8/14/2014

The dragon sneers. “I don’t know, leech, I don’t converse with many of your kind. Would you, knowing the rest of the Wyrm-begotten leeches in this city?”

Paul shrugs. “Some of them, maybe….”

(Jason: “Like Carlos!”
Jim: “Does Carlos have any Wyrm-taint?”
Me: “Carlos is the fucking fleshy-funbridge of Wyrm-taint.”)

***

GOLDEN GATE PARK

So there we are. In a cave. Under the California Academy of Sciences. Staring at a slumbering dragon that is likely to soo-no-longer be. The dragon stirs again, more than he did before. Paul glances at Marcus, who regards him flatly. “I’ll let you have your head in this matter.”

Paul turns back to the dragon. “Tom? Perhaps it would be good for you to pay a visit to the good Dr. vonNatsi, see if he has any deathrays on hand in case…things don’t go well.”

I glower at him. I don’t want a rampaging dragon loose in the city any more than the rest of us, but I also don’t want to leave Marcus behind with nothing but Paul’s bullshitting to protect them, to say nothing of the fact that I really don’t want to fuck around with Dr. vonNatsi. Every time I go to the Tower, I lose limbs and get attacked by werewolves. The man seems to be a drama-magnet, and as much as I appreciate what he’s done for us, like saving Sophia, and teleporting to Alcatraz to kill all those gargoyles for us before we got—

I freeze, something suddenly occurring to me. Maybe…maybe the mage can get me back to the Farallones to rescue Aquilifer before Boss knows she’s gone….

I glance at Marcus, then back to Paul. “Uh…yeah al’right,” I drawl.

“Good,” Paul nods. “See if you can get ahold of Anstis while you’re on your way.”

I glare at him. “I don’t have a phone.”

Paul turns slowly, staring as if I’d suddenly started speaking Chinese. “I…don’t understand….”

My scowl deepens. “Yeah, Perpenna crawled out of it, remember? And some of us don’t walk around with an entire Verizon store in our pockets.”

He stares at me, then pulls out his wallet. “Here’s two quarters, find a payphone.”

I ignore his outstretched hand and turn to Marcus. “You gonna be alright here?”

“If we’re not, there’s not much anyone can do to help,” Marcus says, still staring at the dragon. “Probably including that ‘scientist’ of yours. But…difficult as this might be to believe, I once had a reputation for acting very rashly, so if you have some magic you plan to do with this dragon, I think I’ll see what it is. After all,” he turns to us and smirks, “You don’t live to be 200 by taking risks, but you don’t live to be 2,000 by never taking any.”

Marcus turns back to the dragon and nods at van Brugge’s desiccated body. “Take him with you.”

(Me: “URG! Fine. Hodor.”)

I slog van Brugge onto my shoulder, then, with one last worried glance at Marcus, and one more irritated glance at Paul, turn and leave the cavern, making my way out of the museum.

(Me: “Are there cars here?”
Jason: “Yeah, Paul called for some. And even if not, it’s only a…mile and a half to Sutro Tower from the museum. Uphill. No big deal.”
Me: *glares* “Yeah, and goes right by your parents’ house.”
Jason: *glares back* “Yeah.”
Me: “Yeah, maybe I stop in for a snack.”
Jason: “Yeah, maybe you will. Maybe there’ll be something there.”
Me: “At your parents’ house? …OMG, is Rinka a werewolf!? OMG IS RINKA MOON-MOON!!?”)

A private towncar is waiting at the curb as I exit the museum. I stride up, dump van Brugge unceremoniously into the backseat, then climb in the front. The driver looks over. “Where to—“

(Jason: “What’s your health at now?”
Me: “It’s…oh, shit, I’m beat to shit!”
Jason: “Yeah….”
Me: “…Aw MAN and I’m really low on blood too!”
Jason: “Yeah…”)

“Where to sir—HOLY SHIT!!”

I look down at my charred, bruised, and blood-spattered body. “…Yeah.”

“Oh my god, oh my god!!” The guy fumbles with his phone.

“No, no it’s fine, this is just…effects makeup….”

“No, it’s not fine, you need an ambulance!!—

I stare at him resignedly. Normally I would Awe my way out of this situation, but with me being so low on blood I don’t want to risk it.

But luckily you don’t need blood to use a gun.

The man’s yelling dies in a choked gurgle as I shove a shotgun in his face. “I need a ride that’s not gonna ask questions,” I say, gesturing for the phone. He hands it over hurriedly and I browse through his apps for the rideshare services. Thankfully he has all three. I ping them all, toss the phone back at him, and climb out of the car. He speeds away the moment I pull van Brugge from the back, not even waiting for me to close the door.

I plop van Brugge onto the sidewalk like a sack of douchey potatoes, then sit down next to him to wait for the inevitable arrival of Adam.

#

Claude is going to find Paul and Marcus no matter where they are, so they decide to find a more comfortable place to wait. They leave the waking dragon in the cavern, quietly making their way back to the main floor of the museum. They head to the cafe, sitting down at the bright orange tables to wait in silence. After a few moments, Paul stands up and wordlessly gets himself a styrofoam cup of tea.

A deep growl rolls through the museum, shuddering the floor. Paul freezes, cup in hand. Marcus looks at him, then gets up and moves to a corner of the cafe, wrapping himself in deeper shadow. Paul returns to his seat, clutching the cup and watching the steam trails curl in the chilly air. The growl comes again, louder and closer, followed by silence.

Then…footsteps. Human footsteps, padding slowly on the polished concrete floors.

Charles Steinhart turns the corner, white linen suit as immaculate as earlier, but his red eyes are angrier than ever before. He stops at the entrance, pinning Paul with his gaze, like an insect to a board.

“You must want death very badly,” Charles says, voice low and unmistakably sinister.

Paul gestures weakly with the cup of tea. “No, no…I must apologize for my companions, though, for interrupting our conversation. There were a few things you mentioned I thought were worth following up on.”

“Really….” Charles walks slowly into the cafe, each step heavy and deliberate. “And is this where I ask what things are those as I sit here and drink tea and make deals?”

Paul shrugs. “That works. The tea is quite nice.”

Charles glares. “Do you think that you’re the first leech to come into my museum? There have been others. Do you know how many of them survived the act of doing so?” Step. “As of right now, four. Two of whom are in this room. The other two are out front.” Step. “Now why, Mr Stewart, should I spoil my perfect record for your sake?”

Paul sets the tea down and shrugs. “Well, we’re kinda beneath you anyway.”

“And yet here you stand.”

“Right, but you mentioned something. The werewolves in the park, the…Gaians I think you said? That they were protecting us from you.

“Oh yes,” Charles hisses, “They were. You see, the Gaians had this notion that if they left you alone you would more or less leave them alone. And despite every consecutive bit of evidence to the contrary, they maintained this notion. And for their forbearance, you incinerated them all, skinned them, and used their flesh for unholy purposes.

“Okay, well, no one in this room did that—“

“Well thats where you’re wrong, leech. Someone in this very room did that. Someone I can smell. “ Charles glares through the cafe, gaze lingering on the shadows. “Someone…like the Wyrm…who infests every cell in your rotting corpse of a body.” He turns back to Paul. “The Wyrm did these things and you are its servant. And while the Gaians were willing to overlook that, at least temporarily, I am not.”

Paul holds a hand out placatingly. “So, before you get all snarly here, lets just run with your theory that the Wyrm is directing everything—whomever this Mr. Wyrm is–and somehow can organize the most…catlike, un-organizable group of creatures around. Lets just use that assumption for the moment. Why does the Wyrm want you free?”

Charles glares down at him. “The Wyrm does not want, the Wyrm simply does.”

“Then why does the Wyrm does you free?”

“The Wyrm does nothing free,” he snarls. “The Wyrm kills, the Wyrm destroys, the Wyrm erases. That is the Wyrm’s purpose. The Wyrm is entropy itself, Mr. Stewart, a concept I suspect you are about to become very familiar with.”

“Okay, well…so, someone brought this up earlier, but why am I associated with the Wyrm if I am apparently immortal and not decaying?”

“Because a rotting, decaying corpse would not serve the Wyrm’s purposes as well as you and your misbegotten ilk can.”

Paul’s eyes narrow. “Or you, who is now left free and unguarded by the wolves in the park.”

Charles tenses, staring at Paul in shock. “Are you telling me that I am a servant of the Wyrm? Are you so eager to spend the next two seconds of your life in agonizing pain before you die forever?”

Cognizant-of but ignoring the depth of the anger pouring off the man, Paul presses on. “Think about it. Why would anyone destroy the werewolves in the park?”

“None of your kind have ever needed a reason to kill changers,” Charles scoffs.

“You can’t simultaneously argue that we are better instruments at destroying things by being immortal, and then say that there is no reasoning for destroying things!”

Charles stares a moment, then flips the table, sending the tea flying. He grabs Paul in one swift movement, lifting him into the air by his throat. “I can simultaneously say whatever I choose, leech!”

Paul struggles weakly, but mostly for air to speak. “You live in a natural history museum! Certainly you have some respect for following the evidence!”

“Yes, and the evidence is that you and your kind exterminated those wolves, and now you will get your just reward!”

“But why would someone exterminate them if they were protecting us from you!?”

“You didn’t even know I existed,” Charles snarls.

“I didn’t! But I imagine the person, or thing, or whatever that killed them did!”

“I doubt that,” Charles glowers.

I think you’re afraid!”

(Jason: “You…can’t see this, but I think Marcus’s jaw drops.”)

Charles hesitates, briefly taken aback. Paul presses on. “You want to play the upper hand here! You want to back me into a corner and say everything I’m saying is crazy, but it makes sense! You’re afraid that you’re a pawn in some Wyrm-scheme!”

Charles glares a long moment, then tosses Paul to the ground. “Do not cast your net of lies over me!” he roars, then explodes back into dragon-form, overturning furniture, smashing the ceiling and the stainless steel serving stations.

(Me: “Wait, he’s not going to fit in there!”
Jason: “Yeah, he’s kinda gotta crouch.”)

Paul shakes himself off and scrambles back to his feet. “Hit a nerve, did I?” he coughs.

The dragon snarls, head snaking up in a cobra-curl. “You want to see nerves hit?! Tell me, how does this feel?”

Paul steps forward, hitting Majesty—

(—Actually, you guys, I’m sorry, but I can’t. I really, really can’t. I can’t transcribe any more Paul v. Dragon debates. I am already stretched to the limit trying to parse them down (yes, believe it or not, what I’ve written so far in this and the last two write-ups is already edited), and this one alone went on for an hour! A real-time hour!!

Instead, the basic summary is this:)

Charles/Claude believes that, as a Mokole, it is his destiny to rid the world of vampires, but Paul points out that if that is the goal of his kind, then it hasn’t been working out so well so far. They continue to argue about who is actually working in the interests of the Wyrm, since raining destruction upon the city to kill the vampires isn’t exactly a kum-ba-ya plan. Claude gets mad and throws Paul around, saying that they’re right about his clan, they do talk too much. Bruised and beaten, Paul yells back that he doesn’t know much about Claude’s clan, but from what he’s seen so far, they’re not big on thinking.

At this, something in Claude snaps. He starts…laughing. He eases up his taloned grip on Paul and the conversation takes a slightly different tack. He listens a little bit to what Paul has to say about why we came and who Perpenna is, and reveals that it was indeed Perpenna who destroyed the Chantry; Claude just showed up in the aftermath to nab van Brugge.

The issue of the Wyrm comes up again, though, and how its servants destroy everything they touch, and Paul counters by saying he works very hard not to hurt anyone.

“I recall some time ago,” Claude says grimly, “there was a story in the newspaper. A story of terrorists attacking a technology firm in the south bay, followed by an incident at the hockey rink. Tell me, Paul Stewart, warden of men, Peacebringer, how’s fared all that you’ve touched?”

Paul sobers at this and doesn’t respond.

Claude asks why Paul stayed to face him. Paul says he’s hoping Claude might be of assistance with Perpenna—or have information to share at the least—since there is absolutely no question that one is working for the Wyrm. Claude concedes that he does know some things, but seems hesitant to commit to an alliance, no matter how tentative. Paul then tries a new negotiation tactic: outright flattery.

(Jason: “Are you lying? Do I need to make you roll a manipulation/subterfuge test?”
Chris: “No! Thats the great thing about being Paul Stewart. You believe whatever you need to at the right moment.”
Jason: “I should make you roll humanity test for that.”)

Claude seems amenable to this tactic, so Paul sweetens the deal: he tells the dragon about the sunlight technology. Claude is suspicious, but impressed at this information. Most importantly, though, he is perplexed and intrigued by Paul, who is behaving like no vampire he has ever met, or even heard of across his long memory. He finally agrees to let Paul—and by extension Marcus—go, saying that he is curious to see what Paul does with these lofty plans of his.

“After all,” Claude rumbles, red eyes watching Paul and Marcus make their way carefully out of the damaged cafe, “I can always track you down and kill you later anyway.”

#

CATALINA ISLAND
Henry Morgan and his men climb into a skiff moored on the rocky beach. Anstis climbs in after them, and they shove off, rowing out to the Revenge floating silently in the cove.

“When be we making sail?” Anstis asks.

“As soon as we can,” Morgan says, eyes on the approaching ship. “These waters are patrolled, and while I can veil the ship, I cannot veil it from everything.”

“What needs be done yet?”

“We’ve located Accio and his flotilla. He hides in international waters, sixty-five leagues off the coast. But his flotilla is vast, and he has protection.” Morgan looks at Anstis. “There are wonders in these nights, Captain. They have ships now that can sail beneath the waves. Silent and deadly, undetectable, until they strike from below, like a seamonster of old. They call them submarines.” He turns back to the warship, looming above them in the darkness. “Accio has one. Where he got it, I do not know, but it guards him and his other ships ceaselessly, like a watchful eye. A sheepdog guarding the flock against the wolves, and this dog has teeth. It can knock a hole in this ship and send it to the bottom of the ocean, and we would never even know it was there.  That is our difficulty, Captain.”

Cables drop from a crane on the deck. The sailors maneuver the skiff over and attach them. Shouts and the grind of machinery echo across the water as the boat lifts into the air. The skiff sways but Morgan remains standing, calmly facing his ship. The moment they reach the level of the deck he steps off, striding across the polished wood. Anstis scrambles to follow.

“I do not know where he keeps this submarine,” Morgan says as they walk. “It is designed to be invisible. And while I have been watching him for some time, he has not let it surface.”

Anstis struggles to remain blasé and cool even as he stares in wonder at the hulking metallic shapes of the ship. “How long can it remain beneath the waves?”

“Indefinitely. It is crewed by the living dead, it needs neither air nor food. Its fuel source is something you would regard as magic. Furthermore, its weapons are lethal, and very precise.”

“You must have a plan on where to find it.”

“I do.” Morgan ducks through a bulkhead. “But it will not be easy, and it will require the services as one such as you. I need eyes beneath the water, Captain.”

Anstis stops. “There are horrors in these waters,” he says cautiously.

Morgan cants a glance at him. “Horrors I believe you are acquainted with.”

Anstis blinks. “That story has traveled this far?”

Morgan smirks. “That story traveled quickly.” He leads Anstis up a steep stairway. “The Rokea gather to the north, at one of their nesting grounds. They are thinner here, but there are still horrors to be fought. There are also eyes, eyes that see things we may not. Whales. Kraken. Sharks. Even fish. I cannot command such things.”

Anstis nods to himself. “But I can.”

“That is my thought.” They follow a short hallway and enter the bridge, a wide, covered deck filled with inscrutable panels and instruments lit by a blood-red light. Morgan’s men don’t salute him as he enters, but they come more sharply to attention, nodding at their captain and eyeing Anstis cautiously.

Morgan takes a moment, staring out the windows at the night vista, then turns to Anstis. “Can you obtain for me my eyes beneath the ocean?”

Anstis is quiet a moment, then nods. “There are limits to what I can do, but I will do as you ask.”

“I do not know how it is you do what you do, but if you can provide me with what eyes I need to locate that submarine, then I do have a plan.” Morgan smirks. “And if you can find me that submarine and help me take it, well then, Captain…you will be looking at your new flagship.”

Anstis considers this, then nods again, beaming out into the waves.

#

HEARST CASTLE

Georgia is finishing her meal with Orlando when one of the fleshbeast servitors brings her something: a scroll, wrapped and tied with twine. She unrolls it to find a map, ostensibly of the grounds.

The also finds that the map is not parchment. It’s skin, warm and pulsing slightly, and the ink of the map is a tattoo.

“Since you have been so commodious in agreeing to this wonderful game,” Orlando says, “I will tell you something I otherwise might not.” It looks up from its goblet of blood. “I will tell you where the werewolf is.”

Georgia looks up from the map. “Oh…that’s quite sporting of you.”

Orlando nods. “The werewolf is in the cellar of this very establishment. Behind lock and key. The lock is a complex one. It requires three keys to open and they must be turned simultaneously. And I’m afraid the keys are…rather hidden.

Georgia sighs belaboredly. “So it’s to be hide and seek?

“In a sense. But worry not. I have taken the liberty of placing the directions to each key with the key that precedes it.”

“Ah, so…a scavenger hunt.” Georgia’s expression droops further.

“In a sense. More like many scavenger hunts, for you see, while you are seeking the keys, there will be many things seeking you.”

Georgia glances at the servitors lurking in the corners. “Ah. In that case, might I ask for the clue to the first key.”

“But of course.” Orlando puts down its goblet and folds its long hands on the table. “I gave the first key to a visitor of mine. He is no longer here, I’m afraid, but he stayed elsewhere on the grounds for a time.” It cocks its head. “He was a strange fellow. His blood tasted…thick. Filled with some substance that should not have been there. The consequences of a disillusioned life, I should fear. His name I never got, but he was in in quest for someone. Or, rather something. An object of mine. A manuscript, if I recall. I permitted him to set up a camp of sorts on the property. To search, much as you are searching now.” Orlando sighs. “But he was less resourceful than I had hoped, and my pets…tore him to pieces. I was able to salvage something, though. The map you’re looking at.”

Georgia looks back down at it. “Ah…lovely. Very smooth.”

“Exquisite work. The tattooing was very difficult. The main problem was the size. There wasn’t much left when I found him, you see, but as it turns out, skin stretches marvelously.”

Georgia continues to stare at it. “So…the clue to the first key, then?” she prompts.

“The clue to the first key is the manuscript he sought. One by a…dime store author. A horror author, if you can imagine that. One who thought he had plumbed the depths of the horrors to be found in this world. Boogeymen and creatures living under the bed. Tales to frighten children and kine.” It waves its hand dismissively. “The author’s name was Krieg. The book’s name was The Lighthouse. The man sought the manuscript in every place but where it was. Find the manuscript, and it will lead you to the key.”

Orlando stands. “You may work unmolested this night, but after tomorrow, at sunset…there will be others playing the game.”

It bows deeply and glides from the dining hall, leaving Georgia peering at the map. She cautiously lifts up a corner to peer at the other side, but finds no clues there. Her instinct, though, suddenly twitches, informing her that she can try something else, something she “learned” recently, from Himmler: Object Read. She places a hand flat on the skin and closes her eyes.

(Jason: “This guy was once obsessed. With the manuscript, and with its author, more precisely. Samuel Krieg. A sort of Stephen King-esque knock-off horror writer who resided at various points up and down both coasts. Never achieved quite the level of fame as his counterpart, but still did well enough. Mostly cheap paperbacks. The Lighthouse is one of his lesser-known but still available works.

“But the interesting thing with Krieg is that the verisimilitude he got with his horror stuff is because—and you can tell this even though the guy who is now the map did not know this—this guy had inside information. Not accurate enough to constitute a Masquerade violation, or maybe just veiled enough, but he talked about various creatures and ways that they worked that were surprisingly accurate. He spoke of vampires divided into clans by bloodlines. He also spoke of werewolves being their mortal enemies, for reasons similar to what their reasons actually are. Now, he veiled it under a bunch of Underworld and Twilight lingo, but it’s still all there.

“This guy came here because he thought there was a first-printing copy of The Lighthouse in this place, signed by the author. He never managed to find out if that was the case or not, but he had solid evidence to think it was here. You don’t know if that evidence was planted or not; he started to suspect it had been, shortly before he was torn apart and turned into a map.

“He looked all over the place, but…his last remaining place he hadn’t yet checked was the most obvious place for the manuscript to be: the manor’s library. The reason he had not previously checked the manor’s library was because the manor is a creepy-ass motherfucking place and he wanted to look somewhere else so as not to get eaten. Finally, he decided he needed to try it, went into the manor, and…got eaten.

“But…he found the manuscript before he got eaten.”)

Georgia removes her hand and frowns. The horror of the story is not entirely lost on her, but she is more intrigued by the mystery. She flicks the edge of the map idly, thinking, then rolls it up, puts it in her (inventory) bag, and heads to the library.

#

SUTRO TOWER

I arrive at Sutro Tower, having been—as I predicted—picked up at the museum by Adam and his shit-eating grin. Irritating as he is, at least he didn’t say much as I hauled a half-dead wizard into and out of his back seat.

I scope out the tower complex as Adam drives away. The guard shack is empty, but the gate is open, so I heft van Brugge on my shoulder again (Hodor) and walk up to the main building. The front door is closed and locked, and there’s no reply to my knocking. Impatient, I step back and kick the door down.

(Jason: “…You kicked open the locked door to a mage’s sanctum.”
Me: “…It’s been a long night, I’m very tired…Oh! Look! IT’S AFTER TEN!!!”)

I peer into the darkness. “Doctor? Doctor vonNatsi?” I cry, but my voice echoes through an empty hallway. I step inside and peer around. Nothing is moving, but something seems…off. The space seems warped somehow, the shadows strangely angular. I shift van Brugge on my shoulder, giving me more freedom to reach for my sword, and walk forward cautiously.

I’m staring ahead of me, slowly approaching the elevators, when suddenly something grabs me on my shoulder. I grab my sword and whip around with a yell…and just barely miss hitting Sophia.

“Girl! Holy shit!” I back up. “Where did you come from!?”

She’s still in the hospital gown and my jacket, staring at me with a look that is simultaneously serious and distressed. “Tom, what are you doing here?”

“What does it look like I’m doing!? I’m trying to find the fucking mage!”

“So you kicked his door in?

I open my mouth to snark a reply, then slowly realize that she has a point. I turn to stare at the open door behind me. “…It’s…worked before,” I mumble.

When, exactly?”

“When…it’s…URG!” I dump van Brugge on the ground and rub my face. “I don’t know, girl, it’s almost dawn and it’s been a long fucking night. Why are you here?”

The distress on her face spreads. She shrinks down in her oversized clothes. “I…I wanted to get away from…the small one.”

Christ, that again? I sigh. “Don’t worry about him, girl, he’s not going to track you down. He’s got other shit to deal with. Just…stay out of his way, and you’ll be fine.”

She glances furtively at the open door. “Tom, not only am I really bad at staying out of people’s way, but that hasn’t stopped him in the past!”

“Well, in the past he wasn’t already occupied by dragons and his ass-hat of a sire.”

She glares. “You don’t have any idea what he was or was not doing in the past, and neither do I. You don’t know the stories—”

I throw my arms out. “I know some stories! I’ve been talking to him for the last—”(—”Fuck, what day is it?”)

(Chris: “We know it’s at least a week.”
Jason: “Hey! We got to the Monomancy! We did not asymptotically approach it!—“
Kara: “The Monomancy was Wednesday. It is now Saturday.”
Me: “…You’re kidding me?”
Jason: “—It was not Xeno’s Monomancy Paradox!”
Me: “Well, now we’re asymptotically approaching the Boat Job.”
Jason: “Look, I keep having to deal with all four of you in sequence, what do you want?”
Jim: “And whose fault is that!?”
Jason: “YOURS!”
Me: “Uhhh…? ’Everyone goes through the circle together, and everyone ends up in four different locations!’ ”
Jason: “…Shut up!”
Chris: “I think the problem is giving people different identities. It should be, ‘You’re all part of a marine squad!’ or ‘You’re a tightly-knit tennis team on an adventure!’”
Jason: “Uuuurg. Anyway…”
Me: “…Here’s Wonderwall.”)

“…Anyway, yeah, I’ve heard some stories too in the last <Insert Time Stamp Here>, if all you’re going on is hearsay.”

She grimaces. “It’s not just a matter of hearsay. How did you even wind up with that guy?”

I sigh. How did I indeed? It’s only been a month or so but already it feels like multiple lifetimes ago. “I got bad information that lead me to a bad place. He could have killed me instantly, but decided not to. Instead, he gave me this sweet job, which, as you can see—“ I spread my arms to show my filthy, beaten clothes and kick the near-dead Tremere at my feet, “—is working out pretty well.”

She glances again at the door, and the shadows around us. “Look, I know I owe you guys a lot, but you’re working for one of the worst…” she hesitates, “…Leeches in the world.”

“Well considering the other assholes I’ve met in just the last few months, that may or may not be saying something.”

She looks at me pleadingly. “Tom, I’m in enough trouble with the rest of the wolves as it is. If they find out I have anything to do with this guy—“

“Which is why I’ve been running what wits I have left to their limit trying not to mention you around him and keep you out of things!”

But you brought her in to fight Perpenna, a deeply amused voice within me whispers, and that plunged her into the middle of all of this. Inwardly, I tell the voice to shut up, and outwardly I scowl and fall into silence.

Sophia doesn’t seem to notice my sudden change in mood. She sighs, rubbing her arms under the jacket. “I appreciate that, but he knows who I am. They say really bad things about what happens when this guy knows who you are.”

“He’s known in abstract terms about you for some time and nothing’s happened yet.”

She’s quiet a moment, then meets my gaze. “You really think he’s not going to do anything?”

“I think if you stay out of his way, he’s got better things to do,” I say as reassuringly as I can.

“Well, the way my luck’s been going I’ll manage to screw that up.”

I snort. “Join the club, we got jackets….Oh, good, you already got yours!”

She smiles, picking at one of the cuffs. “Thanks, by the way.”

My face softens. “Don’t worry about it. But that reminds me, we need to go shopping, as soon as we figure out what the fuck is going on around here, cause you cannot be seen around town in that….” I trail off as something suddenly occurs to me. “…Girl, how tall are you?”

She blinks. “Um…about 5’7”. Why?”

I look down at van Brugge.

(Me: “Ben, how tall is van Brugge?”
Ben: “Uhh, about 5’10”…wait, what!?”)

I beam at Sophia. “How do you feel about drag, girl? Though, these are robes,” I scuff at his clothes with my foot, “So it’s not really drag, but, you know.”

She frowns down at him. “Who is this guy anyway?”

I kick him again. “One of the douchey Tremere. He somehow escaped the massacre at the Chantry. He’s slightly more entertaining than the other ones, but at the moment he’s not really using his clothes, so….”

She stares another moment then shrugs weakly. “…Alright.”

(Jason: “So you’re going to strip the Tremere of his clothes and give them to Sophia.”
Me: “Yes.”
Jason: “…Okay. So, Ben, you’re going to wake up in an odd position…..”
Me: “Oh, he’s going to wake up in her hospital gown.”
Jason: “Oh, you’re going to do that, are you?”
Chris: “But on the plus side, he is going to wake up!”
Jason: “That’s true! Ok, so Sophie steps behind some doorway or piece of immense equipment and changes into…what the hell does he wear, Ben?”
Ben: “Well, he’s kinda old school, so…welcome to the Renaissance Festival!”
Jason: “Oh son of a—really? REALLY?!”)

Sophia comes out from behind the door, draped in voluminous velvet robes that are just a little too large for her, but its hard to tell through the embroidered layers of douchery. She scowls at me. I grin back and toss her the leather coat. “Girl, you look great, you’re ready for the playa.”

(Jason: “Is there a hat?”
Ben: “Oh yeah.”
Jason: “Like a big, Renaissancian-hat?”)

“Oh, we are not wearing this, no,” I glare at the hat in my hands. “Maybe we can sell it. This is legit vintage, I can probably fence it on Valencia Street like that.” I snap my fingers.

(Ben: “You do realize you will suffer if that happens….”)

“Whatever, we’ll figure it out.” I shove the hat on my head and flounce a pose at Sophia. She forces a scowl a moment longer, then cracks and bursts out laughing.

“It’s very you, Tom.” She shrugs into my coat again, the beaten leather contrasting surprisingly well with the blood-red silks and velvets. “So what happens now?”

I peer at an ancient analog clock on the wall. It’s 4:30 am now, dawn will be approaching soon. I groan and rub my face. “I don’t know. You’re out of the thing, I’m out of the thing, hopefully Boss will be out of the thing soon, my next chore is figuring out how to get back to the island to get Boss’s bird back before he realizes….”

I trail off, realizing something. After all the night’s shenanigans, I’m running pretty hungry, but if I wait till the next evening to do something about it, I will be really hungry. Like, dangerously so. “…Girl, do you wanna go clubbing?”

She gives me a perplexed look. “The clubs are closed, Tom….”

She’s right, of course. I scowl and pace the hallway. That means that there’s only one guaranteed source of “safe” blood I can use before then.

“I also gotta get to the Pyramid,” I mutter. “I can drop off this asshole there too.” I glare down at van Brugge, loosely wrapped in the hospital gown, bare-ass-up.

She frowns. “Why did you say you need to go back to the island? What bird?”

“Aquilifer. She’s Boss’s bird, she’s 800 years old, and…she’s kinda a big deal.”

Sophia’s face blanches. “The…the bane?”

I stop pacing. “The what?”

“Bane, it’s…a Wyrm-tainted animal.” She stares at me, eyes wide. “Tom, we kill banes. On sight….” She trails off, but the implied meaning is clear.

Aquilifer is still on the island, but there were other werewolves there too.

I hesitate a moment, dread plunging through me, before shaking it off and resuming pacing. “Well, I don’t normally go running around with fucking dragons, so maybe no one is acting like they’re supposed to tonight.” I laugh. “I also don’t normally go through the fucking internet, which…was pretty cool, by the way. Good job.”

She smiles shyly, a welcome sight on her worried face. “Thanks. Well, I wish it had worked better, but at least we got out of there.” We smile at each other, a brief moment of peace, then the concern comes flooding back in. “Look, Tom…seven Lupines have died in this city in the last two weeks. I don’t have the first idea what the others are going to do when they find out about that. They could do nothing, or they could try and send an army.”

I nod, staring at the floor to avoid her gaze. “Bell said there’s been some movement in Marin, they took out some Camarilla watchtowers or something.”

She groans. “That’s bad, that’s really bad.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“No, you don’t understand—“

“I never do,” I sigh.

“—The werewolves at the park were Gaians. Peacemakers, chill by our standards. But the ones in Marin are Red Talons, and they are really, really, really not.”

I pace again, fingering the handle of my whip. “Yeah, they were running around before….”

“Talons normally don’t have anything to do with cities, but they were in town, and no one was able to figure out why, and now they’re the only ones left.” She stares at me until I turn to her. “If we’re lucky, they’ll just leave. But if we’re not lucky…they’ll come into the city. And they’ll go hunting. Not just you, not just me…everything.” She glances at the whip on my right hip, and the magic sword on my other. “You can’t stop them if they do, Tom, you just can’t. I know you did some cool shit and you rescued me, and I appreciate it, but if you go up against them they will kill you dead on the spot.”

I throw up my arms. “I’m not trying to go up against them! I’m just trying to get shit done and go to bed!”

“Yeah, Tom, but you’re the kind of guy who runs into other shit while trying to get shit done, you know that.”

I glare. “Yeah, right? It’s almost like there’s some magical force up there somewhere that keeps throwing new shit in my way!”

“Welcome to the Wyrm,” she says seriously.

I stop. Silence descends on the hallway as I process this (just as silence descends in the room as we all do too). She stares at me, then finally looks away, fidgeting with the robes. “I’m just saying, I know you’re probably not going to do this, but…you might just want to leave.”

I scowl and resume stalking the hall. “Everyone has said that….”

“I know that everyone has said that the last few weeks—“

No!” I whirl on her. “Everyone has said that since I walked into this city! When I got here and knew nothing, and no one, then later when everyone I did know was dying around me! And now again, now that what few things I have left are falling apart!”

She holds a hand out placatingly. “I know it’s easy to say and hard to do, and this is your city, not mine, I get it, but…this can’t go on forever. Something’s going to give….”

I storm over to the open doorway and stare out across the complex, through the trees to the glittering lights of the city below. “Well…I will be here when it does.”

“And then you won’t be here, at all,” she says softly.

I continue to stare out the door, the sight of the city below, as always, stirring up a torrent of memories. “As will everybody at some point in their…varying definitions of existence,” I mutter.

Silence falls again, nothing but a soft draft stirring the air of the hallway. After a few moments, she laughs lightly. “The Get would have liked you.”

I’m not sure what she’s talking about, probably more obscure werewolf references, but thinking of that brings another thing to mind. I turn to her. “What about your boyfriend?”

She frowns. “What? Who?”

“Stormwalker.”

The look on her face alone is worth all the bullshit I’ve gone through this night. “What? No, god! He wishes!” She joins me in the doorway, staring out over the city, and the false dawn brushing the eastern horizon. “But no, I need to find him. Him and Sees-Faces and all the rest of them if I can. I don’t know who’s left. They’re probably still on the island.” She suppresses a shudder. “I really don’t want to go back, but…do you know a way to get back there?”

“Well, I thought the good doctor would be able to help,” I shout over my shoulder down the empty hallway, “but apparently not. Besides that…I don’t know, fucking boats?” I shrug and frown. “If only we knew a pirate…where the fuck did he wind up anyway….”

The light above the East Bay hills is growing steadily brighter, and birds are starting to stir in the eucalyptus trees outside. I rub my face, exhaustion tugging at my eyes. “I don’t know, girl, it’s getting close to dawn, and…I’m pretty hungry, so…you’d better get out of here.” I stare at the sky, avoiding her gaze.

“What are you going to do?” she asks softly.

“I don’t know. Hopefully I can get to the Pyramid, but if not….” I shrug.

She sighs. “Look, Tom, I’ve gotta go find the others, I really have to, but….” She shuffles uncertainly, picking at the arm of the jacket. “…I appreciate what you guys did. Was…I the reason you went out there?”

I blink. “You’re the reason I went out there,” I say, surprised this is even a question. She stares at me, so I sigh and continue. “Look, Sophia, what happened at the museum…. I know we’re supposedly at opposite sides of some war neither of us really understand, and at the end of the day we’ll probably have to side with our ‘people,’ but until then….” I shrug. “We’re in this place now, fighting against the same things together, and that’s good enough for me.”

She stares silently a long moment, then shakes her head. “What a weird city.”

I turn back to the view. “It’s why I like it,” I say without a trace of irony.

“Thanks. Really. I’ve known a lot of wolves that wouldn’t have done that.” She smirks. “Like I said, you would have made a good one.”

“I don’t know,” I snort, “I tend to associate more with bears, but…you know how that goes.” We stand in companionable silence another moment. “If you go back to the islands,” I say finally, “keep your eye out for an eagle where there isn’t supposed to be one, and try not to bother her.”

Sophia’s mood darkens slightly. “It belongs to the Devourer?”

“From what I can tell, they belong to each other.”

She frowns. “I’ll keep an eye out, but no guarantees.”

That’ll have to do. I nod. “I don’t have a phone at the moment, but I assume when I get one you’ll know.”

“Oh, I will. You need better net security.”

I grin and flash her pistol hands. “You are my net security, girl!”

She rolls her eyes and sweeps through the doorway, surprisingly graceful in the oversized robes. “When you get a phone, send me a message. I owe you one. Again.” She sighs. “Just…please don’t ask me to work with the Devourer.”

“Never wanted to,” I say seriously.

She watches me a moment, then nods. She points past me to van Brugge, still lying inside the doorway. “Be careful with that one. He smells…bad.”

“Oh, I know….” I hoist his body up over my shoulder again. The flaps of the hospital gown fall partly away, exposing his skinny ass, clad in some sort of Renaissance-era banana-hammock. I grin and slap it. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll find some place to dump him.”

She stares at van Brugge skeptically a moment, then nods. “Take care of yourself, Tom.” With that, she shifts down into a wolf and disappears into the receding darkness.

I stand for a moment, thinking about everything we said, but gradually my senses are drawn to the reality of the current situation: I am standing on an east-facing hilltop, with no phone, no car, low blood, and nothing to my name but some ripped-up clothes, a few weapons, and a half-naked Tremere arch-mage. I stare across the wakening city and sigh.

“Well…shit.”

#

PAUL’S DOWNTOWN PENTHOUSE

Paul and Marcus stumble into Paul’s penthouse an hour or so before dawn. Marcus ambles over to Paul’s couch, plopping himself down in the same place he sat when we got back from the Monomancy. He’s less beat-up this time, but no less weary. Paul wanders over to stand nearby, and they both stare out the windows at the city in silence.

“You know,” Marcus says finally, “I’ve been staked twice now in as many weeks. Do you know what the last time I was staked before that was?” He turns to Paul. “1503.” He laughs slightly and turns back to the window. “You told me once that you had no idea what was going on and you were in way over your head. And you were right. You still feel that way?”

“Oh, absolutely. Getting better at it, though.”

Marcus sighs. “Yeah…me too. I think we need to have a very serious discussion about a few things. Specifically your—or, rather, my—company. We need to discuss a few…contingencies.” He’s quiet a moment, thinking. “I’ve only seen this level of shit happen within one city once before. It wasn’t anything this bad but it was the same quantity. You know the city as Istanbul, but back then it was called Constantinople.” He shrugs. “Not sure when exactly they changed the name, or why.”

Paul shrugs. “Maybe they just liked it better that way.”

Marcus (oblivious of Jason’s burning glare at Chris) continues. “That city burned,” he says sharply, “and if this situation is already worse than that, well…we need to start talking about your company in terms of continuity.”

Paul nods, still staring out the window. It’s not a conversation he wants to have, but not having it is probably worse.

And so they talk. Paul says that no matter what happens, he wants the sunlight technology released, citing it as their best secret weapon against Perpenna, one that he is demonstrably weak to and cannot easily counter. Paul also points out that they can release the technology with modulators or something that will make it less dangerous to the average, everyday vampires.

Marcus, though, points out that Perpenna probably already knows about it, and if things go completely to hell, every other vampire in the country is going to be falling over themselves trying to get their hands on it. But for the moment, that’s not what concerns him.

“You had this technology before you were a vampire, before you even knew about us,” Marcus says, watching Paul. “Why did you have plans to release it on a wide scale then?”

Paul takes a moment before responding, watching the light slowly highlight the sky. “It…changes the way we look at the world, the way our society is structured, the way our energy is used. It’s a humbling opportunity to introduce something like that.”

Marcus shakes his head and chuckles. “Paul, I don’t say this lightly, but you’re one of the weirdest vampires I’ve ever met. I can’t tell if you’re completely out of your mind or not.”

“That’s the secret to success. If you know you’re in your mind, you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“You sound like Cicero.” Marcus turns back to the window. “I’d like you to prepare some kind of emergency data center to deal with all the data dealing with your…little light show. You can say it’s in case of nuclear attack, or something equivalent. But it’s not because you can use it to fight Perpenna, cause you can’t. I can’t entirely believe I’m about to say this, but…well, my instinct says you’re totally out of your mind, Paul, if you think you’re somehow going to shift the whole world with this thing…but I just watched you talk a dragon down from eating you.” He glances up at Paul, gesturing out at the city before them. “Go build your streetlights. Your…light network. You won’t kill all of us, you probably won’t kill many. We adjusted to flamethrowers, we’ll adjust to this.”

Marcus is quiet a moment, then continues, voice suddenly tentative. “I do have one request though. Not tonight, cause we’ve done enough, but at some point could you arrange a demonstration for me of your little sunlight tool? I believe that it works, certainly, but…” He frowns up at Paul. “Is it dangerous to look at? Reflections off the wall, and all that?”

“Less potent than normal sunlight,” Paul says, “But we should be able to tune it. Start small.”

“It’s…not a priority. It’s just….” Marcus shifts on the couch, silent a moment. When he speaks, his voice, for once, is as small as his form. “…I haven’t seen sunlight in two thousand years….”

Paul nods, watching the colors swell in the sky. “We’ll make it happen.”

END OF NIGHT.

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