12/11/14

Jason: “It’s a very tight fit in the bathysphere.”
Me: “Urg. And he smells bad.”
Jason: “Yep. And you’re a big guy.”
Jim: “And so am I.”
Jason: “And so is he. It’s almost comedic. You vaguely hear a sitcom theme playing.”
Me: “IT TAKES A LOT TO MAKE A STEW! A PINCH OF SALT AND LAUGHTER TOO—“

***

Georgia and Bob stumble out of the circle, back into the Tremere back-up facility at City College. Georgia dumps her armload of blood-thermoses on a table, then paces the room, thinking. She’s working on a plan for the dragon, but needs advice, from someone with a lot of vampiric and occultic knowledge.

But, for some reason, she pulls out her phone and calls Paul instead.

Paul’s just leaving Stockton, so he answers on the bluetooth mic in his motorcycle helmet. She exchanges pleasantries, her blood-bond soaring at the sound of his voice, then focuses on the issue at hand: “So, I have a question…you know that dragon you were talking about? What happened with him?”

“Um, well he was somewhat dragon-y, and massively powerful. I used him to stop Perpenna chasing us for awhile,” Paul says.

“So is this dragon a friend of yours?” Georgia asks.

“I don’t know if I’d go that far, but we’re not trying to kill each other right now.”

She nods agreeably. “Do you have his phone number?”

A few seconds pass with nothing but the rushing of the wind on his end. “I…can’t say that I do…. Honestly, if I ever communicate with him again, I was planing to do so via postal mail.”

“Oh. Well, I have a problem, and the problem is that right now, if you were to communicate with the dragon via postal mail, you would have to address it to the San Francisco Tremere Chantry.”

More moments of wind. “…I thought the Chantry was destroyed?” Paul finally manages.

Georgia pauses, realizing they’re approaching the edges of Tremere Secrets™. “Not entirely. It…got better.”

“That…is unsettling.”

Georgia sighs. “Yes, well, what’s more unsettling is the slight reptile infestation right now.”

(Me: “Snakes?”)

She tells Paul about her plan, which is to capture a bison from the Bison Paddock in Golden Gate Park and release it outside the front doors of the Chantry. From there, she figures the dragon will either A) go out and eat the bison, or 2) go out and rescue the bison, since it is from his home territory of the park, and then leave to return said bison to the park.

Paul is…hesitant. He suggests waiting for the dragon to simply leave. Georgia says she needs to get the Chantry back now, and when Paul asks why, she more or less says it’s because all her stuff is there. She cheerily tells him about her “promotion,” though, which only seems to confuse and concern him more.

“I’m sure he’ll have to return to the museum at some point. His horde is there,” Paul says.

“He has a horde? What’s in it?”

“Well, at the time it mostly seemed to be elder vampires. Marcus and van Brugge—“

van Brugge is alive!?” she gasps. Across the room, Bob jumps and instinctively cowers.

“Yeah, but he’s kind of in a torpor. We took him to the Pyramid to recover. I dropped his nude body off myself.” A pause as he senses her question. “…Because Tom gave his clothes to Sophia.”

Georgia, though, is pacing the room. van Brugge isn’t from the San Francisco Chantry originally, but if he’s alive, he would increase the power of the local Tremere population by 100%. “…Oh my god. I have to go. Bye! Love you!”

“—What?” Paul blurts, but she hangs up and immediately calls Bell.

“…Ms. Johnson,” Bell answers gruffly. “Back from the south, I hear?”

“Yes, and a lovely vacation it was,” she says brightly.

“I imagine. And what state did you leave it in?”

“Um, California?”

“…Very funny. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about what went on in Monterey?”

Georgia frowns. “No, why?”

“Well, I have noticed you have a tendency to hang around with Tom Lytton.” Bell’s voice narrows to a knife’s edge as he says my name.

Characteristically, though, Georgia doesn’t notice this change in tone. “We have crossed paths, mostly when you’ve sent us on an errand together.”

“Yes. Well I was wondering if this errand or something you had been sent on crossed your path with his, say around the time he was burning Monterey to the ground?”

Again, she either doesn’t notice or just flat-out ignores his tone. “Oh, no, I spent the last three nights imprisoned in a castle.” She flutters her hand dismissively. “But anyway, is van Brugge there?”

There’s a long pause before Bell responds. “…Yes,” he finally grumbles, “But I’m afraid he hasn’t woken up yet. What do you want with him?”

She hesitates, mind racing to figure out the minimum amount of info she can get away with revealing. “Well, I only just found out he was alive, after being attacked by a dragon, so….”

“Well whatever happened to him will take some time to recover from. We gave him blood but it doesn’t seem to be helping. Not entirely surprising, considering he was in the clutches of an exceptionally powerful creature we barely understand.”

“Interesting…do you know why the dragon had him?” she asks carefully.

Bell sighs. “No. My theory is Perpenna attacked the Chantry and took out van Brugge, and the dragon probably got in once he saw the wards were down. Once he scared Perpenna off, he probably took van Brugge as a trophy. I have no proof of this, but it’s my working theory.” Bell pauses. “…Why are you interested in the dragon all of a sudden?”

Georgia, though, is mulling this over, and if she hears Bell’s question she doesn’t acknowledge it. “…Alright, well, good talk! I’ll call you later!” and she hangs up.

#

Georgia and Bob leave the City College dorm that hides the entrance to the Tremere facility and go to the curb to call for a Sidecar. Someone shows up after about ten minutes, but Georgia glances at the driver and cancels the ride before getting into the car, subsequently ignoring the cussing-out she gets as he speeds away.

She does this a few more times, until Adam finally shows up.

She asks Adam if he has any large vehicles, like delivery-van sized. He cocks an eyebrow over his sunglasses and drawls that he might be able to come up with something. First, though, she has him take them to Golden Gate Park, to the bison paddock.

The place is unsurprisingly empty when they arrive, residing in a poorly-lit and low-trafficked part of the park. The paddock encloses a wide meadow just off the road. Georgia and Bob stare at the hulking lumps in the distance as Adam drives away.

Bob glances around nervously, gaze lingering on the deep shadows of the cypress trees looming behind them. “Regent? What are we doing here?”

“Getting a bison.”

“But, we were told never to go to the park.”

“Oh.” She shrugs. “All the werewolves are dead.”

“Oh…” Bob glances around again. “Did you kill them?”

“No,” she sighs wistfully. “But it’s been a weird week. The werewolves are all dead, or gone, and there’s no dragon in the park because the dragon is in the Chantry.

Bobs face scrunches as he processes this. “So…we’re going to kill the dragon?”

“We’re going to lure the dragon out of the Chantry.”

“…Am…I the bait?”

“No, the bison is the bait.”

“Oh!” Bob gasps in relief. “That’s great!”

Headlights slide across them. They turn to see an unmarked white delivery van pull up next to them, Adam at the wheel, grin as wide as the night is long.

(Jim: “So how is this going to work with all your wonderful Animalism skills?”

Jason: “That is a good question. How are you going to get the bison into the van?”
Kara: “I have a plan…it’s someone else’s turn now.”)

#

EAST ALAMEDA COUNTY

Paul races down the 580 corridor, heading to meet Doc and his mystery contact at the Altamont Raceway, but on the way he gets another call, this time from Sophia. Sophia sounds nervous (no surprise) and wants to meet to talk. Paul asks why they can’t just talk over the phone and she says she doesn’t trust the phones right now (which is a surprise). He says he’s on his way to the pass and she tells him to meet her on the way, in Livermore, just outside the Lawrence Livermore Labs.

Paul cruises slowly down an empty rural road flanking the east side of the lab complex, fenced landscaping on one side and open fields on the other. He eventually spots Sophia standing under a tree opposite the lab entrance. Gravel crunches as he pulls up next to her and gets off the bike.

She nods at him. “I can’t talk very long, but I wanted to say, I didn’t have a chance to say…” she takes a breath, “…Thanks. For coming to get me on the island.”

“Sure. Well, you came to get me at the castle, so….”

“That was different. Sort of. It’s complicated. Anyway, I shouldn’t be doing this at all, but I shouldn’t be doing a lot of stuff that I’ve been doing, so….” She takes another breath. “I think I may be able to help you.”

Paul frowns and sets his helmet on the bike. “Help me? How?”

Sophia glances around. “I know somebody else bought your company out. I was watching your company carefully, when we thought it was run by a leech—which it was, kinda—and I know somebody bought it out. Whoever did it hid themselves pretty well, but they had access to ready money from around the world, and a lot of contacts with banks in Europe.” She meets his eyes. “There’s only so many leeches with that kind of reach around here….”

“It seems like you figured it out,” Paul says flatly.

“What happened? Did he make you sell?”

“No, he had me imprisoned for six months. The press wrote it off as some sort of weird hippy vacation in India. Anyway, joke’s on him, since when I came back out the stock price of my company had skyrocketted because someone else had bought most of it.” Paul laughs lightly.

Sopha’s face softens but she still watches him seriously. “So…did he tell you what hes going to do with it?”

“Nope. He replaced some of the people inside, but since I came back around he hasn’t seemed to be too hands-on.”

“Yeah that’s my thought.” She glances around the empty road again, then steps closer and lowers her voice. “See, he doesn’t exist. Not in the system. I mean, most of you guys don’t. It’s all holding companies and escrow accounts and things like that. But thing is, he’s really old, right? Like really old?”

“Yeah….”

“So…probably he’s not very hands on with the rest of it either. The companies, the escrow accounts, right?”

Paul shrugs. “I’d assume there’d be no way of linking the two unless you really really knew what you were looking for.”

“Well that’s just it. That means the person directing those accounts is pretty much anonymous. It could be anybody, as far as anybody knows. So…what if it wasn’t him? If we erased the names on top of the stock portfolios and put in new names, would he even know?”

(Kara: “It’s fraud….”
Jason: “Oh yeah cause Sophia’s really concerned at that, considering it’s all in the name of dead people anyway.”)

Paul pauses, surprised at the thought. They discuss the complicated financials of Tesseract and the game of bureaucratic thrones that actually controls the company, and how Sophia might be used to intercept it all. Paul is skeptical at first, but comes around as the thought of regaining control of his company overwhelms him him.

Eventually, though, Paul asks why. Why she’s offering in the first place.

She ducks her head and shrugs. “I can’t fight him, or whatever you guys have been chasing. I was just here to steal your server data. Figure out what that light source did, hack into your telecom network—“

“Got a bit more than you bargained for, then”

She smiles. “You could say that. Anyway, I can’t do a lot for the rest of your stuff, but I can do this. Whoever his IT is, they’re not as good as I am.”

“I believe that. And I would rest a bit easier knowing that if push comes to shove, he cant enact a shareholder revolution to evict me, though so far he seems ok to let me do my thing.”

“Yeah, but he might not always, and what if I’m not the first one to think of this? I mean, he’s powerful, yeah, but there’s others. What happens if that shadow thing eats him, where’s all that stock go then?”

Paul frowns. Perpenna is certainly personally threatening to us, but I don’t think he’s considered him a threat to his company before, or at least not like this. “It should stay with the holding companies, they just wouldn’t have any more subversive directions going to them.”

“Until someone else steps in.” She stares thoughtfully across the countryside for a moment, then frowns. “What are you doing way out here anyway?”

“I’m meeting someone,” Paul says simply.

“Someone I should worry about? Cause the last one was…not nice.” She shudders at the memory of Hearst Castle.

“No, this one I expect to be better. I hope. The contact who is introducing us is someone I’ve come to trust a bit more.”

Sophia frowns skeptically. “Well, do me a favor, try not to go too far off the 580 corridor. The whole Mt. Diablo area is werewolf country, and there’s still a few of us out here. There’s other things too, running around the East Bay. Things even I don’t know about.”

Paul sighs. “It does seem at a certain point we should stop having new mysterious monsters pop into view.”

“Yeah, well, you’d be surprised, wouldn’t you,” Sophia says (and Jason glares).

They talk for awhile, and Sophia gradually reveals a little more about werewolves, and shifters in general. Paul asks about the dragon and she shares what she knows about Mokole—which is very little—but points out that they aren’t usually found anywhere near California, and she’s certainly never heard of an albino one. Paul mentions that Claude came to Cal Academy from a farm in Florida, when he was still barely a hatchling. Knowing that you can’t exactly force a dragon to do what it doesn’t want to do, they both come to the conclusion that Claude went through his “change” sometime after being installed in the museum fifteen years ago, which means that, appearances aside, not only is he still very young for his species, but his worldview is limited to his heretofore cloistered existence in the park.

Both facts of which, for a creature that is essentially an unstoppable force of nature, are very concerning indeed.

Sophia also reveals that even though the cairn in Golden Gate Park was destroyed, there is another one in the Bay Area that might be accessible. It’s very small, apparently, barely maintained by a “staff” of aging, retired werewolves, but it might be useful if things came down to it.

Retired werewolves?” Paul asks skeptically.

“Essentially. Werewolves that fought for as long as they could and then decided to live the rest of their days in a cairn thats quieter. They’re different. They’re kinda ornery. One of them was a Get.” She sees his expression. “The Get of Fenris. They’re basically vikings.”

Paul’s eyes narrow. “More vikings. I have a poetry competition coming up with a viking tomorrow night, by the way. Some guy in Oakland named Helgi.”

Sophia frowns, then her eyes go wide. “You’ve heard of him?” Paul asks.

“Yeah!” Her tone is more impressed than concerned. “The Get have some weird Norwegian name for him. Laagman, or something. Big guy, likes to talk too much?”

“Yes….”

“Yeah, he’s weird. The stories say he likes to find werewolves and start reciting things at them.”

Paul blinks. “Huh.”

“I mean, he can get really violent, but I don’t know of anything really, like, Devourer-class bad about him.”

Paul hesitates. This is the first time he and Sophia have had to talk without imminent danger of Marcus himself looming around for awhile, and this whole “Devourer of Innocence” thing has been bothering him. “Yeah…what did Marc—the Devourer do to earn that name?” he asks carefully.

Sophia goes quiet. “He…killed a lot of people. Kidnapped a lot of kids.”

“Werewolves?”

She looks away. “Some of them, but mostly Kinfolk. Relatives that aren’t werewolves. Slaughtered whole families, took the kids and disappeared. Over centuries.”

Paul considers this silently a moment. “This true?”

“Well, if it’s not then a whole lot of people have been lying. I mean, it’s really, really bad stuff. He used to be at the top of the list of guys to kill, till we found worse. Also he stopped doing that stuff sometime in the 1500’s, for whatever reason. But he’s still on the list, and people still talk about him.”

Paul nods, processing this and weighing it against what Marcus has told him, but for the moment seems to reserve judgement. He sighs and picks up his helmet. “Well, thanks for looking into the stock purchases. Do what you’re comfortable with that you don’t think will get noticed.”

She looks back at him and smirks. “Paul, this is kinda my thing.”

Paul swings onto the bike. “Right, but I really don’t want Marcus knowing.”

Her face falls again and her eyes flick briefly to the shadows around them. “This guy is capable of anything, Paul, I can’t guarantee he won’t.”

#

ACCIO’S FLEET

Meanwhile, I am still wandering Accio’s cruise liner with another vampire who (because of a quick act of Domination) looks almost, but not entirely, unlike Anstis. He sure smells like Anstis, though; a reeking cloud of rot and the sea follows us down the corridors. After a few minutes, of this, I squeeze past him to walk ahead.

As I peer ahead past a bulkhead, Not-Anstis uses this moment to try his stone ritual to search for Accio: Close at hand before the door in the ocean.

(Jim: “The door in the ocean?”
Jason: “Yes.”
Jim: “Huh. Does that mean anything to Anstis?”
Jason: “No.”
Me: “Well, I have heard a boat described as, ‘A hole in the water into which you throw money.’”)

Not-Anstis looks down a nearby side corridor leading to the observation box of the arena we just escaped from. “This way!” he barks and strides down it. The great room is empty, but this was the last place either of us saw Accio, so we fan out to look for clues, eventually winding up back on the sandy arena floor.

As we circle, Not-Anstis feels a strange bouncing under his feet at the center of the space. He sweeps the sand away and finds that one of the metal deck panels is slightly ajar. We lift it off and discover a hatch door underneath. Opening that reveals a laddered-tube leading down a few yards, ending in  some sort of small, dark room filled with instruments. Anxiety starts to boil up within me.

“What is this?” Not-Anstis asks.

(Me: “Do I know what it is?”
Jason: “Roll Intelligence-Science.”
Me: “Um…one success.”
Jason: “It’s…one of those dive-y things.”)

“It’s one of those dive-y things,” I say. Not-Anstis still stares at me blankly. “It’s…like a mini-sub. It has it’s own air supply, you can use it for deepwater exploration and stuff.”

(Me: “James Cameron doesn’t do what James Cameron does for James Cameron. James Cameron does what James Cameron does because he’s James Cameron.”)

Not-Anstis climbs down and squeezes into one of the two seats. He glances briefly at the ranks of dials around him, then out the reinforced port windows. The hull of the cruise ship hovers overhead like a storm cloud, but off in the distance, a small light source glitters, deep in the water and heading deeper.

He glares up the tube at me. “Are you coming?”

I shuffle in the sand. “Um, I’m not that much of a swimmer, so getting in the middle of something floating in the middle of the ocean isn’t exactly appealing to me—”

He points to the window I can’t see. “There may be another one. I think we should give chase.”

I glance around, desperately looking for any excuse not to climb into a dark tube leading to abyssal depths where ancient vampires, and worse, are probably waiting for us. “Well, I still gotta find my gun, so—“

(Jason: “You hear sounds of people approaching.”)

“—Son of a bitch.” I make sure all my gear is secured—and the scepter tucked safely under my shirt—then climb down the ladder to join him in the floating coffin mini-sub.

(Jason: “It’s a very tight fit in the bathysphere.”
Me: “Urg. And he smells bad.”
Jason: “Yep. And you’re a big guy.”
Jim: “And so am I.”
Jason: “And so is he. It’s almost comedic. You vaguely hear a sitcom theme playing.”
Me: “IT TAKES A LOT TO MAKE A STEW! A PINCH OF SALT AND LAUGHTER TOO—“)

“Do you know how to sail this?” Not-Anstis asks, poking at some of the dials.

“Hell no, I can barely operate my vacuum,” I say, awkwardly trying to untangle one of my bandoliers from around my neck.

(Jim: “I examine the controls. Do they make any bit of sense?”
Jason: “Intelligence-Technology, difficulty nine.”
Jim: *rolls* “TWO successes!!”
Jason: “HOLY SHIT!! I…guess the Tremere you ate was a fan of Jacques Cousteau?”
Me: “What’d he get?”
Jason: “He got a nine, a seven, and a ten!”)

Not-Anstis hits a few switches. The door above us slams closed and seals with a hiss. There’s a gurgling sound, then a jolt and brief sensation of floating as the mini-sub breaks free. I grab onto the ceiling and brace myself tightly. Not-Anstis hit a few more controls, then grabs onto a joystick-looking thing. The hull of the liner sweeps past the windows as the sub turns, then disappears as we plunge into the depths.

Not-Anstis focuses on the controls, while I focus on the distant point of flickering light ahead of us, trying not to think of the weight crushing in around us, or the darkness swallowing us as easily as it swallows the ambient light. After a few minutes of descent, though, the darkness disgorges something instead.

It’s depth incarnate, a matte hull like solidified shadow coalescing out of the gloom. Sleek as a shark but large as a leviathan, it looms in front of us, utterly featureless but for a chipped name stenciled across the bow.

USS Thresher
SSN-593

I peer out one of the portholes, watching our approach. I’ve seen photos and videos of modern submarines, of course, usually docked or sailing at the surface. Secretly, I’ve always thought they look kind of ridiculous, wallowing in the waves like pregnant whales. Now, though, nose pressed against the cold glass, I realize that a sub at the surface is about as useful as a seal on land. This is their natural environment, the eternal dark, and there is nothing ridiculous about any of it.

I glance over at Not-Anstis, not sure what I expect to see, but not sure I like what I do: a look as calculating and predatory as the ship in front of us.

We see now that the lights we were following are from another mini-sub, now docked at the top of the conning tower. We circle a few yards away, evaluating our approach, when suddenly the mini-sub shakes and a deep tone echoes down to our bones.

“What is that?” Not-Anstis asks, glancing around.

“They’re tracking us.” I glance over. “Sonar. It’s…a way for them to sense us through the water.” Another ping rocks our vessel.

He grabs the controls. “Then we must get aboard immediately.”

Easier said than done. It appears that the other mini-sub has attached to the hatch at the top of the tower. Not-Anstis notices, though, that the mini-sub has a hatch on its own top side and suggests docking with it and climbing through to reach the sub. I am hesitant, but as we talk, a new, deeper rumbling starts up and the Thresher starts to move. We glance at each other, then Not-Anstis arrows in for the double-dock.

(Jim: *rolls*
Jason: “…Double. Botch.”
Jim: “It had to happen sooner or later!”
Me: “Yeah, it’s been awhile.”
Jason: “So, I have bad news and I have worse news.”
Jim: “Oh, let’s go with the bad news!”
Jason: “The bad news is, CRUNCH. The worse news? The crunch wasn’t the other bathysphere.”)

We slam into the top of the other mini-sub, knocking it off the conning tower. A soul-chilling groan of metal rocks us like the sonar ping, and then our vessel implodes.

(Jason: “You’re not so deep down as to be, like, detonated, and vampires are immensely resistant to pressure, but this is a violent decompression. …Or, rather, a violent pressurization.”)

Water swamps us in milliseconds. I gasp and choke instinctively, buffeted by pressures and chunks of metal, then our mini-sub cracks like an egg, dumping us into the abyss.

(Me: “…This is why I didn’t want to come.”)

We tumble through the water, lost in the cold and the dark and the rumble of the Thresher’s engines. Not-Anstis orients first, spotting the conning tower sliding away from us. He grabs on, then grabs me and pulls me over. The current tugs at us as the sub picks up speed, but we grip the hatch wheel and start wrenching at it with all our supernatural strength. It finally gives in a burst of bubbles, and we lever it up and climb into the airlock. Water floods in and the pressure slams the hatch closed behind us.

(Jason: “Alright, you’re in an airlock. That’s filled with water.”
Me: “Is there an obvious button to clear it or something?”
Jason: “No, not that you see.”
Jim: “Well, let’s go after the other door!”
Jason: “I mean, there’s only an airlock’s worth of water here, so if you open it you’ll just drench whatever’s inside.”
Me: “Well, they’re not gonna like that.”
Jason: “Well, they’re not gonna like a lot of things that happen in the next two minutes.”)

Element of surprise gone at this point, we have to move fast. Anstis braces himself to wrench the next door open, but this one isn’t locked. Thus, he overshoots. The door flies open, unbalancing him, and he slips and falls through the hatch, face-planting in the middle of the command center in a cascade of water. Men stationed around the room at screens and consoles stop what they’re doing, stare at him, then turn to stare up at me, peering down through the hatch.

(Me: “…Celerity.”
Jim: “Don’t you have the ability to, like, use Presence? Ever? Brujah?
Me: “Oh, yeah. Well Paul started using it and then Presence was over.”
Chris: “That’s ok, Tom killed critical thinking.”
Jason: “So are you going to Celerity or are you going to Presence?”
Me: “What would I do with Presence? I’m going to try and attack them anyway. They’re Accio’s guys, they’re going to have to die. Why would I waste time trying to get them to calm down? They’re not going to stay calm for very long….”
Jason: “…I’m beginning to see what you mean, Chris.”)

I draw my sword and drop through the hatch. The man nearest me is gashed open instantly, followed by the man behind him as I continue the strike around for a slash across the face. For a moment, I lose myself in the rhythm of the thing, movements fluid as a dance. Another man is behind me, and rather than turning I flip my sword and jab it backwards, gutting him and moving on before his blood even falls. Through my trance, I see a fourth man start to get up from his chair, glacially slow. I impale him in one strike, then kick him back to bleed out on his console.

I stop just as the bodies are hitting the floor. Anstis next to me is scrambling to his feet and lunges at another man. I follow his lead, aiming at a fifth target, and the man has just enough time to stumble back and shoot me uselessly in the chest before I take him down.

The last man in the control center stares in horror, then scrambles through the aft hatch. I sit up, wiping blood off my face as he disappears down the corridor. “Good!” I shout, “Let them know we’re here!”

“We probably shouldn’t murder the entire crew,” Anstis grumbles as he stands up. “We need them to operate this ship.”

(Jason: “…He says after murdering seven people in the CIC!”)

I shake blood off my sword and grimace at the gore around me. “Well, they are the bad guys. But fine. Lead the way, Captain.”

Anstis heads forward first. We enter some sort of machinery room, stinking of sweat and living breath, which also has a number of crewmen in it. They look up as we enter. I tense, ready to drop my shit again, but something makes me hesitate. The men stare at us—two vampires armed and covered in blood—but don’t react at all. After a few moments, most turn back to their stations and continue working.

Anstis growls and slashes at the nearest crewman with his claws, tearing him to ribbons. The man gurgles once and falls dead. None of the other men look up. The one nearest the dead man actually steps over him and takes over working at his station, without so much as a glance in our direction.

I take a step back. “What happened to not killing the crew!?” But Anstis ignores me, grabbing the next man and staring into his eyes. “Tell me about Accio,” he commands. The man stares blankly, mutters something in what might be Portuguese, then turns back to the console and continues working.

A realization creeps up me, icy as the water outside, as I stare at the blank-faced men. They might be dressed in fatigues, but these men are slaves, helpless as the “herd” of people I was so disgusted to find on Accio’s ship. I whirl and stare at the bodies behind me, the ones I gutted and drained so casually. One of them fought back, yeah, and one ran away, but how many of the rest would have just stared passively after I dropped in on them like an angel of death, standing aside at a simple command….

Anstis sneers and turns away. “Keep moving, clear the ship,” he says as he moves forward. I stare a long moment at the men working, then carefully sheathe my sword and follow him.

We’re close to the front of the boat, so it’s not long before we reach the forward torpedo room. More men are puttering like drones, ignoring us as we enter. We look around a moment, staring carefully at the shadows, but they all stay firmly in place. Anstis nods at me and we turn to head toward the rear.

Only to find Accio’s Lasombra lieutenant standing in the doorway, one hand on the hatch. He smiles at us with the same haughty grin he used right before he dropped the belt of grenades. He moves to close the door. Not-Anstis moves to lunge at him…but I hold out a hand to stop him.

The door slams closed, the bang echoing through the room. The wheel of the hatch spins and I hear the clink of locks. Not-Antis growls, but I saunter up to the door calmly….

…And jab my sword straight through.

A flash bleaches the room. Anstis and I panic at the supernova intensity, crashing past the workmen to tangle up in the tubes on the far side of the room. After a few moments, we regain our senses and turn back. The sword is embedded in the inches-thick solid steel door, almost to the hilt, hissing and spitting and shining like a sliver of the sun.

(Me: “Didn’t it do that when I shoved it through the glass at Cal Academy?”
Jason: “This is worse. You wouldn’t know this, but the sword turned into thermite.”)

I carefully approach and draw the sword out. Molten metal drips off like blood, and the temperature in the room increases noticeably. I glance through the hole, but there’s no sign of the Lasombra. I look down at the sword, though, and grin.

“Let’s go,” I say and start slicing a passageway open.

#

ALTAMONT RACEWAY

Paul’s bike pulls up at the gate of the Altamont Raceway. The place has been permanently closed for years now, and the chainlink fence is locked with heavy chain. Paul pulls up closely and peers through. The stands are dark and dirty and the center oval is overgrown, but he sees a shape lurking in the center, above the weeds. He parks the bike and climbs the fence to enter the darkened park.

As he approaches the oval, he notices that the lump in the center seems to be a coach, like an antique stage-coach, but half-buried up in earth like a bunker. He walks up to it and paces around it, but no one comes out. He calls hello and even knocks tentatively on the door, but still no response, just the breeze through the heavy velvet curtains.

Suddenly he hears a noise in the distance, at the other end of the oval. A sharp, hollow percussion, like…hoofbeats. He comes around the coach to see.

It is a horse, in fact it’s two, approaching through the gloom. Paul eyes them warily. Both have riders, but one horse is significantly bigger than the other. The smaller horse is dark, but the lighter horse is white and covered in armor and drapery like some sort of medieval jousting horse. Both riders are of equal size and too shadowed to make out, but based on their scale, it’s clear that the small horse isn’t small, but, rather, the large horse is giant.

The white horse stops while the other continues approaching at an even pace. It pulls up next to Paul with a jingle of tack and muffled sneeze. Paul looks up. The rider, looking more at home than in perhaps any situation Paul has seen him in yet, is Doc.

Doc tips his hat. “Mr. Stewart.”

Paul smiles slightly and nods back. “Doc. Nice night for a ride?”

Doc takes a breath and stretches against the stirrups. “Oh a fine night, I should say. Course, there are those that would say any night that you are capable of riding is a fine one. And how are you faring, sir? How do you find your rides in these nights?”

Paul’s smile drops. He looks around the track, as if looking for where to start. “Well, since we last spoke, I managed to schedule a poetry battle with a vampire named Helgi—“

Doc starts laughing, and in the distance the other rider laughs too. “A poetry battle? With Helgi Isarnbjorn? You have an incredible knack, sir, for finding the heart of an argument to your favor or disfavor. You have chosen, sir, the most perfect gangrel to engage in poetry with. I have not met him myself but I have heard stories told.”

Paul sighs. “Well that’s…I guess that’s good.”

“And where are you to engage in such endeavors?”

“Alameda. It appears the now-former Prince of Oakland and her staff managed to get themselves in a little situation. I am poetry battling for their lives. Or unlives.”

Doc leans forward on the saddle-horn. “Interesting stakes, Mr. Stewart. I was not aware that you were attached in any regard to the Prince of Oakland, nor to her staff. There are those who say uncomplimentary things about her. I have heard rumors she disposed of her predecessor.”

“I’ve heard the same,” Paul says seriously. “I’ve also heard she keeps heckling the residents of Oakland.”

“I believe she did, until she found it unprofitable to continue, at which point she may have been too late.” Doc shrugs. “If one would stomp upon an anthill, one must expect to get stung.”

“I would agree with that, but it seemed wrong not to help when I had so little to lose.”

Doc raises an eyebrow. “And what have you to gain?”

“Well, hopefully some thankful friends.” Paul pauses. “Although if they’re not very level headed then it remains to be seen if it’s to my benefit.”

“It is my understanding, Mr. Stewart, that you have some experience with un-levelheaded friends.”

“I’ve met a few.”

“So it would appear.” Doc smirks. “You deal with Malkavians and Brujah. If you enter the madhouse, you must expect to encounter the mad. Course your clan isn’t exactly known for their absolute fidelity to logic. Nor are any men in these nights that are so crazed.” Doc chuckles and pats the neck of his horse. “Life was simpler once.”

Paul frowns at the mention of Brujah. “Speaking of, a funny thing happened while heading to Alameda. There was a checkpoint, manned by two of Helgi’s men. Brujah. They seemed to want to give me some trouble.”

“And did they?”

“No. I, ah, pointed out their shoes were untied.”

“And were they?”

“No, they were wearing motorcycle boots.”

Doc laughs again, as does the rider. “Well, I imagine this did not endear yourself to them, and I also imagine this may come back to—if you forgive the pun—bite you. The Brujah are not known for abandoning their feuds. I have known some still sore over the fate of Carthage.”

“Yes, I imagine that’s true.” Paul’s gaze slides past him to the other man still lurking in the distance. “I cant help but notice your riding companion has a fairly unique mount.”

Leather creaks as Doc twists in the saddle to look. He turns back and nods seriously. “My companion here is the man I spoke to you of. The man I thought it might be profitable for you to meet. Although, I confess, he is a quiet sort. He prefers to listen and wait before he decides if one is worth speaking to. As to his mount…” Doc smiles again. “He is I believe a work of some time and effort. Akin, I would believe, to certain other animals of exceptional size with which you may have become familiar? One can do more than merely make a symbol. One can do considerably more.”

Doc dismounts, keeping the reins in his fist, and approaches Paul, shadowed face serious again. “You have come here in the middle of the night, with no witnesses about. May I ask, Mr. Stewart, what are your purposes?”

“You had mentioned to me a sort of spiritual quest.”

“We spoke of the Suspire, yes. The Suspire is a complicated item. I have known those who have ventured upon it. I have not done so myself. But one who is interested must first be ready to embark. Such preparation can require a minute, or ten thousand years. It all depends on a great many things, but the core of it may be what your purpose is.” He peers into Paul’s face closely. “For what reason do you seek a Suspire? It is not recommended to everyone.”

Paul stares at the man in the distance a moment before answering. “Well I have to admit my understanding of it is fairly incomplete so far, but the incident that led us into this conversation was a conversation between me and another element of myself, I suppose….”

“Your Beast.” Doc nods once. “Few men speak to their own Beast, and even fewer resolve he matter in manners other than gunplay.”

“In any case, I’ve thought myself a spiritual person all my life, though I can’t say I’ve been terribly successful.”

“There are those, Mr. Stewart, who would say that your spirit is dead. You are a walking corpse animated by dark magics that still thinks it is a person. You wear the shreds of humanity over a raging inferno that is content to let you continue to control it until such time as it decides otherwise.”

“There are those who say that. I am not one of them,” Paul says flatly.

“You are also not particularly advanced in age, by our kind. Neither am I. “

“Also true. I don’t intend to become very advanced in age, though.”

Doc stares a moment, coiling the reins in his hands. “What we intend to have happen and what happens is not always the same thing. You did not intend to be undead. Nor to make an enemy of Andre Roussimov. Or the acquaintance of a Roman child with a predilection for vengeance.”

Paul sighs. “Yeah, that one came way out of nowhere—“

“All these things happened despite your intention. What do you now intend?”

“Change the world,” Paul says without a trace of irony.

“Many men change the world, most of them for the worse,” Doc chastises.

“Well, I’ll let the world judge that.”

“Then you are unconcerned with whether or not you’ll be one of those men?”

“I think it’s the privilege of everyone coming after me to judge my actions,” Paul says.

Doc nods slowly. “You’ll find they will, and you will not like the majority of their judgements.”

“That might be, but I decided I have a small time allotted to me, I don’t want to do nothing with it. I was lucky enough to found a company that became huge in a number of ways, never expected it to grow the way it did. It’s been fantastic to me, and now I’m placed in a situation where I can change things, as far as I can tell, for the better.”

A moment stretches between them, the only sound the jingling of Doc’s horse shifting weight. “You refer to the light,” Doc says finally.

Paul nods once. “I do.”

Doc regards him again before continuing. “The question is what you propose to do with it. There are those who would say that you intend to flood the world with sunlight for some nefarious purposes. Incinerate us all. Perhaps it’s nothing to do with that. Perhaps you simply want to make a great deal of money. Or some grand crusade to save the Earth.”

“I want to leave something that is worth doing.”

“And why is this something worth doing? Sunlight is not an unavailable resource.”

Paul sighs and looks around the darkened raceway again, at the abandoned bleachers and fading concrete. He glances briefly at the other rider in the distance before continuing. “Light is our world. We see things, we’re a visual people. You take that away, and what were left with isn’t nothing, but it’s less. Less than what it could be. Right now, we burn coal, and oil, and play with nuclear isotopes, all to turn it into light, and foul the air in the process. And it’s all unnecessary, it’s all more complicated than it needs to be.”

“And yet light is more complicated than it needs to be, particularly for our kind, Mr. Stewart. It is not merely some means by which we see each other, it is a weapon. We cursed by some say god to abhor it.”

“Some say. I can’t say if theres any truth to that. But moonlight doesn’t hurt us, and well-lit living room is not that much brighter than the full moon.” Paul suddenly draws himself up, his voice taking on a “company keynote address” authority. “Sunlight during the day is roughly 15,000 watts per square meter. We can light a room pleasantly with under 500 watts, a decrease by a factor of over 3,000. I was able to hold my hand in the light for a few seconds. 3,000 times that is more than an hour.” He pauses. “Assuming it works linearly.”

(I would just like to note the irony that we spent so much time discussing the specifics of household lighting when, at this time in real life, San Francisco was stumbling through a blackout and we were playing our game by candlelight.)

Doc shakes his head and chuckles. “You have an unshakable faith in mathematics and your calculations. You have seen things that cannot be explained by your understanding of physics or science, and yet you go on assuming that all of it must work.”

“Well, it’s incredibly unproductive to assume the opposite. I’ve seen things I cannot necessarily explain, but that does not mean they can’t be explained,” Paul says.

“There is sometimes a need to look beyond what is knowable, into what is not.” Doc gestures with the loop of reins. “Your worldview does not permit things to be unknow-able, only unknown.”

“Maybe. But where do we get our ideas for the future? That is someplace no-one really knows, and yet we can make imagination a reality. I don’t need to explain the world in order to appreciate it, and the fact that I cant explain that doesn’t mean that I cant explain anything.” Paul shrugs. “But the numbers aren’t worth as much as the idea.

Doc watches Paul a moment, then looks to other man. The man doesn’t acknowledge him, but slowly he rides through the grass. Doc leads his horse away a few feet as the other approaches. The white horse is imposingly large, hooves the size of dinner plates, higher at the shoulder than Paul is tall. It’s breath is like steam, washing over Paul as it stops, and under the armor, he can see its eyes glowing red.

Unlike his mount, the rider is prosaically unadorned. He’s wearing a sword, but is otherwise unarmed, and his clothes are an antique-style suit in simple black. He’s middle-aged, with dark hair and a goatee. Small round sunglasses  shift down his nose as he looks at Paul.

“You are a strange man, Paul Stewart,” the man says, voice clear but laced with an Eastern European accent.

Paul tears his gaze from the burning eyes of the horse and shrugs. “Been called worse than that.”

“I imagine.” The man shifts his sunglasses. “You have known Andre Roussimov.”

“Met him once or twice. Briefly,” Paul says flatly.

“You are perhaps the last man he ever met. You incinerated him with your light weapon. The one that you claim is so harmless to us.”

“A special arrangement of it yes,” Paul says carefully.

The man tilts his head. “A gun is a special arrangement of powders and lead. A sword is a special arrangement of steel. A weapon is still a weapon.”

“Yet steel has other uses, as do most of the chemicals in a gun.”

The man chuckles. “Ah, but sunlight, where a vampire is concerned, does not.”

“Not so far,” Paul says flatly.

The man grins wider. “You will find one? And what will that be? We do not, as you say, tan very well.”

“No, but I think we appreciate the convenience of indoor lighting.”

“We have indoor lighting. It is one of the miracles of the modern world,” the man says, gesturing at the dead floodlights above the field.

“And how often do we notice it and think how it arrives?”

“Never.” He chuckles again. “We are kindred, we live forever and we think only of the moment. But I suspect if it causes their eyeballs to catch fire, they will notice.”

If it causes their eyeballs to catch fire,” Paul says.

“It will if they are us. Someone will wish to arrange the steel or the powders or the lead or the light into a special arrangement.”

The man leans back and peers up at the sky, stars half obscured by high clouds. “We once worshipped the sun as god, but now it is merely the vessel by which god punishes us. You would harness the sun then? Yoke it. Is that not somewhat blasphemous? If it is a curse from god, would this not spit in his face?”

“If it’s a curse from god. But I have faith that if god wants something to be, it’ll be. And if he doesn’t want something to be, it wont.” Paul shrugs. “If you’re the religious type.”

“Sooner or later everyone is the religious type. Most of us try and discard faiths. Christ. Pagans. Science. All credulity.” He gestures wide, taking in Paul, Doc, and the behemoth underneath him. “And yet, in your short time, having seen the proof that many of the things you held to be absolute truths are incorrect, you would carry on with this?”

“I would. If I’m proven wrong, I’m proven wrong.”

The man leans forward, hovering over Paul like a preacher in a raised pulpit. “If you’re proven wrong you may well be dead, reduced to ashes or assassinated by someone who has a better idea of what he can do with your sun.”

“The technology was there, it was ready. If I don’t deliver it someone else will, and I’d rather be the one to deliver it. And id rather not die for it, but I’m willing to.”

“Then I have one more question in that regard.” He holds up a leather-gloved finger. “This sunlight has only existed a short time and in that time you have so far not used it to save any lives or reduce any carbon. It has been used once, and only once, to kill someone, and that was to incinerate your enemies. You are literally the only person who has used this light to kill someone, and yet you are the right person to release it upon the world? Not to seem ungrateful or rude, but why should I trust you?”

Paul frowns and thinks a few moments before answering. “I’m not going to say you shouldn’t, cause you should. As to the why of it…we live in amazing times. were always going to make new things. It’s what we do. And if its not light, it’ll be something else.”

“My experience, which is substantial, has been that we generally make new things when it comes time to find a better way to kill one another.”

Anger flashes briefly across Paul’s face. “My company was built to make it easier to send messages, to and from any device.”

“And the greatest war in the history of man is what sent us to the moon. We entered the second World War with biplanes and left it with missiles.”

Paul throws out an arm. “And since then we have found non-violent uses for many of those things. Even nuclear power was developed as a weapon, but we use it every day for many other purposes. And though we’ve been afraid of it for a long time, we haven’t had a nuclear war. Maybe light will be the same way!”

The man looks at Doc a moment, then turns back. “Please do not misunderstand me, Mr. Stewart. I do not begrudge you using the light to destroy Andre Roussimov. I will not tell you he was a good or a bad person, you know what he was. He was…what he must be, and would have met his end somewhere. I have done a great many things in my time. Some of them…not polite, but I lived through impolite times. You have also lived through impolite times. You may not reckon them as such, but I have the perspective. Ultimately it is not a question of what you or others do or do not do with the light. As you say, the light has been created and cannot be uncreated. It is more a question of you. Why you created it, why you persisted in creating it.”

Paul sighs. “Well the initial development was simply a way of moving energy and information—“

“But when you became a Kindred I believe it had another purpose.”

Paul hesitates. “…It did. I wanted to use it as a weapon.”

“Not merely a weapon. You wanted to kill us all. Purge us from the world. Why don’t you anymore? You have encountered nothing from Kindred thus far except violence, death, and machinations.” He regards Paul a moment as his horse shifts weight under him. “When you were alive, did you kill anyone?”

“No,” Paul says firmly.

“And in the last few months?”

Paul hesitates. “A disturbing number of people. Less than one hand, and I hope it stays that way.”

“That may or may not be so. And what made you decide vampire society is no longer worth purging by light?”

There’s a long pause before Paul responds. “It’s not worth the effort to me anymore. It doesn’t interest me. It’s boring. Kindred have been around for thousands of years, and if there’s too many of them, it seems the world finds another way to keep them in check. The effort involved in exterminating every last kindred seems less rewarding than the original plan of lighting up every house with cheap, renewable energy.”

“And if the Gehenna cults and the Sabbat are correct and there are antediluvian blood gods waiting to awaken?”

Paul chuffs condescendingly and shakes his head. “They’ve been waiting thousands of years, they can wait a few thousand more. Every apocalypse cult says the world is going to end at some time, and when it doesn’t happen, they say why its going to end at some other time. I am sure you have a lot more perspective on that matter than I do.”

The man nods once. “I have lived through my share of apocalypses, but I have also encountered the fact that they only need to be right once.”

“Have they been right once so far?”

“No.”

Paul smiles lightly. “Then odds aren’t with them.”

The man regards Paul a long moment. “Perhaps. I think I should introduce myself in a more proper fashion.” He dismounts and slides off the horse, dropping from the height with surprising grace. He doesn’t bring the reins with him, and once he’s down the horse backs up a few paces on its own. “My name is Wladislaw,” he says with a slight bow, pronouncing the W’s like V’s. “I have had other names in my time, but Wladislaw is the one that I keep. Some of these names I think you would know, but that is not relevant. My compatriot here said you would wish to speak of Suspires, that you knew what they were before you even knew the term.”

Paul glances at Doc, watching them, expression hidden by the shadows of his hat. “Apparently,” Paul says.

“A Suspire is not a laughing matter. Nor is it some new age quest for enlightenment, with drums and drugs.” Wladislaw snorts and straightens his jacket. “A Suspire is an exceptionally dangerous process. It is a challenge with yourself. You win or you die, or become something far worse than dead. Have you ever seen a wight, Mr. Stewart.”

“I haven’t, but I think I’ve heard the term….”

“A wight is a Beast. Nothing more. The same that is within all of us, though it has devoured the rest of what it was. There is no returning from being a wight. None. Not the most powerful Kindred or Mages or Garou or any other thing can restore a wight to what it was once. It is no longer.” He pauses, face serious. “Fail a Suspire and that is you. Unquestionably and without exception. And almost everyone who engages in a Suspire comes out that way. Those who do not die on the spot. Do not imagine it as some great quest against a dragon, sword in your hand. It has nothing to do with such things. It is a matter of are you or are you not capable of mastering yourself. The vast majority of men are not, and most who think they are are the least likely to.”

Paul nods seriously. “Those are high stakes.”

“They are the highest. It does not destroy you, it destroys your very soul. But…” Wladislaw holds up a finger again. “To those who succeed, they may find that certain absolutes that are assumed true are as ephemeral as those that were assumed so before we died.” He ticks off more fingers. “The need for blood is omnipresent, the Beast is always waiting, the sun will burn us to ash. Nothing can stop those things…seemingly.”

Paul watches him a moment. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“What do you think I am saying?”

“That the, ah, rather dramatically-termed ‘curse’ can be circumvented? Or overcome?”

“Overcome? No. That is impossible. But then,” he smirks, “So are we.”

Paul’s eyes narrow. “Quite.”

“It’s not a matter of learning technique, or discipline. It is a matter of self-mastery of the purest source. Ten thousand years can be spent in quest of this and still not succeed. And the slightest slip in those ten thousand years can throw you down into a hell from which there is no escape.”

Paul glances at Doc. “High stakes, but it sounds like maybe also high reward,” Paul says. A smile flashes briefly across Doc’s face.

“You will find,” Wladislaw continues, “If you find it at all, that it is not a matter of reward. There is no judge at the end handing things down to you as a prize. It is simply the capacity to be one thing and then to decide to be another. There is nothing more difficult in the world.”

“And maybe nothing more satisfying, to be what we want to be. The best us we can imagine,” Paul says.

“Maybe so. Given everything else that has been going on in this place, is this really the time? Or is there no better?”

“Well, it sounds like some people have prepared a very long time and met the same fate as those who prepared not at all, so it doesn’t sound like this is something you can prepare for.” Paul stares off a moment, toward the eastern horizon. “What’s involved?” he asks carefully.

There’s a long pause, no sound but the breaths of the horses, then Wladislaw smiles. “I think it best I show you.”

#

THE USS THRESHER

I finish cutting a hole through the hatch and kick it through into the next room. I step through, still holding the sword, bright as a lightsaber. All my vampire instincts are screaming at me to drop the burning thing and run, but all my human instincts are telling me this is the coolest shit to happen to me yet and to not let go for anything.

(Jim: “…I give Tom some space.”)

Not-Anstis and I storm back through the ship, through the workrooms and the CIC, and into the tail end of the sub. We pass more sailors and workmen, all ignoring us, but there’s no sign of other vampires. Once we clear this deck, we cautiously make our way down a ladder to the next.

We drop onto a walkway encircling a line of pillars, two-decks high, stretching in a line down the middle of an open space. We make our way quietly down the catwalk, peering over the railing to the lower deck, searching. I also keep an eye on the walkway on the far side of the room, disappearing and reappearing behind the pillars as we pass.

Three pillars pass, and suddenly Accio’s lieutenant is there, grinning at us across the open drop.

And, in his hands, braced against the railing, is Vera.

I stop. “You motherfu—“

Concussive shocks and sound rock the room as he opens fire. I leap behind one of the pillars, and behind me Not-Anstis does the same.

(Me: “…Wait, he’s opening fire inside the submarine? With a 50-cal?”
Jason: “Mmmhmm.”
Me: “Isn’t that dangerous!?”
Jason: “Mmmhmm.”)

Not-Anstis peers carefully around the pillar. “Put down the weapon and come over he—“ He cuts off as the Lasombra turns the gun on him.

(Jason: “So here’s the thing. He’s using frangible rounds.”
Me: “Oooooh….”
Jim: “What?”
Jason: “They shatter upon impact. They don’t pierce tremendously well, but they do horrific things to anything they hit that isn’t armored. And they hit you.”)

Not-Anstis is thrown against the far wall, shrapnel and mists of blood exploding all over him. He fights his way back up and leaps at the railing, throwing himself toward the other catwalk…and misses, crashing a full story down to the deck below. The Lasombra yells in triumph and angles Vera down, shooting at the now completely exposed pirate. A few rounds hit him in the head, spraying more blood and viscera into the air and knocking him out cold.

I peer around the far side of my pillar. The Lasombra is focused on Not-Anstis, grinning sickly. The space between the catwalks is a good ten or fifteen feet. If I miss, I’ll join Not-Anstis in the shooting gallery below.

My grip on my sword tightens. But that fucker has my gun….

(Me: “This isn’t direct combat right?”
Jason: “Yeah.”
Me: “Then Daredevil!!!
*Note: I have had this merit the entire game but since it cant be used in combat, I haven’t used it once.*
Jim: “It’s about time!”
Jason: “Ok, what is that, plus three dice?”
Me: “No! Minus three to difficulty!”
Jason: “Oh shit!”
Jim: “Yeah! It’s situational—“
Jason: “—But really fucking good!”)

With Not-Anstis down, the Lasombra stops shooting and starts looking for me, turning just in time to see me land on the catwalk in front of him in an Ironman pose, my still-glowing sword clutched tightly in my free-hand.

The Lasombra yells and scrambles back, then he and Vera dissolve into darkness, dripping through the open grid of the walkway to collect on the deck below. I slash at the last few trails. They instantly evaporate, and the sword changes, shifting down to plain old fire.

(Me: “Meh, still fun.”)

I lever over the railing and drop to the lower deck, slashing at the spreading darkness as I fall. More chunks disappear, and by the time I land the shadow has coalesced back into the Lasombra again, Vera slung against his back, gripping Not-Anstis’s body like a shield. I freeze, calculating my next attack. He sneers, then lunges toward Not-Anstis’s throat—

(Jason: “By the way, Jim, I wouldn’t want to lecture or anything, but…don’t you have blood?”
Jim: “I do!”
Jason: “Okay…You can heal while incapacitated!”)

Not-Anstis’s eyes snap open. The chunks missing from his face start to fill in, but before they do, in one motion, he wrenches out of the Lasombra’s grip, grabs a stake from his coat, and shoves it into him. The man staggers back, then drops to the deck, paralyzed.

I stop. Not-Anstis looks at me, grins, then falls on him.

(Jason: “Is he biting him, or are you?”
Me: “Well, my rule for Tom is that he finds the idea of diablerie…distasteful—“
Jason: “Ha!”
Me: “—Unless it’s personal. I mean, he’s mad that this guy took Vera but that’s not personal enough.”
Jason: “Have you diablerized anyone yet?”
Me: “No! I’m the only one who hasn’t!”
Jim: “This is my third!
Me: “Shit, really?”
Jim: “Yep! Two in the past week!”
Jason: “Then guess who’s got a new flaw! You, sir, are now an Addicted Diablerist.”)

I watch Not-Anstis carefully as I approach to grab Vera, sliding her out from under the Lasombra’s corpse. And corpse is right; as I watch, his skin gets paler, and thinner, and then starts to crumple like ash. Not-Anstis doesn’t notice, or react to my presence, lost in the apparently rapturous sensations of what he’s doing.

I collect Vera and back up hurriedly. I’ve heard about diablerie during my two decades of being a vampire, but I’ve never seen it first-hand before. Not surprisingly, since it’s supposed to be illegal, but I’ve long suspected that doesn’t stop most. I’ve toyed with the notion once or twice myself, but even in the abstract it unsettles me. I’m not a religious man—my father’s dickitude pretty much beat out any chance of that happening—but still, if there is a soul, the idea of destroying it, consuming it, seems…too much.

Well, except for some people. For some it might not be enough.

I turn away from Not-Anstis, kneeling to check over Vera and count out the remainder of the frangible rounds. I don’t look back till I hear Not-Anstis getting up.

(*Jason and Jim spend a couple minutes going over his new upgrades and temporary buffs*
Jason: “Now, I know what you want. But do you get it…?”
Jim: “Lol, what? I don’t know what you mean.…”
Me: *stage whisper* “No!”
Jason: “Let’s find out…*rolls a die, checks it secretly*…No. Sorry! No Obtenebration for you!”
Jim: “Dammit!”
Jason: “Well, you got a lot of other shit, plus a generation drop.”
Me: “Thank god. I don’t care about the generation, I don’t care about the larger blood pool, I just really don’t want you to get Obten before me.”
Jason: “And where are you getting it, if you don’t diablerize people?”
Me: “I don’t know. I really don’t. But I’m going to figure it out!”)

Not-Anstis stumbles to his feet over a crumbling skeleton, eyes literally wild. I freeze, reaching carefully for my sword. His skin now has a sickly grey pallor to match his creepy tentacle beard (though technically I don’t see that, since I still don’t perceive him as Anstis). He looks at me and growls—a sick, wet gurgling sound—and hunger fills his eyes.

(Jim: “…This character is turning into a monster.”
Jason: “….NO!?!?”)

I draw my sword—still flaming—closer, and stare right back.

Finally, he breaks contact and stares around. “Let’s find Accio,” he growls.

I hesitate another moment, then sling Vera and stand up. “Lead the way, Captain,” I say, stressing the last word ironically.

He brushes past me, heading to the back of the room. “Good, because I know where he is.”

“Do you?” shouts a voice above us. We turn and look up.

Accio steps out of shadows on the catwalk. He grips the railing and glares down at us. “You two are becoming tiresome. You storm my ship with a handful of trinkets and you think you can best me? Well, your trinkets can’t compare with mine.”

Accio reaches into his coat and pulls out something that, I sweartogod, looks like the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, jewels and all. He sneers, flicks it at us, then melts back into the shadows of the wall.

I stare at the glittering thing as it flies through the air, too bewildered to react. Not-Anstis, though, kicks it away as it hits the ground. It bounces a few yards, rolls to a lopsided stop, then explodes into pure darkness that fills the entire room.

I curse and slash with my sword, but the darkness remains, so this I can barely even see the sword through it. I stumble in the direction we were heading, groping for the door, then grasping and throwing myself at the wheeled handle.

Suddenly the shadows recede, pulling back to climb the walls in an undulating miasma. I stop pulling at the hatch and watch them warily. Behind me, Not-Anstis does too.

Accio doesn’t reappear, but his voice suddenly booms sourceless through the space, “You think yourselves mighty. Storm my boat, steal my trinkets, kill my servants. Is that what the little one taught you to do?

I grimace. So much for keeping Marcus out of this. “He’s half the reason we’re here!” I shout to the darkness.

“Would you care for an introduction?” Not-Anstis adds.

Oh I think I would. Let me start. Meet my friends, the ones I know far better than your little benefactor.

The shadows undulate faster, then an amorphous, twisted, thing emerges. Black tentacles like rips in space-time lash the air, reaching toward us—or possibly away from us, into dimensions outside our own. Just looking at it is like a migraine for the soul. Not-Anstis and I freeze as the thing towers over us, staring at the grasping pits of darkness, then terror swamps us, driving us through the hatch and away, away as fast as we can.

But it’s a submarine. There’s nowhere else to go.

(Me: “So…we’re trapped on a submarine with creepy death-demons.”
Jason: “Uh, no. Colleen, you’re trapped on a submarine with creepy death-demons, and a serial killer. A cannibalistic serial killer.”
Jim: “Well, luckily none of it was done by Anstis!”)

END OF NIGHT


 

 

 

This entry was posted in Story and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s