7/17/2014

Cameron: “You’re going straight to hell!”
Kara: “Aren’t I already in Hell?”
Cameron: “No, you’re in Diet Hell. Just one calorie, not damned enough!”


***

THE SHADOWLANDS

Heinrich Himmler stands in the midst of eternal inferno, glowering at Georgia, Anstis, and Emperor Norton below him, his anger driving through the smoke and the scalding air with palpable intensity.

Georgia…raises a hand and waves at him. “Hello!”

(Jason: “…Himmler does not wave back.”
Kara: “Oh, well, that’s impolite.”)

Rebuffed, Georgia turns to make conversation with Norton instead. “So…how did you get here?”

“I do not know,” he mumbles darkly, glaring up at Himmler.

“Oh…um, how do we get home?”

“I do not know that either….” Norton continues to stare at Himmler, gripping his broadsword tightly.

Anstis, meanwhile, approaches the burning hotel as close as he dares. “What brings you here?” he shouts up.

“You,” Himmler hisses, “The both of you, you ungrateful, miscegenate…Untermenschen!”

Georgia blinks. “Bless you!” she says.

Himmler turns his burning gaze onto her. “You think you are so clever, Fraulein, employing the tricks of an Etherite.”

“Um…resourceful is the word I’d use myself….”

He sneers. “Well, we shall see how resourceful you are in this place.”

She clutches her chest in surprise. “Are you upset about what happened with the dart? Cause, if I recall, you and your pet shark were going to eat me….” As usual, it is hard to tell whether Georgia is being sincere or sarcastic.

Himmler leans over the balcony, heedless of the burning timbers crashing around him. “You storm my island. You kill my creations. You slaughter my associates—“

“Um, I didn’t do any of those things. I walked in, calmly, met you, and then…freed this little guy.” Georgia steps aside, revealing the werewolf cub clutching her robes.

Himmler tenses. His glare deepens. “Do you even know what it is you carry?”

Georgia looks down at the cub. “Um…a werewolf?”

Himmler chuckles, loud enough to carry over the crackling of the flames. “You know nothing, Georgia Johnson.”

(Kara: “Urg, are they going to have to do it now?”
Me: “Yes. But when you least expect it.”
Jason: “Shortly before everyone dies.”)

Himmler extends one arm over the balcony. “Give me the wolf, and you will die quickly.”

Georgia frowns at him. “Um…I decline that offer, but thank you.”

He stares a moment. “Have it your way then.” He closes his hand. Flames from the surrounding buildings suddenly flow like water across the ground. Anstis and Georgia back away, retreating toward the center of the street.

But Norton steps forward, firmly planting his sword point-first into the ground. “Come DOWN, rapscallion, and free yourself…from the SNAKES!!!!!” Norton raises his arms dramatically.

Himmler, though, simply sneers and gestures again. The flames pour faster, too fast to outrun, rising up and cresting like a wave—

—And pass over them with no ill effects. There’s an irritating tingle, but not much else. Georgia and Anstis stare at each other, perplexed.

The cub, though, panics, howling and twisting out of Georgia’s grip, racing down the street between flames pooled like lava in the street. Georgia runs after it. The cub turns a corner at the end of the block and runs out of sight. Georgia rushes up to the same corner and follows….

…But the street ahead of her, burning like the last one, is empty.

#

Anstis turns to see where Georgia ran off to…then dives out of the way to avoid getting hit by a car. An old-model station wagon tears down the street, easily hitting 90 mph, and flies into the intersection at the other end of the block. Moments later, a van appears from the cross-street, also running at top speed. The cars T-bone and careen off, spraying metal and burning gasoline across the cobblestones.  Anstis stares at the wreckage, then turns back to the hotel before him.

Himmler is gone.

#

Georgia, having seen the car crash from up the street, runs down to it. As she approaches, a man gets out of the burning station wagon.

“Are you alright…?” she asks, then trails off as she sees the blood and viscera spilling out of his torso and his skull crushed on one side.  He lurches toward her, and in the glow of the firelight she sees that his back is covered in…something, something with a strangely mottled sheen. He pulls a gun from the waistband of his coat and waves it in the air before collapsing face-down on the street, giving her a clear view of his back.

It’s money, hundred-dollar bills, stapled to his back like a coat of feathers, rustling in the burning air currents.

Georgia stares at him a moment, then reaches down to take the gun from his outstretched hand. The body stirs as she touches it, and she yelps and jumps back. The head rotates, pivoting the uncrushed eye to stare at her, glassy and flat as any dead body she’s ever seen, but blinking slowly.

Georgia pockets the gun and scurries away.

#

Anstis, meanwhile, drops into parrot-form, hoping that an aerial view will help him find Himmler or even just get a better sense of what the fuck is going on. The rampaging thermals loft him easily into the air, toward the roiling ceiling of smoke that hangs like a canopy strung between the buildings. He actually has to fight to stay down, out of the smoke, cruising along the flame-lit underside.

Suddenly something cuts toward Anstis, a mechanical roar ripping the sky. He dodges, but is caught up a new draft, pulling him up. He tumbles through the gloom, catching glimpses of flame and broad metal wings, then emerges above the smoke to clearly see the thing before him.

It’s a plane, like the one he took to escape from Alcatraz but much, much larger, with four rotating blades on the front instead of just one. The plane continues on its course, but the mechanical roar doesn’t abate. Anstis circles and looks up.

Hundreds, thousands of planes are soaring overhead, a practical armada of aircraft, ranked high into the murky sky. All sizes, from ones the size of a large cart, to ones as broad as buildings. The roar is the amassed noise of their engines, all mounted with the spinning blades and chugging against the thick air. Their numbers disappear in every direction, but they are all headed in the same one.

And most of them are on fire.

Anstis takes a long look at this scene, then dives back down beneath the gloom.

#

Anstis soars between the buildings and finds Georgia a few blocks away, moving away from the site of the car-crash. He flutters down and lands next to her.

“Oh…hi….” She stops. “Any sign of Norton? Or the werewolf?”

Anstis tilts his head and lifts his wings in a feathery shrug.

“Maybe they….” Georgia trails off, staring around. At some point within the last block, the fires went out. The buildings around them are blackened and gutted, but none seem to be actively burning.

“…Interesting….” She pivots around. “Emperor!” she cries, voice echoing strangely in the flat air, but no bombastic shouts respond.

But a door in one of the nearby buildings slowly creaks open. A man steps out and stares at them. His skin looks strangely mottled in the wan light, as if he—like the buildings around him—was covered in burn scars. He takes a few steps forward, giving them a clear look at him.

They’re not burns, they’re boils, boils and lesions mottling his face and neck, and the back of his hands.

He stares at them…and smiles. “Well…thought you could just wander in here?” he says, voice mocking.

“Actually, we were just looking for the exit,” Georgia replies, taking a cautious step back.

He smirks. “She’s just looking for the exit, boys, let’s escort her….” A dozen more men pour out of the building behind him, all covered with the same ugly pox on their skin.

Georgia peers at them. “I’m…fine, if you guys don’t want to help out….”

The lead man chuckles, turning to the gang behind him. “She thinks she’s fine. Bloodsuckers walking in like they own the place.” The man suddenly takes a long, indrawn sniff and turns to Anstis. “And what do I smell here?”

Anstis sidles a little closer to Georgia. “A bird,” he whistles.

The man takes another long breath, grin growing sickly. He picks up a charred length of wood from the ashes at his feet and slowly walks forward, whacking it repeatedly into his other palm. “It’s a puppetmaster, boys. A nice little baby puppetmaster, feeding on the living and living upstairs…you shouldn’ta come here, boy.”

Anstis’s feathers bristle. “Nor should you have!” he squawks.

The man stops, glowering at the parrot. Georgia stares between them. “Well,” she claps her hands, “That sounds like everyone’s cue to leave—“

The man raises his stick, pointing it at Anstis. “An obol on his fangs,” he snarls, and the men behind him rush forward. Anstis explodes into the air, while Georgia turns and runs. The men scream, a couple stopping to fire guns, but Georgia and Anstis outpace all of them and disappear down the block.

#

Georgia comes to a stop a few blocks after the sounds of pursuit die away. She’s on a hill, in a neighborhood that normally would have commanding views of the city if it wasn’t obscured by smoke and gloom. It’s quiet here, no signs of inferno, but the block is dominated by a massive baroque mansion looming in front of her, set back on wide landscaped grounds, with a long staircase leading to the door. Curious, she lets herself through the gate and approaches.

(Kara: “Maybe there’s a Beast inside and I can kiss him.”
Me: *gasp* “And BOOKS!!!”)

The front door creaks open, revealing dimly-lit Victorian rooms. “Hello?” she calls, entering cautiously. “Is anyone here?” Her voice echoes flatly through the dusty rooms. “Just…looking for a friendly face….”

She hears something then, a soft tap…tap…tap…. approaching. Moments later, a man steps out from behind a doorway, carrying a cane and dressed in formal wear. His face—ashen and old, with a long white beard—stares at Georgia blankly.

Georgia waves weakly. “Hi…I’m really sorry to barge in on you—“

“Who are you?” he asks, voice barely a whisper.

“Uh, my name is Georgia, and I was being chased by some guys out in the street and needed somewhere to hide….”

He looks her up and down. “You’re not a wraith…what are you?” His eyes narrow. “Are you a soul-eater?”

“I’m…not sure what that is, but no.”

He stares at her in silence another moment. “You’re not alive,” he says, still staring. “…Vampire.” It’s not a question.

Georgia smiles nervously. “You’re a good guesser—“

“What brings you here, Vampire?”

“A…mistake, actually, I was trying to escape another thing that was chasing me…” she laughs to herself, “Incidentally, a lot of that going around today—“

The man scoffs.“The Specters will drag you down to the Labyrinth and rend you down to your very soul.

Georgia cocks her head. Once again, she doesn’t know those words, but they don’t sound good. “I’m hoping to escape that, actually….”

He laughs darkly. “Escape that? How? You’re as dead as I am.”

“Well, getting out of here would be good.”

He glares at her, eyes shadowed in his sunken face. “This is the Land of the Dead. You belong here.”

She blinks, momentarily taken aback. “Well, I came here on accident.”

He laughs again. “You think any of us came here on purpose?”

She hesitates, considering that. “Well…some of you probably did.”

He shakes his head. “You know nothing, nothing of this place, nothing of your own self.” He turns to walk away, dim light sliding across his features. Georgia stifles a gasp.

The entire back of his skull is caved in, blood and brain tissue matting his grey hair and dripping down his neck.

He walks slowly down the hall, cane clicking on the marble floor, but stops after a few steps. “…Georgia, you said your name was?”

Georgia hesitates, still staring at his head. “Yes…?”

He turns, leaning on the cane. In profile like this, she can both his face and the gaping wound at the same time. “What’s your last name?” he asks slowly.

“…Johnson….”

He frowns. “I know that name…someone told it to me….”

“…In…a nice capacity?”

“I don’t know, I don’t remember….” He stares off. “It’s so hard to remember, down here…maybe yesterday, maybe a hundred years ago.”

Georgia starts backing toward the front door. “Okay, well, thanks again for your help, I’m just…going to go….”

He chuckles again. “There’s nowhere to go,” he rumbles, turning back down the hall. “Enjoy the pyre,”  he calls over his shoulder, shuffling back into the gloom.

#

THE DIGITAL WEB
Paul, Sophia, and I are on the back of the net spider, racing through technicolor twilight, watching as—

(Jason: “—Wait, Colleen…why do you have Aquilifer?”
Me: *clutches her plushie golden eagle puppet to her chest* “Because she’s safe with me!”
Jason: *chastising* “But you don’t have Aquilifer!”
Me: *clutches her harder* “Nooo! She’s safe with me!”
Jason: “No, she’s not!”
Me: “Yes!”
Chris: “NO, no she’s NOT. She’s NOT safe with you! NO ONE is safe with you!!!”)

Anyway, watching as a giant wall of world-sucking blackness expands behind us.

“Sophia!” Paul calls, crouched down holding onto the spider with his remaining arm, “Are we still heading to Tesseract? Can we access my technology? We need sunlight!”

Sophia, still staring in horror, trying to come to grips with something that she thought was impossible, shakes her head slowly. “I haven’t been to Tesseract here, but I doubt it. It doesn’t work like that here. There’ll be tech spirits there, electrical spirits, computer spirits, but…light?

Meanwhile, I am staring at the cloud. Spiders are racing toward it from all around the nearby net, but every single one that dives into the darkness doesn’t emerge again. I frown. I don’t really understand this world Sophia has pulled me into, but this, strangely, is something I do understand.

It’s Perpenna, and he’s piiiissed.

Paul gestures at the racing shadow. “Sunlight is the only thing we know will hurt it!”

Sophia shakes her head. “There isn’t any sunlight in this place, not the way you would understand it. The rules are different here. We are literally on the Internet. We can go to Tesseract but I don’t know what’s there.”

He glances back. “Maybe we can lead it out of the web?”

Sophia pulls her tablet from somewhere in her glittering circuit-suit and starts swiping through it rapidly. “We need to find a cairn for that, and Tesseract isn’t a cairn.”

I’m still staring behind us, watching the cloud owlishly. We’re still racing along at unfathomable speeds but the shadow is starting to accelerate toward us. It seems to have stopped its expansion in all other directions, focusing in on us.

Personally.

“Uh, guys?” I shout. “Must go faster!”

Paul pulls out a phone—prosaically stored in his pocket—as well, hoping to access some of the local information network to help. He wedges it down with his knee and starts paging through. On a whim, he logs into the app store.

(Me: “…Really?”
Chris: “Yep! You never know who’s written what tools. All I know is, I’m in an alternate universe, my phone gets perfect reception, and I have access to an app store. Now’s a good time to browse.”)

Paul discovers that while the store seems the same on the surface, none of the apps are ones he recognizes, and, according to the homepage, there are 9×10^30 of them.

On a hunch, he does a search for “vampire.” Surprisingly, something comes up: an app titled, “In Case of Vampires Break Glass.”

“…What the hell,” Paul mutters, and downloads it. It installs instantly, but Paul hesitates to open it.

(Chris: “Are there instructions?”
Jason: “There are, but they’re written in binary.”
Chris: *thinks* “Well, you know—“
Jason: “NO! You do NOT speak binary!”
Chris: “Well, I could maybe recognize the ASCII.”
Jason: “You want to take the time? Okay, what’s your computer score? Five, I assume.”
Chris: “It is…2.”
*Everyone stares*
Jason: “What’s your technology score?”
Chris: “My technology score is…2.”
*More stares*
Jason: “…He’s sorta the ‘Idea Guy.’”)

Paul stares at the app icon. “Break glass in case of vampires” implies something sort of immediate, and…well, he’s a vampire, so maybe he shouldn’t be the one to activate it.

He glances back at the Perpenna shadow and frowns. “…Goddammit,” he mutters finally. “Well if I’m going to get killed, at least it won’t be Tom doing it.” He presses the icon.

A chime sounds and the app loads on the screen. “Welcome to In Case of Vampires Break Glass! By [Some Fucking Alias With Numbers In It, I Don’t Know, What The Hell],” a popup window reads before it’s replaced by a graphic of a pane of glass next to a small hammer. Cartoonish letters spelling out “BREAK GLASS!” pulsate cheerily on the screen. No other instructions are visible.

Paul glances at Sophia, but she is pouring over her own device, typing and swiping. He turns to me, staring stoically back at the approaching cloud, gripping the hilt of my magic sword. A tentacle of shadow reaches out of the main body of darkness, extending toward us, 200 yards away and closing.

“Tom!” Paul hands out the phone. “Do you think you can throw this into the shadow?”

I glance at the phone and back to him, puzzled, but honestly I’m beyond questions at this moment. “Yeah, probably, why?”

Paul points to the screen. “There’s an app for this! But…it might kill us too, so activate it and toss it into the cloud and let’s hope we’re out of the range of it’s effects.”

I stare at him. “…Alright,” I say, and take the phone.

The tendril is coming up fast. At this range, we see that not only is it running along the spider-rail, but seems to be disintegrating it. I glance at Paul. He nods. I hold out the phone, he taps the hammer on the screen, and I chuck it as hard as I can into the darkness looming behind us. As it spins away, we hear a brief message chirping, “Thank you for playing In Case Of Vampires Break Glass….”

Then, at the apex of its arc, it becomes the sun.

Paul and I scream and fall to the back of the spider, but there’s nowhere to take cover. We writhe against the light, our skin burning instantly, agonizingly—

(Me: *mutters* “Oh, god, don’t let me die on the internet….”)

—Then the light stops as the roiling shadow absorbs the phone.

A splitting shriek practically rips through the fabric of reality, and the reaching tendril explodes. Writhing wisps of clouds whip through the air, crashing into structures and taking out nearby rails. More spiders disappear into its reaches, instantly obliterated.

But it stops advancing, and we quickly outpace it.

Paul and I—alive, but very badly burned—pivot around to stare at the scene behind us in awe. After a few moments, Paul quietly pulls a second phone out of his pocket.

(Chris: “I use my other phone to rate that app.”
Jason: “And how do you rate it?”
Chris: “Five stars! Would download again!”)

The cloud falls away behind us, dissappearing into the distance. Paul and I slump to the back of the spider, injured and exhausted. Sophia is engrossed with her tablet, its glow highlighting the concerned lines of her face as she tabs through screens. The rest of the ride passes in silence, Paul and I watching the passing company arcologies as we streak past. Some are labelled with signs as large as buildings, showing that the designs of these fantastic structures are literally or metaphorically symbolic of the companies they represent.

Many timeless moments later, Sophia announces that we’re approaching Tesseract. Paul and I lever ourselves up to see.

Tesseract…is literally a tesseract.

Large as a skyscraper, glittering like the stars, it’s an impossible, multidimensional shape that shifts as we look at it: corners becoming planes, planes becoming negative spaces, and negative spaces becoming smooth, organic curves. Innumerable spiders of all sizes crawl over every surface and come and go on the tiers of spider rails leading into the structure.

I squint at it. “That’s…really something.”

Paul beams, face glowing with the pride of a father. “Our logo is a two-dimensional projection of a three-dimensional projection of a four-dimensional projection of a five-dimensional box.” He sees my expression and his face falls a bit. “It’s…kinda nerdy.” His face lights up again, though, as he turns back to the building. “Maybe we should do an off-site here….”

Sophia looks up from her screen. “Paul, I know the digital web is kinda amazing the first time you see it, but this place is very, very dangerous and I doubt you killed that thing back there.”

Paul nods, sobering a little.

Sophia continues to stare at us; specifically, at our charred skin, which only seems to highlight our other injuries. “Are you guys alright?” she asks softly.

We look down at ourselves. Paul gently pats at his shirt, still smoking in parts. “No, no it’s…not pleasant,” he says.

I slump back to the floor. “Meh,” I shrug.

She rolls her eyes. “Hold on…I can fix this….” She pulls out a phone, dials something, and puts it up to her ear. Electronic beeps and buzzes (not a modem) drift from the phone, but she just listens. After a few seconds she nods and hangs up. “It’ll be just a minute.”

She walks toward the…stern?…of the spider, staring behind us. The web here is peaceful, busy with the lights and activity of other spiders, no sign of the looming wall of shadow that destroyed their comrades so easily. “I’ve never seen anything like that get in here before…Paul,” she turns to him, pain on her face, “Paul, if we lure it here, it’ll destroy Tesseract.”

Paul stares at the structure, still looming larger as we approach. “Well, considering what we’ve seen so far I’ll take your word for it—“

Her face clenches. “No, not just the building, Paul, it’ll kill the spirit of Tesseract. That’s what you’re looking at here.  When you kill a corporate spirit the company collapses. The stock price goes to hell, the employees all resign, all the products fail, everything.”

“Can we lead it to Comcast instead?” I mutter from the floor.

Sophia frowns at me. “You don’t understand. You kill off Comcast, it doesn’t just kill off their support staff—“

“—They have that?” Paul asks, deadpan.

She sighs at him and continues. “Look, it’s just…you shouldn’t even think about sending this to your worst enemy. Even if you sent this to Oracle it would be a catastrophe.”

I gesture weakly at the landscape. “Yeah, cause then Ellison would find out about all this.”

Paul stares at Sophia and nods. “I’m not planning on taking out any companies here.”

She nods, relieved, and glances at her tablet. “Okay, good. Just hang on a bit, it’s almost here.”

Paul and I glance at each other. “What’s almost here?” he says.

The spider underneath us starts to quiver, rocked by some distant percussion that we can feel as much as hear. It grows steadily louder, shaking the spider harder, like a progressive series of muffled explosions.

Or…very large footsteps….

“Sophia, is this normal?” Paul whispers to her.

She nods tersely, staring at the approaching Tesseract structure, now towering taller than any structure I’ve seen on Earth. “Don’t make any sudden moves,” she instructs, “And whatever you do…don’t talk back to it.” She glares briefly at Paul, then me, then faces forward again. “This…is probably going to hurt,” she adds softly.

Suddenly a shape—a curved expanse of iridescent metal—looms from behind the Tesseract structure…and keeps looming. Just as the building dwarfs us, this thing dwarfs it, rearing up like a mountain.

It’s another spider. An incomprehensibly massive one.

One shining leg, wide as an office building at its narrowest tip, stabs down next to us, just a few dozen yards off the edge of the spider-rail. Our spider rocks from the force but keeps running. Another leg lands on the other side, deftly wedging itself in the empty space of the web. Paul and I just stare at the creature, towering over us like a thunderhead, the sight enough to paralyze us in shock if we weren’t already immobilized on the ground.

And then the head leans down to stare at us, myriad eyes shining like opals on the face of God.

(Jason: “What are you going to do?”
Chris: “I…don’t say anything.”
Jason: “And you?”
Me: “Um…ditto.”
Jason: *grins* “You should back-talk it.”
Me: “…I should?”
Jason: *grins wider* “Yeah, you totally should….”
Me: “Maybe I should poke my sword into it!”)

Our ride-spider stops instantly, once again defying the laws of momentum. The lights covering Sophia’s suit shift and quiver and she shifts down into a wolf. She sits down and barks at the god-spider above us, her voice strangely modulated and staccato. She paws at her tablet—literally—then slides it forward.

Moments pass. The god-spider quirks its head, eyes glittering, then opens—no, unfolds—its massive, layered jaws.

Millions of tiny spiders pour out like a waterfall onto the back of our spider. Paul and I fight the urge to panic, remaining still as they fan out and wash over us in waves. Myriad tiny flashes of agonizing pain erupt over me and I actively clench down to keep from screaming. By Paul’s whimpers, he’s feeling something similar.

(Author’s note: I am imagining it looking something like the Christmas Island crab migration)

Then it’s over. The last of the tiny-spiders flow over us and disappear into the net. I cautiously try to move…

…And find that almost all of my damage has been healed. Paul, too, has had significant repairs, and even has his missing arm back.

Sophia bows deeply. The god-spider closes its jaws, quirks its head again, then, with a titanic series of rumbles, steps over us and strides toward the horizon, back in the direction we came from. In the direction of Perpenna.

Paul stares at his new hand in awe. “Thank you….” he mutters.

Sophia shifts back up into human form. “Thank you for not saying anything,” she sighs. “That was a pattern spider. They’re like…a demi-god of the internet. They’re spirits of order, really powerful ones. They don’t like disorder, they don’t like damage. You’re supposed to be dead so they…recreated you as dead. Except…you’re not dead…kind of….” She frowns for a moment, then continues. “Anyway. Hopefully it will be able to stop that…thing. I’ve never seen a pattern spider lose to anything.”

She turns, staring at the massive form of the spider disappearing into the distance, and shakes her head in frustration. “I just…I don’t understand what he’s doing here. Why chase us into here? Every spider in the web will be on him, and worse!”

Paul shrugs. “Well, if he expects he can win—“

Sophia throws her arms out and turns, the sprites of her suit leaving trails of light. “If he was powerful enough to kill every spider in the Digital Web he would have killed us all before we got here. He’d have to be a god!”

Paul nods and stares off to the unnaturally-flat horizon. “Perhaps a defeat here is not substantial to him.”

Sophia shakes her head. “He dies here, he dies like the rest of us. And the longer he waits in here, the more he’s going to have on him. There’ll be spiders coming in from as far away as Tokyo.”

Paul nods absently, turning back to the structure above us. The Tesseract structure.

His structure.

“Well…as long as we’re here, lets take a look inside,” he says, a smile creeping back on his face.

Sophia sighs, then nods and taps her tablet. The spider resumes its motion, taking us up to a landing platform at the end of the spider-rail. We disembark and walk inside.

Although we can walk through the structure, it’s obvious that this structure was not designed for us. Cavernous ceilings and buttresses arc overhead, shifting in depth and scale as we move, just like the view from outside. The walls shimmer, and upon closer look I realize that they are actually transparent. The glitter comes from the movement of billions upon billions of spiders moving within them, most of them actual-spider sized, and most of them glowing in LED colors. More spiders crawl on the walls and floors, ducking nimbly around us as they skitter on their missions.

And everywhere we look, there is light.

Paul steps forward, entranced, and takes the lead, moving along the hallways too quickly for it to be aimlessly. Sophia and I glance at each other, then follow after him. He leads us deeper and higher through the structure, eventually coming off a flight of stairs into a grand space that is actually furnished.

It’s his office. Or, rather, his office, but grander. The furniture, the bookshelves, the carpets on the floor, everything somehow strikes a precarious balance between the simple elegance of his real-world office and overstuffed opulence. There are fewer spiders here, but what spiders we see seem to be stringing webs behind them. Webs of gold. I follow a cluster of spiders to the ceiling with my eye. The entire ceiling is draped in gold thread, shimmering and woven like a tent canopy.

Paul stares at the ceiling as he walks slowly through the space. “I wanted to redo the lighting in my office using our new technology, but this…” he nods, “…this has a certain appeal too.”

Sophia—obviously more than a little impressed at the room herself—glances at Paul. “You wanted to put sunlight in your office?”

“Well not at the desk.” Paul walks to the desk in this room, a curving sweep of mahogany the length of a car. “…Well actually I would like the sunlight at the desk too, if not for the problem of bursting into flame….” he mutters, running his hand across the wood.

Sophia stares at him, then glances at me. I shrug and slump into a chair.

(Jason: “She’s like, ‘Wow, this guy’s crazy!’”
Chris: “Well, he’s a billionaire, what do you expect?”
Jason: “That’s true.”
Chris: “…Actually, he wasn’t a billionaire until Marcus infused the company by buying all the stock.”)

Paul pulls over the desk chair—an ergonomic contraption almost as complex as the building itself—and sits down. The moment he does, a soft chime echoes through the room, and a soft woman’s voice says, “Welcome, Creator.”

(Me: “Oh…shit….”)

Paul stares around the room. “You recognize me!”

You are the Creator. We have known you a long time.”

Paul’s eyes—vampire-dead as they normally are—get just a little bit misty for a second. “It’s nice to meet you in this way. I never…imagined it would happen….”

What can we do for you, Creator?

Paul beams and sits up straighter in the chair. “Are you aware of some sort of…shadow disturbance some distance out?”

There is an anomaly in the web.” The voice is soothing, calmly informing us of the danger with Majel Barrett professionalism.

“What’s the status?”

It burns, but it does not die. The spiders…cry….

Paul glances at Sophia. She’s standing on a carpet in front of the desk, and tenses at the computer’s words. Paul frowns. “Do you have an ability to project sunlight from here?”

I’m not capable of projecting light. You are the Lightbringer.

(Me: “…Oh god…I wish I had gone to the underworld….”)

Paul grips the arm of his chair, dancing at the edge of a Full-Toreador frenzy, but is able to hold it together. “Is…there a way I could project light onto it?”

The computer is quiet a few moments before responding. “You are the Creator. You are the Lightbringer,” is all she says.

“Hmm….” Paul leans on the desk, tenting his fingers thoughtfully. “Do we have any documentation on the light-fiber technology?”

Instantly, every surface in the room turns into a lit screen. Thousands of documents and schematics stream across them, from formal documentation to screen-shots of text messages tagged to project engineers. Paul slowly stands up from his chair, staring in awe.

(Julian: “Roll to control megalomania.”)

Paul starts calling for specific documents, querying the computer about ways to somehow codify sunlight and download it to the Web. Sadly, she calmly responds to all of his questions that such behavior is impossible.

Bored, I haul myself up out of my chair—

(Me: “Can I do something?”
Jason: “Of course.”)

Paul instantly whirls to face me. “TOM! Do not shove your sword into anything in here!”

(Me: “…Can I do something else?”)

—and wander the room sulkily, peering at the documents flying past.

Paul eventually gives up on his sunlight technology for the moment and considers another tactic. “What information do you have about an app called ‘In Case of Vampires Break Glass?’”

In Case of Vampires Break Glass was created by [That Same Fucking Hacker Name].”

He taps the desk thoughtfully. “Can we disassemble the binary code?”

It wasn’t coded in binary.”

Paul hesitates. “Can we break down whatever it was coded in?”

Working….” She’s quiet a few moments before responding. “I’m afraid the code is too sophisticated, Creator. I cannot encode it. I can play the app, if you like.”

Paul brightens, considering this. “Could…we play the app at the anomaly and not here?”

Of course, Creator. Everything is connected on the Web.”

“Can we play, say, ten thousand copies of the app at the anomaly?”

Of course, Creator. Everything is connected on the Web.

Paul nods, beaming at Sophia and me as he lifts a finger. “Make it so.”

A few moments pass. Nothing changes in the room, nor do any hellish shrieks of pain echo from outside. After a full minute, Paul queries again. “Computer, what it is the status of the anomaly?”

She takes a second or two to respond. “I do not see it, Creator. It has left.” We exchange pleased glances. “The web is returning to its normal—“

And then everything goes dark. The screen-surfaces around us drop to black, and the sourceless, ambient light in the space disappears as well. The spiders, though, are still moving, their pinpoint lights casting some illumination in the space, but their movements, once flowing smoothly, are now jittery and nervous.

Paul stands up. “Sophia, what’s going on?”

She shakes her head, staring at the walls and backing up slowly. “I don’t know…I…think we might want to leave….”

Suddenly, a sourceless voice echoes through the space, the same projection as the computer’s voice, but this voice is different.

And it’s one we recognize.

Going…so…soon?” Perpenna’s voice leers.

Sophia and I freeze. Paul cocks his head. “Walter? What are you doing here?”

Chuckles echo off the dark walls. “I am here. I…am…EVERYWHERE.

Screams like escaping steam echo from the walls as blackness pours through them, swallowing up spiders and structure alike. I back toward Sophia, hand on my sword. Paul, though, remains at his desk. “There’s no need for that,” he says, staring at the darkness rolling down the walls and creeping across the floor.

Oh, there is every need,” Perpenna sneers. “You took my wolf from me…I will take your toys from you.…

The shadows creep closer. Paul frowns at them. “Maybe we can negotiate.”

Another laugh fading into a growl rolls through the room. “Step forward, then, and I’ll kill you first.

The shadows are approaching from all sides, cutting off our lines of escape. Sophia and I stare at Paul pleadingly. He gestures placatingly at us, remaining calm. “And…what do I get in exchange for you killing me?”

You don’t have to watch.

Paul frowns and folds his arms. “I…don’t think you understand how negotiations work. Could you maybe take a corporeal form? This is a little awkward….”

The voice chuckles again. “As you wish….

On the far side of the room, the shadows boil up, clotting together into a writhing mass that lunges forward, directly at Paul—

—And straight into my sword, arcing through the air and cutting the shadow clean in two. There’s a brief, splitting shriek, then the entire cloud dissipates. I dance back to my position next to Sophia and examine the sword. It feels a little lighter in my hand but is otherwise unchanged.

I/(I) turn to Paul/(Chris), glowering. “YOU’RE WELCOME!!!

Paul gapes at the sword, then back at me. “Tom, I don’t know whether I should slap you or kiss you.”

I smirk and shoot him a pistol-hand. “I like both!”

Paul leaves his desk to join us. “Time to go?” he asks Sophia. She nods, face and muscles tight. “I would suggest it….”

We run from the office as the darkened walls start to slowly undulate around us.

#

THE SHADOWLANDS

Georgia is sitting on the front steps of the mansion, staring into the muffled silence of the neighborhood, debating what to do next, when she sees something out of the corners of her eye. Movement, small figures darting from one shadow to the next, in the buildings along the street. Puzzled, she descends the stairs to the street and approaches. Some of the figures stop and watch her, details obscured by smoke and shadows, then dash away.

“Hello…?” she calls, stepping forward. “I’m not going to hurt you….” Whispering voices drift on the air but the figures stay hidden. Georgia waits a few moments, then retreats back to the stairs.

She decides to try a new tactic, a very Georgia one: just call some people. She doesn’t have Anstis’s number, so she tries Norton. As she dials, she notices that every number on the screen has been replaced with a snake. She stares at it, but the call rings and eventually clicks. She hesitates, then holds it up to her ear.

Norton: “SNAAAAAAAKES!! EVERYWHERE SNAAAAAAKES!!!
Georgia: “…Snakes?”
Norton: “SNAAAAAKES!!!!!”
Georgia: “Emperor, are you ok?”
Norton: “THERE ARE SNAAAAAKES!!!!!!”
Georgia: “I know, everything is snakes.”
Norton: “WHY DO YOU SPEAK TO ME, SNAKE!!??”
Georgia: “…Are you snakes?”
Norton: “AAAAALL ARE SNAAAKES!!11!!111!”
Georgia *sighs* “Where the snake are you?”
Norton: “SNAAAAAAAKES!
Gerogia: *sighs again* “…Okay. Um, I’ll come find you….”
Norton: “SNAKES!”
Georgia: *cheerily* “Snakes!”

(UPDATE: As one of our favorite exchanges in the entire game, we now have an audio clip of the original conversation to share.)

She hangs up the phone. Seconds later, something tries to grab it out of her hands. She jerks it out of the way, whirling to see her assailant.

It’s a kid. Young—younger than Marcus—in ragged, old fashioned clothes. He hovers a few feet away, staring at her from the shadows. Georgia stares at him, then squats and holds a hand—the one not holding the phone—out. The kid watches her and steps forward a pace, out of the shadows, giving Georgia a better look at him. She gasps and leans back.

Half of his face is gone, burned and melted so deep that bone is showing through at the temple and along the jaw. The burns extend down the side of his body, charring his clothes and melting them to his flesh. He’s favoring that side too, limping slightly and holding his arm close. Georgia has never seen anything like it. It’s as if he was basted with an intense heat source from one side only.

The boy stares at her, his one eye wide, then dashes off back into the shadows. The whispering rises again. Georgia continues along the street, hoping to run into some sign of Norton to Anstis. The darting shadows follow her.

She reaches an intersection, quiet and grey. She stands in the middle, staring down each road into the gloom. The whispering increases, then falls silent. Slowly, she turns to look behind her.

A cluster of kids, all boys, are standing in the street, the one she just saw standing in front. They are all of similar ages and in similar styles of dress, and all are similarly burned across huge swaths of their body. They stare at Georgia with wide eyes.

Georgia reaches out. “It’s ok, I’m not going to hurt you….”

The boys glance at each other. The first boy steps forward. “Are you dead?” he asks.

“Sort of. Not entirely. Are you?”

The boys glance at each other. “We’re all dead here,” the leader boy says.

“How did you get here?”

“I…fell,” he says flatly. “Who are you?”

“My name is Georgia.”

Their eyes grow wider and they turn to stare at each other.

Georgia watches them carefully. “Do you know that name?” They nod. “Did someone tell you to look for me?” They nod again. She glances around. “It wasn’t Himmler, was it?”

“He wants to see you,” the leader says.

“Who?”

“The…Vigilant One.”

Georgia considers this. “Well…alright. Can you take me to him?”

They nod, and turn to slink back down the street. Georgia follows.

#

Anstis, meanwhile, lost track of Georgia in his flight from the gang members and is circling around, trying to find her or Norton or something familiar. The city is beset by gloom even in the areas that aren’t actively on fire, making it impossible to see very far, and looping back seems to bring him to new places entirely. Anstis gets the sense that the neighborhoods are shifting below him, just at the edges of his peripheral fields. Above it all, the droning of the planes continues overhead, out of sight above the clouds.

With no sign of anyone else, Anstis decides to fall back on his instincts: loot some shit.

He circles down to a building. It’s ruined like all the others around it, but its size indicates it was once a manor of some importance. Indeed, he squeezes inside through a broken stained-glass window to find the charred remains of Victorian opulence: portraits, chandeliers, velvet chairs, and gold-leafed scrollwork. He shifts back to human and starts poking through the rubble.

Have you come?” comes a wheedling, genderless voice, echoing through the rooms. Anstis whirls around.

(Jim: “WTF, is it Mr. Tails?”
Jason: “No.”
Me: “HA! That would be appropriate if it was, though. Full circle.”)

Have you come to be…enlightened?” says the voice.

Anstis frowns. “…In a manner of speaking.”

Then welcome, brother. Welcome.”

Anstis turns slowly, staring at the uneven shapes of ruined furniture  in the rooms around him. “Who are you?”

We are the peaceful ones. We are the People, and this is the Temple of the People. Come…we want to show you things….”

Anstis turns again and finds that the room behind him, a broad ballroom, is suddenly filled with people. Hundreds of them, men and women and children of multiple races, dressed in simple clothes, watching him with vacant expressions.

Anstis smiles grimly. “…Glad you could all join me.”

We want to show you the wisdom…of the New Covenant,” the voice continues, but Anstis can’t tell which person is speaking. He sees flickers of movement on the faces of the crowd, but whenever his gaze settles on a person the movement stops.

Anstis stares at the crowd, then slowly backs through the foyer to the front door. He tries the handle experimentally. It’s locked. Anstis walks back to the ballroom. “What is the..New Covenant?” he asks as he scans for other exits. Windows line the back wall behind the crowd. He could shift to parrot-form to reach them, but he’s running low on blood and doesn’t know where he can get more in this dead otherworld.

The New Covenant is the new world. The one that will survive…. Join with us, drink the wisdom…it flowsso sweet….”

The crowd parts. A woman steps forward—black, middle-aged, dressed in faded cottons and a head-wrap—carrying a large silver punchbowl. She approaches Anstis with the same flat expression on her face as the others. “Taste and see,” the voice says. The woman’s jaw flutters briefly, but not enough to identify herself as the speaker. “It’s all for you, brother.”

Anstis eyes her warily and looks into the bowl. It’s filled with a thin red liquid that…actually looks like punch, complete with a ladle floating in the middle. Anstis frowns, considering….

(Jim: “Urrg, this is a terrible idea—“
Me: “You think?! Pretty much every mythology that has ever been invented has stories that say, when in the land of the dead, don’t eat or drink anything!”)

Anstis takes the punch bowl. “Thank you,” he says. He stares at it a moment, looks her in the eyes…and pours the entire thing out onto the floor.

The woman doesn’t react, nor does anyone in the room. After a moment, though, the voice speaks. “You must be from Babylon…we all know why he’s come.

He watches the woman. “And what’s your name?”

I don’t need a name anymore,” the voice says. “I don’t live in Babylon….” The woman produces a small flask from a pocket in her dress. She takes a sip, then melts away in front of him. Seconds later, every person in the room—men, women, and children—do the same.

But the voice continues. “Come with us, Brother, let us show you wisdom….

Now that the room is clear, Anstis grabs a chair and strides to the back wall, smashing it through a window. He climbs onto the sill and looks out. The house is on a hill, and on this side it’s a two-story drop to the ground. He checks for obstacles and prepares to jump.

A hand reaches through the window and grabs his shoulder. Anstis reacts instinctively, grabbing the arm and pulling it with him as he falls of the ledge. He pivots in the air to look at his assailant.

It’s the woman with the punchbowl, only now she’s a desiccated corpse. “Come and see….” the voice rattles from her withered throat, moments before they both smash into the ground.

The woman shatters like clay, spinning off into chunks that wither and evaporate. Anstis lays a moment, then climbs to his feet, brushing her dusty remains off his  pirate finery. He watches the last chunk of her dissolve, frowns up at the house, then straightens his hat and strides off into the street.

Where he encounters Georgia, following a pack of burned children.

“Oh, hey!” Georgia says brightly and waves. “I’m following these guys, want to come with me?”

Anstis look at the kids. They’re ambling through the street, some limping, but none of them seem to take any notice of the pirate. “Anything interesting?” Anstis rumbles.

“Yeah! They’re leading me to someone called…the Vigilant One.”

Anstis nods and jerks his chin back toward the house. “A cult just tried to feed me some punch.”

“Oh….” Georgia stares up at the mansion. “Was it any good?”

“I don’t know. But I’ll join ye’.”

#

The kids lead them in silence through more abandoned, ruined streets, then finally approach a building that stands out amongst the rest. A large, three-storied stone-work building, decorated with columns, fortified like a bank. A banner across the front reads, “Committee of Vigilance.”

And in front of the banner, hung from the roofline, are the bound and blindfolded bodies of half a dozen men.

The children ignore the bodies and head inside. Georgia and Anstis hesitate a moment, then follow.

They enter a large atrium, extending up through galleries of multiple levels. More children are here, peering around corners and lining the banisters of the upper floors. All are scarred and burnt, some down to charred skeletons in places.

Georgia stares around the space. “Is…the Vigilant One here?”

He’s coming….” comes a sourceless whisper from the children.

“Okay, so…should we just wait here?” They nod. “Do you like him?” she asks, but the boys stare back blankly.

A humming starts to fill the room—actual humming, not something mechanical—coming from one of the hallways leading off the atrium. The boys pick it up, spreading the haunting tune through the space. Footsteps, heavy footsteps of an adult, echo over it, coming from the top floor. The humming grows louder in response. After a few moments the footsteps stop, and Georgia and Anstis look up.

It’s a man of indeterminate age, stooped forward slightly, with lank wispy hair and sallow skin, dressed in shapeless, dirty clothes somewhere between homespun cloth and rags. He looks down on Anstis and Georgia over a hooked, broken nose, long fingers wrapping around the railing of the balcony.

(Kara’s eyes narrow suspiciously, then go wide. She looks around the table. “Do…we recognize him?” she asks, nervous amusement in her voice.

Jason grins. “Anstis doesn’t. But you do.”)

The humming suddenly stops, replaced by chanting following the same lilting tune.

(Jason turns to Chris. “And I think you know what it is they’re chanting. If you would…”

Chris beams like the fucking sun and sings, in a low, raspy voice:)

Carlos the Ticklemonster slips into your dreams,
What is laughter, what are screams?
Down in the houses, safely asleep,
Into your mind he’ll crawl and he’ll creep,
Sliding through the darkness, he takes away the light,
But don’t be afraid of what comes…in…the night….”

(Jim: “Wait, I thought vampires didn’t come to the Shadowlands when they died?”
Jason: “Too bad!”
Jim: “…Oh, god, look at how fucking happy Chris is!”

Indeed, Chris literally fucking skips to the back room as Jason leads him off to brief him on what he needs to know to play Carlos as an NPC.)

“Ms. Johnson…,” Carlos rasps, face cracking in a broken-toothed smile.

Georgia stares, barely comprehending. The last time she saw Carlos he was evading a near-army of the Prince’s security forces by climbing up the side of a building downtown. Last she heard of him, he was consumed by a pillar of fire summoned by Sophia and myself. “Oh…hi…I haven’t seen you in awhile…how are you?”

“No, no I imagine you haven’t. I’m fine, you see. You understand….” Carlos spreads his arms, taking in the space and the ranks of broken children. “I’ve been…enlightened.”

“Oh…have you? What does that entail?”

His voice, normally breathless with creepiness, is now breathless with awe. “It’s the most…amazing revelation. I wish…I could share it with you….”

“Ahh….” Unsure how to respond to that, Georgia turns to Anstis. “This is my friend, Captain Anstis. Captain, this is…Carlos.”

Anstis eyes Carlos cautiously, but sweeps off his hat in a formal bow anyway. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance. And how do you two know each other?”

“We…briefly collaborated on a job,” Georgia says haltingly.

Carlos stares at Anstis. “Have you met the Tremere Primogen? He is a mutual acquaintance of ours.” Carlos is quiet a moment. “How…did you travelers wind up…here?”

Georgia shrugs. “Oh, you know…by accident.” She glances at the small faces still staring at her from around the room. “So…the children said you wanted to see me?”

“Yes…yes I have been looking for you…I have a proposition.” His fingers undulate slowly on the rail. “You want a way out, yes?”

“Yes,” Georgia says.

“I can arrange that. For one of you.”

Georgia and Anstis glance at each other. “And…for the other?”

“The other…must die.”

Georgia and Anstis tense. “Umm…I imagine we might have difficulty agreeing on that,” Georgia says slowly.

“And there are three of us,” Anstis adds, then hesitates. “Actually, four….

Carlos shakes his head. “Only one of you can leave.”

Anstis and Georgia frown, processing this. “Well, I think we can agree on which one will die,” Anstis growls.

Georgia tenses. “Who?”

“The one who should die.”

Georgia stares at him, then blinks. “Oh, you’re counting Himmler as the fourth. I was counting the werewolf.”

“…There is a werewolf?” Carlos asks, voice perplexed but still rasping.

“Yes,” Georgia turns back up to him. “The puppy.”

Carlos cocks his head, shifting his long wispy hair. “A werewolf…puppy?” he says hesitantly, perplexed more by the word than the concept.

(Kara: *explodes in laughter* “I got Carlos to say ‘puppy!’”)

Carlos considers this a moment, then shakes his head again. “Time is short. I can get one of you out now.”

“How?” Anstis growls.

“It requires a sacrifice of course.” Carlos’s gesture sweeps across them. “The other one.”

The tension in the room stirs. The children creep forward, out of their shadows and corners, to stare at the vampires on the atrium floor.

“I think the children demand a show,” Carlos continues. “You see they so ache for entertainment down here.” He turns to Georgia. “Ms. Johnson, let me do you a favor. Kill the rodeo clown now.” The children whisper. Carlos is silent a moment, then turns to Anstis. “And I’m a sporting chap. If you kill her, I’ll let you out too.”

The humming picks up again. The light dims as shadows rise over every door and window in the room.

(Because, for those who don’t recall, Carlos is a Caitiff with Obtenebration. AND Protean. AND he picked up Visicissitude and fucking Flight from Alejandro and those gargoyles he diablerized on the San Jose job.

I think you see why I wanted that asshole dead. …And, also, you see why it makes no sense that I was the one who suggested to Jason that he bring him back as an NPC in the first place….)

Georgia ignores all this and turns to Anstis. “I say we don’t try to kill each other. What do you think?”

Anstis eyes the rising shadows owlishly. “I am in agreement for now. After all, we have no proof he can actually follow through with his claims.”

“I agree. It is entirely possible he would just let one of us weaken the other and then kill the survivor.”

“Or worse.”

Georgia turns back to the balcony. “Well, I think it was very kind of you to make this offer, Carlos, but I think at the moment this price is a little more than we’re willing to pay.”

“At least we’d also like to return with the sacrifice we intend,” Anstis adds.

Georgia nods enthusiastically. “Yeah, I mean, if you could let us go find Himmler, we’d come back and kill him.”

“Or let you kill him,” Anstis says.

Georgia spreads her arms. “Or we could all kill him! I mean there’s no need to be greedy.”

Carlos doesn’t react to their refusal, but the shadows remain on the exits. “How will you get out then?” he rasps.

“Well, one of us kills Himmler and one of us gets out, then they figure out a way to rescue the rest of us,” Georgia says. “You know, the story narrative.”

Carlos watches them a moment before responding. “I have named my offer. It…so upsets me that it is too costly a price for you.” His voice doesn’t sound upset, though. In fact it doesn’t have any emotion at all. “You have no idea what…beautiful knowledge you’re missing.”

Whispering starts to carry over the humming, but this time it’s not the song. “Show…her…show…her….” the children chant.

(Kara: “Well. Chanting kids. That’s the sign for me to start to find a way out the locked doors.”
Jason: “Wheeelp, time for me to hit the old dusty trail….”
Me: “…Best be scootin’….”)

Georgia walks toward the front door, filled with an undulating wall of shadow. As she approaches, a humanoid figure made of pure darkness steps out and blocks her way.

“Not that way,” Carlos voice carries over the lilting chant, “Up. You have to leave…up….” He steps back from the balcony, disappearing into the shadows of the building.

The humming and chanting continues.

Anstis, concerned but calm, considers his options. Specifically, his Necromantic ones. “Did Carlos have any belongings? Back in the real world.”

(Me: “Uh, dead bodies in a tank.”)

Georgia, though, shrugs.

More shadow starts to pour down the walls from the upper floor, pooling on the floor of the atrium in bone-chilling blackness. They back away from it, toward the stairs.

“Do you know how to command a circle?” Anstis asks.

Georgia hesitates. “Um, I guess….”

Anstis strides to the stairway and rips out a section of the wraught-metal banister. He laboriously bends it into a circle and hands it to Georgia. “Here.”

She stares at the floor, now completely covered in wafting shadow. “Where do I put it?”

“This way,” Anstis says, leading them up the stairs.

They climb, past the humming kids and rippling walls, to the third floor. They reach a hallway clear of shadow and start to head down it, but a noise makes them turn. Twenty of the children are dashing at them in a group. Before Georgia can react, they grab onto the metal circle and try to wrestle it away from her.

Anstis pulls some of them off as Georgia wrenches it out of their grip and holds it aloft. “I need this!” she chides. “Get your own toy!” The boys retreat, pulling to the sides of the hallway…

…Clearing room for a writhing tentacle of shadow to lash forward and grab at the ring instead.

(Kara: “I hula-hoop it!”
Jason: “….”)

The tendril grabs at the circle, but…Georgia is successfully hula-hooping it, preventing the tendril from reaching a good grip.

(Jim: “I love your solutions to things! You’re like the anti-Carlos, it’s hilarious!”
Jason: *turns to Chris* “You see what I have to go through!?”
Chris: “I do, I do…. Flood the room with darkness.”)

A wall of shadow rolls down the hallway in a torrent, smothering the light instantly. Georgia stops, letting the ring crash to the floor, but the sound is so muffled it’s nothing more than a thud. Georgia stares into the gloom, but even with Auspex she can’t make anything out. She reaches forward, feeling for Anstis or the wall.

Something grabs her by the throat, gripping with an intense, crushing pressure. She gropes against it, but just as quickly as it came, it’s gone. She stumbles and gasps…and doesn’t hear anything. She mutters something, then yells, but no sound comes out of her throat.

Georgia…sits down, in the middle of her hoop, tucking her skirts around her carefully. She listens hard, staring through the gloom, trying to pick up any sense of movement.

Something bumps into her, heavily, from behind. She reaches back…and feels a heavy, salt-crusted leather boot. Anstis. A hand descends, grabbing hers off the boot. She lets it haul her to her feet—

—When her other hand is grabbed by something else, something strong, pulling her the other way. She cries out soundlessly, suddenly caught in a tug-of-war between two forces easily able to rip her apart. With just moments to react, she lets go of Anstis’s hand and throws herself at the alien force. She grabs onto a body in the darkness and hugs it, feeling rough, dirty clothes over a thin frame. Carlos. She cries out in wordless triumph—

—And then something guts her, sending her down in a heap.

#

Anstis feels her disappear from his grip, then moments later collapse at his feet. He glowers into the darkness.

(Jim: “Fuck this. Lure of the Flames 1. …Wait, Kara, how do I do that? I don’t have it written down yet—”)

Flames blast through the gloom, withering the shadows like paper. They only flare for a second, but in that moment, Anstis sees Carlos, claws out, staring at him in surprise from a few feet away. Before he can react, Anstis lunges forward and grabs him around the neck.

(Jim: “…Compel Soul.”)

Carlos slashes at Anstis with his claws, gouging him across the chest, but it’s too late. Anstis leans in close, his necromantic power of the dead settling over Carlos the Ticklemonster.

#

Georgia arises back into consciousness. She opens her eyes onto darkness, but it’s not the same soul-devouring darkness of Carlos’s tricks. She sits up and stares into it. There’s no sign of anyone else. She tries to call out, but her voice is still mute.

A light appears in the distance, shining through the space, then dims as someone walks through it and approaches her. It’s a man, short but stocky, with dark hair only lightly peppered with grey. She stares at him as he comes closer. She doesn’t recognize him, and he’s definitely someone she would remember meeting before; one eye stares at her out of a rough face, the other one healed over with scar tissue. He stops a few feet away. Through the gloom, she can see that most of his torso is covered in massive, fatal-looking sword wounds.

He regards her a moment. “Who are you?” he says, voice rough with an unusual accent.

My…name is Georgia, Georgia tries to say. No sound comes out.

The man smirks. “Do you even know what you’re doing here?”

Georgia looks around the featureless expanse. I’m lost…

“You are lost.”

She looks at him in surprise. You can hear me?

“I can hear many things. Not everything, but some things.”

I can’t even hear me.

He snorts. “Of course you can’t hear yourself, you don’t have a larynx.”

She reaches up to feel her throat; or, rather, the gaping hole where her throat was. Oh…. Okay, who are you?

“Just a bystander. Someone who’s been watching, and wondering what three vampires are doing down here.”

Four. Four vampires.

He smirks. “Mmm, that one’s not a vampire.”

Which one?

“The one you meant. The one you proposed to sacrifice.”

Georgia blinks. Oh, really? …What is he?

“I’m not sure there’s a word for it.”

She hesitates, considering this. Something…to do with werewolves?

He snorts again and stares into the darkness. “Werewolves. Vampires. None of that matters here.”

She looks around. Where am I now?

He smiles. “Lying on the floor. Torn to shreds.”

Does that mean I’ve died?

“Not yet. You don’t know what death is, Vampire. I don’t recommend it.” He starts pacing around her, steps even and measured. “So the question is, what were you doing here in the first place?”

I…was attempting to escape from something and took the wrong turn.

“And what were you escaping from?”

A wereshark.

He lifts an eyebrow. “A wereshark? Well…wonders never cease. And how was it you were in position to deal with a wereshark?”

I wasn’t. Which is why I attempted to jump through something I shouldn’t have.

“Clearly. Well, how was it you were in such a bad point as the only alternatives to jumping through that thing was dealing with a wereshark?”

She cocks her head. I was attempting to rescue a friend. 

“A friend? What friend?”

Her name is Sophia…though I guess she’s more a friend of a friend.

He nods. “Mmm. And whose friend is she?”

Paul’s.

“Paul…Paul Stewart, yes? He’s not here…and you are…. That’s an unfortunate state of affairs, isn’t it?” He continues to circle her, hands clasped behind his back. Georgia pivots to follow him, though there’s barely any sense of movement.

Can you help me get to Paul?

He paces a few steps before answering. “I can’t. I cant even help myself leave this place, but…I might be able to be of some aid. You see the rules down here aren’t quite the same as you’re used to. You’re not really here. You’re not really there either, in fact you’re nowhere at the moment. You may feel like you, feel like yourself, feel the pain, feel the damage, feel the anger and all the rest, but its not you. Not as you understand it.” He glances at her. “You’re a thing of the dead down here. We’re all things of the dead, down here…so, why should I assist you?”

Well, if you don’t want to help me, theres certainly nothing I can do to compel you.

“No, but perhaps I want to know a reason why I should.”

She quirks her head, considering. Because…I’m very kind.

He chuckles. “I doubt that very much. You are Tremere. You forget, I’ve been down here quite a while, I know the Tremere.”

I’m not like other Tremere.

“No one is ‘like other Tremere.’ They’re all special, aren’t they? Why aren’t you like other Tremere? Because you drank the blood of a Toreador?”

No, I was different before that. All I want is knowledge.

“Is that why you fought the Omen War?” He glances at her with his good eye, smirking at her expression. “…Yes, I saw the Omen War, I saw you in it.”

She shifts nervously. The other clans were…attempting to restrict knowledge.

“The other clans were punishing a crime, you know that, and if you didn’t know it you suspected it. Half the Tremere suspects it.”

She considers this a moment, then shrugs. I was young. We all make mistakes when we’re young.

“Is that your excuse? That you were young?”

It is for now.

He smirks again. “Not very unlike a Tremere after all, are you?”

She stares at him flatly. That being said, I am still nice.

“Nice? How exactly is it you are nice? You don’t live in a nice place.”

Well, I attempt to help out others—

He barks a laugh. “Help others? Altruism? From a Tremere?

She frowns and continues. I’ve been helping to put San Francisco back together as it dangerously falls apart.

“It does have that tendency, but then…he’s around, isn’t he?”

Georgia hesitates. She starts to clarify who they’re talking about, but remembers at the last moment not to say the name. Yeah. He’s…not so great. Do you know him?

The man stops. He hesitates a moment, then looks away from her, staring into the blackness. “We’ve met.”

Are you…friends?

He sighs and rubs his temple with one hand. “I wouldn’t say that. We worked together once. A long time ago.”

I see…and what’s your relationship now?

“Well, I’m dead…and he’s not.”

Maybe I can go put a few sword holes in him, if you get me out of here.

He chuckles darkly and resumes pacing. “You can’t kill him with a sword. You know that. You’ve known that for quite some time. You’re not the pirate. Or the Brujah.”

I was making a metaphor. Kill him in some manner, then.

He paces in silence a few moments, face lost in thought. “Many have tried, Tremere, many have tried…”

That doesn’t mean we should give up.

“No, it doesn’t….” He stops and faces her, posture once again firm and erect. “Why are you really down here?”

Because…a horrifying Nazi set this up as his bolt-hole?

“What do you care about horrifying Nazis? Your clan has been employing them for fifty years.”

Georgia gestures vaguely with one hand. Well, I’m a little worried about the gargoyle army he created, to be honest. I’m not sure where he’s going with that, but that seems like it would be a bad thing for the clan overall. Like the kind of thing where if other clans find out you have a gargoyle army, they tear you apart.

He stares at her, eye narrowed. “So you’re here because of loyalty to Clan Tremere? And what do you owe Clan Tremere? They created Himmler.”

They created me.

He continues to stare at her, calculating. Frustrated and bored, Georgia turns to stalk off through the darkness, set on finding a way out on her own, but she doesn’t get more than a few steps before the man appears at her side. “Theres nowhere to go,” he says flatly.

She ignores him and continues walking.

(Kara: “I…stop feeling pain.”
Jason: “You don’t.”
Kara: “I open a door.”
Jason: “You can’t.”
Kara: “I…will there to be light.”
Jason: “There isn’t.”)

Her steps say shes moving forward, but there’s no sense of movement. She continues stubbornly, though, ignoring the man at her side. “I’m asking you to account for yourself, Tremere,” he says, voice stern.

Am I being judged?

“You’re always being judged, this is the Land of the Dead, what do you think happens here?”

She finally stops and turns to him. Do you want me to tell you that I’m some paragon of goodness? she snaps soundlessly.

“Are you?”

No.

He smirks. “Good. Cause I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Do you want me to tell you that I’m a bastion of evil?

He cocks his head. “Are you?”

No.

He nods slowly. “…Perhaps. Then what can you tell me?”

I’m a mixture, like most everyone else.

“And are you like most everyone else?”

She shrugs. I don’t think I’m particularly special.

“Well I will say this…I’ve never heard a Tremere say that before. It’s a clan of hubris and arrogance.”

Well then I guess that makes me special…Oh crap, I guess I’m not special anymore!

(Jason: “…Thank you, Zeno.”)

He frowns. “What is it you want here?”

She throws her arms out in exasperation. I’d like to get the werewolf puppy and go—

“Why do you want the werewolf pup?”

It seems like it was probably being tortured or held against its will by Himmler.

He purses his lips thoughtfully. “Well that’s likely enough, Himmler does what he does. Why should that seem like a bad thing? The man creates gargoyles by the bucketful, what is one werewolf pup to you?”

Georgia thinks about that a few moments before responding. It would gain me quite a lot if I turn the werewolf pup over to the werewolves, she says simply.

“It could gain you a claw through the face. And which werewolves would you turn it over to? Last I checked, there weren’t many.”

Well, Sophia would be a good start.

He laughs. “Sophia? The teenager? The one who got herself into this mess? Yes, that seems like a responsible choice.”

The big scary one, then. The one we helped break into the fortress.

He scoffs and shakes his head. “Do you even have any idea what it is?” he asks, gaze boring into her.

No…I mean, it’s a baby werewolf, it’s probably going to grow into a big angry adult werewolf.

He nods slowly. “It might…it might…if it’s permitted. Has it occurred to you to ask why Himmler had it?”

No, I hadn’t really had time to think about that. Is there a specific reason?

He watches her flatly. “There is.”

Is it special?

“In a sense. I don’t know the full details, but I know one who does.” He leans in. “Everton.”

Georgia grins and throws up her arms. Everton! How’s he doing?

“Well, he’s doing better than you are right now.”

Thats good to hear. Well I’ll check in with him when I get back.

He rolls his eyes, then stares at her another long moment, face growing hard. “One last question, since you found nothing else to defend yourself with. What of you and that…diminutive Lasombra. The one you ran from when the dragon struck.”

Georgia blinks, surprised. Marcus? He’s…been good to work with so far, and I think he’s valuable to have on the side of…not…that other one we were talking about earlier.

“Perpenna,” he hisses.

She tenses. Yes. I…wasn’t sure if there was a thing about names here.

His eye narrows. “There may be, but I don’t forswear that name. Dangerous or not, he’s not here. And I am.”

Well, in that case, Marcus is the kind of guy I figure you don’t want to be on the opposite side of. 

He nods slowly, face calculating. “And Perpenna is?”

Not so much…but there really isn’t much you can do about that.

He scoffs and resumes pacing around her. “An answer for everything. How glib.”

Isn’t that the point of asking questions?

“The point of asking questions is to receive true answers.”

Haven’t I given you true answers?

“I don’t know, have you?” He glances at her. “Do you know why Himmler came here? He mentioned a contingency, didn’t he? I don’t know what it was you did to him, but it was severe.”

She hesitates. I…sort of killed him.

“You did sort of kill him, but you didn’t fully kill him. His soul was bound in multiple places, and when one part was destroyed he was pulled to another. Another bound here, as a defense against…well…I would imagine exactly the sort of thing you did to him.”

Interesting…why here?

“Because no one would find him here.”

But how would he get out?

“I would imagine he would concoct a ritual of some sort. A Tremere ritual, no doubt. They can do such things.”

So…the rest of us are trapped here then.

He shrugs. “For the moment. Without a ritual, I don’t see how any of you would leave. If the Specters don’t get you, Oblivion will.”

Do you know the ritual?

“I’m not Tremere. I have no blood to use for magic. I’ve been dead a long time.”

Well…maybe I’ll see what I can come up with.

He laughs. “You can’t come up with anything in your current state.” He stops, regards her a moment, then starts pacing around her in the other direction. “So maybe I’ve approached this wrong, oh Tremere who thinks so much of what she can and cannot get from others. What can you offer me? Not knowing who I am, or what I want, what can you offer me?”

A couple points of blood?

He sneers at her. “I don’t need your blood. I may be a Wraith, but I’m not a Shade.”

Entertainment?

He rolls his eyes. “A thousand years ago I might have said yes. But no.”

Knowledge?

“Knowledge, of what? I know more than you.”

Stumped, Georgia starts digging through the spectral representations of her pockets. I’ve got…a broken death ray…and a cell phone….

He waves dismissively. “Modern contrivances, yes. I’ve seen them about.”

She drops her hands in exasperation. I have…a vampire pirate?

He stops, body tensing. “You’d offer him to me?”

Do you want him?

“What if I said yes?”

What would you do with him?

He glances at her. “That’s my business.”

What would you give me in return?

“Life. An opportunity to strike down Himmler, possibly to earn an escape.”

I should point out that the vampire pirate isn’t exactly mine to give. 

“Whose is he?”

His own. I think.

“Well, you may want to have mentioned that before you offered him.”

I didn’t actually offer him. I asked if you were interested.

He smiles thinly and inclines his head. “I might be…were he yours, would you give him?”

Georgia considers this. I’m not sure, honestly. He hasn’t been unhelpful…but I’m not sure how much utility he will be in the long run, versus what you may or may not have to offer me.

“Care to find out?”

The silence stretches long as the two figures, vampire and wraith, stare at each other in the dark.

Finally, Georgia sighs. I wish I could offer him to you, but I can’t. 

“Why not?”

Because he’s not mine to offer.

“Says who?”

Says me.

“Says the Tremere? Please.” He snorts. “Everything is yours to offer.”

That’s not true. 

“Why not?”

Because he’s bigger and tougher than I am.

“Irrelevant. I could snatch him up like that.”

Because he’s his own person. 

He lifts his chin. “I see. And you stick to this even if I tell you that I will simply leave you back where you were, to be devoured?”

What happens to him in that case?

“That’s my business, not yours. Whatever I choose.”

So…either way, you choose what happens to him?

“Well, I might choose what happens to him now, but if you give him to me, he’s mine.”

Right, but I’m saying if I don’t give him to you, and you put me back there and I get devoured, what happens to him?

“Well, I don’t know. I imagine that depends very much on that…” he sneers, “friend of yours.”

Georgia sighs soundlessly. CarlosYeah, he’s turning out to be consistent with his…lives….

“There’s a black hole where that ones soul ought to be. But thats hardly unique here.”

Well, I’m a vampire, its pretty hard to get more damned than that.

His eye narrows and he leans in. “Try it sometime,” he hisses. “There’s always a way.”

Unintimidated, Georgia waves her hand dismissively. Well, if you want the pirate, you should take him.

“I don’t want the pirate, I want you to give me the pirate.”

Even though he’s not mine to give?

“Irrelevant,” he snaps, “He is yours to give because I tell you he is. Give me the pirate and I will give you Himmler.”

The man paces toward her now, not tall enough to loom over her but still dominating with the force of his presence. Georgia hesitates, considering. What if I give you Himmler…and you give me the pirate?

The man chuckles darkly. “No exchanges or refunds.” He leans forward. “So, Georgia…what will it be?

Georgia looks away, into the darkness, for a few moments, then turns to respond.

[GEORGIA’S DECISION REDACTED FROM THE WRITEUP BY ORDER OF THE GM]

#

Anstis’s power settles over Carlos, commanding him to ensure that Anstis and everyone else return unharmed to the land of the living, and that Himmler remains in the underworld, for Carlos to deal with as he pleases, if he wishes.

And then everything goes black. …Or, well, black-er….

Anstis wakes up in a darkened space that’s not quite as dark as Carlos’s shadows. A light flashes in the distance, and a man approaches.

…Of course, though Anstis doesn’t know it, it’s the same space and the same man that Georgia was just talking to in her secret scene.

“Thomas Anstis,” the one-eyed man says, looking him over.

Anstis returns the look. “And you are?”

“I am a dead man. The dead have no names.”

“Oh, the dead always have names.”

The man smirks. “But I know better than to give my name to you…Necromancer.” He hisses the last word and starts to pace around him. “What would a necromancer be doing in the land of the dead, I wonder?”

Anstis shrugs. “Chasing after someone who should stay here. Or worse.”

“The Nazi.… Tell me, does he shock your…delicate sensibilities, pirate?”

Anstis shrugs again, staring the man in the eye. “A job is a job.”

The man barks a laugh. “Oh, a job. Job from whom? You’re a pirate, you’re not a mercenary. You don’t take jobs, you take what you would. And give nothing back, am I getting it right?”

Anstis glowers. “Close enough.”

He smirks. “Thought so. So I’ll ask again, what in the world is a necromancer doing here? Whether or not you intended to be here, you have to know how dangerous it is for you to walk into this place.”

Anstis watches him. “What is it to you?”

“What is it to me? Perhaps nothing, perhaps everything.” The man paces a few steps silently, still glaring at Anstis. “I know a thing, a thing it might profit you to know, or it might not. Someone has betrayed you, Captain.”

“A great many people have betrayed me.”

“They have, they have, but someone has betrayed you recently. Someone very close, who sold you out.”

Puzzlement flashes briefly across Anstis’s face. “And who might that be?”

“Ah, that’s the question, isn’t it?” The man chuckles. “Who…who, who… Everyone? No one? An old crank in the Shadowlands speaking gibberish and nonsense? What is it to you….” He stops, pivoting sharply to face him, arms clasped behind his back. “Tell me, what are you looking to get from all this? Money? Dubloons? A ship?” He scoffs. “Please. You’re a Gangrel and a necromancer to boot, you could seize all three and be gone by the next sundown.”

Anstis stares back at him…then smirks. “What do all men with power want?”

The man raises an eyebrow. “To keep it.

“And…?”

“To extend it, if they can.”

Anstis spreads his hands. “Then you already know all you need to know.”

The man rocks back, eyeing Anstis appraisingly. “So you seek power? Ambition for its own sake? And where do you think to find it?”

“Ambition is found in many places.”

“Ambition is found everywhere. The means for fulfilling it, not so much.” He hesitates, staring into the darkness. “I sought ambition once, a long time ago….”

“And it didn’t pay off for you?”

“Well, I am dead, and I am here, and you can see how well it ended.” He spreads his arms, showing the gaping wounds on his torso. “But I’m no spirit of vanity. Ambition is what makes a man. If the climb were not treacherous, all men would make it.”

Anstis smirks, smoothing the lapels of his coat proudly. “I’ve always found life was not worth living without a little risk.”

“Oh, is that why you raided ships? Is that why you devoured a necromancer? Is that why you took the Embrace?” The man steps forward, face darkening. “…Or did you take it? Was it…foisted on you, I wonder? So hard to tell, sometimes, with men of your…conviction.”

Anstis tenses but doesn’t respond. The man stares at him another moment, then sneers and continues. “What is your interest in all this, Captain? How could this possibly serve you? How much power have you gleaned by being torn apart and thrown into Hell? How much more do you think you will gain by taking on something like the Man of Wind?”

Anstis hesitates. “How do you know of him?”

The man chuckles. “Oh, I know Perpenna. I have known Perpenna a loooong time. Perpenna and I go back quite a ways. We worked together once, many years ago.”

Anstis gestures at the man’s wounds. “And is this the result of that?”

He smirks. “It’s one result. Perpenna…repays those who offer him assistance in such coin. I am not the first. I was not the last.” He shrugs. “But I am merely dead.”

“So what is your interest in him?”

“My interest in Perpenna?” His gaze drifts into the darkness. “A thousand years ago, I might have told you that my interest was seeing his soul flayed bare and left naked before the merciless spirits that dwell in the Abyss. 500 years ago, I might have told you that I wanted to see all his works crumble to ruin in his hands and for him to live out the rest of his unlife in ash and loss.” He pauses. “Nowadays…I’m not so certain. They say time heals every wound…it’s not true of course, but it does abate certain things.” He’s silent another moment, then turns back to Anstis. “I don’t know what I want from Perpenna, I don’t know that I want anything from Perpenna. But I’m dead, you’re not. Not fully, at least. What do you want from the Man of Wind? A man you did not know the existence of when you last went to sleep?”

Anstis shrugs. “To be honest, I don’t have as much against him as some of my compatriots.”

“Then you would join with him? He’ll make you the offer.”

Anstis looks him over. “I’m sure he would, but then I’d be like you.”

“He doesn’t deal with all like me. Anyone willing to accept his coin, he’s happy to pay.”

“I somehow don’t think that would work out the best. He doesn’t seem the honorable sort.”

“He is not. But then neither are you.” The man smirks and resumes pacing. “Let me suggest something. You seek a way out of this…hell. I may know a way. I may be able to help you get it. I can’t take you there myself, but I can take you to the one that does have the means.” He cants his head at Anstis. “Himmler. Himmler has the means. A Tremere of sufficient capacity, he can spell you out of here if he must. He could spell himself if he had the proper tools, but whatever it was your little compatriot did to him was far stronger than I think he wishes.” The man chuckles. “He’d be dead if not for precautions he took quite awhile ago and against the precautions of his fellows. He anchored a part of his essence to this place, and so to here he came.”

“He is nothing if not prepared.”

The man smirks. “And he is desperate now. Only a desperate man would call forth…that one.” He glances at Anstis, seeing his expression. “…Carlos.”

Anstis nods slowly. “Ahhh. Do they know each other?”

“They do now. But that is neither here nor there.” His pacing slows. “What would you say if I told you I could give you Himmler on a platter?”

Anstis strokes his beard. “And why would you do this thing?”

“Because I want something from you in return. The Tremere.”

“What use is one Tremere over another?”

“Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Leave an old spirit his secrets.” He smiles. “What if I offered to trade you one Tremere for another? Bypass that…raving maniac and get to the true source. After all…” he chuckles, “You do have a taste for them, don’t you?”

Anstis frowns and folds his arms. “What makes you think Himmler would cooperate?”

“Well nothing makes me think he would cooperate except those….” he nods his head at Anstis’s arms, “…pointed talons of yours, and your own talents of persuasion. Besides, if he doesn’t cooperate, who’s to say he has to?

Anstis nods slowly, processing this. “Why do you want her?”

“My own reasons. She…may have a use to me. But I would do with her what I wish, and I need not tell you anything of what that is. Would you trade her for him?” He pauses, just at the edge of Anstis’s vision. “Would you trade another?

“Which other?”

The man hesitates a moment, then continues pacing. “The diminutive Lasombra you served, what of him?”

Anstis glowers. “I wouldn’t say I served him.”

“What would you say then? What do you call one who obeys the commands of another?”

“Service implies more than a…passing job together.”

“And are you sure he interprets it the same way?”

Anstis’s glower deepens. “He can interpret things any way he wishes.”

The man chuckles. “He is a Methusula, he can indeed interpret things in the way he wishes.”

“What makes you think I could get him?

“Because you are a resourceful man, Captain. If you weren’t, we would not be speaking.”

Anstis watches him owlishly. “I have to say, you are not the first one tonight to offer me a way out of here. That leads me to believe that there may be many ways out of here.”

The man pauses briefly, smiling. “Then go forth and find them, Captain. I assure you they are not as common as you might think. There are many ways out of here, it is true, but most of them don’t lead to the places you want to walk.”

“Where do many of them lead?”

The man shoots him a look. “Down. Down into suffering. And Nihilism.”

“Have you seen these places?”

“I have seen many places.”

“Before or after your death?”

“After. Before my death I sought for other things, but…that was a long time ago.”

“And what was your vice?”

“My vice?” He stops, staring into the darkness. “…Wrath. I think.”

Now Anstis chuckles. “I think I like you….”

“I’m flattered. But we were speaking of the Tremere. What use could she possibly be to you?”

“She may also be able to get me out of here, and I’d rather have her at my side than Himmler.”

“I’m not suggesting Himmler be at your side. Do with him as you would. But it’s true, she may be able to get you out. She may not. Would you take that risk, oh risk-taker?” He stops, standing square before Anstis. “I require an answer. If you do not wish to deal, than we need not deal. I am no raving fool to strike a man for not taking the choice I put before him. But if you do wish to deal, then perhaps we can. One Tremere for another. That is my offer. Give her to me, no questions asked, and I will bring you to Himmler.”

Anstis stares silently into the man’s weathered, ruined face before responding.

[ANSTIS’S DECISION REDACTED FROM THE WRITEUP BY ORDER OF THE GM]

(Later:)

“One last thing,” Anstis says, “If opportunities do arise with a certain Man of Wind…what do you think I should do?”

The man regards him a moment. “The Man of Wind is nothing like you’ve seen him. Understand, this is not an insult. No-one has seen his like before, even those who think they have. You should ask yourself perhaps the question of what it is he is intent on doing. What would empower a man to do these things he has done? Mere revenge on the small one?”

Anstis frowns thoughtfully. “Unlikely. Someone with thousands of years behind him has greater plans than that.”

The man snorts. “Not always so. But you are right, it is likely more than that. So what could he want…and what would you do about it, if you knew?”

“Do you know what he wants?”

“No. But I have a guess. He seeks power, that is no surprise, he has always sought power. He believe it is his by right. But if he moves this openly, for this long, against this many foes…”

“…He has an endgame in mind,” Anstis growls.

The man nods. “And a short one. As mighty as Perpenna is, he cannot survive the onslaught of all reality, and the longer he strains and snarls and snaps, the more foes he draws against him. Even as we speak, he tears through the Web of Faith like a flame in a dry field, rending all in his path, challenging forces and creatures that few men have ever laid eyes upon. In a hot rage, in pursuit of objectives that would seem inconsequential to most. Has he gone mad…or has he some other plan in mind? I would assume the latter myself. And why, if he has such a plan, would he work with Himmler?”

Anstis shrugs. “I imagine he would work with anyone who would help his goals.”

“And how could this Tremere help his goals?”

“Do you know?”

“I suspect. But only suspect. I suspect there is a reason he killed the werewolves. I suspect there is a reason he drew that Lasombra to this city. I suspect there is a reason he…called for the aid of Himmler and a swarm of gargoyles.” He hesitates, body tensing. “I suspect he means to devour all of his childer, and I suspect he has a reason….”

The man is quiet a moment before turning back to Anstis. “In any event, Captain, that’s not your immediate concern. If you wish to try and locate him by yourself, then I wish you the best of luck, but do take care what you play around.”

“I will.”

The man nods once. “Good. See you out there.” He turns to head back the way he came, in the direction of the light.

Anstis smiles grimly and sweeps his hat off in a half-bow. “Enjoy eternity.”

The man pauses. He turns back, regards Anstis a moment, then chuckles darkly, leaning in to whisper in his ear. “There is no enjoyment in eternity. But then…I think you know that….”

END OF NIGHT

***
SHADOWLANDS REFERENCES, IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE

  1. The Palace Hotel
  2. Jewelry heist and car crash, Market Street, circa 1993 [citation needed]
  3. San Francisco Port of Embarkation
  4. Kaposi’s sarcoma
  5. Mystery of the Thomas Bell murder
  6. The Thanksgiving Day Disaster
  7. The People’s Temple
  8. The Committee of Vigilance 
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