Jason has reached an interesting conundrum. Normally in our games, NPC characters do not interact directly (or at least, not more than a line of conversation or two) since it makes for slightly-awkward gameplay as Jason sits and basically has a conversation with himself. In the past, he has worked around this by keeping major NPC interactions off-screen, but we’ve gotten to the point now where it is beneficial to the story to see more of these interactions directly. For example, in the recent showdown in Orlando’s arena, Jason conscripted Cameron to play the part of Orlando for him (thus the comments about Jason having written fifteen pages of If They Fuck Up contingency plans).
There’s another way to deal with these situations, though: cutscenes. For a game already well-aligned with writing, cutscenes seem like a no-brainer, but they take their own planning and are a lot of work for Jason to write. However, sometimes a situation comes along that is just too narratively important for Jason to resist, as what happened at the end of the last episode.
Thus, for the first time, we get to see directly what happened behind the closed door:
This is happening.
She’s here and he’s over there and he’s watching her and this is a real thing that is actually happening, and there’s nothing she can do, no mirrors, no reflective surface at all to let her flee into the Umbra and never come back. Through the fog of panic that tugs at her mind comes the maddening realization that this is her fault. This was a predictable outcome from the beginning, ever since the time in Paul’s house, with the blood mage and the silver chains when she first met Paul and Tom, this was bound to happen. Whatever excuses she told herself or made up to placate the others, she’s here because she walked into a room without escape routes at the behest of a vampire, and there’s not one Garou in the world who would say this is anything but just desserts.
That doesn’t make this better. In fact it makes it much worse.
“Give us a minute, will you Tom?”
The boy who is not a boy has an accent, soft and hard to place. His voice is childlike in its register, but in nothing else, a quiet steel that wraps around her throat like a choke collar. He watches her with unblinking eyes, darker than night, undulating in the dim light like parasites fastened to a walking corpse. Which is what this is, she reminds herself. A corpse of a child dead for thousands of years. Possessed by a wyrm-spirit of such antiquity and power as to stagger belief. Stories and fragments of stories come filtering back to her now, bits of research online and campfire tales from Galliards across the country. One name. A title really. The Devourer of Innocence.
Tom turns, reluctantly, she knows that look on his face by now, she’s seen little else over the last few weeks. But the Devourer is in charge here and everyone knows it. He does not repeat the order because he does not have to. And finally Tom leaves, as he must, and she knows that he wouldn’t be able to help her anyway, but stepping inside the cluttered building and watching the door close behind them, leaving Tom outside and the Devourer in here, feels like watching a casket lid closing over her.
And then she remembers the whispers she’s heard about what elder vampires can do with a captured Garou, and she realizes that death might be the better solution here.
The room is filled with junk, some boxed, some not, scattered about like the aftermath of an earthquake. Plenty of the stuff is flammable, packing materials and wooden crates, and for a moment she considers trying to light an inferno, consuming the room and the arch-leech alike in a volcanic pyre. But something stays her hand, self-preservation maybe, or witchcraft, or a lingering sense that she needs to see this through, keep the fire in her pocket until she’s sure her worst fears are true.
The Devourer does not move or start speaking once the door closes, but stands where he is, arms folded, watching her in silence. Beside him stands his bane, a twisted, misshapen thing in the form of a giant eagle, the one from the stories she’s heard: a hell-bird, capable of rending limbs with its talons and sundering stone with a cry. No cries now, for the bird stands like a graven statue, staring imperiously at her in absolute silence.
She tries to do the same, tries to make it look like she’s sizing him up, tries to look nonchalant, the way Alexander or Tom does, but she doesn’t think it’s working. With difficulty, she suppresses the urge to shift into Crinos, to take some small comfort in her natural form’s mass and power. She knows the Devourer won’t be afraid of her whatever form she takes. And she might have need of a computer any moment now.
“I know that you know who I am,” he says.
His voice is a shot through the dark, not loud or bombastic, a small child’s light lilt. But in her wound-up state, it’s all she can do to avoid jumping in fright. She flinches regardless, wishing that she could simply give in to the rage that wants to explode out of her. But the part of her mind that’s still rational knows that could only end one way, and so far he hasn’t killed her yet. Though maybe that’s not such a mercy.
“You’re the Devourer of Innocence,” she says.
The name elicits a flicker of something within those black pools he calls eyes. Recognition? Anger? She can’t tell. He doesn’t let whatever it is otherwise disturb his expression, doesn’t draw his sword or call forth all the powers of Hell that she knows he has at his command. She’s faced Vampires before, even ones who thought they could take her, but the absolute lack of fear in this one confirms many of the stories she’s heard. And if any of them are true, then they all could be.
“My name,” he says, stiffly, “is Marcus Sertorius. In my day we spoke a man’s proper name when we addressed them.”
“You’re not a man,” she says without thinking, “and that is your proper name.” The words spill out before she can think or worry about what the reaction might be.
The reaction isn’t extreme, much though it might have been. “You’re not a man either,” he says, his brow darkening as his voice deepens, to the extent his child’s throat will let it. “Nor have you the first idea of what my proper name is and isn’t, girl.” The word is the same one Tom keeps using, but from the Devourer’s lips it is dismissive, wrapped up with the contempt of ages. “Address me by that Lupine moniker again, and I will show you just what it is that I devour.”
This time she knows her fear is visible, in her halting breath or pale expression, and she wishes now that she’d adopted Crinos, but something like this could probably detect her fear anyway. “What… am I supposed to call you then?” she asks, hoping the hesitation in her dry throat won’t be taken as an invitation to bite it open.
“I’ve given you two names. Make up another if you want. But don’t presume to sit here and tell me the nature of innocence or what my crimes are concerning it. You haven’t the first conception of what I truly am.”
She can’t think of anything to say in response to that. She settles for directness. “What do you want with me?”
“Some idea of what I’m dealing with,” he replies. “I’ve had a lot of clients in my day. Not many of them made friends with a Werewolf.”
“You mean Tom.”
“And Stewart, yes. It’s odd company you keep.”
“You keep company with them too,” she says.
He smirks now, a smug, superior kind of thing. It makes him look almost petulant. “I’m a vampire,” he says. “You, on the other hand, are an irrational killing machine whose entire race is dedicated to the extermination of Vampires as a whole.”
“They… they helped me out,” she says, unsure of what she should be telling this vampire, or rather of how little she can get away with telling him. “Helped me get out of a mess I couldn’t get out of myself.”
“And into another one, is that it?” asks the Devourer, stepping towards her, his eagle sliding behind to shadow him as he moves. She has to stop herself from jumping back. “I know the facts,” he says, nearly disappearing behind the piled clutter, only the top of his head visible. “I’m looking for the meaning behind the facts. There’s nothing stopping you from killing them both.”
The smell of Wyrm-taint is overwhelming, the fires within her blazing up at its approach. “There’s nothing stopping me from killing you either,” she snaps, stepping back lest her rage force her into something suicidal.
He comes out from behind the piled junk and stops, seems to consider her threat the way he might a business proposition. “Other than common sense and self-preservation, no, I suppose not.” Another pause. Is he sizing her up? Or preparing some devastating ambush? “Consider what you know about me, werewolf, and then think about the likelihood of me walking into this room without the means on-hand to defend myself from you. You would not be my first.”
“I wouldn’t be your hundredth.” Absent the all-consuming fear, her rage surges to the forefront, fueled by disgust and the tales of a hundred Garou dead and bleeding before the creature that masquerades as a child, of hideous abuses and cubs abducted in the night. No matter the risk, it’s all she can do to keep it contained to her voice.
Maybe he sees that. Maybe he’s just a cold bastard. “I don’t think it’s quite that much,” he chides. As if that will somehow mollify her.
“You’re a monster,” she says, balling her fists and forcing herself not to assume her natural state, not now.
“We’re all monsters,” he answers instantly. “Shall we sit here all night and debate the merits of our respective curses?”
“I was embraced. You were born. We can cry about these things or live with them.”
“My birth wasn’t a curse,” she snarls back.
“Wasn’t it? If I took a sampling of local Garou, assuming there are any left, are you sure they would agree?”
It takes her a moment to realize what he’s talking about, and when she does, the surprise on her face is answer enough.
“I’m infamous among your kind for the murder of dozens of Garou,” says the not-boy, his tone bored, like a teacher explaining a simple subject to a slow student. “Do you imagine I could acquire a reputation like that without learning a thing or two about them? You’re a pure-blood. One of the inbred outcasts. Am I wrong?”
“Metis,” she whispers, teeth clenched. “We’re called Metis.”
“Whatever you call yourselves, it’s plain as torchlight to me. And I know the prevailing opinions about your kind among the tribes.”
“I’m a Glasswalker,” she says, part of her wanting to laugh at the absurdity of defending her werewolf lineage to the Devourer of Innocence. “We don’t care about that.”
“You’re not a Glasswalker,” he responds, with perfect, casual certainty, “you haven’t the right color.” She doesn’t answer him, for she can’t think of an answer other than teeth and claws. She can’t figure out which is worse, that he might know this all already, or that he might be stealing it from her mind as they speak.
He watches her for a moment before adding a corollary. “Do you even know what you are?”
She takes a careful breath, releases it in measured bursts, trying to muster every ounce of steely calm she can lay hands upon. “I’m a Glasswalker,” she repeats, staring into the abyssal depths of the false-child’s eyes.
There’s a half-beat where she’s certain the world has stopped. And then the faintest smile curls the edge of his mouth. “All right then,” he says. “In that case, I’m a Roman. “A moment, just long enough to see if she’s going to object. “Shall we discuss the pertinent matters?”
“You still haven’t told me what you want.”
“I want to know why,” says the not-boy, and he approaches again, but this time she holds her ground. “Why a werewolf would willingly associate herself with vampires of any stripe or any creed. Your kind kills ours on sight. Irrespective of circumstance. I’ve known half a dozen exceptions in thousands of years of existence, and even those ended as soon as practicable. This is something I’ve never encountered before, and that’s not something I commonly find myself saying.”
“Really?” She gestures vaguely north, toward where this all started. “Even now? With everything your people have been doing to this city?”
He stops, again, and she sees him, or it, or whatever, thinking the point through… or maybe considering if he should have her for dinner. “Circumstances notwithstanding,” he says at last. “Your associations with Tom and Paul cannot make you popular among your own.”
“I don’t care what they think.”
“There has never been a werewolf alive who didn’t care what their own kind thought,” he snaps. “And even if there was, I doubt seriously it would be a stripling with a computer and a propensity for getting over her head.”
Getting lectured by a boy half her size about such matters is surreal enough that it cuts the apprehension and rage, just a little. “I’m not a child,” she says.
“Yes you are,” he says. “I have some experience on that subject too.” He lets that one sit a moment. “But that’s ultimately irrelevant. I’m asking as to what game you think you’re playing with them.”
“What the hell do you care?” she asks. “What business is it of yours who I talk to?”
“They’re my clients,” he says, and there’s an edge to his voice now, one that wasn’t there before, just barely discernable and fifty times as menacing for the lack of force. “And as best I can tell, you’re theirs, or something similar. That puts me in an awkward position.”
“Is this where I’m supposed to be afraid of you?” she asks, trying to make it sound casual. Instead it sounds petulant, and she knows it.
“Yes,” he answers, “but that’s not necessarily what I mean. There are responsibilities involved.”
“What responsibilities?” she asks. “You’re afraid they’re gonna turn on you?”
“A system of patronage older than your entire tribe. Older than me. One I’m sure you’ve no use for and that I couldn’t care less if you understand. The requirements are the same. And so here we are.”
She has no idea what he’s trying to tell her, and she wonders for a moment if he does either. Old and storied though the Devourer is, how many Garou can he possibly have spoken with before? Of course the answer could well be all of them. Vampires of his lineage are capable of staggering feats.
“Do you even appreciate the danger you are in?” he asks her. “That you may have put them in?”
“I’m a werewolf,” she says. “We live exciting lives.”
“Exciting lives tend to be short ones,” he replies, “but that’s your affair. What you plan to do with my clients, however, is my affair. Particularly if this is some convoluted scheme whose object is me.”
She blinks. “You?”
“I’ve had werewolves hunting me for the better part of the last millenium. This would not be the strangest method they’ve gone about it.”
She hesitates. She’s not going to scare this vampire, she knows that, and he’s already proven he knows more about her than she ever wanted to reveal. What does that leave but the truth?
“You’re the Devourer of Innocence,” she says, a statement of fact this time, rather than a threat. “I can’t threaten you.”
“You’re a werewolf,” he replies. “You exist to threaten me. And I have only one method of dealing with potential threats.”
Her eyes go wide as she realizes what has to come next.
In an instant she is herself again, a towering pillar of fur and claws, dwarfing the child before her. She calls to whatever spirits can hear her in this place, those of electricity and knowledge, wilderness and grass, anything and everything that might help, takes heed of her own gifts and calls for fire, elemental fire, that purging plasma that has before hurled back these monsters of the darkness, intent now on burning all the world around her, and sending this creature to the hell that spawned it.
But it is all in vain, as she knows it must be, for before the spirits can answer, and before the fire can make manifest, something else answers a different will, and the boy who is not a boy raises his hand, and every shadow in the room converges at once, erupting from walls and ceiling like a forest of writhing wires. A thicket of them explodes into being between her and him, even as more shadows wrap him in a tight embrace. For an instant she tears at the shadow-hedge, rending the impossible material with her claws designed to do just that, but the force they wield is too much, even for her, and she is repelled, and bound, and dragged to her knees, and the fire she has called for dies before she can conjure it, as the room itself melts away into darkness. Swirling wisps of nothingness snake across the chamber, drowning light itself before their advent, until there is nothing but the dark, and the architect thereof.
“Do you imagine I don’t see through you?” comes the boy’s voice, less a statement than a chant, a voice that shifts the English words he speaks into some dark incantation from a language exterminated long ago. “That I should still exist after thousands of years without comprehending what fuels your kind?” He looms before her, as small as he ever was and a thousand feet tall at once, his eyes black like the lifeless bulbs of a doll, his gaze as penetrating as any klaive. “Do you think in your scant moments of life, you can possibly understand rage as well as I, simply because you were born to the moon?”
The walls collapse and the ceiling is torn apart, and there’s nothing left at all but Void, not silent but living, undulating in great waves of shapeless malice. Her fear fuels her anger, and she tears at her restraints and shreds them, roaring full-throatedly with a half-garbled invocation to Roach and Wasp. But the strands of infinite nothing spool in all directions like a web, and she cannot breach them, no matter how hard she tears, cannot reach the spider at the center of it all, his form obscured in chitinous black armor, twinkling in the unlight like crystallized oblivion.
“You would name me Devourer?” comes his unearthly voice, and she sees from behind him a thousand pairs of eyes, sharp and predatory, enveloping him like a vast cloak. “Appoint yourself as Nomenclator and deal judgment upon me? You whose recourse to the darkness is to part it with a flame? You who understand nothing beyond a story told to children of an evil half-glimpsed?” The sword is in his hand, the Lifedrinker, sparkling as shadow incarnated swirls about it, but her eyes cannot detach from his, cold fury laced through empty fastnesses like lightning immured within a thunderhead.
“Come then, Ravener,” says the Boy, all searing anger and proud contempt. The roaring of incalculable winds and the cries of great birds seem to echo about her, as though she were ensconced in the eye of some unfathomable storm. “Call your Chaos if you will,” he roars, “Cry a paean to your spirits of anger! Bring forth your rage, Garou, and I will show you what it is to be a child of Fury!”
The storm builds to unspeakable strength, till the flesh must be flayed from her very bones, and the shadows carved into her soul. And when she opens her mouth to scream–defiance or fear, she knows not which–she cannot even hear her own voice.
And then it is over.
Silence reigns once more, and stillness. She opens her eyes to find the flickering light of the dusty shop awaiting her once more, and the shadowy countenance of a small boy in a simple tunic with a dun sword strapped to his back, dwarfed by the lupine monstrosity that occupies his sight. His bane is there too, and it looks distressed, feathers rumpled and eyes fierce, again and again looking to the shadow-child for commands or assurance, or perhaps both. She rises, unhindered, standing before the incongruous thing before her, and cannot think of what to say.
“I am a son of Nemesis,” says the Boy in a soft, direct voice, a whisper of steel, guarded and cloaking unknown horrors. “A child of Iniquity and Death. I know more of rage than your entire assembled race. Do not presume to tell me what it is that I am. You have no more conception of such matters than I do of what it is to live under the sun. Pull aside my burial shroud, and you shall find such things beneath it as will sear your mind to ashes.”
She can scarcely breathe. She forces the air into herself mechanically, like the shunting of heavy chains. It is an eternity before she can muster the wherewithal to answer, sliding back into her human form as she does so, for now, if not before, she knows for a fact that all forms are immaterial here, that he could strike her dead as a towering monster just as easily as he could were she a girl, or a wolf.
“Why are you doing this?” she asks once she has the vocal chords, a question that has a million possible answers, each worse than the last. “Why not just kill me?”
“Because Tom Lytton is my client,” replies the boy, without a trace of irony. “And you are his. And I can no more alter that than you can.”
“I won’t…” her voice fails her, and she forces it into obedience. “I won’t serve you.” She manages to make it sound defiant.
“You will serve me, if I choose it,” he says. “I have shattered the resolutions of greater things than you.”
Her courage begins to return, and with it her defiance. “Maybe so,” she says. “But you’ll have to kill me to do it. You try and turn me into one of your slaves, and I’ll… find a way to end you. Any way I can. And if you’re half as old as you’re supposed to be, you know I’ll find one eventually. It’s what we do.”
She half expects him to end it right there, but instead he simply watches her for a moment, before, quite deliberately of course, drawing in a long slow breath and letting it go once again. As he does so, some ineffable change seems to come over him, and by the time it is finished, he is cloaked once more, a pale, skittish child again, indistinguishable from any other save for his archaic dress and direct speech.
“You’re young,” he says, “and American to boot, so I assume you couldn’t know this, but clientage and slavery are nothing alike. It would render my life considerably simpler if they were. And yours, I imagine, little though you would appreciate it.”
He’s speaking in riddles again, something Vampires seem to like doing, in her limited experience. “Are you trying to offer me a deal, then?” she asks.
“No,” he says. “The deal’s already been made, and not by me. I’m trying to determine what to do with it.”
She stands quietly for a moment, trying vainly to wring some meaning out of the boy’s expression. “Why do you even care?” she asks.
“Because a Patron is responsible for his Clients,” says the boy instantly, like a mantra long-rehearsed. “And I’m sure you’ve noticed that Tom isn’t the most responsible sort. Brujah rarely are.”
“Tom came through for me,” she says, so quickly that she doesn’t have time to reflect on what she’s saying and to who. “So did Paul.”
“I’m sure they did,” comes the reply. “Brujah and Toreador have many virtues. But consistency and probity are not usually among them. And that leaves me with a puzzling dilemma.”
She has various, vague senses of what that dilemma might be, but she also retains enough awareness to recognize that they’re probably all wrong. “… Sorry?” she ventures at last.
“I doubt that,” he says. “But on the off-chance you’re sincere, you can amend the matter best by explaining to me what your interest is here, if not me.”
“You actually think I’m here to kill you?” Child or not, thinking of the Devourer of Innocence being afraid of her is so absurd as to be laughable in any circumstance but this one.
Maybe he senses as much. “I tend to assume all werewolves are here to do just that,” he says. “Spend a thousand years being chased by every werewolf in Europe and tell me how much you believe in coincidences in the aftermath. If you have other purposes here – “
“I can’t tell you.”
She regrets it instantly. Of course she can tell him, if he throws her down and forces her to with his wyrm-spawned leechcraft. She knows that and he does too, but now it’s said and she can only hope his answer isn’t just that. He looks at her almost warily, like a predator weighing the odds of attacking potent prey. Perhaps he’s not expecting candor, not now. That may have been part of why she said it. Or maybe she’s just stupid and desperate.
“That’s a bold statement for one facing an elder vampire.”
“I’ll make you kill me before I let you interfere with this,” she says. “Maybe I can’t kill you, but I can make you kill me. You know that.”
To be honest, she’s not sure if she knows that for a fact, but he doesn’t answer instantly.
“An impasse then?” he asks. She hopes it’s rhetorical. “Well then let’s assume for a moment you’re right. You can’t tell me, but I can’t let you leave this room until I know the particulars.”
“Why?” she asks. “If I wanted to kill vampires, wouldn’t I have killed Tom or Paul?”
“Neither Tom nor Paul are the Devourer of Innocence,” he says. “I am. And even if I were not, the situation in this city is extremely finely-balanced between immensely powerful forces. Garou are notorious for their lack of restraint and tact. Hence the issue.”
“What do you think I’m gonna do then?”
“I don’t know what you plan to do, Garou, that’s the whole reason we’re standing here,” he answers, and now he sounds angry, not with the soul-chilling outrage of before, but with the aggravation of an old man unable to get children to listen to him. A tone she knows much better, despite the child’s voice evidencing it. “Your stories may regard me as some kind of blood god for all I know, but I’m not the one who massacred that pack from the park, nor the one who dragged you out to those Gods-forsaken islands, nor the one who riddled you with silver shot. And if you wish for me to go on not being those things, then perhaps it’s time to start speaking directly!”
The words fade out as the two of them stare at one another, and she lets the sound fade to nothing before she answers. “How do I know you’re not those things?”
His brow furrows as he stares into her eyes. “You don’t,” he says. “But I haven’t killed you yet.”
There’s another infinitely long silence, one that seems itself to be alive.
“The Gaians asked us to come,” she says at last. “They said they had found something important.”
“Something you won’t tell me about,” he says.
“Something I won’t tell you about,” she answers. “The Talons came later.”
“Much to your celebration, no doubt.”
She gives him a glare. “We were in the area anyway,” she says. “Because of Tesseract. We decided to stop in and see what was happening, and – “
“Wait,” says the boy, suddenly serious again. “When did you decide this?”
“To go to the city?” she asks, and she shrugs. “I don’t know really. We had to do some things down south, in Los Angeles for a while, maybe six months. We probably decided to stop back in a day or two before Paul re-appeared.”
“And you told no-one that you were coming?”
“The Gaians are pretty drop-in-friendly,” she says. She doesn’t amend the tense. “We didn’t have to make a reservation.”
“So then who else knew that you were coming here?”
“You mean besides the Gaians?”
“I mean including the Gaians. Something laid waste to the entire assembled Werewolf community of the city of San Francisco. Something that didn’t care for the compact between them and the Kindred powers of the city. Something that hadn’t planned in advance on you being there.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because you’re alive, and so are your two counterparts, the ones my clients met on the island. And given that this someone casually exterminated nearly a dozen werewolves in a single engagement, I doubt that’s because of your superior fighting skills. Their deaths were an element of a plan. Yours were not, either because the plan did not foresee your arrival, or because he had ulterior motives in keeping you alive.”
Her heart’s pounding so fast she’s having trouble following him, but she tries to force herself through. “You… think we’re in league with that thing?”
“No,” he answers, his tone signalling that it was a stupid question. “I think your seizure was opportunistic, and your internment on the island the best of a bad situation. I think he likely didn’t know of your existence until that moment, and only kept you around until he could work out what you were, and what the best thing to do with you was.”
“Isn’t that what you’re doing?”
The boy stops, and something flashes in his eyes for a moment, subsiding only gradually. “In a sense,” he says. “But if I were you, I would avoid making needless comparisons between me and that thing. I didn’t try to sell you to the Spiral Dancers.”
For the first time tonight, a chill that has nothing whatsoever to do with who she’s in a room with runs up her spine. “Sell me?”
“In all likelihood,” he says. “Dancers won’t work with Kindred for free, not even in the advancement of their own goals. The one responsible for this would have needed something to buy the Dancer’s aid with. And Paul claims it was looking for a werewolf.”
A hundred thoughts course through her at once, and she tries to force them aside, on the outside chance that he can read her mind. “Who… is this guy?” she asks at last, hoping it will divert the conversation away from where it’s going. “Who did all this?”
It does. The diminutive elder vampire before her goes quiet for a little while, and when he does speak again, his voice is restrained, quieter than it was before.
“I don’t know,” he says, his voice indicating that he admits as much only under protest. “He was once called Gnaeus Perpenna Vento, and I knew him far better than I would like to, but now…”
He trails off, and for a second she thinks he might have forgotten she’s here. Not that she’s about to test that by trying to flee.
“He’s your… ‘sire’,” she says, hoping she has the right term. “Isn’t he? The one that turned you?”
He looks up at her sharply, but does not rebuke her further. “He was, once,” he says. “And if there was ever a Devourer of Innocence…” Once again he seems to lose himself in memory, and shakes his head as if to clear it. “But that was centuries ago. And what he is now… he shouldn’t even be alive. I killed him too quickly, it appears.”
A massive, yawning gulf lies beyond those words, palpable within the not-child’s voice. And not for the first or hundredth time since coming to California, she realizes, despite all her tech spirits and all her research, just how little she knows about what’s going on around her.
“Why did you kill those werewolves?” she asks, sensing, rather than knowing, that she can. “All those things you did before. The murders, the kidnappings, the things we hate you for. They’re not all legends. Why do that?”
He doesn’t answer. Doesn’t even react. Just stares off into space like she’s not even in the room. It’s a long, long time before he answers, in an expressionless tone that says more than he probably intends it to.
“Because ultimately,” he says, “I wasn’t as wise as I thought I was.”
Bits and pieces of various stories come floating back to her, recombining like puzzle pieces in a thousand different combinations. She still hasn’t figured out how to answer that when he speaks next.
“Hate me if you want, Garou,” he says. “Curse my name for your entire life. You won’t be the first. But I’ve defied the best efforts of your race to extinguish me for the better part of a thousand years, and the world has spun on. If you fail against Perpenna as you failed against me, that may not be the case. I do not know his aim, but it was malign before I slew him, and I fear he has come back with something darker still attached.”
“You want me to help you kill him,” she says.
“I want him dead,” he answers. “By your claws or my fangs or the accidents of time, I could care less as to how. I want him destroyed utterly, and his works broken into pieces at my feet. I have spent lifetimes, done things even your tales cannot guess at, to achieve this. I thought I had achieved it. But as I was wrong, now I want it done properly. If that means hurling you and your kind at him, I am prepared to do as much. But the last time a pack of Garou tried to take him on, it went poorly.”
“So then what do you expect me to do?”
“I long ago stopped generating expectations where your kind is concerned,” he answers. “I just wish to ascertain the possibilities. Perpenna means to enact a reign of devastation and agony I cannot even fathom. And even if you won’t tell me the particulars, it’s clear he has interests somewhere amidst the Garou, and that you know about it. I am therefore hoping rather that you, and by extension the rest of the local changing community, will focus on what you people keep insisting is your proper role.”
“Our proper role is to fight the Wyrm,” she says. “And all his servants.”
“There are greater and lesser servants of entropy,” answers the Wyrm-spawn in front of her. “Perpenna may be among the greatest. I’ve tolerated Garou chasing my head across the continents for centuries but I will not tolerate it to the point of monomania in the face of total catastrophe. I don’t expect you to do as I say, given everything. But I do expect you to come to the appropriate conclusions from what’s around you. And if you don’t, then I assure you, what the others think about you having this conversation with me will be the last of your worries.”
He spares a glance, for the first time, to the massive eagle beside and behind him. What he communicates in this glance, she does not know, but the bane lowers its head, and turns away from her for the first time all night, its feathers plated over in the same black carapace that covers the Devourer himself.
“You’re Tom’s client, and Paul’s,” he says. “They may not know what that means, but I do, and I will hold you to that bond whether it means another thousand years of enmity from your kind or not. Your people have made great claims in the past of possessing all manner of virtues, which supposedly qualify you to serve as stewards over the rest of us. Now it’s time to deliver.”
“By exhibiting some of the courage that you continually insist you possess.”
Her eyes widen despite her. “Are you calling us cowards?”
“Yes,” he answers, so unflinchingly that she momentarily forgets to be angry. “Root and branch. Not because you’ll shirk a fight, but because you haven’t the courage to be thought poorly-of for skipping one you know you should. Because you’ll chase me across the oceans in service to infantile rage, all without giving a thought to what it is you might be letting live. The essence of courage isn’t thoughtless bravery. It’s obedience to duty. Any idiot can scream and swing a battle-axe. Not many can face criticism or worse for doing what is correct.”
“So if we kill you, we’re cowards?” she asks. “That’s real convenient for you.”
“If you kill me, here, now, with a dozen of you dead and Perpenna hovering at the margins, you’re not only cowards but staggering idiots to boot. Which the bulk of you are, in my experience. And I don’t give a damn if you find that convenient or not. You have an opportunity, girl, to show yourself something else. Do with it as you will. But if you break your cliental obligations to my clients, I will crush you like an overripe melon, and that’s a stone promise from one who does have the courage to do what is necessary. If you fear death at all, bear in mind what I am capable of. And if not, then at least try to recall whose work you will be doing by placing their lives and mine in jeopardy.”
Is he hoping she will agree? Say something in particular? Maybe curse and spit at him and dare him to do his worst? She can’t read anything off of him, and eventually she stops trying. All that’s left is the question she couldn’t even answer before all of this. And she still doesn’t know what to say about it.
“I’m not a coward,” she says. She’s not even sure why, for what can it possibly matter what this… thing thinks of her. And yet she says it anyway, and he takes his time before answering. She doesn’t know if that’s a good sign or not.
“No?” he asks, semi-rhetorically she assumes. “Then I suppose you ought prove it, now oughtn’t you?”
“You might not like the way I do it,” she says. It’s only half a threat.
He smiles now, a weary smile that augurs bad things, but is still the first time he’s done anything of the sort since walking in here. “Maybe,” he says. “But bear in mind one last thing. If I’m half as depraved as you think I am, what does that say about the one that created me?”
She falls silent again, unwilling to risk an answer to that question. It’s not the first time she’s considered the question, not since she found out who Tom and Paul are working for, but she doesn’t know enough to be able to guess, save for the obvious. There is, after all, only one way she knows of to make a vampire that ‘young’…
“The stories say you hate him.”
Something stirs inside his eyes as she says this, something ugly and ferocious and as wild as any frenzied Ahroun, but it doesn’t surge forth. He masters whatever it is, at what cost she doesn’t know, and slowly he turns away to the door that leads outside, picking his way around the piled debris like any other kid his apparent age.
“The stories don’t know the half of it,” he says. “They never will.” He pauses at the threshold, hand frozen in the act of reaching for the doorknob that for him is at eye-level. “But take my word for it, Garou. You will never hate the Wyrm half as much as I hate Perpenna. Not ever. And if I were you, I’d pray to whatever gods you have that you never actually meet a Devourer of Innocence.”
He opens the door for his bane and for himself, but before he leaves he turns back, and just for a second, she sees something red and glistening deep within the infinite recesses of his black eyes. What it is and what it could mean, she has no idea, and does not want to.
“Because I did,” he says. And then he closes the door.