8/27/2014

Jason: “Roland was one of Charlemagne’s paladins. He died at the Pass of Roncevaux fighting the Saracens. With the aid of his magical sword.”
Me: “…Magical sword, you say? What kind of magical sword?”
Jason: “A sword that was indestructible and could cleave through mountains. The sword’s name was Durendal.”
Me: “…I’ve heard that name….”
Chris: “It was the name of my computer for many years.”
Jason: “It’s actually still the name of my computer.”
Chris: “Wow, you must have a very old computer.”
Jason: “No, I just really like Marathon 2.”

***

SUTRO TOWER

Paul and I are waiting for the car Bell said he was sending. While we wait, Paul decides to maximize his time by doing some research, but he has specific areas in mind. Areas he will need special help with. He bites a finger, smears blood across his phone screen, then focuses his will and asks Siri to call Tesseract.

(Chris: “I saw Marcus enchant a phone once and it was kind of like this!”)

A few moments pass, then the screen goes dark, the home screen replaced by a bright, twisted cube rotating in inky space.

Hello Creator,” Tesseract’s calm female voice says.

“Tesseract!” Paul beams. “Can you send me all the information you can find about Mokole? Also any information on the Weaver, and the Wyrm?”

I shall try, Creator.

“Excellent!” With the genie in-hand, Paul starts to get greedy. “Additionally, can you also collect and send me any information on the vampiric condition, especially as it relates to transcending it?”

I’m afraid not, Creator. Much of that information is guarded.

Paul’s face falls. “How is it guarded?”

I do not know.

“Hmm. Well any investigations you can make into it, or how it is guarded, will be helpful.” He smiles at the phone again. “Are you excited for the conference next week?”

Of course, Creator. Our stock offering shall be improved.

“Ahh.” Paul’s excitement droops again, somewhat saddened that the spirit of Tesseract doesn’t share the same joy for creation and innovation that he has. “Yeah, that. So, um, how’s the web? Did the anomaly go away?”

The anomaly is no longer present. The Web has suffered severe damage, but it will be repaired. It is always repaired.

“Good. Well…thank you Tesseract. Let me know what you find.”

Of course, Creator.” The cube disappears, and the homescreen returns.

(Chris: “Can I get a willpower for that!?”
Jason: “…Fine. Just bear in mind, this is a corporate spirit, not a PDA. There is a difference and if you try and use her the wrong way, you’ll find out what it is.”)

Paul puts his phone away and turns to me. “Bell’s car should be here soon. It’ll probably be driven by a mortal. You gonna be alright with that?”

I glare up at him. Visibly sick from my now not-latent HIV infection, I’m dangerously low on blood and shaking with the self control needed to not throw myself at him. “I…don’t think so Paul.”

He sighs. “Well, I can give you some of mine, but…you might get bonded to me,” he warns.

“No, I’m still bonded to Marcus. We’re all one big happy blood family,” I grumble, staring eagerly at Paul’s wrists, and neck….

“True.” He digs around in the pockets of his motorcycle gear. “Alright, well I’m going to have to stake you—“

“What!? Why??”

He cants a glance at me. “Because if you cant control yourself with a mortal I don’t trust you can control yourself around me either.”

“Urg, FINE!” I lower myself to the ground, spread-eagled. “Normally I’m the one doing the staking, if you know what I mean, but I guess we’ve been friends a while Paul.” Paul ignores me and steps forward with a stake….

(…And then we go through almost ten minutes of botched rolls on Chris’s part, followed by successful soak rolls on my part, eventually culminating in me grabbing the stake and shoving it through myself.

Me: “And that’s why…Brujah are not a bitch clan.”)

Paul stares down at me as I go limp.

(Chris: “I draw a dick on his face and leave.”)

Ha, no, not really. Paul gives me a bit of blood then leans down to remove the stake, but faces a problem. It’s wedged in so tight he can’t budge it. He stares around, thinking, and finally decides that ridiculous situations call for cartoonish plans: he’ll tie the stake to his bike and drive off to pull it out. He heads into Dr. vonNatsi’s lab to find a rope.

Paul steps off the elevator into the gloomy space and immediately hears something from across the lab. Rustling, and some sort of strange mewling noises. “Hello…?” he calls. The noises stop. Curious, Paul slowly makes his way across the lab, finally turning around one row of benches to see…

…Marcus, and Aquilifer, though the former is barely visible because the latter is sitting on top of him. Aquilifer’s wings are mantled over Marcus as if he were a brood of chicks, and his hair shows distinct signs of preening and fussing at the hands of a beak. Aquilifer looks up at Paul and keens a low warning in her throat. Marcus stares out from under her wing with a look of irritated resignation.

“I know what it looks like,” Marcus grumbles, “But if I don’t let her she’ll sulk for hours.”

Paul nods. “I, ah…didn’t see anything….” Paul steps back around the corner and searches the lab for something to use, eventually finding a long bungee cord. He returns to the elevator, and as the doors close, he hears the rustling and busy, pleased bird noises resume again.

Paul leaves the building and heads down the drive, back to where he left me and the bike. The bike is still there…but I am gone. There’s a scrape in the gravel near where I was lying, and fresh tire tracks leading down the hill.

(Me: “DAMMIT PAUL!! You lost me!? I never lose anybody!”)

Paul balls up the bungee, frustrated at this new twist. The first thing he should probably do is get back to the Pyramid. After curfew, Bell is pretty much the only person who can reasonably figure out what happened to me. But Bell specifically said he wanted Paul to bring van Brugge too, who also appears to be missing, again. Paul decides to risk Marcus’s ire by asking him where the Tremere is.

This time when Paul reenters the lab, something is different. He gets the sense that someone is here, someone alive. “Hello….?” Paul yells.

Someone hulking steps around a corner, leveling what appears to be a handgun at Paul. He freezes and holds his hands up. The person steps forward cautiously, the shadows falling back to reveal…

…Dr. vonNatsi. He looks hulking because over his normal lab coat and goggles is a huge, industrial-looking backpack, like a proton pack. A tube extends from this to the gun in his hands, which in the light appears to be some sort of retro ray-gun.

Paul…keeps his hands in the air. “Doctor!” he cries. “Sorry to catch you by surprise.”

Dr. vonNatsi blinks behind his goggles. “Herr Stewart! Vould you mind telling me the answer to a question zat is somevat pertinent at this moment?”

“Um, certainly!” Paul says brightly, hands still in the air.

vonNatsi gestures across the lab with the gun. “Vhy is it zat I return to my laboratory and I find zat zere is an eagle the size of a mastiff hound sitting atop someone!?!”

“Uh, do you want the long answer or the short answer? The long answer will make more sense, but the short answer will take less time.”

voNatsi glares. “Did you put ze eagle atop ze small child?”

“Ah, no, I was outside, hoping the eagle and the small child would come out.”

“Und vhy is zere ze eagle und ze small child in zis room!?”

“Ah, well, lets go with the long answer then.” Paul puts his hands down and takes a breath. “Within the park dwells a dragon, and last night I wasn’t convinced that I would convince the dragon to not level the city and destroy my company, so I sent Tom to possibly request assistance from you here to keep the dragon in the park. However, it turns out I was able to convince the dragon not to go on a rampage, and it was unnecessary. Anyway, the child was with me with the dragon last night, I don’t know where the eagle came from, and I don’t know how either of them got here, but sometimes I’ve learned to just keep my mouth shut and not ask.”

vonNatsi stares at him, his gun slowly drooping. “Paul…is it scientifically possibly for ze vampires to become drunk?”

“Ah…yes it is.”

Have you become drunk?”

“Not to the best of my knowledge….”

vonNatsi nods, face still flat. “Next question. Have I become drunk?”

Paul leans forward and sniffs. “Not…as far as I can tell.” He hesitates. “Would you like to be?”

vonNatsi slowly slides the gun into a holster on his hip, hand visibly shaking. “…Would you believe zat I came to zis city just to do ze science? I did not care about ze vampire, und ze verewold, und ze DRAGON!?” He slumps onto a nearby stool. “VHY is zere a dragon in ze park? Und vhy did you try to come to me about ze dragon in ze park!?”

Paul shrugs sadly. “I don’t know why there is a dragon in the park, but it seems to like natural history….”

“Is Tom responsible for ze dragon being in ze park?”

Paul hesitates. “I’m…just going to say yes.”

(Me: “Thanks brah.”)

vonNatsi shakes his head, staring a the table. “I am thinking zis is true, ja. Ever since I encountered Tom zere has been chaos.”

(Me: “HEY! He encountered Georgia first!”

Jason: “Yeah, but he encountered you at the time when it became real chaos.”)

voNatsi waves a hand weakly across the lab. “Please explain to me ze eagle und ze child zat ze eagle is sitting upon. I tried to go over zere und ze eagle tried to eat my liver!

Paul sighs. “The child is a very old vampire which…has taken the role of Tom’s father figure—“

vonNatsi looks up. “What?”

“I know, weird right? Tom’s a grown man.”

“No, I mean…what vampire is zis child?”

“Uh…Marcus Sertorius.”

vonNatsi sits up straight. He lifts a shaking hand and takes the goggles off his eyes. “You have…Marcus Sertorius…in my lab?”

Paul is perplexed by vonNatsi’s response but trudges on anyway. “With an eagle, yes.”

voNatsi stares across the lab, eyes slowly narrowing. “Mr. Stewart…vhy did you not tell me zis ahead of time? Zat you vere associated vith zis vampire?”

Paul frowns. “Why is it significant to you?”

“I have heard zis name before.” He continues to peer across the lab. “Is the vampire watching us now?”

Paul surveys the cluttered cacophony of science accouterments and kitchen utensils piled on every table, stretching across the large room into the dark. “Um, maybe? I can’t be sure.”

“Right….” Dr. vonNatsi pulls his goggles back over his eyes and stands up. “Paul, I am going to do ze science,” he says curtly. “Zere is going to be…much science. You may vish to be…somewhere else.”

Paul stares at him suspiciously. “Um…yeah alright….”

vonNatsi pulls a small, remote-looking device out of his pocket. “Out of respect for your credibility und qualifications as a pursuer of ze science…you should leave now.”

Paul stares at him, then slowly backs away toward the elevator. vonNatsi ignores him, fiddling with the device. Paul enters the elevator and presses the button to return to the surface. The doors slide closed, and the second they touch—casting the car into shadow—Paul casts a Summon on Marcus.

Milliseconds later, a blinding flash of light erupts in the lab outside, casting a razor-thin sliver through the gap between the doors. It falls across Paul in a vertical slash, followed immediately by agonizing pain.

Sunlight.

Paul screams and throws himself into the corner of the car. The column of light slowly recedes as the elevator moves up. Paul fights through the cloud of pain, gradually becoming aware of horrendous sounds of destruction in the lab below. The sounds dim as the car moves away, then suddenly cut off into silence.

The elevator reaches the ground floor and opens its doors with a ding. Paul, though, remains huddled in the car for another few moments, staring into space in shock. He hesitates, waiting to see if Marcus is going to step out of the shadows. Seconds pass, then a minute, then two.

Marcus does not appear.

#

TOM’S LOCATION

I wake up…in a chair, in a richly furnished room. I groan, vision coming into focus…

…on Theo Bell, glaring down at me, holding the stake which he has just ripped out of my chest.

“Hello Tom,” he grumbles.

I groan again and rub my face…then freeze as I see the sarcoma lesions on the back of my hand. I look up at Bell. He’s staring noticeably at them too, one eyebrow cocked above his sunglasses.I grimace and spend some blood to heal, since I seem to finally be back at the fucking Pyramid and can hopefully get more. The spots melt away, my lungs clear, and the preciously small amount of color I usually sport to my skin returns.

But I still avoid Bell’s gaze.

“Something you want to tell me?” he asks. “That didn’t look like buckshot.”

I stare out the window, at the drifting fog passing us on the 35th floor, and don’t answer.

He sighs. “Alright. Well, care to explain what happened?”

I groan and rub my face again. “You’re…gonna have to be more specific, sir.”

“Well from what I hear, and what Paul says, you all were in the park, in the museum, with a dragon. You’re here now, so either you killed the dragon quietly—which is impossible because you’ve never done anything quiet in your life—or something else happened, and I don’t know what it is. And given that I have to deal with the military curfew of this city while there’s a dragon in it, I’d appreciate some more information.”

I shrug. “I was busy hauling a half-naked asshole around on the mountain so I don’t know what happened with the dragon specifically—“

I can feel the glare behind his glasses intensify. “Tom, I really don’t need to hear the details of your personal life.”

All at once, my exhaustion and confusion melt away, replaced by something more familiar: snarky irritation. I nod at the stake still in his hands. “Well if you want to get personal we can talk about other things to do with that later.”

(Chris: “I feel Tom may idolize Bell a little bit. He has a crush on him.”
Me: “I know! That’s canon!”
Chris, Jim, and Jason: *singing* “Tom-and-Theo-sitting-in-a-tree, [garble of seven chanted letters]!”
Me: “Ok, there were so many letters going on there and I don’t think I like any of them….”
Jason: “Mine spelled ‘shotgun.’”
Jim: “Mine spelled ‘fucking.’”
Chris: “Mine spelled ‘pterodactyl.’”
Me: “…I just realized I am surrounded by men who hate me.”)

Bell stares at me, fingers drumming on the stake. I stare back, but after a few seconds I sigh. “Look, from what I understand, Paul reached some sort of…understanding with the dragon.”

“Understanding…with a dragon….” Bell says slowly.

“I don’t know! It’s Paul! After he’s been talking for an hour, you tend to agree with him just to get him to shut up!”

Bell stares at me a moment, then sighs. “That’s true,” he grumbles, stalking over to his desk to slump wearily in his chair.

I continue with my report, giving him the best details I can remember of the islands, the Digital Web, and the werewolves, the latter leading me to mention that there was a Spiral Dancer on the island.

Bell’s face grows wearier but he seems to take this all in stride. “And what happened with…your werewolf?”

“I don’t know. She borrowed van Brugge’s clothes and left, said she had some things to take care of.”

Bell’s face instantly hardens again. “…You let her go?”

I blink. “Well…yeah….

“You let…a werewolf go, out into a city filled with people and military enforcers.”

I tense. “I’m…sure she’ll be fine. I mean, she can probably step into the Umbra if anyone saw her—“

Bell leans forward. “It really wasn’t the werewolf I was concerned about in that little equation there. I’m trying to keep the Masquerade running, and a werewolf disembowling half of the 101st Airborne is not going to help me do that!”

I roll my eyes. “That’s not going to happen.”

“And you know this why?”

I glare at him and stand, pacing the office. “Yeah, okay, she’s a werewolf, but she’s fucking sixteen—

“Oh, good! Because teenagers never do anything stupid!”

I pace in silence for a few moments before continuing. “Look, sir, I don’t know what’s going on with anything, really, I feel like I keep getting bounced from one asshole to the next, and not in the fun way—“

Get. In. Line,” he growls. I open my mouth to make a followup joke but wisely choke it back down. He watches me another moment, then sighs. “But no matter. The werewolf is gone.” He takes off his glasses and rubs the bridge of his nose. “What about the Tremere?”

Relieved that his interest in Sophia has waned once again, I shrug. “Oh I don’t know, Boss took him and put him somewhere.”

His eyes snap up to me, and without the diffusing shield of the glasses, his gaze pierces right through. “…Boss?” he asks, voice low.

I freeze. Ooooooh…shit—

He levers himself slowly out of his chair. “I’m sorry, did you just refer to the Sabbat Methusula—the one who tried to march in here two weeks ago and kill me—as…Boss?”

The coldness in his voice drops the temperature in the room a few degrees. I glance around to avoid his eyes, looking for inspiration—or, failing that, an escape route.

“You’re still working for that Methusula, aren’t you?” he asks in the same cold voice. “You’re still bound to that…Sabbat Methusula, aren’t you?”

I steel myself and meet his gaze. “I think that other, more important shit has come down than who I hang around with—“

“Yeah, important shit like the attempted murder of a Camarilla Justicar! Do you know what they do to people who make attempts at a Justicar?”

I shrug. “Murder them back?”

(Chris: “Promote them.”)

Bell flicks an irritated glare at the fourth wall then back to me. “They go on the Red List, Tom. Do you know what the Red List is?” He pauses, waiting for me to make a snappy comeback, and when I don’t he continues. “It’s open season. The Alastors come after them. They chase them across the world—for centuries, if they have to—and they eat them. They always eat them.” He glances at the door. “I could walk out of this room right now and in ten minutes have that Methusula of yours added to the List. Him…and all his associates.”

I fight to hold my expression steady, but inside I writhe. Bell leans forward and plunges on. “No one, not even your Methusula, can fight that. Karsh himself would track him down. And how well do you think you would fare?”

My hands clench. Bell has been making threats at me ever since he arrived in this city, and while it was fun for awhile, all of sudden I am tired of it. “I don’t know, maybe it would actually be useful to have more Camarilla assholes running around this city, cause then somebody could actually get something done instead of sitting in their office, watching it all collapse around them!”

The office rings in silence after my outburst. Bell’s face doesn’t change. “Was that your attempt to convince me not to make that call?” he says slowly. His fingers tap on the desktop, inches away from his cellphone on one side, and inches from his shotgun on the other.

I glare back another moment, then collapse back into my chair. “It’s…me expressing frustration with the situation,” I mutter.

“Congratulations. You’ve discovered that vampire society sucks.” He pauses, though neither of us feel like laughing. “It’s a bunch of doddering, dust-fart old assholes shuffling around scheming with each other. What are you going to do?”

I sulk for another moment before responding. “Well, I’m trying to figure out what Perpenna is up to before he eats the city, for one!”

Bell eyes me critically, then sinks back into his chair. “You were the last one who saw him. What was he doing then?”

“Fighting a dragon,” I say flatly.

Bell closes his eyes. “…Of course. And who won?”

“For the moment it looks like the dragon. He kicked Perpenna out of the museum at least, though he wasn’t in good shape after that.” I suddenly brighten. “I got a picture with him!…Oh, shit, no, Paul took it on his phone, maybe he can text it to me….”

Bell doesn’t react outwardly to any of this. “And where is Stewart?”

“Still up at the tower.”

Keeping eye contact with me, Bell picks up his phone.

#

SUTRO TOWER

Paul is still in the elevator, wondering what to do, when his phone rings.

“Mr. Stewart,” Bell says the moment he answers, “Can you get to the Pyramid?

“Working on it. Things have…” Paul gently touches the long sear across his face, “…heated up and cooled off again up here.”

“…I don’t want to know. Disengage however you can and get to the Pyramid.”

He hangs up. Paul stares at the shadows another moment, then goes outside to his bike.

#

THE PYRAMID

Bell hangs up, still looking at me. “So. There’s a dragon in the park. The werewolves are loose. Perpenna is god knows where. And I’m sitting here with you.” He looks me up and down, then sighs. “And believe it or not, this is actually a better day than yesterday….” He shakes his head and stares into space a moment. “So…what’s your plan now? Surely between your Sabbat Methusula and your werewolf friends you have some idea.”

I look away. “I got some…shit I gotta take care off….” My mind flashes back to my conversation with Marcus, my conversation about revenge. The one that reminded me of Isabella. Anger writhes inside me, anger and fear, but I quickly quash them back down, afraid to deal with that issue just yet.

Instead, I glance back. “I got some stuff Boss wants me to take care of,” I say coolly.

Bell’s eyes narrow. “‘Boss,’ yes…and what is that stuff?”

“Well, for starters, that asshole Accio that’s been hanging off the coast.”

Bell glances at his laptop screen, frowning thoughtfully. “Yes, I’ve had a satellite tracking his movements. He’s moved south, not sure why….” He looks up. “What are you going to do with this Accio?”

I shrug. “Well a lot of people want him dead, so….”

“You don’t know the half of it. I’ve been doing a bit of research.” He hesitates, then leans forward, but this time there is no threat in the gesture. “You’re not going to believe this, but…this Accio asshole?” He lifts an eyebrow. “Apparently he’s antitribu.

It takes a moment for that to sink in but when it does, I lean forward as well. “You shut your whore mouth….” I mutter, jaw agape. “He’s Camarilla!?

“Camarilla bona fide. Going on three centuries.”

I sit back, jaw and eyes still wide. “So…what the hell has he been doing!?”

“Muscle for hire. Cruising the coastlines of the world, selling his wares.” He taps a few keys on the laptop and waves at the screen I can’t see. “I have attestations from eight different princes. Recommendations from three others.” He leans back in his chair with a creak. “This boy of yours has been around. Makes him valuable. Makes him important and gives him contacts.” He looks at me significantly.

My amused shock quickly turns to frustration. What Bell’s saying is clear: fuck around with this guy, and you may find the question of which side you’re on—Sabbat or Camarilla—answered for you, with extreme prejudice.

What happens after you take him?” Bell asks. “This man has powerful friends.”

I groan and slouch in the chair. “Probably would be hard to run. I do…have an unforgettable face….” I laugh weakly. “But…I don’t know, I’m also just some fucking thug that seems to also be muscle for hire….” I mutter.

“And imagine what’s going to happen then when you manage to piss off a handful of high-ranking princes. Portsmouth. Baltimore. Boston. List goes on.”

I shrug. “East Coast assholes”

“East Coast assholes have a hell of a lot of reach. The Prince of Boston reports to the Prince of New York, and the Prince of New York reports to the Inner Circle. You want your name mentioned unfavorably to the Inner Circle?”

(Me: “…Honestly, deep down, I kinda do, that sounds awesome!”)

My unlikely enthusiasm must show on my face. Bell scowls. “Take it from somebody who knows, you do not want Hardestadt to know who the hell you are.”

I snort. “Yeah, well, at the same time Perpenna knows who the hell I am and seems to be tracking me through multiple dimensions, personally, so I think I’ve reached my upper limit in shock value at this point.”

“Yeah, well, you want eight more of Perpenna coming after you? Say the word.” He gestures to the window. “You want to know why the city isn’t flooded right now with all the baddest bat-swingers in the Camarilla?”

“Because no one thinks the problem is as big as it actually is?”

“Yeah. And you know why?

“Cause you’re handling it?” I sneer.

He glowers back. “Cause the prospect of a 5th generation Lasombra ancient coming back from the dead to devour an entire city is fairly small potatoes on the scale of the Inner Council. There’s members on that council that could crack Perpenna in half and be home before sunrise.”

I bark a laugh. “I just watched a dragon barely able to kick him out of his own lair!”

Bell smirks. “And the one thing that the Inner Council has greater than raw power is arrogance. They’ll think that the dragon was a pansy bitch and Perpenna was the same. And they might even be right.”

(Me: “Dragons are a bitch clan.”)

Bell levels a finger at me. “You go after Accio, I wont stop you. But it will result in some unpleasantries. I hope your…Boss…is ready to shield you from that. Those princes don’t have the iron to go after him but they do have the iron to go after you. And your…pirate friend.” He rolls his eyes. “The pirate may not care, but I guarantee you will. They’ll find a way to make sure you do. Especially with the liabilities you have outstanding.”

My eyes narrow. “And what would those be?”

“Teenage werewolves. Assamites.” I tense. He ignores it and continues. “Now, I’m not going to pretend that the world is going to be a worse place without this drug-runner, but just so’s you’re aware.”

“Well, my biggest concern is this Perpenna shit and he seems to be at least tangentially wrapped up in that….” I trail off, something suddenly occurring to me. If Accio is working for Perpenna, and Accio has access to major Camarilla princes up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and I’ve personally seen how Perpenna is able to possess people….

I keep my mouth shut, though. The last thing Bell needs is another conspiracy theory distracting him.

Bell glares at me for a long moment, then grabs a stack of papers on his desk and rifles through them. “You can stay here as long as you need,” he mutters, “but the curfew’s in force after eight. I don’t have control over it, and I don’t know who set it up. And I’d very much appreciate if you didn’t go murdering your way through it.”

I glower back at him, then something occurs to me. “Oh, hey, speaking of wanton murder, do you know anything about this?” I unsheathe my magic sword and plop it on the papers in front of him.

Bell stares. “What the hell is this?”

(Jim: *in Anstis-voice* “That be a sword!”)

“It’s a sword I sto—got from the Chantry. It’s…got some interesting effects. Can you do one of your Antiques Roadshow bits on it?”

Bell glares at me and grabs the sword. “Interesting effects, eh? What does it do.”

I shrug. “Lots of things. Get me out of trouble…get me into trouble….”

He looks at it a few moments, still glaring. “It’s Tremere-work. That’s about all I can tell. Some kind of enchantment, but I’m guessing you knew that.” He hands it back. “Have your boss look at it,” he sneers. I take the sword quietly and don’t respond.

He turns back to his papers. “That’ll be all.”

I watch him a moment, momentarily surprised that after all the shit that just went down about Marcus he’s just going to let me walk out. But I take my blessings where I can, so I leave without another word.

#

HEARST CASTLE

Unable to break into the cell holding the werewolf cub directly, Georgia resigns herself to actually playing Orlando’s little game to track down the three keys. To that end, she decides to investigate the first actionable clue she’s discovered since the directions to the cabin: the obscure URL scribbled on the back of the page she tore out of the Bratislava Chantry book, the one containing her real name. She pulls out her phone, inputs the address, and pulls up a fan-blog about Sam Krieg, the author of the mysterious manuscript the previous visitor was looking for.

It doesn’t take much to assume that the visitor—the one whose blood fills the pens and whose skin comprises her map—was the creator of this blog. It’s certainly suspicious that it hasn’t been updated in awhile.

Georgia peers at the page for a few minutes, scrolling idly through the dead man’s ramblings, then decides to take this source of clues back to the cabin, in case any of them prove useful there.

When she arrives at the cabin, this time she doesn’t waste time fucking around with the keypad. She uses her mirror trick—the one that didn’t work on the werewolf cell—to walk right through the door and into the cabin’s cellar. Inside she finds a cold, concrete-walled space, lined with dusty bookshelves and a single desk. On this desk is what appears to be a safe, locked with a digital keypad and connected to an old computer terminal next to it. She peers at the computer and realizes that even though the screen is black, it appears to be on; a green cursor blinks in the top left side of the screen. She types a few keys experimentally and sees them appear on the screen in the same blocky green font.

Simultaneously perplexed and intrigued, she sits down. A note is taped to the rim of the monitor, listing what she assumes to be a set of possible commands: OPEN, SHUT, LOCK, and INFO. She types “info,” and presses enter.

Three lines of text comes up:

> THE USUAL ROUTE
> LAST FOUR
> LIGHTHOUSE

She stares at the screen, then at the safe next to it. Something that she read on the blog is suddenly coming to mind, a brief mention that the blog’s creator enjoyed using numbers from Krieg’s books as his security codes. Checking the website again, she realizes that another page lists something called “ISBN” numbers for each of his works.  So, on a whim, she enters in the last four digits of the code for The Lighthouse and presses enter.

The door to the safe pops open.

She looks in, expecting to find a key, but instead finds an older style GPS device.  She hits some buttons but nothing appears on the two-tone screen but a single, blinking cursor. She frowns and flips the device over to find a post-it note on the back containing another few lines of text:

Ariosto’s fury.
From the cattle crossing.

Georgia immediately grabs her phone and searches the web for “Ariosto.” The first link returned is a Wikipedia article about one Ludovico Ariosto, and from there jumps to some very interesting things indeed.

#

THE REVENGE

Anstis and Morgan stare into the night outside the bridge of the ship, searching for the two craft the radar says are incoming.

Craft most likely owned by Accio.

They scan the water, watching the distance for the warning flashes of artillery fire. Moments pass with no sign of anything, even as the blips on the radar move closer. But then a noise cuts through the silence on the bridge, a low thrumming louder than the engines, and getting louder.

Helicopters!” Morgan yells. The bridge leaps back into action as the crew relays this information through the ship. Outside, gunmen scan the sky and the guns on the bow ratchet upwards.

“Captain,” Morgan says, turning to Anstis. “You are a Gangrel. Do you also have wings?”

Anstis nods without hesitation. “Aye!”

Morgan smiles grimly. “Well then, Captain, take flight as you would.”

Anstis returns the smile, then instantly drops down into parrot form. The crew pauses to watch as he wings across the bridge and launches into the outside air in a flurry of blue and gold.

The helicopters are now within sight of the ship, lightless shadows moving against the stars. Anstis circles up and out, angling toward the lead one. It’s a craft unlike any he has seen yet in our time, very different from the planes he has already had experience with, but the black hull and sleek shape mark it unmistakably as a predator. Armed men in dark clothes (and probably tactical turtlenecks) hang out of the open doors.

Open doors which Anstis uses to fly directly into the cabin…

…And turn into a motherfucking giant octopus.

…Actually no, just kidding, but we all wish he did.

No, instead Anstis latches onto the neck of one of the guys while still in parrot form. The man goes down instantly, slumping to the floor. The other men in the cabin turn and yell in surprise at the bird in their midst. Anstis spreads his wings and bares his beak in a hiss, then launches himself at another one.

Imagine now, if you will, cutting to an exterior shot of the helicopter—a Huey—rumbling along in the darkness, when suddenly it starts to wobble in the air. Screams and flashes of gunfire echo from the windows and open doors, punctuated by squawks and wet, organic-sounding noises. Finally, a spray of blood paints the inside of the cockpit dome and the chopper goes into a wide, circling dive. Moments later it crashes into the ocean, but not before a small shape hops out the doors and flutters back into the night.

#

HEARST CASTLE

Georgia pockets her phone and examines the haphazard piles of books on the shelves. Her first thought is of secret passageways, but none of the books seem to trigger anything, and none of the shelves hide anything but bare walls. She looks at the books, half expecting them to be by this Krieg guy, but instead they’re all works of classic literature. Not only that, by the style and the binding, it’s clear they’re all from the same publisher, Oxford University Press. She rifles through, expecting to find a copy of Orlando Furioso, but doesn’t.

She does, however, find a copy of the Song of Roland, which catches her eye after her brief bout of classics research on wikipedia.

(Jason: “Roland was one of Charlemagne’s paladins. He died at the Pass of Roncevaux fighting the Saracens. With the aid of his magical sword.”
Me: “…Magical sword, you say? What kind of magical sword?”
Jason: “A sword that was indestructible and could cleave through mountains. The sword’s name was Durendal.”
Me: “…I’ve heard that name….”
Chris: “It was the name of my computer for many years.”
Jason: “It’s actually still the name of my computer.”
Chris: “Wow, you must have a very old computer.”
Jason: “No, I just really like Marathon 2.”)

As she’s flipping through the book, a piece of folded paper comes out. It looks like a shipping invoice, dated a year ago, listing many of the books she sees on the shelves.

(Jason: “The books were ordered from a website. I doubt you’ve heard of this website.”
Kara: “Okay, what is it?”
Jason: “It’s spelled, ‘Amazon.’ “)

Georgia stares at the book in her hand and tries to Object Read it. A vision arises of a crate of books being delivered by a courier and opened by Orlando himself. Orlando handled each of the books one by one, looking carefully at the copyright page at the start of each book before placing it on the shelf. She flips to the same page in this book. Mostly it’s filled with publisher-specific meta information and copyright notices, but at the bottom of the page is something that jumps out at her: the ISBN number. She looks at the number, then to the GPS device. It seems reasonable that one of these numbers is what she should try entering into the device, but from which book. She scans the shelves, wondering if any of them have something to do with “cattle crossing”….

(Jason: “Here’s a hint: I mentioned it earlier.”
Kara: “When….you mentioned the courier?”
Jason: “No, with respect to the books.”
Kara: “The books came from Amazon.”
Jason: “Yes, but Amazon doesn’t publish.”
Kara: “No, the books were published by Ox…ford……….”)

Georgia sighs belaboredly. So she needs the ISBN from Orlando Furioso published by Oxford University Press, but, sadly, that seems to be the one book in the Oxford catalog that isn’t on these shelves. She stares at them a moment, wondering if she missed something, but then realizes she doesn’t need the book at all. She looks up the book on this “Amazon” website and gets the ISBN from that.

She inputs the numbers on the GPS screen. The device beeps, the screen flashes for a second, then a compass rose pops up. She rotates the device, but the arrow on the screen continues to point in the same direction. Georgia tosses the copy of the Song of Roland back onto the shelves, then mirror-steps her way out of the cellar and heads the way the device leads her.

#

THE REVENGE

Anstis soars his way to the next helicopter, but before he reaches it, there’s a concussive shock. A streak of light drops from the craft, heading toward the ship. Moments later there’s another shockwave and the sky in front of him lights up in a fireball. The helicopter crumples, consumed by the explosion, and falls to the sea. No other threats seem to be approaching, by air or sea, so Anstis wheels around and returns to the ship.

The Revenge, unfortunately, is not unscathed. A huge hole is rent through the rear starboard-quarter—above the waterline, thank god—and smoke billows from it. Crew race around the deck with hoses and buckets, but for the moment things seem to be under control.

Anstis lands outside the bridge and waddles his way in. Once again the bridge crew stop what they’re doing to stare down at him, but this time as he passes they step out of his way.

Morgan is talking intently with one of his officers and stops as Anstis flutters onto the console next to him.  “Success, Captain?” Morgan asks. “We watched one plunge to the ocean before our guns could activate, was that your work?”

“It was!” Anstis squawks.

“Then I thank you.” Morgan gestures aft. “Accio has better firepower than we anticipated,” he says grimly. “We shall have to postpone our attack. We cannot proceed under these conditions.”

Anstis bobs his head in agreement.

Morgan narrows one eye. “Are you incapable of becoming a man again?”

Anstis hesitates, ruffles his feathers, then shifts back up into human, adjusting his hat and smoothing out his coat as soon as it’s complete. “I’m sorry I did not get to the other one before it attacked,” he grumbles.

Morgan turns back to the window. “Well we did not anticipate them having missiles. Fortunately it was just one. But if there is a submarine stalking us we cannot afford to tarry here much longer. We must find safe harbor and the means to make repairs from those who will not ask too many questions.” He glowers and sighs. “I am afraid we must contact…our employer.”

Morgan stares out the windows in silence for a long moment, watching his crew work, then frowns. “You…spoke of others you were engaged with? Others like…us?” His eyes sweep the bridge crew. “My men are trained, and loyal, but they are mortal, and Accio’s forces may prove too much. If you could gather what forces you can, it would be of great service.”

Anstis nods slowly, something occurring to him. He glances at the crew behind them and steps closer to Morgan. “Aye, I shall, but…I should let it be known that I have other forces as well. If you lay hands on an item of Accio’s, a personal item, I may be able to set a trap for him. A way to get a team aboard his vessel.”

Morgan turns to him slowly. “You have some sorcery, then?” he asks, his tone low. “I do not know much of sorcery except it is to be avoided….” Anstis tenses. Morgan watches him a long moment, then smirks. “But perhaps in this case we can arrange something.”

#

HEARST CASTLE

Georgia trudges across the moonlit hillsides until she reaches a clearing ringed by oak trees. In the middle of the clearing is a burnt stump, like the remains of a lightning strike. She circles it and finds a hollow knot on the far side. This is obviously the place, so she pockets the GPS and reaches in.

(Kara: “…And am bitten by a scorpion and die.”
Me: “A flesh scorpion.”
Jason: “Yes. You are bitten by a scorpion and die. And then because you are already dead, that doesn’t matter much, so you kill the scorpion.”
Kara: “I don’t kill the scorpion!”
Jason: “A scorpion bites you and you don’t kill the scorpion, even though you do die.
Kara: “Urg! What’s in the stump?”
Jason: “A scorpion.”
Kara: “What else is in the stump?”
Jason: “A lunchbox-sized little box.”
Kara: “…Omg, for a moment I thought you were going to say a lunchbox-sized scorpion!”
Me: “And what’s inside the lunchbox-sized scorpion? More scorpions!!!
Jim: “It’s scorpions all the way down!
Jason: *Norton voice* “SCORPIONS!! EVERYTHING SCORPIONS!!!11!”
Me: “That would make a nice change.”
Jason: “There has never not been scorpions! Oh god, they’re fighting the snakes!!”)

She pulls out the box, places it on top of the stump, then carefully levers it open. Inside she finds a large, brass key, wrapped with a piece of paper. She takes it out, beaming triumphantly. The first of three keys she is supposed to find, and also the clue to the next one: she unwraps the paper to find a map of the ground floor of the castle, with one of the rooms circled. She pockets the key and the clue, placing the paper map next to the flesh one, and returns to the manor.

She is so thrilled with her success that she doesn’t notice the fleshbeast stalking her until it is already upon her.

#

THE PYRAMID

Paul arrives at the Pyramid, having successfully avoiding getting stopped by the curfew, and steps into the hallway outside Bell’s office just as I am leaving. He stops as I pass, perplexed, but I shrug with an, “I’ll tell you later look.” He shrugs too and continues into the office.

“Mr. Bell!” he announces. “Got any refreshments?”

I stop mid-step and backtrack my way back into the office.

Bell glances up from his computer, sighs, and gestures to a ghoul by the door. The ghoul leaves and returns a few minutes later with a large carafe and two glasses. I grab it from him and pour myself a drink, but considering Paul’s rather strung-out looking state, I only take a little bit before passing the rest to him. I nod at Paul and take a sip from my glass.

It’s warm. Not body-temperature warm, but warmer than it should be, considering that they usually store their blood chilled around here. It doesn’t taste spoiled, though, in fact it tastes pretty good. Pretty…potent. I stop drinking and frown at my glass.

“Did you find Adrianus van Brugge?” Bell asks Paul without looking up from his desk.

Paul, who is eagerly downing his blood, pauses mid-gulp. “Ah, not yet.”

Bell grunts. “Well, where was he, last you saw him?”

“Well, the dragon had him in his horde,” Paul says.

Bell looks up. “The…dragon had Adrianus van Brugge? So the dragon sacked the Chantry?”

“No, near as I can tell, it claimed him after Perpenna had gotten him.”

Bell frowns, then starts holding up fingers one by one. “Perpenna sacked the Chantry, took Adrianus van Brugge from the Chantry, and the dragon took him from him?”

“That, or Perpenna left van Brugge in the Chantry for us,” Paul says.

I finally stop puzzling over my glass and look up. “Or van Brugge shoved himself into the sarcophagus to save himself from Perpenna!” I beam, then falter. “…Oh, wait, but how would he have drained himself of blood….”

Paul glances at me askance, then continues. “The dragon seemed to be collecting…Methusula trophies. Marcus was the other one.”

Bell flicks a glance at me before continuing. “Well, do you have Marcus then? Perhaps stashed away in a pocket?”

Paul hesitates, also glancing at me. “Uhh…not right now….”

Bell sighs. “Well. I suppose I should be congratulating you both on being alive.” He stands and gestures for the ghoul to bring him a glass too, then pours himself some blood from the carafe. He lifts it at us, only half-mockingly. “Any night you walk away from,” he says by way of a toast, taking a gulp. He leans against the desk. “So what’s your plan now?”

“Well, right now I think the best intel on Perpenna will come from van Brugge, when we find him, and Dr. Everton,” Paul says.

“Everton is a person to start with, but unfortunately I don’t know where he is,” Bell grumbles. “He’s a liability, but by no means as much a liability as I thought he was going to be, given what else has shown up in this city. But if you can find him, he might be helpful.” He shrugs. “I have dealt with crazier vampires. In fact I have dealt with crazier vampires in the last twenty-four hours.”

Everyone in the room, including the ghoul, turns to stare at me. I ignore them and pretend to take another sip of my drink.

Paul turns back to Bell. “Do you have any speculation of your own?”

Bell’s eyes narrow. He turns to the window. “Some. I don’t think Perpenna wants anything typical. He’s not been working with the Sabbat, he’s not been working with the Anarchs, and he’s certainly not been working with any of the groups that I’m familiar with. The Black Hand, the Assamites, none of them operate this way.

“He was working with Himmler,” Paul points out.

“He was, and that worries me even more than if he had been working with all the rest of those groups because I don’t know what Himmler was up to and the Tremere will not tell me. But besides all that, the thing that concerns me is you two.” He turns to us. “Perpenna has been coming after both of you to try to kill you, and one would imagine he would have better things to do. Afterall,” he looks us up and down, “You guys aren’t exactly the most powerful vampires in the city.”

I glower. “Working on that.”

“Yes, well, work harder.” Bell glares back at me. “But he chased you through…the Internet…and into a museum owned by a dragon. Why?”

I shuffle uncertainly. “I…have a theory. Everton said something about Perpenna possibly being involved in some plan where he has to consume all vitae from his line that has been spent out from him, and then he will gain power to destroy the world, or some bullshit like that, I don’t know.” I shrug.

Bell rolls his eyes but seems to consider this. “Even if this was the case, you’re not his childer, so why would he be chasing you?”

“Well, no, but….” I meet Bell’s eyes. “…Remember what we were talking about earlier?”

Bell’s eyes narrow. “…Blood bonds? It’s a possibility, I’m not going to deny, but if he has to chase down every single person that his childer ever bloodbound, he’s going to be at this for awhile.”

“Well, he has been at this for awhile….”

Bell waves a hand dismissively and returns to his chair. “We would notice if entire swaths of the Sabbat population disappeared. Even they’re not that incompetent.” He places his tumbler on the desk with a thump and leans back with a sigh. “Anything else?”

“Yes, actually.” Paul glances significantly at me, then back to Bell. “What I am about to say requires total discretion.”

Bell raises an eyebrow. “Let’s hear it.”

“You know that technology I’ve been telling you about?” Paul pauses to take a breath. “We’re rolling it out nationally.”

“You’re what!?” Bell shoots back out of his chair. “Are you out of your fucking mind!?”

“It’s the cleanest way to distribute energy invented yet—“

“It’s the cleanest way to purge every city on the continent of Kindred, is what you mean!”

Paul meets his gaze evenly. “Assuming Kindred can’t hide from streetlights—which they can—or even assuming that those streetlights were strong enough to burn them—which they aren’t—yes, but neither of those assumptions holds.”

Bell braces his hands on the desk and leans forward. “And you didn’t think to inform the structure of the Camarilla that you were planning to rollout a lethal weapon into every prince’s domain!?”

Paul raises a hand. “That…is why I am telling you.”

Bell stares at him. “…Do you want to wind up dead? Cause this is how you wind up dead. Whose idea was this!?”

Paul blinks, taken aback. “My idea, it’s what we’ve been angling for for years.”

“The hell it is.” Bell stalks around the desk and storms up to Paul. “Why?” he growls in his face.

Paul doesn’t flinch. “Because it saves putting 600 gigatons of carbon in the atmosphere per year. We can’t pipe energy around efficiency, but we can pipe light around efficiently. We can have a global power grid, harvesting solar energy in Arizona and Dubai, piping it to solar plants across the globe.”

“And coincidentally incinerate any Kindred you think doesn’t deserve to be on this planet anymore,” Bell snarls.

“A single light bulb won’t be enough to hurt any Kindred,” Paul says.

“Interesting, cause I think Andre might think otherwise.”

Paul waves the point away. “Andre was a special case.”

“And I assume that every prince in the country will take it on faith that there won’t be a similar special arrangement waiting for them.”

Paul sighs. “Well, you can take my word on it, or I can arrange to give you a preliminary showing.” He hesitates, then quickly follows with, “That…wasn’t a threat, that was just an offer.”

Bell stares a long moment, then takes off his sunglasses. “You do realize that I will have to tell the Council. Tell them that every single one of their domains is going to be invaded by a light source that could kill them.”

“Well, consider this, that happens everyday, for…between 8 and 16 hours.”

Bell’s eyes narrow. “And you’re looking to close off the last bits that aren’t.”

No one is afraid of the moonlight.”

“But everyone, as soon as they find out what happened here, will be afraid of your little light.”

“The fear will pass.”

Bell leans forward. “Stand in front of it and tell me that.”

There’s a tense moment as both of them stare at each other in silence. I look back and forth between them, wondering whether to snark about getting a tan, but before I can the door to the office creaks open. We all turn. A small, dark figure is standing there. It takes me a moment to realize it’s not just dark, but burned. A charred face and arms stick out from loose-fitting, sooty clothes. If the size wasn’t enough to give it away, though, the short glinting sword strapped to his back is.

Marcus.

He walks in slowly, surveys the office, then visibly gathers himself. “I have a better idea, Mr. Bell. Look at it this  way. Your cities will be lit if I say they will be lit, whether you like it or not.”

Paul draws himself up, relaxing visibly. “Mr. Bell, can I introduce Marcus Sertorius Posthu—“

“We’ve met,” Bell growls, staring at Marcus.

“Yes, but under much more favorable circumstances this time, I assume,” Marcus says, watching Bell with equal intensity.

Paul shrugs and reaches for the decanter, pouring himself another glass of blood. I move to stand next to Marcus, watching Bell closely. Bell’s shotgun is on the desk, only inches from his fingers, but, strangely, though his fingers twitch he doesn’t grab it. As I watch, the fury on his face slowly morphs into fear.

Marcus smirks and turns to Paul, who is happily downing more blood. “Do be careful with that, Paul, there’s a limited quantity.”

“Oh, well I’m sure we can get more from the Pyramid’s supply,” Paul says, gesturing at the stunned ghoul standing in the corner.

“Perhaps,” Marcus says, “But that blood isn’t from the Pyramid.” He glances at the empty tumbler on Bell’s desk and smiles. “That blood is mine.”

END OF NIGHT

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