9/18/2014

Me: “Yeah, am I Sabbat now?”
Chris: “No, you’re kinda on the Path of Michael Bay.”
Jason: “Ha! The Path of Bay! Sin #1: Failing to explode things. Sin #2: Good writing.”
Me: “Sin #3: Looking at the explosions as you walk away.”
Jason: “Sin #4: Failing to invoke racial stereotypes.”
Me: “Sin #5: Not using orange-and-blue over-contrast coloration in everything.”
Jason: “Sin #6: Using a camera that is steady and stable.”
Jim: “Sin #7: Having equal male and female characters.”
Jason: “Sin #8: Using less than half the runtime as comic relief.”
Jason: “Sin #9: Taste.”
Ben: “Sin #10: Any kind of accuracy whatsoever.”

***

MONTEREY

This session opens, naturally, where the last one left off: with me, standing in the middle of a street, surrounded by smashed cars and bodies, covered in blood, staring down the hill at the burning aquarium on the edge of the water.

I take a step back. Oh, shit…. Hand shaking, I pull out my phone to try Anstis, but he doesn’t answer. I tear my eyes from the aquarium to scan the carnage around me. Boss did say once, during the attack on Alcatraz, that frenzying is part of my “birthright” as a vampire, indicating that perhaps it is something I should stop fighting and just accept.

But I’m pretty sure this isn’t what he meant.

I stare at the phone. I’m going to have to tell him, and sooner will probably be better than later. Still shaking, I dial him.

“Tom?” Marcus answers.

“Heeeeeeeeey, Boss….”

“There is a fascinating thing on the news right now—“

“Oh god, is it me?” I glance around, looking for camera crews.

“Well I can’t exactly tell. It could be the pirate, but I doubt it’s the pirate. You wanna maybe explain what happened?”

I give him a brief overview of the incident with Stanley, culminating with me getting shot in the face and not remembering anything else after that.

He’s quiet a few moments. “I see….” he says finally, then, “What happened, Tom?”

I close my eyes. “I honestly don’t know.”

“Oh I think you do know, I think you’re the one standing there looking around. An inferred guess would suffice.”

I look around again, my eye skipping away from the body parts in the street. “Well I’m standing next to an overturned cop car covered in blood, so—“

“Well then I think you might be able to put two and two together. Tom. Did you just exterminate Monterey’s police department, burn its aquarium down, and light half the city on fire?”

I track the fire, spreading from the aquarium to the nearby buildings along Cannery Row. “Not…half the city….”

“Tom, do you appreciate the situation you are in at the moment?”

I stare a moment. “I’ve never done this before, boss. Or at least, not to this scale.”

“Right,” he says, voice dripping with disbelief. “Well, we have a slight problem. The national guard is in the city. They know you just burned Monterey down, and there’s nothing I nor Bell can do to stop them from coming down there and finding the terrorists or whatever else is responsible and kill them. Find the pirate, if you can, and just….stay out of sight. I’ll see to the rest.”

He hangs up on me. I close my eyes, take a reflexive breath, then start picking my way through the carnage looking for signs of Anstis. Along the way I find Vera, along with her ammunition, but very little of the damage around me seems to be bullet-derived. Walls and other background structures are peppered with the occasional bullet-hole, but the police cars, the civilian cars, and all of their occupants seem to have been ripped open bodily, or sliced. I glance down at the magic sword. Right now it is just a sword, no acid or fire about it, but through the bloodstains I can tell that it is very, very sharp. I shudder and move on.

Sirens are echoing across the city by the time I reach edge of the harbor, down the coast from the burning aquarium. Ss bad as it Aould be to be caught in the middle of all this, being caught in all this while covered in blood would be considerably worse, so I make my way down to the jetties, intending to jump in for a quick rinsing swim, but I pause at the head of the ramp.

The harbor is empty. Well, empty except for trash floating on the waves that looks suspiciously like pieces of boats. I peer at a chunk floating next to me, noticing strange, circular score marks in the wood. I frown suspiciously. Anstis, and his razor-tipped suckers….

I stare into the darkness over the ocean. There is no sign of him, but the wreckage seems to lead out, against the incoming tide. If I’m going to find him, that’s obviously the trail I have to follow.

Every boat which was afloat in the harbor is destroyed, but I spot some heavy-hulled kayaks pulled out on the launch ramp. I drag a two-seater one into the water, carefully stow my gear in the second seat, then start paddling out to sea.

It’s slow going, fighting against the tide. Potence powers me pretty far, but every time I let up I immediately start drifting backwards. So, naturally, some minutes into this struggle, my phone rings. I dig the oar into the water, trying to keep from flipping around, and fumble to answer. “Hello?”

“Tom??” It’s Sophia. “Tell me this isn’t you….”

Uh oh. “Uhh, what are you looking at?”

“Feed from a helicopter.”

I peer over my shoulder. Indeed, the buzz of helicopters underlays the cacophony of sirens, and I see some spotlights shining down on the aquarium. “Um…live feed?”

“No, recorded. It shows some people doing some…things in Monterey…..”

“Ah.” I’m silent a moment. “…Is one of them a pirate?”

“One of them is an octopus.”

“Ah. Yeah, that would be him….”

She’s quiet a moment. “Tom, are you in trouble now?”

I scan the harbor again, looking at the scattered wreckage, which I now realize contains more than a few bodies. “Um, explicitly? No. Metaphorically? Oh, yeah….”

She’s quiet again, then sighs. “Do…do you need anything?” Her voice wavers a bit, as if worried that the answer will be yes.

I close my eyes, pained. I need her to stay as far away from my mistakes as possible, is what I need. “No. I mean, I’m looking for the pirate, but I’m not in town anymore, I’m on a kayak in the middle of the harbor.”

She hesitates, and when she speaks again her voice is suddenly more serious. “Tom, I don’t think the harbor is the best place to be right now.”

“Why? There’s no more boats left, I’m not going to run into anything—“

“The Coast Guard is coming, Tom! They’re sending a cutter and I think it’s armed!”

I freeze, suddenly realizing my situation. I am the only thing moving off the shore of a burning city, in a bright-orange kayak filled with weapons…and they’re probably still looking for the person who broke their Fresnel lens….

“Ooooookay,” I say nervously, peering around. “Well, thanks for the heads up girl, I’ll try and get back to shore before they—“

“Tom,” she says, fear rising in her voice again, “You may have killed a whole lot of people tonight….”

I’m quiet a moment, listening to the waves lap against the hull. “I know,” I say softly. “I’m not thrilled about it either. Whatever happens, don’t come down here, you don’t need to be anywhere near me in…all this.”

“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t worry about that. Right now I’m up in Marin.”

Aka, where the werewolf forces are gathering. “Oh, yeah, how’s it going up there?” I ask with forced nonchalance.

“…Not great,” she mutters. “You’re not the only one who killed a bunch of people tonight….” She trails off.

My heart—such as it is—wrenches at this. “Oh,” I say lamely. “Well…we can get some coffee and bitch about it later, or something—“

“It was the Talons,” she blurts out suddenly. “They’re just…I don’t know….”

I’m suddenly reminded of a few weeks ago, when she showed up in Berkeley right after a meeting with them, ravaged and mauled like a fighting dog. My grip on the paddle tenses. “Yeah, those guys are a bag of dicks. Why do you hang around with them?”

I don’t, but they’re werewolves! They….” She trails off uncertainly.

“…Show up where you least expect or want them?” I offer.

“…They do,” she concedes. “But they don’t like us in general and me in particular. And now they’re the only ones left and I think they’re panicking. Do you know what we do when we panic?”

I look back to the burning coastline. “I…can imagine….”

“Yeah. I think you probably can.” She hangs up after a brief goodbye. I sit for a moment, bobbing in the waves and staring at the city, then start paddling back, to a darkened  area further down the shoreline.

#

Meanwhile, some fathoms below me, Anstis detangles himself from the wreckage of his frenzy and jets back to shore. He climbs out on the rocky coast of Pacific Grove, south of the burning city, and transforms back into human form to call me. He scolds me for dawdling, I scold him for being all over the fucking news, but we eventually agree to meet up and figure out a plan to get out to the Revenge. He sits on the beach, dispassionately watching the glowing skyline, until I eventually glide up and haul out beside him.

As I scramble up the beach I gesture back at Monterey, asking WTF happened, but he just looks at me dispassionately. Frustrated, I let it drop for now and we discuss plans to get out to the Revenge, currently somewhere 50 miles offshore. There’s no boats anywhere in sight, and Anstis doesn’t have a way to contact the ship.

“Well then,” Anstis rumbles, “Best get paddling.”

I glare at him a long moment, then shove the kayak back into the water.

#

HEARST CASTLE

(Retcon: The end of last session had Georgia delirious and muttering to herself in one of the mirror-rooms, but we apparently forgot that and the start of this session has her conscious and in the antechamber.)

Georgia climbs to her feet and looks around. There’s no sign of the Orlando apparition she faced, nor Dr. Everton, but Paul is here, instinctively gripping his torso where the werewolf tore him open in his vision and staring intently at the open door of the Present room. “Paul? Are you ok?”

“What happened?” he whispers.

Georgia looks into the Present room, which is once again a dark, featureless space. “Um, some kind of apparition or something…what did you see?”

“Spiral Dancer. The gift,” he says, voice still slightly vacant.

“The gift…?”

“Yes, the gift for our host.”

Georgia tenses. “What are you talking about?”

“I saw it in there. Excuse me a moment….” He pulls out his phone and once again calls Sophia, asking for an update on the Dancer. She’s still not sure and asks why he’s so intent on this. He tells her, then, that he has summoned the Dancer to Hearst Castle, a fact which takes Sophia aback even further.

“Paul…” she says slowly, “Are you in a lot of trouble right now?”

Paul considers this. “Grand scheme of things, not so much, but for the immediate future…yes, I am in a lot of trouble.”

Sophia says she’s been trying, but it’s difficult to track the Spiral Dancer, since they don’t leave much of an electronic footprint, and right now most of the news is wrapped up in the drama going on in Monterey. Still, she says she’ll keep an eye out and let him know.

Georgia, meanwhile, is investigating the room to the best of her ability without going inside. Blood magic was released here recently, that much she can tell, but what specifically she’s not sure.

She looks at the Past door. So far they’re going off a theory that the doors only lead to actual places, places they have been at those times. For her past, there is quite a lot she can choose from, but considering Orlando, and all the hints it’s been dropping, she knows there’s only one correct answer.

She slides the Present closed and turns to the Past. “Bratislava Chantry,” she announces. The door opens, revealing another rectangle of darkness.

She and Paul peer in. “Any idea what we’ll find in there?” Paul asks.

“Well, if I saw Orlando and you saw the Spiral Dancer, both of which are things we are facing right now, I imagine if we go to Bratislava Chantry, we will see something relating to the Omen Wars.”

Paul blinks at her. “I don’t know what those are.”

She sighs and steps through the doorway. After a moment, Paul follows.

#

Georgia appears in a dark place, but it’s not the Bratislava Chantry. The surroundings are far too modern looking. A house, the air clear and cold, with the shadows of snowy pines outside the windows. She peers around, looking for clues, and is surprised to find Paul still next to her. He too is staring at the surroundings, but his face is hard with recognition.

“Paul?” she asks.

“This is where I was embraced,” he says, voice miles distant. “Where I destroyed someone very close to me.”

Georgia looks around again. They seem to be alone, at least for the moment. “Do…you think we are here before, or…after?”

Paul stares another moment, then strides to the kitchen, wrenching open the fridge. Amongst the packs of tofu and SmartWater is a wide bowl filled with the remains of a salad—romaine, bellpepper, and carrots (ew).

“This is what we had for dinner,” he says, staring at it. “So…this is after dinner, but before….” He slams the door closed. “LISA!” he shouts to the house. There’s some movement from upstairs, some subtle thumps, but no other response. He strides to the stairs and Georgia follows.

He heads to the master bedroom, an expansive suite with sweeping windows looking out over a lake, silver and black in the moonlight. One of the windows is open. Cold air and flurries of snow blow through. There’s still no sign of anyone, but there is a folded piece of paper on the night-table next to the bed. Paul goes to pick it up and sees that it is actually nailed to the table, a pen piercing through and driving into the wood.

“This is not how it happened,” he mumbles and pulls it out. It’s a note, with hastily-scrawled handwriting repeating the same two words over and over again, down the whole length of the page.

Never Again.

(Chris: “Is it my handwriting?”
Jason: “No. You’d recognize your own.”
Chris: “True. …Well! Academics/Typography, then!”
Me: “Ha, yeah, that would be appropriate for a Steve Jobs-based character wouldn’t it.”
Chris: *beams patiently*
Jason: “…Wait, do you actually have ‘Typography’ written there?”
Chris: “Yes!” *hands over his character sheet*
Me: “…Holy fucking shit.”
Jason: “…Fuck me, you do have it, as an academic speciality!”)

Paul peers at the letters. The penmanship is shaky and urgent, practically tearing through the paper, but he would still recognize that handwriting anywhere.

“It’s Lisa’s,” he says softly, though whether he’s addressing Georgia or not isn’t clear. “I was embraced downstairs…. After she embraced me, she knew I’d be hungry. I arose and…consumed her….” He looks up at Georgia. “Consumed her soul.”

Georgia gapes at him. “She…planned for that?”

He shows her the words of the note. “Unlife was a burden for her, as understandably it is to many. I think…I know, from her inside me, she thought I would be able to turn it around and do something better with it.” He looks back down. “But it’s never what I wanted….”

“Did she know what she was before she turned you?”

He shrugs. “Well, I didn’t know what I was for quite awhile.” His eyes stare through the note. “That…was easily the darkest time of my existence.”

A phone rings suddenly, downstairs. Paul snaps out of his reverie and runs downstairs to get it. “Hello?” he answers.

“Is it done?” says an unfamiliar male voice.

Paul frowns. “Who is this?”

“Is. It. Done?” the voice repeats sternly.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Paul says, ignoring Georgia’s questioning gaze.

“Don’t play coy with me,” the voice hisses.

Who is this?” Paul tries again, this time dropping some Majesty.

There’s a pause. “Is this some kind of a joke? Do I have to remind you what the price of disobedience is?”

“Yes, you do,” Paul says.

“I warned you about this sort of thing,” the voice growls, then hangs up.

Paul hesitates a moment, then slowly hangs up too. “Georgia? I think we’re going to have company.” He steps to the patio door, peering into the darkness. Subtle movement ducks between the trees, something that ripples between the shadows and the moonlight reflected off the snow, something humanoid, but misshapen and twisted.

Georgia stares out next to him. “Is it a fleshbeast?”

Paul doesn’t answer, still staring outside. He slides the patio door open. Cold air flows into the cabin, the shadows in front of them ripple, and suddenly the thing is there, right before them, massive and hunched, slavering and clawed. It’s not a fleshbeast, nor is it a werewolf.

It’s Paul. A mutated, twisted version of Paul.

His Beast.

The Beast and Paul stare at each other for one achingly long moment. The Beast slowly raises its clawed hands, reaching for Paul, but before it can grab him, Paul reacts first.

By…hugging it.

“It’s okay,” Paul mumbles into its heaving shoulder, “I forgive you.”

(Jason: “…Really?”
Chris: “I do.”
Jim: “Classic Paul.”
Jason: “…Okay. I’m going to need you to roll me the following, in order. Conscious, Self Control, Willpower, Humanity. If you fail any of those rolls, let me know which, and stop.”
Chris: “Okay, Conscious…pass. Self Control…pass. This is Willpower…pass.”
Jason: “Alright, well the last one is a Humanity check and that one I just need the number of successes.”
Chris: “Humanity……no successes.”
Jason: “None?”
Chris: “None.”
Jason: “Well, then…failure.”)

The Beast leans down and whispers something in Paul’s ear, something that Georgia can’t hear, not even with Auspex (nor can we, cause it was a secret note).

Paul steps back. “What right?” he barks. “Have you? Have any of us? Whether I have the right or not, I forgive you.”

The Beast peers at him with his own face and chuckles. “You think it’s that simple? You know what happened,” it growls.

“I do. I know what lives inside me and what lives with me now. But she should have known as well. In fact I know she knew what would happen—“

“So its her fault?”

“It was her plan.”

“Why?” the Beast sneers.

“Perhaps she saw in me something I saw in her.”

“You forgive me, what about her?”

“I forgive her too.”

“No you don’t.” The Beast growls and stalks forward, backing Paul into the room. “You cant lie to me. You don’t forgive her, you don’t forgive her one minute or one hour of one night.”

“Do you know what was beautiful about her? Of course you do, you’re me.…” His gaze drifts a moment. “She was fragile. Delicate. In tune with the world. My curse hasn’t entirely been a curse. I have used these powers to help some people.”

“To help who? Your slaughtered employees? Do you forget that your company is run by a monster?”

Paul’s gaze snaps back into focus. “My company is still run by me.”

The Beast grins. “The statement remains.”

Paul eyes him. “You are less monstrous than you give yourself credit for.”

“You have no idea what I am capable of.”

“Maybe you have no idea what I am capable of, and maybe you’ll find that my humanity can outmatch your monstrosity.”

The Beast snarls. “Your people died because of you. Your ego, your need to impose yourself on the world, save everyone, change things, damned the consequences. Every minute you run that company, they are in danger. You know this, you’ve seen it happen. Is your plan to cut the heads off every consecutive flesh horror that crosses your path? How many more will die before you have sated yourself with the notion that it’s not yours to run any longer? How much longer before they start demanding you meet them in the day? Play-act alive all you want, you’re not, and the more you try to pretend, the more they die, and you know it.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. I may not be alive, but I am still here, and pretend or not, my presence there is not contributing more to the death than what is already going on in this area.”

“Foist it onto others, then, if you will. You can kill by omission as easily as you can with your fangs.”

“I can also not kill.”

“Then demonstrate it.”

“Havent I?”

“No. You have nothing but a weapon that burns your type from existence, a company who’s terrified that another horror or a set of horrors is going to seize them and carry them off into the night. You’ve enmeshed yourself of airs of gods and ancient vampires of predations unknown, all for what? So you can keep playing lord of the valley? At least Jobs had the decency to die for real.”

Paul’s eyes narrow at the comparison to Jobs, but otherwise he doesn’t react. “And I too will. When I’m done.”

“And when is that?”

“When I fix the energy problem.”

The Beast barks a laugh. “You don’t give a damn about the energy problem, even if you once did. That’s not why you finished this project, that’s not why you were allowed to finish it. You wanted this as a means of purging the world of all your kind.”

The Beast’s laughter continues to roll through the room, but Paul stands calmly. “I did, but I don’t want that anymore,” he says.

The laughter dies out and the gnarled face hardens again. “So what now?” the Beast mocks.

Paul stares at the terrible visage before him a moment before answering. “Help me. Prove me wrong. Stand on my side, help me with my things, and if I still fail, you’ll know you’re right.”

The Beast chuckles meanly. “I don’t care about your logic, I don’t care what you think of me, I care what you are.”

“What is that?”

“A predator. A killer, a despoiler of your surroundings. What all of you are.”

Paul nods slowly. “That’s what I was as a human too, yet both as a human and what I am now, I have some measure of control. And in that there is enough to hope, and enough to try, and enough to achieve.”

The Beast gestures at the room. “And what happened here, was that a measure of control? I think you believe yourself aggrieved, the lone light in a world of darkness. I think you think that you’re the one exception who can walk with anyone and do anything. Ten thousands of years of curses handed down by god, generation after generation of vampires, but you’re special. You’re different than all of them. That’s what you think.”

“There’s a reason for that….” Paul leans toward him. “I’m right.”

The Beast smiles at him in a wide, jagged grin. “Prove it, then. Right. Now.”

The Beast shimmers and disappears. Paul blinks and turns back to the room. “Georgia? Did you see any of—“

He stops. Georgia is gone, but standing in the room, holding a knife, is a tall woman with dark hair and darker clothes, staring at him with pained eyes.

Paul freezes. “…Lisa?” he says softly. She doesn’t answer. His emotions roil, but deep down something reminds him that this isn’t real. He tears his gaze away from her face and looks at her hands. “Are you trying to kill me with that knife?”

She stares at him for another flat moment before speaking. “I’m sorry Paul.”

Paul steps forward and grabs her hands. “Give me the knife. Let go,” he says gently.

“You want the knife?” she says, face suddenly hardening. She pulls away and slashes at him, but the swing is weak.

Paul steps calmly out of the way. “Drop the knife.”

She glares at him. “Why?”

“You don’t need it.”

She snarls at him and slashes again. This strike is tighter and Paul has to jump quickly out of the way. “You don’t know anything,” she hisses.

He holds a hand out. “I’m not going to learn from the knife, just help me.”

Fear flickers across her face and she glances around the room. “There isn’t enough time.”

“Will stabbing me with the knife do the same thing but faster?”

“No, Paul.”

“Then what will it do?”

She takes a step forward. “It means you’ll never have to know.” She grabs him with her free hand, throwing him backwards across the room. He crashes through a few pieces of designer furniture and comes up against the far wall, dazed.

“Why even try to stop me?” she hisses, stepping through the furniture to approach him again. “I know where this all goes. It’s better this way and you know it.”

Paul climbs back to his feet, watching her warily. “What do you think ‘this way’ is?”

“An end. An end to everything.”

Paul shakes his head slowly. “This isn’t how I’m going to end. You’re not going to kill me. You know it, I know it. This isn’t how I die.”

“Why?”

He shrugs. “It’s boring. Uninspired. Inelegant.”

She sneers at him, just like his Beast did moments before. “You know what your problem is Paul? You never learned to appreciate the boring.” She swings the knife again, and this time she strikes, jabbing it deep into his chest. Paul staggers back from the blow and touches the hilt weakly. The shirt around it is already wet to the touch. He lifts his fingers and looks at them.

Blood. Not Vitae, blood.

“This didn’t happen,” Paul mutters.

“It all happened, one way or another,” Lisa growls. “It. All. Happened.”

Paul looks to her, his eyes filled with pain. “And yet one of us will wake up, and one of us won’t. And I’m sorry about that.”

“You’d rather have traded?”

“No, but I’d rather neither of us had to die.”

Her face grows grim. “We were already dead. I was just the only one who knew it.”

Paul stares at her calmly, ignoring the fire in his chest and the blood dripping to the floor. “Death isn’t the lack of a heartbeat. It’s an absence of hopes and dreams, an absence of agency. These we both still have.”

Lisa stares back, then shakes her head slowly. “That’s what you think, Paul.”

The light around him slowly fades, erasing his vision of her and the cabin in the snow, dropping everything to black.

#

OFF THE COAST OF MONTEREY

Anstis and I jet and paddle our way out to sea, respectively, the lights of the coast slowly falling away behind us. Too slowly, actually, but fortunately we’re met part-way by a runabout from Morgan’s ship. The sailor driving it doesn’t seem entirely pleased to see me, but I convince him that I am here to meet a contact, his boss—which he identifies only as “The Captain”— so he heads back to the ship.

We are well offshore before the Revenge coalesces out of the darkness. I eye her appreciatively as we pull up alongside.

“Tom,” Anstis growls, gesturing grandly, “May I present, Captain Morgan’s cruiser.”

That takes a second to sink in. “Capt—You mean the rum guy?!”

Anstis stares at me blankly. I stare back, then shake off my surprise and start collecting my guns.

More crewmen meet us as we climb onto the deck, saying the captain wants to see us. I dump my gear onto one of them to take to my cabin, then follow the rest. We’re lead up to the bridge, overlooking the darkness, lit by tactical lights and the glow of screens, and presided over by a guy who…looks like a pirate.

(Jason: “He looks exactly like what you would expect a pirate to look like. The reason for this, although you don’t know it, is because the way this guy looked became the standard for how all pirates looked thereafter. This guy defined the genre. He is the O.G.”)

Morgan turns as we enter. Anstis sweeps his hat off in a bow. Morgan nods at him, then looks to me. “And who are you?”

“Name’s Tom Lytton.”

“Tom Lytton.” His eyes narrow speculatively. “Shall I ask, Tom Lytton, are you the reason why I cannot get closer to shore?”

I glare at Anstis. “Not…the entire reason….

“But part of it. It was an unwise act.”

My face hardens. “It wasn’t exactly my choice.”

“Many things are not our choice, or perhaps they are because we have not seen fit to see what the future can hold.” He shakes his head slowly. “In any event it is done. What service are you here to render me?”

I glance around. Faced with Morgan’s formidable boat, and obviously large crew, I too am suddenly wondering what use I could be around here. “Marcus told me to come.”

Morgan lifts his chin. “Marcus. That was not his name when I knew him. That was part of his name, but I knew him in a different light. In my day when one such as he asked to be spoken of with his full name one did so.”

I shrug. “I mostly just call him Boss.”

“I see. And how comes a Brujah of this land to speak of such terms of Marcus Sertorius?” He jerks his chin at Anstis. “This one does not speak of him in these terms.”

Anstis and I trade a tense glance. I turn back to Morgan and shrug. “I owed him some shit, and that ledger seems to just keep racking up over time, but now it seems that amongst all the associated assholes of the West Coast, he is probably one of the lesser, so…I hang around. It’s a job.”

“I think you will find, Mr, Lytton, it is far more than that, but I will leave you to discover that yourself. My name is Henry Morgan, and I can tell already you have not heard it before.”

“I’ve…seen it on the rum bottle,” I say hesitantly.

Morgan chuckles. “A passable likeness. I am not a man from the rum bottle, nor the commercials for it.”

(Chris: “He says as he lifts his leg to lean on something.”
Jason: “Ha! A barrel!”
Me: “Where do these barrels come from?! They just keep popping up everywhere!!”)

“I am here,” Morgan continues, “Because I was asked by a boss to come and do service. A service I have been paid for. In cash and in kind and in promises to come. Do you know what that service is?”

I shrug. “Something to do with this Accio asshole?”

Accio….” Morgan rolls the name around his mouth as if tasting it, and by the look on his face finds it displeasurable. “Accio and I are related by blood. We are of a kind, he and I. Of the clan of the seafarers, little though some of us embrace that designation. Accio and I have had our disagreements in the past and now I am tasked with destroying him. This one here believes you will be an asset in that destruction, is that so?

I glance east, toward the invisible coastline. “Well, I think you’ve seen what I can do when I accidentally destroy—“

Morgan glares out into the darkness. “I have seen many towns burn in my day, Lytton, I myself have burned more than my share. It takes very little to do that. A drunken pirate can burn a town. But I am sailing against an armada commanded by a dread creature who carries the blood of the seafarers clan. He commands a fleet of warships and converted liners that can reduce you and all your strengths to ash in a heartbeat. So I would suggest, Lytton, that if you have better credentials to deploy to me than having lit Monterey on fire, you do so.”

He turns back to me. “I have known the one you call Boss for a great many years. He has a means by which he chooses those he will assist and those he will not. I do not know if his means are effective in all cases. I do know that he tested me for much time before I received the Embrace, and most of those tests I didn’t even know I was taking. But I am not a man who has gotten to where he is by relying on the judgement of others, not even that of Marcus Sertorius. So if you would sail with me, I would know what you can bring to my ship, or I will remove you from it. Do you doubt my capacities?”

I glance over at Anstis, whose grizzled face is grinning like an idiot.

(Me: “WHAT!?
Jim: “I just…I really, really like Morgan, and I didn’t have to put up with half this shit!”)

Morgan continues. “Have you anything to offer besides an unwise wit and a handful of guns? If you have not noticed…” He gestures to the canon looming out over the bow, “I have guns aplenty on this ship.”

I fight back a glare. Vera is a little more than a handful, but…whatever. “Well, people do claim I’m easy on the eyes, so there’s that reason to have me around, but I’ve been racking up a tally of taking out other assholes, which is probably why Boss thought I would be helpful here.”

“Which assholes are these?”

I start ticking on my fingers. “A bunch of Andre Roussimov’s guys, Andre Roussimov himself, at least one werewolf, we temporarily knocked out a dragon but he woke up, I took a picture of it—“ My face falls. “—Oh but Paul hasn’t sent it to me yet. But I do have some other pictures….” I pull up my cameraroll, showing Morgan the photos of Slayer staked and dressed like a schoolgirl, and Alejandro beat to a pulp with dicks drawn all over his face.

Anstis, meanwhile, is staring at me in distaste. “Tom, you sure know how to make an impression,” he grumbles.

Morgan stares at the phone a moment, face unreadably, then looks back up at me. “You’re plainly accustomed to being the greatest power around, Mr. Lytton—“

I bark a laugh. “Nooooo, no sir I am not.”

“You do not act like it. Bravado isn’t a trait I admire, but there are others.”

I glance at the crew moving about the room around us. “Like loyalty?”

“And judgement,” Morgan says sharply.

“Well I got a lot of one of those.”

“Which one?”

I glance down at my phone, the pictures still visible. “Probably more the former.”

Morgan snorts. “You claim to loyalty then. To whom—or what—are you loyal?”

I quickly run through the options. The city of San Francisco is a hard one to explain, Sophia my teenage werewolf friend is even harder, and the continuing question of my estranged sister is one not even I want to dwell on at the moment. That leaves only one easy answer, and it’s probably the best one anyway. “Well, I haven’t been calling Boss boss just for the sake of my health.”

Morgan’s eyes narrow. “He can compel your allegiance.”

My mind flashes back to a fog-driven night on the edge of Lands End. Tracking down Marcus at the Legion of Honor. The Vaulderie. I look Morgan in the eye. “There was a time when he did not.”

“Was there?” Morgan watches me a long moment, then turns back to Anstis. “Will this Brujah be of use to you?”

Anstis shrugs. “Lytton can be a useful tool.” I glare back at him, trying to figure out if he chose that word on purpose or not.

“Then let him prove himself.” Morgan scans his bridge crew, busy at their work but watching us out of the corners of their eyes. “We must finish our repairs. It will be more difficult to do at high sea, but we will conclude them as best we can.”

I start to relax, obviously having succeeded at the interview, but this was probably a mistake, because before I know it my mouth is opening again: “Do you need any help? Cause I’ve been told I’m pretty good at swabbing the poop deck.”

(Jason: “…Wow. You literally don’t know when to shut up. Paul doesn’t know how to shut up and you don’t know when to shut up.”
Cameron: “That does sound accurate for a Toreador and a Brujah.”
Jim: *breathless with laughter* “What are your flaws?”
Me: “Um…well one of my merits is Common Sense….”
Chris: “Is it?”)

The entire bridge falls silent. Morgan stares, then leans toward me. “I would suggest you keep such talents to yourself on my ship. I have duties to attend to. My men will see your to your quarters. The day is coming. When we strike Accio, I should hope you prove yourself more useful. It would be unfortunate if you did not.”

Morgan turns away, obviously dismissing us. Anstis and I trade one more tense glance then leave the bridge. Anstis heads back to his cabin and starts working on the teleportation circle he’s planning on using to get us to Accio’s ship. I, meanwhile, am lead back to my cabin, where I start laying out and sorting through my mini armory.

I’m carefully checking Vera for signs of saltwater damage when a sudden sound makes me stop. A clicking sound, like something tapping metal, with a sharpness indicating it’s coming from inside the room. I freeze, and turn.

It’s Aquilifer, perched on the edge of the desk behind me, pecking at a half-exposed bolt sticking out of the wall.

“Quill!” I gasp in relief, then pause. “…Boss?” I call out hesitantly.

There’s a moment of silence, then, from behind me, “…Tom.” I whirl back. Marcus is standing on the bed, looking down at the weapons. He idly reaches down and picks up Vera, one-handed, and examines her a moment. “What the hell did you do?” he mumbles finally.

The tone in his voice brings my fear back full force. “In Monterey? I don’t know.”

“You don’t know. Well. Let me tell you what you did. You killed the Anarch Baron of Monterey….”

“…Oh, that’s who Stanley was….”

His eyes snap up to me. “…You killed him, all his men, burned his aquarium to the ground, and seemingly destroyed about a quarter of the buildings in the town. With or without their inhabitants, I’m not certain yet. That sound about right?”

“…Tracks with what I know,” I say softly.

“That all you have to say on that subject?”

I blink. What more can I say? It’s a fucking tragedy, isn’t it obvious? “I’m…really sorry?”

He watches me a moment. “You know Tom, you sound to me, and you’ll forgive me cause I’m old and I’ve heard a lot of things and this isn’t my first language, so maybe I’m wrong here, but you sound a lot to me like someone whose not actually sorry but is trying to decide if that’s what I want to hear. But like I said, I’m old and its not my first language so maybe I’m missing the subtleties.” His grip on Vera tightens, creaking the metal. “What happened Tom?”

I grimace. I don’t want to think about this, about what I did wrong, not when it just draws more attention to what I am, and what I am not, but Marcus’s gaze pierces me like the sword on his back, so I push through the horror. “I think what happened is that I finally lived up to my fucking clan potential in the exact ways I’ve been afraid of ever since…the first time. When it was entirely out of my control.”

“And this time?”

I look away. “Was worse.”

“Was it? What was the first time?”

I slump against the wall. A knot of remembered terror and grief unfolds at my core, but I stumble through anyway. “It’s mostly a blur. I was in some clubs, down on Folsom. Drugs were probably involved too, so that doesn’t help.…” Broken memories of a smiling face flash across my mind, a face that knew too much, a face full of promises. I try to follow that face, to see more, but as usual it laughs and dances back into the darkness. I take a breath and continue. “The bar burnt down. I didn’t hear about it till the next…night. There were no witnesses left. People thought it was an attack, like the UpStairs Lounge. It wasn’t until weeks later that I realized it…was me….”

I toy with one of my bandoliers, feeling Marcus’s gaze drilling into me. “So…” he says finally, “What should we do? See the Masquerade will take care of itself, the Camarilla is good at that if nothing else. My guess is that they’re going to clean the entire city up and claim it was some kind of terrorist attack. It’s what I’d do in their place.”

The knot in me tightens. I snap my gaze up. “Well, I can’t undo what I did! I can’t bring those people back, or pay to rebuild the town! If this is apparently the nature of my condition, then I guess it’s just something I have to get used to and avoid as much as I can!”

Marcus watches me for a very long moment. “I don’t pretend to know what its like to carry Brujah blood, but that’s an awfully cavalier attitude toward what just happened. Obviously you didn’t control it, obviously it’s something that happens. That’s not the point. We all carry the Beast, some more than others, you probably more than most. What’s important isn’t what we do under it, it’s what we do after.”

I throw my arms out. “Well, I don’t really know what to do, this is my first slip-up in twenty years!”

“Twenty years is a blink of an eye, Tom, I assure you of that. How did it happen?” he snaps.

I sigh and drop my arms. “They had Anstis and they were about to feed him to a Rokea. I took the opportunity to take out Stanley’s men. I missed one, he shot me in the face, and everything after that went…red….”

“That’s all it took,” Marcus says softly.

“Apparently. You know how fun it is to get shot in the face,” I mumble.

Marcus’s eyes narrow. “You’ll notice that wasn’t my reaction the lat time it happened. If it was, I assure you, you would have known. I have killed men for far less than this, Tom. You know that.”

I glance at him, and the gladius on his back. The one he used to decapitate Elsa and that Malkavian girl. “I’ve seen it,” I mumble.

“Yes, you have. I’ve killed them for less guilt, I’ve killed them for less reason. But it’s not that you burned the town down that concerns me. It’s that I’m not certain how much you give a shit that you did. I mean, you give a shit that I’m standing here in the room with a sword ready to cut you to pieces and you have absolutely no chance of stopping me if I should decide to. You give a lot of shit about that.”

I shift against the wall and fold my arms. “Well there’s also this thing called shock, that seems to be something that still affects us. To some extent.”

“It passes. In time, it passes, but how do i know that tomorrow it wont be another town? Don’t waste your time thinking of absolute guarantees, but you have to give me something Tom.”

“I do my best to handle my shit,” I mutter.

“And yet shit happens. Thats the term, isn’t it?” He pauses thoughtfully. “I could order you, you know, make you go back to New York, speak to the Camarilla officials. Tell them you’re the cause of this Masquerade breach. Would that be a fitting thing for me to do?”

“I don’t know, it seems that going through official channels isn’t really your style,” I grumble.

“That’s true, and I would hate to use the Camarilla for these purposes, but unfortunately my associates wouldn’t care. The majority of them, at least. That’s one of the reason I don’t talk to most of them anymore.”

(Me: “Yeah, am I Sabbat now?”
Chris: “No, you’re kinda on the Path of Michael Bay.”
Jason: “Ha! The Path of Bay! Sin #1: Failing to explode things. Sin #2: Good writing.”
Me: “Sin #3: Looking at the explosions as you walk away.”
Jason: “Sin #4: Failing to invoke racial stereotypes.”
Me: “Sin #5: Not using orange-and-blue over-contrast coloration in everything.”
Jason: “Sin #6: Using a camera that is steady and stable.”
Jim: “Sin #7: Having equal male and female characters.”
Jason: “Sin #8: Using less than half the runtime as comic relief.”
Jason: “Sin #9: Taste.”
Ben: “Sin #10: Any kind of accuracy whatsoever.”)

“So,” Marcus continues, “You’re my client, Tom, and that makes what you did my responsibility, what would you have me do?”

My eyes narrow at his tone. New memories bloom across my mind, memories of my father bidding my sister and I to get his belt, telling us that it was his job and for our own good. “Well I’ve never blown up a town before, but you apparently have, so you tell me,” I snap.

Marcus regards me a long moment, the tension in the room mounting. “Yes, I have.” He stares at me evenly, then continues. “I would appreciate it, Tom, if you would come to a decision at some point, as to what the best way forward is. You may be a neonate, but you’re not a fool. You know yourself to be prone to this, do you not? So what will you do about it?”

I chuckle darkly. “Well I have a long history, longer than my vampire years, of trying to keep my shit from spreading to those around me.”

“And how good are you at it?”

Memories of Rob’s last days flood through my mind. “I was better at it before I became a vampire,” I admit, begrudgingly.

“Circumstances are difficult, I understand. But Tom, this kind of thing cannot happen, and I need to know what steps you’re willing to take to ensure that it doesn’t. You’re a neonate, you do not frenzy often. I’m certain you did not come down to Monterey with the intention of burning it to the ground, but now you’ve done so. And it. Cannot. Continue. To happen.”

“Well I think the moral of the…year…is, don’t shoot anybody in the face.”

“That’s a start, perhaps. But believe it or not, that wasn’t a threat, that was a statement. And the reason, in fact, that I didn’t enter here and cut your throat out is because I have had some confidence previous to this that you understood that. Whether you know how to stop it or not, it cannot happen. Do you understand?”

I glance at his sword and try to comprehend the full weight of that statement, but once again my mind balks, running away the reality of it. But I nod anyway.

“Good. Because you’re not dead, and I haven’t killed you, and that means if it does happen again, whose fault was it? You don’t blame the mad dog for biting. You blame the guardsman for failing to kill it.”

“So I’m a dog then, am I?” I sneer.

“I don’t know, Tom, are you?”

I consider mentioning the fact that I run around with “werewolf friends” but, for once, decide to let it slide. The last thing I need to do is bring Sophia up in all this. “What about the boat job?” I ask instead.

Marcus sighs. “Blessedly free of towns to destroy, I should expect. I’m not going to complain overmuch if you sink some of Accio’s ships. Neither is Morgan, unless they’re particularly valuable. But then, he’s a pirate, I’ve always had no trouble understanding his mentalities. You’re a bit more complicated.”

I snort. “You’re probably the only person to say that.”

“You’re a product of the modern world. Life was simpler in the past, and Morgan is a simple creature because of it. I tested Morgan very extensively. I found him to be precisely what I needed him to be and precisely what he portrayed himself as. I did not expect him to, upon being embraced, transform himself into a lover of humanity, obsessed with the goodness of human nature. Morgan was a pirate. He was a pirate when I met him, a pirate when I embraced him, and a pirate tonight.” He looks me over. “What you are, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated, and I cant decide it for you. You’re not alive anymore, Tom, and you still seem to think that you are, in some ways. These things die hard.”

There’s a long moment of silence. Marcus watches me and I continue to avoid his gaze. “No comment?” he asks. “Or are you just waiting for me to leave so you can get back to your business?” He drops Vera back to the bed with a heavy clank. “Make certain, Tom, that I don’t regret leaving this room without having used my sword. I am asking you to make certain of that, as a favor. Can you do as much?”

Staring at the floor, I nod.

He watches me a long moment. “One of the problems with me being me, Tom, is that I can never tell if someone is telling the truth or just afraid. Possibly you don’t know either.” He sighs. “Do the boat job, Tom. Kill, smash, despoil, sink, do whatever it is you want to. I have to clean up something. And it’s not going to be a pleasant thing to do.”

Marcus holds out a hand. Aquilifer wings her way over to the bed. She settles herself next to him and looks at me expectantly.

I shrug sadly. “Sorry, Quill, I don’t have any steaks right now. But if you hang around a bit, I might be able to get you some calamari.”

Marcus stares at me, sighs belaboredly, then rests his hand on Aquilifer’s shoulder. The shadows swell up around them and they both disappear into darkness. I stare at the place they stood for a few moments after they’ve gone, mind running back through the conversation, and the one with Morgan as well. My gaze falls on my guns, and the sword, trophies of recent accomplishments and my prized possessions in the world at the moment.

I curse and punch a divot into the solid steel wall.

END OF NIGHT

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