Jason: “Bob looks overjoyed. He’s actually quivering with what you hope is excitement.”
Kara: “Awww, has he never been praised before?”
Jason: “He’s a Tremere ghoul, almost certainly not.”
Jim: “Especially cause he’s not bright enough to be praised that often.”
Jason: “No, he’s not the brightest. He would have been embraced if he was. ….Which is an option, by the way.”
Kara: “Embracing him?”
Kara: “Um…Let’s keep that on the back-burner.”
Jason: “And now I think you begin to understand.”
Georgia borrows a Chantry car to take Dr. vonNatsi back up to the Tower, as a thank-you for rescuing her from the dragon. She intends to just drop him off at the gates, but as soon as she pulls up, it’s clear things here have also gone unexpectedly awry. The gates are open, the windows of the guardhouse are smashed, and the guard himself is missing.
They stare at the shack in silence a moment, neither moving to get out of the car. “Fraulein,” the doctor says carefully, “I have a question, and please do not take offense at ze question….”
“…Did you eat the guard?”
She turns in shock. “No!”
vonNatsi holds up his hands, both deathray-free for the moment. “It vas just a question! You are ze vampire and ze vampire eats ze people, you understand?”
“I understand, but it wasn’t me!”
“Ah.” He droops and looks at the shattered windows. “I vas hoping it vas….”
Georgia drives closer to the lab building and parks. Dr. vonNatsi quietly pulls a deathray from his labcoat—a new one, and one apparently too large to have fit under his coat in the first place—and leads them inside. They take the elevator down in silence. The doors open on the lab, they look out, and freeze.
(Jason: “It is without question the most horrifying thing you have seen since the Bratislava Chantry. The entire facility is covered, wall to wall, floor to ceiling…with cabbages.”)
Horror spreads across Dr. vonNatsi’s face. Georgia clutches at his arm. “Doctor! Is it safe to go in there?”
His jaw quivers. “No…no it vill never be safe again…I will never leave my laboratory vithout thinking zat I might see this!!” He falls to his knees.
(Jim: “Wait, so remind me, cabbages appear when you do magic?”
Me: “No, we decided they appear when you need to dump mass, and disappear when you need mass. Since they’re somehow tied to mass-conversions, that’s why Dr. vonNatsi is convinced their presence throws off his experiments.”)
Georgia pats his shoulder awkwardly. “We’ll get it cleaned up!”
He shakes his head slowly, unable to tear his gaze from the cruciferous carnage before them. “You can never clean it up….” he whispers.
(Chris: “We’ve entered a new age. A cabb-age.”
*A full minute of laughter on our parts, and death-glares on Jason’s.*
Jason: “…Yes, thank you. That helps me get into character.”
Chris: “Were you afraid that would make Dr. vonNatsi a…sour-Kraut?”
Jim: “We should stop, Jason’s looking a little green.”
Jason: “If this goes in the writeup, I’m shooting something.”
Kara: “Yes, he’s going to kale you!”)
Dr. vonNatsi stumbles to his feet and enters the lab, death-ray hanging forgotten at his side. Cabbages are piled on every surface, wilting leaves across equipment and onto the floor. He reaches one shaky hand toward a pile, then pulls away at the last moment.
(Kara: “You should call Marcus, he has experience in Romaine matters!”)
Georgia follows him in, equally shocked and appalled. She hesitantly picks up the salad spinner, which has been stuffed with handfuls of loose leaves. “That is not what this is for!” she shouts angrily.
Leaves crunch as vonNatsi slumps onto a stool. He buries his face in his hands. “Who could have done zis thing? Vhy vould they have done this!?”
Georgia sets the spinner down. “Do you think it was the other mages? Like…that one lady? Dr. Lovelace?”
Dr. vonNatsi looks up, face darkening. “No…she vouldn’t dare…zat…vile, English, tenured bitch!”
(Jason: “Spoken like the man who didn’t get tenure.”
Me: “Yeah, that checks out.”)
He picks up a purple cabbage the size of a softball, stares at it, then lets it fall out of his fingers to the floor. “Vat is the purpose of going on, if zere vill be cabbages everywhere….”
“Well, we can get rid of them! Do you have a cart?”
“Yes. But it vill be filled vith more cabbages,” he sulks.
Georgia pats his shoulder and picks up the purple cabbage. “Then we’ll take that load up and come back for more.”
vonNatsi stares at the cabbage a moment, then nods. “…Ja, ja you are right. Ve shall.”
Georgia looks at the cabbage in her hand, then hesitates. Something about it seems odd. It looks moldy, but in a very precise spiral pattern around each leaf. She looks closer and realizes it’s not mold, but words, embossed into the leaf. She tries to read it, but the words are rambling nonsense.
(Jason: “It’s in the sense of, like…a rambling Polemical rant. It’s like TimeCube—”
Me: “FOUR SIMULTANEOUS DAYS!”
Jason: “—It’s complete lunacy. In English, but making no rational sense.”
Me: “Oh my god, Frank Chu broke into the lab!”
Jason: “You read it, and it refers to…science? Of some sort? But strange theories you’ve never heard of.”
Chris: “Hmm. Sounds like food for thought.”
Jason: *glares* “…So yes, you read it, but half the words don’t make any sense, and the ones that do make sense don’t make sense in context.”
Kara: “So…it’s word salad?”
Jason: “…I HATE YOU ALL SO MUCH!!!”)
Georgia glances around. Now that she knows what to look for, she sees that all of the cabbages are engraved with the same twisting, rambling, minuscule diatribe. “It’s a book!” she says brightly. “Someone sent you a book!”
vonNatsi takes the cabbage from her hand and stares at it. After a moment, his fist tightens, cracking the leaves. “…Professor Snodgrass…” he growls. “He is trying to sabotage me so ve cannot get to Pluto!” vonNatsi smashes the cabbage onto the table and turns to her. “Fraulein. I vill set this laboratory in order. And ven I have finished, ve vill go and get ze Plutonian vale vomit, and ve vill stuff our science down the throat of Professor Snodgrass, and he can vash it down vith every cabbage in this laboratory!!!11!1!”
He pounds the table and a few cabbages crash to the floor. Georgia leans away slightly. This change of plans might be awkward for him, but it’s actually convenient for her, since it gives her time to figure out what to do with the dragon they trapped in the Chantry. “…Ok. So…I’ll see you later then?”
He blinks at her. “…Ja!” He leaps back to his feet and smooths his labcoat as if nothing had happened. “I vill do…science.”
“Good…” Georgia glances around one last time. “Well…be careful.”
He smiles patronizingly. “Fraulein, I am alvays careful in the presence of cabbages.”
(Kara: “What’s he going to do?”
Jason: “Probably find a number of rabbits.”
Kara: “Hmm. Well if the rabbits eat all the cabbage, they’ll generate a lot of rabbit poop.”
Jason: “Rabbit poop is less etherically charged. Rabbits are actually entropy incarnate. They take the potential energy of cabbage and turn it into rabbit poop.”
Me: “Actually, technically rabbits shouldn’t eat cabbage, its really bad for their digestive system. Lettuces as well.” *long pause while everyone looks at me* “No, that’s not a pun, it’s actually true. It’s cause of their hindgut fermentation.”
Jason: “Well, you’ve never tried Venusian rabbits.”
Kara: “What are they?”
Jason: “Rabbits from Venus. What would you think they would be?”
Kara: “Rabbits…from Venice?”
Jason: “Venetian, that would be.”
Jim: “Goddamit, Kara, get it right!”
Kara: “Well that’s why I asked! Are you penalizing me for asking questions?”
Jason: “No, I’m penalizing you for giving me goddamn salad puns!”
Me: “Yeah. So if we’re done with the dressing-down we should probably move on.”
Me: “…I just realized we don’t know if my character is alive or dead yet, sooo—”)
I wake up. (Thank god.) It’s dark, but just a regular gloomy darkness. I’m lying on a cold metal surface, and as I shift experimentally I feel the weight of heavy chains binding me from head to foot.
(Me: “Well, that’s…probably not as fun as I’d like it to be….”)
A light clicks on above me. I’m in some sort of storage room, with armed men leering against the walls, but in front of me is the older man from the bridge. Accio. He seems to have survived the explosion unscathed, and has even had time to replace his suit. “Come back to us, have we?” he says calmly.
I blink slowly. I remember purposefully throwing myself into the frenzy, but everything after that is a raging, angry blur. “I…wasn’t sure that I’d left….”
“Well you did, and you’re back. For the moment.” He looks me over. “Who are you?”
I hesitate. I doubt my reputation has preceded me out here, but deep down, something screams to avoid saying anything that might indicate I’m associated with Marcus. “Um…I assume you wouldn’t accept ‘stowaway’?”
“A Brujah armed to the teeth as a stowaway? No, I don’t think that’s likely. Who sent you?”
“Morgan sent me,” I say confidently, since it is the truth. Accio stares back suspiciously. As if on cue, there’s a distant, muffled explosion, and a slow swell rocks the room.
“Morgan,” Accio growls. “I didn’t think he’d stoop to Brujah mercenaries. But here we are.” He sighs and paces the table, staring at me and my remaining equipment with an assessors eye. Vera is missing, obviously, but his gaze lingers on my sword, currently appearing as nothing more than a weathered blade with an unadorned hilt. He sneers lightly then moves on. “So. What are we to do with you? Running about my ship killing my men?”
Accio turns to the guards by the door. “What do you think? Chain it up and throw it overboard? It’ll live forever at the bottom of the sea, at least until plate tectonics finish the job. Or we could just eat it, I suppose.” He turns back to me, frowning critically. “Think I might catch something, though….” I stare back calmly, but my fists clench against my sides.
Something he said, though, gives me an idea. “Well, you know, us mercenaries always keep our eye on the bottom line….” I say suggestively.
Accio pauses thoughtfully. “You’re offering to turn?” He trades a glance with the men. “Hmm. Well, you’ve certainly shown me your credentials…. What terms are you offering?”
I watch him carefully. I can’t tell whether or not he believes me, but I am undeniably useful, and for someone who seems to employ a number of dumb goons (and currently has a number of job openings in that department), I figure the best strategy is to play up that angle. “Well, what are you guys working on out here? I was given a gun and a direction, can’t say I know what the intricacies of the situation are.” I shrug noncommittally.
He trades a smile with his men. “What do you think, should we give him a new direction? I think that’s a good idea, don’t you?” He walks closer and flicks at the chains. “Get you out of those chains, get you washed up. We might even find that gun of yours. What do you say, Brujah? Care to fight on the winning team?”
I watch him carefully, looking for signs of a double-cross. “That…would be a first for me….” I mutter, not entirely sure if I’m being facetious or not.
“Well, there’s a first time for everything.” He snaps and gestures his men forward. “Get him up!”
I let them untie me, trying to remain relaxed as my brain runs through possibilities. I figure I can roll with this for awhile, keeping an eye out for an opportunity on Accio, maybe get myself free reign of the ship to “hunt down” Anstis….
I get to my feet. Accio walks up, considerably shorter but somehow still imposing. “So,” he says, “Let’s say you and I discuss the necessary arrangements whereby you’re going to fight for me.” He looks into my face—
—And Dominates me.
(Me: “SON OF A BITCH MOTHER FUCKER—”)
SF CITY COLLEGE, THE BACKUP CHANTRY
After leaving the Tower, Georgia heads over to City College to check on the backup Chantry bolthole she found there a while ago, the one that was possibly cleared out by Perpenna, except for one ghoul named Bob. Bob was last seen on the Farallones—which was also in the process of getting cleared out by Perpenna—so Georgia is momentarily surprised to find Bob here once again.
Bob is alive, but probably far from well, as surviving multiple pogroms by arch-vampires tends to frazzle the nerves a bit. Still, he submits dutifully to Georgia’s leadership, especially once its clear she’s not going to eat him either.
Apparently, the reason he was on the islands in the first place was because one of the high ranking Nazi Tremere researchers found him and dragged him there. After the massacre, Bob got back by building a raft out of what he had on hand on the island. Which was mostly dead gargoyles.
Georgia stares, then clears her throat politely. “Well. Okay then. This has been an informative and…slightly strange conversation.” She looks around. “Are there any blood stores here?”
“Oh, yes,” Bob scurries across the lab, knocking over some equipment in the process. “They’re kind of low right now, the other ghouls haven’t been coming around to donate….” He trails off, wringing his hands, and turns to her. “…Are the other ghouls…dead?”
She sighs. “I don’t know. But possibly.”
“Oh….” He stares around at the empty benches and desks, stacks of research hastily and unexpectedly abandoned. He licks his lips nervously and turns back to her. “Does…that make me…the head ghoul?”
She smiles. “It does. And since I’m the only Tremere left, that makes you head ghoul to the Primogen.”
The expression that erupts on Bob’s face is like the surface of the sun.
While Bob scrambles off to find blood sacks to bring his new boss, Georgia gets a call from Maimonides, who helped her get to the Farallones in exchange for killing Himmler. She cheerily reports that the mission was successful, though, sadly, Himmler did not suffer long.
Maimonides asks what she intends to do now. Georgia cagily says that she doesn’t think Himmler was working alone, so wants to investigate that.
“That’s a dangerous game, Ms. Johnson,” Maimonides says. “If you try to track down who Himmler was working with, you may well find out.”
Bob returns to the room, cradling blood sacks in his arms. “That’s true, but I have a duty to this clan,” Georgia says, glancing at Bob, who nods enthusiastically as he dumps the blood on the table.
Maimonides, though, snorts. “‘Duty to the clan’ is something that the mature Tremere interpret very differently than the younger. But, so be it. How will you go about this?”
“Well…I have gained some access to Himmler’s…information….” She trails off significantly.
There’s a pause. “Oooooh. Well. I apologize. You sound very much like a mature Tremere.”
Maimonides isn’t in the area, so she catches him up on some local gossip, including the fact that the Chantry was breached, all the wards fell, and now the place is occupied by a dragon. Maimonides is actually more shocked by the first two points than the last one, and he’s pretty fucking floored by the last one. He asks what the hell Max is doing about all that. Georgia is like, “Yeah, about that…,” carefully saying that Max ran afoul of someone…older (and yet younger, lol) and now Georgia seems to be the one in charge.
Maimonides sighs. “Have you ever run your own Chantry before, Ms. Johnson?”
“No! I’m very excited by all these…zero people I am now in charge of!”
“Well, let me give you a bit of advice. Tell the Prince what he needs to know and nothing more. Duty to clan may be a quaint concept internally, but when it comes to other clans, thats another matter entirely. And as to your ‘primogenship,’ Primogen is a title that comes from the Prince. The title you should be interested in is Regent. Regent is our internal affair. The titles are not always given to the same person, though customarily they are. If you proclaim yourself as Regent of the Chantry, well, you’ll find that the officials are flexible in such matters so long as the Chantry is run well.”
He pauses. “Though at the moment it sounds as if the Chantry isn’t run at all,” he adds darkly. “I would suggest you start by reactivating the wards. The San Francisco Chantry is the oldest Chantry on the Pacific coast. A cabal of the finest thaumaturgists in North America spent a year producing those wards. How someone contrived to breach them in a single night I cannot fathom.”
She nods seriously. “So…is there a…handbook, or something?”
“…Actually, yes,” he grumbles. “The Regent would have kept it close at hand, perhaps in his office. Details on activating the wards should be in there. Now, if the wards have been destroyed, there’s nothing you can do, but if they’ve merely been disabled, a quantity of blood and the proper application of ritual magic should be able to revitalize it. Mind, when I say, ‘a quantity,’ I mean, ‘five to six.’ “
Georgia pokes at one of the packs of chilled blood. “Cups?”
A wave of feeding-restriction nausea washes over her. “Oh….”
“This is large-scale blood magic, Ms. Johnson. There should be an exsanguination chamber somewhere in the lower floors. The modern ones use mechanical assistance, but your Chantry is older so you may have to run the guillotine yourself. Normally the ghouls would, but in this case I am sure they have all been devoured by the dragon.”
Georgia glances at Bob. “I’ll work something out.”
“Then good luck to you, Ms. Johnson. Do keep me informed. Shalom.” He hangs up.
Georgia puts her phone away. “So, Bob, as the new Head Ghoul, I may have a job for you in the near future….”
Helgi stalks around his three prisoners as the rest of the crowd laughs and leers, Paul’s presence momentarily forgotten. The enormous Viking makes some grand speeches recounting the honor and glory of the battle he and his people just fought, and the courage they showed in capturing their enemies. At the height of the tale, he leans down and plucks the hood off the captive in the middle.
It’s Adriana, Prince of Oakland. Gagged and bound, all she can do is glare at Helgi and the crowd surrounding her.
Paul stiffens, not entirely surprised but not liking this development either. Trying not to attract attention to himself, he slides off the concrete barrier and makes his way over to Leeland, who is staring at Adriana with a sickened look on his face. “What a complete mess,” he mutters to Paul.
“What’s going on?” Paul whispers back.
“Exactly what I thought was going to happen, exactly what I told everyone was going to happen! Helgi walked into City Hall and took Adriana out like she was a Sunday chicken! All of her vaunted defenses, and I don’t think Helgi even knew she was fighting back! And that was just him, now the Hell’s Angels have shown up.” He glares around the crowd.
“I thought you and Adriana weren’t on the best of terms….” Paul asks carefully, obviously remembering the time he first met her, shouting and kicking at Leeland in a dockyard across town.
“Yeah, well, once she’s staked out I know who’s head is going to be next,” Leeland grumbles, tugging at his tie.
Paul glances around. The crowd has joined in on Helgi’s boasting, recounting tales of epic battles in bars far and wide. “So…what happens for the rest of the night? At this…Thing?”
“Talking, bullshit, people getting into fights.” Leeland sneers and straightens his suit. “It’s all Brujah here, we’re the only Toreadors standing.”
One of the guys, the one who accosted Paul when he came in, is glaring across the circle at him. Paul stares back flatly. “Why do they keep calling me ‘Cammy?’” he asks Leeland.
Leeland shoots Paul a look. “Because you’re Camarilla,” he says condescendingly.
“Oh. I thought it was cause it’s a girl’s name.” Paul glances at Adriana, who doesn’t seem to have noticed him yet. “Is there any reason for executing the prisoners besides the fact that they’re Camarilla?”
“Do they need one?” Leeland scoffs. “Adriana made her bed. She tried to purge the Anarchs from the East Bay. It didn’t go well. Why, do you have some particular iron in this?”
“Not particularly. I’d rather not let someone die if I can avoid it, but I’m a little out of my league here.”
“Well, you’re welcome to walk up to Helgi and talk about it. I hear he likes Toreadors.”
Paul frowns thoughtfully. “Perhaps I will….” Before Leeland can protest, Paul walks across the circle to Helgi, standing to one side watching two of his men engage in a scuffle. The tension ratchets up again as Paul approaches and everyone stops. Helgi, though, watches Paul calmly. “Yes?” he rumbles.
Paul gestures at the captives. “So…the Prince here, she must be pretty dangerous to have such a plentiful and rugged set of guards.”
“Hey, fuck you, Cammy!” Paul’s new buddy yells from across the circle.
Paul waves a hand without turning. “Ok, Bev!”
“Bev” snarls, then grabs a machete and lunges at Paul. Everyone instinctively pulls back…except Helgi, who steps forward. He doesn’t lift a finger, but a strange power radiate off him. Everyone, Bev included, immediately stops what they’re doing and pulls back farther.
Helgi turns to Paul. “We’re all dangerous here.” He grins a fanged smile and everyone chuckles.
After another glance from Helgi, Bev returns to his place in the circle. Helgi lifts his hands to the crowd again. “Alright, alright, let’s see. Before we get to trials by combat, we need to deal with this matter. Now…” He turns to Paul. “You’re part of the Camarilla, yes? As are our prisoners. Are you here to negotiate for their safe return? And if so, what are you offering as ransom?”
Paul glances at Leeland, but the Baron has somehow transported himself a good five feet away from Paul, putting two people between them. Paul sighs and steps forward to face Helgi alone. “I don’t have the authority to negotiate for them on behalf of the Camarilla. I have…relations with the Camarilla, but I don’t speak for them.”
“Then the fuck are you doing here!?” Bev shouts.
“I’ve come to negotiate for them for my own purposes,” Paul says firmly. Everyone glances at each other and murmurs.
“Now it has gotten interesting….” Helgi leans forward and smiles disconcertingly.
Paul looks at the crowd, considering his options. He always has money, but something tells him that Helgi and his gang would be more impressed by a gesture with a bit more honor to it. Trial by combat is apparently an option, but with everyone around him Brujah or worse, Paul can predict how well that would go.
Paul frowns. Whatever pretensions they might have aside, to him Helgi and his men are thugs, so he figures the best way to beat them is at his game, not theirs. He draws himself up, tugs at his motorcycle jacket to straighten it, smiles, and faces Helgi. “I should like to compete for them in a…competitive poetry reading.”
The crowd goes silent, deathly silent. The moment drags on and Paul’s smile falters. He expected more distain, perhaps questions as to his sexual orientation, but the tone of the crowd is something he hasn’t seen from any of them yet: shock. Even Bev looks concerned, jaw dropped open.
As one, everyone turns to Helgi. Helgi watches Paul, grizzled face unreadable, then throws back his head and laughs. “So you want a flyting, do you boy?!” He laughs again, the sound echoing across the tarmac like gunshots.
Paul turns to Leeland, perhaps hoping the other Toreador can provide some insight, but his face is as pale as his suit, and he shakes his head slowly in a What have you done? gesture.
Helgi starts pacing the circle, arms extended as he addresses the crowd. “Well, if he wants a flyting, it would be rude to say no! What say you?” Everyone but Paul and Leeland burst into cheers, waving their assorted weaponry in the air.
(*Cameron cackles maniacally in the background*
Jason: “What the fuck am I going to do with a flyting? Jesus….”
Chris: “What is a flyting? Would Paul know what it is?”
Me: “It’s a Viking rap battle.”
Jason: “It’s a literal epic rap battle of history.”
Cameron: “The original rap battles of history.”
Jason: “Why the fuck does this keep happening to me…I am fucking tempted to make you go write lyrics!”
Me: “…I love our game.”
We then broke off into more discussion about why exactly, it is, that Helgi is so excited by this, and some knowledge about the history of flyting in general. Learning!)
Helgi turns to Paul, beaming as if Valhalla has come early. “So be it! One night from tonight. We shall reconvene and see the arts of the Toreador tested against the songs of Helgi Isarnbjorn.”
The crowd breaks into murmuring groups, this turn of events apparently having driven all plans for ritual combat out of everyone’s minds. Still confused, Paul squeezes his way through the bikers to Leeland.
Leeland stares at him as if he were dead man walking. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” he hisses. “Do you know who this guy is!?”
“No idea, but I did buy us twenty-four hours.” Paul glances at the captives, re-hooded and shoved toward an unmarked van nearby. “You’re going to tell me he’s some master poet from a thousand years ago, aren’t you?”
Leeland stares without a trace of humor in his face. “Yes. Yes he is. There’s attestations. He sang at the court of Michael. In Constantinople.”
Paul looks at Helgi, joking with his men as they watch Adriana and her cronies being dragged away. The axe on his back—half weapon, half instrument—glitters in the lights of the vehicles. Dread starts to churn.
A Viking warrior poet. It’s not the most ridiculous thing Paul has heard of since becoming a vampire, but it is the latest in a long chain of ridiculous shit that seems to keep falling into his lap.
“…Goddammit,” Paul mutters.
After the explosion, Anstis had found me missing, but—due to Necromancy—knew I wasn’t dead. Thus, he straightens out his clothes, recovers his hat, and sets off to explore the ship, figuring I’ll turn up along the way, and if not, oh well.
He stays in the bowels of the ship, which at the moment still seem to be empty, and eventually finds his way to a series of hatches leading down into dark storage tanks. Knowing that Accio keeps his riches somewhere aboard—and tasked by the Giovanni to find one jeweled scepter in particular—Anstis’s pirate sense starts tingling and he climbs down into one.
He descends almost two stories down the ladder, footsteps echoing through the cavernous space, and drops to the bottom. Instead of landing on decking, through, he lands on sand. He stumbles and peers around. Instead of crates or other signs of storage, it’s just more sand, spread across the floor of the wide room. The longer he stares into the darkness, though, the more he gets the sense of something moving, in the corners of his vision. Not liking any of this, he starts climbing the ladder back up.
He doesn’t get more than a few feet up before something grabs him around the waist and throws him to the floor. He rolls away instinctively, and as he scrambles to his feet the lights come on.
The walls are coated in writhing dark, undulating like an oily sea. As he watches, two massive tendrils recede back into that darkness on the other side of the room. He follows them with his gaze and, above them, sees some sort of platform-box crudely hacked out of the wall, a full story off the sand. A small group of men are standing there, and at their head is Accio.
Accio nods at him. “Captain. I hadn’t hoped to see you again. But then, Gangrel do get everywhere, don’t they?”
Anstis glares up at him. “As do Lasombra, these nights….”
Accio sneers. “Vermin. Do you know what we do with vermin on a ship? Well, of course you do, you’re a sailor after all. We exterminate them, but do you know what we use to exterminate them?”
Anstis folds his arms. “What?”
Accio grins. “The cabin-boy.” He gestures and one of the figures from behind him steps forward.
It’s me. Anstis frowns. I stare back vacantly.
“You see,” Accio continues, “Not everybody is as stubborn as you are when it comes to taking the best offer.” He turns to me, meeting my eyes. “Kill him.”
(Jason: *gestures between me and Jim* “Tom, to the best of your ability, kill him.”
Me: *stares* “…Wait, I have to play it myself!?”)
Anstis backs up as I vault the railing and land in the sand. Accio claps sharply and gestures for a chair to be brought forward. “This should be fun,” he smiles.
I, meanwhile, have largely come back to my senses…except in regards to Anstis in front of me. He is the motherfuckingest cocksucking asshole and every fiber of my being is screaming at me to tear his throat out with my bare hands if necessary, but my teeth for preference. I stalk toward him, drawing my sword, and lunge forward. My first strike flies over his head as he stumbles back, slipping on the sand, but I swing around in a return strike that slashes him across the chest.
A lot of things happen at once. At first contact with his flesh, my sword bursts into flame, leaving a smoking gash across his torso. He screams in agony, then panic, tearing off across the sand. There’s no ground-floor exits from the room, though, so he starts circling it in blind terror. I, meanwhile, chase after him in blind rage, so obsessed I don’t even think to cut across the circle to get at him. We continue that for awhile, like some sort of Tom and Jerry cartoon (LOL, I see what I did there).
Accio, meanwhile, leans forward on the railing, watching my flaming sword as we streak around the room. “Interesting….” he says with a slow smile. “What an unusual piece to add to…my collection….”
(Me: “AW HELL NO!!! I worked so hard to keep it from Orlando, and now this!?”
Jason: “I know! It’s almost like elder vampires are dickheads!”)
Georgia starts making plans to bring Bob back to the Chantry. To that end, she asks if he knows anything about dragons. He says no, and she says that’s too bad, because right now the Chantry seems to be full of one. If they reset the wards, though, that might get rid of him, and to that end she needs blood. A lot of blood. Bob leads her to an entire vat of ritual blood there at the City College facility, but the vat is built into the floor and can’t exactly be moved.
“Hmm….” Georgia stares at the still red pool. “Do we have a lot of thermoses?”
“Why would we need that?”
“To keep the blood cool while we transport it back to the Chantry.”
Bob shifts nervously. “Well, I think I have a few, but…why don’t you use the circle? That’ll be faster.…”
She stares at him, then smiles. “I like you. You’re helpful.”
(Jason: “Bob looks overjoyed. He’s actually quivering with what you hope is excitement.”
Kara: “Awww, has he never been praised before?”
Jason: “He’s a Tremere ghoul, almost certainly not.”
Jim: “Especially cause he’s not bright enough to be praised that often.”
Jason: “No, he’s not the brightest. He would have been embraced if he was. ….Which is an option, by the way.”
Kara: “Embracing him?”
Kara: “Um…Let’s keep that on the back-burner.”
Jason: “And now I think you begin to understand.”)
Georgia sends Bob to find those thermoses as she prepares the circle.
Some time later, they appear in a matching circle somewhere in the Chantry basement, arms (and satchel) loaded with filled thermoses. Unlit torches line the walls and a cool breeze blows through an open door at the far end, accompanied by a low, rhythmic noise.
Georgia hesitates. The noise is breathing, echoing through the stone, as if coming from the building itself.
She turns and whispers, “Bob. Somewhere upstairs, a dragon is asleep. We need to not wake up that dragon. But when we do accidentally wake up that dragon, you need to get back here, to this circle, and we will get out of here as fast as possible.”
Bob nods earnestly. She describes her plan, which is to somehow get past the dragon into Max’s office. To that end, she may need Bob to run some sort of dragon-interference. He nods again, slightly less earnestly, and they make their way up the stairs. Georgia starts to open the door at the top, trying to remain as quiet as possible—
—And then her phone rings.
She tears through her bag, nearly knocking out the thermoses piled there, and answers. It’s Dr. vonNatsi, calling to check in, cheerily shouting over the sound of a vacuum to tell her he is working on sterilizing his lab of the cabbage presence. She commends him on his science, but while she has him on the phone, does he have any tools or deathrays that might help her become invisible and undetectable for a period of about ten minutes or so?
The vacuum turns off. “Fraulein…have you gone back to ze Chantry?”
“Fraulein…vhy have you gone back to ze Chantry?”
“It’s my Chantry!”
“I vould posit zat once ze dragon is in ze Chantry it is his Chantry, not yours!”
She flops down on the step. “Well I am trying to get him out of it! Do you have any suggestions?”
“You…put a cow outside? I don’t know! I am a scientist! Not a zoologist!”
Georgia rolls her eyes, then pauses. That’s actually not the worst suggestion she’s heard. The problem, of course, is where to find a live cow in the middle of the city. The closest farms are probably in Marin, and Marin is full of ever-angering werewolves at the moment, including all the ones who left us with the dragon in the first place after they vacated Golden Gate Park—
She blinks. “Doctor,” she says slowly, “Do you have any vehicles large enough to transport a bison…?”
Anstis’s Rotshriek panic eventually ends but my single-minded focus on killing him does not. With nowhere to hide and a direct confrontation promised to end in tears—one way or another—Anstis takes the third option. He runs to the wall underneath Accio’s platform, plunges his claws into the metal, and climbs his way up toward it.
Accio’s men yell and try to shoot him down, but the balcony angle helps protect him. Accio himself stares in shock and stumbles back from the railing as Anstis hauls himself over it.
Which is good for him, because I unsling a shotgun and blast the box with dragonsbreath milliseconds later. White-hot phosphorous rains down on everyone inside like a waterfall firework. Screams and bangs erupt through the sulfurous smoke as vampires and ghouls scramble to get out of the way. Once the haze clears, everyone is gone. Including Anstis.
Without Anstis in front of me, the Dominate command suddenly goes dormant. I look around the empty, cavernous room, only barely remembering what just happened. “Huh,” I mutter, staring at the charred balcony, then put away my shotgun and start climbing the long ladder back out. With Anstis missing, there is only one thing on my mind: find Vera.
I emerge in a long, industrial-looking corridor lined with storage- and work-rooms and start making my way through them. I find the half-exploded room Anstis and I tore our way out of, but there’s no sign of my gun there. Grumbling, I move up to the next level.
The doors here are fewer and far between. I try a couple but most seem to be locked. About halfway down the corridor, though, I hear murmuring voices behind one of the doors. I hesitate, debating sneaking past, but decide to keep running with my Dumb Mercenary ruse and knock on the door.
The voices stop. I knock again but no one answers. After a moment, I unsling my shotgun and enter.
It’s another store room, large as a ballroom, but filled with people, lining the walls and in long rows down the center. Southeast Asian by the looks of them, clothes faded and ragged, and every single one of them chained. The room reeks of piss and sweat and fear. I stop in surprise and they all turn to look at me, eyes wide as deer, and all of them absolutely silent.
(Jim: “And you have two blood!”
Jason: “…And you have two blood. It’s time for a self control test.”
Jim: “I’m participating!”)
Suddenly everything goes red…and when I come to, one of the captives is dead at my feet. He’s young, probably in his mid-teens, and his blood is smeared across the deck and down my face.
I stumble back. The rest of the captives are still staring at me, but there’s no sense of panic, just silent, wary expectation, even from the ones immediately adjacent to where I apparently tore the boy out of the line. As I scan the crowd, I notice something, stenciled on the wall by the door: “PEN 5.”
(Me: “Like…the Pen-Fifteen club?”)
I groan and scrub at the blood on my face. Any normal day I’d rant and rave at Accio’s monstrousness, how he’s obviously an example of the worst kind of vampire. But right now, I can’t exactly throw stones while there’s a body laying at my feet.
“Anyone speak English?” I shout. They wince at the noise but continue to stare. I sigh. There’s at least sixty of them in this room alone, way more than I have time to wrangle. Setting them loose on a ship filled with vampires in the middle of a pirate battle might be just a different kind of death sentence, but to me, it’s a better-sounding one than being slowly butchered in the dark.
Each line of chains are bolted to the wall nearest me. I unsheathe my sword and chop neatly through each in a burst of heat and sparks. I step back and gesture grandly at the door, trying to look as unthreatening as possible while still having blood smeared across me. They stare a long moment, then slowly start getting up and shuffling toward the door. The crowd builds momentum till they’re pouring out into the hallway and darting into the ship, but they remain unnaturally silent. I avoid their eyes as they pass.
Only after they’ve all left do I step over the body and out into the hall.
Anstis comes to lying on the floor of an unfamiliar storeroom somewhere in the ship. There’s no sign of anyone else, but there are rows of massive wooden crates, stacked on the floor and mounted in shelving units on the walls. He climbs to his feet, surveys the space, then extends his claws and pries the closest one open.
Huge sandstone blocks fill the crate, packed in sawdust, and carved with deep glyphs he has never seen before. He frowns and tries the next crate. This one contains what looks like a coiled nautilus shell, but made of flesh. As he stares at it, an eye opens in the center of the spiral and blinks at him.
He looks around. Thousands and thousands of these crates surround him, marked only by serial numbers, more a forest than a storeroom. These are unquestionably the riches he was looking for, but finding one scepter in this mess is going to be the proverbial needle in a haystack. He grumbles and starts tearing open more crates.
I, meanwhile, find my way to a large door stenciled in warning letters saying, “DO NOT ENTER.” So, naturally, I immediately jerk the hatch loose and enter.
Anstis hears a bang, then the squeal of a door opening nearby. He ducks behind the nearest stack of crates and peers out.
I enter a cavernous room, filled with crates like the goddamn warehouse of the Arc of the Covenant. I stare at it a moment, then start storming down the rows, looking for a box shaped like an M-2.
Anstis sees my head bobbing over the crates. I’m not moving stealthily, but he knows that the moment I see him, the Benny Hill show will start up again, so he stays out of sight as I stalk by. Once I pass, he sneaks back the way I came to exit out the hatch door. He wanders out into a crowd of frightened, dirty humans running through the passageway, then smiles and decides to stop for lunch.
None of the boxes look like particularly recent additions, but I start tearing open every crate that looks big enough to hold Vera anyway. Framed art, ritual masks, strange fetish looking things—(Me: “But not the fun kind of fetish?”)—spill out of each, but no guns. I do eventually find something closer to the fun kind of fetish, a short stiff whip made out of what appears to be rhinoceros hide.
I flex it experimentally. “That…is super illegal,” I mutter, shoving it into my back pocket and continuing on.
At the far end of the hold, I find a corner that is fenced off from the rest of the space by chainlink fence on all sides. More crates and boxes are stacked inside, but these ones are all much smaller. I move to open the gate but an electric shock blasts me off.
(Me: “Dammit! I hate electricity…. Ok, is there, like, a box or something that looks like its the power source?”
Jason: “This is not a video game.”
Me: *glare* “Really? Cause nothing else we’ve done so far is anything like a video game?!”
Jim: “Okay, there’s a box that’s highlighted that says ‘Power.’”
Jason: “Yes, the tutorial note comes up and says, ‘Destroy power boxes to cut current!’ Except none of those things happen.”
Me: *long glare* “I don’t even play that many video games—“
Jason: “Good! Cause you’re not playing one here!”
Me: “Fine! My boots are rubber-soled, I kick the gate down!”)
Sparks fly as the gate crashes into the cage, but theres no other damage. I step through carefully and investigate the boxes. Some are crates, but most are cardboard, and a few even have half-torn Amazon labels lingering on them. I pick one up and open it.
Inside is another box, made of metal, like a toolbox but padlocked shut. I pry at the lock with the sword, burning it off with a hiss and waft of acid. I set it down and lift the lid.
Laying in the box, padded in cut-to-fit foam, is…a scepter. (Me: “Wow. That was easy.”) Baroque, heavy enough to possibly be solid gold, with multiple jewels set into carvings along its length. My eye, though, is drawn to a massive red jewel, larger than a silver dollar, embedded in a setting at the top.
I hold it up to admire against the light, then notice something. Part of the jewel seems cloudy, deep against the base of the setting, and as I tilt it I realize there’s another object underneath the jewel. Careful not to snap the gold, I use a stake to pry out the tines of the setting and remove the gem. It comes off surprisingly easy, and I see that its actually concave on the inside, creating a space for the object underneath.
It’s a tiny bag, a drawstring bag (like a dice bag) made old cracked leather and a silken cord. Intrigued, I put down the scepter and jewel and carefully peel it open. Shadowy, odd shapes jostle inside. I pour them out onto my open hand.
They’re figures, tiny, delicate figures. Most are carved out of some sort of old, resin-treated wood, in a variety of shapes. A couple of them look vaguely humanoid. One looks like an actual six-sided die. One of the figures is made of pewter and shaped like a mounted animal head, and another is an abstract shape of made opalescent glass.
“The…fuck…?” I mutter as I poke at them gently. Marcus never mentioned something like this. Perhaps it was added to the scepter sometime in the millennia after he lost it. Or perhaps this secret is the entire reason he wanted the thing back in the first place. Whatever the figures are, they obviously were meant to be protected, hidden as they were.
I replace the figures in the bag and frown at the scepter. I do have a frustrating pattern of having things taken away from me—I do a cursory glare around the room looking for Vera—so perhaps it’s best to keep this bag away from the item as gaudy as a drag-queens dildo. I wrap the bag tight and carefully hide it—
(Jason: “Um, where?”
Jason: “If you shove this bag up your ass I want to know. …No, I really don’t want to know, but I have to know.”
Me: “Ha, no. I don’t have any lube and we don’t have time to do it the hard way.”)
—In my pocket, then I reset the stone in the setting and shove the scepter through my belt, tucking it under my shirt. Pleased, I do a cursory check for anything else interesting in the cage, then leave to continue my search for Vera.
As I approach the door to the hold, Anstis suddenly steps into view. “Tom Lytton!” he says. I stop, recognize him, and all thoughts of Vera and the scepter suddenly obliterate in instant, rising rage as Accio’s orders snap back into play—
Anstis meets my eyes. “You believe you have killed me. I do not look like Anstis to you.”
I stop. Wait, that’s not Anstis, that’s just some other douchebag dressed like a pirate….
I glare at him. “Hey. Where’s Accio?”
“I don’t know. Morgan sent me as backup,” Not-Anstis says.
I nod skeptically. God, he even sounds kinda like Anstis. These fucking Gangrel. I gesture toward the door. “Alright, well, let’s find Accio. You lead the way.”
Before leaving the Thing, Paul mentions his meeting with the Prince of Sacramento to Leeland. Leeland groans and says the guy is an asshole. Paul, remembering his first conversation with the guy, mutters that he noticed. Leeland then shares some info to confirm more of Paul’s suspicions, mentioning that the Sacramento territory covers a whopping six vampires, and how this guy’s inferiority complex makes up for it by being a bureaucratic dick to anyone who tries to get involved in the state government. Paul thanks Leeland and leaves to head to Stockton for his appointment.
(Jason: “Dammit, what was that guy’s name again?”
Me: “Oh shit I don’t know, I haven’t gotten to that recording yet.”
Jason: “It was something good…Marshall. Something Marshall.”
Chris: “Vincent Marshall?”
Me: “We already have Vincent Van Lowe.”
Chris: “Okay, what about William?”
Jason: “William Marshall will do. We have William Liedesdorff, but you’re not going to get those two mixed up.”
Chris: “One of them could go by Bill, I guess. Does this guy go by Bill?”
Jason: “Bill Marshall? Ok, we’ll go with that.”
Kara: *who has been staring quietly for the last few seconds* “Ok, so, wow, this is confusing to me, because my stepdad’s name is Bill Marshall.…”
Me: “Is it really?”
Kara: “I mean, it’s fine, you can use it!”
Jason: “Well, at least someone will remember it this time.”)
Paul pulls up at the edge of a square near the center of town. A group of men are standing there, but the rest of the park is empty. Paul parks and walks toward them. Most of them seem normal for the Central Valley, in jeans and button-down shirts. A couple even have cowboy hats. The man in front, though, is in a suit, and to Paul’s eyes it’s one that would have stood out even in the middle of downtown San Francisco. The cut is Armani, but at least a half-decade out of date, and it hangs poorly on the man’s thin frame.
Figuring this must be Marshall, Paul processes this…then affects a hunched look and hurries a little faster.
Marshall sneers at Paul from behind designer-looking sunglasses as he approaches. “So. You’re Paul Stewart.
“I am, nice to meet you,” Paul holds out a hand eagerly. “I’m afraid I wasn’t aware of your reputation ahead of time. It means a lot to me that someone of your stature would actually meet me so close to home. I hope the travel wasn’t an inconvenience for you.”
Marshall hesitates, then accepts the hand tentatively. “Ah, okay. Well. Thats understandable, you guys have been busy down here.” He forces a chuckle and takes off his sunglasses. “What can I do for you?”
Paul clasps his hands and his voice takes on a slightly breathless earnestness. “I must apologize again for going around you, I didn’t realize I was stepping on your toes. I was trying to get access for some of my employees and myself to get around the Bay Area. Passes for the checkpoints and permits to be out past curfew.”
Marshall’s eyes dart briefly in confusion at the mention of checkpoints, but he pulls himself together. “…And you thought the governor was going to be able to do this for you…?”
Paul shrugs. “I also reached out to senators. The governor was the first I got.”
Marshall shifts his weight and glances at his men. “I…can arrange this, I suppose. But…what’s in it for me?” His hand moves woodenly in a Godfather-like gesture.
“Well, what can I do for you?”
Marshall hesitates, confusion flickering again, but—perhaps assuming that every moment of silence on his part means a loss of power—rushes on. “Well, an important businessman some of yourself, I’m sure you can contribute something, maybe….”
Paul’s face is carefully blank. “I’m sure I could.”
“Let’s say…well, how many people you need these passes for?”
“Fifteen would be manageable, twenty-five would be better.”
Marshall nods. Suddenly his face brightens and he rocks back on his heels. “Tell you what, I’ll sell them to you. Ten million apiece.” He smiles in a way that’s clearly supposed to be predatory.
Paul’s been in enough boardrooms to have seen some excellent negotiation-bluffs in his day, and this is nowhere near one. He claps Marshall companionably on the shoulder and laughs. “They didn’t say you were so witty!” Marshall tenses a moment then forces himself to laugh along. The other men join in awkwardly.
Paul continues, still chuckling. “I mean, certainly if a financial contribution is what you’re interested in I can arrange something. I would have to go through political channels, and there’s caps on that, but I think certainly maybe over the next four or five years we could bring in six or eight hundred thousand.”
Marshall glances at his men, tensely this time. “Well…surely you can do better than that? These are military checkpoints were dealing with.”
“That’s just on the record.” Paul leans in. “I could throw in a bit through other means. Not too much, you understand, but maybe another hundred fifty. Make it an even million.”
Marshall shifts nervously. “What time frame you looking at? Eighteen months? Election cycles coming up, you know.”
“I can probably get a full 60% of that in eighteen months. The rest would be over the next thirty-six. “
Marshall’s face tenses as he tries to cram complex mental calculations into the space of a millisecond. “Well…I was hoping you’d be able to do more, but I understand finance laws being what they are—“
“Fantastic!” Paul claps him on the shoulder again. “I am sorry its not what you were hoping for, but you know how it is.” He laughs. “But you’re in Sacramento, of course you do!”
“Sure…yeah….” The wheels in Marshall’s head are almost visibly spinning as he tries to back over what just happened.
Before he can, though, Paul swoops in to change the subject. “So, you’ve probably heard about all sorts of chaos in the Bay Area, I hope it hasn’t been getting so far up to you?”
“Oh….” Marshall regroups. “Well, you know, I’ve been in constant communication with the authorities back in New York. But for now, the Camarilla has decided it’s best to take a light-handed approach. No need to stir things up more than they are already.”
Paul nods sagely. “Was that your recommendation?”
Marshall blinks. “Well, of course! They take my recommendations extremely seriously. Sacramento, as you understand, is the point of reference for all of the cities on the West Coast. The local princes usually confer with me.” He forces a chuckle. “But, don’t you worry, we have these issues well in hand and will be taking action as soon as it’s appropriate.”
Paul nods again, restraining a smile. “That’s good to hear….”
Paul turns to head back to his bike and Marshall hurries forward, gesturing as if he was leading him instead. “You just tend to your business and leave the issues of the governor and the national guard to us. I’ll have those passes sent over by courier as soon we we can.”
Paul swings onto the bike. “Alright, well you must be a busy man, I’ll let you get back to your obviously tight schedule. Thank you, Mr. Marshall.”
Paul holds out a hand. Marshall takes it hesitantly at first, then recovers with over-enthusiasm. “No thank you, Mr. Stewart. I’m glad to see someone in San Francisco still has a sense of propriety, going through the chain and all that.”
(Jason: “And with that, Marshall walks off, doing a very convincing impression of a man who was not just fleeced. A million dollars over eighteen months? Wow….”
Chris: “Nonono, the first six hundred thousand over eighteen months. The remaining four hundred thousand are over the next three years.”
Jason: “Yeah, he botched all his rolls. You shattered him. I’m surprised you didn’t walk away with his pants.”
Chris: “Well. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.”)
END OF NIGHT