9/23/2014

“This is becoming the quintessential vampire game, in that the Toreador is asking what other people think of him and the Brujah is trying to remember where she left all her guns.” —Jason

***

PAUL, UNKNOWN LOCATION

Everything fades to black…then up into white. Expansive, featureless white. No walls, no horizon, not even a floor. Paul is corporeal, but there is literally nothing else in existence around him.

Until…footsteps, echoing as if across marble, and getting louder. Paul turns until he sees a figure resolve out of the whiteout.

It’s Doc Holiday.

Paul blinks. “Doc? Are you…here?”

“Mr. Stewart,” Doc drawls. “Well, that would depend, sir, on what you mean by here. Do you have the first conception of where you are located?”

Paul looks around. “You know, I wouldn’t hazard a guess right now. A moment ago I could have told you whether or not I was in the real world, but now I can’t. Though I suspect not.”

“Where were you a moment ago, if I might inquire?”

“The past.” Paul hesitates. “A different past.”

“A past you intended to revisit or one you did not?”

“It’s one I have had in my mind for a long while now, but I did not intend to revisit it.”

“We all carry a number of things in our minds, Mr. Stewart. A man may choose to carry a thing for a number of reasons, but those reasons are his own, and I shall not pry into them.” Doc rocks back on his heels and looks around. “We are in a space between spaces, Mr. Stewart. A world between worlds, to use the parlance of…well, your times more than mine. You will forgive me if I use these terms improperly, I am not a philosopher. I am a sporting man. Are you a sporting man, Mr. Stewart?”

Paul sighs. Doc asked him similar questions the first time they met, playing cards in the backroom of his store in Colma. “I suppose that might hinge on what you consider a sporting man to be.”

“A sporting man is one who engages in sport for the sport of things. You are presently engaged in such a sport, are you not? You are playing with very high stakes. Higher I think than you know, but perhaps not higher than you suspect.”

Paul stares at Doc, realizing that he’s talking about more than simple gambling. “That sounds about right. I’ve been doing that frequently as of late.”

“Does it, perhaps.” Doc’s mustache twitches in a grin. “I am, of course, not really here, Mr. Stewart, but we are in a place where we may speak a time and then I may return you from whence you came, and return myself to the same. Tell me, Mr. Stewart, what transpired in this other place which you previously were?”

Paul hesitates again. “I do not know how familiar you are with my Embrace….”

“You will find, Mr Stewart, that I am a man who takes great pleasure in knowing a great many things.”

Paul shrugs and starts to pace through the featureless space. “The woman who embraced me, she was my highschool sweetheart for a time. Before she went away. Some years ago she came back. Maybe sadder than before, but she was always sad, but it was a beautiful sadness. A pure sadness. We saw each other for awhile. And one night in Tahoe, she…performed the Embrace on me, and turned me….” Paul trails off a moment. “But I don’t think she wanted to share the world with me. I know she didn’t want to share the world with me. She was tired of it. Her condition was a curse, and in some ways it was I suppose, but she felt it wouldn’t be the same curse for me. I’m not yet sure if that’s true or not.”

Doc nods. “A man may live many centuries without knowing the answer to that question.”

“I suspect you are right. In any case, she knew I’d awaken from it hungry and frenzied….” Paul is quiet a moment, staring into infinity. “She lay there, fully expecting I would devour her.”

Doc glances at him from under the shade of his hat. “And you did so.”

Paul nods once. “I did, in her entirety.”

“And since that night, have you regretted this?”

“I have. I regret removing her from the world. Though…in a way, she is closer to me than I ever imagined she would be.”

“The Amaranth has many effects. Some cannot be predicted. You saw her again, then?”

“I did. But before that, I saw the cabin where it happened. It was empty. And then in the woods outside, I saw my Beast. We…spoke, after a fashion.”

Doc cocks and eyebrow. “You spoke with this beast? What had it to say?”

“It tried to pull me into despair, to convince me my efforts were useless.”

“The Beast is a dark reflection of our own psyches. Nothing more, nothing less. This makes it an intimately well-understood character as well as the most dangerous thing in the world.”

Paul nods slowly. “That sums it up. Though it tried, it couldn’t persuade me that all was naught. Indeed, if anything its convinced me more the value of the humanity that still dwells within me.”

“You have clung to that humanity as others may not have, is that so, Mr Stewart?”

“Yes.” Paul stops pacing and turns to face Doc. “When I was alive I had not…seen death, or violence, in the way I have now, and now that I have seen them I find that the humanity means more. Both for me and for the world, somehow.”

Doc nods silently a few moments, face expressionless. “I once knew a man, many years ago, who told me that he had a theory as to our condition. Are you familiar with the stories that are told of our origins?”

“Bits and pieces.”

“But you know the Scripture story of Caine and Abel?”

“I’ve heard that one.”

“According to most who care to answer the question at all, Caine was the first murderer, and he became the first Kindred as a result, when God cursed him to walk the Earth in darkness and in pain. He transmitted this curse to his descendants and then to theirs, and so on and so forth, until we stand here today. Such is the story. But this man proposed to me a theory in which he said, what if it wasn’t a curse at all? What if the intention that the Almighty had was not to curse Caine, but to provide him with an opportunity? After all, as unpleasant as our condition may be, one must attest it has certain advantages. Immortality. Nigh-invulnerability. The ability to do what others may not.”

Paul frowns thoughtfully but nods agreeably.

Doc continues. “I have long suspected it was something of a strange curse that rendered me immune to bullets, when so many men wished to inject them within me. But then I did more than many to earn a curse from God. Did you, I wonder? If this was a Biblical curse, then it stands to reason that all of us who have inherited it have inherited it for a reason. All of us had sins that needed assuaging. Perhaps sins so horrid they could not be assuaged in any means except by this world. Thus the need to keep us around. Now my sins are well known. Or some of them are. You have, no doubt, heard stories.”

“Heard, yes, and some pretty good movies.”

Doc chuckles briefly. “Some, and some less good. When I was alive I slew nine men. And after I was dead I slew many more. And I may yet slay. Perhaps it is my nature. You, when alive, did not slay men. Did you do anything else that might merit such a response?”

“Not to my understanding, of either life or unlife. But if there’s a god, I don’t pretend to know his mind.”

“And are you a man who possesses the self-awareness to accurately judge your own sins?”

“I would guess not. Too close to the source.”

“Most likely. But let us pause it for a moment and relfect. This, as I see it, leaves us to three conclusions.” Doc holds up three fingers and counts them one by one. “Either there is no God, and we are all creatures of chance. There is a God and he has condemned you for something other than your sins. Or the reason you bear the vampires curse is…not a condemnation at all. It was this third possibility that this friend recommended to me.” Doc sighs. “Shortly before he died. Natural causes. So rare, in these nights.”

“Rarer than perhaps they should be.”

“Quite. Particularly for us. I am, as I said, a sporting man, sir. But the sport I practice is not the sport I am used to. I still play poker. I still deal in faro. I still engage in gunplay. But there is another sport. A greater sport, perhaps. One that I do not even fully understand the nature of but have been seeking it. Tell me. What sport do you engage in?”

“In my own mind?” Paul shrugs. “I build the future where others are too afraid to try.”

“And why do you build this future?”

“I’ve always felt deep down that my life would be a short one, and that if it was to mean anything, that I was to move fast and certainly.”

Doc smirks. “Ironic that you now find yourself facing eternity.”

“It is, but the feeling hasn’t gone away.”

“I know you must tire of guessing games at this point, Mr. Stewart, but I do not ask these questions in idleness. You see there are many Kindred who have spent many, many years, centuries, even millennia, searching for meaning for what they do, and most do not find it. And most of those who do find some…cobbled, artificial meaning, conjured up by someone who impose upon them for a time. Servitude of sort to one or another. But there are a few for whom the dice roll that roll proper numbers.”

Doc watches Paul long moment before continuing. “Are you familiar with a term called Suspire?”

“I…don’t think so….” Paul says politely.

“It’s a term far older than either of us. Comes from the Old World. A Suspire is a search of sorts. A quest, perhaps, is a better term. For enlightenment, for understanding, for reason, for anything. It might lead one to appreciate the nature of what it is they are. It can take any form, be of any length. I have known men who have sought it for centuries and never found it. I have known men who have gone mad in its search, or disappeared. And I have known men who have given up. I have not seen a Suspire, Mr. Stewart, not ever. But it can take some time. And it is the reason I am in this city.” He’s quiet another long moment. “What is it you are looking for?”

Paul stares into whitewashed eternity a moment before responding. “I am looking to find something that people see everywhere, and see it maybe a little differently. And help other people see it differently too, and just in that difference of perception make things better. Bring people together.”

“What is it they see and what is it you see?”

“There’s a lot of ways to answer that.”

“And an eternity to answer it in.”

Paul’s wistful expression darkens. “I don’t think I could last an eternity. Even if I weren’t pursued by everyone, I think ill get restless before that.”

Doc shrugs. “Eternity is not for everyone. But you spoke with your Beast, Mr. Stewart. There are others I have known that have done this. But what fascinates me is that once you have finished rejecting the overtures of your Beast, you did not slay it with a sword, or strike it with a claw, or shoot it with a pistol. You closed the door and walked away. And that is nothing I see many men do.”

“I’ve learned that sometimes tooting my own horn gets me in trouble, and at the risk of doing that again I don’t think you’ve met many men like me.”

“Not many. Possibly a few. Most men who do not succumb to their Beasts suppress them. Fight them. Deny them. Struggle against their darker natures in hopes of controlling themselves, and perhaps that is what they do. But I have always thought and been told that if the Beast is another measure of our psyche then the Beast is simply us. Another facet, perhaps, but it deserves no less to be thrown out in the cold than we do. Surely if the Beast is you, and you are a sporting man, then some form of sport can be arranged between you.”

“Very high odds, I imagine. And point of fact, I didn’t close the door on it.”

Doc quirks an eyebrow. “Then what did you do?”

“I embraced it, when I firmed in my mind the value of my humanity, and somehow the Beast changed before me, into my sire. Lisa.”

“And what did she do?”

Paul’s gaze drifts off again. “She reminded me of some of the bad things that happened in my name since I was turned. The attacks on Tesseract. Tried to call into question the value of continuing to pretend, in her words, to stay alive. But I don’t think its pretending. Maybe I’m not all alive, but I’m still some alive. And that’s quite a bit.”

“More than some.”

“And in the end, perhaps tentatively, she seemed to accept that.”

Doc nods again and glances around the space. “We are not obviously here in this, this place does not exist. It is a figment of my imagination projected into yours. When we are done, you will be back in the castle of the Tzmitsce lord, and you will be in great danger there, as I am sure you have already discovered. I do not presume to tell you your business there. But if you should escape—and you have made something of a habit of eluding death—there is a man I think you ought to meet. This is not a man I introduce men to lightly. But I think it may profit you to make his acquaintance. It may even profit him.” He swaggers closer. “But…if I make introductions to this man, I will require something from you. And that is discretion. I would not have anyone else know of what my purpose is here. Nor of this mans existence. Not Ms. Johnson, not Mr. Lytton, not Mr. Anstis. Not…the Small One.”

Paul nods slowly. “My discretion, so much as it is mine, you can count on. But more than one of the people you listed there I know has the capacity to overcome my will, if put to it.”

Doc tilts his hat wryly. “But if they do not know to ask, then they cannot know.”

Paul considers that, then nods again. “Then your secrets will remain safe.”

Doc smiles a smile that is polite, but vaugely ominous. “Well then in that case, Mr. Stewart, I must bid you a very good day.” He takes off his hat and holds it to his chest in a gentlemanly sort of gesture. “Good sporting, Mr. Stewart.”

Before Paul can say anything else, everything fades to white.

#

THE REVENGE

The crew of the Revenge—the vampire ones, at least, what few there are—start to make preparations against the coming day. Anstis is in his cabin, doing similar ablutions and doing some preliminary sketching for his teleportation circle on the floor, when there is a knock at his door. Anstis freezes, then gets up to answer, only opening the door a crack.

It’s Marcus, apparently deciding that Anstis deserves more prosaic entrances than I do, next to Aquilifer. Anstis steps carefully into the hallway and closes the door behind him.

“Captain. How is everything going?”

“Quite well,” Anstis grumbles.

Marcus leans around him and stares suspiciously at the cabin door. “There a particular reason you don’t want me to see whats in that room?”

Anstis hesitates, then sighs, perhaps realizing that if Marcus wants to find out, he’s going to anyway. “You can come in if you really want to,” Anstis growls and opens the door.

“Thank you, I think I will.” Marcus enters, followed by Aquilifer, who gives Anstis a Come-At-Me-Bro glare as she passes. Anstis enters behind them and finds Marcus staring at the sketches on the floor. “Interesting decor,” is all he says, though.

Anstis carefully steps around Aquilifer. “Is there something I can help you with?”

Marcus turns to him, hands clasped formally behind his back, over his sword. “As I understand it, you are here to help me with something. I understand you’ve been promised quite  payday for it.” He pauses, obviously expecting Anstis to respond, but the pirate just stares back flatly. Marcus’s eyes narrow. “Do you know how to operate a submarine, Captain?”

“Not yet, but I can learn.” Anstis glances at the circle—another recent “lesson” of his—and smirks. “Is there a point to this chat?”

Marcus’s glare deepens. “How do you plan to attack Accio?”

“Hasn’t the captain told you?”

“I wanted to hear it from the horses mouth. The captain has told me you shot a helicopter down.”

Anstis shrugs. “I didn’t shoot it down, but it crashed nonetheless.”

“Took it down, then. Tore it from the air.” Marcus shakes his head slowly, gaze drifting. “We live in an age of wonders, Captain. I spent five centuries where every man had a sword. Three more where they all had rifles. And now they come out with new amazing things every month. Most of them magical, none of the comprehensible to me. So….” His focus sharpens again. “What do you intend to do about Accio and his wonders?”

Anstis leans against the desk and folds his arms. “I intend to bring a team on his ship and kill him.”

“By means of that?” Marcus points to the circle. “I didn’t know you had that in you.” At this, Anstis merely smiles again.  Marcus sighs. “So you’re a blood mage now. You have a means of determining his location and then applying the circle toward it?

“That I do.”

“If I might ask, what means are these?”

Anstis nonchalantly smooths at his coat. “Mr. Morgan has told me he can find an item that was stolen from Accio. I do not know what it is, but if this is true, I can use it. What I am curious of is how Accio managed to transport himself from wherever he was to this ship. For if he can do that, we may have a greater problem on our hands.”

Marcus nods slowly, face grim. “That concerns me as well. If he can do that it becomes all the more important to dispatch him immediately.”

“Could he be a blood mage as well?”

“He wasn’t when last I knew him, but Accio is not called the Collector just because he collects bottlecaps. He has all manner of objects that grant him all manner of capabilities.”

Anstis smiles grimly. “Are you coming to offer your assistance?”

“I am certainly considering it. Accio is a dangerous foe. But then again so am I. And it would warm the cockles of my heart to watch him die, personally.” Marcus’s gaze grows dark and the shadows in the room flicker.

Anstis, though, is unperturbed. “Any knowledge you have of his men would be most helpful. Are his men likely to be ghouls?”

Marcus glances up and the shadows recede. “In the main. He may have childer of his own on that ship, and given that he’s been working with his grandfather, there could be anything there.”

“Is there a way, given this new human-magic, to render them unconscious?”

“The ghouls?” Marcus shrugs. “There are formulations. Gasses. Myrmidon might be able to lay their hands on something. I’ll see what I can come up with. But Accio may not even be in the sub. He will likely be on his pleasure-yacht. An old ocean liner repurposed for his purposes. He likes to play Lord of the Seas,” Marcus sneers.

Anstis snorts in mild disbelief. “There’s one thing I am certain he’s not good at. Negotiation.”

“Yes, I hear you spoke to him. How well did that go? I’ll admit, I didn’t expect you to be alive. He is not my equal, but he has a certain potency to him.”

Now Anstis’s gaze grows dark. “He wanted me to turn on…everyone.”

“And did you?” Marcus’s voice is soft but there is a razor edge to it.

“I did not,” Anstis says sharply. “I’ve had my fill of that. One need only be staked and left at the bottom of the ocean for centuries to have their fill of that.”

Marcus nods slowly, calculatingly. “That I believe, Captain. There’s one other thing I have discovered that may of of importance to you. Accio has been a creature of the seas for longer than I can remember. My clan is a nautical one, though I am atypical in this. But I made a discovery as to where he spent the 1720s.”

“Oh?”

“The Caribbean, and the Spanish Main.”

Anstis tenses. “Would I have known him by a different name?”

“No, he went quietly in that time. But did it ever occur to you what happened to your ship following your betrayal?”

“I have wondered this….” Anstis growls.

“It was sunk, at the hands of the Royal Navy, but not for some time after you were lost. Your crew met with other pirates in the interim. There are no records of what transpired between them, but…Accio was involved in that business. It is not impossible, Captain, that one or two of your crew are still among his.”

Anstis stares into the distance, stroking his beard. “Well if that is the case, then I shall be very…interested to meet them.”

“I am sure they will be just as interested to meet you.” Marcus strides across the cabin to the door. “I’ll be about. When do you propose to perform this ritual?”

“It would be beneficial to wait a few nights to heal, but whenever the captain of this vessel decides to renew hostilities.”

“And how will you spend the interim?”

“Preparing, of course. It wouldn’t hurt to have more on the infiltration.”

Marcus nods. “As it happens, I know where Paul and the Tremere are. They are in San Simeon, in the domain of a Voivode. Orlando is his name.”

Anstis pauses thoughtfully. “With Paul’s encouragement of the crew and her magical assistance, we have a decent shot. Why are they there?

“I don’t know. But if you hurry Captain, you can reach San Simeon in a couple of hours. Tomorrow night.”

“Is it wise to visit the lair of a Voivode?”

Marcus hesitates. “Let me put it this way, it is no less wise than taking on the Royal Navy. And with Lytton’s…winning personality, I’m sure you all can come to some arrangement.”

(Me: “I’m just the pretty face.”)

Marcus grins. “Good sailing, Captain,” he says, then leaves with Aquilifer.

Anstis considers all this, then goes back to working on the circle in the last hour left of night.  After some time, he finally reaches a point of completion, but it needs to be tested.

To that end, he goes to find me.

#

I’m sprawled on my bunk, arm over my eyes, waiting for the death that will come with dawn, when I hear a knock at my door. “Yeah?” I groan.

Anstis’s voice rumbles through the door. “Good morning!”

I turn back to the ceiling. “Oh, thought maybe you were room service.”

The door opens with a shriek and Anstis sweeps inside. “Has Marcus spoken to you of his plans?”

“…Some of them,” I mutter flatly.

“He suggests we go to San Simeon to meet with the others at a Voivode’s house and gather them for the upcoming assault.”

I groan. “I’m sure whatever the hell they’re getting up to it’s not something we want to be a part of.”

“Aye, but two against many is…not great odds.”

I look at him, smirking at me. He’s right, and he knows I know he’s right. “Urg, fine. Paul called me earlier, said we need to bring a gift when visiting this guy. You got anything for that?”

“The Voivodes like…unusual things. Old things.”

I look at my armory spread across the surfaces of the room. “Well…I got a lotta guns—“

(Jason: “Common sense check.”
Me: “I AM NOT LOOKING AT THE SWORD!
Jason: “…Okaaaaay, if you insist….”)

Anstis stares at the guns. Vera is certainly the most impressive, but his gaze lingers on the shotgun, which is a gun I have been carrying around for some time. “Excuse me, I need to borrow this a moment,” he growls, grabbing the gun and striding from the room.

“….What?! Motherfucker!” I jump up and follow.

I chase him halfway down the ship, to the door of his cabin. He turns at the threshold, holding my gun calmly. “Tom, will you go stand in your cabin?” he asks with uncharacteristic politeness.

“What are you doing, going skeet shooting?” I snap. He shrugs. I glare at him suspiciously. On the one hand, I am very protective of my guns. On the other hand, if he’s pulling some crazy plan, then perhaps being at the other end of the boat when he does isn’t a bad idea. I pivot without a word and storm back to my cabin to slump against my bunk, arms folded.

Minutes pass. Suddenly there’s a sharp POP! and Anstis is standing in the room, holding the gun aloft proudly.

“The fuck!?” I gape at him and snatch it from his hands.

Anstis, though, is grinning a grin as wide as the sea. “That…be how we’re getting on Accio’s ship,” he growls. “I’ll see you in the evening.” With that, he swaggers from the room.

#

HEARST CASTLE, THE NEXT NIGHT

Georgia wakes up in the foyer of the Mirror Doors. The last thing she remembers is having gone with Paul through the Past Door, into his memory of the cabin in the mountains. She sits up groggily and sees him already awake, staring thoughtfully at the doors.

Before she can say anything, Paul’s phone rings. It’s Anstis, checking to see if Paul is still alive and feeling him out about his possible help on the Boat Job. Paul isn’t thrilled at the idea, pointing out that his skills are probably better used elsewhere, and he doesn’t have any interest in this Accio guy anyway.

That is, until Anstis points out that Accio works for Perpenna.

Paul hesitates, then agrees that that is interesting, but since he is otherwise occupied at the moment, he will have to let the issue sit for now.

“Yes, is there any assistance Mr. Lytton and I can lend?” Anstis growls.

Paul grimaces. “I’m not sure. I’m hoping things can be resolved…peacefully,” he says carefully.

“Well I’ll tell you what. I’ll have Tom and me loom nearby, in case you deem us necessary.”

Paul tenses. Inviting us to the house is an invitation for trouble, but he knows that telling us not to come just means that we’ll show up even faster. “That…might be appreciated, but don’t invite yourselves in just yet, I don’t think our host will appreciate it.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Good-day, Mr. Stewart.”

Paul hangs up and turns to Georgia. “Have you seen Dr. Everton?”

Georgia blinks at him, still a little groggy. “Um…good evening to you too….”

“Oh, sorry. Just had a call from Anstis, I’m already in a bad mood.”

Georgia looks around. “How did we end up back here?”

“You were with me for awhile, and then…I dont know what happened…. What did you see?”

Georgia struggles up to her feet. “Your Beast, and…your Beast turned into Orlando, and then into me, and then…I had a chat with Max. Though that might have just been a vision.”

(Note: Kara is referencing scenes that were not recorded because of accident and thus were not transcribed. I’m sure you can fill them in, though, with mental scenes of her preternaturally calm in the face of danger and snarking back and forth with Max.)

“What did you see?” Georgia continues.

Paul goes quiet. “I don’t know what to make of it yet,” he mumbles. “Saw my Beast for awhile, then…things faded.” He avoids looking at her. “And then I woke up here, another night gone. I dont see any werewolf here, which is probably a good thing, except that if the werewolf doesn’t show up then Orlando will probably eat me.” He stares into the distance. “How did I get myself into this mess?”

Georgia shrugs. “I don’t know, I asked you for a locksmith.”

They discuss options on what to do next, and eventually their gaze falls on the Future door.

“The Past and Present may be fixed,” Paul says thoughtfully, “But the future is ours to control, to shape as we will, although for all of us eventually, it ends in death. So unless you have any other guesses….”

“Death, then?”

They turn slowly to the door. It doesn’t open. They both release a breath they hadn’t realized they had been holding. “Well, that’s optimistic then, eh?” Paul says with a clap of his hands.

Georgia stares at the door, thoughtfully—(—perhaps mentally referencing things she talked about with Max?—)—then blurts out, “Chicago.”

The door grinds open.

Paul freezes. “I take back what I said about optimism, cause Chicago is possibly worse than death.

(Jason: “I mean, for chistssake, man, the Cubs….”
Everyone: *snerk*
Jason: “Let me put it this way. You know how werewolves are fighting valiantly against the darkness, but it will overcome them and they will eventually, always lose? Well, I decided to best illustrate the unending futility that is Werewolf by making Sophia a Cubs fan.”)

Paul turns to her. “Why did you chose Chicago?”

“I don’t know, it was the first city that came to mind.”

His eyes narrow. “You know how I was saying we shape our own futures a moment ago? Why would we ever shape them into Chicago?” The door slides closed on its own as he says this.

Georgia shrugs. “It’s got a nice aquarium.”

Monterey has a nice aquarium.” He hesitates. “Or had. I got a call that Tom…has been there….”

“What was he doing in Monterey?”

“That’s a good question. To be honest, I’m kind of surprised he managed to get out of San Francisco.”

Now that Georgia is finally coming to her complete senses, she frowns suspiciously. “Yeah, and how did you guys get off the Farallones?

“Oh, well that’s a funny story. We found Sophia and we left through the internet. They had a mainframe there, which was easily outmatched ten times over by each of my cellphones. Anyway, Sophia sent us through the internet, although Tom for some reason stabbed the mainframe….” Paul’s expression turns pained.

Georgia blinks. “While you were in it?”

“No, before that, it was going to be our way out. You know…I’m beginning to worry now.” He turns to Georgia. “There’s this common expression in both business and technology called Don’t Attribute to Malice What Can Be Explained By Stupidity. Tom…killed a gargoyle that night, and stabbed the mainframe. So…I’m assuming that’s Tom just being a little slow on the uptake, but….” Paul glances around and drops his voice. “What if he’s a mole?”

Georgia cocks her head. “You…think he could be working for Whatshisname?”

Paul shrugs, but the intent look doesn’t leave his face. “I think if Tom is what he seems—and he is incredibly loyal to Marcus—then I don’t know if he would be effective against Whatshisname. But if I’m wrong…Tom might be an undercover evil genius, playing us against each other….”

(Me: *shocked*
Jason: “Colleen, if you are actually an undercover evil genius playing them against each other, I will award you XP.”)

Paul and Georgia think about this, cold drips of water on stone echoing in the silence. Finally, Paul shakes it off. “Anyway, we went through the internet, Perpenna chased us, and then he chased us some more, and then I set him up against the dragon, and Perpenna ran away, and then I had to talk the dragon out of killing me and Marcus and the rest of San Francisco, and then I went home.”

Georgia watches him a long moment. “Where did you get a dragon?”

“The park! It comes with a dragon. I don’t know how long it’s been there.” Paul smiles with an almost manic edge.

Georgia turns all this information over in her mind a few moments, obviously finds it a little too much to deal with, so finally turns back to the issue at hand—the Future door. “So, if we’re shaping our own futures, where would you like our future to go? San Francisco?”

At that, the door slides open again. They stare a moment, but before Paul can sidetrack them again, Georgia grabs his hand and leads him through the door.

(Jason: “And believe it or not, you don’t get separated as you walk in.”
Me: “It’s almost as if the GM is learning his lesson.”)

They find themselves standing on a hilltop in San Francisco, that much is clear, but things seem…off. There’s no fog, for one, and while that isn’t impossible on its own, the lack of fog shows the night sky clearly: The stars are wrong. And they’re moving. Twisting and undulating in slow, oblique patterns through a sickly-tinted sky. The downtown skyline lies below them and it too looks wrong. Although some of the buildings look familiar they seem…jumbled, out of order, and are interspersed with buildings Paul has never seen in the city before.

“This is wrong….” Paul mutters. “It’s…some sort of San Faux-cisco….”

(….)

They stare around. Based on their surroundings and the view, they are in the tilted neighborhoods of Potrero Hill, but even that seems off. There’s no-one around, the houses and buildings all dark.

Paul pulls out his phone. “Siri!” he summons. The phone bongs in response, but the voice that follows isn’t Siri. It isn’t even English, just a random garble of sounds and static.

Georgia sidles a little closer to him. “What should we do?”

Paul stares at his phone in concern. “We should probably head to my penthouse, which, depending on how jumbled-up things are, should be a ways north.”

“Do you think that’s the most logical place to head in this particular vision?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what would make future-San Francisco look like this.”

Paul’s phone suddenly crackles again and a new, broken voice emerges, like Siri on a Stephen Hawkings modulator. “What. Makes. You. Think. Logic. Applies. Here?” Paul and Georgia jump and stare at the screen, but the phone drops to silence again.

(Me: “Omg, does Siri have a little evil-parallel-universe goatee?”)

Paul and Georgia discuss things, eventually deciding that whether they go to Paul’s place or Elysium or whatever, they need to head downtown, so they make their way north. As they walk, they gradually start to notice flickers of movement just at the edges of their vision, flickers that stop the moment they turn to look.

“This is like the Shadowlands all over again,” Georgia says thoughtfully.

“That’s unsettling,” Paul mutters. “Don’t know if we’re really equipped for a second visit right now.”

“Ooo, but I’d love to see Carlos again!”

He turns to her. “Who?”

Georgia waves a hand breezily. “Oh, this Caitiff that’s stuck there and was trying to kill me.”

(Jason: “And was created by this asshole who has no taste.”
Me: “And who uses Android.”
Room: “Oooooooooo!”)

The shapes continue to follow them their entire way downtown. They can’t find Paul’s building so they decide to try Elysium first. They make their way to the Hyatt, which thankfully seems to still be in its normal place along the waterfront. But as they walk down the abandoned Market Street, it’s soon clear that’s the only thing still normal about it.

Dozens and dozens of crucifixes surround the building, each ten feet high, with bases drilled into the concrete. Charred skeletons hang from each one, nailed up by stakes the size of railway spikes.

They stop and stare. “Georgia,” Paul says matter-of-factly, “This is not a good sign. I do not want to go into that building.

Georgia shrugs. “The Pyramid, then?”

“Sure,” Paul says, still staring at the crosses.

They carefully sidestep the gristly display and continue further north. They only go a few blocks, though, before the Financial District suddenly ends. Blocks and blocks of skyscrapers have been leveled, the open space converted to fields, with rows of dry, shruby bushes stretching in even lines over the rolling terrain.  The Pyramid stands in the middle of the fields, dark windows glaring out over this twisted pastoral tableau.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” Paul whispers, “I don’t want to go in that building either.”

The fields are poorly lit, but they can see movement between the rows, moving slower and heavier than the unseen things earlier. They seem to be workers, hunched over the plants tending and weeding.

(Chris: “Oh god, what are they planting?”
Jason: “You don’t know.”
Chris: “Is it pot?”
Jason: *irritated* “…Yes. It’s pot.”
Chris: *huge sigh* “Oh thank god!”
Jim: “We’re home!”)

Paul and Georgia debate trying somewhere else, but curiosity overcomes them, and they move cautiously forward to examine the plants. The shrubs seem to grow larger as they approach, and as they reach the edge of the field, they realize it’s not just a trick of perspective; the plants are growing before their eyes, from low bushes up into thick, gnarled trees bearing pulsating red fruits. Workers move through the rows harvesting these fruits, while others plant new seedlings in their wake, seedlings which themselves start to engorge immediately.

And above it all, hanging over the field like a miasma, is the thick stench of blood.

Georgia peers at the stooped shapes of the workers and decides to try and aura-read one of them.

(Jason: “…You do an aura-read, do you? Okay, first give me a willpower test.”
Kara: “Uumm…I get…a pair.”
Jason: “…A pair of what?”
Kara: “…Ones….”)

The aura appears, a mutated mass of shifting shape and color that doesn’t correspond to anything Georgia has ever seen before. Before she can study it, it lifts off the creature, slowly floating through the air toward her, twisting and undulating as it goes. She frowns and backs up. The aura moves faster, suddenly coalescing into the shape of toothed jaws, jaws that open at her as it approaches. She lets out a brief squeak of surprise and ducks behind Paul.

He turns. “What are you doing?”

“Errgh…the…the aura, it’s floating at me!” She points, but of course Paul can’t see anything. He stares into the distance as the aura floats up to him and starts gnawing its way through him to get to her.

She tugs at his arm. “Paul! Paul! We have to get away!” He frowns at her but lets her drag him back, away from the field. They jog back to the edge of the buildings, ducking into a doorway. Georgia peers out, but the aura seems to have disappeared.

Paul eyes her carefully. “What was that?”

“The aura of that person crawled off of it and came to attack us!”

“I just saw people. You sure you saw what you saw?”

She looks both ways up and down the street. “Maybe it was a vision, some sort of vision aligned with how this place—“

(Jason: *suddenly leaps forward and SNARLS at Kara, hands extended*
Kara: *SHRIEKS!!!*
Jason: *grinning* “The aura catches up with you!”
Kara: *breathing heavily*
Jason: “…Sorry!”
Jim: “No you’re not!”
Jason: “…I’m sorry that I’m not very sorry! …Also that’s going to be an interesting recording surprise for Colleen in a couple of weeks.”
Me-in-the-Present: “IT WAS. ಠ_ಠ”)

Georgia, too, shrieks. She tears out of Paul’s grip and bolts down the street in a blind panic. Paul watches her run, sighs, then tries his phone again, asking Not-Siri to bring up info on San Francisco. She brings up a Wikipedia page, but it’s written in a language he doesn’t understand. He asks her to translate it, but once again she screeches a chain of garbled sounds and distortions. He sighs again and puts the phone away.

Georgia finally regains control of herself and returns to him. “So, um, as I was saying, if this is a vision-place, then everything we see is a vision.”

Paul stares at her a moment, then at the fields. He collects himself and strides out into them, straight up to the nearest worker hunched between the plants.

“Hello!” Paul hails, but the worker continues plodding on, face and features obscured by its stooped posture and dirty, shapeless clothes. Paul huffs in frustration.

Georgia comes up behind him tentatively. “Maybe we should look at one of the fruits?”

“You know the tale of Persephone?”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, we’re not picking the fruit.” Paul turns to regard all the workers lurking nearby, then pops Majesty to address all of them. “Hello, people of the fruit field!” he shouts.

Slowly, across the entire field, the workers slow to a halt, then, as one, all turn their heads to look up at him. The moment they do, thrills of terror shoot through Paul and Georgia.

Every person in sight, stretching into the distance, has only half a face. The top half of the face. They are all missing their jaws, tongues lolling out of gaping holes at the top of their throat. They stare with dark, hollow eyesockets empty of eyeballs. Maggots wriggle visibly within the crevices of the ones nearest by.

But all that isn’t the most terrifying part. Despite missing jaws, and eyes, the most terrifying part is that every single one of them is recognizable. They are us, all of us. The one in front of Paul stares up at him with half his own face, and another one a row over stares at Georgia with hers. They see Anstis, me, Bell, Everton, Norton, basically every ally we’ve ever had, mutilated and broken before them. Paul even recognizes some of his employees, his human employees, all given the same treatment.

Paul and Georgia struggle to control their rising panic, but through the waves of terror, Paul notices something: of all the people ranged around them into the distance, none of them are small.

The people stare in perfect frozen silence, then, once again as one, raise their hands. Embedded in each palm is what appears to be a fanged, working mouth. The mouths gnash, the people step forward…

…Then everything goes black.

#

THE REVENGE

I wake up to the sounds of Anstis banging on my door.  The night is young and he wants to follow up on the plan to go find Paul and Georgia and get them out of the Voivode’s castle.

I, however, have been looking forward to this Boat Job for game-time weeks (and real-time a year and a half), so I am not exactly thrilled to be leaving the Revenge now that I’ve finally gotten here. I call Marcus to complain (which goes into some interesting tangents) but he, of course, advises that getting Paul and Georgia out of whatever the hell they’ve gotten into might benefit all of us. He also advises me to bring a gift, be polite, and try not to make things worse than they already are.

Anstis and I head up to the bridge to speak with Morgan. The pirate captain says the repairs to the Revenge are almost finished and he plans to begin the attack on Accio the following night. Since time is of the essence, he agrees to send us to shore by means of a small helicopter he keeps onboard for emergencies. There’s only room for two people, though, and they can’t be heavily-loaded. Thus, I begrudgingly leave Vera behind, bringing only one of the shotguns and my whip. I also leave the sword behind, mostly because people—(—and by people I mean Jason—)—keep suggesting I bring it as my gift for Orlando, and the last thing I want is have it taken from me like my guns always are.

Anstis shifts down to parrot form and we immediately head to the helicopter on the aft deck. The flight to shore is uneventful and we touch down on an abandoned stretch of rangeland on the coast of San Simeon about an hour later. The chopper leaves to return to the ship, leaving Anstis and I on the edge of the lonely highway to consider our approach to the castle. The first thing we need to do, though, is figure out a gift to bring for Orlando, but luckily inspiration comes to me on the wind from the west. I follow a salty, rotting smell of nitrates and the sea to a short cliff overlooking the beach.

Elephant seals. A few young males—smaller than the full-grown beachmasters, only about 2 tons or so—lay scattered like tree-trunks across the moonlit sand.

Anstis flutters up and shifts to human as I stare down at them. “So…supposedly these Voivodes like gifts of…flesh?” I say thoughtfully.

“Aye?”

I wink at Anstis and jump off the edge of the short cliff to land in the cold sand below. Anstis grumbles and follows.

What then happens is a half-hour comedy of errors, as Anstis and I try to attack the seals to subdue one to take up to the castle, as well as fill our blood pool. At first we do not account for the thickness of their hide, which leads to a great scene of Anstis gnawing futily at the back of a seal while it flails around like a bucking bronco, only to get squished underneath it when it finally does pass out.

I’ve just finished rolling two tons of meat and blubber off of Anstis enough for him to crawl his way out when a sudden noise makes us stop.

The mechanical clack of a shotgun being loaded.

Anstis turns slowly to find himself staring right down the barrel of said weapon, being held by the ugliest creature he’s ever seen. A wan, scarred face stretched over a sharp skull, humped shoulders, and a tusk-like fanged mouth grinning at us cruelly.

Nosferatu.

“Well…what do we got here?” the vampire drawls.

Anstis stands up and brushes sand off his clothes. “And you are?”

“I’m the guy ain’t standing over a dead seal.”

Anstis glares. “What’s it to you?”

The Nosferatu shrugs. “Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.” He grins again, then BAM! nearly takes Anstis’s head clean off with one shot. Anstis falls to the sand. The guy turns to me…and finds himself staring down the barrel of my shotgun.

He chuckles. “Well…ain’t you a peach. Might want to check your surroundings though.”

I glare at him a long moment, then tense as I feel another gun barrel pressed to the back of my neck.

“Niiiice and easy, sunshine,” he drawls. I hesitate, then drop my shotgun to the sand. He grins and chuckles again. “Thanks a bunch.”

Then someone tazers me in the back, and everything goes dark.

(Jim: “The fucking misadventures of Anstis and Tom….”)

END OF NIGHT

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