Me: “Okay, so…what’s my inventory…oh, shit, I lost my shotgun didn’t I?”
Jason: “You brought one shotgun to San Simeon but you have another one here.”
Me: “Oh that’s right! Okay, so I have one shotgun, dragonsbreath shells, regular shells, some stakes, Vera, a bandolier of Vera’s ammo…is Vera semi-auto or full auto? How fast will I use that?”
Jason: “Full auto, but it’s a relatively slow firing rate.”
Me: “Oh that’s right, okay…and I have the magic sword. Is that it? I guess I didn’t bring the SAW…or the M16….”
Jason: “I think with the 50-cal BMG you’ll probably be fine.”
THE ASSHOLE’S PAWN SHOP
I force myself to walk around the corner, leaving Sophia and Marcus in the dirty lot behind the pawnshop. I hear footsteps on the gravel, then the sound of them entering the back of the shop and closing the door. I instantly duck back around the corner and lurk nervously outside the door. There’s no sound from inside, but I can’t tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Anstis also saunters back around the corner. “So, how goes the chat?”
I glare at him. “Don’t know, but I don’t recommend sticking your head in there to find out.”
He folds his arms and smirks. “I saw you argue for the werewolf. Something I should know about?”
I hesitate. “She’s a friend,” I say curtly.
“I’m not aware of werewolves ever becoming friends with vampires.”
“Yeah, well, I’m also not aware of 5th-gen Lasombra and fucking dragons running around eating half the city but that seems more and more likely every day.”
He swaggers closer and moves to listen at the door, but I block his way. “Are you keeping her for a purpose?” he scoffs.
I glare at him. “The purpose is, we have each other’s backs.”
He eyes me skeptically. I ignore him and squat down against the wall to wait.
Marcus’s second driver finally arrives and takes Paul and Georgia north, out of the greater Big Sur/San Simeon area. On the way, Paul decides he wants to stop by his Portola house to get a new phone, check some things, and get one of his remaining motorcycles to run errands for the evening.
The car drops him off and Paul enters the house. It’s still pretty torn up, but repair work is obviously progressing. Paul, though, is coming to accept devastation as a default state of the place. He quickly realizes another default state of the place: someone is already here.
Paul follows the sound of a television to the living room. The screen is tuned to the QVC shopping channel, the sound of questionable deals blaring into the room at top volume, and in front of the TV is the silhouette of an enormous figure.
Paul’s as-of-yet-unnamed gargoyle, staring into the television enraptured.
“Friend?” Paul says. The gargoyle turns woodenly to face him. “Master,” he intones.
Paul grins and claps the creature on the shoulder. “It’s good to see you again. It’s good to see anyone again. It’s been a long few nights.”
“Where are your enemies, Master? Shall I find your enemies, Master?”
“No, lets let them stay unfound for the moment.”
“Did they ransom your goods, Master?” The gargoyle points at the television.
Paul glances at the screen, currently extolling the values of sustainably-produced hypoallergenic carpets. “Uh, no, no…that’s just a coincidence.”
Paul spends a few minutes explaining that the items being displayed are for sale, not ransom. The gargoyle seems skeptical, but accepts the word of Master.
Paul gestures to a nearby chair but the gargoyle just stares at him. Paul sighs and sits instead. “So the last time I saw you was at the Pyramid, before we went to the Farallones. Where have you been since then?”
“I have been…elsewhere, Master.”
“No, Master. There was…a cry on the island, Master, then…nothing….” He gazes into the distance.
Paul nods slowly. “Yeah, things went bad there.”
“Are your enemies dead, Master?”
“Some of them, I think.”
The gargoyle pulls himself straight. “May I slay your enemies, Master?”
Paul sighs. “If it were that simple, then yes, but unfortunately it isn’t. Anyway, you haven’t told me where you were yet.”
The gargoyle shifts nervously. “I believe, Master, I was in a forest. There were…kine…. I killed them, Master. I think….”
“Were they your enemies? Or a threat to you?”
“I do not know, Master. They cried, and…there was fire….”
“Well, these days that doesn’t narrow it down.… Anyway, in the future, we don’t kill anyone unless they’re trying to kill us.”
The gargoyle cocks his head, blinking slowly like a startled owl. “Yes…Master…?”
Paul finally gets the gargoyle to take a seat, sitting crosslegged on the floor like an overgrown kindergartner, and lectures him on the moral implications of willingly taking another sentient being’s life and why a system of morality is relevant in a modern cultural context. The gargoyle continues to stare vacantly but nods obediently.
After a while, the gargoyle looks around. “Where is Second Master, Master?
It takes Paul a moment to translate that to “Georgia.” “Second Master had an errand to run in the city.” (Which, actually, translates to the fact that Kara wasn’t feeling well and sat out this night, so we won’t be hearing from her for awhile yet.)
“Yes Master.” The gargoyle fidgets. “Where is…Other Master, Master?”
Paul nods grimly. Best he’s assumed, that name translates to “Himmler.” “I believe Other Master is…dead now.”
“Did…Master kill Other Master, Master?”
“Did…Second Master kill Other Master, Master?”
(Jason: “I love the tongue-twisters of ‘master’ this guy can come up with.”
Chris: “You’ve mastered them.”)
Paul’s face darkens. “I’m not sure about the details, but it’s possible. Other Master and Second Master had trouble with each other. Hopefully there wont be any more of that sort of trouble in the future.”
The gargoyle accepts this with the same stoicism he had for the lecture on morality. “Yes, Master.”
Paul continues trying to get to know the gargoyle, asking if he has any hobbies (“Killing Master’s enemies, Master!”) or interests (“Killing Master’s enemies, Master!”). Paul tries to explain to him that he can be his own person beyond the whims of a master, which the gargoyle understands about as well as you’d expect.
Paul decides that a hands-on lesson might be best, so he leads the gargoyle to yard, to the small garden plot Paul has been resolutely trying to grow this entire game, supernatural freezes and Nazi death-squad attacks be damned. He hands the gargoyles some tools—explaining first that they’re not weapons, and pours out a packet of cabbage seeds into his outstretched palm.
“These seeds are living things,” Paul says gently.
The gargoyle peers at them. “Will they kill your enemies, Master?”
“No, but they will help my friends grow.” The gargoyle stares flatly so Paul continues. “Imagine…we each have a score. My enemies have a score, and I have a score. Defeating my enemies lowers their score, but either my friends or I succeeding raises my score. So…lets say attacking my enemies drops their score by ten, putting me ten ahead of them. But if I can help my friends, that will also raise myself ten, and will put me just as far ahead of my enemies.” Paul grins and throws his arms out. “It’s the same thing!”
The gargoyle blinks at him a few moments. “May I ask a question, Master?”
“Are you Malkavian, Master?”
Paul droops. “No, it’s just…gardening helps me center myself. I’m glad I could share it with you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Master. I will destroy the enemies of your garden, Master.”
Paul sighs, apparently accepting this as close enough. “You can stay here if you need, there’s a room upstairs where you can block out the light. You can come down here and garden whenever you’d like.” Paul hesitates. “Have you given any thought to what you’d like to be called?”
“I do not know what is…right, Master.”
“What feels right to you? Not what you think will make me happy, what will make you happy?”
The gargoyle shifts uncertainly again. “I…do not know, Master.…” There’s a note of fear in his voice, as if he expects to be punished for this ignorance.
Paul sighs reaches up to pat his shoulder. ”That’s okay.”
THE ASSHOLE’S PAWN SHOP
Finally, after an eternity of unnatural silence from the pawn shop, the door opens. I scramble to my feet. Marcus and Aquilifer step out. I glare down at him, arms folded. “How’d it go?”
He stares back up at me, wildly unintimidated. “Fine. You have a pronounced tendency to meet interesting people, Tom.”
I peer over him, trying to see into the shop, but he closed the door behind him. “Well, depending on how things go, it sounds like I might be meeting new ones soon.”
“Yes.” He turns to Anstis. “Captain, are you ready to play your part in this strike?”
“Good. I’d like you to do it as soon as Morgan is ready. Does that sound agreeable to you, Tom? I assume that if I point you toward people you can shoot in the face you’ll handle it with gusto.” He smirks, nods at us, then he and Aquilifer head into the trees behind the shop, disappearing prosaically into the shadows.
The moment he’s out of sight, I kick the door down. “Girl!?” I shout and duck inside. I find her backed against a table in a corner, white as a sheet and shivering. I rush over. “Girl, you ok?”
“Tom?” Her eyes focus on me and the shivering subsides a bit. “Yeah…yeah I think so….”
Anstis sticks his head in. “Ah, you survived!” We both shoot him a withering glare simultaneously.
I turn back to her. “What happened?”
She takes a shuddering breath. “I don’t know…he asked me some stuff, and when I talked back he…got really weird….”
I glower toward the trees outside. “Yeah, he does that.”
“I don’t know if he…I mean, they tell stories about him, he could have put a spell on me or something. They say he can make you do what he says.”
“Yeah, a lot of vampires can, unfortunately,” I say. “I can’t,” I add hurriedly.
She nods, then seems to shrink into herself again. “He…wanted me to do things.”
I tense. There is basically no interpretation of that statement that could possibly be good. “What things?”
“I don’t know…I don’t know if he even knew.” She looks up. “I…I could smell fear on him. I don’t think he was afraid of me.”
“What were you talking about?” I ask seriously.
“Everything. You and Paul and…whatever that thing that ate everybody in the city was.”
I nod. “Yeah, that’s probably where the fear is coming from.”
“Most of the stories talk about him like he’s that kind of thing.” She shivers. “Are you sure he’s not the one who took out all the werewolves?”
“No, I was there, talking to…the other one right before it happened, and he and Boss…aren’t exactly on speaking terms.”
“Well, he’s worried about what the other werewolves are going to do. I’m worried about what the other werewolves are going to do. I don’t know if he’s going to make me do something or if he planted something that he’s going to make me to in a week or….” She trails off, eyes darting to the door.
I sigh and gently touch her arm. To my relief, she doesn’t shudder or pull away. “I don’t know. I could tell you it’s going to be fine and not to worry about it, but I don’t think you would believe me if I did.”
Her face relaxes into a sort of half-smile. “We’re not very good about not worrying about things. What’s he going to make you do now?”
I gesture to the west. “We gotta go track down this other quote-unquote ‘relative’ of his in a boat offshore. That’s the reason we came down here in the first place.”
“The big flotilla off the coast?”
I pause. “You know of it?”
“Yeah, it’s the one the Coast Guard has been trying to not notice. I haven’t looked too closely but its…kinda a weird mess of ships.”
Anstis suddenly chimes in from his spot lounging against a table on the far side of the room. “Would you like to help us put an end to it?”
Sophia sneers at him. “I’m not going out there to help you kill a bunch of suckheads. Besides, I got other stuff I gotta do here.”
Anstis shrugs, but I look at Sophia thoughtfully. Perhaps tossing some vampires around will help her feel better about all the crap my kind has been putting her through these last few weeks. A sort of shock-and-awe therapy…. “You know, whatever you’re afraid about Boss, it’ll put you in his good graces if you help us. It’s gonna be a fun time, I got a bunch of toys lined up already.”
She shakes her head seriously. “Tom, if I went with you and the others found out, they would think I’ve been mind controlled, and…maybe they’d be right….” She trails off a moment, then shakes it off. “I mean, I’ll help you if I can, but it’ll have to be from shore.”
I shrug nonchalantly to hide my disappointment. “Well, if you want an excuse to go kick a bunch of vampire ass with few consequences….”
“Tom, look around, we’ve got plenty of ways to do that around here. I mean, if I wanted to do that I could always just kill you guys.” She laughs nervously, but I don’t join in. I remember the fear on her face when we faced each other in the arena, and I find myself wondering if she doubts her own statement….
She trails off awkwardly, then gestures to the trees where Marcus disappeared. “Do you…trust that thing?”
“Boss? Mostly I do. This,” I nod toward her, “wasn’t a great situation, but…he’s gotten me out of more jams than you could even imagine.”
“He asked me to get the other Garou to kill his sire.”
I snort. “That’s gonna be hard, cause you guys already tried that.” Anstis looks at me curiously, I gesture that I’ll fill him in later.
“Yeah, well, he implied he wanted me to get the serious guys, if I could.”
“How many of your people would it take to rival that dragon?” Anstis asks. “Because that’s the power you need.”
Sophia glowers at him. “I don’t know much about Mokole. Theyre not warriors, not really, but…if he’s what it takes, then maybe you should be talking to him.”
(Me: “You made a deal…with a dragon….”)
“What about Corax?” Anstis continues. “Do you know much about them? There’s one in the park as well.”
Sophia rolls her eyes. “Oh, that guy. Yeah, he’s an asshole. But no, I don’t know much about them. Why do you want to know?”
“He took something from me. I’d like to retrieve it,” Anstis growls.
Sophia glares at him. “He does like to collect things, but just because he’s an asshole that doesn’t mean I’m going to sell him out.”
“I just want my property returned to me.”
She and Anstis stare at each other a moment, then finally she sighs. “I was told that if I needed to get in touch with him, to go to Telegraph Hill.” She levels a finger at the pirate. “Don’t do anything to him. He’s not that big an asshole.” She turns to me. “Tom? You’ll make sure?”
“We can only try.” I take a moment to glance at the time. It’s a few hours after nightfall, and probably well past when we should have returned to Morgan. “We need to get moving, girl. Are you going to be ok?”
She smirks. “Tom, I can turn into a wolf, I think can get out of the wilderness.”
“Okay, well, theres a vampire thats been lurking around here, apparently this is his place, and he took my whip, so if you run into him—“
Her eyes narrow. “That silver thing of yours? Yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask you about that….”
I sigh. “Honestly the whip is more important than the silver, it’s…a bit of an heirloom. But I had it made after I heard rumors about Talons and Spiral Dancers poking around town. I thought having some silver around would be useful, and it’s cheaper than bullets.”
She eyes me skeptically a moment, then nods. “I guess thats fair. Well, I’ll keep an eye out for him, but I have to get back to Marin. Alexander and Sees-Faces will be waiting…and so will the Talons….” She trails off a moment, a wounded expression crossing her face, but then shakes it off and smiles at me. “Good luck. Kill a bunch of suckheads.”
I spread my arms and return her grin. “That’s apparently what I’m good for.”
“Well, someone’s gotta be.” With that, she shifts down into true-wolf form and dashes out the back door of the shop, disappearing around the corner.
I stare at the door a long moment after she’s gone, then turn to Anstis. “Great, so…how do we get back to the boat?”
(Me: “Alright, so…at some point we gotta look for Everton, but for now we need to report back to Mar—no, damn, Morgan.”
Jason: “All the M names.”
Me: “Yeah. Bad writing, that.”
Jason: *glares* “You’re right, I should have named them after things that have nothing whatsoever to do with anything, Mr. Lytton.”
Me: *grins* “‘Tom’ has meaning as well.”
Jason: “Really? Where is that from?”
Me: *grin widens* “I don’t know…”
Jason: “Oh I think you do.”
Me: “Oh I do, but I think it’d be fun for you to find out.”
Jason: “No, I think it would be funner if you told me cause then I can use it for other shit!”
Me: “Naw, naw…I think you should do some research.”
Jason: “Research on the name Thomas?”
Me: “On why I would perhaps name a handsome gay character Tom.”
Jason: “If it’s after Tom Ammiano I may actually slap you.”
Chris: “Is it after Downton Abbey?”
Jim: “Tom Haverford?”
Cameron: “Tom Cruise?”
Chris: “Oh we all know it’s Thomas the Tank Engine.”)
PAUL’S PORTOLA HOUSE
Paul leaves the gargoyle gardening and heads back into the house to take care of other things. He procures himself a new phone from his personal stash and activates it to find a stack of messages from various people, Kindred and non.
He first contacts his assistant Gates, letting her know he’s alive and discussing plans for the big reveal of the solar technology, which he is still dead-set on doing despite all warnings from Marcus and Bell to the contrary. He also asks about contacting the governor for a pass to get around the National Guard curfews all over town. She says she tried, but his office seems to be dragging their feet. For Paul Stewart, though, this Shall Not Stand, so he decides to try getting ahold of the governor himself, directly.
First, though, he calls Liedesdorff back, informing him that yes, he survived the Voivodes castle, and thank him for his assistance. Liedesdorff senses that something else is afoot, though:
“I appreciate the assistance you’ve rendered me before, but you understand I cant work with you above board. That unfortunately includes using whatever contacts I have to get you whatever you need to get your business done. Im supposed to be trying to shut you down. Unfortunately, your company is highly resilient and my resources are better spent elsewhere.”
Paul nods. “I’m glad we see eye-to-eye on that. Anyway, you’re a busy man, I’ll let you get back to what you need to take care of.”
“Thank you. I am in the middle of…disciplining some unruly staff, the ones who don’t yet realize that things are not the way they were before under Andre, if you catch my drift.” There’s a distant sound of screaming in the background. “We all have our HR departments to deal with.”
Paul hangs up and uses the number Gates gave him to contact the governor (who, for our out-of-state readers, is currently Jerry Brown (again), not Schwarzenegger, which is too bad cause that might have been fun). Unfortunately, the call is picked up by a secretary instead of Brown himself. Paul asks to speak with the governor, saying he’d love to talk about things Tesseract could do to help alleviate the California drought. The secretary seems skeptical, but says he’ll transfer him through.
Paul, being the Silicon Valley magnate he is, has spoken with Brown before, and thus he knows right away that the person who answers is not the governor. “Stewart,” a male voice sneers.
Paul frowns. “To whom am I speaking?”
“You are speaking to someone to whom you would not want to be wisecracking. Why are you calling my people?”
“I…wanted to discuss some drought alleviation measures—“
“Don’t bullshit me, Stewart, I’m not one of your stockholders.”
“And who are you?”
“My name is Marshall.”
(Me: “Another M name!”
Jason: “Oh for god’s sake—“)
“You want access to the governor, you son of a bitch?” Marshall continues. “You think you live in the Bay Area and got all kinds of money so you can just muscle in on my turf? I warned Van Nuys to keep you people away from me, and now he takes a leave of absence so you think you’re going to set up in his stead, is that it? You wanna have a word with the governor, you wanna have a word with the state board, in fact, you wanna have your company operating at all? We’re gonna meet. Personally.”
Paul sighs. “Okay. Where do you want to meet?”
“Stockton sounds like a nice middle ground. Is that too far for you? Maybe you can hire a helicopter.”
“Just give me an address and a time.”
“Stockton City Hall. Tonight if you can make it, tomorrow if you can’t.”
Marshall hangs up. “Asshole,” Paul mutters.
Finally, Paul checks in with Leeland, Baron of Berkeley, who is in a bit of a tizzy. Apparently Helgi has gone off reservation again, running around the East Bay with his motorcycle gang, quote, “singing songs of Valhalla and shit.” Paul asks if the cops are doing anything about it, but Leeland says he’s gotten the majority of Oakland PD on his side. No one has died, yet, but Adriana, Prince of Oakland, is freaking out and taking it out on Leeland. Paul rubs his eyes and promises he’ll stop by to meet up with Leeland too.
Feeling significantly less at peace than he did before he made his calls, Paul slouches back to the garden to check on the gargoyle, finding that he seems to have dug holes for seeds and planted them, but is now going back down the row digging them back up so he can plant them again. Paul decides that’s enough gardening for now and leads him back into the house. Instead of hobbies, he tries exposing the gargoyle to some culture, booting up Mozart’s Requiem on the living room stereo.
The gargoyle cocks his head. “Other Master listened to this often, Master. He said it was evidence of…Aryan superiority, Master.”
“…Okay, maybe not this one, then.” Paul skips the song, then hands the remote to the gargoyle, encouraging him to find stuff he likes. He also gives the gargoyle a phone, explaining to him how to use it to contact him if he needs it.
With that, Paul leaves the gargoyle and heads to the garage. The night is young, but he has many people to talk to before it’s over, and first on that list is Doc.
OFF THE CENTRAL COAST
Morgan sends a small runabout to pick us up and bring us back to the Revenge. The major damage to the ship appears to have been repaired, although hastily. We meet with Morgan on the bridge, who has acquired the object Anstis needs to teleport us to Accio’s ship, an object once belonging to Accio. Morgan pulls out a wrapped package, placing it on one of the chart tables. Anstis glances at him, then carefully opens it.
It’s a skeletal arm.
“A relic of the last time we crossed swords,” Morgan rumbles. “I had a feeling it might come in…handy…for just such a purpose.”
(Chris: “…You’ve been keeping that one up your sleeve all night?”
Jason: “Well, you guys aren’t the only ones to come armed.”
Cameron: “Yeah, Jason, I gotta hand it to you.”
Me: “It’s a lot of responsibility to shoulder.”
Jason: “Don’t worry, I think I can grasp it.”)
Morgan’s plan is to engage Accio’s fleet from a distance, hopefully distracting and occupying them as we make our targeted attack on Accio himself. The Revenge can’t take out the entire fleet herself, but if we take him out, his underlings should fall apart and scatter.
Anstis grins and slaps me on the shoulder. “Tom! Get yer toys!”
Morgan turns to the windows, gazing into the shadow of the Pacific stretching in front of him. “It is time we went and seized what is ours. And do you know what is ours?” He turns to us, grin as wide as a slit throat. “Everything.”
I head back to my bunk to load up—
(Me: “Okay, so…what’s my inventory…oh, shit, I lost my shotgun didn’t I?”
Jason: “You brought one shotgun to San Simeon but you have another one here.”
Me: “Oh that’s right! Okay, so I have one shotgun, dragonsbreath shells, regular shells, some stakes, Vera, a bandolier of Vera’s ammo…is Vera semi-auto or full auto? How fast will I use that?”
Jason: “Full auto, but it’s a relatively slow firing rate.”
Me: “Oh that’s right, okay…and I have the magic sword. Is that it? I guess I didn’t bring the SAW…or the M16….”
Jason: “I think with the 50-cal BMG you’ll probably be fine.”)
—while Morgan and Anstis bring the arm to the room set aside for Anstis to perform the transportation ritual. Before he enters, Morgan gestures him over. “There will be many things of great value on that ship. Most of those things do not belong to him, and some belong to those you may not wish to keep them from.” He eyes Anstis significantly. “I will not tell one of the Brethren of the Coast to restrain himself, but all spoils must be divided as the articles state. Do not hide anything from me, Captain. I will know it.”
Anstis nods seriously. “Aye, I know the Articles well.”
“Of course, but your Brujah friend does not, and he is an inquisitive sort. Keep an eye.”
Heavy steps and the clank of equipment echo down the corridor. They turn to see me approaching, armed like some sort of anarcho-libertarian-separatist’s wet dream, using all my willpower to keep from grinning like an idiot.
(Me: “Can I have a shot of me, like, walking in slow motion?”
Jason: “Oh yeah. Various people stick their head out of hatches and stop, staring.”
Me: “Oh yeah….”
Jason: “In fact, I’m going to give you this one:”)
As I pass a side-hallway, two young sailors duck out of the way. One turns to the other, wide-eyed, and whispers, “Dude…that’s one bad motherf—“
I whirl on my heel. “Shut yo’ mouth!” They stare. I wink, shoot them a pistol-hand, then slap my game-face back on and continue down the hall.
I stop in front of Morgan. He looks me up and down, face expressionless, then nods once and leaves. Anstis and I enter the room. He squats down to set up the ritual while I fiddle around with my bandoliers, trying to find the most stylish way to layer them on top of my chest harness.
“Hmm….” Anstis grumbles after a few minutes. He’s having trouble with the last of the runes. They’re not behaving like they’re supposed to, twisting and flowing out of their proper shape.
“What?” I ask.
“Nothing….” After a few attempts, he finally gets them to hold long enough for him to seal the circle. The runes flash once, then glow with a dim red light. He stands. “Prepare yourself. Full Brujah!”
(Me: “Anstis doesn’t know that expression!”
Jim: “I know, I just really wanted to say it!”)
I roll my eyes and sling Vera around in front of me. Anstis pops his claws and we step into the circle, standing ready back-to-back. Anstis activates the runes…
…And we disappear.
Paul races up the Peninsula, heading toward Colma—
(Jason: “…Uh, so believe it or not, when I first created Doc, I made a geographical mistake, and I thought Colma was in the area which is actually Brisbane.”
Me: “Ooooh, that explains a lot, like why he’s so close to the top of the mountain all the time….”
Chris: “Do you want to retroactively make it Brisbane?”
Jason: “I believe I do.”
Roommate-Ben: “So you’re…ret-Colma-ing?”)
—toward Brisbane, on the bayward side of San Bruno Mountain. Paul arrives at Doc’s corner store and immediately heads to the dark back room where the cowboy tends to hold court. As usual, Doc is sitting alone, at a dusty card-table under a single shaded bulb, dealing cards to himself. “Mr. Stewart,” he says as Paul enters, though he doesn’t look up.
“Doc.” Paul nods at him. “I had a most curious vision the other night.”
“Did you?” He places a card with a snap. “Was it a profitable one?”
“That remains to be seen.”
“Well, I shall hope it was then. A man may find profit from the things he sees. What may I ask did you discover?”
“Well, it was interesting in that I spoke to you.”
Doc deals another card. “To me?” he asks calmly, as if Stewart was commenting on a strange turn of the weather. “A fascinating conundrum, as I do not know where you were.”
“Well I think I was literally at Heart Castle—“
“Hearst Castle?” Doc finally glances up. “That is an interesting place filled with interesting folk. I have not had occasion to go down there in some time. I fear that my presence would not be appreciated.”
Paul nods and continues. “Well, so, non-literally, I was in…something like a memory. Though things did not happen as they happened in the real world.”
“Then perhaps you were being told something about the options that were allowed to you. Was it options you feel you were allowed at the time, or ones you feel you may have recently unlocked?”
Paul thinks a moment before answering. “I would say recent ones.”
“Well, that is an enigmatic matter indeed, Mr. Stewart.” Doc gestures at the table. “Will you play cards, Mr. Stewart? It is an honest game. Poker, that is.”
Paul glances at the cards. “Well, I’m afraid I may not be much sport for you but I am happy to play.”
“Yes, well my usual guests have thinned with the recent unpleasantness, and your compatriots seem not in the mood for this sort of sport.” Doc leans forward, hat barely shadowing his coy grin. “But, do not worry…I feel they have found their own.”
Anstis and I appear in light.
I blink, eyes adjusting after the gloom of the Revenge. The light comes from all directions, and my vision finally resolves on lit sconces lining the walls and chandeliers above. We are in a huge space, some sort of opulent dining room, with white linened tables, gilded columns, potted palms, and a soaring ceiling topped by an elaborate skylight. There’s no diners at the moment, but the room isn’t empty. Armed men are running along the edges of the room, heading toward a grand staircase in front of us. They’re shouting at each other in a mesh of languages, but the shouts take on a new tone when they notice Anstis and I standing in the middle of the room. The men stop where they are and turn to face us.
Silence falls on the room for an endless moment. We stare at the men, they stare at us, the only sounds the tinkling of an unseen fountain and Mozart’s Requiem playing over the speakers.
“WHAT THE FU—“ someone on the stairs finally shouts.
I raise Vera, brace myself, and fire.
The first burst is like being hit by a truck. The recoil slams me backward and I strain to stay on my feet. The noise echoes through the room like cannonfire. Drinking glasses on nearby tables shatter from the concussive force alone.
But the results are more than worth it.
The columns in front of me evaporate, exploding into a fine mist of marble and gilded plaster. Two-inch holes pierce the far wall, tracing a perforated line to the right as I grit my teeth and force the gun around.
And as for any men caught in the fire, well…let’s just say I know now why firing this thing on humans is a warcrime. Men are cut in half in front of me, while others’ limbs disappear as if they were never there.
(Jason: “Here’s the thing with a 50-cal. There’s no way to hit a human with a shot that isn’t going to be fatal. If you hit a guy in the arm it will vaporize his arm and kill him with cavitation waves. It will crush his heart with fluidic shock. It’s baaaaad. I cannot stress the power of this gun enough. I remind you, it was developed as an anti-tank weapon and is used to take out truck engines.”
Me: “And now I’m using it in a ballroom!”
Jason: “Do you have a one-liner?”
Me: “Um…not at this time, no. Get back to me on that.”)
(Note: For an extremely graphic movie representation of what this looks like, see the beginning of this scene from Rambo 4. For a more family-friendly representation of what it would look like to just fire the gun, see this scene from GI Joe 2.)
I yell wordlessly as I fire, an incoherent catharsis of all the frustration with all the bullshit I’ve dealt with for weeks, bullshit which I’m finally paying back tenfold. I can see the men yelling at each other, and muzzle-flashes as some fire back, but my own world has receded to solid noise and bone-shattering pounding, and it is awesome.
Anstis, meanwhile, is just as shocked by the sudden power of my gun as the men on the receiving end of it, but he doesn’t stay out of the fun for long. Claws already out, he lunges to the other side of the room, casting sprays of blood across the white tables as he fells men with one slash. Men scream and try to duck out of his way, but everyone in the room is so focused on me he is able to cut three down almost without notice.
Men on the staircase fire back at me with their paltry automatic rifles. Holes trace across my chest, ruining my clothes but leaving my body practically unharmed. I pause momentarily in surprise—(—Fortitude is still a relatively new thing for me—)—then turn Vera toward the assholes who just fucked up my new shirt.
BAM, a shot hits me square in the head, interrupting my fire and knocking me back a foot. I reach up, dazed, and peel off a half-flattened slug from against my skull. It’s also a 50-cal round, but besides a dent and a brief headache, I am unharmed.
(Jason: “And this is with one dot of Fortitude.”)
I look up to see a man crouched on a balcony behind a Barrett M82. He stares, obviously shocked that a clear headshot barely touched me. I smile grimly, raise Vera…and the balcony disappears in short order.
At this point, the bulk of the remaining men have retreated to the staircase, Anstis slashing his way after them. Some, through, escape through a doorway at the back of the room. “Aye!” Anstis shouts over the noise, “Go and tell them we have arrived!”
Doc nods toward a chair and Paul takes a seat. Doc scoops up the cards up and starts shuffling with a confident snap. “What was the substance of your conversation with myself?” he asks.
Paul watches the movement of the cards, momentarily transfixed by the elegance with which Doc handles them. “Um, we discussed what I had witnessed in another vision. I saw…well, I guess I saw the darkest part of myself.” Paul’s face darkens. “The one which ate my friend and sire.”
Doc glances up. “You speak of the Beast. The Beast within all of us.” He tidies the cards into a stack.
(Jason: “I’m gonna have to roll for the hands here—”
Jim: “Or you could actually play poker.”
Jason: “We don’t have cards.”
Me: “Yes we do, I’ve got a deck on the table right behind you….”
Jason: “Oh? Yeah, give me a deck of cards!”
Chris: “…Are we meta-gaming now?”)
“The game is five-card draw,” Doc announces, dealing the hands. “Will you start the bidding sir?”
Paul looks at his cards, then glances around. There’s no chips, and he’s suddenly wary of what Doc will accept as bids. “Check,” he says cautiously.
Doc smiles. “I’ll bet you 5. Surely, sir, a man such as yourself has the means to bankroll.” He taps the deck. “What will you take, sir?”
Paul asks for two cards, then sees Doc’s 5 and raises him 5 more. Doc sees that and raises him 20. Paul sees, then the two show their cards. “Three in a row,” Paul announces proudly, showing a seven, eight, and nine, as well as two other cards.
Doc chuckles. “But you do have a pair of eights. Your pot, sir.” He tips his hat.
Paul smiles. “Thank you. I’d offer to buy you a drink but I have a feeling you don’t get very thirsty these days.”
“Not for whiskey. I once had a great thirst for whiskey. My condition has alleviated my need to drink such things.”
“Do you find that a blessing or a curse?”
“Perhaps a bit of both. I find I do not draw the same enjoyment I once did from it.” Doc leans back in his chair. “What of you sir? What do you find you draw enjoyment from these nights?”
“Well, I’ve been thirsting for tea for awhile. If I take it slow enough, I don’t even have to throw it back up….” Paul hesitates, the shrugs. “But tea is best when sipped anyway. “
Doc nods slowly, then collects the cards. “This is an honest game, poker. You find out things about a man who plays poker. His tolerance for risk. What it is he will value above other things. Tell me, Mr. Stewart. Have you the wherewithal to play for high stakes?”
Paul watches him shuffle. “Perhaps…what sort of stakes are we talking about?”
Doc smiles. “Maybe nothing. Maybe very high. What do you value?”
“Well, I value my company, but thats more of a means to an ends.”
“My understanding, and you will forgive me if I have this incorrect, is that your company is not yours to offer me any longer. That it belongs in a final respect to someone else. Someone…smaller.”
Paul frowns. “Somewhat. It’s a big company. There’s a lot of pieces of that pie. But my company is a means to an end. A legacy.”
“What is that end and that legacy you seek? Not many Kindred seek a legacy, they seem to think they will last forever, and that there is no need for a legacy.”
Paul gazes around the dusty storeroom. “I never expected to last forever. I never expected to last very long even by human standards. Honestly, I still don’t.”
“And yet here you are, and I can count on quite a number of fingers those who are not.”
“Well the universe has a sense of irony, I’ll give it that. But no, even if you offered me forever I wouldn’t take it. Fifty years is more than enough. More than what I want.”
“And what will you do in those fifty years? What is your legacy on which you gamble?”
“Well…release some communications products, media sharing products.”
Doc chuckles. “Now now, Mr. Stewart, surely you have more to offer than just business plans. The universe has a way of spitting in the eye of a man with plans.”
Paul looks at him sharply. “It does, but they’re not business plans, they’re ways of touching people, of reaching out. Of taking how we used to do things and modifying them. Hopefully making it better.”
Doc stares a moment, face expressionless, as he shuffles the cards. “You keep saying ‘we.’ You refer, of course, to those who most of our kind refer to as ‘kine.’”
Paul nods tersely. “I do.”
“Why do you label yourself among them?”
“I don’t feel my spirit’s that much changed.”
Doc glances at him again, then deals another round. “And yet you live forever. You possess powers of a magical nature, more or less. You dine upon their bodily fluids.”
“I do, but many humans eat meat. At least I don’t need to kill them to eat them.”
“And how many humans would regard their hamburgers as worthy of consideration?”
“Well, I did. There’s a few more out there.”
Doc cocks an eyebrow. “Are there? Perhaps a small few. There are stories told.” Doc picks up his hand. “Will you bet, sir?”
Once again, they bet with chip-less numbers. When Doc asks for Paul’s draw, Paul hesitates a moment then hands over four cards.
Doc makes a disapproving noise. “If I may offer some advice? You do not wish four cards, sir, you wish to fold. Even if that be an ace you’re holding, you wish to fold.”
Paul hesitates, glancing at the card in his hand. “I’ll take my chances.”
Doc nods, deals him four. Paul bets, Doc matches, then they show their cards.
“Pair of aces,” Paul announces.
(Me: “Wow, you really had an ace?”
Doc chuckles. “Beats mine. Your pot, sir.” He leans back and watches Paul a long moment. “You took four cards, and yet you won the pot. Even when I, who has played more than a hand or two of poker, suggested you should not. What am I to make of this?”
Paul shrugs. “Well…honestly, for me, its not much different from running my company. It’s all in my gut.”
“You often draw against a single ace when playing with your company?”
“That’s not how I view it. Just playing along with the universe. A good-natured game.”
Doc leans forward to collect the cards. “You may find, Mr. Stewart, the universe’s good nature has its limits.”
Some of Accio’s men overturn tables, trying to make a barricade, but they might as well have used tissue paper for how well it holds up against the 50-cal shells. A few men get some shots back at us, and one clips me straight in the eye. I yell and stagger, then fire back wildly until the eye regrows and I regain depth perception.
(Jim: “Oh no, you’re only rolling sixteen dice instead of seventeeen.”)
Another man ducks around a column and gets a jump on Anstis from behind, digging his gun straight into the base of the pirate’s skull and releasing a burst of full-auto…
…Which ricochet off his skull like granite. One bullet bounces back into the gunman’s face, dropping him dead.
(Jim: “This is why you spend blood on stats before combat!”)
Meanwhile, I am covering myself while backing across the room toward the door the men escaped through earlier. I’m concerned they’re going to reappear any moment with reinforcements and want a better position to deal with it. A few men try to follow, once again trying to use the tables for cover, but I put a stop to that quickly.
I make it to the door and duck out. I find myself on a wide deck, looking out over the sea. As if the ballroom wasn’t enough indication, it’s clear now we landed on Accio’s pleasure yacht, which is actually an ocean liner. The deck is empty so I move carefully to the rail. Wind gusts my face, and by the wake it seems we’re moving at a good clip. Shadowy ships are pacing us, and as I watch, I see flashes burst on the edge of the horizon.
A few seconds later, massive geysers of water erupt in front of me, followed by a roar that makes Vera seem like a squalling baby. More flashes, another pause, then one of the smaller boats explodes, breaking in half and quickly getting swallowed by the waves. “Nice shot, Morgan,” I mutter, grinning.
I duck back into the ballroom to check on our battle. Anstis is tearing into anyone he can find, and everyone else seems to be escaping out another doorway at the top of the stairs. Before I can swing Vera around to get off some more shots, one of the goons steps back into the room. He’s holding a thick, stocky gun, one he’s not even bothering to aim, just canting it slightly upward.
“DIE MOTHERFUCKER!!!” he shouts, then fires the grenade launcher.
Doc starts shuffling again. “This vision you saw, the one I was involved in. Do you have the slightest conception as to why?”
“You mentioned a word to me. Something you said you had never seen, but were curious about. The word was…Suspire, if I remember right.”
Doc stops. “Suspire. Now that is a term of some interest. Have you the slightest conception of what it is?” He meets Paul’s gaze and puts the cards down. “Some say it’s a myth. A…test of sorts, of will and character. For mystics of the East to go and find themselves in face of immeasurable trial, with the ultimate goal of transcending their existence. Stories are told of all manner of strange things. Vampires who can exist without blood, who can pass through fire and sunlight unharmed. Even achieve powers reserved for their elders without the need to consume the soul. Who knows if any of it’s true, but there have been men who have sought it for a thousand years anyway. I have known some.” Doc watches him carefully. “In this vision, did I happen to tell you what I’d do with a Suspire?”
“You told me you’d been seeking things about it, but had yet to actually witness one. But you said there’s a man that it would be profitable for me to become acquainted with. Sadly at that point our vision seemed to be cut short.”
Doc tilts his head, shifting the shadows on his face. “What if there were such a man, Mr. Stewart? Are you the sort of man who seeks profit in the encounters of others? Have you not met enough vampires to be heartily sick of the notion of meeting more?”
“I became acquainted with one over the phone earlier this evening who I really have no desire to meet,” Paul grumbles, “But some of them…some of them still interest me the way people interest me.”
“And am I among this elect, Mr. Stewart?”
“Well, I’m just trusting my gut, but I’d have to say so.”
Doc smiles. “Now that is a fascinating matter. Let’s say we play one more hand, for slightly different stakes.” He deals. “Make your bet to me, Mr. Stewart, but this time, make it interesting. Something…valuable. Something worth the game.”
Paul looks up from his cards and hesitates, thinking. “…How about my legacy?”
“Your legacy? And how can you release that?”
“Well, I can give you a demo before anyone else.”
Doc chuckles. “I’m not an investor.”
“No, thats not the point of the demos—well, for some people it is—but the demos are about sharing ideas.”
Doc regards him over his cards. “You would give me your light?”
“There are those who would say that light is dangerous. That in the wrong hands it might be used to do terrible things.”
“They might say that. But I’d have to say that its still there half the day anyway.”
Doc nods slowly.”I’ll take that bet. And in return, I’ll offer you this. I do not know what was said in this vision of yours, but I do know a man it might profit you to meet, and I do know where he may be found. He’s not that far, as things are considered. I could take you to him, if you wish.” Doc points. “If…you have something in those cards. How many will you have?”
Paul looks at his hand again. “Two.”
Doc deals. “And three, for the dealer.” He looks at his hand a long moment, then glances up. “What have you got, Mr. Stewart?”
Paul lays his cards flat. “Two pair!”
Doc looks at the cards, then chuckles. “Not just any two pair, Mr. Stewart. Aces and eights. The Dead Man’s Hand. There are those for whom such a hand has not been profitable before. But in this case, it seems, it has been so.” He tilts his head at Paul. “Your pot, sir.”
Paul smiles and nods expectantly. “So it is.”
Doc collects the cards. “I will introduce you to this man of whom I speak, at a place of his convenience, somewhere less crowded than even I prefer.” He gestures vaguely east. “Altamont. Will you meet me at Altamont?”
“Very well. We shall meet at the raceway. I was there some time ago, under different circumstances.” Doc frowns. “It did not go well. Perhaps it will go better this time.”
“I hope so.”
Doc tips his hat. “Then I look to see you then, Mr. Stewart. You are a busy man, so I will let you choose the time, but should you call ahead, you will find I’m available.”
Doc starts dealing himself a hand of solitaire. Paul gets up to leave, but before he does, Doc calls out. “Just one more thing, Mr. Stewart….”
Paul turns at the door. “Yes?”
Doc continues to play, smiling at his cards. “When you see him, do give Marshall my regards.”
I duck back out of the room moments before the grenade lands and explodes. The blast shoves me across the deck, but I come up against the rails unhurt. Screams echo out of the room as Anstis launches himself at the gunman, taking him out with extreme prejudice.
A new roar echoes over the waves, one of an engine at full throttle. I roll over and see a smaller ship, like a Coast Guard runabout, approaching us at high speed. It’s loaded with guys armed to the teeth; in fact the only ones who don’t seem to be holding guns are holding what appear to be long boarding ladders.
(Jason: “It occurs to you that you have a machine gun, with a pretty big range.”
Me: “Well let’s see what kinda range she has!”)
I thunk Vera down on the railing, take aim at their wheelhouse…and unload.
The boat perforates. The wheelhouse collapses on itself as men and pieces of men are flung out to sea. I strafe down the deck, cutting the thing nearly in half lengthwise, before hitting the engine and sending the rest of the boat sky-high.
I grin and change out the ammo belt. “Looks like I sunk your battleship!” I shout to the waves.
(Me: “Told you I’d come up with a one-liner.”)
END OF NIGHT