6/24/14

Because what better way to celebrate Pride than spending the weekend writing about a gay vampire with AIDS contemplating the murder of the man who actually killed Harvey Milk?


***

Tonight, since he got fairly little screen time last week, we open with Anstis. He spent the in-game night buried in the eucalyptus-saturated ground of the Presidio. When he climbs out, he finds his cat—the one he sent after that sucker he caught following him in Russian Hill—waiting for him. The cat reports that he followed the guy, but all he can say about it is, “Large bird. Dark bird. Angry bird.” Anstis ponders this and dismisses him.

The next item of importance comes to mind as Anstis is brushing leaves and loam off his clothes: he really needs to get some new threads. The leather gear I put him in has been ruined by multiple dunks in salt water, and the costume pimp-hat is long gone. He decides to use the early part of the evening to track down something more his speed by going to an actual tailor.

And, since he is from the 1700’s, apparently, to him, this means finding himself some Jews. Cause apparently that’s a whole new historical stereotype I had never heard of before.


He finds his way to Temple Emanu-El, at the edge of the Presidio in the Lake District. Saturday services are just getting out, so he wanders in, finds the rabbi, and asks where he might be able to find a tailor.

(Jason: “A gentile pirate walks into a temple and asks the rabbi about a tailor….”
Me: “It really does sound like the beginning of a joke.”)

The rabbi squints at him. “This is a temple,” he says slowly. “Not a tailor’s shop. We serve the community.”

Anstis just cocks his head. “Is not a tailor part of serving the community?”

(Jason: *rolls, peers at his dice in secret* “Ok. So let me tell you what I did here. I decided that if he failed this roll, he would throw you out. If he succeeded the roll, he would decide you were sincere and try to help you. If he botched, he would still try to help you, but only to stall until the police showed up, assuming that you’re some crazy person trying to kill Jews. …He’s going to help you now, so let’s see which one it will be!”)

The rabbi cautiously asks Anstis what he’s looking for. Anstis lists off proper gentlemen’s items and accessories, such as hose and a wig. The rabbi stares at him, recommends trying some of the stores in the neighborhood when they open in the morning, then politely shows him the door. Anstis thanks him and leaves.

So I guess we’ll never find out if the SWAT guys were on their way. Nuts.

(Jason, many days later: “They were.”)

#

After Georgia’s meeting with Maimonides, Paul and Georgia went back to Norton’s place to crash for the day. Paul awakens in the parlor, on Mercury’s couch, which the dog apparently didn’t mind because he simply fell asleep on top of Paul. Paul struggles for breath to speak but Mercury simply licks him and settles down further.

Georgia, meanwhile, wakes up on one of the chairs underneath Jupiter. The dachshund peers down at her, visibly proud at subduing his quarry just as Mercury had. Georgia greets him cheerily and lifts him off easily, much to Jupiter’s confusion and dismay.

Paul is finally able to struggle out from under Mercury and slide onto the floor. The first thing he does is check his phone, where he sees a missed call from Klaus. He calls him back, and Klaus grumpily reports that they have Fort Funston secured and have acquired a quantity of liquid nitrogen.

Klaus: “I don’t know that I want to know what you plan to do with it.”
Paul: “…Recall Terminator 2?”
Klaus: “…I was afraid you were going to say that.”

Yes, apparently Paul wants to freeze Himmler and his men and then shatter them, partly because he doesn’t think they’ll be expecting it (since it is the literal opposite of the firestorm attack they will be expecting), and partly because awesome.

Paul and Klaus hash out some details. Over the course of this, Paul asks if Klaus still wants to meet with “the elder vampire in charge of Myrmidon,” aka Marcus. Klaus says truthfully, not really, but if this creature has a stake in Tesseract then he wants to get his own measure of him. Paul says he’ll try and arrange it for tonight and hangs up to call Marcus.

The call goes directly to voicemail. Paul frowns and hangs up. He thinks for a moment then tries calling me.

#

I wake up to my phone buzzing in the darkness of my motel bathroom. I grope for the phone on the edge of the tub. “Hello?” I answer groggily.

“Tom! Where are you?”

I sit up slowly, rubbing my neck. “I’m in a motel in the Castro. Where are you?”

“At Norton’s. Have you heard from Marcus since last night?”

“No. I texted him a couple times. Aquilifer is with me, though.”

“Okay. Hmm.” A concerned moment passes before he continues. “I’m going to try and get everyone together soon.”

“Sure, fine,” I grunt, climbing out of the tub. “I gotta pick up some shit from Slayer soon but then I’ll be good to go. We meeting at your place?”

“I think you and Aquilifer should try and find Marcus first.”

I stumble to the wall and hit the light, revealing Aquilifer perched on the edge of the sink. She yawns and looks at me, sadness still lingering over her limp feathers. I had assumed she would want to sleep in the main room, with a window cocked so she could go out during the day, but she insisted in squeezing in here with me. I’m not sure whether it was the proximity to me she found comforting, or the darkness.

“I don’t think we have time to find him right now,” I say as I look at her, for once glad she can’t understand me. “We’ve put off this mission for too long as it is, I’m worried about what’s happening with Sophia out there. If Boss can make it, he’ll make it. If not…well….” I wince and turn away.

“Okay, well, there are some meetings that have to happen first.”

“What meetings?” I mutter, stepping into the main room to grab a steak from the minifridge.

“Well, what happens after we go to the Farallones?”

“I don’t know, I…go to the gift shop?”

“There’s a rogue gargoyle army. We need a place to put them that can control them and rehabilitate them.”

I slap the steak onto the counter and rummage around the wetbar looking for a plate. “Well, we just won’t wake them up this time.”

“What if they’re already awake?”

“I think we’d notice,” I mutter.

“Anyway, give me till 3 am.”

I shoot upright. “THREE AM!? We can’t launch an operation at THREE AM! At that point we’re looking at a whole other night!”

Paul sighs. “Well, do you know what we’re up against?”

“No, but I know that we’re already taking too much time! If Sophia is dead by the time we get out there, then the entire thing was a goddamn waste of time!”

“Tom, it is important to do things right,” Paul says curtly.

“Yeah, and sometimes you just have to do the things!”

(Jason: “Very Brujah. And very Toreador.”)

“Tom, if you go in there and die, it does Sophia no good, it does me no good, it does you no good. No one has benefited from that. Our main objective is to get Sophia back. If we can do that without killing anyone, that’s preferable.”

I stare furiously at myself in the mirror. I’ve tried the “not killing anyone” route, and I’ve also tried the “killing everyone” route. One of them is a lot more efficient at getting things done.

And, I realize, one of them feels a lot more satisfying too….

“Anyway,” Paul continues after a few seconds of silence from me, “I can meet you at my place in about 90 minutes.”

“Fine,” I mutter. “See you there.” We both hang up at the same time.

#

Georgia, meanwhile, goes wandering through Norton’s flat looking for him. She catches whiffs of warm blood and follows the scent to a kitchen, much more modern than the rest of the apartment. Norton is standing at the stove over a small saucepan. He looks up as she enters.

“MS. JOHNSON!!!” he shouts, waving a wooden spoon in the air. “Why are you here?”

She pauses. “Umm…I slept here….”

“You did?” Norton pauses, perplexed.

“Yes…Jupiter was with me, I thought—“

“Jupiter had guests!!? AGAIN!?!” Norton glowers. “I have spoken to him of this…. He cannot simply BANDY ABOUT, bringing home ANYONE HE CHOOSES without first informing the EMPEROR of THESE UNITED STATES!!!!1!”

Georgia clutches at her chest. “I’m quite sorry sir!”

“Oh it is not your doing,” Norton says, suddenly calm, as he turns back to his saucepan. “It is Jupiter’s doing and he will make up for it. JUPITER!!!” he roars down the hallway.

Moments later, Jupiter waddles into the room, claws ticking on the tile floor. He sits down at Norton’s feet and peers up at him.

Norton folds his arms, spoon still in hand. “Jupiter!! What is the meaning of this!?”

Jupiter peers at Norton, then glances at Georgia. Georgia mouths, “I’m so sorry.” Jupiter droops and turns back to Norton.

Norton silently stares into his soulful brown eyes for a few moments. “I see….” he says suddenly. “I had no idea it was such an important matter….”

Georgia stares at him. “What do you mean?”

“Well things like this must be respected. This…situation….” Norton’s gaze drifts away from Jupiter to stare into space.

Georgia waits a few more moments. “Umm…can I help you with breakfast?”

Norton snaps out of his fugue and turns to her. “Of course!!” he announces brightly, flashing a grin and turning back to the saucepan. He ladles out a cup of what is obviously warm blood and hands it to her. Georgia takes a tentative sniff.

(Jason: “…I’m going to tell you a brief story. At one point during the Omen War, you were forced to drink from a weak, dying elk in the woods of Bohemia. This…tastes worse. This is, without question, the worst tasting blood you have ever tasted. Not the prey-exclusion type of bad, that’s not really a taste. This taste…is…awful. It’s human blood, but it tastes more like oil. You only just manage to keep it down.”)

Georgia fights back a few heaves then calmly sets the cup down on the counter. “How…did you make this?” she asks carefully.

Norton beams. “ONE measure of AB negative, ONE bay-leaf, and ONE cup of castor oil!”

“Oh…” Georgia stares at the glass. “And…what is castor oil?”

“It is an ELIXIR!!! It IMPROVES the CONSTITUTION!! The vim and vigor of any modern gentlemen!!” Norton gestures with the ladle to emphasize the point.

“It…has a strong taste….”

“Well of COURSE IT DOES!!! It is FORTIFYING YOU!!! It will put a shine on your mustach—Oh….” Norton’s face falls. “Er…right.” He turns back to the pan.

Back in the parlor, Paul hears bellowing down the hall. He ignores it and continues making calls, including one to Bell’s office to set up a meeting later in the evening. He tries to call Anstis, but his phone is still broken, so he decides to Summon him instead. Once his business is completed, he joins Georgia and Norton in the kitchen. Norton greets him with a glass of warm blood as well. Paul takes a sip before Georgia can stop him.

(Jason: “Stamina test.”
Chris: “…You do know what I normally drink, right?”
Jason: “Oh that’s a good point!”)

Paul mulls over the taste a moment. “…Castor oil? Bold choice!” He salutes Norton with the glass and takes another sip.

Paul asks if Norton is still planning on helping with the attack on Himmler. Norton confirms, indicating that his involvement will be to rout the ruffians and tear down the enemy where he stands, and so on and so forth.

“Good,” Paul claps him on the shoulder. “I need to meet with Bell first to get some things in order and I’ll let you know the specifics after that.”

“The Justicar!”

“Yes. You know. Tremere complicate everything. No offense intended,” Paul adds, glancing at Georgia.

(Kara: “#NotAllTremere.”)

“Yes….Tremere….” Norton turns toward Georgia but his gaze travels through her, into parts unknown. “I fear the Tremere will not be the worst of our problems before the night is out. There are other forces at work here. Dark forces. Darker than even the Tremere.”

Paul and Georgia exchange  glance. “Oh? Such as….?” Georgia asks.

Norton chuckles, still staring into the distance. “I don’t know. But I know….”

(Me: “Goddamn Malkavians….”)

“You mean vampiric forces?” Paul asks.

“No. Another…thing. It watches…and waits….”

There’s a tense moment as everyone ponders this. Suddenly the kitchen door swings open. Paul and Georgia jump. Mercury strides into the kitchen, leading a bemused Anstis, fresh in off of Paul’s Summons. Norton greets him imperiously and hands him a glass of blood as well. Anstis takes a sip, then downs the entire glass.

“Not bad,” he growls, handing his cup out for more.

Now that Anstis is here, Paul discusses logistics of the attack plan with him, but Anstis has something far more pressing on his mind:

“Mr. Stewart,” he says at the first lull in conversation, “Do you happen to know a good tailor? This….” he holds out his arms. “…will not do.”

Paul stares at him. “Uhhh….”

Luckily Norton steps forward. “YOU NEED A TAILOR, SIR!? I have just the thing. I have MY attire imported, from a man I met once, who deals out of Prague.” Norton puffs his chest and makes a sweeping turn, showing off his baroque ensemble.

Paul and Georgia glance at each other, pointedly not commenting on some of the more…threadbare portions of the imperial regalia. Anstis, though, eyes Norton critically and smiles. “Excellent….”

“COME WITH ME SIR!” Norton takes Anstis’s arm and leads him out of the kitchen. “I have the LATEST in European fashion!”

Paul and Georgia watch them leave, then Paul sits down to try and fix Anstis’s phone.

(Chris: “Jason, how long ago did his phone get wet?”
Jason: “Two days.”
Chris: “Alright, so, this is the Nokia—“
Jason: “—It was salt water.”
Chris: *blinks at Jason* “…This is the Nokia….”)

#

Aquilifer looks up hopefully as I reenter the bathroom, but droops again when I’m not followed by anyone else. Anyone…shorter. I place the steak on the counter in front of her. She stares at it a moment, then tucks her head under a wing.

“I know, girl,” I say softly. I sit down on the toilet seat and try texting Marcus again. The drone of the bathroom fan lulls me into a near-trance as I wait, but minutes pass with no reply. After ten, I sigh and get up.

I walk to the window and peer out. We’re in a motel on Market Street, just up from the Safeway, toward the heart of the Castro. It’s Saturday night and the weather in this part of the city is clear, so quite a few people are out, moving between the restaurants and bars in happy, chattering crowds. I watch them dispassionately. My gaze tracks up the street to the great rainbow flag at the corner of Castro and Market, twisting lazily in a light breeze.

My stomach clenches as I remember my conversation with Slayer last night. Part of me wants to dump him like the broken, useless tool that he is. I got the dragonsbreath I needed anyway; all I’d have to do is never call him back and hope that he dies in  fire somewhere.

But a different part of me—a deeper part, awoken by this jolt that hit too close to home—whispers that no, no…he could still be useful to me….

Still staring at the flag, I pull out my phone and call him.

“…Yeah? Man?” he mutters groggily.

“You got the stuff I need?” I ask, voice clipped.

“Yeah…yeah, and I got you a pad.”

I pause, genuinely impressed by this. “Really? Where?”

“Merced.”

A few moments of silence as I process this. “Merced…Central Valley?”

“No, goddamit, LAKE Merced!!”

Oh. “Well the last time I asked for a place in the city you got me one in the armpit of the East Bay, so I don’t know what to expect from you anymore!”

“Man, FUCK YOU!! I got you a place in the city! You know what I had to deal with to get this shit?! The motherfucking crazy asshole works out at the zoo!!”

Hmm. That sounds like an interesting plot hook lead, but for now I have other things to work on. “Great. And you also got my painting?”

“Yeah.” There’s some shuffling in the background. “What do you want me to do with it?”

“Bring it to me, with whatever gear you can load on the bike.”

He mutters a curse. “Where do I meet you?”

I glance back at the flag up the street. “The Castro. Harvey Milk Plaza.”

“What!? Where the fuck is that?!

“You’ll find it,” I say flatly. “You found him before.”

I hang up the phone.

#

Anstis has procured for himself some of the Emperor’s new clothes, and for the first time in weeks (or perhaps centuries) he’s starting to feel like himself.

He’s got hose. He’s got boots. He’s got a properly-tailed, red-satin waistcoat over a ruffled silk shirt. He’s got a gloriously-coifed wig, and on top of it all, he has a grand tricorn hat with feathered accents that would put any drag queen to shame.

(Jason: “You look like Bartholomew Roberts, and you look awesome.”)

He returns to the kitchen show off the ensemble, striding in with approximately all of the attitude.


“What do ye think?” Anstis asks, twirling proudly.

Paul stares at him. “Well, I do live in interesting times,” he says slowly.

“My GOD sir!!” Norton announces. “You are the very image of Andrew Warhol!”

(Jim: “Anstis doesn’t know who that is!”
Jason: “Based on the statement he just made, I don’t think Emperor Norton knows either!”)

Paul gives Norton a strange look then turns back to Anstis. “So, Marcus has been missing since last night. Do you think you would have any aptitude for finding him?”

Anstis scowls. “Why do you think I would be able to find him when you cannot?”

“Well, you can turn into a bird and fly, which I can’t do.”

“Well, you can Summon him here, which I can’t do.”

Paul stares at him. “That’s true…but I kinda don’t want to piss him off….” he adds under his breath.

Paul’s phone buzzes, informing him that the car he called will be there soon. He and Georgia go outside to meet it, and Norton becomes occupied with some new kitchen task. Antis uses the opportunity to sneak away and try his rock-scrying spell on Marcus.

(Jason: “Marcus…is in the graveyard of wisdom. Presided over by the White Death, who sees all and knows none.”)

Anstis frowns and puts the rock away.

#

By the time I get up the street to the plaza, Slayer is already there, parked on the sidewalk and leaning against the Vespa, looking around nervously. I put on my best cocky grin and swagger up to him. People glance at me—or, rather, Aquilifer—as I pass, but like I said, it’s Saturday night; I’m not the strangest thing they’ve seen in the Castro today. Slayer jumps up as I approach.

“So, where’s the hardware?” I say.

“Here….” He unclips some panniers bungied to the bike and opens them. They’re loaded with boxes of munitions. “Is this fucking enough, man?!”

I pick up a box and inspect it. “Where’s the gun they go to?”

Slayer looks around. “You want me to flash a piece here? There’s a sawn-off in the bottom of the bag.”

I close my eyes. He killed a guy…for a fucking shotgun. I consider calling him out on it but I’ve got other things on my mind at the moment. I drop the box back into the bag. “Alright, later. Where’s the painting?”

“I got it in storage.” He sees my look. “I can’t drive around with it, man!”

I sigh. “Fine.”  I stand back and regard Slayer silently, thumbs flicking my belt. He squirms under my gaze, rubbing his arms and glancing around. The “plaza” is really just a built-up area around the entrance to the Muni station. We’re out of the way, by one of the planters. People are passing on the sidewalk nearby but at the moment no one is paying us any attention, giant eagle or no. I stare at him, waiting until he is metaphorically sweating, then glance up at the flag above us.

“So….” I say slowly. “You gonna tell me more about what happened here, son?”

He backs up against the bike. “Wh-what do you want to know, man? It was a while ago! Sebastian’s the one that called the hit!”

“Mm-hm,” I mutter flatly, still staring up.

“He was! Ask him!!”

“I would but unfortunately his head is in Paul Stewart’s fridge.”

I glance down to see how Slayer reacts to this news. Unsurprisingly, he goes whiter than normal, but he composes himself and continues. “Man! It was some bullshit in the 70’s going on with him and Norton! They were killing each other’s dudes off left and right!”

My eyes narrow. “And Milk was one of Norton’s dudes?”

“I don’t know! Sebastian thought he was. He’s a Malkavian, man, it coulda meant anything. The mayor was, I know that.” He shrugs. “I don’t know what Milk was. Sebastian had me frame some dude and walk away. One of his guys.”

My gaze drifts down the street, across the buildings lit by the lights of storefronts and the glow of the Castro Theater down the block. “And you never stopped to wonder what this job might do to the city?”

“The fuck do I care what it did?! It was just some asshole, alright! TWO assholes! If they weren’t working for fucking Norton, they were working for someone else!! That’s just how it is!”

I frown, suddenly aware of Aquilifer’s weight on my arm. It is, isn’t it….

I turn back to him and study his face. The fear is still there, momentarily overshadowed by bewilderment and exasperation. All sensations I’m well acquainted with myself, these da—nights.

“Look, I didn’t know it was gonna start a riot!” he continues. “But what do you care, man? You weren’t even here!”

“No….” I sigh, remembering that long-ago afternoon in front of my parents’ TV, “But it’s part of the reason I came….”

He throws up his arms. “You came here because I shot Milk?!”

A few people waiting for the light nearby turn to look at us. I, too, quietly shoot Slayer A Look. He cowers back and glances around. “Look, do we have to do this, man?”

I just stare at him, still flicking my belt. Yes…do we…? The noise of the passing crowd washes over us. I feel Aquilifer shift her weight on my shoulder, but Slayer and I watch each other motionlessly.

Finally, I sigh and walk forward, ambling slowly behind him to clap my hands on his shoulders. He freezes. “You know, Slayer, I’m envious of you….” I say amiably.

He tenses. “You…are? What for?”

“You’re a lucky guy, Slayer.” I give his shoulders a couple good squeezes. “Unlike most of us assholes, you get the chance to make up for past wrongs.”

His shoulders turn to granite. “Wh-what do you mean?”

I smile and lean down to whisper in his ear. “So you’re working on your debt to me, which I appreciate, but…now you need to work on a new debt. Your debt to the city.”

He tries to twist away but I hold him him place. “What the fuck you mean, man? What debt!? I killed some people, so?—“

I pivot him to face down the street, straight into the lights and the noise of the neighborhood. “I mean the hole that you left in this city. This community.” A few more people look at us as they pass, but—finding nothing amiss about two guys wrapped around each other next to a pink scooter—keep walking.

“What the fuck you talking about, man?! It’s not like you never killed nobody!!”

My fingers tighten on his shoulders. Yes…. A voice whispers inside me, how many holes in this community—creeping, disease ridden holes—lead straight back to you? I feel its presence circling me, laughing, as darkness dances in my vision.

“I heard shit, man!” Slayer continues. “I heard about what went down at the Monomancy!”

The presence in me suddenly recedes. “Oh…yeah.” I bring my mind back to the present. “Yeah, that was a fun time.”

Slayer is still staring down the street blankly, so I decide to try a different tactic. I frog-march him down to the lower part of the plaza, to the plaque on the concrete pole in the corner, talking about Milk’s history and importance in the Castro community, and wait patiently while he reads it.

“Look,” I say finally, “The way I see it, the only way you can make up for this shit is to go above and beyond.”

He twists around and gapes at me. “Dude!? I got the shit you wanted, I—“

I hold up a hand. “That was for me. This is different. This is for the community. Here…you can do one of two things. One,” I hold up a finger, “I call some buddies of mine and volunteer you to clean every cum-soaked bathroom in every bar and bathhouse from here to the Barbary Coast….” I take a moment to savor Slayer’s expression as that sinks in, “…OR….” I hold up a second finger, “…you can help me with a little project of mine.”

His gaze morphs from horrified to calculating. “Wh-what’s the project?”

“A trip. To some islands.”

The horror suddenly returns, tenfold. “No…nonono, FUCK that SHIT, man!! Are you FUCKING CRAZY!?”

I raise an eyebrow. “Really? You know something about them? You ever been there?”

NO I’VE NEVER BEEN TO THE FUCKING FARALLONES!!!” His shouts echo off the bricks. “What the fuck is wrong with you!? You are never getting back from those islands, you go out there! Motherfuckers go out there they don’t come back!”

I smirk. “Well, luckily for you we’re going with assholes, not motherfuckers.”

He backs up against the pole. “No…no, I am not going out there, man! You know what they got out there!?”

“I know they got a shitload of Nazis, and a friend of mine, so….”

THE FUCK’S a friend of yours doing out there, man!?”

I throw out my arms. “I don’t know! That’s what I’m hoping to find out!”

“Jesus christ….” Slayer stumbles over to one of the benches and collapses,  head in his hands. I walk over to loom over him.

“Look, son,” I say calmly, “We need more guns, we need more bodies, and more importantly, I need an interpreter.” Slayer looks up. I point at Aquilifer, who has been staring at him intently throughout all this, gamely riding my arm.

“Yeah, what the fuck is with that bird?” he mutters.

“She’s with me,” I say flatly. She barks a cry at him.

He stares at her a moment, then turns back to me. “Man, I ain’t going out to the fucking Farallones! They got crazy shit out there! Tremere shit!”

I shrug. “Well, if you wanna stay here, I can always give Helgi a call. He wasn’t interested in coming either, maybe he can babysit you.”

He sputters. “Goddamit, man, you are crazier than Sebastian! Why the fuck you doing this to me?!”

I gaze around the empty courtyard a moment, considering my answer. The dark voice deep inside me whispers again, speaking wordlessly of vengeance, of power. I try to ignore it, but I can’t ignore the sense that it’s circling closer.

I turn back to him. “Honestly?…It passes the time.”

He stares at me, shaking his head. “You’re serious? You seriously want me to go to the fucking Farallones? Jesus fucking christ….” He buries his face in his hands again.

I stare at him silently till he looks up. “I considered far worse,” I say coldly.

He throws an arm toward the west. “What the FUCK do you have that’s worse than THAT!?”

I continue to stare at him, my only movement my thumb flicking against my belt. Eventually the noise draws his attention down to it.

And the wooden stakes shoved through loops in the leather.

He stares at them, till understanding dawns. He moans and cowers back on the bench. “Goddamnit….” he whimpers. “Who the fuck is this person you’re looking for, anyway?”

I smirk. “My werewolf friend.” My smile grows at the new looks of horror crossing his face. I may be dancing on the edge of damnation, but for the moment I’ll enjoy the simple pleasures where I can. “So you’re coming with me right?”

He groans and levers himself up. “Man, what choice do I have!?”

“Great!” I clap his shoulder. “Come on, we’re going to pre-party at Paul’s. Give me the keys to the bike.”

Still in shell-shock, he stares at my outstretched hand. “Wha…? Why?”

My smirk deepens. “Because I don’t ride bitch, bitch.”

#

Paul, Georgia, and Anstis take their leave of the good emperor and go to the Pyramid so Paul can meet with Bell. As soon as they get there, Paul and Anstis head to Bell’s office and Georgia goes to find “their gargoyle friend.”

She finds him in the room where they left him, still crouched in the corner staring out the window, just like he was the last time they saw him.

He looks up as she enters. “Second Master!” He stands up to face her.

She glances hesitantly around the empty room. “Have…you been here the whole time?”

“Yes, Second Master.”

“Has…Other Master not called you back?

“No, Second Master.”

She looks out the window, facing toward the bay. “Does he know you’re here?”

“I…do not know, Second Master. I…think so, Second Master.”

She nods and asks him to come with her.

#

Paul and Anstis find Bell alone in his office, the equipment and workstations around the room unmanned for the moment. He looks up from his laptop as they enter, a hint of exasperation flickering across his face as he sees who it is.

Paul reports on Himmler, that our information has said that he’s either working for some secret Tremere formal channels or galavanting around on his own impetus. Either way, the plan still is to do something about it, and hopefully rescue “our friend” in the process.

Bell’s eyes narrow. “This friend of yours—“

“Yeah, it’s the werewolf.”

Bell rolls his eyes. “I thought so. I assume nothing I say will prevent you from going after a werewolf so I will save the speech.”

Luckily, Bell has another lecture already in mind. He gets up to pace the room, talking about how, officially, the Farallones do not exist—(Chris: “I knew it!”)—and the Tremere Council of Seven has formally disavowed all knowledge of it. Bell of course assumes they are lying, but the good news is this means we have more leeway to operate there without official sanctions and repercussions.

But it also means they can defend themselves, by any means necessary, with similar impunity.

Bell also has a new plot hook some new information to drop. Apparently intel has trickled its way down from Marin indicating that the werewolves are on the move. The Camarilla operates a couple outposts in Sausalito and Tiburon, watchtower-like facilities staffed mainly by ghouls. An hour or so ago, without warning, they all went dark. Simultaneously. Bell says this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, but the last time it did, it was the precursor to a major werewolf strike on the city.

Bell stares intently out the window, as if he could survey the forested hills of the North Bay through the fog. “I don’t think the werewolves are planning to attack right now because I don’t think they have the manpower. But something has them spooked—I think you can guess what—and, frankly, if you know a Lupine who is willing to work with us, I’d rather have that one on hand than one of them. Cause the Lupines up there are not very reasonable.”

Anstis, meanwhile, has been poking through the electronics stations in the room, for all intents and purposes appearing not to listen, but he suddenly looks up. “I assume their hesitation has more to do with the Mokole than the Rokea?”

Bell turns to him very, very slowly. “…Where did you hear those words?” he asks darkly.

Anstis folds his arms. “You mean where did I see those things.”

“You saw a Mokole? Where in hell’s name did you see that!?”

“The park.”

Bell stares a moment. “How the hell did you see a Mokole in the park and I not know about it?!”

“Well you do now.”

Bell turns to Paul. “Were you there?”

“I was there, though I didn’t see what it was.”

“Well I need an explanation!”

“White dragon,” Anstis growls.

Bell stares at him again, then leans forward over his desk, his muscles growing visibly tenser. “Did you say dragon!?”

Anstis and Paul just stare at him flatly.

“Oh…fuuu—“ Bell collapses into his chair. “You’re certain it was Mokole?”

Anstis shrugs. “That’s what Marcus says, and I believe him.”

Bell’s eyes narrow. He turns to Paul. “Where is Marcus?”

“I haven’t heard from him since we saw it,” Paul says flatly.

Bell processes this. “Mother of….” He scrubs his face with his hands. “As for the Rokea…there have been rumors, yes. Sightings off the coast. Nothing is confirmed, but don’t go for a swim.”

Anstis nods, bobbing the plumes of his hat. “Aye!” he agrees enthusiastically.

Just then the office door opens, admitting Georgia and the gargoyle.

(Kara: “Did I hear that last part just then?”
Jason: “Uh, yes.”
Kara: “YAY! GEORGIA HAS FINALLY BEEN WARNED NOT TO GO IN THE WATER!! IT’S TAKEN 34 SESSIONS!!! She has a saltwater water magic speciality, and NO ONE HAS BOTHERED TO TELL HER ABOUT THE ROKEA IN THE OCEAN!”)

“Ms. Johnson,” Bell says, greeting her with a curt nod. “We were just talking about the Tremere. Do you have any official insight to add to this situation, since it seems you are now the ranking Tremere on scene?”

Georgia exchanges a glance with Paul before responding. “Um, well before van Brugge disappeared, he declared Max, Himmler, and anyone working with them to be traitors to the Tremere.”

Bell snorts. “Well, that is worth approximately the paper he wrote it on.”

“Well, as I am now the ranking Tremere, I will write it on similarly low-ranking paper if you’d like.”

Bell gives her a look. “I’d prefer you write it on their skulls, but that’s just me.”

“I…may require something sharper than a pencil for that.”

Paul, meanwhile, walks to the gargoyle. He places a hand companionably on the gargoyle’s forearm. “It’s good to see you again, thank you for waiting.”

“Yes…Master….” the gargoyle says hesitantly, staring blankly at Paul’s hand.

“Is there somewhere else you can….” Bell gestures weakly at the gargoyle, “…store this? He makes the staff nervous.”

“We’ll find another place for him,” Paul says, then turns back to the gargoyle. “Have you chosen a name?”

“No, Master.”

“Alright. Ms. Johnson, Mr. Anstis, could you step outside and help…our friend select some names?”

Georgia and Anstis want to stay, though, so Paul sends the gargoyle out alone. He closes the door behind him and turns to Bell. “There may be hundreds of gargoyles on those islands—“

Bell snorts. “It may be considerably worse than that….”

“—And as far as I am concerned,” Paul continues, ignoring Bell, “They are people. People who need to be rehabilitated. To that end, I have reached out to the Nosferatu. They seem…uniquely well qualified to relate to their situation.”

“I can’t let hundreds of gargoyles take up permanent residence in this city,” Bell says sharply. “It would shatter the Masquerade.”

“Well, then, maybe a network to move them other places.”

(Kara: “An…underground railroad….”)

Bell glowers at (Kara) a few moments before continuing. “Officially speaking, gargoyles that have not been recognized by the Camarilla are to be destroyed.”

“Well, then, have some Ventrue draw up the paperwork to recognize them,” Georgia says reasonably.

“It’s not that simple. The Tremere would throw a fit. The mere existence of these gargoyles is proof that they have obliterated the treaties that ended the Omen War. If they surfaced publicly, it could end the Camarilla.” His gaze hardens. “I will not—not even for the sake of a hundred so-called ‘innocent’ gargoyles—allow the Camarilla to be torn apart by a civil war in the middle of the End Times. Think of me what you will, but I would kill them all myself before letting it come to that.”

Bell’s words ring in the room, but Paul meets his gaze evenly.

In any event, it is all largely spitballing, since we have no idea how many gargoyles are there, or in what condition, or if we will even be able to get them off the island. Anstis points out that if we do remove them and the problem comes down to simply feeding them, there’s still those tanks of blood on Alcatraz, left over from some component of the Tremere’s gargoyle-making process. Bell grumbles and concedes that if things go well, he will at least consider it.

Bell asks to interrogate Paul’s gargoyle about some details relating to the island. Paul agrees and calls the gargoyle in, telling him that Bell is a friend and to answer his questions truthfully. The gargoyle seems very confused by both of these concepts.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s phone rings, with a number she doesn’t recognize, and a voice she doesn’t recognize. The man gruffly identifies himself as Karl Sutro, the Nosferatu Primogen, heretofore thought dead in an attack from the Englishman.

(And, incidentally, Karl was also the sire and patron of Elsa, Kara’s first character. This is the first we’ve heard from Karl since Elsa died, executed by Marcus over a matter of honor during The Marin Incident last fall. So for him to be back and “speaking” with Kara again lead Jason to declare, “OMG, we’ve come full-circle….”)

Karl: “I’ve spoken with Abelard, he said you had a proposition.”
Georgia: “Um…yes, we are…mounting an expedition and were wondering if you would be amenable to helping us…. I assume he has told you about it?”
Karl: “He has told me some of the details. I wanted to hear them in person.”
Georgia: “Oh…would you like to meet?”
Karl: “I don’t think that’s wise. At the moment.”

“Oh…okay….” Georgia glances at Paul, who has stepped over next to her to overhear her conversation. “My…associates and I are currently at the Pyramid, if you change you mind soon—“

“You’re heading to the Farallones,” says Karl. It’s not a question.

“That’s the plan.”

“Do you know what you’re going to find there?”

“Umm…a couple hundred gargoyles and probably a bunch of people who will want to kill us.”

Karl chuckles. “Ooooh, there’s worse than that out there, mageling.”

“Oh? What sort of things?”

“Well that’s the question. Do I tell you, or do I not tell you?” His tone hardens. “See I’m not sure what your game is here. You understand, we’ve had a bit of a fucking from the Tremere lately and I’m not really eager to have another one, so I need to know all the particulars before I start dropping my pants.”

“Well…if it helps, I was on not very good terms with Max—“

“Max was on bad terms with a lot of people, and Max didn’t build that facility out there. So why don’t you start by telling me where the Tremere got the raw materials to make this many gargoyles, cause we’re not missing that many people.”

(This…really is the question of the hour, and one that we haven’t had any insight into, in all the months that we’ve been pulling this thread. And not only that; wherever the hell did the Tremere get all the blood in those giant tanks on the island?)

“That, honestly, I have no idea about,” Georgia says.

“Do you….” Karl says slowly. “Alright, lets say for the moment that I believe you. Why are you going out there?”

“Because…the man running the operation is a traitor to the Tremere clan, and his actions are not only bad for the clan, but for the Camarilla.”

“…So you’re an idiot then, ok. I can accept that.”

Paul gestures curtly for the phone. Georgia sighs. “You may benefit more from talking with Paul Stewart—“

“Oh, great,” Karl scoffs, “I get to talk to the Toreadors. My day is complete.”

“Do you mind if I hand the phone to him?”

“…Yes, but you probably should anyway.”

Georgia hands it over to Paul. “Mr. Sutro,” Paul says in his best polite high-business tone. “Good to hear your voice again. Let me cut out the bullshit. You know the Tremere are making gargoyles again. Here’s the deal. I’ve got a friend held hostage out there by these dickwads—

“—A werewolf?”

Paul hesitates only briefly. “Yes, a werewolf. You’re well informed.”

“Oh, I’m better informed than you know. It’s not the only werewolf out there.”

Paul and Georgia—who is lurking nearby to also listen in on the call—trade a glance. “Intriguing,” Paul says. “Here’s what I’m hoping for you. I don’t know what I’m getting into—“

“Well here’s something that’s about to scare you. I don’t know what you’re getting into either.”

Paul frowns and continues. “Here’s my deal. We assume there’s an army of gargoyles out there. At least a dozen, maybe a lot more than that.”

“That’s a fair assumption, but the gargoyles aren’t your problem.”

“We don’t assume they are. However, if—if—we get through this, they’ll be left alone out there. I figure you might be interested in raising a gargoyle army. Rehabilitate them.”

Karl is quiet a moment. “You want to give me an army of gargoyles? Why Paul Stewart, is it my birthday or something?”

“No. In exchange, you’ll send some people to help.”

At this, Karl drops his coy tone. “Help you do what? Raid the Farallones? I don’t have that many people left to lose! How are you even planning on getting out there?”

“Well, we have helicopters—“

He’s cut off by an explosion of laughter. “And you know what they have out there? Javelins. British. Very good quality.

“Ah, well. God save the Queen. In any case, we have a more direct route into their facility.” Paul looks at Georgia. “A teleportation circle.”

A pause. “Oh, you have been working with the Tremere, haven’t you?” Karl sighs. “Well, Paul, even if I send you a couple of people, if there actually are a couple hundred gargoyles out there, how exactly do you expect to defeat them?”

“I don’t expect to defeat them. I expect to turn them.” Paul glances at Bell’s closed door. “They like me.”

“They aren’t going to like you when their master orders them not to! Why do you think the Tremere build gargoyles? They make excellent shock troops, and whether they like you or not they will kill you if they are ordered to.”

“Well…we’ll just have to make sure they’re not ordered to.”

Karl laughs again. “Good luck with that!”

Paul frowns. “In any case, something tells me that the people most able to get in and out of there are known to you.”

Karl is quiet a few moments. When he speaks again, his voice is serious. “That’s true, but as I said, I don’t have that many more people left to lose. I need more assurances besides your confidence that you can somehow stop three hundred gargoyles from ripping everyone limb from limb.”

Paul takes a breath. “Most of them won’t even be there. Most of them will be coming after me, on the mainland. The ones remaining on the island, the ones left after I’ve dealt with them—or am dead—they’re yours to deal with as you see fit.”

“You’re going draw three hundred gargoyles to you? How?”

“Himmler…doesn’t like me.”

This time the silence stretches long. “Dear god…are you insane?”

“I’ve been called worse.”

“Is this how you handled that Monomancy?”

“Oh, that was just a good old fashioned fist-fight.”

A muffled snort comes through the line. “Well, I’ll tell you this much, Mr. Stewart. I don’t know what you’re going to find out there, but I do know one element you’ll have to contend with. Like I said, that werewolf of yours is not the only one on that island, and you don’t want to meet the other one. You really, really don’t. And ask yourself this question: if that place is a gargoyle production facility, and the Tremere are so keen on guarding it, why do you think they would bring your werewolf friend out there in the first place? Werewolves are used for many things, but they aren’t used to make gargoyles. They wanted your friend for something very specific.”

There’s a pause, then Karl sighs. “But if you’re absolutely serious about this…I may know a few people who can assist. But my people aren’t commandos, Mr. Stewart. We’re not taking on an army of gargoyles. Not for you, not for anyone. Things go pear-shaped and they’re bailing, any way they can.”

Paul nods and flashes a silent thumbs-up to Georgia. “That’s fine by me.”

“Alright. Then good luck with your gargoyle army. My people will be where you need them, probably before you know you need them. Good luck.”

Karl hangs up.

#

The doorman lets Slayer and me (and Aquilifer) into Paul’s penthouse. My plan is to load up myself and a couple spare bottles from the kegs of blood that Marcus had delivered here a few nights ago. I step through the door to head to the kitchen, but I only go a few steps before something makes me stop.

Something else is in the apartment.

Aquilifer senses it too, tensing on my arm. I draw my sword quietly.

Slayer steps up behind me. “Man, what the hell is—“ I throw an arm out against his chest, still staring into the dark space of the living room. He stares at me. “Shit, man—“ I hit his chest again to shut him up and advance into the room.

A shape is sitting on one of the chairs in the living room, silhouetted against the city skyline in the massive windows. It’s humanoid, but I can’t make out features. As I move closer, though, I realize one key detail.

It’s wearing a cowboy hat.

“Mr. Lytton,” Doc’s voice drifts across the room.

“Doc!” I cry in surprise, putting my sword away. Aquilifer, though, still watches him suspiciously. I hit a light switch, revealing the gunslinger’s intent face half hidden by the shadows of his hat. He nods at me and takes a sip from his flask.

“I…wasn’t expecting to find you here….” I say slowly.

“I do not imagine that you were.”

I look around. No one else is here, Paul or otherwise. “I imagine you weren’t expecting to see me either.”

“Oh, I was. As it happens, I was.” His gaze flicks over Aquilifer and Slayer and he takes another sip.

Letting Slayer see me confused and uncertain is probably a bad idea, so I shake off my nervousness. I shrug Aquilifer off onto the back of the couch and head into the kitchen.

“That is an interesting animal you have with you, Mr. Lytton,” Doc calls after me. “I do not believe I have seen you with it before.”

“No, she’s just visiting.” I dig through the cabinets, looking for the vase I used as a glass the last time I was here. “Can I offer you a drink, Doc?”

“Oh I believe I am fine for the moment. In fact, I will not be staying long. I came here briefly to have a word.”

I find the vase in the back of a shelf and pull it out. “With me or with Paul?”

“Oh, but you are the one who is in front of me, are you not? I have already spoken with Paul on a subject which I will not speak of now, but for you I have but one word to offer.”

“And what is that?” I ask, walking to the keg.

Haste. Mr. Lytton, the word is haste.”

I start pouring the blood, glaring at Doc over the island separating the kitchen from the living room. “I’m trying,” I grumble.

“No, I do not believe you understand me.” He leans forward on his chair. “You have a purpose in mind, do you not? A purpose in mind for a time to come, a series of actions to take that may well result in your untimely demise.”

I glance at Slayer, still lurking nervously in the corner of the room. “I usually do….” I say slowly.

“Purposes for which you sought out my assistance, I do believe.”

Oh. Yes. That. “Ah, yes, well that is what I am trying to make haste in, but some people are more occupied with board meetings—“

“I do not believe you understand the necessary reason why there is haste to be made.”

I sigh and look back down at the vase. “Probably something about the end of the world.”

“Not the end of the world, but the end of someone’s world.”

The pour finished, I stand up and come back into the room. “Well. I have lived through the end of my world a couple times already.”

Doc stares at me intently, hat canted low over his face. “No, Mr. Lytton, I assure you, you have not, and if you do not wish to understand what that means the way I do, then I would suggest immediate haste. Your time is measured in minutes, not days.”

A chill settles in my spine. I stare at Doc and wordlessly thrust the vase of blood at Slayer’s chest. “Doc, I do believe you have made the acquaintance of Slayer, here?”

Doc’s gaze remains fixed on me. “I have made the acquaintance of Slayer, he is an ignorant skunk. I do not approve of his continued existence, but I shall restrain myself for the time being, out of respect for my host.”

Slayer whimpers next to me, clutching the vase. I ignore him and walk further into the room, leaning on the side of the couch next to Aquilifer, still focused on Doc.

Doc watches me a moment before continuing. “There is something approaching, Mr. Lytton, something approaching at speed. If you wish you beat it to the location you are bound, then I would suggest leaving now. There are more factors at work than you understand, and more factions within your enemies than you realize. They are not content to sit and watch one another.”

The chill spreads through me, fanned by Doc’s words and dark gaze. As usual, I have little idea what he’s talking about, but something in his tone makes me believe it entirely.

“If you do not remove the Tremere from those islands within the next few moments,” Doc continues, “I assure you, someone else is going to.”

I sputter. “Moments? We don’t even have a helicopter scheduled yet—“

“Well then I suggest you speak with Mr. Stewart when he arrives, and he will arrive. Believe me, while the result for the Tremere is the same, the result for you is not.” He tilts his flask at me. “But it is merely a suggestion.”

(Jim: “Everyone loves being cryptic.”
Me: “That’s cause they’re all Jason.”)

Doc takes a sip from the flask and gets up. He nods at me, nods at Aquilifer, ignores Slayer, and leaves the flat without another word.

#

Before the rest of the party leaves the Pyramid, Georgia gets a call from Maimonides, saying that he has collected what he needs to talk her through realigning the teleportation circle on Alcatraz.

“Call me when you are ready,” he says. “I would meet you in person, but, sadly, I am not on Earth at the moment.”

Georgia frowns, eyes flicking around as she processes this. “How…are you calling me, then…?” she asks slowly.

He chuckles. “I have very good reception here.” He pauses. “Although, I have one thing to ask as well. A favor.”

“Yes?”

His voice drops. “When Himmler is about to die—screaming, I hope, in a pool of his own blood and entrails, desperately coughing out his last words and hoping against hope that someone will save him—I would like you to bend over, put your mouth very close to his ear, and whisper to him my name.  That…would give me a great deal of pleasure.”

Georgia…hesitantly agrees.

He also warns her that the islands will be heavily warded and the only way through will be to use the passcode. The passcode is usually something so well guarded that only the highest members of any one Tremere faction know it and any others risk death should they discover it.

He elaborates on this, of course, so that she will be even more impressed when he says that he does have the passcode, and it is “Treblinka.”

“One day,” he says before he hangs up, “You’ll find out what that code word means, and then you’ll understand why I’m assisting you.”

#

Paul, Anstis, and Georgia eventually arrive at Paul’s apartment, where I am busying myself filling up more SmartWater bottles of blood and Slayer is busy lurking around like a useless asshole. They’re surprised to see Slayer here, but they all remember him from when we found him in the storage container. Paul and Georgia greet him politely while Anstis smiles unsettlingly.  Slayer’s eyes widen at seeing Anstis, bordering on another freak-out, till I snap at him to sit the fuck down and be quiet while the adults talk.

Now that we’ve gathered, we’re finally ready to head out on the mission. Paul calls Klaus to make sure things are in place at Funston.

“The tanks are in position in the tunnels,” Klaus says, “And the mercenaries are out around the perimeter. That…Vincent fellow is waiting for you.”

Paul nods, pacing slowly through the room. “Good. Things are going to go down soon, so you might want to get our people out of there.” He hesitates. “I…hope we can talk again soon.”

Klaus is quiet a moment. “So do I. …You’re going to fight this Nazi now? And his army of unspeakable monstrosities?”

Paul glances at me. I’ve finished filling the blood bottles and am now laying out and checking my guns. “Basically.”

“Well…good luck.” Another pause. “It seems an unreasonable thing, but I have to ask…should this all go to hell, more than it has, what do I tell the board?”

Paul walks to the window and looks out over the city. “You know the lighting project I’m working on? Make sure it happens.”

“…Does it do what I think it does?”

Paul continues to stare out the lights of downtown, studiously not looking at the other vampires in the room. “It does.”

Klaus sighs softly. “I will make sure of it, as best I can. Goodbye, Paul.”

Next Paul calls Vincent, who has two Hueys ready and waiting to be sent for pickup. Paul also realizes we’re going to need better communication than our inevitably-waterlogged cellphones, so asks for him to send us some radio-mounted helmets.

(Me: “You mean helmets for the helicopter ride, right? We can’t wear helmets on the island—“
Jason: “Why not?
Me: “…Oh, you mean like military helmets?”
Jason: “Yeah, why not?”
Jim: “Umm, because some of us have hats!”)

Lastly, Paul checks in with Norton:

Norton: “MR. STEWART!!!”
Paul: “Emperor Norton! The game is afoot! Can I meet you at Fort Funston?”
Norton: “I have already arrived!
Paul: “Good! I will see you shortly.”
Norton: “…Oh wait, you said Funston?”
Paul: “Er, yes.”
Norton: *pause* “…I will shortly arrive!!!

Paul hangs up the phone and turns to us in the room, casting Awe in preparation for a Grand Paul Speech. I snap Slayer out of his sulk and tell him to translate for Aquilifer.

Paul reminds us that the plan is for Georgia and I to head to the Farallones to rescue Sophia and find out anything about the gargoyles that we can. Georgia’s role will be to protect us from Tremere wards and traps—as well as getting us there in the first place, via the circle on Alcatraz—while my role is to be our contact with Sophia when we find her, as well as generally Brujah-up the place. Hopefully, we will also be joined by a contingent of Nosferatu when we arrive at Alcatraz.

Paul mentions, though, that he has word there is another werewolf on the island, one that went there of its own free will, so we should keep our eyes out.

Meanwhile, Paul will be Summoning Himmler himself to the tunnels at Fort Funston, where hopefully he, Anstis, Emperor Norton, and the Myrmidon guys can take out the Nazi kraut and any of the gargoyle army he brings with him.

Slayer squawks a translation of all this for Aquilifer as best he can, but when Paul finishes, she looks around and starts keening repeatedly. I glare at Slayer. “What did you say?”

He cringes. “Don’t look at me! I did like you said, but she just keeps screaming the same thing! ‘Mine mine mine!’

I sigh and turn to her. She meets my gaze, but keeps crying, keen rising into a wavery scream. “Tell her we’ll find him,” I say to Slayer.

“Find wha—“

Just say it, son!

Slayer grumbles and squawks at her. She cries a couple more times, then settles back, talons kneading the arm of the couch. She continues to stare at me, though, gold eyes shinning like a sunrise. I don’t look away.

Slayer clears his throat nervously. “So…what the fuck am I doing?”

I turn from Aquilifer and walk to my guns, ignoring Slayer as I pass. “Just try and keep your head down. If all else fails…stand in front of me.”

He whimpers and cowers in his chair, muttering about bullshit.

A reverberation rises in the air, growing louder. It climbs to a thunder, felt as much as heard, shuddering the rows of red bottles on the counter.

Paul nods and turns to us. “Our rides are here.”

#

And now….


Jason: “I LOVE THE SMELL OF NAPALM IN THE MORNING!
Me: “JUST LIKE FUCKING SAIGON!!!

#

Our helicopter lands on Alcatraz in the main courtyard, still littered with the ruined remains of the main cellblock. The lighthouse is a broken stalk sprawled down the hillside, the Fresnel lens likely obliterated. I stare at it sadly as we climb out of the chopper.

“What the fuck now, man!?” Slayer—who didn’t get a helmet—yells over the roar of the blades.

“Well if you shut up and play your cards right, you’ll get upgraded to the A-team!” I squint through the flying dust and gravel, looking for movement, but all I see are waving grasses and flickering lines of police tape, which is strung…everywhere.

Once we’re to the edge of the courtyard, the helicopter takes off, dropping us back into the cold, muffled silence of the bay. Aquilifer’s talons dig into my arm. I assumed she was holding on tightly against the wash, but now that it’s gone, her grip has only gotten tighter. Her head flicks around in obvious anxiety. I reach over to squeeze one massive talon in what I hope is a reassuring way.

Slayer scowls around next to me. “Man, I thought you blew this place up? What the fuck we doing here?”

“Well, first: yes, obviously,” I gesture at the rubble, “But secondly, this is just a pit stop. Georgia?”

She nods nervously and leads us into the cellblock, heading for a stairwell that will take us into the bowels of the facility.

#

Paul and Antis arrive at Fort Funston and find it similarly dark, foggy, and quiet. A team of Myrmidon guys meet them on a concrete landing at the entrance to one of the bunker tunnels, lead by Vincent.

(Chris: “What’s Vincent’s last name?”
Jason: “…Um….”
Me: “…Price?”
Jason: “No.”
Chris: “Van Lowe? It’s a Veronica Mars character.”)
Jason: “…Alright….”)

“Mr. Van Lowe, good to see you,” Paul says, extending a hand.

Vincent takes it grimly. “Mr. Stewart. Glad to be here.” His tone, though, clearly indicates that is not the case.

“What do we have here?”

Vincent turns to survey the sandy hillsides. “I have seventy-five men deployed in a perimeter. They’re all wearing the appropriate weaponry for anti…well….” He cants a glance at Paul.

“…Gargoyle?” Paul offers.

“Well, our term is ‘suckhead’ but you’ll forgive me.” Vincent turns back to the tunnel. “The tunnels are riven throughout this place, but your men set up something in this one, said not to disturb it.”

Paul nods. “Good.”

A noise suddenly drifts over them, coming from the north. It’s muffled by the fog, but getting louder. Paul, Antsis, and Vincent stare as they realize what it is: hoofbeats. The wind gusts, briefly lifting the mists, and they see its source.

Emperor Norton is galloping down the path, mounted on a dark horse, cape streaming in the wind, charging the mists and brandishing his broadsword over his head in a way that looks safe for absolutely no one involved in this scene. Vincent and his men stare and take a step back.

Paul simply sighs. “Mr. Van Lowe, may I present Emperor Norton.”

Norton clatters to a halt in front of them, the horse snarling and pawing at the air. “MR. STEWART!!!” he roars, whirling the sword, “I HAVE ARRIVED, SIR!1!!111!1” The horse stomps and circles the space excitedly, but Norton keeps his seat with surprising ease. “Who IS this mystery man, sir!?!”

“Emperor, may I present Vincent Van Lowe.”

“Mr. Van Lowe….” Norton pulls the horse to a stop and levels the sword dramatically. “BY WHAT MEANS DO YOU REFER TO OUR FAIR LAND!!??!!!”

Vincent glances at his men—tensely waiting for orders—then at Paul, who shrugs helplessly. “San…Fran…cisco?” he answers hesitantly.

Norton glares at him a long moment, then nods and sheathes his sword. “Very well.” He dismounts in a swirl of imperial regalia. “Where do you require my subtleties, sir?”

“I have an area prepared,” Paul says. “I’m going to try and draw Himmler and his gargoyles there. Anything you can do to help keep them caged in will be useful.”

Norton peers into the dark of the tunnel, nodding to himself. “We shall imprison them all…NOT ONE SHALL ESCAPE!!!”

(Jason: “The horse, incidentally seems to be taking this all in stride.”
Chris: “We really don’t pony around.”
Jim: “Well, lets giddyup and get on it.”
Me: “Let’s get on to the mane event.”
Jason: “I just want to be thorough…bred.”)

Paul also regards the tunnel. “There’s only one way in?”

Vincent nods. “As far as I know, yes. These tunnels haven’t been fully mapped, but any other way in is likely welded shut with three inches of plate steel. If they can get through that, we have bigger troubles.”

“Indeed…well, then the trick will be to draw them in without getting myself trapped there.”

“And what is your plan once you draw them in?” Vincent asks. “Douse them with liquid nitrogen?”

Paul nods. “Yep. Freeze them, topple them.”

Vincent stares at the tunnel and frowns. “And how will you avoid getting doused with your own medicine?”

“I don’t know…have a blanket?” Paul smirks at Vincent’s expression. “But, no…I figure I can call them to me, do some sort of ring-around-the-rosie thing. The gargoyles I could probably compel directly.“

Vincent’s gaze darkens. “Compel…. You are a Toreador, yes?” His gaze flicks over Paul appraisingly. “Then I’m going to instruct my men to activate their noise-cancelling headsets. As for the rest….” he shrugs. “…Let’s hope that’s enough to get your man inside.”

Anstis suddenly tenses up, staring around. “Something is wrong…prepare yourself!” He releases his claws and spins around, staring into the fog.

“Prepare for what?” Vincent says, pulling a handgun. His men immediately level their own guns, forming a perimeter facing out into the misty dunes.

Paul turns to Norton, who has drawn his sword and is also staring into the night. “Emperor, do you feel anything…?”

Norton stares another moment, then smiles grimly. “I fear you need not worry, Mr. Stewart. You’ve no need to lure your enemy in. He has already arrived….”

There’s a long moment of silence, everyone but Paul brandishing their weapons and waiting for something to react to. Then, finally, a new sound drifts over them. Footsteps, heavy boots on concrete. But the sound isn’t coming from out in the dunes.

It’s coming from the tunnel behind them.

Paul turns first. A man is pacing down the tunnel alone, pale face and round glasses bobbing through the dark, hands clasped behind him, continuing his leisurely pace even as everyone else turns to level their weapons at him. He emerges from the shadows and stops, revealing his clothes—no Tremere-red robes this time, but a full, formal SS Reichsfuehrer uniform.

Heinrich Himmler.

Mechanical clicks break the silence as every one of Vincent’s men disengage their safeties.

“You know, Mr. Stewart,” he says companionably, “I am very disappointed. All those plans to lure me into your little trap, and you never thought of the most simple one possible….” He smiles. “Asking politely.”

(Kara: “Well, they never asked Georgia for her suggestions.”)

“No I didn’t….” Paul says slowly. (“…Majesty,” Chris declares and starts counting out his dice.)

Mr. Himmler,” Paul says imperiously, stepping forward. The men turn to stare at him, guns drooping. Even Norton hesitates.

Anstis, though, is unaffected, and melts back behind Vincent’s men to start working his way around them….

“Mr. Himmler,” Paul continues, “If you’ll kindly walk back through the tunnel….”

Himmler chuckles and calmly pulls off his glasses to inspect them. “Mr. Stewart…your tricks aren’t going to work with me.”

Paul frowns and turns to Vincent. “Everything on him,” he mutters. Vincent shakes off his awe and keys his radio. Paul pulls out his phone to call Bell.

Himmler waves a hand lazily. Paul’s phone goes dead in his hand, and by Vincent’s expression, so has his radio. Himmler chuckles again. “I know your voice, Mr. Stewart, and your voice is your best weapon. I’ve heard your voice in all its permutations, I know its tone.”

(“Okay, um…Entrancement….” Chris says flatly and parses out new dice.)

Paul steps forward, staring intently at Himmler. At this, Himmler’s eyes go wide and he seems to hesitate. “I’d like to make a call,” Paul says sharply, gesturing with his phone. “If you could let it go through….”

Himmler stares at him, unblinking, and slowly replaces the glasses on his face. He raises one hand and holds it out trembling before him. Paul smiles and nods.

“…SILENCE!Himmler roars. Paul stumbles back, rendered mute by the metaphorical Word of God.

“Clever tricks, Mr. Stewart,” Himmler snarls, stalking forward, all vestiges of formality evaporating, “But they will not help you. Neither will your friends, nor your men, nor your allies, nor anything else. Do you not imagine that I have lived this long without learning how to deal with one of your kind!?”

Himmler gestures over his shoulder. Two immense shadows move down the tunnel, stepping out to reveal that largest gargoyles Paul has ever seen, muscular and granite-grey. They stop next to Himmler, flanking him on both sides, stone-still and staring at Paul with unblinking red eyes. 

“I have put up with your interference long enough,” Himmler hisses. “I gave you and the other a fair offer and you chose to act against me. Well…now you will learn the consequences of opposing me and those I assist.”

Himmler blasts Majesty of his own. Everyone in the area is struck and a few drop to their knees.

“You had such a wonderful plan, Mr. Stewart,” Himmler says, pacing forward. “Send your friends out to strike my facility while I’m busy here dealing with you. A wonderful idea.”

(Chris: “Your friends are walking into a trap.”
Jason: “Oooh, I am afraid the deflector shield will be quiet operational when your friends arrive…”
Jim: “You’re lying!”
Chris: “Your overconfidence is your weakness!”
Jason: “Your faith in your friends is your weakness!!!”
Me: “…Wait, what is that from?”
Everyone: “…IT’S FROM STAR WARS!!!
Jason: “FOR FUCK’S SAKE, it’s from Return of the Jedi!”
Me: “Oh…I’ve…only seen it once….”
*long moment of silence*
Jason: *gestures angrily at Jim* “HE’S bad enough! How does HE get the reference and you dont!?!”)

Himmler’s face breaks out in a slow smile. “…But your friends will not set foot on that island. Not. One. I have seen to it.” Himmler stares at Paul, then gestures at Vincent, kneeling on the ground and staring back in panic. “Now. Take that man’s gun, and shoot him with it.”

(Chris: “…Can you describe my compulsion with this?”
Jason: “It is as if Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, and Steve Jobs came down from heaven collectively and commanded you to do this thing. It is right, it is just, it is the only proper course of action.”)

Paul stares at Himmler for an aching moment, then kneels down and takes Vincent’s gun from his unresisting hands. Vincent stares up at him, paralyzed by fear and magic. Paul stares back, slowly leveling the gun…

…And shoots Vincent in a graze across the leg.

Vincent screams and collapses, clutching his calf. Paul drops the gun and turns back to Himmler.

Himmler smirks. “Very clever, Mr. Stewart. Very clever indeed. But unfortunately not clever enough.” He paces forward. “I have a small army on Alcatraz at this moment. The Nosferatu you sent are already dead, and the associates you sent in that helicopter are going to join them in moments. And when they are gone, what exactly do you think you will do?”

Paul’s face falls at this new information, but he thinks quickly. “I think you’re mistaken,” Paul says carefully, stalling till he figures out a way to maneuver through the Majesty. “Your associates are already dead. Mine are moving in.”

Himmler laughs. “Ahh, this is, how you say…a bluff? And how is it you have accomplished this miracle?”

The Majesty has Paul locked down stronger than he ever would have expected. He fights to keep the panic off his face, but is able to force a noncommittal shrug. “Friends…in high places.”

#

We descend through the deepest part of the Alcatraz facility, deeper than the level we came in on the last time we were here, the air cold and damp and reeking of mildew and rusting metal.

Strange sounds are also echoing up the winding stairwell, reverberating off the worn rock and concrete walls. Howls and shrieks and screams, some of them human-sounding, some of them not. Aquilifer tightens her grip on my arm. I trade a glance with Georgia, then draw my sawn-off and continue leading us down.

We find a short hallway at the base of the stairs, leading to a set of heavy metal doors. A new smell washes over us, an acrid stink like burning electronics. The sounds, at least, have stopped. I sidle up to the doors and peer through the crack between them, but all I see is smoke.

I glance back at Georgia, lurking at the base of the stairs, Slayer half-cowering behind her. “The circle is in here?” I whisper as loud as I dare. She shrugs, wide-eyed.

I groan, then gesture for her and Slayer to flank the wall next to the doors. I shrug Aquilifer off on other side and slowly eek them open.

The room beyond is a charnel house. Blood and body parts splatter every surface, intermixed with the equally-ravished remains of unidentifiable equipment. I momentarily forget my caution and stand in the doorway, stunned. Smoke roils through the space and pours out past me into the hallway.

Suddenly, a shape lurches up from the piles of viscera on the floor, lunging straight at me, moving so fast all I see is a glimpse of grey skin streaked with blood. I whip my gun up but it grabs me before I can get a shot off, dragging me into the room and slamming me against a wall. The thing is massive, so tall it has to lean down to growl in my face.

Gargoyle.

I fire my shotgun into its chest, dragonsbreath-loaded, at point-blank range. The gargoyle howls and stumbles, but remains upright. Once the flash clears from my eyes, I look at the damage.

Which is practically nothing.

It growls again. One taloned hand digs into my throat, while the other squeezes my hand till I drop the gun. I grope blindly at my belt with my other hand, trying to grab one of the swords, but they’re pinned behind me against the wall.

My hands grasp something else, though: a stake.

Its grip on my neck increases, crushing my trachea, and I feel the bones in my neck start to grind. I grab the stake and, which as much force as I can muster, shove it into its sternum.

The gargoyle jerks in response, looking down at the stake embedded in it. It looks back at me, growls deeper….

…Then explodes.

The concussion blasts me against the wall and crumples me into a corner. I crawl to my knees, coughing as I try to heal my shattered neck. Once the ringing in my ears clear, I hear footsteps advancing through the space. “Georgia…?” I gasp quietly, then I stop as I realize that the footsteps are too heavy to be hers. They are also ringing, as if shod in metal. I look up.

A new figure is approaching me through the smoke, normal-human sized, but covered from head to toe in plated armor of some unidentifiable metal. I grope for another gun as it advances. It stops a few feet from me, peering down through a smoked-glass faceplate, then lifts an arm and hits a control on the wrist. The plating on the head shimmers and disappears.

Revealing the pleased face…of Dr. Siegfried von Natsi.

END OF NIGHT

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