9/04/2014

Jason: “You see an armored Humvee and a bunch of soldiers. Two outside, one in the driver seat of the car, and one up top of the car with the machine gun. They’re probably around, oh, a dozen yards from you, but with Celerity many things are possible. Are you going to murder all of these men?”
Me: “Urg, I really shouldn’t….”

***

(Jason: “So. You two are at the Pyramid.
Me: “Yes. Where…Marcus apparently spiked the blood pool.”
Jason: “Yes. Awhile ago, actually.”
Me: “Awhile ago? Shit, we’ve been drinking that blood for days…. Though, whether I’m bound to him or not I’m doing the same thing, so I don’t really care!”
Chris: “It’s difficult to remain un-bloodbound in this game, isn’t it? You think it would be easy, but it’s not!”
Jason: “It’s designed to not be!”
Kara: “It’s easy for some people….” *we all look at Jim*
Jim: *innocent look* “Do do dee do….”
Chris: “Wait, you’re Unbondable and Hidden Diablerie?”
Jim: *grins*
Jason: “I didn’t say Caitiff were the only bullshit characters….”)

THE PYRAMID

Marcus and Bell glare daggers at each other across the office, but unlike last time, neither move to strike. In Bell’s case, it is because he is unable to. In Marcus’s case, it seems he has better things to do than take revenge for Aitor’s death right now. Bell’s eyes narrow, seemingly perplexed by each minute that goes by without him dying. I catch his gaze a moment and smirk. Told you….

Marcus suddenly reels slightly, steading himself against the doorframe. I hold out a hand but he waves me away. “Tom? Paul? Would you give the Justicar and I a moment? We have a great deal to discuss.”

I nod and move toward the door. Paul, though, hesitates. “What happened with Dr. vonNatsi?” he asks, concerned.

Marcus sighs and rubs his temples. “The mage is alive, though not for lack of Aquilifer trying otherwise.” Aquilifer enters the room then, perhaps responding to her name, padding in from the outside hall and taking over Marcus’s job of glaring at Bell.

Paul nods. “And…van Brugge?”

Marcus rolls his eyes. “If the Justicar is so insistent on questioning him I can summon him here. Though you will have to be the one to explain his lack of clothes.”

Paul and I glance once more at Bell and Marcus and leave the room, along with Bell’s ghoul. The moment we step into the hall, a tendril of shadow curls from under Bell’s desk and slowly closes the door behind us.

More Pyramid ghouls are puttering through the hallways, and—except for the one that came with us—no one seems to know that anything is wrong. I wave one down to ask for more of that Marcus-spiked blood cause I have a shitload of healing to do. Another one approaches Paul hesitantly. “Pardon me, sir. We’ve received a message for you.”

Paul shakes himself out of his confusion. “Oh? What did it say?”

“They did not leave their name, but the message was, ‘The Portola house in an hour. Please.’ “

“Sounds like a fun sexy time for you!” I call from down the hall, peering at another flask of blood.

Paul glares at me. He pulls out his phone and calls Georgia, leaving a message to let her know that things have come up, but he is still trying to send or bring help down to her as soon as he can.

Watching him reminds me of my predicament, so I flag down another ghoul and ask to get a replacement phone, complete with all my contacts and photos backed up from the cloud.

By now ten minutes have passed with no sign of Marcus or Bell emerging, but no gunshots have gone off either at least. Paul finally knocks tentatively. A few seconds pass and Marcus opens the door himself.

“I, ah, don’t mean to interrupt….” Paul says.

Marcus rubs his blackened face. “We were just finishing.”

“Fantastic. So, someone has requested to meet me in Portola Valley in…fifty minutes. I’m going to try and make the meeting, but I wanted to give you…and Mr. Bell…a head’s up.” Paul looks into the room but cannot see Bell from this angle.

“Well, I can’t imagine who it might be, but if it’s Perpenna, do try to tell me.”

Paul sighs. “I’ll try. One other thing I need to mention, though. Ms. Johnson appears to be either a guest—or perhaps an entrée—at some Voivode’s house in San Simeon…?”

Marcus curses in Latin. “What is she doing down there?”

“It…seems she emerged there after exiting the Shadowlands.”

Marcus grimaces. “Why would she emerge there….”

(Kara: “I assure you, Georgia is asking herself that question too.”)

Marcus glances at the nearby ghouls and lowers his voice. “Orlando is an incredibly dangerous creature, but his actions are at least vaguely predictable. If you do go down there, don’t for any reason give him an excuse to be angry with you. Be polite and civil, no matter what he shows you. Or he’ll be showing you off to the next visitor he has.” He rolls his eyes. “I knew him in Romania. He was as weird then as he is now, if not worse. I’m afraid I cant go down to San Simeon with you right this instant. For one thing, I’m not certain I could take him in my present state, and for another, I’m certain he would think I couldn’t.”

(Kara: “For a third, Jason doesn’t want me rescued before I get the rest of the puzzle.”
Jason: “If you guys contrived a rescue, I won’t stop you. I may however punish. And I do not allow anyone, for any reason, to use Marcus as a deus ex machina to get themselves out of problems!”
Me: “Do do dee do….”)

Paul frowns, considering this. “If I go there and don’t start anything, will he let me leave?”

“He might—or she, or it, whatever he calls himself now.  He might also turn you into furniture. He operates by a logic that is rather difficult to understand.”

A ghoul finally brings me my replacement phone, complete with data install. I flip through it eagerly. “Hey Paul,” I yell, “Can you text me that picture of me with the dragon?’

Marcus raises a singed eyebrow at Paul. Paul looks at me flatly. “Tom, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I blink at him. “The…picture you took of me with the dragon.”

“I don’t recall taking any such picture.”

I droop. “I took a picture with you right after it!”

“If this is some desperate attempt on the part of one of you to get the other in trouble….” Marcus interjects, voice low.

“No! I just want a new wallpaper for my phone!” I say pleadingly, holding it up.

“Tom?” Paul waves me over and leans in. “Believe me, we are all safer if no-one sees that wallpaper on your phone.”

I glare at him. “Fine, I’ll just go kill something else and use that instead.” I storm down the hallway to the elevators.

“Tom! Don’t go around killing stuff!” Paul yells.

“Then send me my photo!” I shout over my shoulder as I enter the elevator. The doors shut immediately behind me.

Paul and Marcus stare down the hall. After a moment, Marcus turns to Paul. “Would you believe that there was a time Toreador and Brujah clans found themselves on opposite sides of a war?”

#

I sulk in the elevator during its long descent down. I’m not sure where I’m going but I know I can’t deal with Paul’s patronizing bullshit any longer. After a minute or so my phone buzzes and I look down to see a text from Marcus.

I appreciate you are a Brujah and if you don’t kill something every so often you will starve, but don’t slaughter the National Guard, they will be replaced by something even more annoying.

I shove the phone back in my pocket. Great, now I’m being patronized by Paul and a nine-year old. I decide I need to take out my rising irritation on someone else and reassert my position in the bullshit chain.

I call Slayer.

He picks up after a few rings. “…Yeah?” he groans.

“Slayer!” I’m honestly half-surprised he is still alive to take my call. “Hey, you still on the islands, son?

“No. I’m in Pacifica,” he spits.

“Oh, good, my gun shop is there, if you could pick up some more dragonsbreath while you’re out there—“

“Yeah, the gunstore is kinda off limits right now.”

I glance at the time. “Why? Are they closed?”

“No! There’s a hundred fucking soldiers in the parking lot!!”

“Huh. I wonder if they’re going to the yoga studio…”

“Yeah, I don’t think so. Man, what do you want?”

I pull out my best saccharine tone. “I was just calling to check up on you! And find out where this new pad of ours is.”

“Well, I cant exactly get to it right now with the fucking curfew man!”

“Yeah what the hell’s been going on with that? I’ve been dealing with a dragon for the last 24 hours.”

Slayer sighs. “The governor got pissed, called in the national guard. Said there was too many terrorists running around blowing up shit. I’m sure you don’t know anything about that!”

I frown, not liking his sudden sarcastic tone. “You sound a little tense, how you doing?” I say with mock sweetness

“Motherfucker, do you know what I had to do last night?!”

“No….”

“I had to get off a fucking island filled with a bunch of fucking werewolves!!!

“Yeah, how’d you do that? You swim?”

“No, I walked!”

“Oh…that’s a long walk.”

“NO SHIT!”

The elevator lets me out on the ground floor and I enter the foyer. It’s quiet, with no sign of this supposed national guard outside, but I still peer through the front doors cautiously. “Where’s the…bike?”

“I parked it at that place in the tenderloin,” Slayer grumbles.

“My old place?” I groan. “Dammit, I said don’t go back there!”

“Well what the fuck else was I supposed to do with it, man!?”

“Well you could have parked it at the new place! Where is where, by the way?”

He curses at me some more, then gives me an address in Park Merced, near the zoo, just a few blocks from the lake. He yells some more about the general state of things being some manner of fucking bullshit, then I hang up on him.

I look out the glass doors again, trying to figure out how to get around the curfew to get the Vespa from the Tenderloin and get to Park Merced. I’m not exactly inconspicuous, so it seems the best way to deal with it is to move quickly and hope for the best. I figure if any confrontations come up I can handle them directly…but then I remember Marcus’s warning to me and scowl.

I stare at the empty street outside and sigh. “Fuck it, we’re doing it live,” I mutter and open the door.

#

THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO

Paul leaves the Pyramid via his own bike, racing through empty streets toward the freeways. He approaches the entrance to 280-south but finds the onramp blocked by two military Humvees, each loaded with soldiers and with machine guns bolted to the roof. Two soldiers on the ground wave Paul to a stop and come over. Paul flips up his helmet screen and casts Awe.

“Sir, this area is closed, you’re going to have to go home,” the leader says.

Paul feigns confusion and peers at the assault vehicles behind them. “I’m on my way home right now, is there a way to get southbound?”

They glance at each other. “Sir, there’s a curfew, were you not informed?”

“I’m afraid I wasn’t.”

They lean together and mutter, then stand up. “Sir, you’re going to have to come with us.”

“Okay, but are we going south first?”

The lead one blinks. “…Why do you need to go south?”

Paul’s confused act takes on a note of reality. “Um…don’t you know who I am?”

The soldiers peer at him then shrug.

(Chris: “Is…there a way through the barricade?”
Jason: “Not really, the cars are parked really close together. I mean you could sort of scrape your way through but not easily.”
Chris: “Okay. Ha, cause that would be funny. ‘Do any of you know who I am? No? Okay!’ ZOOM!”)

Paul sighs and takes off his helmet. “I’m Paul Stewart. I need to get south, I have a company to run. If you need to take me in for processing I understand it, it’s part of your job here, but if we can do it on the way south I think that would be better for all of us.”

One of them frowns at Paul, but the other one grabs his arm and whispers something about “Silicon Valley execs” and “paperwork.” They step away and mutter to each other a few moments, then step back.

“Alright, sir,” the lead one says, glancing around. “If you want to just go and not mention you were even here, we can probably just forget this whole thing.”

Paul beams. “Fantastic.” They pull back one of the cars to let him through, and Paul continues on his merry way.

(Jason: “See? Wasn’t that easy!”
Jim: “You’re rich, you’re immune to laws.”)

#

I, meanwhile, am peaceably making my way on foot through the darkened neighborhoods of the city, when suddenly a spotlight erupts on me. “Stop where you are!” a projected voice announces. I sigh and stop. The spotlight dims slightly, revealing the shape of a Humvee and four armed soldiers; one driving the car, two on foot, and one manning the giant gun mounted on the roof.

(Jason: “What sort of weapons do you have on you?”
Me: “Uhhh…lesse: two shotguns, two bandoliers of shells, two swords, a few stakes, my whip…do I have any sidearms? No, not right now—“)

“Holy shit!!” The foot soldiers raise their guns. “Hands in the air! NOW!”

Remembering what Marcus told me, I sigh and comply.

The two soldiers come closer, and the machine-gunner keeps his barrel trained on me. “Get down on your knees!”

“Thats…not usually my bag, but alright,” I mutter, dropping to both knees.

One steps closer, examining me in the spotlight. “The fuck you doing with all that shit? Drop the guns!”

I roll my eyes and remove both shotguns from their slings on my back, carefully placing them on the ground next to me.

“The swords too!”

Slowly, I slide the sword on my right—the Max sword—from its scabbard and place it next to the shotguns. But as I remove the sword on my left—the magic sword—I hesitate.

“I said drop it!” The leader says, raising his gun at me. Still kneeling, I turn to look him straight in the eye….

…Then whip around in a wide arc, slicing a mailbox next to me cleanly in half. The smell of acid rises in the air, and the top of the mailbox droops and clatters to the ground, vomiting letters across the sidewalk.

There’s a moment of silence as all four soldiers stare at the lightly smoking mailbox. “Holy fucking shi—“

Then a lot of things happen at once.

Before the soldiers can react, I am off, throwing myself at the Humvee to tackle the guy manning the machine gun. I pull him out of the sunroof and to the ground on the other side, knocking him out cold from the impact alone. The other soldiers shout and immediately start firing. I roll under the car as bullets ping around me. They run closer, and I roll back out and up to my feet…

…Blasting the lead one with Dreadgaze.

The man shrieks and drops his gun, then turns and bolts into the night. I smirk to myself. That worked a lot better than the last time I tried it. I turn to the other soldier approaching me and blast him with it too.

He, however, screams and shoots me. Right in the head, blasting out a chunk the size of a tennis ball. I stumble from surprise as much as the force and fall to the ground.

“Jesus! I got the fucker!” the gunman yells to the driver, then scurries over to check on the guy I tackled off the roof, who is finally coming around.

“The fuck was that?!” the driver shouts back.

“Fuck if I know, he was hopped up on PCP or something. Come out here and help me toss the body in the back, we’ll take him back to base.” The gunman helps his buddy sit up, then turns to check on me. I watch him approach through half-squinted eyes. He tilts his helmet back and leans over to stare at my shot-out face, and I see his expression go from pleased to confused. “What the fuck…? This wound isn’t bleeding!”

Well, in for a penny…. My eyes snap open. He jerks back, startled. Then I punch him.

He grabs his nose and stumbles as I climb to my feet. I lock eyes with him and blast Dreadgaze again. This time he screams and throws his gun at me before turning and bolting into the night. I calmly catch the rifle—an M16—one-handed and sling it over my shoulder.

The driver, just coming around the Humvee, freezes, staring at me. He lifts his gun—a larger, sinister looking contraption with a box on the underside—shakily.

(Me: “Oooo, what is it?”
Jason: “An M249. A light machine gun. It’s called the squad automatic weapon, but it’s usually known by it’s acronym: the SAW.”
Me: “Sweet, I’ll take that too.”)

Before he can react I bum-rush him, grabbing the barrel and shoving it upward. I meet his eyes, Dreadgaze him too, and send him screaming into the night—though I’m not entirely sure how much of it was from the magic and how much of it was from seeing a corpse come back to life and get up in his face.

His SAW, though, is left behind, firmly in my grip. I sling that over my shoulder, next to the M16, then finally turn to the last man, huddled on the ground clutching what appears to be  some broken ribs, staring up at me in terror.

I shift the guns and level a finger at him. “Wanna tell me what you saw here?”

He edges away, shaking his head. “I didn’t—I didn’t see shit, man!”

I snap a pistol-hand at him and wink. I walk over to where I left my shotguns and other sword, next to the decapitated mailbox. With those plus my new guns, it’s a lot to carry, way more than the Vespa can handle, and I’m nowhere near the Tenderloin yet anyway.

Slowly I turn to look at the Humvee. And then to the .50 BMG M2 Browning machine gun bolted to the roof.

(Jason: “…Keys are in it.”)

Ignoring the shocked stares of the man on the ground, I throw all my new toys in the back of my other new toy and head off toward Park Merced.

(Me: “…AND NOBODY DIED!!!”)

#

HEARST CASTLE

(Jason: “Kara! You are fighting a fleshbeast, so I’m going to need you to roll some initiative.”
Kara: “Oh! Let me use my new dice I got at DragonCon!”
Jason: “Ok, let’s see them.”
Kara: *methodically rolls a single D10 less than half the size of her pinkie fingernail*
Jason: “…What the fuck is this!?!
Kara: *laughing, holds out the rest of the dice, each as minuscule as the first* “I bought them just to annoy you!”
Jason: *stares at them in shock* “Holy fucking—Ok, every die I can’t tell what it is is a 1.”
Jim: “These are wonderfully tiny dice!”
Jason: “Yeah, see, I’d almost expect you to roll a bunch of these and then a single die that’s the size of a beachball. Ok, so that’s a 2, I’ll let you re-roll, I guess, but you can’t re-roll these.”
Kara: “Wait, I can re-roll as long as I don’t use these dice?”
Jason: “Yes.”
Kara: “…I keep the 2.”
Jason: “Oh, ok! I see how it’s going to be! You talking awful big for someone with a fleshbeast on her ass!”
Chris: “I think you mean, ‘You’re talking awful big for someone with dice so small….’”
Jason: “…”
Me: “Yeah, we brought a lot of snark and cheekiness back from DragonCon too.”)

Georgia turns as she feels the fleshbeast’s hot breath on her neck. It looms over her, a no-longer-humanoid figure the size of a moose, with spiked bony mandibles jutting from a slavering mouth. It lunges at her—(—and Kara and Jason spend about five minutes arguing over whether she should be allowed to use her new tiny dice for reals or not—)—but Georgia ducks out of the way at the last second, whipping around to blast it in the face with an enormous fireball.

The monster shrieks and rears, swinging its tusks around. Georgia ducks out of the way and tries to hit it with a new spell of hers, Desiccation, which does about what you think it does. Or at least, it’s supposed to. The fleshbeast remains hydrated, but shrieks again in agony, writhing and falling to the ground. Georgia dodges out of the way as it tears up the grass in mindless pain.

She sighs and decides to just go with what she knows: Blood to Water. She places a hand on one massive, heaving flank. The creature gurgles, twitches, then falls down dead.

Georgia stares at the carcass, briefly searches it for loot-drops—(Jason: “All you get is vendor trash.”)—then continues heading back to the castle, intending to visit the room circled on the paper map she found wrapped around the key.

#

HIGHWAY 280 SOUTHBOUND

Paul calls Gates on his way to Portola and asks her to contact the governor’s office to see about getting some sort of clearance for the curfew. She says this might be more than their usual contacts will be able to pull from, but she’ll try. Paul next calls Vincent van Lowe. Paul says he knows Myrmidon still needs some recovery time before attempting a major operation, but is there a chance they could just give him a ride down to San Simeon?

“What’s in San Simeon?” Vincent asks skeptically.

“Um…a Voivode? In Hearst Castle.”

Vincent is silent a moment. “….Shit….” he says finally.

“Ah, are you familiar with him?”

“I’m familiar with the term,” Vincent says darkly.

“Yes, well he appears to be playing some sort of Most Dangerous Game thing with one of my associates, and I want to see if I can…reason him out of it.”

Vincent sighs. “Well. Never let it be said, Paul Stewart, that you live an unexciting life.”

Vincent says that Myrmidon sent away most of their air support when the military showed up and getting something together will be hard; not only is there a curfew, but apparently the Air Force is monitoring the entire Bay Area airspace. Paul says whatever he can get, even civilian craft, is fine. Vincent says he’ll try and hangs up the phone.

Finally Paul arrives back at the Portola Valley house. The exterior paint is scorched, plywood planks cover most of the downstairs doors and windows, and a few scraps of police line tape still flutter in the nearby bushes, but the glass and other debris from the battle that occurred here some nights ago is otherwise cleaned up. Paul surveys the house, sighs, then heads inside.

He carefully makes his way through drapes of plastic sheeting and around stacks of drywall to the kitchen, one of the few parts of the house that wasn’t completely destroyed in the firefight. Paul gropes for a lightswitch, but someone else hits one first, a stocky figure across the room at the kitchen table.

Dr. Everton.

“Doctor!” Paul cries, genuinely relieved to see him, ever since—(actually I can’t even remember when the last time Paul would have seen him was. The Clarence-Zombie attack in North Beach? Maybe. Anyway….)

“Mr. Stewart,” Everton greets him in his elegant British accent. “Tea?” He gestures at the teapot already steaming in front of him.

“Please,” Paul  says as he sits down.

“I understand you’ve had quite a time of it, the last few nights,” Everton says, pouring two cups.

“Indeed,” Paul sighs. “I hope things have been quieter for you.”

“Ah, you will forgive me, but I do believe they probably were, and I think that says a lot. I heard interesting tales told of fantastic beasts in the park.” He looks up from the teapot. “Dragons.” He looks back down and finished the pour. “Dragons aren’t native to these parts, you generally find them where you find crocodilians in the wild.”

“Yes, well you’ve heard that the Academy of Sciences has their albino alligator? Claude?”

Everton places the pot down and pauses. “Really? That’s the dragon? Hmm, well then, hiding in plain sight, isn’t he.” He chuckles. “But prior to your draconic encounter I understand you made the acquaintance of the denizens of a certain island. May I ask what you found there?”

Paul clutches his cup, absorbing the warmth of the tea he can’t drink. “Several hundred gargoyles, although I fear most of them are deceased now. Heinrich Himmler was there….”

Everton takes a sip—a real sip—from his tea. “Does he remain with us?”

Paul watches him drink enviously. “He has been…dispatched. Ms Johnson, whom you’ve met, took care of him. In the Shadowlands, no less, though I’m not sure what those are.”

“The Shadowlands?” Everton lifts an eyebrow. “Well, you do keep interesting company, Mr. Stewart. The Shadowlands are…well, the closest equivalent I can think of is the Underworld. The abode of the dead. The truly dead, not us. I’ve never been there myself.” He hesitates.  “Or, rather, not willingly. Its not an experience I dwell upon.  In any event, where is Ms. Johnson?”

“She is in San Simeon. At the castle.”

Everton frowns. “Really…? I toured there once, some years ago, but that was well before its…current owner took hold.”

“Apparently her exit from the Shadowlands lead her to that place, and Anstis to another. If I can, later tonight I am going to try and…parlay with her host.”

“Hmm.” Everton taps his fingers against his cup. “Well it is very unusual for her to exit the Shadowlands in a place different from where she entered. I would wager, were I a wagering man, that someone had interfered. And if she appeared in the domain of a Voivode, well…I believe we have your prime suspect. In which case I am not certain barging in there is the wisest course of action.”

“Well, I’m hoping this is something that can be resolved diplomatically.”

“Orlando is not a diplomatic man. Or at least so his reputation says, I haven’t met him myself.” Everton takes another sip and smirks over the cup. “I’m sure you have become aware that not all of us are as congenial as you or I, particularly those outside the Clan.”

Paul turns to look at the wreckage of his beautiful house. “I’ve noticed.”

They continue discussing the Farallones mission, over the course of which Paul mentions the Spiral Dancer. Everton sighs and mutters something about, “It’s come to that, has it….” Everton then reiterates what we already know about werewolf mythology, how their cosmology involves the Wild, the Weaver, and the Wyrm, and a continuous fight against the latter one.

“Well, they seem to be doing a bang-up job,” Paul mutters.

“Yes, funnily enough, parts of their mythology address that fact too,” Everton says wryly, “And the fact that they have rather misplaced the plot, if you understand.”

Paul continues running down the events of the Farallones, eventually mentioning Jeremiah Flagg.

“Flagg?” Everton frowns. “I haven’t heard this name.”

“We first encountered him while trying to find you in Berkeley. Our search was cut short by some men supposedly associated with the Society of Leopold. Flagg was their leader. We fought with them and he died during the fight.”

“Well the world will not mourn the passing of another Leopoldite.”

“It gets more complicated.”

Everton sighs. “It usually does.”

“We saw him again. At the Chantry, shortly before it went to hell. He was struck down in front of our eyes and got up again a few moments later before turning into Perpenna, or some other shadowy monster.”

“…Oh dear.” Everton frowns and puts down his tea. “Why would the Leopoldites have the first thing to do with Perpenna? They view the least of us as Satan-incarnate.”

Paul shrugs. “Why would a society that hunts vampires be themselves resurrectable in an undead fashion?”

Paul also mentions the other high-ranking Nazi he met on the island, the man with the cold blue eyes whom even the Spiral Dancer was afraid of. He doesn’t have any other details that might identify him, except that he seemed to be filled with ichor instead of blood and had no aura.

“Well at the risk of sounding melodramatic,” Everton says, “I’d say that was a bad sign.”

Everton then says that he visited the islands himself in the last night or so and found the place mostly cleaned out. Paul suspects Perpenna, but Everton said it looked more like the work of werewolves.

“It’s a shame, really, I had hopes….” He stares into the distance for a few moments, then notices Paul’s perplexed expression. “You see I’m searching for something at the moment. Something I suspect might actually be here. Something I thought might be a myth, but the signs are becoming disquietingly clear.” He pauses to take a breath. “I’m searching for a werewolf. A very particular werewolf. My guess is at this point its nothing more than a cub….”

Paul’s eyes narrow. “Why are you searching for it?”

Everton purses his lips. “Would it be…impermissibly rude of me to decline to answer?”

“Well its funny you should mention that, because Ms Johnson—who is now at the home of a Voivode—mentioned something about picking up a werewolf cub.”

Everton turns to Paul, face serious. “She picked it up? She took it…to the Shadowlands?” He frowns harder. “Does she still have it?”

“It apparently is the object of the game she is playing with Orlando. She is searching for it.”

Orlando has the cub?” Everton sits up. “You’ll forgive me for being coy but that is exceptionally troubling. Does Orlando know what the cub is? It would be an incredibly poor turn of events if he did.”

“I don’t know. What is the cub?”

Everton frowns and stares out the window. “I am not entirely certain yet, but…I have a suspicion it is the reason Perpenna is in San Francisco.”

“That is troubling.”

“I’m not certain if it is what he thinks it is yet, but whether it is or not, he wants it. To my understanding, Orlando is not in league with Perpenna, but he is not capable of stopping him. And if news should escape as to where this thing is, well Orlando should expect a visit in short order, and then he would quite simply be dead.”

“Where would the cub be safe?”

“I’m not certain yet. I don’t know Perpenna’s capacities. You’ve seen more of him than I have.”

“He seemed fairly indestructible and unstoppable until we encountered the dragon.”

“The dragon drove him off, then? Well, Perpenna will not easily forgive that. He despises being humiliated in front of his lessers. He may turn his focus to destroying that dragon, which may afford us some degree of time.”

Everton finishes his tea and puts down the cup. “Mr. Stewart, you will forgive candor, but it is imperative that I recover that cub from Orlando’s clutches.”

Paul taps his fingers against his cup a moment then nods. “I’d be happy to assist you in this, but I must know one thing beforehand. Do you intend to kill it?”

Everton sighs. “If I am being brutally honest, Mr. Stewart, I don’t yet know.” He meets Paul’s eyes. “But I may. If it is what Perpenna believes it to be, it may be the only way.”

Paul is quiet a moment, then nods. “Supposing we can keep that as our last option, you have my help.”

To that end, Everton pledges to go with Paul down to San Simeon to meet with Orlando and see about rescuing Georgia and the cub. The biggest question is still how to get down there with the military crawling all over the Bay Area, but Everton points out that the Sabbat may have resources that civilians and even the Camarilla may not.

And conveniently enough, Paul has Archbiship Liedesdorf practically on speed-dial. Paul calls him up, and after convincing Liedesdorf that yes, he really does want to go meet Orlando, and yes, he knows what a terrible idea that is, Liedesdorf agrees to get Paul a car that will get him through the blockades and curfews, so long as Paul promises to send the driver back in one piece.

Paul hangs up and returns to the tea. He has just enough time to finish watching it cooling before the car arrives.

Everton watches him a moment, bemused. “You know, Mr. Stewart, I can’t help but notice that at the heart of this whole plan seems to the fact that you’re awful partial to a werewolf you’ve never met.”

Paul shrugs, watching the steam trails. “Would you believe over the last few months I’ve become…well, I believe sparing and preserving life is something I’m more invested in than I was before.”

“And what if sparing and preserving life requires the sacrifice of another?”

Paul stares another long moment. “I’ll deal with that when it happens.”

Everton smiles and leans forward. “It may be happening shortly.”

#

PARK MERCED

I pull up in front of the new crashpad Slayer somehow secured for me. It may be out at the edge of buttfuck nowhere, but it’s an actual house, so it’s not a total trade-down. I climb out of the Humvee and survey the neighborhood, a post-war suburb filled with identical stucco’ed houses. It’s quiet, quieter than I think I’ve ever seen in San Francisco before, and my Humvee sticks out like a motherfucking gun-mounted Humvee in the middle of a street filled with minivans.

Meh, whatever. I grab a handful of guns and go inside.

The house is sparsely furnished with an eclectic collection of thrift-store furniture, but it’s a shitload more than I had at the Tenderloin apartment. The windows even come pre-curtained, so I can use one of the actual bedrooms instead of a fucking bathtub. I designate the downstairs bedroom as the armory and start making trips to unload all the guns and boxes of ammo from the car.

On the second trip, something catches my eye, hung on the wall at the base of the stairs. I stop, slowly setting my armful of ammunition on the floor.

My painting. Or, rather, Isabella’s painting. A simple watercolor of a sunrise over the countryside near where we grew up. She gave it to me for my 18th birthday. It was the only thing I took with me when I ran away from home, and it was the only thing I told Slayer to keep out of all my stuff rescued from Clarence’s storage. In fact it—along with my whip, which was a gift from Rob—are the only pieces of my human life left at all.

I stare at it a moment, then gently straighten it on the wall. After that I go back to unloading the car.

Once everything is situated, neatly stacked and laid out, I pace the house, deciding what to do next. I feel the painting’s presence in my mind even when I’m not in front of it, reminding me of obligations part of me would almost rather forget. Instead, I decide to focus on my metaphorical-sister from another mister and drop a line to Sophia, letting her know that I have a new pad lined up and to lay low for awhile. A few minutes go by and I get a phonecall from an unknown number. I smile, assuming it’s her, and answer the phone.

“Tom,” Marcus’s voice says sternly. “Where are you?”

“Oh, hi Boss.” A slight note of disappointment leaks into my voice. “I’m at the new place Slayer lined up for me.”

“I see.” His voice is still clipped. “You wouldn’t happen to know about an incident that happened, oh, twenty minutes ago, between the Pyramid and the Tenderloin, would you?”

I stop pacing. “Umm….”

“Tom. What did you do?”

“Well, you said to lay low, so—“

“So you sent three soldiers screaming into the night, babbling about a corpse that came back to life? That sounds like laying low to you?”

“Well…nobody died, so….”

“No, no one died, they just went back to their base and told everyone else what had happened.”

Dammit. I told the fourth guy not to say anything but I guess he didn’t forward that message along. “Well, now I have camouflage to move around the city in—“

“Oh? And what manner of camouflage is that?”

“One of their Humvees,” I say proudly.

There’s a long moment of silence. “Tom,” he says finally. “I want you to appreciate that this is a really weird conversation for me to be having with anyone, but…do you know what a GPS is?”

I tense. “Uh….”

“Cause I only barely do, it has something to do with things flying around in orbit or some such, things up in the sky that can track where things are. You know, things like stolen Humvees.”

I walk to the window and peer through the drapes. The assault vehicle is still sitting in the drive, looming over the neighbor’s Prius. An older Asian woman out walking a dog stares at it as she passes.

“Tom, tell me you are not with the Humvee right now.”

“I’m…not within ten feet of the Humvee right now….” I say carefully.

I hear a muffled groan. “Tom, get whatever you need and get out of there, cause they’re about to drive a tank through that house!”

I thump my forehead against the glass. “Dammit, I just unloaded the car and everything….”

“Then drive it into the ocean or something! Get away from it, they know where it is!”

Marcus hangs up. I step outside and, sure enough, hear sirens over the night air. They’re still some way away, but they’re getting louder, and it doesn’t take much to assume where they’re headed. I climb back into the vehicle, narrowly miss the Asian lady as I whip it back out into the street, and go rumbling down the block.

The ocean isn’t far, but it’s a maze of suburb streets to get there, so I end up dumping it in the mess of overgrown ivy and blackberry bramble that rings Lake Merritt, just a few blocks away. As I’m climbing out and trudging back to the street, my phone rings again.

This time it’s Sophia.

“Heeeey, girl,” I say as I pick my way through the bushes, trying to avoid puncturing my leather pants.

“Tom, quick question. Is the military chasing you?”

I glance north. The sirens are getting louder, coming down Sunset, and I think I see the strobes of their lights reflecting in the fog. “Uhhh, yeah. I stole one of their Humvees and I forgot about this thing called GPS. How are you?”

There’s a sigh that makes her sound belabored beyond her years. “Tom, when were you born again?”

“1965,” I say, carefully avoiding a spiderweb.

She sighs again, as if contemplating such an ancient date is too taxing. “Alright, look, I’ll scramble their signal, hold on….” As I watch the approaching lights slowly come to a halt, hesitate, then turn and head north again. “…Okay, that should confuse them for awhile.”

I slouch against the back window of the car, relieved. “Awesome. Thanks girl.” Since I’m no longer in imminent danger, I take the time to throw some branches and shit on top of the Humvee, still hoping that I can retrieve it for use in the future.

(Jason: “Really? You think that’s going to work?”
Me: “Well…it is camouflaged.”)

I chat with Sophia on the long walk back toward the house, discussing the curfew and the general bullshit it represents. She points out that maybe if someone wasn’t running around blowing shit up the national guard wouldn’t be here.

“Hey, some of that was Perpenna!” I protest. “And we still don’t know who blew up the park! Paul said something about guys in suits and gear crawling all over the place!”

She sighs. “Alright. You sent me a message, do you need anything?”

“No….” I grumble. Can’t we just have a normal conversation without one of us being in mortal peril for once? “I was just…checking in.”

“Alright, well…I got some things I gotta work on right now. Some things I’m looking for. Just…try not to piss off the entire army next.” She snorts. “Aren’t you guys supposed to be the subtle ones, and we’re the raging assholes?”

I grin into the night. “Yeah, well, there’s gotta be a reason we’re getting along.”

There’s a few seconds of silence. “…Yeah, maybe,” she finally concedes, then her voice drops. “What, um…happened with…the other one?”

I frown. “Paul?”

“No. The…Devourer.”

The hint of quavering fear in her voice wrenches my heart. I try to put her at ease the best way I know how: irreverence. “Oh! Yeah I don’t know, he got a little sunburned by Dr. vonNatsi and then had some sort of Come to Jesus meeting with Bell.” I shrug. “We’ll see.”

She seems to accept this, then mumbles a hasty goodbye and hangs up. I stare at my phone sadly a moment, then suddenly it buzzes with another incoming call, a generic number from the Pyramid. I roll my eyes and answer. “Hello?”

“Tell me you’re no longer with the car,” Marcus’s voice says.

I look over my shoulder at the lumpy mass of bramble disappearing into the fog behind me. “No, no I am not.”

He sighs. “Good. I am going to be sending a car around to get you. I need you to do something for me, something you agreed to do some time ago and I hope you’re still up for.”

Marcus then refreshes my memory, of course, about Accio and the Boat Job. I nod eagerly, loving this plan and excited to be a part of it. He’s going to send me down to Monterey to meet up with Morgan and Anstis so I can help in the operation. I use this opportunity to tell Marcus that Accio is supposedly Camarilla-aligned, which is news to him and unpleasant news at that. Still, Marcus says that even if Accio is calling himself Camarilla these days, Marcus is not, and he would just as rather see him dead.

I walk quietly for a few moments, weighing his words against what Bell said, and come to a decision. “I have no problem with that, Boss.”

“Good,” he says. If he recognizes the seriousness of such a declaration, he gives no indication.

I rack my brain for other details relating to this plan. “What about that scepter you mentioned before?”

“Oh, that.” Marcus sighs. “It’s a symbol more than anything, and rather incidental to the whole thing, but if you can recover it I would accept it. But Accio is the main target to focus on. He has more firepower than I think any of us expected. So if you have the capacity, come heavy.” 

I grin as I turn onto my new street and see the lights of my new house up ahead. “Way ahead of you boss.”

#

THE REVENGE

The Revenge needs to make some serious repairs, so Morgan sets sail for port. In the meantime, Anstis busies himself by exploring the ship and learning about the magical technologies that drive it. He’s just leaving the engine room when he gets a call on his phone and goes up to the deck to take it.

It’s Xiang Li Weng, the Giovanni from Chinatown (and the tip of one of many threads we have yet to fully unravel in this tapestry of a story). He greets Anstis, hopes he finds him well, and pointedly makes no mention of the fact of how he got Anstis’s number, considering the pirate has gone through a handful of phones since they last talked. He reminds Anstis of their arrangement—trading knowledge of the necromantic occult for the assassination of one of Weng’s enemies, the powerful and enigmatic woman called Xia. Weng says that with the national guard in town, his own movements against her have been hampered, but she has been able to move with impunity, and move well.

“I have also learned of another,” Weng says in his lightly-accented voice. “A man on the sea.”

“There are always men at sea,” Anstis says.

“But this is a man about whom much is said. The Collector.”

Anstis carefully sidesteps around the crew working on repairing the gaping hole in the aft quarterdeck. “I’ve heard of a man by that description. He has angered a great many. What is your stake in the matter?”

“He is a remora, a parasite who attaches himself to whichever power he finds to be in ascendence. He holds fast to them for some time then leaves with whatever he can steal. His collection contains the property of my clan, and my stake in the matter is in seeing our property returned.”

“And what property might this be?”

Weng chuckles lightly. “Well. That depends on what he possesses, and what I choose to make our property, if you catch my meaning. There are objects in the Collector’s possession which other clans and other organizations would very much like to recover, and I should like to recover them instead.”

Anstis smiles grimly. “Anything in particular?”

“Yes, actually. A scepter. A jeweled bauble, with a handle of platinum and a great ruby on the end. Pricelessly valuable for its base materials but worth more than that for what it actually represents. And I can pay quite a price for this bauble.”

Anstis continues pacing toward the bow. “I’m listening.”

“I am not an exceptionally powerful man within my clan, Captain. I speak to you in all candor. But I know many men of means and power. One of them wishes this bauble. His name is Ambroglio.”

(Jim: “…Do I know that name?)

“Ambroglio…Giovanni.”

(Jim: “Oh! That’s exciting!”)

Anstis stops in surprise, but Weng continues. “He has been seeking this bauble for some time. Time measured in centuries, not days, and he is willing to pay handsomely for its recovery. To pay you, and to pay me. I can offer you the favor of one of the most senior members of our clan, and the favor of such a man is worth a great deal. It would go a long way toward me acquiring the resources needed to crush my enemies here, and it would go a long way toward you acquiring the resources necessary to locate yours.”

Anstis senses someone watching him and glances up. Morgan is standing in the windows of the bridge, backlit by the red tactical lights. “There are many uncertainties in an operation such as this,” Anstis says to Weng. “I cannot be assured of the opportunity.”

“But you can be assured to look for it. You are a Brethren of the Coast, Captain. You are a man who knows how to create his own opportunities.”

Anstis nods, still watching Morgan. “I’ll see what I can do.” He hangs up. Morgan gestures for him to come up to the bridge. Anstis nods and makes his way there.

Morgan is looming over a radar screen as Anstis enters. “I have been in touch with our mutual associate,” Morgan says. “The small one. He is sending us something in the way of reinforcements, it appears. We can expect a Brujah of some particular talents.”

(Chris: “Very particular talents.”
Jason: “What he has are a particular set of skills. Skills that make him a nightmare to people such as you.”
Chris: “And the rest of his party.”)

Anstis nods. “I am familiar with this one.”

“When we board the enemy, there are bound to be a great many men there. Mostly mortals and ghouls, but vampires as well. I imagine you know your way around those, and hopefully this Brujah will be of assistance.” Morgan looks up at him, face lit by the eldrich glow of the screen. “As to your request, for an object that belonged to Accio himself, I think I have been able to locate something. I will have to pay dearly to acquire it at speed. It was stolen from him some time ago, under circumstances I would rather not relate at this time. Will it do? And if it does, what will you do with it?”

“If it was stolen from him, we may be able to use it to take a small team aboard the ship.” Anstis takes a moment to consider his knowledge of teleportation circles, which has increased greatly since he ate that Tremere at Fort Funston. “The means I know of could transport five. Will that do?“

“If they are the right five.” Morgan folds his arms and scowls. “The Brujah. How useful is he? I do not like the Brujah. They are temperamental, and not in the way I prefer. ”

Anstis smirks. “Well then you will not mind risking him.”

“Can I trust you to keep an eye on him?”

“You can.”

Morgan nods. “As to the other spots…. I cannot leave my ship in the midst of combat, but you say you know others?”

“I do, though they claim to be busy.”

“Well see what you can do. We must make repairs for at least twenty-four hours, then we can resume.”

Anstis nods and glances to the east, toward the invisible coast still locked in fog. “I will return to shore and see to the Brujah, and other reinforcements. Let me know when you are ready to depart, and the time of the engagement.”

“Good. I will let you know.” An officer bustles up to Morgan and stands loosely at attention. Morgan nods to her, but before he dismisses Anstis he cants one more glance at him. “Captain…you know what the Articles say to do with deserters. Bear it in mind for yourself, and for the Brujah.”

#

PARK MERCED

I am in the house surveying my armory when I get a text. The car Marcus sent has arrived. I grumble in frustration and shove the phone back in my pocket. I’ve been trying to figure out what to pack for twenty minutes now and finally decide to just go with my instinct: go big or go home. Along with my usual gear of shotguns and dragonsbreath shells, I grab the M2 and a few boxes of extra ammo. I grab my whip, of course, but this time I pair it with just the magic sword, leaving the Max-sword behind. I strap on what I can, heft the rest, and figure myself good to go.

(Jason: “Do you see how I spoil my players? Do you see? And you call me ‘Killer GM.’”
Chris: “Well, it is possible that by giving Tom all the guns, you will indeed cement the reputation as killer GM.”
Me: “Wait, the M2 was bolted to the top of the Humvee, right?”
Jason: “Yeah?”
Me: “So, how do I fire it? Does it need a tripod or something?”
Jason: “No, I’m pretty sure it has a strap and you can hold it.”
Me: “Really?”
Jim: “Um, yes.”
Jason: “Holy fuck! It’s an oversling!
Me: “YEEESSSS!!
Jason: “God, I should have given you a minigun. That would have been less powerful. This thing is so powerful, it is a warcrime to shoot it at people.”
Me: “Well, luckily we’ll be in international waters, won’t we!”)

As I clunk my way down the hall I pass Isabella’s painting again. I stop to look at it a moment, then continue out the front door, locking it behind me.

An unmarked towncar is sitting where the Humvee was just parked. The driver doesn’t come out to help me with my gear, but neither does he drive away in terror as I approach. I knock on the tinted window, gesturing for him to pop the trunk. He does so, then rolls the window down.

“Where to?” Adam asks with a smile.

Jesus!” I jerk back. I should know better by now to not be surprised by this asshole. “Did Boss send you?”

“Who’s ‘boss’?” Adam asks with the same shit-eating grin, sunglassed-eyes taking in my loads of armament. “Going somewhere?”

“Yeah, Monterey,” I say, watching him owlishly. “That outside your jurisdiction?”

He shrugs noncommittally. “You’ll have to pay extra.”

“Fine, whatever.” I go dump as much as I can in the trunk, but the M2 is too long to fit, even diagonally. I put it in the backseat instead, carefully belting it in.

“That’s a nice gun there,” Adam says, swiveled around to watch me.

“Thanks, I call her Vera,” I say, giving the gun an extra pat. With my mobile armory stowed, I get into the front and settle in to ignore Adam the entire two hour drive to Monterey.

#

HIGHWAY 101 SOUTHBOUND

Liedesdorff’s car arrives at the Portola house. The driver politely ignores the scorch marks and police tape around the house and informs Paul and Everton that he is ready whenever they are. Unlike most of the private cars Bell has sent around, this driver seems to know whats up, telling them that his orders are to drop them off at the castle and gtfo. Paul agrees and they head off down the coast, somehow slipping through curfew patrols with ease.

At some point outside of Gilroy, Everton turns to Paul. “If it should come to it, this Voivode is more than capable of killing both of us, but has your Tremere the capacity to even those odds?”

Paul shrugs. “All three of us might be able to do something against him.”

“Hmm.” Everton purses his lips. “Have you armaments, sir?”

“I have my wit.”

Everton sighs. “I shall spare you the inevitable jokes regarding disarming and such. But, all the same, should it come to it….” He opens his coat and pulls out a commercial-grade flare gun and hands it to Paul. “This tends to make an impression. Do be careful with it, though, it has no safety.”

Paul takes it carefully, but puts it in his pocket. “Well, hopefully it wont come to that. My plan right now is to knock on the door, try to talk him into letting Ms. Johnson go, and if not, join whatever…game she is playing. Three of us might have better odds at it than one of us.”

“Yes but he may stack them. What do you have to offer?”

“Money? Favors?”

“He has no need for money, though perhaps if you were the favor….”

Paul shudders and looks away. “Well neither Liedesdorff or Marcus had much in the way of intel on him. We don’t know what he wants, really.”

Everton too turns to watch the passing landscape, dark but for the occasional distant lights of farmhouses. “Orlando is a secretive sort, to the point I suspect ‘he’ is no longer the proper pronoun. It is…something of an enigma. I’ve never met Orlando myself. I have as little dealing with the Voivodes as I may. All who are sane have as little dealings with the Voivodes as they may, and even most who aren’t.”

Paul frowns. “I’ve had some experience with the Tzmitsce arts.”

“Yes, well you dealt with the less-personable Tzmitsce, and I’m not entirely certain that’s a bad thing. Tzmitsce, when they take it in their minds to be noble and generous, well…you’ll find they have an entirely different definition of these terms.” Everton meets Paul’s eye. “They don’t think as we do. They think of us as we might think of…specimens in a laboratory. If we’re lucky, then Orlando will see us as kindred spirits, or amusements at the very least. If were unlucky, well…I imagine we’ll have a great deal of exposure to those who are unlucky.” Everton takes a moment, obviously visualizing some of the horrors that might befall them, then shrugs it off with traditional British stoicism. “All the same…it should prove interesting. One bit of advice, though?”

“Of course.”

Everton glances at the driver, then leans toward Paul and drops his voice. “Don’t let on that we’re here for the cub. Don’t even think of the cub if you can help it. We’re there for the Tremere, nothing more. And then…we’ll just have to hope.”

END OF NIGHT

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