Jason: “You go all Luis Suarez on this fucker.”
*I chuckle and nod. Everyone else stares.*
Jason: “…What? No one gets that?”
Julian: “I do.”
Jason: “Thank you, Julian, I’m glad we have cultured people here!”
Me: “I said yes!”
Jason: “You don’t count.”
Me: “….WHAT!? Because I’m not a person!?”
Chris: “Because you’re a woman.”
Jim: “You’re 3/5ths of a person.”
Julian: “She’s the wrong color to be 3/5ths of a person.”
Jason: “Have I mentioned that I know horrible people?”
Chris: “Because no one else would associate with you.”
Paul suppresses a shudder as he stares into the cold, piercing eyes of the man in the unmarked uniform.
“What are you doing here?” the man says.
“Uhh…Leopold invited me.”
The man continues to stare, face flat. “…No, he didn’t,” he says after a moment, and takes a step forward. “Why are you here?”
Paul stands tall under the crushing weight of his gaze. “I…came to get a werewolf.”
The man’s face remains impassive. “A werewolf? Why?”
“Well…karmically I owe it to her….” The man doesn’t react, just continues to stare. Paul hesitates, then glances down the hallway. “Umm…well if you don’t mind, I’m going to go back to the conference room. Are…you going to come along?” The man watches him. Paul shifts nervously. “You…have such lovely chairs there….”
Paul trails off. Unnerved as he is by the man, something even stranger is happening. A…shape is moving in the room behind the man, not so much a shadow as a distortion of the light. Amorphous and large, it’s rippling through the air and coming closer.
Paul…backs up slowly into the hallway. Wordlessly, he turns to head back to the conference room…
….But the man reaches out and grabs his wrist. “You know nothing,” he says softly, gaze spearing Paul like a fish, “And you come here desiring to know less. This is unforgivable.” His grip suddenly tightens, then in one swift motion, he wrenches Paul’s forearm at a 90-degree angle, snapping it nearly in two. Paul screams and tries to pull away, but the man’s grip anchors him in place.
Then, as Paul watches, his cool blue eyes suddenly cloud over in solid black.
Weaponless and desperate to get away, Paul tries a different tactic, lunging forward to bite at the man. His fangs sink deep into his shoulder, then almost immediately retract as Paul’s mouth fills with the foulest, most wretched liquid he has ever tasted. Worse than the warmed-over animal blood he’s been drinking, worse even than Norton’s castor oil cocktail.
But the worst part is, the man doesn’t react. Not with horror, not with pleasure, not even with surprise; he just stares at Paul with flat, black eyes.
Paul stumbles back and vomits the filth from his mouth. Thick, dark liquid—much deeper than blood—stains his clothes and splatters on the floor. Before the man can do anything to respond, Paul attacks again, this time ripping his throat out. More dark ichor spills onto the floor.
(Jason: “You go all Luis Suarez on this fucker.”
*I chuckle and nod. Everyone else stares.*
Jason: “…What? No one gets that?”
Julian: “I do.”
Jason: “Thank you, Julian, I’m glad we have cultured people here!”
Me: “I said yes!”
Jason: “You don’t count.”
Me: “….WHAT!? Because I’m not a person!?”
Chris: “Because you’re a woman.”
Jim: “You’re 3/5ths of a person.”
Julian: “She’s the wrong color to be 3/5ths of a person.”
Jason: “Have I mentioned that I know horrible people?”
Chris: “Because no one else would associate with you.”)
The man staggers from the blow, but his face remains eerily impassive. He does, however, draw a small, fine blade from a pocket of his coat, a ritual-looking blade with two deep blood channels. He flips it in his hand and calmly lunges forward to stab at Paul…
…When suddenly the amorphous shape lurking in the room suddenly resolves into an eleven-foot werewolf that drives a five-foot silver blade straight through the man’s chest.
(Chris: “Is the man dead?”
Jason: “…No. Quite visibly not.”
Chris: “…Well that’s screwy.”
Julian: “…You know it’s going to be a bad day when you impale someone on a grand klaive carrying two spirits—including a spirit of war—and they live….”)
Paul shrieks and jumps back, then composes himself. “I-I know you, you’re Stormwalker….”
Stormwalker, though, is still focused on the man. He wrenches the klaive out of the still-upright body and swings it around for a strike that should split the man in two. The moment he pulls the sword out, more black ichor spills from the wound in the man’s chest, welling out in a greasy mass…
….Then recollects and pulls back into his body, leaving the wound completely sealed.
Stormwalker’s blade hits the man in the side, slicing deep into his abdomen and through the spine. The man stumbles from the blow but remains upright. More foul liquid pours from the wound, once again sealing up the damage almost immediately. The man turns to Stormwalker, regarding him cooly, then casually steps forward and slashes at him with the small blade still in his hands. The cut is shallow, barely grazed across Stormwalker’s forearm, but it wells up; not with blood, but some thin, silvery liquid.
Stormwalker falls to his knees and screams like a hound of hell. The man stands over him, watching dispassionately with his black eyes.
With the man distracted, Paul turns and bolts down the hall.
An unholy sound of torment echoes down the hall I am standing in. I recognize it for what it is—a werewolf in pain—but unfortunately I am a little preoccupied at the moment.
With the self-proclaimed holy source of torment standing right in front of me.
Jeremiah Flagg grins sickly at me and spreads his arms—one holding a sword, the other his shining Bible—in mock welcome. “Well…the prodigal son returns. Have you come to drink in the milk of Righteousness? Have you come to learn redemption from the Lord?”
I glare and heft my sword, still burning like a phoenix, beside me. “You know, for someone who hates vampires so much, you seem to be hanging around with a lot of them.”
He grins wider and starts pacing down the hall toward me, holding his book ahead of him like a beacon. “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil….” He intones. I let him approach, the light of my sword gradually illuminating his rapturous face as he gets closer….
…Then I lunge forward and strike him across the neck, nearly-decapitating him in one blow. He spasms, head lolling to his shoulder, and falls to the floor.
(Jason: “Um…well, that was anticlimactic….”)
The sword-flame went out the moment it touched him, but the damage is still considerable. I take a moment to scoff at him, but…considering my experience with this guy, something tells me he isn’t going to stay down for long. I crouch down to search his body.
It’s breathing. He has no throat, but the body is still breathing.
I lean back. The…fuck….? Seriously concerned now, I hack through the rest of his neck to decapitate him all the way and kick the head halfway down the hall. I don’t find anything on him besides his Bible, and though it’s not glowing anymore, it’s hot to the touch. I carefully pocket it and stand up.
The hall is lined with plain metal doors, all evenly-spaced and unmarked, and at the far end of the hall is a large set of heavy double-doors. I head to those first. They’re locked, bolted so well that even a few of my kicks don’t budge them. I grumble and turn to check out the other doors next.
Flagg is standing at the end of the hall, head back on, clothes undamaged, and grinning the same sickly grin as he lofts his Bible high.
I gape and grope woodenly at my jacket pocket. It’s empty. “Oh…oh heell no—“ I unsling a shotgun and blast him with one of my acid-rounds. Blood and other liquids bloom from his chest and a burning, rotten stench fills the hallway. He collapses to his knees, gurgling something, then falls flat on his face. I watch him for a few moments, and when he doesn’t move, I turn to investigate one of the plain doors.
It opens onto what looks like an empty cell room, with cameras mounted in the ceiling. I check the door immediately across the hall. The room is identical, though this one has what looks like old, dried bloodstains on the floor. I frown at it a moment then return to the hall.
Flagg is back on his feet in the same place, once again untouched, once again grinning. This time I grab one of my dragonsbreath-loaded guns and blast him from down the hall. The flash fills the hall like a supernova and his chest cavity explodes, spraying viscera across the walls and floor. Once again, he collapses in a heap.
I stare at him grimly, then consider the hall. Except for the doors at the end, all the doors here are identical, leading me to believe that they all lead to cells with no exits. I return to the heavy doors and kick them with renewed vigor until they fly off their hinges, revealing an empty stairwell leading down. The moment they crash to the floor, I whip around and fire another shotgun blast behind me.
The shot screams through the air, but this time the hallway is empty.
Georgia—having successfully banished Himmler through the use of Dr. vonNatsi’s etheric dart, successfully stranding her in the lab with a hulking street shark Rokea—is rapidly processing the fact that she is out of the frying pan and into the aquatic-equivilant of the fire. The creature growls at her and lurches unsteadily forward.
Figuring that Dr. vonNatsi’s tech is on a hot streak at the moment, she pulls out the hand-held death ray he gave her and fires.
The creature takes another heaving step forward. Georgia peers at the gun. None of the indicator lights are on, and she remembers vonNatsi saying something about needing an etheric power source. Since he’s also always rambling on about the unusual etheric qualities of vampire Vitae, Georgia decides to go for broke.
(Jim: “Is there a ‘Pour Blood Here’ hole?”
Jason: “There is not. There is an ‘Insert Cabbages Here’ receptacle.”
Kara: “Wow…that’s hard-core.”
Jason: “Well, this is a death ray! You said you were going up against some fucking shit! He gave you the bad motherfucker! This ain’t the eye surgery death ray!”
Kara: “Wow…well I wish I had some shredded cabbage, then.”
Jason: “…No, you don’t. This is a Dr. vonNatsi device, afterall.”)
She bites her wrist, smears a thin stream of blood along the barrel, and fires.
(Jason: “Dex-Firearms. …Wait, did you botch?”
Jason: “…Yeah, yeah that’s two two’s and a one. Something goes drastically wrong—“)
A bright beam shoots out of the barrel, but it’s refracted into a thousand smaller ones, fanning out like a laser-light show, ricocheting off the glass and other flat surfaces in the laboratory around her. One beam bounces back and plunges through her robes—
(Jason: “Stamina test.”
Kara: *rolls* “Umm…wow, wow…. Ok this is the exact opposite of the last roll. That…may be the best roll I have ever made….”
Jason: “…THREE tens and a nine!?”
—but fortunately leaves her unharmed. The shark, though, catches many rays from multiple sides. It howls, throwing its clawed hands over its face and stumbling blindly into equipment lining the room.
The beam shuts off. Georgia stares at the gun, stunned. The shark uses the moment of confusion to lunge at her, jaws wide.
(Kara: “Umm…I punch it in the nose.”
Jason: “…No you don’t.”
Me: “What? Why not!? That’s what you actually do with sharks, their snouts are really sensitive cause of all the ampullae of Lorenzini—“
Jason: “Not this one!”
Jason: “Anyway, Kara, Stamina test again, please.”
Kara: *rolls* “…Um….I rolled it again. ”
Jason: *stares at dice, sits in furious silence* “…Okay. I am about to say something that I am pretty sure has never been said in any World of Darkness game ever….” *takes a breath* “The wereshark fails to do any significant damage to you.”)
The shark gnashes at her, but only catches the edge of her robes as she stumbles back. Georgia skitters on the floor, then feels something odd in her robes, a weight on one side where the death ray beam passed through. She gropes in her pocket there…
….And finds a large block of Velveeta cheese.
The shark is gathering itself for another attack, so Georgia shoves the cheese back in her robes and scrambles across the lab, trying to put equipment between her and it. Unfortunately, though, the shark just strides forward and rips out the tank, tossing it aside with a grinding roar. Georgia tries to change course, but the shark comes around with a punch that knocks her off her feet like a swat fly, smashing her to the wall with enough force to instantly break almost every bone in her body.
(Jason: “I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the door to the lab is still open.”
Kara: “URG, FINE. I run away. Like a little girl.”
Jason: “Yes, who would have thought that a Tremere wouldn’t be able to compete in melee with a wereshark?”
Kara: “But I had a death ray!”
Jason: “Yeah, and you fucked up with a death ray!”
Jim: “Maybe if you had the instruction manual.”
Jason: “It’s Dr. vonNatsi’s death ray, would it have helped if it did? It would have been written in Klingon, backwards.”
Jim: “Well…maybe the German form of Klingon.”
Jason: “…Yes. Deutscheklingon.”)
Georgia heals herself enough to scramble back to her feet and bolt from the creature rampaging behind her in the lab.
(Meanwhile, Kara is glaring at the boys, who are currently yelling things like, “JA! YOU HAVE NO HONOR!” and “QAPLA’ MACHT SCHNELL!” in fake German accents.
One would be hard pressed to say which of the two women has the stronger urge to escape.)
Emperor Norton and Captain Anstis rush toward the wall of gargoyles. Norton is waving his broadsword on-high, while Anstis—still weaponless—lunges forward with claws extended. The lead gargoyle growls and steps forward, canting its poleaxe down for an impaling strike—
—But is itself impaled instead, as Anstis leaps over the axe and drives his claws into its chest. Anstis roars and tears open its chest cavity, spraying viscera and stony flesh across the cavern.
(Jason: “Full Gangrel.”)
The gargoyle collapses to the ground, and every other gargoyle in the room…hesitates.
Giving Norton a chance to behead another one with his broadsword.
And then it’s general fuckery.
Georgia runs blindly through the bowels of the facility until she can no longer hear the destructive sounds of pursuit behind her. She stops to catch her metaphorical breath, heal a bit, and check her inventory.
(Jason: “Well, you have the piece of cheese you picked up from the King of the Mice, cause this is a Sierra adventure game and you’re going to need that to throw at a yeti….”)
A sudden sound makes her stop. A soft, muffled sound, coming from her right, not immediately threatening on its own, but in this environment anything could be dangerous. She stows her gear and moves to investigate.
Anstis and Norton are tearing through the gargoyles like a wolverine—
(Me: “Honey badger!”)
—Like a honey badger through a beehive, but more are appearing from the side tunnels. Anstis realizes that their best chance is to use the trap Paul had installed.
Unfortunately, Anstis doesn’t have the faintest idea how the trap was supposed to work….
He makes his way through the battle and the bodies to the back wall and investigates the tanks. Their design is odd, heavy metal cylinders covered with inscrutable symbols, but the main labels, at least, he can read (though he has no idea what they mean):
If they contain liquid, he figures that he should probably try and be above their center of gravity when he opens them. “Emperor!” he shouts across the room, “Retreat!” He climbs up on top of the tanks.
A cluster of gargoyles is approaching him—cautiously—weapons leveled. Anstis crouches down, growling back at them. When they’ve reached a few feet away, he reaches down and tears a line of gashes across the front of the tanks.
Unspeakable cold washes across his hand. He pulls it back and sees his fingers and claws limned in frost, but his attention is immediately drawn to the scene before him. Clear liquid, boiling with mist, pours out of the tanks and across the floor—actually, it appears to float just above the floor, fog rolling in front of the leading edge and climbing the walls in waves.
“What magic be this….” Anstis mumbles to himself in awe.
The gargoyles approaching him are hit by the rush of liquid. They shriek and spasm, caught in rising plumes of mist, and are carried away by the torrent down one of the side corridors.
Paul is working his way through the facility, trying to find his way back to the operating theater Sophia was in, when a secret panel suddenly opens next to him. He jumps to the side, ready to run again…
…But relaxes when I am the only one to stumble through. “Tom!” he cries.
I—who has just emerged from the stairwell I found behind the heavy steel doors—stare around. “Paul! What the hell is—“
He grabs my arm. “Come with me, fast!”
I scope out the hallway, then peer into the stairwell behind me. “Ok, well, watch out, Flagg’s around, and he’s even more of a bitch than usual.”
Paul frowns. “He’s not the only one like that around….” He drags me down the hall and finally finds a corridor that looks familiar. He heads to the door that leads to the operating theater…
….Only to find that it doesn’t lead there anymore.
(Kara: “What is this, some Hogwarts shit?”)
Instead it leads to a room filled with gargoyles. Most of whom are armed.
They turn as we enter. I freeze, they freeze…but Paul steps forward. And casts Awe.
“Friends!” Paul shouts, his arms wide, “Now is our finest hour! Defend us, and to victory we shall go!”
The gargoyles hesitate, some of them glancing at each other. I remain frozen, stunned by the force of Paul’s Awe, unable to simply grab him and run from the room. After a few moments, all the gargoyles turn to Paul.
“WE OBEY,” they chant as one.
Paul grins. “This way!” he shouts, pointing down the hall. They line up and start marching that direction, pulling Paul and me along. The gargoyles are so large and the hallways so narrow that we wind up traveling almost single-file. I’m in the crowd towards the front of the group, while Paul is in the rear.
Now that I have a few…strange moments of peace to myself, I find myself pondering my sword and its weird behavior so far. It lit on fire when I struck that gargoyle, and extinguished when I struck Flagg. I pull it out and stare at it. Maybe whatever corruption is giving Flagg his creepy resurrection abilities did something to ruin the sword? I certainly hope not; a flaming fucking sword is the best thing to happen to me in weeks.
I look at the back of the gargoyle in front of me. Perhaps an experiment is in order…. Carefully, I lift up the sword and poke his skin with the tip.
The sword immediately erupts into flame. I pull it back before it can burn the gargoyle, but he feels the heat and turns. His eyes grow wide, and all the gargoyles behind me stop.
“TOM!” Paul shouts, “What the hell is going on up there?”
“SCIENCE, shut up!” I yell back, frozen in concern. I am just now realizing the depth of my mistake. We’re in a narrow hallway, surrounded by fifty massive gargoyles, and if they all start to panic….
Fortunately, they all don’t. But the one in front of me does. He shrieks and scrambles back, slashing at anything that gets in his way. I back up, looking around for some way to put the sword out….
“PROTECT THE MASTER!!!” chants a chorus of deep voices, and before I register what’s happening, five nearby gargoyles tear the Rotshrieking one to pieces. Moments later, the only thing left of him is a pool of blood and a pile of flesh.
(The room is quiet. Jason folds his arms, staring flatly across the table. “Give me a humanity test.” I sadly count out my dice.)
I stare in horror, barely comprehending what’s happened, sword drooping at my side.
“Clear a path!” Paul shouts, squeezing his way forward through the crowd. The last few gargoyles step aside, revealing the site of the massacre. Paul stops. “TOM! What the fuck just happened her—Is your sword on FIRE!?”
I shake my head sadly, still staring at the blood. “I…don’t know…I found this sword in the Chantry, and it seems to have…interesting effects.” I meet his gaze. “It was an accident.”
“Jesus!” He looks at the other gargoyles crowded patiently around us. “Well…can you blow it out?”
I wave the sword around. “No, the only thing that put it out last time was attacking Flagg. So…maybe if we find him again….”
Paul glares at me. “Alright, well…you’re in front now.”
I grimace and make my way forward, keeping my body between the sword and the gargoyles I pass. I reach the front of the mob and lead us onward down the hall.
Some silent minutes later, I find an unmarked door and gesture for one of the gargoyles to open it. Inside we find an operating theater, tiers of seats ranked around a central floor, with a steel operating table in the middle.
The table is empty.
I and a few of the gargoyles file in. Paul makes his way forward to join me. We examine the table, still covered by a thin surgical sheet, and find a scattering of short, red-brown hairs. Poking around the room, we find a few more of these hairs, leading away from the table in a trail…
…That leads right into a wall.
I frown and poke at the wall. Something about it seems off; it seems to give a little more than a solid wall should. Bereft of ideas, my eye is drawn to the sword in my hand.
Well…why the fuck not.
I grasp the hilt with both hands and plunge the sword into the wall. It slides in with surprising ease. The flames go out as the blade pierces the wall, but they are replaced by a strange, chemical stench that drifts out of the hole. I force through till I feel it break the other side, then pull out and examine it.
The flames are still out, but the sword is now dripping with a thin, acrid liquid that fizzes slightly when it touches the ground. I hold it up carefully and sniff it. Acid.
Paul wanders over, nostrils flaring as the smell hits him. “That’s sulfuric acid….” He stares at the sword, then peers through the hole. “Is there a tank back there?”
I knock on the wall. It is made of metal, but it sounds hollow. I pull out my other sword, the Max sword, and plunge it into the wall. It cuts through, though not as easily, and when I pull it out it’s dry. Paul and I exchange a glance, then I continue sawing through the wall until I cut a hole big enough for us to peer through.
(Jason: “Oh, by the way, Paul, you can tell that it’s not just sulfuric acid on the sword, it’s hyperconcentrated sulfuric acid.”
Chris: “Jesus! We probably should have been wearing, like, gloves and goggles!”
Jason: “Dr. vonNatsi would agree.”
Me: “Carol never wore her safety goggles. Now she doesn’t need to.“)
On the other side of the false wall is another hallway, with doors leading off. Paul instructs the gargoyles to tear it open, and the
fifty forty-nine of them make short work of it. We climb through and start checking the doorways, but most of them lead to empty rooms. We split up and start opening them in sequence.
A shriek cuts through the space as Paul opens the next-to-last door. A thin, balding, terrified-looking man lunges from the room and jabs a short knife into Paul’s chest. Paul stares at the knife, then stares up at the man. The man stares back, eyes growing wider….
“PROTECT THE MASTER!!!” echoes down the hall. Before anyone can move, Paul holds up a hand.
“STOP!” Paul stares into the man’s eyes and holds his hand out. “Give me the knife.”
The man stares at him, then slowly withdraws the knife from Paul’s chest and places it in his outstretched hand.
“Who are you?” Paul asks.
The man’s jaw works silently for a moment. “B…Bob.…”
(Me: “Heeeeeey! What’s he doing here?”)
Paul looks him over. His Aura says he’s human, as if that wasn’t already obvious from his nervous panting and the sweat running down his brow. “Bob, there’s an operating theater down the hall. A werewolf was there, maybe ten or twenty minutes ago, in human form. Where is she now?”
Bob’s eyes go wide at the mention of werewolf. Lip quivering, he points silently to the room behind him. Paul steps forward and peers over his shoulder.
It’s another small, cell-like room, with another steel table in the center, but this one isn’t empty. Sophia is on it, still unconscious. I show up in the doorway, my demeanor growing noticeably colder as I see the scene in front of me.
Paul brushes past Bob into the room. “Bob, what condition is she in?”
Bob stares between Paul and me, looming in the doorway next to him. “I-I didn’t touch her! I didn’t do anything!”
“Bob, I don’t care how this happened, I just care how she is right now.”
He wrings his hands. “…Sedated.”
“How long will it last?”
Bob sputters. “I didn’t know it was a werewolf! It’s supposed to last a day, but….”
Paul circles the table. She still doesn’t appear to be injured but she doesn’t look any better than when he found her earlier. He trades a grim glance with me. “Bob, how do we wake her up?”
“I don’t know! Look, I didn’t know it was a werewolf, I have no idea how their metabolisms will—“
Sophia suddenly heaves a deep gasp, then stirs on the table. Paul leans down and gently rubs her hand. “Come on back, come on back….” he says soothingly. Her eyes flutter open and stare sightlessly. “Sophia? It’s Paul and Tom, we’re here to get you out of here…can you hear me?”
Her hand under his grip suddenly erupts into one three times its size. The table groans as she takes on full Crinos form. Bob squeals and jumps back against the wall.
I tense in the doorway, but Paul remains calm. “That’s right,” he says, “Come on back….”
She sits up on the table, staring vacantly around. Her gaze settles on us, hesitates, then suddenly she shrinks back into human form, shivering on the edge of the table under a thin hospital gown. She blinks. “…Paul? Where are we?”
“We’re on the Farallones, we’re here to rescue you.”
“The Far—why are we on the Farallones?”
“That is a good question. We’ll explain on the way out. How are you feeling?”
Her face scrunches and she hunches over slightly. “Really bad…what happened?”
I instinctively step into the room, hand outstretched, but I stop myself from getting too close, just in case, for her sake as much as mine.. “What’s the last thing you remember, girl?”
“…Fire,” she gasps. “Green fire…what was it?”
Paul and I exchange a look. “We don’t know,” I answer, “but a lot of werewolves died and the rest—“
“DIED!?” She reels a moment, bracing herself with one arm. “What happened?!” Her voice is tinged with panic as much as pain, but all I can do is shake my head sadly.
“Stormwalker is here,” I say, “somewhere outside. He might know more about—“
“Alexander?!” Sophia sits up straighter. “We have to get to him!”
I nod. “I know, we will. There’s another werewolf here too—“
“Oh, did you meet the crazy woman too?” Paul asks.
I stare at him. “No, I mean an actual wolf, a friend of Stormwalker’s. What crazy woman?”
“A blonde woman, a…jackal-faced werewolf.” He turns to Sophia. “She really wanted to get you.”
Sophia’s face goes pale and she shrinks down again. “…The Dancer?” she asks softly.
I frown and look at Paul. He shrugs. “Maybe? She gave off a real creepy vibe—“
Sophia suddenly vaults off the table. “We have to find Alexander and get out of here, now!”
Paul holds out his hands. “Ok, we’re going to do that, but I need you to be calm.”
(Jason: “Not a werewolf’s strong point!”)
Although she’s moving now, she still looks woozy. I reach out one arm to steady her, and take off my jacket and hand it over with the other. She slides into it gratefully, fighting back shivers. It’s pretty much a tent on her thin teenage frame, but it’s better than just the hospital gown.
Paul guides Sophia toward the door. I jerk my thumb at the ghoul still lurking in the corner. “What about Bob?”
“Bob is going to help us get out of here, aren’t you Bob?” Paul says, shooting him a glance. Bob nods enthusiastically. “See, Bob is very helpful,” Paul adds, turning his attention back to Sophia.
“Good!” Having had plenty of experience with this sort of thing with Slayer by now, I grab Bob by the shoulders and frog-march him out in front of us.
We return to the operating theater, and the ranks of gargoyles arrayed within. Sophia tenses the moment we climb back through the wall.
“It’s alright,” Paul reassures her, gesturing at the gargoyles, “They’re with me.”
“No, it’s not that….” she mutters, staring around. Paul and I hesitate, then notice it too.
Something is wrong, very, very wrong. The air feels heavy and stale, and the lights have a harsh, flat quality like they’ve been rendered by a bad computer graphics program. We turn to Bob, but he is just staring around, wordlessly gaping and shaking.
Paul turns back to Sophia. “What are you picking up?”
“I don’t know…but I can smell something….” her eyes go wide, “…something Wyrm-ish.”
I release Bob and draw my sword. “Something not us?”
“No, you don’t understand,” she throws her arms out, “This entire place smells Wyrmish, but I can smell this anyway.”
The gargoyles, meanwhile, are starting to shift uneasily, staring around and fingering their weapons. “What’s happening?” Paul asks the nearest one.
The gargoyle hefts his axe. “Something comes, Master…something…terrible….”
(Me: “What are the exits?”
Jason: “The door you came in.”
Me: “None at the top of the operating theater?”
Jason: “No. There’s skylight windows in the ceiling but they’re at least ten feet above the top level.”
Me: “Hmm, well if only we had something that could fly….”
“Can you get through those windows?” Paul asks the gargoyle, pointing up.
“Yes, Master,” the gargoyle growls. He launches laboriously into the air, knocking us back with the wash from his wings, and smashes the windows with his axe. We can see the flat shapes of another room through the broken panels of glass. Paul instructs the other gargoyles to carry us up, then follow through themselves.
As the largest, I’m the last humanoid up, but as I’m climbing through the window I hear Bob let out a gurgled squawk of terror. I kneel on the edge of the frame and look down into the room.
The door leading onto the floor of the auditorium has vanished, replaced by a pulsating wall of near-solid, absolute darkness.
(Chris: “Marcus darkness? …Markness?”
It is similar to one of Marcus’s shadow tricks, but at the same time somehow….different…. The sense of wrongness we felt earlier is now a crushing weight, and just looking at the blackness sends cold spikes of terror through me.
All but three gargoyles are still in the room below and they’ve all turned to stare at the apparition. A tense moment passes, then—as one—they shout, “PROTECT THE MASTER!!!” A roar echoes from the room as they charge the wall of shadow, weapons and claws extended.
The moment the first gargoyle touches it, the entire room below us goes black and drops into silence as flat as the grave.
The three gargoyles with us cluster around Paul. “FLEE, Master!” they shout, shoving him away from the windows. “It comes!!”
Paul fights out of their grip. “How? How do we get off the island!?”
“We do not know, Master!”
Frustrated, Paul looks around the space…
…And his gaze lands on Bob, backed against a wall, staring wide-eyed at the windows, practically drooling in terror.
Paul strides to him and grips both his shoulders. “Bob,” he says in as soothing a voice he can muster, “How do we get off the island? Is there a boat?”
Bob’s eyes stare through him, locked on the bottomless pit of shadow behind us, but he manages to shake his head slightly. “…..C-Circle,” he whispers.
“A summoning circle? Can you operate it yourself?”
Paul turns to me, currently across the room investigating our lines of escape. “Tom! You and Georgia came here via circle?”
“Uh-huh,” I mutter, peering out the door.
Paul paces, thinking. “Himmler knew you were coming…he said you were all dead, but I figured he was lying—“
“Oh, no, it was a trap, but Dr. vonNatsi showed up.”
“Oh….” Paul pauses, impressed. “Well…I guess I owe the man a favor.” Paul pulls out his radio and tries to call Georgia a couple times, but there’s no response.
That gives me an idea, though. “Here,” I stride over and take the radio from Paul. “Hey, Slayer?”
A few seconds pass, then a hissing crackle responds. “…Y…Yeah!?”
Bingo. “Son! Where are you??”
“I DONT FUCKING KNOW!!! I’m in some fucked up shit!!!”
“Oh, did Quill find you?”
“WHAT!?! …The fucking BIRD?! NO!!!”
Paul frowns at me, obviously displeased—whether at the situation or at the current mental state of my subordinate I’m not sure—but I wave him off and silently mouth, I got this.
More noise bursts through the radio. I realize it’s not entirely static; some of it is gunfire. “Are you outside?” I shout.
“NO!!! There’s some FUCKING CRAZY SHIT up here man, some crazy people-killing motherfuckers!!1!”
I roll my eyes. “That doesn’t give me a lot of information to go on—“
“THERE’S FUCKING WEREWOLVES!!!111!!1!!1”
Unfortunately, that also doesn’t narrow things down enough. “Does one of them have a big fucking sword?” I ask suspiciously.
I relax. “Oh, good. Put him on the phone.”
There’s a long beat of silence. “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MIND!!?!11!?//“
I glance over at Sophia, leaning against the wall, clutching my jacket around her with one hand and rubbing her temple with the other, eyes closed and breathing heavily. “Just figure it out, son!!”
(Chris: “Here, I’ll deal with it.”
Me: “What, you’ll call him?”
Chris: “I’ll Summon him.”
Chris: “No. Stormwalker.”
Jason: “….Oh SHIT—“)
“Tom I’ve just requested Stormwalker’s presence,” Paul informs me flatly.
I stare at him a moment, the full implications of that sinking in, before keying the radio again. “Slayer? Yeah, just follow that werewolf with the sword, he’ll lead you to us.”
Another couple seconds before the reply: “….Man, FUCK!!!! YOU!!!!!!”
“Paul…” Sophia says, pushing herself back upright. “I…I know a way off the island, but I need a computer.”
I grope in my pocket. “Will a smartphone work?”
She shakes her head. “No, no, I need a serious computer, one that’s wired into their facility. With an uplink.” I don’t know what she’s talking about, but the more she talks, the more focused she starts to look.
Paul turns back to the ghoul. “Bob, do you have any computers with internet access?”
“…What’s an internet?” he whispers, still staring vacantly into space.
Paul shakes him once. “Do you have any computers? With keyboards?”
Bob licks his lips and nods.
“I’ll…I’ll show you….” Bob slides along the wall toward the door, keeping his eyes on the pulsating pit of blackness until the moment before he slides through and into the hall.
The rest of us don’t hesitate to follow.
Georgia is moving cautiously down the darkened hallway, following some soft, unidentifiable sounds. As she gets closer, though, she’s able to identify them.
She turns a corner and finds an open door leading to a small storage room, filled with containers of various sizes. The sound is coming from a corner of the room behind a large stack of barrel-like containers on the floor.
“Hello?” she says. The whimpering stops. “Are you ok?” she asks, but gets only silence in response. She carefully drags some of the barrels out of the way, enough for her to peer around into the space behind them, and finds…
…A werewolf. Or, rather, something that is unquestionably a werewolf—a furry humanoid with claws and elongated muzzle…but somehow, this one is smaller than Marcus. It’s curled in the corner, arms and tail wrapped tight around itself, staring up at Georgia with wide eyes.
Georgia drags the rest of the barrels aside and crouches down. “Can you understand me?” Its only response is to shrink further away from her. She tries to reach toward it slowly, but it hisses and bares its tiny teeth.
Georgia thinks for a moment, then decides on a different tactic: she places a chunk of the Velveeta cheese between them on the floor and steps back.
(Jason: “That’s…not a bad idea, actually….”)
The wolf stares at the cheese, sniffing, then cautiously scoots forward. It stares at her, sniffs the cheese another moment, then picks it up and gnaws on it.
When its done, Georgia places another chunk on the floor and steps back another couple of feet. This process repeats until she has coaxed it almost all the way out of the room and its taking the cheese directly from her hand, but it still looks extremely wary of her.
(Chris: “It looks very…wary-wolf!”
Jason: “Oh, Jesus Christ—”)
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Georgia says in a calming voice, “I want to get you out of here.” The wolf just stares at her. “I’m friends with Sophia…do you know Sophia?”
A deep, guttural growl echoes down the hall behind her, from the direction of the Rokea. The wolf’s eyes go wide and it steps back.
“We have to get out of here,” Georgia says, urgency climbing into her voice. “I’m going to have to leave you if you don’t come with me.” The wolf stares at her, but doesn’t back away as she approaches slowly, hand held out. She crouches down and is able to lift it, gathering it to her side like a toddler. It tenses but doesn’t resist.
The growl comes again, closer to a roar, and closer down the hall. Georgia gathers her skirt—and the werewolf cub—and flees in the other direction, down any passageway that leads away from the roars behind her.
She eventually finds her way into a rough-hewn corridor, leading deeper into the rock. She hurries down it and comes out into a stone-lined room. Lit candleabra line the walls, but the candles are burning with a blue flame.
Her attention, though, is drawn to the middle of the room. A large, pale marble slab lies on the stone, glowing eerily in the blue light. It’s cut with grooves in the shape of a pentagram, and as she approaches she can see that the grooves are inlaid with gold, or something similar to it. Delicate sigils and runes are carved around the edges.
Georgia reaches one hand out, intrigued. She knows enough to tell that this is a transport circle, but its unlike any she’s ever seen. The closer she gets, the more she can feel a thrumming, electric power pulsating off of the rock, way more power than one would need to zap to Alcatraz and back. Her desire for knowledge starts to overwhelm caution….
But then the cub starts to shiver and whimper in her grip. She sighs and backs away.
The roar comes again, echoing off the stone walls like scream of a freight train, much closer than anticipated, and is followed by the thud of footsteps descending the stone corridor. Georgia backs into the room, glancing around, but there are no other lines of escape.
“Ok, puppy,” she whispers, gathering him to her. “We have to go now, ok?” Ignoring his whimpers, she hurries to the dais and steps onto it. The moment she enters the circle, the energy of the room increases and the candelabra dim to sparks. She reaches out with her thaumaturgical senses, groping blindly at the initiation spells. Fire suddenly ignites on the corners of the pentagram, racing down the enameled grooves to light the shapes and runes of the circle. The power in the room condenses, spiraling in on the circle with the pressure of a rising storm. Georgia crouches in the middle, holding the cub tightly.
Another roar rises above the mental shrieks of energy, and the wereshark suddenly lurches into view, slick skin shining sickly just outside the circle of blue light. Georgia bites back a scream and huddles lower. It sees her, growls, then lunges forward, jaws wide—
—Then everything goes black.
Anstis remains perched on the tanks till the strange, cold-boiling liquid has finished emptying. Mist fills the cavern, and through it he can hear more sounds of battle, but right now there is no sign of gargoyles—or Norton—in front of him. He climbs down and starts searching deeper through the tunnels, trying to find where Paul and Himmler went.
He finds a secluded alcove, dark and deep enough to hide him from passers-by, and pulls out his rocks to try his scrying spells. He tries for Paul first:
Paul Stewart is on the isle of Steel and Suffering.
Which isn’t super direct, but—considering how much we’ve been talking about the Farallone Islands the last few nights–he has an idea what it could mean. He tries Himmler next, but gets a far more cryptic response:
Himmler lies in the Shadowlands, in the pyre of the City that Was, waiting for the reckoning.
Anstis frowns. Puzzling over this, he puts his rocks away and renters the main corridor.
And runs right into a harried-looking man in robes. Tremere-red robes.
There’s an award moment of confusion, then the Tremere reacts first, ripping out some of Anstis’s blood and beginning the chants of a rote spell.
Anstis, though, responds by ripping out his midsection and pinning him to the ground. He ignores the man’s struggles and calmly starts digging around in his outfit, looking for a stake.
“Wait, w-wait!” the man gurgles. “I give up!”
Anstis growls and flips him over. He leans down close to his face. “What are you doing here?”
The man gasps, trying to speak through the holes in his lungs and the pirate on his chest. “Maintain…circle….”
Anstis stares into the gloom. “Where is it?”
The man coughs and points deeper into the tunnel.
Anstis frowns at him. “Maintain it…for whom?”
Anstis grins unsettlingly. “Himmler is dead,” he growls. Then, finding the stake in his overcoat, he whips it out and impales the Tremere through the heart.
And then diablerizes that shit.
(Later, after a long private pow-wow with Jason:
Jim: “Man, this sucks, I’m out of space for Disciplines on my character sheet!”
Bob leads us deeper into the facility, to a room that contains a computer. Except for a table and some chairs, the computer is the only thing in the room.
Because the computer takes up the entire room, and not because it’s a bank of servers or anything. Fucking magnetic-tape reels are mounted in towering cabinets made of metal—and, in some places, honest to god wood—and rows upon rows of indicator lights gather dust below them. Sophia, Paul, and I stare in silent shock for a moment.
“This is some WarGames shit right here,” I mutter.
“Sophia, will this work?” Paul asks hesitantly.
Still staring, she shakes her head uncertainly. “Paul, these are older than I am.”
“They’re older than I am,” Paul says. Everyone takes a moment to glance at him appraisingly.
Sophia finally shakes off her shock and strides forward. “Paul, do you have your smart phone with you? Give it to me.”
(Chris: “Lol, it’s more powerful.”
Jason: “Oh, CONSIDERABLY….”
*Jason pulls out his own phone and holds it aloft*
Jason: “I hold in my hand more computing power than existed on the Earth when I was born.”
Me: “And we use it…to look at cat videos.”
Jim: “…and argue with strangers on the Internet.”
Cameron: “Hey, I am one of those strangers.”)
Sophia takes the phone and crouches down next to the nearest computer cabinet. “I’m going to need a moment…I’ve never done this before, and certainly not with something like this….” She starts swiping and typing rapidly in the phone, while Paul hovers curiously nearby.
I, meanwhile, investigate the room. As suspected, nothing else is here besides the computer, and the door we came in is the only escape. I don’t like being trapped in like this, but right now this seems to be our best choice for getting off the island.
With all the gargoyles and werewolves and Nazi shit flying around, I’ve barely had a moment to myself in hours, but now that I do, I find myself growing increasingly curious about something. I draw my sword, the special one. It’s no longer actively dripping acid, but there is still a faint, wet sheen to the blade.
I glance at Bob, lurking nervously near the door, flanked by Paul’s remaining three gargoyles. I
stole acquired the sword from the Chantry, so it’s highly likely there’s some freaky Tremere shit involved with it, which I obviously know nothing about, but I take stock of what I do know:
1) When the sword touched rocks in Golden Gate Park, it got strangely heavy.
2) When the sword touched a gargoyle, it burst into flames
3) When the sword touched Flagg, the flames went out.
4) When the sword impaled the wall, it secreted acid.
I turn it in my hands. There seems to be some sort of spell involved that changes its nature depending on the situation. I wonder what more natures it might have.… I glance around the room. The only way to find out, it looks like, is to experiment….
The spools in the panel in front of Sophia suddenly whir to life, followed in sequence by every other panel in the room. The indicator lights flicker, blinking in inscrutable patterns of red, orange, and green. Sophia smirks to herself a moment then turns back to the phone. “I’m getting there, but I’m going to need more time,” she mutters.
Paul nods, then turns to Bob. “Bob!” Bob jumps at his name. “Have you ever seen a shadow like that before?”
Bob’s eyes go wide and he nods. “Y-yes. At…the Chantry. The Annex….” He gulps. “I saw it. I hid…in the vats….”
Paul frowns. “Do you know what it was?”
Bob shakes his head slowly, eyes turning glassy again. “…It…killed everyone….”
“How did you get here? To the islands?”
Bob shrinks back further against the wall. “He…brought me here. He wanted to know about another one…another Tremere.”
Paul’s eyes narrow. There are only so many Tremere left in the area…. “What other Tremere?”
“The other one. Who came after…after the shadow. The one who came to the Annex.” Bobs eyes focus on Paul a moment. “She…called herself Georgia.”
Paul tenses. It’s hard to say how much of any of this information Georgia has passed to him through one of their blood-bond love chats, but since she is a Tremere, it’s highly likely she hasn’t shared the full truth. “Hmm,” he mutters, “Small world we live in, isn’t it….”
Sophia looks up. “Ok, I’m making some good progress here. I have to run a few more processes, then, hopefully, I’ll be able to—“
She doesn’t complete that thought, because that’s when I accidentally shove my sword through the computer.
Paul and Sophia stare at me in shock. I stare in shock. Even Bob and the gargoyles stare in shock.
(…Honestly, the best way to describe the pandemonium that broke out in the room after this is probably just to listen to this segment of the recording yourself.)
Sophia assures us that she should still be able to work with things—these cabinets are largely empty space, afterall, so I likely didn’t hit anything too important—but it will now take longer. Paul runs out of insults to throw at me and stalks over to the gargoyles, obviously preferring their company at the moment. I sheepishly pull my sword out of the mainframe and investigate it. It’s still dripping acid.
Yep. Good science.
One of the gargoyles suddenly tenses. “Something comes, Master.”
Bob squeaks and runs to the other side of the room. Paul, though, simply frowns. “The same thing as before? In the operating room?”
“No, Master. Something else.”
Paul trades a glance with Sophia. “Werewolf?”
“I do not know, Master, but it is close, Master. It comes….”
I sheathe my sword and brush past them into the hallway, avoiding Paul’s gaze as I pass. This, at least, is something I can probably handle….
Sophia suddenly stops tapping at the phone and looks up, eyes wide. “Oh no….” she whispers. “There’s someone coming….”
“Stormwalker?” Paul asks. She meets his eyes and shakes her head slowly.
I stand in the empty hallway, looking up and down it in both directions, fingering whatever weapons I can reach. The gargoyles follow me out, wings shuffling nervously. “Something comes, Master,” the first one repeats, “Something—“
The gargoyle stops as a shape suddenly appears, looming at the end of the hall. Unmistakably a werewolf….
…But unmistakably not Stormwalker.
There’s a brief moment where I catch a glimpse of dark, narrow eyes in a twisted, hyena-face, then the thing roars and throws itself down the hall toward us. Paul orders the gargoyles back into the room to protect Sophia. I, meanwhile, grab a shotgun, take a grim step forward, and fire.
Blinding light fills the hallway, but at almost the same instant, the werewolf leaps to the ceiling and continues running on it, dropping after the blast passes. It lands on all fours and twists sickeningly, its hulking werewolf shape morphing into a massive wolf the size of a grizzly bear. In this shape, it advances faster.
My instinct screams at me to run away but I stand my ground. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Sophia bent intently over the phone, flanked by Paul and the gargoyles. All I need to do is slow the down enough for her to finish, and considering I’m the reason she was delayed in the first place…. I grit my teeth and level the gun. You never know, I got lucky against a werewolf before—
And that’s when I remember my other major weapon, tucked underneath the stakes and the swords and the shotguns.
My silver-braided whip.
In the milliseconds I have to react, I drop the gun, unclip the whip, and lash it down the hall, using all my skills in single-tail marksmanship to aim at the werewolf’s massive, snarling face. It hits the wolf with a concussive snap, followed immediately by hissing and the smell of something rancid and burning. The werewolf shrieks, stumbles once…then leaps directly at me.
Before I can react I’m hurled to the ground under its stinking hot weight. Claws rend at me, cutting through leather and flesh like butter. I scream and grope for a sword—
—And then the weight is gone. The werewolf shoves off me and continues bolting down the hall in the same direction it was running, its howls and heavy breath fading along with it.
Aching, seriously injured—but still alive—I lever up to my elbows and watch it disappear around a corner. The…fuck….?
“Tom! What’s going on?” Paul calls. I shake my head, perplexed, and climb to my feet. What if…the werewolf wasn’t running at me, but, rather….
A cold terror suddenly settles in my spine. Slowly, I turn around to face the other way down the hall, the direction the wolf was running away from.
The far end of the hall is gone, absorbed by a solid wall of undulating black. A solid wall that is advancing closer.
“Uhhh, Paul!” I shout, backing into the room. As I move away, the wall moves faster. I duck through the doorway just as the shadow rolls past, erasing the hallway as if it was never there. From inside, it suddenly looks as if the doorway opens onto absolute nothingness.
As one, the gargoyles suddenly roar, “PROTECT THE MASTER!!!” and charge through the doorway. The blackness absorbs them without even a ripple, cutting off their cries instantly. The wall hovers at the threshold a few moments, undulating slowly.
Then starts pouring into the room.
Paul and I back up to flank Sophia, who is muttering to herself and wiping sweat off her brow before it can drip onto the phone. The darkness flows into the room, more slowly now than the speed it advanced down the hall, but something tells me that’s not an accident; it’s fairly obvious we have no where else to go. It spreads to engulf the entire front wall, and only then does it begin to advance. A few tendrils creep forward, licking ahead along the floor and through the air toward us. One tendril reaches toward Paul, coiling tantalizingly through the air. Paul hesitates a moment, then lifts a hand to reach out and touch it—
—And then his entire arm is ripped off—
(Because of course it is.)
—And the entire room goes dark.
(BECAUSE OF COURSE IT DOES.)
The darkness, though, is just the prosaic darkness of the overhead fluorescents going out. The lights from the computer still cast some illumination on the room, though its only enough to stand in contrast to the advancing wall of pure black, now creeping faster.
“Sophia?!” Paul yells, clutching his stump in pain.
“Just…a second….” she mutters, tapping and swiping rapidly.
I draw my sword and stare at the wall moving toward us, absorbing the computers along the walls, swallowing rows of lights one by one. It fills my vision, advancing as inexorably as the end of the world. I brace myself and raise the sword….
…Then something jerks me off my feet, and everything goes dark for reals.
Anstis finishes his snack—(*shudder*)—and looks around the cavern. The mists from the cold liquid are now mostly dispersed, but there’s still no sign of anyone else. In the distance, though, he can just barely make out faint yells over the sounds of swords, yells shouting something about the United States and Mexico.
Anstis decides to do some undisclosed Necromantic shit, something that supposedly will bring him to Norton. It involves using the circle but, luckily, he now not only knows where it is, but how to use it.
Anstis prepares the spell, then steps into the circle and disappears.
Georgia wakes up to find herself surrounded by fire.
Roaring, livid flames, from coal-red to white-hot, lick toward the sky on all sides, crawling up the sides of buildings, reaching higher than their six story heights. Wood and stone snap in the heat and choking smoke and ash roll across Georgia. She screams and tenses, expecting Rotshriek panic to overtake her at any moment, but, strangely, it doesn’t come.
She takes a closer look around. She is in the middle of a city street, but there are no signs of cars or people at the moment. The city doesn’t look like any she can remember seeing; the buildings, tall as they are, are all made of brick.
And, she realizes as she sits up, the street is cobbled.
She stands up and turns around. Every building she can see, stretching up the hill into the distance, is on fire, burning with the same intensity as the ones around her. The air is hot from the flames, and heavy, almost leaden. If she had to breathe it would be strangely difficult, but fortunately she doesn’t.
A whimper and soft tug draws her attention back down. The werewolf cub is at her side, staring around in awe and clinging to the bottom of her robes.
Anstis comes out of the transport spell to find himself in the middle of the same raging inferno. He goes through similar processes of shock and disbelief, and, also similarly, discovers that he’s not alone.
But his companion is Emperor Norton, broadsword drooping to the ground, gaping around them in awe.
“Emperor?” Anstis asks cautiously.
“My god,” Norton whispers—actually whispers—while staring around, “This cannot be….”
Through the smoke and flickering light, they see another figure further down the street. Anstis points it out and Norton, throwing off his confusion, hails them as only Norton can. The figure turns, revealing itself to be, naturally, Georgia. The two groups meet in the middle of the block, in front of an elaborate building with the look of an old grand hotel.
Norton lifts his sword as Georgia approaches. “Are you a phantom, my dear!?”
She raises her hand not currently carrying the werewolf. “No, no I exist!”
Norton nods grimly, then notices the wolf. “My god, what is that?”
Georgia looks down. “Umm…a werewolf cub?”
Anstis and Norton stare at her a moment. “…Have we all gone mad?” Norton asks.
“No, I don’t think so….” Georgia says slowly, staring up at the towering flames.
“Where are we?” Anstis growls.
“Well, I’ve only read about it, so I can’t be entirely sure, but….” Georgia turns to him. “The Shadowlands. The Realm of the Dead.”
“Of course….” Norton sighs, “It makes sense then.” He sees their expressions. “Do you not recognize where it is you stand? You are old enough to have witnessed it. Not firsthand, perhaps, but I did….”
Georgia and Anstis exchange blank looks. “I…don’t….” Georgia says hesitantly.
Norton turns from them, gaze burrowing through the flames into parts and memories unknown. “We stand in my fair city…on the day it died…. The Year of our Lord, 1906.”
At that, something clicks in Anstis’s head. The pyre…of the City that Was…. “There’s something ye should know, then…” he growls. “Himmler is here too.”
“What? But…I killed him….” Georgia says.
“No. You didn’t,” Anstis says flatly.
“Though it was not for lack of trying, Fraulein,” comes a voice, drifting down from above. The three of them freeze and look up.
There, standing on a balcony of the burning hotel, silhouetted against the inferno, flames reflected in the circles of his glasses and the sigils of his uniform, stands Himmler.
“It takes more than a parlor trick to kill me,” he growls.
I too wake up to a world lit by unusual light, though it’s of a cool intensity, more like LEDs than flames. I’m lying on a smooth floor—almost supernaturally smooth—next to Paul, who is groaning and lifting himself to a seat. “Sophia…?” I mumble, sitting up slowly as well.
And immediately freeze, eyes widening.
We are on a rail-less balcony on the edge of a building, but it is unlike any building I have ever seen. Towering, absolutely massive, hundreds and hundreds of stories high, disappearing into a light-speckled, mist-shrouded sky above us. Looking around, I see more of these buildings scattered in the distance.
“Jesus Christ!” Paul yells, scrambling to his feet, staring above us. “What is this building made of!? The tensile strength alone must be—“
I’m not listening, however, as I am still staring at the view off the edge of the balcony. I climb to my feet and move cautiously closer. The building extends below us hundreds of stories as well, and down there I see the lights of vehicles scattering in every direction, though they are moving with far more speed and certainty than I’ve ever seen cars move. Some are moving at much faster speeds than others, yet somehow none of them are colliding—
And that’s when I realize. They’re at different speeds because they are on different levels, following dim, spiderweb-like roads stacked to the depths and branching out in every direction. My eyes track up and I see more moving lights at eye level and above, these ones obviously free-flying, moving between more massive buildings of such fantastical complexity my mind struggles to simply process them, let alone describe them.
Paul, meanwhile, is still chattering, scratching at—and even licking—the walls of the building. “—must be some kind of fiber, Tom!,” I hear him babble, “We don’t know of any materials we can manufacture in bulk that could make a building this tall—“
One of the traveling lights below us passes our building close enough for me to see details, and I realize with a shock that it’s not a vehicle as I would understand it.
It’s a spider. A giant, metallic, LED-lit, mechanical spider.
“…Spooky spider?” I whisper in awe.
“No. A net spider,” a voice behind us says. Paul and I turn.
Sophia walks out of the gloom from deeper in the building, no longer in the ragged hospital gown and my jacket. She looks like she’s in some sort of body-suit, studded with lights and glowing lines of circuitry like the spiders racing below. As she approaches, though, I realize there is no suit; she is simply covered with circuits and digital-sprites that waft up and down her as she moves. The hunted look she had when we found her is gone as well, replaced by one only slightly less weary, but a lot more confident. She meets our gaze and smiles.
I look her up and down, jaw agape. “Giiiiiirl—“
Paul finally snaps out of his burgeoning Toreador-trance. “Sophia! What happened?”
“I sidestepped,” she says, joining on the balcony.
I stare out at the view again. “Into…the Umbra?”
She looks up at me and smirks. “Into my part of the Umbra.”
“I like it!” Paul exclaims.
“You should.” Her smirk widens. “This is the Digital Web.”
She pulls Paul’s phone out of…somewhere…and hands it back to him. He immediately activates his camera and tries to take a picture. The moment it clicks, a tiny, silvery spider climbs out of the screen, jumps down, runs to the edge of the balcony, then leaps onto one of the tracks and disappears into the distance in a flash of light.
Paul and I stare in the direction where the spider disappeared, then stare at his phone.
(Chris: “…I do it again!”)
I lean over the edge to look at the legions and legions of spiders passing below. “How…many of these are carrying porn?” I ask Sophia slowly.
She chuckles. “At any given time? At least a third.” A suspicious look suddenly crosses her face. “Tom…please don’t shove your sword into anything in here.”
“Sounds like my prom night,” I grumble, folding my arms.
“No, really, trust me. There is stuff in here you really don’t want to mess with. If any spiders come around, just…try to ignore them. They’re not hostile, but…they don’t like being interfered with.”
Paul is staring off at the massive buildings—more arcologies, actually—in the distance. “What are all these?”
Sophia follows his gaze. “Oh, you know. Google, Facebook…Oracle, even….”
Paul glares at the mention of Oracle but continues. “Are these their…websites?”
“Not really, but…close. This isn’t the literal internet, it’s a spiritual reflection of it. The buildings represent each company’s spirit presence online.”
Paul’s face suddenly lights up brighter than the sun he channels himself. “Is…Tesseract here?”
“…Can we see it?” he asks, voice breathlessly eager.
Sophia laughs and pulls a small tablet out of…somewhere. “Sure, let me just call a spider.”
“…How?” he asks, craning his neck to see her screen.
She smirks. “There’s an app for that.” She presses a button on the screen. Moments later, the balcony shudders as a massive spider lurches into view, sleek as an iPod and lit with a cool, white light. She gestures to it grandly. “This will take us right there.”
Following her lead, we carefully climb onto the carapace of the spider. The surface is slick, but we don’t have to struggle very hard to hold on as it climbs back down the building. It toes its way onto the nearest monorail-like spider track—spider-rails?—then instantly launches along it. Despite the breathtaking speed, there doesn’t seem to be any real sense of wind resistance, or even inertia.
Paul and I stare in awe at the scenery moving by. Although Paul is overwhelmed with excitement, part of me is still struggling to comprehend all this. Despite being a vampire for decades now, and seeing all sort of supernatural shit back home, that was somehow different because it was at home. Weird as the world was getting, at least the familiarity of San Francisco itself was something I could fall back on. Now, though, I am in a place where my entire understanding of reality is literally wrong. Hell, the surface of Mars is probably closer to normal than this world. At least the laws of physics still apply there.
“I didn’t just bring us here to show you the sights,” Sophia says from her seat at the front of the spider. “This is the only way I could think to get us off the island. The Gauntlet was high enough I couldn’t do it any other way, and fortunately you didn’t damage the computer that much.” She glares at me a moment before continuing. “We can stop at Tesseract, but to get out we’ll need to find a cairn, preferably one that’s been wired. We could download out of a server, but that would take hours.” She shrugs. “Fortunately, it shouldn’t be too hard too—“
She stops. A sound is approaching, echoing eerily through this frictionless space, but strangely familiar. After a moment, we identify it: sirens. Lots and lots of sirens. Flashing lights are appearing on dozens of spider-rails in every direction, but they’re all moving in the same direction.
Toward the tower behind us.
“What’s going on…?” Paul asks.
Sophia shakes her head. “I’m not sure, but they seem to be spooked…by….” She turns to look at the tower then stops, eyes wide. Paul and I turn.
The tower has gone dark, all the glittering LED sigils and nodes extinguished, turning it into a tower of blackness against the raucously-colored skyline. We stare for a few moments before we realize….the tower isn’t dark, the tower is gone, replaced by a pillar of shadow as black as a hole cut out of the universe.
“That’s not possible….” Sophia mutters, terror overpowering disbelief in her voice, “Nobody could—“
As we watch, the shadow—as impossibly tall as the tower it consumed—starts to dissolve, cascading down like ash and rubble from the World Trade Center. It spreads out like a shockwave, absorbing everything it comes across, spiders and all, and leaving absolute nothingness in its wake.
Paul and I exchange a glance. “It’s Perpenna, isn’t it?” he says. I nod. I can’t think of anything else that would go to such lengths to get us.
Indeed, I turn back and watch as part of the shadow starts racing along our spider-rail track, some miles behind us but catching up fast.
“Oh my god,” I mutter grimly, “Perpenna is going to eat the Internet.”
END OF NIGHT
As scary as it was for Jim and Kara to be trapped in the Shadowlands with Himmler, and Chris and I to be trapped in the Digital Web with Perpenna, the scariest thing didn’t occur to me until everyone was on their way out the door.
Everyone was packed up, going through our goodbye-hug line, when Jason suddenly ambled up to me, grinning. “So…you’re escaping the Farallones through the Digital Web, are you?”
“Yeah….” I said, eyeing him suspiciously. “What of it?”
He grinned wider. “Well, I just have one thing to ask, then….” He leaned in. “…Where’s Aquilifer?”