Kara: “Yaaaaay, you got rescued by your proper NPC romance-match!”
Kara: “Yeah. What?”
Jason: “I think Sophia already addressed that, which was, ‘He wishes.’”
Me: “No, that was Stormwalker.”
Chris: “Well, I’m sure there are lots of 16 year old girls who wish they were in relationships with billionaires.”
Jason: “And vampires. …Oh god, we’re in Twilight!”
Paul, Georgia, and Dr. Everton plunge into the darkness of the hedge maze, the thick greenery muffling all sounds of the nighttime countryside.
All sounds, that is, except one, which begins just a few minutes after they enter: a tearing and crunching from the edge of the maze, echoing with the fury of a woodchipper.
(Chris: “I just want to be clear, I cancelled the Summons before we entered.”
Jason: “And I want to be clear, werewolves can smell the Wyrm.”)
They move faster, heading deeper into the maze. Fortunately—and surprisingly—no tricks or traps interrupt their progress and they make it to the center of the maze in good time. They step into an open space roughly the size of a tennis court, but filling the clearing is a domed hemisphere of light-sucking darkness about nine feet in diameter. Lit candelabras are stationed on four sides around the dome, but of course their light doesn’t penetrate it.
Everton turns to them. “Well, this looks rather disconcerting.”
“Have you seen anything like this before?” Georgia asks.
Everton sighs. “I’m afraid I have, and that’s not particularly a good thing.” Something shudders the maze behind them, followed by a howl. “…But if you’ll forgive me, perhaps it doesn’t matter, because I believe that sound we are hearing is of a werewolf attempting to claw its way to our location.”
Paul, meanwhile, is pacing around the dome, examining it. “Does that mean Orlando’s been taken care of?”
“Possibly, but I feel it’s more likely that Orlando has managed to deflect it.” Everton stares behind them, gripping his cane tightly. “You conjured it out of whatever it was doing and they are not known for their patience.”
“Oh, well apparently she was hunting me before anyway,” Paul says nonchalantly. “So, who wants to go into the creepy black hemisphere thing?”
“Oh, me!” Georgia steps forward and takes his hand with a dreamy grin. Everton shrugs and steps forward as well and they all enter the darkness.
(Now, as Jason put it: “their extensive experience with the Lasombra has given them something of a connoisseurs taste for magical darkness. Their experience with Lasombra darkness is that it is a soul-chilling, heat-draining, life-extinguishing thing—which is less concerning because they don’t breathe, don’t have body heat, and aren’t alive.
“But, nevertheless…this is none of those things. It is merely dark.”)
The air is cool, but not much cooler than the night air of garden, and more importantly, it is air. The sounds of the pursuing werewolf are gone, but they can still hear each other moving.
Paul squints into the darkness. “What do you suppose this is for? A place to hide during the day?”
“I don’t know. Maybe there’s a trap door in here or something….” Georgia trails off, then, suddenly paranoid, scuffs carefully at the ground in front of her. She summons a palm of flame—formed into the shape of a werewolf for the hell of it—to scatter the gloom.
They are no longer in the maze, but rather a stone room, with a single wooden door. Inscribed on the door are the same dots and lines of the Sephirot, matching the one in Georgia’s hand.
“That’s…strange, Dr. Everton do you—“ Georgia turns, then stops. Dr. Everton isn’t with them.
(Jim: “Dr. Everton is good at vanishing in these situations.”
Jason: “I made Dr. Everton very good at vanishing in many situations, cause in the game he is from, four player vampires were hunting him.”)
Paul stares around, hands on his hips. “Well. I guess the question is, are we safe from the werewolf down here, or wherever here is….”
“I think we actually have two very different questions,” Georgia says. “The first question is, do we want to rescue the werewolf cub—“
Paul looks taken aback. “Yes! Why wouldn’t we?”
She shrugs. “I was just wondering if priorities have changed. The second question is, do we want to investigate what happened to Everton?”
“It seems weird he would wind up somewhere different than us, so…maybe he didn’t come into the shadow-thing at all….” Paul frowns. “But it was his idea….”
“So it seems likely he ended somewhere different than us.”
“If we can trust him….”
Georgia stares at Paul. “I think we can trust him.”
“I’m…beginning to wonder….”
They fan out to explore the room, which, besides the door, seems to be featureless. Georgia does find, though, that one of the stones on the floor in the far corner is raised slightly higher than the ones around it. They grope at it but it doesn’t seem to lift, nor operate any trap doors. Paul finally resorts to jumping on it, but it still doesn’t budge.
However, the sound of his jumps seem to echo, resonating up from under the floor.
They next investigate the door, but unsurprisingly it is locked.
“Georgia….” Paul says slowly. “Orlando warned me that there is a door I am not allowed to open…”
“I’m pretty sure the one he was referring to is the one with multiple locks in it—which we are trying to find the keys for—and a werewolf cub behind it.”
“Ok, well, while that seems sensible, I think we should be cautious just in case.”
Georgia frowns suspiciously at the door, which could have any number of horrors behind it. “So…you want me to open this?”
Georgia sighs and tries the keys they have already collected. Surprisingly, one of them works. She opens the door carefully, half-expecting something to jump out at her, but nothing does. On the far side is a long hallway, leading into darkness, filled with stale air and a sulfurous taint of rot.
Paul pulls out his phone for illumination and investigates the hallway. He turns a corner to find a dead-end corridor lined with five pale-colored doors. He hesitates. Something about the doors is weird, and not just the fact that they appear to be made of bone. They seemed warped, not-flush with their frames, and every time he glances at them they seem to be a slightly different shape. He grabs the closest one and tries to open it, but it holds fast. The rest seem to be similarly wedged. He returns to the first one and throws his weight into it to drag it open.
The door leads to a blank stone room, lit by a single, fluttering torch. Paul enters cautiously, but the only feature of the room is an inscription carved into the far wall in a narrow, spidery script, as if it was done with a claw rather than a chisel. He holds up his phone to read it.
THIS FAR SHALT THOU COME, AND NO FURTHER.
“Well thats ominous,” Paul mutters, just before everything goes black.
Georgia is still nervously waiting at the entrance to the hallway when she hears a low grinding, followed by a thump and a crash. “Paul?” she cries, but there’s no answer. She shuffles carefully down the hallway, turning the corner she just saw him turn…
…And finds a blank wall.
She gropes around, eventually realizing it’s a false wall and not flush with the floor. She kneels down to peer underneath.
And see’s Paul’s arm sticking out from under a massive pile of stones, as if the entire ceiling came down on him.
Seeing this, she frenzies.
(…And we’ll get back to them in a little while.)
THE VICINITY OF SAN SIMEON
If you recall from last session, I was tearing up the pawn shop Anstis and I were holed up in and Archbishop Liedesdorff showed up mid-rampage. What you don’t know is that while I was outside talking to him and his men, Anstis was still busy in the shop, turning into human form to pocket some of the “treasure” he found in the glass cases. While digging around behind the counter, he found something interesting. A framed document on the wall, apparently a license to operate a pawn shop, issued to one Albert Smythe. Secret necromancer that he is, he is intrigued by anything with names on it, so he takes the license and pockets it next to his gold chains and shitty watches.
Anstis saunters out of the shop just as Liedesdorff is telling me to get in the car—a limo, actually, an honest-to-god, going-to-prom stretch limo. Liedesdorff mutters something about it being the only thing he could get to transport him and all of his guys on short notice. We pile in—Liedesdorff in the back-facing seat, Anstis and I in the back, and the four goons folded up along the side-seats in between. Liedesdorff raises his hand to signal the driver, but before he can, my phone rings. I pull it out.
I grin awkwardly and turn to the side for some semblance of privacy before I answer. “Yeah?”
“Tom?” As per usual now, her voice is sounding Very Concerned. “Is everything okay down there? I mean…reasonably?”
I glance up the length of the car. Liedesdorff and the four goons are all watching me. “Reasonably? Yeah. We’re getting a ride up to Hearst Castle to see this guy—“
“Is something wrong? I was tracking Paul’s phone and it went dark.”
“Ah. Well. Maybe he dropped it in water, we tend to do that.”
She sighs. “Tom, I’m not looking for jokes, I’m just trying to find out if everything is okay—“
I snort. “Well, theres a Tzmitsce Voivode involved so I’m pretty sure things are not okay.”
“It’s a little worse than that. There’s a Spiral Dancer on the grounds.”
I tense and glance over at Anstis. “Is there?”
“Yeah, there is. I think Paul…called it.”
Sonofabitch. “Yeah, he does that. Well, we’ll see, I have handled a werewolf befor—“ As I say this, though, remembering the incident with Alejandro in the mountains, I realize that that time I had a shard of silver and my whip. It’s what inspired me to get the whip rebraided with silver chain in the first place.
The whip which is now missing.
I slam my free hand into the seat. “—GOD FUCKING DAMN IT!!!”
“What?? What’s wrong?” she yells.
“Nothing, don’t worry about it,” I groan. “Look, whatever you do, don’t come down here. I mean that. If you want to help, see if you can monitor any changes from afar and give us a heads up, that would be great.”
She hesitates. “Why don’t you call that…Boss…of yours to clean the house up?” I can hear the shudder in her voice. “What’s he gotta send you guys for?”
Good question…. “He got some other shit to work on. Also he seems to like sending us on these…” I glance up the car again, “…Learning opportunities.”
“Sounds like an asshole.”
“Yeah, that’s going around.”
I say goodbye and hang up. Liedesdorff stares at me in the silence. “Well that sounded ominous.”
I shrug non-committally and turn to the window. “A contact back in the city just gave me a heads-up on the situation down here. She wanted to come help but I didn’t want her to get involved.”
“And who was this you wanted to keep out of this mess?”
I debate continuing with a cover story, but decide that I’ve been losing ground in the local respect department, so perhaps it’s time to shake things up a bit. “My werewolf friend,” I say flatly.
The seat-leather creaks as Liedesdorff leans forward. “Your what?”
(Me: “DID I STUTTER!!?”)
I continue to stare out the window. Liedesdorff’s men look between him and me as if watching a tennis match. “Lytton….” he says firmly, “Anything you want to add?”
“I don’t know how much of it is relevant to this situation, she’s not coming, so….” I shrug.
The men look at each other. Anstis is staring at me appraisingly. Liedesdorff is silent a long moment, then reaches up to tap on the dividing glass. “Drive on,” he says, and the car pulls out.
Anstis and I discuss our plan for storming the castle—which is none—and remember that we have been advised to bring a gift. I very resolutely refused to bring my sword when it was suggested, so that means we have to come up with something else. I float the idea of raiding an antique store.
Anstis glances out the window at the lights of a passing farmhouse. “If you mean to bring a gift, there are houses around that might have things more suited to…a Voivode’s tastes.”
He grins at me with his damn-fool calamari beard. I glare at him and shudder. “Yeah, I’m not getting involved in that shit. Any other suggestions?
“You heard my suggestion. Junk from a store isn’t going to please him.”
(Jason: *sing-song muttering* “You could have brought the sword! But you diiiidn’t!”
Me: “Oh my god, this is you punishing me for that, isn’t it?!”
Jason: “No! Just…suggesting that there are consequences to decisions.”
Me: “Yeah, well, you know what—“)
I turn to Liedesdorff. “Is there like a bath and beauty supply store around here?”
He and his men turn to stare at me again. “Why….?” he asks cautiously.
I smile. “Cause we need to bring a hostess gift, so I’m going to find a gift basket.”
We head to another town further down the coast, one with more amenities—(—but we don’t get very far before the entire city of San Francisco fucking erupts as the Giants win the NLCS pennant with Travis Ishikawa’s walk off home-run. There’s a brief delay of game as we pour out onto my deck to watch the fireworks and add to the cacophony, which continues late into the evening.
LET’S GO GIANTS!!!)
HEARST CASTLE, ANSTIS AND TOM
Anyway, back in our alternate reality of far less excitement and joy, Liedesdorff idles the car as I break into a local Bath and Bodyworks to steal a tasteful gift basket, though I do leave a $20 on the counter before I leave.
Anstis also heads out to find a gift, though he has a different plan in mind: actually finding a human flesh sacrifice. He subdues some clerk at a gas station and dumps him into Liedesdorff’s trunk before I get back, grinning at me slyly as I get into the car. He knows that if I catch him with this kid, I will be…less than pleased, but he seems to have a plan for that too.
Liedesdorff’s car drops us off on long driveway up to the castle, though no closer than a hundred yards from the entrance. I thank Liedesdorff and climb out with my crinkly, colorful basket firmly in hand. Anstis, too, gets out, and meets my gaze.
And casts Dominate.
“You will take no notice of the person I bring to the castle to give to Orlando,” he intones.
(Me: “Wait, what person!?”
Jason: “What person indeed….”
Me: “No really, I didn’t hear him get—Oh wait, was it when I left the room to grab my vuvuzela?”)
I nod blankly, he pulls the kid out of the trunk, and we trudge up to the castle in silence. The front doors are massive, and from afar seem to be pale wood, but as we get close they resolve into carved bone. Anstis and I trade a glance. He reaches up to knock, the sound echoing hollowly.
(Jim: “Wait, what’s our cover story?”
Me: “…Did we have a cover story?”
Jason: “Do you ever have a cover story?”)
“What should we tell our host?” he asks.
I hesitate. Yeah, that probably would have been a good thing to discuss before we got here. “Um, I don’t know…Paul invited us?”
His eyes narrow. “This is not Paul’s abode.”
The basket crinkles as I shift my grip nervously. “Yeah, well…we’re his plus-ones?”
“We need something to tell him, and I recommend it not be about Paul,” he growls.
(Jason: “How is it the bloodthirsty pirate about to sacrifice someone to the Voivode is the one that makes sense here?”)
Just then the door opens. A ghoul lurks on the other side, with flayed-red skin and a jawless face. I take a step back, stifling a yelp, but Anstis regards him cooly. “We are here to speak with Orlando,” he says. The ghoul stares, wheezing, then turns and shuffles into the castle, leaving the door open. We glance at each other and follow.
Red-skull leads us to a large dining room, ornately decorated with tapestries and treasures, many of which look suspiciously organic. A figure is seated in the master chair at the head of the table, back to us. “More guests?” a grim voice says.
“Orlando, I presume?” Anstis says.
“Who are you?” The voice is cool, androgynous, and strangely resonant.
Anstis makes as elaborate a bow as he can while balancing an unconscious teenager on his shoulder. “Thomas Anstis, of the Good Fortune.”
“Anstis…and your counterpart?”
I glare suspiciously at Anstis, wondering why he’s lurching at such a weird angle. “Tom Lytton. Of San Francisco.”
“Lytton. I’ve heard this name. What brings you to my doorstep, Tom Lytton, and Tom Anstis?”
We look at each other again, this time in surprise. All the nights we’ve been together, this is the first time we’ve realized we essentially have the same first name. “Um…” I grope for the best polite-formal language I can muster. “We were advised by…some parties that it would be in our general interest to…make our acquaintance with you.”
The half-obscured figure of Orlando shifts in its chair. “And which parties were these?” it hisses.
“Uhh…” Anstis smiles at my obvious discomfort. Put on the spot like this, and with no other plans in mind, I fall back on my instinct: name drop. “Marcus Sertorius was the first who told us of you. He’s my…ah…patron….”
“Marcus Sertorius?” The voice chuckles. “His idea, it was, to send you to me?”
I freeze. (Me: “Was it? I…actually don’t even remember—“)
Finally Anstis chimes in. “And I am here to recruit your other guests and leave.”
The figure stills. When it speaks again, the voice has dropped to a knife-edge. “But we have not finished with them. Not…even…slightly….” There’s a soft squeal as the chair slowly rotates to face us. Once it does, we both struggle not to go tearing off back to the front doors.
(Jason: “What you see in the chair is hideous beyond description. It is a massive, sprawling, multi-limbed horror. Winged, clawed, fanged. Zulo form. You’ve seen Zulo-formed Tzmitsce before, at the Monomancy, but none like this. This is a riotous amalgam of horrendous shit.”)
As we gape, Orlando stands up from the chair, though it’s more an unfolding, looming over us in a spidery eleven-foot mass of chitin and bone. Rapier-thin appendages stretch wide to scrape the flesh-draped walls. I stand frozen, my Beast churning as it debates with itself between fight-or-flight, but I force it down and grope for something to say.
“I…should have brought a bigger basket,” I mumble.
Anstis regains his composure first. “A gift, for you and your home.” He bows again and unslings the kid from his shoulder, thumping him onto the table. I don’t see this of course, blinded by shock as much as Dominate, but I quietly set my basket down as well.
Orlando glares down at us from six narrow eyes. “You come here bearing ridicule…and violence…. You violate the sanctity of my domain at the behest of a Priscus.” The words drip like venom from his multi-tiered jaws.
I stare at the monstrosity looming above me, having flashbacks to Alien, but Anstis, in defiance of all logic, swaggers forward. “Do you reject my gift?”
Orlando cranes its head around. “Bring it to me,” it hisses.
Anstis takes kid off the table and brings over to Orlando. I continue to stare blankly at Orlando, seeing none of this.
Orlando carefully lifts the human in its spidery talons. “You offer this freely?”
Anstis nods. “I do.”
Orlando regards him a long moment, then reaches down with another long appendage and brings out two plain earthenware bowls and places them on the table in front of us. One has a half-loaf of bread and the other is piled with grey rocksalt. “I give you bread and salt. Three days you may stay. On the fourth, I will decorate the ceiling with your bones.”
Anstis nods and bows. Orlando turns to me. “And what of you? What is this?” It points at the basket with one of the long claws erupting from its back.
I pick up the basket and clear my throat. “This…is a traditional gift of my people. Brought to warm hearts and hearths across the Castro for generations.” I hesitate under its alien gaze. “If…you don’t like it, I can probably get a…gift…receipt….”
I trail off as it leans closer. An odor of burnt flesh—its own or its victims, I’m not sure—wafts off it. “Why are you here?” it hisses.
I’m still creeped out as fuck, but I’m also getting tired of the intimidation act. I set the basket back down with a thump. “Cause Paul seems to be in trouble, and we play for the same team, if you know what I mean….” I smirk, but neither Anstis nor Orlando respond to the joke.
“Paul Stewart came here of his own volition,” Orlando says. “He offered me a gift, one more valuable than this.”
“It was last minute, I’m afraid I wasn’t able to find anything better—“
Suddenly Orlando grabs me, talons wrapping around my neck. “What’s to stop me from flaying you alive? Are you to stop me?” I don’t respond. I’m so frozen in terror I don’t think I could even if I wanted to. Orlando chuckles and draws another talon along the line of my chin. “You have an interesting face….”
Suddenly I’m regretting my “playing for the same team” comment. “…Yeah, uh, I’ve been told it’s…unforgettable….”
It smiles. “I will accept it as a gift.”
I blink. “…Excuse me?”
“Your face. Give it to me.”
(Jason: “Marcus did warn you these guys were fucking creepy.”
Me: “I know! But he fucking made me come here!”
Jason: “Marcus didn’t make you come here, I did!”
Me: “This is cause I didn’t bring the sword, isn’t it!
Jason: “No!…A bit….”
Me: “Well conveniently, I also don’t have my good guns, so I can’t shoot my way out of this—“
Jason: “Because shooting at really powerful Elders from the Sabbat has worked well for you in the past?”
Jim: “If Anstis could be eating popcorn right now, he would be.”)
Orlando leans forward eagerly. My eyes dart around the room, looking for inspiration. “I…may be able to offer some services in lieu of a…pound of flesh—“
“A contract, then?” Orlando’s face brightens further.
“Tom has a reputation for servicing others,” Anstis says.
I-as-Tom glare at Anstis (but I-as-myself silently give Jim a congratulatory high-five). “Yes, well…I hear you may have a werewolf problem?”
Orlando lets go. “And what of it?”
I rub my throat and shrug. “I…seem to be becoming somewhat of a werewolf expert, back in the city—“
“Excellent! Accepted!” Appendages snake forward and slap two more bowls on the table in front of me. “I offer you bread and salt!”
I stare at them, trying to process what the fuck just happened. “Thank…you?”
Orlando levers up to its full height, gesturing grandly. “We shall play this evening. A werewolf, and one so well reputed in their destruction.”
My horror starts to climb again as realization sets in. “I…thought this would be more of a consulting position, I don’t have any of my tools on me at the moment—“
“Oh but that shall be no concern. No concern at all.” It clasps all of its many hands in front of it and smiles. “Come. I enjoy spectacle, and there shall be much spectacle indeed.”
GEORGIA AND PAUL
Georgia wakes up to find herself next to Paul’s unconscious body. He’s still injured, but the rocks are off of him at least. At a loss for what to do next, she tries calling Everton, or Bell, or someone, but she has no reception. Thus, she relegates herself to her only available line of communication at the moment: the magical communication bracelet that connects her to Max.
“Georgia,” Max’s voice drawls from the bracelet.
“I need an immediate airlift from out of here. I’m in the hedgemaze at Hearst Castle, and I’m low on blood, and I can’t get out.”
There’s a few moments of silence. “O…kay….” Max says finally. “I don’t mean to sound unhelpful, but how exactly do you want me to get you out?”
“Make a circle and teleport in!”
“And what do I get for this other than getting my head ripped off?”
“Aren’t I your loyal servant, or something?” Georgia says flatly. “Isn’t that why I have the bracelet?”
“It is why you have the bracelet, but it is not so I can have…that thing down there use my entrails for a painting!”
“Well, you can just pop in and pop out again! It’ll be fine!”
“…Tell me I’m going to be saving more than you if I get you out of there. What have you uncovered?”
Georgia looks at Paul, half-buried in rubble next to her. “Well, Paul is with me—“
“Something more than just you that’s useful.”
“I don’t know, I’ve never been there! Magical artifacts! The head of the Voivode in question!”
Georgia rolls her eyes. “Well if you’re not going to help me I can just call someone else. Thank you for your—“
“No, wait!” Max sighs. (This shift in tone is sudden, implying at Georgia’s secret background that we still don’t know the details of, but whatever it is gives her a surprising amount of leverage over Max) “Fine, I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
The magical hum from the bracelet dies out. She pats Paul’s chest. “Hang in there, Paul.”
Red-skull leads me from the dining room, but Anstis and Orlando continue to chat. Orlando, very pleased with the gift of human teenager, is much more amiable to Anstis. It reveals that Georgia and Paul are still alive. The latter is supposedly undergoing a ritual “cleansing,” though it is unspecific about what that entails.
Eventually Orlando gets up, having some things to deal with before this “spectacle” it promised, but it offers Anstis the run of the castle in the meantime.
Anstis bows farewell and goes swaggering off in the direction of the library.
Georgia waits the ten minutes Max promised, then ten minutes more, but there’s no sign of him. She debates coming up with a backup backup plan when she hears footsteps approaching from down the hall.
It’s Dr. Everton. He’s relieved to find Georgia but shocked to see the state that Paul is in. Georgia waves it off and asks Everton if he’s found a way out of…wherever they are. He hasn’t, so Georgia recommends they go back to the anteroom and check out that hollow-sounding raised stone. Everton can’t make any more of it than Georgia and Paul could originally, so, bereft of options, Georgia steps up onto it and starts jumping up and down just like Paul did.
This time, though, it shatters and sends her plunging into yet more darkness below.
(Jason: “What do you want to do? It’s a long fall, you have long enough to react.”
Kara: “I…cast bubble.”
Jason: “No, you do not.”
Kara: “I use my hearthstone.”
Jason: “No, you do not. And you can’t hearth while moving anyway.”)
Georgia realizes she is falling down a shaft, and not only are the walls within reach, but they seem to be notched with ladder-like cuts. She grabs at one, screaming as she wrenches her shoulder and wrist, but secures a hold and stops herself. Shaking, she carefully pulls out her phone and shines the light through the gloom…
….And finds that she stopped herself four feet from the bottom.
She yells back up to Everton that she’s alright. She tells him to climb down too, but realizes that would mean leaving Paul behind. Everton suggests simply dropping Paul down the shaft, figuring it couldn’t do any worse to him than what he’s already got, but she emphatically kills that idea. She decides to scout ahead and report back.
Using her phone as a light, she wanders down a rough corridor and finds herself in front of a large, gold-plated door, covered in carvings. In the center of the door is what appears to be another copy of the Sephirot symbol, but unlike the one on her note, this one doesn’t have lines linking the ten circles.
This is clearly Everton’s area of expertise, so she runs back to tell him to come down and help, even though it means leaving Paul at the top of the shaft.
Everton joins her and peers at the carvings in the thin light from her phone. “What does that inscription on your note say again?”
“Progress can only be made when Severity is attached to Beauty, Foundation with Eternity, and Kingship with its Crown,” she reads.
“Hmm.” He taps his cane experimentally against the metal. “I’m afraid my expertise is not in Kabbalistic study. You’d do better with a Hermeticist here. That said, each of these circles represent some aspect of God, represented by symbols. It would not surprise me if several of those symbols are represented in your little poem. What connection they might have and which one is where I don’t know. But…it’s possible we can decypher them.” He tucks his cane under his arm and turns smartly. “Do you have access to research materials?”
“Umm….” She looks around the barren chamber. “…No.”
He chuckles. “My dear, this is the modern world. We do not need to be so limited as we once were.” He pulls out his phone and waves it jauntily.
She stares. “But…we don’t have any reception down here.”
“Oh, I am aware of that, but I took the liberty of caching the entirety of the…what is it the humans call it…the Wikipedia. I cache the entirety of it nightly on my mobile device.”
Georgia doesn’t know much about computers but she knows enough to know that’s…unusual. “Is…that possible?”
“Not on a customary one, no, but I have…contacts, let’s say.” He hands the phone to her and winks. “You never know when you might need it, and I go to some exceptionally inhospitable places.”
(Kara: “I believe Jason wants me to look this up on the internet.”
Jason: “I believe he might.”)
Paul slowly starts to come around. He’s not entirely sure of his surroundings, and his brain isn’t entirely firing on all cylinders, but he is fairly certain of one thing.
He is in more pain than he has ever been in in his entire life, pre-or-post Embrace.
He tries to scream but the only thing that comes out is gurgling wheezing. He lies in agony for a torturous, timeless eternity, then finally scrapes together enough consciousness to heal himself a little. He reattaches his jaw and inflates one lung enough to call out for Georgia (and you really don’t want me to post a sound-clip of the hideous noise Chris spat out at us as he role-played this) but there’s no response.
And that’s when Paul realizes he’s moving. Specifically, being dragged across the ground. By something big. Something furry.
Georgia makes good progress with researching the Sephirot so she sends Everton back up the shaft to check on Paul. Everton does…and reports back that he’s missing. No sign of blood or struggle, he’s just gone.
Suddenly panicked, Georgia asks if Everton is sure, did he check everywhere? Everton pokes around the rest of the rooms, discovering that one of them is filled with an inky blackness like what they stepped through to get there—and thus conceivably could be the way back to the surface—but there is still no sign of Paul. Everton asks if she would like to rejoin him at the top so they could exit the dungeon and continue searching for him.
Georgia stares up the shaft, then back to the golden door, wringing her hands.
Paul blinks his eyes back into shape and stares up at his captor. “Hello….?” he rasps through his ravaged throat.
The wolf stops and turns, staring down at him with its long, furious face, then drops his legs and transforms down….
(Kara: “Yaaaaay, you got rescued by your proper NPC romance-match!”
Kara: “Yeah. What?”
Jason: “I think Sophia already addressed that, which was, ‘He wishes.’”
Me: “No, that was Stormwalker.”
Chris: “Well, I’m sure there are lots of 16 year old girls who wish they were in relationships with billionaires.”
Jason: “And vampires. …Oh god, were in Twilight!”)
Paul carefully lifts one hand, ignoring the pain flashing down his arm, and slowly forms a thumbs-up. “You…rock,” he gurgles.
Sophia glances around. “Paul, what happened?”
(Jim: “I got stoned!”)
“Do you know a way out of here?” she continues.
Paul peers around as best he can. He sees clouds in the sky, rolling low overhead, but no other distinguishing features. “Don’t know…where…here is….”
“I found you in the middle of the freaking courtyard!”
Paul’s face squishes into a frown. “Not…the hedge…maze?”
“No.” She sidles closer, still glancing at every rustle of the breeze. “I can get us out if you have something reflective, like a mirror.”
Paul pats his jacket woodenly. “Have…shattered…smartphones.”
“No, too small.”
Paul nods. He knows that if anyone is likely to have a mirror-fragment around, it’s probably going to be Georgia (and her bottomless inventory). Thus, he Summons her.
Georgia and Everton are still yelling at each other through the shaft when she suddenly knows where Paul is. She gives as best a description as she can to Everton, then turns back to puzzle of the door. With her Wikipedia research, she has finally figured out what each of the circles means, so she traces her finger along the gold to draw connecting lines between each of the couplets indicated in the inscription.
The door glows, then splits down the middle, both sides sliding open to reveal a small room. In the center of the room is a small pedestal, and on the top of that pedestal is a small gold key.
She snatches the key triumphantly then runs back to climb the shaft and rejoin Everton.
Red-skull leads me down to a room thats half-armory-half-wine-cellar where I’m presented with an entire wall of antique weaponry. They’re all well-maintained, but even I can tell there’s nothing magic—or silver—about any of them. I grumble, unsling the AK-47, and start hefting some.
Trying not to think too hard about the upcoming battle with what can only be the Spiral Dancer, I think about my exchange with Orlando. Why wasn’t I able to come up with a better cover story? I think back to the ride in the car, and the walk up the hill. I was pretty distracted, but surely I should have—
Something suddenly occurs to me, dredging up from under my anxieties and preoccupation with keeping alive for the moment.
(Jason: “Anstis Dominated you and told you to forget the guy he was carrying, but he didn’t tell you to forget the fact that he Dominated you.”)
I start swinging the weapons harder.
Paul and Sophia wait in a darkened corner of the gardens for Georgia, but minutes go by with no sign of her. The entire time, Sophia is glancing restlessly around.
“Paul, I don’t think we can wait any longer. Look, I can also use a body of still water for something reflective. Is there a pond around here or something?”
“Fountains…or…pool….” he rasps.
She nods and peers around a bush. “Okay. I’ll go check it out. I’ll be right back, just wait here.”
She flashes a smile at him then lopes off into the night.
As soon as she disappears, he passes out.
I eventually choose a modest selection of weapons: a flail, two arming-swords, and a halberd, sticking them through my belt or wherever else they will fit. I search the rest of the armory room, looking for any sign of something silver—even a sconce or something—but everything that isn’t antique steel is some sort of fucking organic. I smash open some of the wine bottles, hoping to find blood, but nope. Actual wine.
Red-skull is still lurking in the doorway, watching me, but doesn’t let me pass when I try to leave. Obviously stuck for the time being, I decide that now would be a good time to phone my situation in.
“Hello Tom,” Marcus answers.
He sighs. “Well I know what that voice means. What do we got?”
I rub my neck with my free hand. “So…I tried to bring a nice gift for Orlando, and he didn’t particularly like it—“
“Do I want to know what the gift was?”
“No, you really don’t. Anyway, I groped around for a replacement gift, and mentioned that I have some experience with werewolves, and now he wants me to fight one for him.”
Marcus is quiet a moment. “Where did he get a werewolf?”
“Ahh…there’s a high likelihood that Paul Summoned one. You know, how he does.”
“I thought Paul was on good terms with that werewolf of yours?”
“Oh no, not her, a different one. The Spiral Dancer.”
There’s a long pause. “…Paul Summoned a Spiral Dancer to Orlando’s?”
“This is what I understand, yes.”
The phone goes unnaturally silent for a moment, as if its been suddenly muted. After a few seconds, Marcus comes back. “…Okay. So he’s having you fight a Spiral Dancer. Well, you have that special sword of yours, that should work well.”
My stomach churns and I close my eyes. “I…left it on the boat….”
Another long pause. “…Help me out here, Tom. Your left your most powerful weapon on a boat while going to see a Voivode I warned you was dangerous?”
“I…was concerned that he probably would have accepted it as the required gift—“
“Were you planning on offering it to him?”
“So then how exactly was that going to become the gift???”
I stare a few moments, realizing he’s right, then groan and start pacing the room. “I don’t…I…I was a little frazzled after the whole Monterey thing, Boss, I haven’t been thinking straight.”
“Jupiter’s cock…. Alright, Tom, when do you fight the Spiral Dancer?”
“I’m not sure, but he gave me his Three Days schtick, so…within that period of time.”
“I don’t think hell wait that long, how can he if the Spiral Dancer is already running around?”
I glance at Red-skull, still lurking in the doorway. “Thats true, he did have one of his guys escort me to an armament room, I’m in it now.”
“Oh so it’s imminent. Wonderful.” There’s a long pause, and when he speaks again, his tone is suddenly very suspicious. “Tom…has my name been brought into any of this?”
I stop pacing. “Uhh….”
“Tom, I want to be very, very clear about this one, and I need you to answer with absolute sincerity. Did you. Tell Orlando. The Tzmitsce Voivode. That I sent you. To his castle?”
“In so many words? …Yes.”
Moment of silence. “Why…did you say this?”
“Cause…I didn’t have any other cover story so I thought perhaps the truth would be the best…bet?”
“Do you enjoy complicating things for me?”
“Urg. It’s become such a reflex to everything over the last year….”
“I want you to be aware, though I think you probably are aware, that nine out of ten other Lasombra my age would have killed you already. You are aware of that, right, Tom?”
I consider pointing out that in my experience so far it’s only about one out of every three, but I decide to let it slide. “Yeah.”
There’s another long silence, then he sighs. “Well, there’s no use crying over spilt wine.”
I glance at the sticky mess by the wine rack. “Yeah, I know what you mean—“
“I need to think a few things through. In the meantime, try not to get killed by the Spiral Dancer.”
I pick at a spot of rust on one of the swords. “I seem to be good at not-dying, at least.”
“Of course you are. If you were dead, you couldn’t cause me more trouble, could you?” And with that, Marcus hangs up.
I stare at the phone, processing all possible implications of that statement, when Red-skull suddenly straightens and gestures for me to follow.
Anstis, meanwhile, is chillaxing in the library, lounging on a fleshchair and flipping through Orlando’s books on Necromancy.
A ghouled servant eventually shows up, bowing as well as his deformities will let him. This one, at least, has a jaw. “Pardon me, sir, your presence is requested,” he wheezes.
Anstis moves the grimoire on this lap to the stack of similar books next to him. “Very well. May books leave the library, or shall they stay?”
“It please the master that they stay.”
(Me: “Reference material only!”)
Anstis grumbles, but puts the books back where he found them and follows the ghoul from the room.
Georgia and Everton go searching for Paul, but strangely his signal grows weaker over time, rather than stronger. Since they are near the main manor anyway, Georgia decides to make a detour and take the keys to the dungeon in the basement. To the door with the three locks.
The three keys are bronze, silver, and gold, matching the metal of the locks. Georgia fits each of them. Since they apparently have to be turned at the same time, she grabs the top two and Everton grabs the third. They meet their gazes, count to three, then turn.
There’s a groan and the door slides open. Beyond lies another stretch of hallway lined with cells, but the bars of these cells glint silver in the light. They walk cautiously down the row. All the cells are empty, but at the end of the hallway lies another heavy door, this one made of iron. Georgia sighs, frustrated, but then realizes it’s not locked. She glances at Everton. He nods, and together they lift the bar and pull. The hinges shriek with rust, but it gives, slowly swinging open to reveal…
…Orlando. It’s back in it’s “human” form, fine dressing gown and all, watching them with a calm expression and hands clasped.
Georgia steps away from the door, hands on her hips. “You are not a puppy.”
“No, I am not,” it says. “You’ve brought me another Toreador.”
“I thought you two had been introduced already.”
Orlando smiles thinly. “We have, but I didn’t know he was still with us.”
“Do you…have more than one Toreador already?”
“I do, as a matter of fact. I have a great many things. I am a being awash in gifts. And you…have opened the final door.”
Georgia breaks into self-satisfied smile. “I solved the puzzle! It was very entertaining. And well-crafted, might I say.
“I am glad you appreciate. It took some doing. I assume you’ll be wanting your prize. The werewolf cub, yes?”
“That…was sort of the agreement.”
Orlando inclines its head. “I have it. But…I think it is best if we celebrate your victory first. With festivities.”
“Oh? What sort?”
“I have just the thing planned. A game, in the old sense.”
“Oh?” Georgia turns to Everton, but he has stepped back, watching Orlando owlishly. “As much as I enjoy your games, I think I am going to have to decline. Another matter has come up and I do believe I will need to depart rather quickly.”
Orlandos eyes narrow. “My dear Tremere…you are, I fear, slightly naive as to the ways of the world. And consequently I shall take no offense at you refusing my hospitality.” He gestures softly with one hand that’s suddenly longer and sharper than it was a moment before. “For I know it was not your intention to have me rip you to pieces.”
Georgia hesitates. “That’s very gracious of you….”
“And so, generous and forgiving as I am, I shall assume you acted out of simple ignorance of custom. For which none of us should ever be blamed. The games will not take long. And I assure you, your cub and your freedom shall be restored to you in their aftermath.” It smiles and bows slightly. “I give you this promise on the word of a Voivode.”
Georgia considers this, then nods sharply. “Very well. I accept.”
Orlando gestures to the hallway behind them. “Then please, follow me.”
Red-skull leads me down through the castle and into a long corridor. For awhile, all I can hear is his wheezing and the clink of my new weaponry, but as we walk, I sense a gradually rising murmur. I have a bad feeling I know what’s at the end of the hall, but I follow anyway, and step through an archway at the end.
I enter what appears to be an outdoor bull-fight arena, with a sandy floor and raised seating on all sides. The seats are filled with ghouls and other creatures, of literally all shapes and sizes, watching me from myriad eyes. On the far side of the arena, halfway up the stands, is what I can only assume to be Orlando back in “regular” form. Next to it are Anstis, Georgia, and Everton, and next to them is what seems to be Paul, propped up in a casket-like box and looking like he’s been through a rock-tumbler.
(Me: “It was so he could be Paul-ished!”
Jason: “Dammit! I mean, he looks like he’s been through a pulverizing machine—”
Jason: “FUCK YOU ALL!”)
I heft my halberd and stalk to the center of the arena, glaring up at Orlando.
It nods at me. “Surely your patron taught you the appropriate statement?”
“I’m afraid all I know is what I learned in the movies and he’s not fond of those.”
“Well then we’ll omit the formalities. Are you ready to make good on your pledge?”
I scan the space. Surrounded by monsters on all sides, I obviously have a complete lack of options, but that’s fine. It goes well with my complete lack of plan. “Yeah, alright,” I drawl, lifting the halberd.
“Excellent.” It extends one long, graceful hand toward a gated archway across from where I entered. “Your werewolf.”
I angle the halberd low, assuming the Spiral Dancer bitch is going to rush me, like the last time we met, on the Farallones. Last time, though, she was so busy running from Perpenna that she largely ignored me. Maybe this time I can hold her off long enough till another Lasombra Methusula comes to help me out of my mess.
Or maybe Paul will just summon Perpenna again, you never know.
The portcullis lifts with a slow groan. A shadow moves within and I duck low, preparing to dash to the side.
(Me: “I still cannot believe I don’t have my fucking silver whip! You are such an asshole!”
Jason: “Oh, you think I’m an asshole? You don’t know the half of it—”)
The figure stumbles into the arena, like she’s been shoved. She’s in human form, and smaller than expected, and turns—
(Me: “MOTHERFUCKER!!! THIS IS WHY I TOLD HER NOT TO COME!”)
She stares around, blinking in confusion, but her eyes widen as she sees the monstrous host ranged around her. She turns, sees me, and freezes.
I stare right back, halberd drooping. “Ooooooh, girl….” I mutter.
Above me, Georgia and Paul are also staring in shock. Orlando stands, raising both arms and spreading them in an offering gesture. “Commence,” it says.
Next to it, Anstis slouches back, booted feet propped against the row in front of him, and cheers.
(Me: “Oh my god, this is your schadenfreude-revenge for when Sophia and I killed Isaac, isn’t it?!”)
Keeping one eye on Sophia, I turn toward Orlando. “I was told there would be a Spiral Dancer!” I shout.
“You were told there would be a werewolf,” it answers calmly. “There is. On your pledge you made a claim that you were a great killer of werewolves. Not just to me, as I understand it.”
Dammit. I know my big mouth gets me in trouble, but this? “Yes, which is why a teenager is a bit below my notice!”
“I have it on some authority that that…teenager…has killed Kindred.”
I glance at her, still frozen in terror on the other side of the arena. “Yeah. I’ve heard.”
“Then this should be a fine match.”
“Aye! It shall!” Anstis shouts down as well. I shoot a glare up at him but he just grins back.
Orlando turns to Anstis. “Care to make a wager?”
Anstis grin turns sly. “On which?”
“Whichever you’ll take.”
“Hmm….” Anstis frowns and tents his fingers theatrically, regarding Sophia and I. I’d like to say that part of him was weighing his options as they might be affected by loyalty, but no…we all know he’s going for the option of most profit.
“Quickly now,” Orlando urges. “All bets are off once the fight begins.”
Meanwhile, further down the row, Everton leans over to Georgia and the remains of Paul. “That is not a Spiral Dancer,” he whispers.
“No…it’s…not….” Paul gurgles.
“Do you know that werewolf?”
Paul’s head twitches in a nod. Georgia nods as well.
“Damnation.” Everton clutches his cane in front of him and scans the crowd. It’s not just ghouls and other simple servitors. Tzlotcha and other war-like constructions loom toward the top tiers, spines and claws arching overhead. “We’re outnumbered thirty-to-one here,” he mutters. “If you have a suggestion to offer?”
Paul waves a hand weakly. “I’m working on it.”
With Orlando distracted talking to Anstis, Everton pulls out a canteen and pours a good draught of it into Paul’s bruised mouth. Paul starts to visibly pull himself together. “Do you know what happened to the Dancer?” Everton asks him.
“No…” Paul says, voice improving. “I can’t envision where it went.”
“Assuming it got away. I seem to recall Orlando said games, plural.”
“You think he means to send it against the winner?”
“Maybe. It’s also possible it’s the Dancer’s idea. The Tzmitsce are known for having made deals with wolves in the past. In the meantime….”
They watch as Sophia and I stare at each other across the sand. “I don’t think either of them will move against the other,” Paul says.
“They may not have much choice. Orlando will order them both slain.”
“I understand why Tom is here. He’s just…always at the wrong place at the wrong time. But I don’t know why the she’s still here.” Paul’s frown deepens. “She was looking for something reflective, she must not have found it. If we have any water we could slosh a puddle down there.”
Everton looks at his flask. “I’m afraid I didn’t bring any. Not exactly of use to us, is…it….“
Suddenly they look at each other, simultaneously realizing something, then turn to look at Georgia.
Anstis makes a decision and sits up. “$100,000 or a favor, on Lytton walking out of here alive.”
Orlando lifts its chin, regarding Anstis appraisingly. Finally, it nods. “Done.” It looks down to the arena, seeing Georgia and I still on opposite sides of it, and frowns. “Commence!” it commands.
Sophia glances at Orlando then back to me, eyes wide. Her breath is steaming in the cool evening air, and increasing.
My own Beast twists within me, joyous to see an enemy so distraught, but my heart wrenches. I want to call out to her, show her I’m still my own self and we can figure out a plan, but I’m worried what Orlando will do if it realizes we’re allies. I need to make it look like we’re playing along. I heft the halberd in a way that I hope looks showy and start pacing sideways, adding movement but not gaining any ground.
Instinctively, I stall further. “How did you get this werewolf?” I shout up to Orlando.
“I have my methods. Interlopers on my territory tend to come to such ends.” Its voice drops. “As do those who do not honor an agreement.”
The meaning behind that is clear. I meet Sophia’s eyes, trying to look as calm as possible, then take a few steps forward. She backs up, eyes wide, panting audibly.
Then erupts up into full-bore Crinos form.
“Georgia,” Paul whispers. She tears her gaze away from the floor. “We need something reflective.”
“You mean…like a mirror?” She reaches for her
inventory bag. “I have a sliver here—“
“We can’t get that to her without Orlando noticing. But if we had some water….”
Georgia gasps in understanding and they look around. Everything around them is packed sand and mutated flesh. No sign of fountains or the castle’s famous pools, at least not within line of sight, even though the arena opens to the night sky—
They freeze, staring upwards, at the thick coastal clouds rolling low overhead.
Sophia, now eight-feet tall and razor-tipped, stalks toward me, snarling. I back up. “Girl….” I mutter, but I’m drowned out by an eerie excited chittering rising from the ghouls in the stands. She swipes threateningly at the air. I jump back, panic rising. “Girl! Wait!” I shout.
Suddenly a column of fog pours out of the sky, directly onto Sophia. It swirls in a vortex, coalescing into fine ropes and chains of solid grey water. They snake around her feet, tangling up and dropping her to the sand. She howls, slashing at them, but they twist faster, scouring a wide furrow in the arena floor. Then, just as suddenly as they appeared, the water-chains melt, crashing down around Sophia’s feet…
….And collecting into a shallow pool in the divot they just cut.
Sophia looks at the pool, then back up to me. I shrug. She stares a long moment, powerful chest heaving…then disappears.
Silence descends on the arena. I wait a moment, then turn toward Orlando, thrusting my halberd end-first into the sand, and take a bow. “I have removed your werewolf!”
Orlando, to my pleasure, looks absolutely, undignifiedly stunned. But after a few moments of open-mouthed silence, anger rises on its perfect face. “What treachery is this?” it hisses. “You have done nothing of the sort….”
I look at the puddle. “Well, not gonna lie, I don’t know what happened, so I’m just gonna take credit for—“
“I. Do.” Orlando growls, its voice echoing through the silence like Sophia’s howls. It turns in its seat…to glare directly at Georgia.
(Kara: “Do do dee do…not looking at Orlando….”)
“What have you done?” It hisses. “You robbed me of my property and my entertainment!”
Georgia looks at him in only half-feigned surprise. “I did what?”
“Do not lie to me. That was your work.”
“What was? The puddle? The puddle was mine, yes.”
Orlando leans toward her. “Why did you take my werewolf?”
“I did not take your werewolf. I have not lied to you yet, um…”
(Kara: “Damn, there’s no good non-gendered term of respect.”
Jason: *sing-song* “There is in Laaatin.”
Kara: “Fine, I use the Latin. Georgia knows it afterall.”
Me: “So…what is it?”
Jason: “Oh! Um…Dominus, Domina, Domin…um…Dominum.”)
“I have not lied to you yet, Dominum, and I will not start now,” she says brightly.
Orlando stares at her a long moment…then sits back, settling its robes around it. “Very well. Then there shall be a substitution.” It turns to Anstis. “Forgive me, sir, it appears our wager cannot be completed. Someone has robbed us of our combatant.”
“If I might suggest,” Anstis says, “The wager is still in effect. Tom has not walked out of here alive.”
Orlando stares at him, then nods slowly. “It is true. He has not. Then let us see if he shall. As we have no werewolf to compete, we shall use something in its place.”
Orlando turns back to Georgia, smiles…then grabs her by her robes and throws her down into the arena. “Commence!” it barks.
I lean against my halberd, watching Georgia brush off sand and climb to her feet. “Well, then we’re at a bit of an impasse here, cause I usually have werewolves kill my Tremere for me!” I shout back.
“Then you shall have to improvise!”
Georgia glares at Orlando sullenly. “What are the rules of this engagement, again?”
“One leaves, the other is dead!” Orlando shouts.
“Think I saw a movie like that once,” I mutter.
Paul carefully leans toward Orlando. “Orlando, if I might suggest, I have been around Lytton before.”
It regards him cooly. “My condolences.”
“I have found with him, though, that nothing goes the way you want it to.”
Paul takes a breath, still wheezing slightly. “If it’s like any other thing I’ve done with him, it will end very badly. He can’t. Be controlled. At all. He is the eye of the storm and he’s making landfall here.”
Orlando’s eyes narrow. “…Is that a threat?”
“No, it’s a warning, for me as much as you.”
Orlando glares at Paul then turns back to the floor. “Commence,” it hisses through razor teeth, “Or I shall commence it for you….”
Georgia and I trade a glance again. “Pretty sure this violates hospitality laws….” she says.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I agreed to fight werewolves, not the people I came to rescue,” I add.
Orlando turns and shouts down to Red-skull, still lurking at the edges of the arena entrance. “If they don’t begin to fight in 15 seconds, fetch a vozdt!”
My eyes widen at that. The threat is scary, to be sure, but if Orlando has vozdts…. One of the ongoing questions we’ve forgotten about faced is where the three vozdts at the Monomancy came from, since Andre wasn’t known to have them. I did observe at the time that they may have come in from outside the San Jose Arena–
My chain of thought is broken by Georgia punching me on the shoulder. “Ow,” I say more from reflex than anything else.
(Jason: “You have Fortitude, it barely feels like anything.”)
In response, I whap her lightly on the head.
(Jason: “You have Potence, it feels like a lot more than that!”)
Georgia stumbles back from the blow, and through her disorientation she notices something strange. A strange, almost electrical distortion to the air, centered on where she’s standing. She take another step back just before a sudden crack echoes through the arena—
—And Max appears on the arena floor, already scowling at her.
I glare at him and heft the halberd out of the sand. “Oh, hey, someone I actually want to stab….”
Max opens his mouth to snap at Georgia, then stops as he notices the surroundings. He whirls, staring up at the arena. “Wha…What did you do!? Where are we?!!”
“I called for you an hour ago,” Georgia chides.
“There were complications,” he hisses.
“Ah, well I didn’t realize there were wards around the area. That’s sweet of you to keep trying! I’m actually touched!” She smiles and clasps her hands.
Above us, Orlando stares, then turns to Paul. “Mr. Stewart, I believe I owe you an apology.”
Paul waves a hand. “It’s alright,” he wheezes, “Took a long time for me to learn that too.”
Orlando glares down at us, intent as a viper, then turns back toward Red-skull. “Fetch the vozdt.”
(Kara: “Fetchez la vozdt!”)
The chittering sound of teeth and claws of a thousand horrors rises again. Max whirls, staring in shock, then levels a finger at Georgia. “This is your fault! You know this, right? If we survive this, I will ensure that people know that this is your fault!”
I, meanwhile, have been staring angrily at Max since he appeared. He hasn’t taken notice of me, but that changes the minute I stride up and hit him upside the head with the flat of the halberd. “You and I got some shit to talk about,” I snap. The shit being, of course, the fact that he was involved in Marcus’s kidnapping some months back and was directly responsible for Aquilifer’s vivisection.
Max rubs his head and shoots me a withering glare, one that would probably be more impressive to me if I hadn’t just stared down a werewolf and was now threatened with a vozdt. “I suspect we don’t,” he hisses.
“We’ll see about that.” I gesture at Georgia, then Paul and Anstis up in the stands. “Can you get any of these assholes out with whatever you took to get here?”
He scowls. “This place is warded. I had intended to make a circle, but it’s a process that requires a fair amount of work. And blood.”
“How much time do you need?”
I stare at the crowd, pulsating with rising energy. “I suspect we don’t have that.”
“I suspect we don’t….”
Suddenly my phone buzzes with a text message. I brace the halberd against my shoulder and pull it out.
WHAT NOW? —S
Relief pours over me, both that Sophia is okay and that she seems to realize I wasn’t actually suddenly her enemy. CAN YOU GET THESE PEOPLE OUT? I reply.
There’s a long pause, but 😦 is the only response.
I sigh. VOZDT COMING, I type, hoping she’s not in a place where that will matter to her.
(Jason: “Ha! Vozdt inc!”
Me: “Pull inc!”
Jason: “Oh shit, overpull!”
Me: “Quick! Feign death!”)
…SHIT, she replies.
“Yeah, that’s about right,” I mutter as a new rumbling noise draws my attention up. Armored ghouls are pouring into the arena, lining up around the perimeter, and more are filing into the stands, many of them carrying torches. Orlando watches this calmly, its marble-smooth face glowing in the light of the flames. “You come into my home,” it says softly, though its voice carries like a gunshot, “Break the sacred bonds of guest-hood, make a mockery of myself and my household, and for that I…will….” It trails off as something becomes apparent.
Every torch in the arena is flickering, but at the moment there isn’t a breath of wind.
My phone buzzes again, but when I look at it, it’s an unknown number. The message is short:
I glance up. Orlando is staring at the torches and everyone else is staring at him. I take my opportunity and quietly reach over, grip Georgia’s shoulder, and mosey us back a few yards, leaving Max behind.
The torches flicker faster, then suddenly dim, as if occluded, but there’s nothing in sight. Moments later, the ground where Georgia and I were standing, in the exact center of the arena, opens, splitting like a wound into the earth. A black miasma boils out, spreading across the arena like fog, snuffing all light in its path. Then just as quickly as it arrived it dissipates. When the light returns, the scar in the ground has disappeared.
But in its place, standing poised in dark, chitinous armor and lifting a sword toward Orlando, is someone very small.
The arena goes silent. Orlando rises slowly to its feet, face flashing between shock and fury. The black figure stares, then turns to me. “Tom,” Marcus says.
I raise a placating hand, trying to keep it from shaking. “Boss,” I say seriously, “I know what this looks like, and I know what you’re thinking, but I swear…I did not quote Gladiator when I walked out here.”
END OF NIGHT