screams and struggles, obviously fighting the same menace.

Georgia is able to fight her way free, finally clearing the lake and dragging herself out on the opposite bank. She turns back just in time to see the other three of us dragged under the black water.

#

I feel myself pulled down, through the cold crushing dark, to the bottom of the lake. I’m rocked by an instinctive moment of panic before I remember, wait, duh, I can’t drown. But the things grasping me are getting stronger the deeper I get, and more are latching on higher up my body. I grope at them blindly.

Weeds. Lake weeds. I spout a watery curse and pull one of my swords to hack at them.

Bursts of light illuminate the water around me from above. Within each flash, I see the shapes of Anstis and Paul nearby, fighting their own weeds. Anstis has his claws out and is making some progress, but Paul isn’t doing so well. Without weapons, he’s reduced to biting at the weeds. (Chris: “Can I get a bonus to that on account of my previous vegetarianism?”) I hack my way free of my own tendrils and kick toward him, sword outstretched.

Suddenly a ripple cuts though the water from above, a barely perceptible distortion that wraps itself around Paul’s arm. Moments later, he’s pulled out of the weeds and shoots toward the surface.

#

Paul is dragged onto the bank. He coughs up water and rolls over to see what is clasped on his arm….

….Which is more water. Chains of them, in fact. At the other end of the water chain is Georgia, bending over Paul in concern. The chains shift and coil next to him as Georgia helps him to his feet. I struggle my way out moments later.

Georgia looks around. “Which way now?”

Paul gestures forward weakly. “West, still, but Highway 1 cuts through the park so we’re going to have to—“

A sound echoes behind us, an extended, shuddering growl. There’s sounds of crashing, followed by heavy beats, like the snapping of giant sails.

If the sails were made of leather.

We freeze. Remembering what Marcus told us, I stare straight forward, focusing on finding the nearest line of escape. Paul does the same.

Georgia, though, who is already half-turned to help Paul, looks up. Her face—already pale—goes paler, and her eyes grow comically wide. She shrieks in blood-curdling terror and takes off through the park, heading due-west, heedless of obstacles in her way.

Moments later, Paul—still chained to Georgia—is dragged after her, off his feet and through the brush. He shouts, but she is too panicked to register anything but her own mindless terror. They crash ahead, heading straight toward the lights and rushing traffic of Highway 1—

STOP!!!!!!” Paul yells, commanding with the full force of Majesty, his voice echoing through the park like the voice of God.

Georgia stops. The dark bird circling overhead stops. Traffic on the highway stops. People get out of their cars and stare around in confusion.

But the leathery wingbeats following us do not stop.

#

I, following Georgia’s path through the park, stumble under the weight of Paul’s command but am able to keep moving forward. I hear the wingbeats approach, then a rising sound of wind, a rushing vortex.

I dive over a log and hit the deck moments before the world turns to fire.

Flames pour over the log and whip through the trees in a rising inferno. The heat and the noise surrounds me in a ceaseless maelstrom, then stops just as suddenly as it began.

Giving me just enough window to take off in a mindless panic of my own.

#

Georgia and Paul also shelter from the fiery blast, but unfortunately the flames drive Georgia into a new panicked flight. She drags Paul onto the highway and through the stopped cars. The drivers drivers stare at them—or, rather, stare at Paul—so entranced they don’t even react to the flames rising from the park right next to them. Paul and Georgia cross the road and continue their escape through the west half of the park.

I too bolt across the highway toward the west, taking whatever route gets me away from the fire as fast as possible.

#

Anstis, meanwhile, has only just now pulled himself out of the fucking lake (which at least protected him from the fire). He crawls onto the empty bank and glares around. All of the foliage in sight is scorched, with small smoldering fires scattered around. He starts to get up, but a sudden sense of presence overhead  makes him drop back into the reeds.

A massive shape glides overhead, heading east at a speed incongruous for its size. The wind from its passage stirs some nearby flames to renewed life. It passes so fast, all Anstis registers is a sense of mass, of length, of claws.

And white. A pale, perfect white, limned by the glow of the flames, against the dark of the night sky.

#

Georgia’s panic finally wears off around Chain of Lakes Drive, nearly toward the edge of the park. She slows to a halt and stares around in confusion. Paul climbs to his feet, forlornly brushing dirt and leaves off his designer motorcycle leathers.

She finally registers him and scurries over. “You alright?” she asks, ineffectively trying to help.

Paul pokes at a gash in his jacket. “Well…I’ve had worse scrape-y adventures. But at least I didn’t get eaten by that…pterodactyl thing….”

Georgia dissolves the water-chains with a splash. She looks up at Paul and beams. “And I got you out of the lake!”

“Yeah…you did….” Paul stares at her a moment, then leans in. “Teach me….”

The enthusiasm drains from Georgia’s face. She takes a step back. “You…do realize they’d kill both of us the minute they found out.”

If they find out.”

“Which they would, the minute you moved water.”

They stare at each other a few moments, Paul intent, Georgia nervous. Finally Paul shrugs it off and walks away, continuing west through the park. Georgia follows.

#

I also come back to my senses only after I’m clear across the park, though my panicked flight has taken me more south. Though it’s quiet around here, my instinct is still to get out of the park as fast as possible. I follow the sound of traffic along Lincoln Way, guiding my way to the edge of the park and into the Sunset district.

The Sunset…. I frown. The Sunset is an Anarch district, under the oversight of Baron Don Esteban De La Vega. I haven’t seen him in a while, but he was the one who originally sent me off on the trail of the missing Semtex. He might be interested to hear how things are progressing in that quest case.

And, in return, perhaps he can hook me up with some much-needed firepower for the Farallones mission.

I reach a point where I can see my way through the trees to the edge of the park and the apartment buildings beyond. I pull out my phone to drop Marcus a text letting him know I’m still alive.

(Me: “Wait, did my phone survive the pond?”
Jason: “…Yes. Somehow, it did—“
Me: “Oh thank god.”
Jason: *mumbles* “—mostly because I’m tired of you guys not being able to talk to each other everytime you go for a swim.”)

I’m a few yards from the edge of the park when I hear a crash in the trees above. I freeze and look up. A winged shape spirals down through the canopy and lands heavily in the dirt a few feet away. It leans up against the base of a tree, its dark form heaving with breath. I can tell that its a bird, but I can’t tell which one. I draw one of my swords and approach cautiously, looking for any sign that will identify it as eagle or Corax. I’m a few feet away when it turns its head to peer at me with clear, golden eyes.

It’s Aquilifer.

“Quill!” I shove my sword back through my belt and rush over. One side of her body is gashed, not deeply, but I can see streaks of blood and missing feathers. One of her wings, too, is also badly rumpled. She doesn’t look great, but I’ve certainly seen her worse.

She looks up at me and keens sadly, her tone and posture indicating a pain that goes deeper than physical wounds.

“…Quill?” I say hesitantly. She keens again and looks to the east, back toward the center of the park. There’s no sound of pursuit or destruction, but there’s no sound of anything else either.

I follow her gaze. “He told us to leave the park….” I say softly, not sure if she can even understand that much. She continues to stare. I’m suddenly aware of the darkness of the trees around us. I remember the firestorm and shudder.

I turn to look at the bucolic neighborhood across the street. “Quill, we have to get out of the park, it’s not safe. Also I gotta run this thing, but if you come with I’ll get you a steak.” She turns at the word steak but continues to stare at me flatly, feathers deflated.

(Chris: “…So she recognizes the English word ‘steak’?”
Me: “Well, dogs can recognize the word steak, and Aquilifer is at least as smart as a dog.”
Chris: “I’m not disputing the dog point, I just think the auditory systems of birds are probably different than that of dogs.”
Me: “Uhhh, they’re different, yeah, but they can still hear a wide spectrum of sounds. They have a coiled cochlea.“
Chris: “I’m not saying they can’t hear it, I’m saying their brain won’t do the same thing.”
Me: “It doesn’t matter what she perceives the stimulus as! Her brain will associate that stimulus signal with ‘steak’!”
Jason: “…I would just like to point out that we are arguing over the biology of a 800-year-old eagle that was ghouled by a 2,000 year-old vampire.”)

She keens mournfully, deep in her throat. I gesture weakly toward the road. She looks that way, looks back toward the east, keens again, then rouses herself and starts walking slowly out of the park, limping slightly on her left side.

I follow, letting her take whatever dignity she needs, but when we reach the road she looks up at me again. Now I stoop and offer my arm. She steps up regally, settles herself–braced between my elbow-crook and upper shoulder–then fluffs up and tucks her head away under a wing.

I watch her a moment, torn between awe and concern of my own. I pull out my phone again and send another text to Marcus letting him know that Aquilifer is with me. Minutes pass with no response. Finally I sigh and head toward Esteban’s.

#

Paul and Georgia exit the very edge of the park, near the ocean. They cross Great Highway and stumble up the dunes to see the water. It’s windy and cold, but at the moment there’s no sign of fog. The half-moon is low on the horizon, spilling silver across the ocean. In the distance, with their heightened senses, they can just make out the dark shapes of the Farallones, thrusting like jagged teeth against the sky.

Paul sinks to the sand to consider their next move. Georgia daintily folds herself down next to him.

(Kara: “….You could summon Himmler.”
Chris: “I could…my two favorite things in this game are aura-reading and summoning Himmler….”)

Just then their phones ring, simultaneously. Paul answers first.

MISTER STEWART!!!!!!! WHAT IS TRANSPIRING SIR?? THERE ARE FLAAAAMES ON THE SOUTHERN HORIZON!!!!”

Paul winces and twists in the sand to look to the east. Indeed, a glow is still lighting the sky above the trees of the park. “Emperor Norton! Uh…my guess is maybe a…dragon?”

The line is quiet for a moment. “….What?” Norton finally growls. “MADNESS, sir!!! Are you sure!?”

“I think so, Georgia would know more….” Paul turns to her. She has her own phone pressed to her ear but is staring vacantly into space, unmoving. Paul waves his hand in front of her gaze. She doesn’t respond. “Umm…I’ll ask her later, she’s in some sort of weird…phone-trance thing….”

“SHE IS TREMERE!!! They engage in such matters.”

“Grim,” Paul says, frowning at her. “Anyway, my guess is a dragon. There was fire, and wind—“

“A dragon comes to the city!! DID YOU SLAY IT, SIR!? ARE YOU SAINT GEORGE!???”

“Ah, no. I was…dragged away…. Where are you?”

“I am at my palace, sir! I am brooooding on the battle to come!”

“Ah.” Paul turns again. To the north, the lights of Great Highway climb up the cliffs of Sutro Heights. At the top of this road, a dark, boxy shape juts from the rocks, tall windows staring out at the sea. The Cliff House. “You know, we’re not that far from you—”

“COME HITHER THEN!!!!! We shall prepare ourselves and SMITE THIS TEUTONIC MENACE FROM THE EARTH!!1!!!!”

#

Georgia, meanwhile, is of course locked in some sort of trance as part of her phone call, which apparently is happening, quote, “outside of time” (so….just like every teleconference call I’ve ever been on, then). Anyway, as well as being temporally-wonky, this call is also apparently secret (BECAUSE OF COURSE IT FUCKING IS >:|) so we don’t get to know what was on it yet. But as soon as she comes back to her senses, they head up the beach toward Norton’s place at the Cliff House.

#

Aquilifer and I arrive at Esteban’s bar, an aged neighborhood-dive sort of place in a nondescript block of commercial fronts at the edge of the Sunset. It’s quiet, the parking lot nearly empty, and the only people around are two bouncer-type guards standing out front. I walk up calmly and stop in front of them.

“Hey,” I say, jerking my head. “Is the Baron seeing people this evening?”

They look me over—taking in my still-wet clothes, menagerie of weapons, and giant fucking eagle asleep on my arm—and glance at each other. “Uh, I think he’ll see you….” one mumbles.

“What’s with the bird?” the other asks.

“Oh, she’s with me.” I shrug my shoulder under her. She pulls her head out and yawns.

They look at each other again. “Sure….” the first one says, stepping away from the doorway.

“Great, thank you,” I beam and brush past them.

It’s well after 2 am at this point so not surprisingly the place is empty. A few thug-looking shapes lurk in the shadows behind the bar, but the only person of interest in the room is Esteban himself, sitting at his usual table in the back, smoking his usual cigar, and wearing his usual linen suit and Panama hat, all with the perfect ease of the Most Interesting Man in the World (which, since this is the first time I think I’ve described him in these writeups, I think is fair to say he basically literally looks like). He puffs an acrid cloud around him, watching me as I cross the room.

I stop a few feet away and tilt in an unbalanced half-bow, trying to keep Aquilifer steady. “Don Esteban,” I smile.

More smoke coils from his mouth as he grins. “Ahh. Mr. Lytton, how are you?”

“Good. I was just in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by and pay my respects.”

“Ah. And what respects are these?” He gestures with his cigar. “Perhaps something of some…missing explosives that you know something about?”

I smile grimly. “Yes, as a matter of fact.”

Esteban smiles and leans back. “I’m all ears.”

“Well, I’ve been…investigaing, and all sources seem to indicate that the Semtex was stolen from you by one Helgi Isarnbjorn Ogenherdi…” I hesitate a moment, eying Esteban and glancing at the shapes of his men across the room. “But…something tells me you already suspected that.”

Esteban continues to smile and doesn’t respond.

I shrug my shoulder under Aquilifer’s weight and continue. “Anyway. I went to see him, but it seems that he doesn’t have the Semtex anymore either.”

Esteban frowns and leans forward. “Someone robbed Helgi Isarnbjorn?” he asks slowly, awe and disbelief wafting out of his voice like his smoke.

I smile. “Yes, and I believe I know who.”

“Oh?” Esteban raises an eyebrow. “And who might it be?”

“One…Accio….”

Esteban suddenly hisses and leans back. He shakes his head and sighs. “I know this name.”

I shrug. “Apparently a lot of people do.”

“I know this name better than most,” he mutters as he takes another draw of his cigar.

“Better than…others I’m associated with?”

“That depends. A man like you gets around.”

I scowl briefly. “Not so much lately….” I mutter.

Esteban gestures at me with his cigar, sprinkling ash across his table. “I know many things. I know that he is the childe of your…benefactor.”

I frown. “The chil—“ I freeze. Last time Marcus and I discussed Accio, Marcus indicated Accio was at most a…nephew. He specifically said something about having killed Accio’s sire some time ago. So, for Esteban to think that they’re directly related, either Esteban’s intel is wrong…

…Or Marcus lied to me.

Esteban watches my face. “Is he not?” he asks, lifting an eyebrow.

I shrug with my non-eagled arm. “I’ve heard they’re related but I’m not sure how.”

Esteban nods and leans back, draping an arm across the chair next to him. “Well I know he fancies himself a collector of many things. I do not know why he is in these waters, but I know where he is. Or at least where he was last night.”

“Really? And…why is that?”

“Because I tried to blow up his ship.” Esteban takes another long pull from the cigar. “Unfortunately I was not…entirely successful. Mr. Accio is a rival of mine from many, many years ago. I thought we had put it all past us, but if he has taken my explosives, well that cannot be allowed to stand. Do you have the prospect of retrieving them from him?”

“Well, I’m hoping, though I have some other chores to work on first.”

He cocks his head. “Shall I ask?”

I snort. “You really don’t want to know.”

“Oh, I really think I might,” he chuckles, “But I will not make you tell me.” He twirls his cigar in his fingers, staring at me in silence. I stare back, but it takes me a few moments to realize he’s not looking at me.

He’s looking at Aquilifer.

“That bird, you have….” He tips his cigar at her. “I have not seen its like before. I would not have expected you to embrace a bird. You didn’t seem that type.”

“What, you saying she’s not my spirit animal?” I smirk, looking over at her, then stop. When we came in, she was still sullen, but sometime during my conversation with Esteban, she perked up. Perked up a lot. She’s staring at Esteban intently, hackles raised, leaning forward on my arm. I shift my weight slightly and see her head track him steadily.

“Ha, please, what do I look like? A Gangrel? No, it’s merely an odd appendage, one that I have not seen on you before. Nor have any of my agents.”

I pull my attention back to Esteban. “Well, a lot of my appendages have been coming and going lately.”

“So I hear.” He gestures with the cigar again before returning it to his mouth. “Is there a particular reason this bird is thinking murderous thoughts at the moment?”

His question makes me pause again. I’m sure there are, but hell if I know, and instinct tells me that the best place to find out probably isn’t the middle of Esteban’s bar, surrounded by his goons. Instead I shrug nonchalantly. “I don’t know, she probably needs some steak.”

“Well forgive me, but as I understand it, we’re all comprised of steak, and I’d rather not have any unpleasant occurrences. Can she wait outside?”

I look back at her and shrug my shoulder as if to shake her off. She rocks with the movement and keeps her gaze locked on Esteban. A noise like a growl rumbles in her throat.

I turn back to Esteban. “I don’t think she wants to go. I mean…well you know what they say about the 800-pound gorilla—“

“Mr. Lytton that isn’t your bird is it?” Esteban interjects, voice clipped.

I stare back and shrug. “She followed me home.”

Esteban regards me a few moments, smoke obscuring his face. Finally he shrugs. “Very well then. Let’s not make enemies unduly.” He stabs the cigar out in an ashtray. “So you’re close to getting my Semtex back. What is it you need from me?”

“Well, you’ve hooked me up with some hardware in the past, I was hoping to continue the arrangement.”

“What hardware do you have in mind?” he asks, focusing on his cigar smoldering out in the tray.

I roll my eyes. “Well I’ve got this one asshole trying to find some dragonsbreath for me, but—“

“And who do you have on such an operation?”

Urg, god, I really don’t want to be publicly associated with him, but I sigh and answer. “A little bitch by the name of Slayer.”

“Slayer?” Esteban looks up, amusement on his face. “I thought he was dead!”

“Yeah…he probably wishes he was….”

“He’s with you then, is he? Wasn’t there some business about six months ago with you and him?”

I smirk. “Yeah, we worked it out.”

“I see….” Esteban chuckles. “Well do give him my regards when next you see him. So. If you’re looking for something special, I have contacts. But…I’m a businessman, Mr. Lytton. I make investments on the future. Now the question is how sound of an investment are you?” He leans back and folds his arms. “If I…invest resources into you, what kind of return can I expect?”

I spread my arms. “Well, despite efforts to the contrary, I do seem to keep returning, so I got that going for me.”

“The fact that you are alive is not a minor fact, but I need people who are more than just alive.” He leans forward again, the brim of his hat casting his face into shadow. “If Accio took my Semtex…his fangs would be an adequate return for my investment. If you can arrange that.”

I do a quick mental tally. Seems everyone wants a piece of this Accio asshole, but as far as I can tell no one has called dibs on the fangs yet. Why not? I shrug and nod. “I can certainly see to it.”

“Good.” His smile has a hint of fangs of its own. “In that case, Mr. Lytton, would you mind giving him my regards as well?” I nod mutely. “Excellent. I have some dragonsbreath. Twelve gauge. I have enough, enough for any one man at least. If you need more than that then you’ll need to find someone else to help you. But what, if I might ask, are you planning to shoot at?”

I open my mouth to make a snarky misdirecting comment, then realize that nothing I could come up with is as ridiculous as the truth. “…Nazis,” I sigh.

He blinks. “Nazis? I knew Nazis once, many many years ago. I met them in Spain. Arrogant bastards, but…Germans.” He pulls out a silver case from his jacket and removes another cigar. “I do not have a difficulty with you using my dragonsbreath on Nazis, but where are you going to find Nazis?”

“Ah, well, the Tremere seem to be collecting the whole set.”

“Ah, yes. The Tremere. Our partners in peace.” He closes the case with a snap. “Or so says the Camarilla.”

I smirk. “Well, the Camarilla doesn’t say much these days considering we are running out of them.”

He looks at me appraisingly as he lights the cigar. “Yes, well, that Justicar says enough,” he says, eying me knowingly as he stresses the word “Justicar.”

I don’t respond, but my cockiness deflates a little bit.

He waves out the match. “Where are your friends?”

I frown. That’s a good question. I’ve been so wrapped up with Aquilifer I didn’t even think about the rest of the assholes. “I’m not sure. Probably scattered across the park right now.”

“The park? What were you doing there? No one goes into the park.”

I snort. “Yeah, and we figured out why.”

“Oh, the werewolves come after you, did they?”

“The werewolves are missing.”

My words ring in the silence of the room. Esteban is quiet a moment. “…Missing? Really? Well then…I think perhaps it’s time I…expanded.” Some echoing chuckles drift across the room from the bar behind me. “Why then were you encountering difficulties? Were there others who are moving in?”

I watch him evenly. “There are others who are already established.”

Esteban stares at me a moment, then leans forward. “What is in the park, Tom?”

I stare back. “Jurassic shit.”

He stares blankly. “What is in the park, Tom?”

Aquilifer’s talons tense on my arm at his tone, but I just roll my eyes. My wit is so under-appreciated in my time…. “Something big, angry, and…hungry. Take my advice, don’t go to the museums, and really don’t go to Nightlife at Cal Academy.”

He’s silent another moment. “No, I don’t think I shall. Well, Mr. Lytton, if there is anything else you need be sure and let me know.” He levels his cigar at me. “But I do expect a return on my investment. And…when next you see that diminutive associate of yours,” he grins, “tell him I wish to offer my respects. As is proper, with one of his…vintage.” He chuckles and gestures across the bar. “You see, others in here may see a vampire of that age as a test of manhood. I see it for what it actually is. A test of sanity.”

I frown and nod, carefully guarding my response, but between my nervousness and Esteban’s grin, Aquilifer tenses so hard she pierces my jacket. I hide a wince.

“My associates will see to you,” Esteban says, tipping his hat.

I incline my head respectfully and turn to leave, my last view of him his knowing smile half-shrouded by a cloud of smoke.

#

Georgia and Paul make their way toward the Cliff House, Paul pestering Georgia for more info on Tremere magic and Georgia dropping some information about what the hell that phone call was about (but I didn’t hear what she said so I’m not sure).

Norton’s apartment isn’t in the Cliff House proper, but is actually a secret basement instillation carved in the cliffs below it. Norton apparently has lived here for over a century now, through multiple incarnations of the Cliff House, and in fact claims that the many fires the historic building has suffered have been the result of attacks on him by his enemies (aka, Sebastian).

Georgia and Paul go down the narrow rock stairwell leading to his door and knock. The door creaks open. They step cautiously inside and see…Jupiter, Norton’s Dachshund, sitting in the middle of the apartment’s entryway, watching them with his head cocked.

“Jupiter!” Paul leans down and offers the back of his hand. Georgia hesitates a moment then curtsies. Jupiter sniffs Paul, eyes Georgia carefully, then snorts and waddles away down one of the halls. Paul and Georgia follow.

They enter a parlor, decorated in classic Victorian style, all velvet brocade and gaslamps, enough to make a Mission hipster weep with envy. Mercury—the great dane—is sprawled across a large chaise, underneath an oil painting of him sprawled in an identical pose across an identical chaise. In the middle of the room is a table with a decanter and three glasses of blood, and next to the table is Emperor Norton. He throws up his arms as they enter.

“Mr. Stewart!!! Ms. Johnson!! How does this evening find you!?”

“Well, we’re not dead yet, so that’s a perk,” Paul says.

“Ah, this is a good development! What horrid fiends have you been ridding our city of?!” Norton asks, leaning in to peer at them.

They glance at each other. Paul answers first. “Uh, well I believe there is something called a…McCully?…in Golden Gate Par—“

“A WHAT!?!” Norton stumbles, nearly toppling the table. “Mokole!? You saw the beast? The very sight of a Mokole can incite to madness!!”

Georgia studiously avoids Paul’s gaze. “That’s about right,” Paul grumbles.

Norton paces the room thoughtfully. “So it dwells there. Under our very noses….”

“What is a Mokole?” Paul asks.

“Mokole is…an unspeakable thing….” Norton says darkly. “Mokole are monsters beyond imagining. I have never seen one, not in person. Only heard the tales of entire armies devoured. Incinerated, rendered down into the stuff of death.”

Paul and Georgia glance at each other. “We…left it with Marcus, in the middle of the park….” Georgia says slowly.

Norton stops and turns to them. “Marcus Sertorius? You left him there?”

“Well, he told us to—“

Norton laughs. “Then he is a fool! No one stands where those things walk! No one who wishes to live.”

“But what are they?” Georgia presses.

Norton frowns and continues pacing. “I do not know. Horriffic creatures, derived from what lower pit I could not say. I know only tales, rumors of half-mad men, stumbling from the wilds. Tales of creatures so vast even the wolves would not approach them.” He glances at Georgia. “To have seen one is no mean feat. He will not wish for you to tell the tale.”

Georgia’s face falls. “But I don’t even remember what it looked like.”

“Hm. That it is for the best. Few who see such things live to tell it again, even those who speak in jest.” He stops and leans over the table. “If we are the creatures the mortals fear in the night, then they what we should. To know that one is here is disquieting.”

“So…what do we do?” Georgia asks softly.

“There is nothing to be done about a Mokole. It kills what it would. You can no more stop it than you could stop the rising of the sun.” He pauses. “Of course, that is a subject that you know more than most about, don’t you Mr. Stewart?”

Some of the concern lifts from Paul’s face. “Indeed!”

Norton slams a hand against the table, making the glasses shudder. “AND SO SIR! Do you still propose the destruction of Heinrich Himmler, and all his works?”

“Ah…” Paul’s concern comes right back. “Well, without any information to the contrary, that does seem to be the plan—“

“He resides upon the islands then!”

“He does. He’s…” Paul glances at Georgia. “He’s tried to talk to us today.”

“Has he? Has he begged you for your mercy? Has he commanded you imperiously to attend to his wishes?!”

Paul and Georgia still trade a look. “Somewhere in between…” Paul says slowly.

“Really. Hmph. A friend then, approaching with a hand extended and a dagger held in the back.”

“I think that about has it.”

“I know his type. They are not to be trusted, they are not men of honor and reason!!!” (Jason: “…says the Malkavian.”)

“He comes with the assurance that my clan backs him,” Georgia says hesitantly.

Norton looks at her darkly. “Ms. Johnson, you will forgive me if I am impolite, but your clan is a clan of highwaymen and monsters. That they should back him is no surprise to me! They are blood mages who would sell their grandmothers for power! You have lived amongst them, tell me I am wrong!

Georgia waves a hand placatingly. “You are not wrong. I am merely pointing out that if he truly has the backing of the clan and isn’t some traitor out on his own errand, then taking him on on his own turf will be nearly impossible.”

Norton watches her a moment, then chuckles. “Ah, but he does not know everything we are capable of, Ms. Johnson.” Norton walks to the far wall, hung with heavy curtains. He wrenches one back, revealing a window looking out over the ocean. He stares out it, arms crossed behind him, staring into the night as if he could see directly to the Farallones themselves.

(Which…I don’t know, maybe he can. Fucking Malkavians, man….)

“I have seen his work, firsthand,” he rumbles. “I have seen what he thinks of the world he would build.” He glances back. “But you don’t have to believe me, Ms. Johnson.“ (Everyone: “But you don’t have to take my word for it!”) ”Perhaps you would rather speak to one of your own?”

Georgia takes a step forward. “What do you mean?”

“There is a man I know. A Tremere. He does not reside in this city any longer, but I have kept in contact. And unlike the majority of your clan, I have found that he is a man who can be relied upon in some circumstances.” He turns back to the window. “And one of those circumstances is his enmity towards Himmler and all his ilk.”

“Interesting…I would be very interested in meeting this person.” Georgia hesitates a moment, then joins Norton at the window. “I would also hope that you consider me among those whom you trust,” she says carefully.

Norton nods once. “You fought well on Alcatraz, Ms. Johnson. I shall consider your allegiances as I find them.” He turns to her. “If you wish to speak with this man I may arrange it. I do not know his location or his timetable, but he may be of help.”

“What is his name?”

“His proper name is unpronounceable. I knew him as Maimonedes.” Norton turns to Paul. “So sir! Will you succumb to the silver tongue of a snake?”

Paul stares out the window a moment, into the abyss beyond. “…No, no I don’t think I will. As much as I dread the confrontation, I don’t imagine things being better the other way.”

Norton draws his sword and hoists it as high as the ceiling will allow. “Then let us strike! AND OFF WITH HIS HEAD!!!” He strides to the table, grabs one of the glasses of blood, and downs it.

#

Anstis, to no one’s surprise, also survived the attack in the park. First order of business is to track down his half-ghouled shitzu, Boopsy, in the vicinity of Russian Hill. He does so, giving the dog a point of blood before dismissing him.

As Boopsy trots off into the night, Anstis suddenly realizes he’s being watched, by someone doing a half-assed job of  hiding in the shadows. Anstis wanders past nonchalantly, then lunges and grabs the guy out of the bushes. The man screams and struggles but is locked in his grip.

“Who be ye?” Antsis growls.

“Nobody!! Nobody man!” he sputters.

Anstis shakes him once “Why ye following me?”

“I don’t know man! Some guy paid me to watch you!”

Anstis’s eyes narrow. “Who? What did he look like?”

“I don’t know! Tall! Skinny! Carries a cane!”

Anstis tenses then leans in closer. “A cane, you say? This man, does he have…kind of bird-like mannerisms?”

The man leans his head away as far as his neck will allow. “A little bit,” he squeaks.

“Where did you see him last?”

“Uh, Coit. Coit Tower. An hour or two ago.”

Anstis frowns. That was right around when he got his book taken.

The man glances around. “Hey, hey look man, it’s just a job, right. I just do shit for him sometimes. I can do shit for you too, just…don’t do any weird shit!”

Anstis regards him. “This man took something from me. A book. I would like it returned.”

The man’s eyes go wide. “Yeah, yeah I can do that! Just let me go!”

Anstis grins. “Good. In the meantime…drink this.” Anstis bites his wrist and shoves it against the guy’s mouth, muffling his screams. He holds it there until he’s sure the man’s swallowed some, then releases him and steps back.

“I’ll be watching you,” Anstis growls. “I expect results, or tomorrow will be worse.”

The man staggers back, torn between compliance and panic, then nods once and tears off into the night.

Anstis watches him disappear down the block. “Boopsy,” he calls softly after a few moments. There’s a brief rustle, and Boopsy reemerges from the bushes. “Keep an eye on him,” Anstis rumbles. Boopsy barks once and trots off after the man.

Anstis watches the dog leave, then for good measure, he calls up his ghouled tomcat and sends him to spy on the man as well.

(Jason: “Welcome to Jim’s Army of the Night. A cat, a shitzu, and a parrot that has totally fucked off.”)

#

Paul and Georgia discuss the specifics of the plan with Norton—which, you will recall, involves Summoning Himmler to Fort Funston, which will be set up as a trap, while Georgia and I go to the islands themselves to find Sophia. Norton says it’s not a bad plan—not exactly a ringing endorsement, especially from a Malkavian—but he encourages them to round up as many allies as possible.

Paul suggests Georgia’s Nosferatu friends, pointing out that not only might they be of help on the mission, but maybe they could take in any gargoyle refuges that result from it. Norton says that tracking down the Nosferatu could be a problem, since they are still laying low. Georgia, in true Georgia fashion, just shrugs and says she has a phone number, so she’ll just call them.

She then pulls out her phone, dials the number, and leaves a cheery voicemail on the box it directs to, asking for Abelard and could he please call her back.

#

After collecting a load of dragonsbreath rounds from Esteban’s men, I stand in the parking lot of the bar and consider my next move. Out of my periphery I can see Aquilifer staring to the north, toward the park. I avoid following her gaze. I too am concerned about Marcus, but I am more concerned about Sophia, and getting more concerned by the minute. A creeping dread has been building for the last few nights, a voice whispering in my mind—and not Mr. Tails this time—that I’m taking too long, that the longer I wait the worse things will be, and here we’ve wasted another night fucking around in the park.

I take a reflexive breath to try and calm myself, but without fresh oxygen to saturate my flesh it has little effect.

Aquilifer whines softly again, deep in her throat. I pat her talons, each as long as my own fingers. With the night growing thin, the best thing to do is get her the steak I promised and find somewhere to hole up for the night. I call a car, for once hoping it’s Adam so I don’t have to explain the giant fucking eagle on my shoulder. It’s not, but the Uber driver doesn’t comment as Aquilifer and I squeeze in the back. I tell him to go to GayWay—the Safeway in the Castro—since I know it’ll be open and there’s a couple motels nearby on Market.

Thinking of housing reminds me of another issue I should probably check in on: Slayer.

The call picks up. “…Heey man,” I hear him say hesitantly after a few seconds.

“Hey. What’s going on with that dragonsbreath?”

“I got your dragonsbreath, man….”

“Good! Now I got two sources. You took a little time there, son, so I had to—“

“MAN, FUCK YOU!!! YOU KNOW WHAT I HAD TO DO TO GET THIS SHIT?!”

The driver glances in the mirror. I ignore him. “I don’t know, was it fun? Wanna do it again?”

“MAN, I had to fucking rip a dude off!”

“Yeah, what dude is this? I’m still concerned about this—“

“He’s fucking dead! A dealer I know out of Hayward, man!”

“Good!” I hesitate a moment. I suddenly feel like someone else has mentioned something about Hayward recently, though I can’t remember what, or who. I stare out the window a few moments, then shake it off. Meeeh, it’s probably nothing. “Where are you now?”

“I’m in fucking Oakland.”

“Ah shit. I’m gonna need that dragonsbreath soon, son, and my painting if you got it.”

“Man, you know another way to get back to the city!?”

I frown. “What? …Oh, you can’t cross the bridge, can you?”

“No, man, I can’t cross any of the fucking bridges! The Camarilla’s got the Bay Bridge on lockdown and some new asshole in the Sabbat took over down south, he won’t let anybody through!”

“Oh!” I relax a bit. “Yeah I know that guy, maybe I can get you a pass, hold on.” I hang up the phone.

My next call is to Paul.

He answers right away. “Tom?”

“Hey, how you doing?”

“Um, as good as anyone who is part of a conspiracy against the Nazi party can be.”

“Fun! To that end, I’m trying to track down more hardware. I’m trying to get my…bitch, Slayer, to this side of the bay and he can’t cross the bridges or go around. He’s saying that Liedesdorff has a lockdown on transit through the south. Think maybe I can have Liedesdorff’s phone number so I can ask him for a hallpass?”

Paul sounds skeptical and—perhaps wisely—doesn’t want me to talk to Liedesdorff directly, so he offers to call him for me instead.

I roll my eyes but agree. “Great. Tell him the guy’s name is Slayer and he’s riding a pink Vespa.”

#

Paul mutters to himself a few moments after hanging up, then calls Liedesdorff.

“Well, Paul Stewart,” Liedesdorff says amiably. “I hope you are having a better night than you have been for the last bit.”

Paul sighs. “Have you heard of something called a Mokole?”

“No, never heard of it, why?”

“Well, then you are probably having a better night than I am. Anyway, I hear you’ve locked down the roads and bridges down south?”

“What? Who told you that?” Liedesdorff replies, sounding genuinely surprised.

“Um, well an associate of Tom’s is trying to bring something to him and apparently can’t get around.”

“Paul, I have an arch-bishopric that covers half the South Bay. I need that area to produce money in order to skim off of it. I can’t do that if I lock all the transport down,” Liedesdorff says calmly. “Who told you that I locked the damn bridges?”

“Well, the information comes secondhand, but apparently a skeezy little guy named Slayer.”

“Oooooooh….” Liedesdorff sighs. “The bridges aren’t closed, Paul, they’re closed to him.”

Paul processes that a moment. “That…makes more sense.”

“That little rat bastard tried to play me against Andre for ten fucking years. If I get my hands on him again, I’m going to show him what the hell the meaning of pain is. What the hell are you doing associating with a piece of puke like Slayer?”

Paul considers his answer, but…there’s really no easy way to explain it. “It seems that Tom has been…trying to rehabilitate him. I don’t know what his angle is, but he has Slayer scared straight at the moment.”

(Me: “Ha, yeah, he’s…pretty damn straight.”)

Liedesdorff scoffs. “Well, I might let Slayer through.” He pauses a moment. “He ever tell you how he got his start in the city?”

Paul blinks. “No, he did not,” he replies, suddenly intrigued.

Liedesdorff chuckles. “Well it has to occur to you that a sniveling bastard like him wouldn’t have been kept around long if he hadn’t made friends with somebody. You remember our former associate Sebastian? Slayer used to work for him, long time ago. There was a little incident, back in the late 70s.” He pauses. “Tell Tom to ask Slayer where he was in 1978. I think Tom will find the answer…illuminating.”

Paul lifts an eyebrow. “I shall….”

“Give Tom my regards when he finds out. Oh, and give Slayer them too.”

#

My car is cresting over the hill to the east side of the city when Paul calls me back.

“How’d it go?” I ask.

“Uh…good, good. Say, did you know that Slayer used to work for Sebastian?”

I roll my eyes. “No, but it doesn’t really surprise me.”

“Yes. Anyway, Liedesdorff says he’ll let him through, but he also suggested you ask Slayer what he was doing in 1978.”

I steady myself against the door as the car goes down a sudden drop. “What does that have to do with getting him around the bay!?”

“I think he expects us to learn some information he will find amusing and we will find not-amusing, but it’s probably better to find the information we won’t find amusing now, rather than later when it comes back to bite us in the ass.”

I stare a moment. “…Um, ok? Well, thank you.” I hang up the phone, then call Slayer back.

This time he answers right away. “…Yeah, man?”

“Alright, so we’re working on it, but first, Liedesdorff, himself, mentioned that apparently you used to work for our friend Sebastian—“

“MAN, I used to work for a lot of people, alright!? He was a primogen!”

“—Right, yes, well, he also told me to ask you what you were doing in 1978.”

Slayer goes quiet. “Uhh…I don’t know,” he mutters, evasion dripping from his voice. “I mean I was doing a lot of stuff in 1978….”

The car descends down Market Street, the light late-night traffic bringing us rapidly closer to the destination. I stare out the window at the passing apartments and shops of the Castro. “He seemed adamant that this would be something that would spark your memory.”

“Uh…well, I mean I did a lot of coke in 1978—“

“Yeah, so did everybody, son! Quit being a lying smart-ass!” Christ, is this how everyone else feels when they talk to me?

“I…. Yeah, ok, I did some jobs for some people! For Sebastian!”

“What kinda jobs?”

“Politics shit, man!”

Something starts nagging the back of my mind, a creeping suspicion triggered by the date, and the rainbow livery of the passing neighborhood. “What kind of politics shit?” I ask slowly.

“I had to kill a couple people!”

I tense. Aquilifer notices my change of mood and looks over at me. “What people?” I ask.

“Some politics people, someone muscling in on someone else’s shit. Man, I don’t know why they ask me to do this shit!”

“Really?” I snap. “You don’t remember the names of the people you killed? You didn’t go running around town bragging about it to everybody?” I look at the driver, but he is very carefully avoiding glancing at me in the mirror.

“Not this one. This one went bad, man. I didn’t know what was going to happen! I had to lay low, found a guy to blame.”

I rub my eyes. “Seriously, son? Are you going to make me look this shit up myself, cause I got a lot of—“

I KILLED MILK, MAN!!! And the fucking MAYOR!! Alright!?!

I close my eyes, the hand holding my phone gripping very tightly. Aquilifer keens questioningly at me. There’s a few moments of silence, then the car glides to a stop on the sidewalk in front of the Safeway parking lot. I nod briefly at the driver and get out without another word, Aquilifer scrambling after me. We stand there in the corner, buffeted by the noise of traffic and the wind coming down off the hills.

Slayer, still on the phone, starts to nervously fill the silence. “Sebastian wanted him gone, so I killed him and found a guy to pin it on. I don’t fucking know why. Bullshit politics, I don’t know this shit. He paid me good money to get rid of him, I got rid of him.” He pauses. “Man, what the fuck do you even care?!”

That’s true, what do I care? That was five years before I came to the city, I obviously never met the guy, but his specter lingered over my decade of mortal life in the community he left behind, the community he helped build. A community I never would have found if not for the day when, at thirteen years old, I sat in front of the TV and watched the news talk about a place where an openly gay man could not only walk the streets safely, but be elected to public office.

I realize as I’m staring up the street that I can just make out the top of the Castro’s giant rainbow flag, lit by spotlights to shine against the darkness of the city.

Slayer is still talking. “Look, man, he was just a f—a dude.

I take a breath, and when I continue, all playful mocking is gone from my voice. “Look. Here’s the deal. You’re going to get me the shit I need by nightfall tomorrow. Do whatever it takes to get over here, even if you have to walk across the fucking bay. If you don’t, well…Liedesdorff and his men know to go looking around for some asshole on a pink bike, and all I have to do is drop a burn notice on your ass and you’re on your own.”

“Alright, man, I’ll be there!! Fuck!!” His voice is close to breaking. “I’m sick of this shit…. I’m fucking trying here, man, what do you want from me?”

“Try harder,” I snap.

“Man, FUCK YOU!!”

I wait just long enough to let him doubt his back-talk before responding. “Slayer, as fun as you are, you’re really not my type.”

I hang up the phone.

#

Georgia and Paul are still at Norton’s, hanging out in his parlor with the dogs. Norton is somewhere else in the flat, doing what they don’t know, but they can hear his yells periodically echo down the hall. Mercury refuses to give up the couch, so Paul and Georgia cram themselves onto one overstuffed armchair while they make some calls.

Georgia gets in touch with Abelard, her contact in the Nosferatu. They haven’t spoken in awhile, so she asks if he wants an update on Alcatraz. He says no need, he and some of his people were just there, picking through the ruins and finding many interesting things. Things he is not happy about.

Gargoyle-related things.

Georgia is able to reassure him that she was not involved in such things, nor had she any idea what was going on, but she says if he and the Nosferatu are looking for a place to vent their anger, then perhaps they might be interested in assisting with the Farallones mission.

Abelard isn’t happy with this suggestion. For one thing, he knows about the were-sharks around the islands (like the one Anstis already met). For another, he is skeptical that this isn’t all an elaborate Tremere trap to lure more Nosferatu into their clutches.

Georgia decides to call in the big guns and hands the phone to Paul to negotiate instead. Paul points out to Abelard that one thing we expect to find on the Farallones is a high population of gargoyles, a literal army of darkness, and if we get them off the islands they will need new homes and masters, since—unsurprisingly—Paul doesn’t want to just destroy them.

Abelard is skeptical. He seems less inclined to view gargoyles as the innocents Paul is purporting. He also points out that “up to a few hundred” gargoyles will more than triple the population of vampires in this city and be a logistical nightmare to deal with, for feeding them if nothing else. Still, part of him seems begrudgingly interested and he promises to talk to “Karl” (aka, the Nosferatu primogen whom we thought was dead but is apparently not, yay!) and get back to them.

(Jim: “You didn’t mention Himmler, I noticed.”
Chris: “No, that comes after they’ve taken the bait.”)

Georgia is putting her phone away when it rings again, from another unknown number. She answers it and hears a man’s voice she doesn’t recognize.

“Is this Georgia Johnson?” he asks gruffly.

Georgia glances at Paul. “That depends…will that make you happy or sad?”

The voice gets gruffer. “You don’t want me to ask this question again.”

Georgia sighs. “Yes, I sometimes go by the name Georgia Johnson.”

“Do you know a man by the name of Joshua Norton?”

A muffled crash echoes down the hall. “Yes. He’s…nearby.”

“Have him say something.”

Georgia holds the phone up and leans over to face the hall. “My dear emperor!” she calls.

“YES, MS. JOHNSON!?” Norton booms back.

“Ummm…nevermind.” She puts the phone back to her ear. “How was that?”

There’s a brief pause. “You are at his house? There’s a diner up the road. Go there.”

The call ends.

#

Paul and Georgia approach the diner, Louie’s, a near-ancient wooden building perched on the cliffs above the ruins of Sutro Baths. It’s closed at this hour, obviously, all the doors closed and locked. They huddle against the wind, trying to decide what to do, when they suddenly hear the click of the front door behind them. Georgia opens the door and peers through cautiously. Paul takes the lead and steps through first.

And is immediately blasted back into the street.

Now that she’s looking, Georgia senses Tremere wards surrounding the front door. “Sorry about that,” she calls to Paul, then turns to the darkened restaurant. “You could have warned us!”

There’s no verbal response, but her phone rings again. She answers.

“Are you deliberately trying to waste my time?” the same voice from before asks.

“You asked us to come to the diner….”

“Are you an idiot? Come into the diner and we can talk. This is an internal matter. A Tremere matter.”

“Oh…” Georgia rolls her eyes. “Why didn’t you just say so?”

“Because I assumed you were not a third grader!”

Georgia shrugs apologetically at Paul, who is dusting himself off and glowering at her from the sidewalk. She enters the building and shuts the door behind her.

The place is dark, but she sees a man sitting in one of the booths, silhouetted against the windows. He looks over as she approaches.

“So…you must be Norton’s associate,” she says.

“I am Maimonides. I am Tremere.” His gaze flicks across her. “You are a neonate. A neonate who has…I believe the term is, ‘stepped in it?’ “ He turns back to the window. “Why did Norton ask me to call you? San Francisco is not my concern.”

“Because of the issue at the Farallones. Are you aware of the place?”

“I am aware there is a facility there, that is not my concern either. What about the Farallones?”

Georgia hesitates, then slides into the seat across from him. “Norton thought you might be of some assistance.”

“In what?” He continues to stare out the window.

Georgia fiddles with a napkin. “Are you a friend of Norton’s?”

“We have worked together. I don’t know anyone who claims to be a friend of a Malkavian. Or a Tremere.”

“And…how loyal are you to the clan?”

Maimonides finally turns to look at her. “That…is an interesting question….” he says slowly.  “What is it to you? I outrank you by what I’m certain is more than ten ranks.”

“Most certainly….”

“So why are you questioning my loyalties? Shouldn’t I be doing the same to you?” He looks her over again and scoffs. “Even Norton isn’t insane enough to send you to try and tempt me out of the clan, so what exactly is it we’re talking about?” He jerks his head toward the window. “What is going on out on the Farallones that I should know about?”

Georgia takes a breath and places her hands flat on the table. “It seems that a…Nazi, is making an army of possibly hundreds of gargoyles, for what purposes I can only imagine.”

Maimonides’s eyes narrow as she talks. He leans across the table. “Which Nazi?” he growls.

“Himmler.”

Maimonides sits up, eyes still narrowed. “I see….”

“Himmler has made it clear that he has the backing of at least a good portion of the clan.”

Maimonides turns back to the window, looking deep into the darkness over the ocean. “Hundreds of gargoyles, you say? It was supposed to be an experimental facility. It might have two or three….”

Georgia laughs nervously. “Maybe two or three hundred.”

“They created two or three hundred gargoyles? Out of what!? They would have had to depopulate half the clans of the West Coast!”

“I don’t know, but I can tell you the Nosferatu in San Francisco are about to—in their words—‘go nuclear.’ “

“The Nosfertatu in San Francisco are lucky they’re still alive.” He shakes his head. “And Himmler is in charge of this? Himmler is younger than you, no one would put him in charge of that facility.”

She shrugs. “Well, he’s the front-man we’ve seen.”

Maimonides scowls and levels a finger at her. “Do you know why Norton put you in contact with me? It’s because of this man.” He stabs the table. “Himmler himself. You asked me about my loyalty to the clan. My loyalty to the clan is absolute. But Himmler…Himmler is another matter.”

Georgia nods nervously. “If it helps…van Brugge was here in town and had Himmler declared a traitor….” she hesitates. “…before he was killed.”

“Adrianus van Brugge is dead?” Maimonides stares at her. “I knew he was a fool, but I didn’t know he was that big a fool. What killed him?”

Georgia hesitates. “Umm…a demon?”

Maimonides is too surprised to notice the uncertainty in her voice. “Was he playing with dark thaumaturgy?”

“Ah no, he was attempting to deal with…another issue, but it’s all related to this one.”

Maimonides eyes her. “Somehow I doubt that but we’ll leave it for now. Van Brugge is dead and declared Himmler a traitor?” He shakes his head. “Van Brugge never had the first idea what he was doing. He was a scholar, not a politician, more at home in a library than a council chamber.”

Georgia frowns, processing this. Perhaps she had more in common with van Brugge than she realized. “I see…and this makes him a fool?”

“It makes him a fool if he thinks he can simply declare Himmler a traitor. Declaring someone a traitor comes with an automatic death sentence, but now van Brugge is dead and Himmler is not, so who is the fool?”

They lapse into silence a few moments, Georgia staring at the table and Maimonides looking out the window. “The facility on the Farallone Islands is a top secret one, even by our standards,” he says finally. “Reports go straight to the council.”

“So how did you hear about it?”

He glances at her and smirks. “You don’t live as long as I do without finding ways to know things you’re not supposed to. I don’t know all the pieces, but I know about the Farallone facility, though I did not know they had hundreds of gargoyles on it. It was intended to be a research facility, not a full-scale production facility, unless someone changed their mind. But that someone would have to be very senior.”

Georgia nods. “That…worries me a great deal.”

“It worries everyone a great deal.” The vinyl seat creaks as he leans back and crosses his arms. “What do you want do?”

“Well…Norton and Mr. Stewart would like to storm the Farallones and take the facility down.  Their plan is to lure Himmler away to the mainland and deal with him while a separate force takes the island.”

“And were they planning on riding unicorns over there?”

Georgia hesitates. “I think sheer force of will is their best plan. That’s…part of why I’m reaching out to you.”

Maimonides snorts and considers her. “I can’t act directly against the Farallone facility, you know that. I am not even here right now. If one of the councilors decides that what Himmler is doing is right, then there is nothing that I, or you, or Adrianus, or anyone else can do about it.” He pauses and drums a hand against the table. “But you are certain Himmler is there?”

“Well, not at this exact moment, but running the facility, yes.” She hesitates. “He…invited me out there himself. Made me an offer.”

Maimonides raises an eyebrow. “And what was the substance of that offer?”

“Power. Training. Not killing me.”

Maimonides smiles mirthlessly. “Himmler and I go a ways back, as far back as you can go with a man like him. I know many men that Himmler once made offers to.”

“Are they dead?”

“All of them,” he says flatly.

“Even the ones who took him up on the offers?”

Especially the ones who took him up on the offers.” He stares at her a long moment. “I…may be able to assist you in this matter, but I want to make this exceptionally clear. If something goes drastically wrong, not only do you not know who I am, but if you try to pretend that you know who I am, I will kill every person you’ve ever met.”

Georgia considers this and nods. “That’s fair.”

Maimonides nods slowly as well. “If you need a fall-guy, I’m sure you have plenty to choose from. I hear you are working with Toreadors?”

At this, Georgia tenses. “The Toreador and I…have a decent working relationship,” she says cautiously.

Maimonides doesn’t seem to notice her sudden shift in tone, merely snorting and rolling his eyes. “Good luck.” He leans forward. “I know someone who was involved in the initial construction of the Farallone facility back in the 20’s. He owes me a favor. With some help from him, I may be able to get you to the islands. They have been updated with more modern defenses since then, but it’s not the easiest facility to construct things on so it probably hasn’t been updated too much. From what I hear, they have problems with the local wildlife.”

“I’ve heard….” Georgia says slowly.

“If they have mastered that particular threat then I wouldn’t go by sea.” Maimonides strokes his chin (…or beard? I don’t know, Jason didn’t give us a description for this guy. With a name like that though I am guessing he has a beard.) “There is another Tremere facility in this city, the one on Alcatraz. Have you been there?”

Georgia pauses. “Yes…yes I have….” she says carefully.

“There’s a transport circle on Alcatraz that leads to the Farallones. I don’t know exactly where it is, but it’s buried somewhere, deep in the bowels of the facility. I don’t know if Himmler knows about it or not, but it would be a safer bet than swimming.” He leans forward again. “Himmler can have all the defenses he wants directed at his end of the circle but you wont be coming out there. If you can get to that circle and contact me, I can instruct you on how to perform a ritual that would not only activate it, but direct it to a different part of the island. ”

“That…is pretty clever….”

Maimonides smirks. “It’s a little trick I picked up avoiding the Spanish Inquisition. (Me: “Bet they never expected that.”)

“What about getting back?”

He sighs. “That is more difficult. The islands will be warded, very heavily, against intrusions and extrusions.”

“Including Tremere?”

He laughs. “Especially Tremere. They don’t want anyone doing what I’m encouraging you to do, afterall. No, I’m afraid you’re going to have to find your own way out, but there should be boats. And by then, I would hope, you’ll be beyond their capacities to harm you. My advice would be to kill every living thing on that island. In fact, if you’re capable, my advice would be to sink those islands to the bottom of the ocean.”

It’s risky, but it’s the best specific plan we’ve heard so far, so Georgia agrees. Maimonides nods and watches her a moment. “If I might ask, what are your intentions with Himmler himself?”

Georgia considers this and shrugs. “Kill him? Eat him?”

“And why would you want to do that? You could turn him into the council as a traitor.”

She shrugs again.

Maimonides snorts. “Were you around for the Nazis?” He leans forward as she shakes her head. “I was, and before I was a Tremere I was a Jew. So, if you manage to see Himmler…tell him shalom.”

END OF NIGHT

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