12/18/2014

Jason: “When last we left off, our intrepid adventurers were on a boat. Oh wait, a submarine. Oh wait, a submarine filled with evil shit. So you, Tom, were confronted by a hideous abomination from the bowels of hell, a soul-draining monstrosity of darkness, shadow, and pain. You are also confronted by Accio.”

***

USS THRESHER

Not-Anstis and I throw ourselves uselessly at the hatch until the panic wears off. Once it does, we find ourselves still in the open room of the submarine, filled with encroaching darkness that is now encroaching closer.

I draw my sword, ready to slash fire at the first opportunity, but Not-Anstis takes a different tactic. Drunk on enhanced power from his recent diablerie, he suddenly evaporates into mist-form and enters the shadowy wall itself.

#

Anstis melts into the darkness, floating in the cold and the silence, but nothing happens. He drifts through, searching for Accio’s solid form, when suddenly he hears his voice, echoing through every molecule of his tenebrous shape.

You think you can perform such sacrileges and get away with it? Bestial form that you are? Invade my ship and rob my treasures?

The Anstis mist twists on itself in a disdainful way. Normally this form would be mute, but half-melded with Accio as he is, he’s able to project a reply: “The only sacrilege is you.”

Says the diablerist,” Accio’s voice sneers. “Who comes here on behalf of a catamite and a thug.

Are you saying you’ve never performed the soul-bite in your day?

Cruel amusement resonates through him. “Ask me again in an hour.”

#

A tendril snakes toward me but holds back just out of reach of my sword. I step forward, slashing, and it retreats a few feet. I smile. If I keep this up, maybe I can get to the other side of the room. I advance again, then hear something behind me.

The darkness has flowed around to absorb the back wall and rear hatch. As I watch, five tendrils shoot toward me. I whip around, clipping two to send them evaporating away, but the other three grab me, coiling like pythons to restrain my arms and legs.

(Me: “I’ve seen enough hentai to know where this is going….”)

I wave the sword weakly as I struggle, but the darkness just constricts tighter. I remind myself that I can’t suffocate, but that won’t help me if my limbs are wrenched from my sockets. I force myself to focus, pouring strength into a surge of effort, but it’s useless against their power.

A new sound echoes through the room, mechanical but higher-pitched than the drone of the engines. I twist my neck and look up. It’s fans, mounted in vents along the ceiling.

#

Anstis can’t hear the fans, but he can feel the breeze suddenly tug at him. He wends his way out of the shadow and coalesces back into humanoid form, but by the time he does, three more tendrils are waiting for him. He slashes with his claws, but the darkness snakes out of the way and snaps in to pin his arms to his sides. He struggles, but he’s bound as tightly as I am. The tentacles drag him over next to me.

(Jason: “Don’t you just love the Obten tendrils? Gorgeous little bastards. May be my favorite power in the game.”)

The shadows stringing me up clench in, pulling my arms to my sides. I’m still holding the sword, but with my forearm pinned, all I can do is wave it weakly with my wrist, the darkness melting away from its limited reach. The gloom filling the room pulls back slightly, then pours down, reforming into Accio in front of us, approaching Not-Anstis.

“Clever effort,” Accio sneers, “But it will do you no good. You asked of the soul-bite? Let us see what we can find in there.” He reaches toward Not-Anstis, but the pirate suddenly drops back into mist form, melting through the tendrils and out of his reach…

…But there’s a problem. The fans have now revved up to full-speed, and Not-Anstis is immediately sucked toward the ceiling. He fights the current, barely keeping himself out of the vents.

Accio stares up at the Not-Anstis’s shimmering cloud and frowns. “Hmm. One thing at a time, then.” He turns to me and smiles, unnaturally-dark eyes pulsing sickly.

I take an exaggerated glance at the tendrils binding me. “Sooo, is this a union-sponsored BDSM shoot? Cause I think I let my membership lapse….”

He glares. “Oh don’t worry. We can reinitiate.” With that, he lunges at me and bites. Pain spears me and I scream, trying to pull my head away, but he just clenches harder. I feel the strength draining out of me, struggling feebly against my bonds…

…And I feel my sword, still clenched in my hands, and still burning. I hesitate, trying to think through the clouds of agony. Accio is on the opposite side of me from the sword, but if I aim just right, I might be able to toss it at him. It might not stab him, but if the fire just clipped him, it might be enough. Course, I also risk hitting myself instead. As darkness rises in my vision—behind my eyes, this time—I realize there’s nothing to lose, so with the last of my strength, I shift my grip to the very end of the hilt, and flick it up at him.

(Jason: “Difficulty eight.”
Me: “…FOUR successes! Three tens and a nine!!!”)

The burning blade cuts a strange shape across my vision as it curves up to the left. New tendrils erupt to grab at it, but it slices right through. At the top of the curve, the tip of the sword levels toward Accio—

—And impales him through the throat.

The fire surges, spreading across Accio’s skin like it’s sucking gasoline. Gurgled shrieks erupt from him and he pulls away, tearing out a chunk of my own throat as he goes. He stumbles back, then panics, tearing off across the room and disappearing into the remains of his darkness. I stare after him as the light of my sword is swallowed up, not quite believing what just happened.

But then something hits me. “…Oh goddamit! Motherfucker has my sword!!”

Not-Anstis finally fights his way out of the vent-current and reappears in humanoid form on the floor. He slashes at my tendrils with his claws, helping me break free. Muffled shrieks and clattering sounds echo from the shadows in front of us, their direction obscured by the close walls and rows of vertical tubes lining the room. I storm forward, unsling Vera, and start firing in any direction the noises seem loudest.

(Which, as Jason then points out, occurs in the middle of a missile silo, and thus is probably not the greatest idea. However, the dice were on my side in completely new and unexpected ways.)

Bullet fragments ricochet around the room uselessly. The sounds of Accio’s retreat die out, whether due to distance or darkness I can’t tell. Scowling, I disengage Vera and stalk forward.

#

ALTAMONT RACEWAY

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

(Jason: “—Wait, actually, we didn’t end up where I thought we were going to end up, I’m going to have to retcon and adjust things a bit:”)

Paul stares off a moment, toward the eastern horizon. “What’s involved?” he asks carefully.

“It is difficult to say. A Suspire is not a standardized test. It may take anything in duration. It might require the most hideous violence, or the most saintly of pacifism. It is impossible to predict. But it is all-encompassing. One cannot pursue enlightenment half-heartedly.”  Wladislaw regards him a moment. “What of the others you are acquainted with? The madman, the leper. The wizard, and the small Roman?”

(Me: “…Did he call me a leper!?”)
Paul shrugs. “Well, I certainly don’t wish them ill, but I don’t think I’ve ever met another vampire who really gets me. Distance doesn’t bother me.”

Wladislaw nods and paces. “Men are social creatures. Pack animals, in a sense. We are not. We are hunters, solitary ones. The Beast does not like company. But, there are those out there who, far from simply not embracing the Suspire, will actively seek to destroy those seeking it.” He snorts. “It seems illogical. It is illogical. I theorize it is the Beast within us all seeking to ensure none of us ever find enlightenment. But perhaps it is simply, what is the Greek phrase, sour grapes?”

Paul frowns. “Perhaps.”

Wladislaw turns to regard Paul seriously. “It may be unwise to involve your compatriots. It may be unwise to inform them at all.”

“I can keep secrets.” Paul glances toward Doc, leaning against his horse a few paces away, watching them quietly. “Doc has told me a thing or two about his search, and it sounded like he had never witnessed one of these. And it occurs to me that you may be in a similar situation.”

Wladislaw cants his head. “That is not so. I have seen the Suspire, I have…seen more than just the Suspire. I have seen a great many things. Not as many things perhaps as I am reputed to have seen, but a great many things.”

“And have you undertaken it yourself?”

Wladislaw smiles. “That is the interesting thing of the Suspire. It is not always certain when you have completed it. You should not think of it as a test, only describe it as such. It is more a state of being at the end of a long journey. A journey that begins before you know it is there. You are familiar with the mortals and their addictions? Similar enough to ours, just less intense.”

He hesitates a moment, then resumes pacing. “I spoke once with a man who drank compulsively—not blood, of course—and one day he stopped. And for many years he did not drink. But he never recovered from his compulsion. He merely dealt with it one day after the next, until at some point indistinguishable, he could pronounce himself to have accomplished what he set out to do. Correctly or not. Had he had a drink the next day, who is to know what would have happened? The Suspire is not entirely unlike this. It is possible to fail quite a long time after you believe to have succeeded. I do not know if there ever comes a point when it is done. But, there do come points when you know you have made progress. I cannot predict when those points will come, nor what form they will take. I have seen six Suspires in as many centuries. Four ended poorly, I do not know how the fifth ended, and the sixth goes on.”

“Not great odds,” Paul mutters.

“No, but what are the odds without one? The Suspire will not destroy your Beast, it will not make you mortal, but it may render those things unnecessary. That is all I can tell you. And as to why….” He shrugs. “It is not mere curiosity. You are familiar with the various apocalyptic theories flying around these nights? The world has never lacked for the end, but things proceed in a disquieting direction. I do not mean this recent unpleasantry in this city, though it is part of it.” He pauses and looks toward the glow of Bay Area city lights over the hills on the western horizon. “Creatures that have been asleep for a great many decades, Millenia even, are no longer. More and more every year, it seems. Something is coming. An end, an apotheosis, I don’t know. In the aftermath we may all be dead, they may all be dead, those without the Suspire may all be dead, or those with. I do not know. But Mr. Holliday here has indicated that you are amenable perhaps to what I have to offer, and so I offer it. You have received scant reason to trust us when we say we come out of goodwill, but there it is.”

“I think it’s important to trust when we can.”

Wladislaw laughs. “Then I’m surprised you’re alive.”

“I think a lot of people are. I’m ok with that,” Pau says cooly.

Wladislaw’s laughter trails off to approving nods. “It’s a good state to be in, to have others be surprised you are alive. Many have been surprised that I was alive. Tell me, Mr Stewart. What are your sins?”

Paul frowns. “It depends on what you consider a sin.”

“Well in life you were a businessman, that could mean many things. In life I was a warrior. Mr. Holliday here would claim he was many things, but a killer was among them.”

Paul’s quiet a moment, staring at the empty raceway around them. “…Arrogant. Selfish. Temperamental,” he says finally.

Wladislaw nods seriously. “There are worse things than that and I suspect you know this. Your aura bears a soul-bite. Amaranth, it was called once. I think it is called diablerie now.”

Paul hesitates in surprise. “It does.…”

“In all candor, so does mine. You have a soul bite and in one this young it is uncommon.”

Paul looks away a moment, then meets Wladislaw’s gaze. “My sire. The moment she turned me.”

Wladislaw nods again. “I too consumed my sire. I intended to. You, I think, did not. I sought to devour my own sire for power. I achieved it. The power, I mean. I did many things. It would be inaccurate to claim that I am not proud of these things, but I should not be. Not all of them were done after my natural death. I do not ask this to judge, but because the process of a suspire will force you to confront such things as you would rather not confront. Not merely acts, but intentions. Desires. Will, of a sort. Tell me, are you a Christian?

Paul, not often asked this in his life, pre- or post-vampire, blinks. “No.”

“There are those who say that this entire thing came about because God cursed Caine, and the curse propagated down through the generations to us. As good a theory as any. But God is also, theoretically, merciful, and he offers those who are willing to look a way out. A way back. Perhaps this is the way back. Or perhaps he is a bastard and this is all a joke.” Wladislaw chuckles darkly. “I have thought these things at times. But we will not know for sure until we reach the punchline.” He watches Paul a moment, as if evaluating his comedic potential, before continuing. “I assume you have questions. The most common one would be where would I begin?”

“I’m working up to that,” Paul says.

“So am I. The answer is I cannot exactly tell you. I can only arrange for the answer to be put before you. You’ll know it when you see it. I do not know what form it will take. I am potent in my own way, but I too have superiors. Not in the sense of commands and orders, but those who are my better. It took a great deal of time for me to realize that. And they, if I convince them, can make the necessary arrangements.” He raises his gloved hand. “If I convince them. But you will have the eye of great powers on you, even if you never know it. Powers that make the little Roman look like, well, the child he is.”

Paul nods slowly, glancing at Doc again before continuing. “I guess my next question is whats the price? Not the personal price, but what do I owe you, or these other powers?”

Wladislaw regards him cooly. “Nothing, and everything. Thats no help, I know. It is not a matter of what you owe us, this is not a bargain. But if you embark on this, and if you are successful, I have every faith you will understand what is expected, even if I do not. Have I let you somewhat at ease?”

“Somewhat.”

Wladislaw smiles. “Good. That is the best that should be done.” He holds out a hand and his massive horse walks forward to meet him. “I will make the arrangements, if I may. I do not know if we will meet again.”

Paul nods cautiously. “Well, if we don’t, its been fascinating.”

Wladislaw grips the saddle and ascends the towering mount with the ease of a gymnast. Once he’s settled in the saddle, he smiles down at Paul. “It is always fascinating, and I am glad Mr. Holliday has not taken to talk of tall tales. Good luck, Mr. Stewart.” He bows lightly. The horse turns and they ride off, toward the exit of the raceway.

Paul watches them disappear, turning only when he hears Doc meander closer. “I would not be surprised, if I were you, to find impertinent questions waiting,” the gunman drawls. “This is the sort of subject that will allow it. Even if you cant imagine how.” He meet’s Paul’s eye and winks. “There’s always someone watching.”

#

USS THRESHER

Not-Anstis and I stumble through the darkness, following Accio toward the other end of the room. It’s silent, and thick, and cold, just like anytime Marcus drops this shit, but something about this is different. A subtle ominousness, a personal deadliness directed at us specifically. I shudder and let Not-Anstis lead us through.

On the other side we find the hatch ripped open. We climb through it and a few more cramped, empty rooms, till we reach a door that’s closed and locked. With our combined strength, though, we’re able to force it open.

Inside is another torpedo room, and in the middle of it is Accio, slumped against a stack of torpedoes. His throat is charred black, oozing a thick darkness that seems to pulse in the light. He looks up at us, pain and anger chiseled on his face.

And slowly raises my sword at us.

I level Vera at him but don’t fire, since this time I recognize the fact that the room is filled with ordinance. He gropes the wall to haul himself to his feet. “So, shall we all go to Hell together?” He sputters, more darkness leaking out of his mouth. He taps the burning sword gently against the tip of the torpedo.

“Ever been there?” Not-Anstis growls.

Accio gives a wheezing laugh. “Shall we, Pirate? Wanna dance with the devil, do you?” He turns toward me. “And what about you? Wanna see where the sodomites go?”

I glare. “I don’t know, the property values must be really high….”

“Oh no, cheap as you can imagine.” He raises the sword and angles to plunge it in.

I lunge forward, pouring everything I have into a burst of strength and speed, clearing the room in the blink of an eye. I grab Accio’s hand and smash it against the wall, denting the solid steel. Not-Anstis follows me, slower but with no less power, severing Accio’s sword-arm with one vicious slash. Accio emits a gurgling squeal, then screams louder as I fall on him and (retake the blood he stole from me. Ass.)  After a moment of struggling he melts into shadow, slipping out of my hands. I curse and reach down to retake the sword. By the time I stand up he’s gone.

Not-Anstis and I peer into the shadows of the room, but none of them come lunging back out at us. I frown, frustrated, but more than a little impressed. I’ve seen Marcus step in and out of shadows but never seen him dissolve like that. I jerk my chin at Not-Anstis and we leave to hunt through the ship.

We split up, each taking a deck and moving quickly, but there’s no sign of him, or any unusual patches of darkness. Even the shadows in the missile silo have cleared up. We regroup back in the command center, where a few mindless crewmen are cleaning up the bodies from our massacre earlier.

“Could he be slipping past us?” I ask, peering down the corridor, sword finally starting to smolder out.

“Nay. He’s outside,” Not-Antsis growls, staring up the exit hatchway.

Realizing he’s right, I run to one of the control panels, looking for a sonar screen, but it’s all an indecipherable mess. I grab one of the drones. “Can you run this?”  He stares mindlessly back.

“Give commands,” Not-Anstis says, watching the other men appraisingly. Whether he’s appraising their work value or blood amount, I decide not to question.

I tap the nearest green-lit screen that looks vaguely sonar-ish. “Find a target outside the submarine, but nearby.” The crewman looks at me, then wordlessly walks over to hit a large toggle in the center of the room. The lights shift to red and a muted klaxon goes off. All the living men in the room stop what they’re doing and immediately take positions around the command consoles, sometimes shoving their dead compatriots out of the way to do so. The first man comes back to my station, puts on a pair of headphones, slides into a chair, and starts operating the buttons and dials. I lean over, staring at the flickering screen. Minutes pass, but nothing shows up.

While I’m distracted, Not-Anstis steps back and pulls out his Accio-inscribed rock to try his romancing-the-stone shit:

Accio lies in the black Abyss, beyond the steel. Seeking his escape behind.

“He’s out there,” Not-Anstis growls. “Fleeing.”

I wave at the screen. “Well, he’s probably in his damn smoke-monster form or whatever so the sonar can’t see him.”

“Are there weapons aboard?”

I sigh and stand up. “Yeah, the torpedoes, but, again, we need to be able to see him to target him.”

Not-Anstis stares, then slouches into the captain’s chair, gesturing at me imperially. “Release one behind us.

I glare back, then roll my eyes and instruct one of the crewmen to launch a torpedo, set to explode at minimum safe distance. The boat shudders briefly as it’s launched, then seconds later sways as the explosive concussion hits us.

Not-Anstis surreptitiously checks his stone again.

Behind, fleeing as fast as he can.

“He’s still out there, and moving faster,” Not-Anstis growls, fondling the rock thoughtfully before putting it back in his pocket.

I stare at the pirate. “How, again, do you know this…?”

He waves my question away. “Bring us about!” he barks to the crew. The entire room tilts sickeningly as we bank.

I, meanwhile, stare at the sonar screen again, an idea forming. “Do you have some sort of Gangrel swim-form or anything, Captain?”

He nods cautiously. “Aye….”

I jab the glass. “We need something to target the torpedoes on or he’s just gonna keep moving. If you can physically find him with some sort of beacon, that would be a start.”

Not-Anstis stares at me, stroking his damn-fool tentacular beard, then nods and leaps to his feet. I order a crewman to bring a handheld emergency buoy and show Not-Anstis how to activate it. “Find him, release this, then get out of the way,” I say.

Not-Anstis nods, then grabs the man for a quick bite of blood. I scowl and look away until the crewman staggers woozily back to a seat. Not-Anstis takes off his hat and shoves it to my chest. “Hold this,” he growls, and with that, he climbs up the hatch and disappears into the airlock.

#

Anstis shifts into octopus form while still in the airlock, then pours himself through the outside hatch, easily bracing the door against the current with his arms. He pauses a moment, coiled across the top of the tower like a Jules Verne nightmare, then launches himself into the depths, jetting ahead of the sub. He pauses periodically to peer through the gloom, then finally sees it: a shadow that’s not a shadow, pulsing through the darkness. He adjusts course and pursues.

#

Back in the sub, I’m staring intently at the sonar screen, watching as a small green blip shoots in front of us, then suddenly angle off to port. “Ready torpedoes!” I shout to the crew.

#

The shadow-that-must-be-Accio speeds up, obviously sensing Anstis behind him. Anstis moves faster, gaining on him, till finally the shadow stops and reverts down into Accio himself. His arm is missing, his throat still torn out, but he snarls at Anstis and extends his other hand. More shadows coalesce out of the gloom, forming into the solid shape of a harpoon.

(Me: “…Cool.”)

Anstis flares his tentacles, grasping for the spear, but the man throws it first. It slams into Anstis with the force of a train, knocking him back. Anstis shudders and rights himself, then rips the spear out with one arm and reaches forward again with the others.

#

A new dot suddenly appears on the screen, some…klicks?…out, but the Not-Anstis dot is still nearby. I watch intently, gripping his hat…

…Then suddenly realize his hat is still soaking wet from our inglorious entry and stinks of low-tide. I toss it onto the captain’s chair, scrub my palms against my pants, then return to the screen, waiting for the signal.

#

Accio snarls at Anstis, ducking out of the reach of his arms, then melts back into shadow-form, resuming his retreat. Anstis brings out the beacon, grapples at it with his suckers, activates it, then tosses it after the disappearing cloud and jets away as fast as he can.

#

I watch as the dot next to the Not-Anstis dot disappears, followed a few moments later by a new, pulsing dot traveling away from him. In the next sweep, the Not-Anstis dot is speeding back toward the boat.

I point to the pulsing dot. “Here! Track this path and target here!” I shout.

The boat shudders as a new torpedo is released.

#

Anstis passes the torpedo as he flies toward the boat, an elongated torpedo of flesh himself. He strains to reach the sheltering bulk of the Thresher before it hits, jetting and undulating as fast as he can….

There’s a few seconds of silence, then the explosion catches him.

#

PORTOLA VALLEY

Paul’s had a busy night, and he finally gets himself home to relax somewhat and process it all in peace. But as he walks in the front door and hears the sound of the TV blaring from the living room, he realizes it’s not over yet.

“…Gargoyle?” Paul calls cautiously, placing his motorcycle helmet on a table.

The gargoyle appears in the foyer. “Greetings, Master. I have destroyed your enemies Master,” he rumbles.

Paul frowns. “Um, excellent…which ones in particular?”

The gargoyle actually smiles. “I have kept them as trophies, Master.” He leaves, and Paul hears the sound of the sliding glass door leading to the garden. When the gargoyle returns, he’s holding the severed head of a raccoon proudly aloft. “He did not fight well, Master.”

Paul stares a long moment. “I see…. Why were you two fighting?”

“He was the enemy of your garden, Master. I did as you commanded me.”

Paul sighs. “In the future, it will be fine to just scare them away. They are enemies of the garden, but they are not my personal enemies.” He glances into the living room, where the TV is displaying a DVD loading screen. “Did you finish watching Up? The movie I gave you.”

The gargoyle’s arm holding the raccoon head droops and he frowns, perplexed. “Yes, Master. It was strange, Master. The people were people, but they looked strange. Did you fleshcraft them, Master?”

Paul sighs and starts explaining computer animation to the gargoyle, an explanation that gets longer and more detailed as he starts waxing rhapsodic about the beauty of applied maths in computer modeling (and yes this conversation actually happened, and no I am not fucking transcribing it).

Paul finally pulls himself out of his Toreador-trance. “Anyway, were there any characters in the movie you particularly liked?”

The gargoyle flicks his wings nervously.  “…There…was a dog, Master.”

“Yes! Dug!”

“Yes, Master. He served master, Master. He fought the master’s enemies, Master. He was not…very good at it, Master….” The gargoyle hesitates. “I slew your enemies, Master!” He grins and hoists the raccoon again.

Paul sighs and gestures for him to put it down. “People aren’t my enemy unless they are actually trying to injure me. If they come here and they say break something or dig something up without the intent to injure me, they are not enemies. They may not be friends, but they are not enemies—“

Suddenly something in the room shifts, a barely perceptible change in temperature. Paul hesitates. “Did you feel that?”

The gargoyle looks around. “Feel what, Master?”

Paul moves cautiously through the ground floor house, gargoyle following close behind, raccoon head still dripping in his grip. Paul turns the corner into the kitchen…and finds Marcus, sitting on the island counter in the middle of the room.

Paul lets out a breath of relief. He may not be pleased to see Marcus, but at least it’s not someone worse. “Marcus Sertorious! Hello!”

Marcu’s’ gaze flicks calmly between Paul and the gargoyle. “Oh don’t stop on my account, I was wondering how far you would drive him insane.”

Paul sighs. “We’ve not yet begun.”

“Who do you speak to, Master?” the gargoyle asks, peering over his shoulder into the kitchen.

Paul turns to him. “Do you see anyone else here—?”

“He can’t see me, Paul, the first thing I did after I walked in was tell him to forget I was here. I didn’t want him to decide I was an invader.”

Paul looks down at the gargoyle’s bloody fist. “Probably wise. Um, I am communicating with a friend…telepathically,” he tells the gargoyle. The gargoyle accepts this, so Paul sends him out to continue protecting the garden, cautioning him again against killing things unnecessarily.

Marcus, meanwhile, is watching Paul with a bemused expression on his face. “You steal a gargoyle from the Tremere, take him to your house as a servant, and you teach him to watch movies and kill raccoons.”

Paul shrugs and shuts the door. “I’m rehabilitating him.”

“Rehabilitating him? He’s a gargoyle, not a parolee.”

“He wasn’t always a gargoyle,” Paul says flatly.

“What he was before is very dead.”

Paul watches through the window as the gargoyle impales the raccoon head on a trowel and erects it in the dirt at the edge of the garden. “That may be, but I still believe he can achieve personhood.”

Marcus shrugs. “Possibly, but most Tremere gargoyles have been mind-raped to the point of non-sentience, practically.”

“Well, I hope that’s not the case here.”

Marcus nods, then leans back and folds his legs, looking for all intents and purposes like a kid about to enjoy story time. “So I’ve heard strange things, Paul. Whispers from about. That some fool of a Toreador strolled into Alameda airfield and challenged Helgi Isarnbjorn Ogenherdi to a competition of poetry.” He cocks his head. “I don’t think I have to ask if that was you, do I?”

Paul sighs and slumps onto a stool. “Nope, nope I think you have a pretty good handle on me right now—“

“Do you have the first idea who that actually is?”

“I really don’t, but everyone keeps asking me that, so I’ve been intending to look it up. Or maybe ask you, do you know Helgi?”

Marcus stares at him seriously. “I have known Helgi for a good long while. We met in Byzantium, back when it was Byzantium.”

“And he’s into this poetry thing, it seems.” Paul waves a hand vaguely.

“You could say that. He’s into poetry the way I’m into revenge, Paul. He’s what they call a Saga-Man. I know he looks like a giant lump of a Gangrel, but he’s a poet, and has been so for 1200 years.” He glares a moment. “Why did you challenge Helgi Isarnbjorn Ogenherdi to a poetry battle?”

“Well, I was surrounded by a group of angry Brujah—which I guess is redundant—and Prince Adriana and her staff were being held captive, and Helgi had some sort of court going on—“

“Court? Anarchs don’t have courts.”

Paul pauses. “…Gathering, then. What did he call it? A Thing.”

Marcus stares and leans forward. “You walked in on Helgi’s Thing….” he says slowly.

“Yeah. Oh, but before I got there, some of Helgi’s men stopped me, outside of Alameda, but I tricked them by saying that their non-existent shoelaces were untied and sent one crashing into a building. I also got in an argument with another Brujah at the Thing itself.”

Silence stretches long as Marcus obviously struggles with where to start unravelling this mess. “…This Brujah, did he have a name?”

Paul hesitates. “…No, no I don’t think so….” he says carefully.

Marcus watches him a long moment, then shakes his head. “Well, I gotta hand it to you, Paul, you have an uncanny ability to piss off the wrong people, and you don’t do anything by halves. I have some good news for you, though. Compared to the Monomancy, this should be a piece of cake.”

Paul shrugs. “That was my hope. Anyway, so yeah, surrounded by Brujah and bikers and other burly vampires, I thought to myself, what is a competition I don’t mind losing.”

“Well that’s good, cause you’re gonna. I’ve seen Helgi do these flytings before. I even took him on. Once.” Marcus grumbles. “I got crushed.”

“So what’s involved?”

“Two men stand and insult each other to the best of their ability. I’ve seen Helgi beat people in his seventh language and their first. He’s taken Toreadors, ones considerably older than you, out in flytings. The good news is I doubt you’re going to lose more than simply a lot of face. I hope. The Anarchs are unpredictable. Even Helgi can’t control them. They aren’t controlled by anyone, that’s why they’re Anarchs.” Marcus drums his fingers against the granite. “How badly did you piss off this Brujah?”

Paul pauses a moment, remembering Bev lunging at him from across the circle, something more than sheer anger in his eyes. “I don’t know….” he says cagily.

“Word of advice, if I may. In the future, your natural inclination toward snarking at people? Repress it in the presence of Brujah. Particularly a group of Anarch Brujah that aren’t inclined to like a Toreador from the Camarilla side of town. Much less one that works for me.” He shakes his head and sighs. “When are you doing this incredibly foolish thing?”

“Tomorrow at midnight.”

“Well. I think I might stop by.” Marcus looks out the window. Paul follows his gaze. The gargoyle is brandishing a hoe, swiping at ivory-colored moths as they try to settle on the cabbages in the vegetable bed. Neither comment on this.

“…Any other adventures from this evening I should be aware of?” Marcus asks.

Paul frowns, Wladislaw’s warning heavy on his mind. He’s silent a long moment before answering. “…No. Compared to all that, not much at all….”

#

USS THRESHER

The submarine rocks from the explosion, tossing men across the control room. I rush back to the sonar controls. The pulsing beacon is gone, but so are all the other blips on the screen.

I stare a moment, concern rising. “Periscope depth!” I bark. The room tilts as the boat angles toward the surface, and as soon as we level off I order the periscope up and peer through.

The surface is a war zone, burning wreckage scattered as far as I can see in every direction. I pivot around. There’s no sign of Not-Anstis, or the Revenge for that matter. There’s no sign of anyone.

“Up!” I shout. The men stare at me. “I mean…one degree…up-bubble…or…whatever the fuck! Just get us to the surface!” The boat rises again, then starts to rock as we settle into the waves. I scramble up the ladder and through the airlock.

The smell of smoke and oil washes over me as I climb out the top of the conning tower. “Captain!?” I shout to the night.

“…Aye!” comes a voice behind me. Not-Anstis is hauling himself to his feet, braced on the slick steel of the bow. Water pours off the surface of the boat and off his coat. “I’ll be having my hat back now, Mr. Lytton,” he grumbles.

I smile despite myself, and am about to shout a reply when something catches my eye, moving out on the water. I turn.

The Revenge slides into view from behind a roiling patch of smoke, smooth as a shark between the remains of her prey. A searchlight toward the bow scans the waters, but the rest of the ship is a darker shadow against the night. I wave and shout down the hatch to radio over and let them know it’s us.

While I’m distracted, Not-Anstis pulls out the Accio stone to test once again:

The wine-dark sea

…Is the reply. He frowns. That could mean the literal sea in front of us, glowing red with the light of fires, or it could be a metaphor for the afterlife, which the ritual has done before. Not-Anstis decides to try a second test. Watching me carefully, he drops the obfustacting-Dominate he used to counteract Accio’s command for me to kill him.
The Revenge fixes the searchlight on us and steers closer. I turn to Not-Anstis…only to find actual Anstis. I jump. “What the fuck!? Have you been here the whole time!?”

Anstis nods to himself and approaches the tower. “Accio was messing with your mind. I countered it. If his command is gone, he must be dead.”

I blink. “Oh…ok…thank you?”

(Me: “So I no longer have the urge to kill him?”
Jason: “No more than normal.”)

Wake sweeps us as the Revenge pulls up alongside. Morgan is in the bow, next to the men manning the searchlight (and for some reason seems to have his leg braced up on something….) He stares down at us, then holds out a hand for a sailor to hand him a megaphone. “

“Accio…?” Morgan calls down. Anstis meets his gaze and smiles a predatory grin. He smiles back and nods approvingly. “Then congratulations, Captain.” He gestures, taking in the slick back of the submarine. “What will you call her?”

Anstis pauses. In all the time he’s been yearning for a new ship since reaching the modern nights, he hasn’t actually given the idea of the name of the ship much thought.

(Jim: “Lesse…my last ship was the Good Fortune….”
Jason: “If I may make a suggestion? Black Bart—Bartholomew Roberts—had the Good Fortune before he gave it to Thomas Anstis. Sometime after that he took a forty-gun brigandine as a man-o-war. That one he named the Royal Fortune. Just a thought.”
Jim: “Ooo, there’s so many good things. The Better Fortune?
Chris: “The Sort of Okay Fortune.”
Jason: “The Moderately-Decent Fortune, I Guess.”)

Similar ideas cross Anstis’s mind, but none seem right. He needs something to convey his new station in life, not only a pirate but a creature of the night. He stares at the smokey darkness roiling around us, then nods to himself and turns back to Morgan.

“The Twilight’s Fortune!” Anstis announces proudly.

Hearing this from my perch atop the conning tower, my face drops. “Um, Captain….” I say cautiously.

Morgan, though, smiles. “And a fine name it is, Captain, for a fine boat. I expect it won’t be long before the tale of this battle spreads and vampires everywhere whisper the name of the Twilight in dread.”

My jaw works soundlessly a moment…then I decide to let the issue drop. They both seem so pleased with themselves….

Morgan turns to his crew. “Lower a runabout!” he shouts, then turns back to us. “Once you have secured your vessel, come to mine, so we may discuss the terms of the rest of the plunder.” His grin reflects the red glow of the burning wreckage around us.

END OF NIGHT

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