Kara: “Oh wait, wasn’t I supposed to go to Pluto tomorrow night?”
Me: “No, not yet, it was delayed because of cabbages.”
THE TWILIGHT’S FORTUNE
Morgan launches a runabout from the Revenge and meets us in the command center of the Fortune. He stares around at the blood and the damage and nods in approval. “A fine job, Captain.”
Anstis, spread regally across the captain’s chair, nods. “Aye. How fared the battle from your end?”
Morgan’s face darkens. “Much fire—“
“…Wow,” I mutter from the back of the room, where I’m slouched up against a console. The two pirates pause, glance at me, then continue.
“—And destruction,” Morgan finishes. “Accio’s fleet is destroyed, captured, or scattered. But that matters less than the man himself. He is dead, then?”
Anstis nods. “He is.”
Morgan paces the room, staring at the screens, ignoring the zombified men manning them. “Have you confirmation?”
I open my mouth to respond but Anstis answers first, “We killed him with a torpedo.”
Morgan pauses. “A torpedo? Well, that would kill me.” He chuckles. “Then our bargain is complete, Captain. You have your vessel, I have my capture.”
I frown. Yes, the torpedo went off, but something about this whole thing seems fishy, and it’s not just the stench from the asshole on the other side of the room. I glance at Morgan, debating mentioning it—
Morgan turns to me. “And what of your share of the prize, Mr. Lytton? The good captain has claimed his, but arrangements were made ahead of time. What would you have of us simple pirates?”
The promise of fat lootz momentarily blows thoughts of Accio from my mind. I consider asking for a ship of my own, but as I shift against the console, a cold weight presses into my low back. The jeweled scepter, the one with the strange, hidden bag. I freeze. On the one hand, I should probably declare it and claim it as my share, but on the other hand, an unexpected paranoia is telling me I probably shouldn’t let these pirates know I have it.
I shift again and wave my hand vaguely. “Oh, well, I came at the…behest of another, so perhaps is he the one you should settle with?”
“Yes, Sertorius will have his share, but I did not speak of him, I spoke of you. I fulfilled my pledge to Sertorius, Accio is destroyed and can no longer serve the purposes of…Sertorius’s rival. But surely you will not leave empty-handed…” Morgan’s eyes narrow. “…Or perhaps you haven’t yet.”
Morgan walks toward me slowly, the red tactical lights of the room casting strange shadows on his face. “The Articles declare that all treasure shall be shared alike amongst the company. Shall you give us an accounting?”
I glance between him and Anstis, also staring at me ominously, then sigh. “Well, Boss asked me to find this thing for him….” I pull out the scepter and plunk it heavily onto the map table. Both pirates stare.
“Sertorius asked for that?” Morgan asks.
“Yeah, said it’s an heirloom, or something.”
Morgan picks it up, eyes widening at the heft. “I have never laid eyes on it before. What is it?”
He scowls at me. “I can see as much. What is its purpose? I have not known Sertorius to be one to collect gold and gems for the sake of owning them.”
I shrug. “He said it had personal value to him. He wasn’t even that interested in it.”
“Sertorius is older than I, but I have been around long enough to know that when an elder vampire claims he cares little for a thing it is generally because he cares much for it.” He tilts it in his hands. “You have no conception as to why?” I shrug again. Morgan turns to Anstis. “And you, Captain, do you have any insight on this subject?”
Anstis, meanwhile, has been staring at the scepter intently. It’s shiny and valuable, no doubt, but more importantly, it looks just like the sort of scepter Xiang Li Weng sent him to look for. “It’s an interesting bauble,” Anstis says carefully.
“I would ask Sertorius what he wants with it but I do not believe he would tell me,” Morgan says.
“Regardless, it sounds like his share,” Anstis points out.
“Approximately, yes.” Morgan hands the scepter back to me. “We shall call this Sertorius’s share then. Mr. Lytton, since you have done a great deal to secure our victory, I will let you select another thing.”
I tuck the scepter back into my belt. I notice Anstis eying it intently, but keep my cool. So long as he’s focused on the treasure, he won’t think to look for the unmarked leather bag I pulled out of it. “Well, Captain,” I say slowly, “I’m still not entire sure what you even have to offer.…”
Morgan smiles his ravager’s grin. “Then why don’t you come see?”
PAUL’S PORTOLA HOUSE
Paul and Marcus continue their long Paul-and-Marcus talk in the kitchen, full of various dramatic threats and intrigues that Marcus doesn’t like and Paul can’t do much about anyway. Finally, as things wind down, Marcus hops off the counter and prepares to leave, promising he’ll show up for the flyting in Alameda tomorrow night.
“Before you go,” Paul says, “I want to show you the sun.” Marcus looks at him sharply. Paul freezes. “…I mean…I…that’s not what it sounds like—“
“I know what you mean,” Marcus snaps, then sighs and rubs his temples. “Fine. This night is almost over anyway. Take us to Tesseract and you can show me what this wonderful sun is like when it’s not being accidentally directed at me.”
BISON PADDOCK, GOLDEN GATE PARK
Kara was off last week, but now she’s back, so we return to Georgia and her hairy problem: figuring out how to transport a bison from the park back to Russian Hill to lure the dragon out of the Chantry. Adam parks the delivery van he brought at the base of the access road. He gets out, tosses the keys to Bob, then smiles at Georgia and ambles off into the night. Georgia directs Bob to back the van up to one of the gates, then climbs the fence and tries to herd the bison closer.
The bison—or, rather, the shaggy patches of darkness that she assumes are the bison—stare at her. Georgia shouts once and waves her arms at the nearest one. The cow stares at her, then hauls herself to her feet with an angry-sounding rumble. Georgia holds her ground, advancing slowly. The bison lows and paws the grass, but slowly moves away from Georgia and toward the gate. Bob stumbles over to open it.
After more shouts and arm-waves, the bison backs onto the metal loading ramp, hoof-falls echoing across the paddock. Georgia and Bob shoo her forward, till finally she’s wedged into the van. The bison rumbles again, then carefully folds herself down into a seat, resuming her business of cud-chewing. Bob slams the door closed and leans against it, breathing in relief.
“Huh. That was easier than I thought,” Georgia says, glancing around. The rest of the bison have lost interest in her and there’s still no sign of park security. She claps proudly. “Well, back in the truck and back to the Chantry!”
Morgan brings me back to his ship. Cranes are lifting over crates from runabouts and some of Accio’s ships that are still intact. Morgan leads me through the confusion. “It will be some time before we can go through everything Accio had,” he says. “Much of it will be useless, or of antiquarian use if nothing more. But some things are not.”
Two crewmen put down the crate they’re carrying to open a hatch door for us. Morgan nods at them as we pass. “It seems that weapons might be something you’d prefer. I have noticed you carry an interesting one,” he says to me.
I smirk. “Yeah, well, Vera is pretty good with making an impression.”
Morgan stops and turns. “I didn’t mean the gun.” He nods down at the sword on my hip.
“Oh, yes….” I draw the sword carefully, but for the moment it’s just plain steel. “Do you know what it is? I mean, I know what it does, but do you know why it does it?”
Morgan chuckles. “It is an enchanted sword, though I doubt I tell you anything new.”
“Yes, well, it obviously has plus-6 to Awesome, but—”
“You are holding a secret of the Tremere clan. There are many who would pay a high price to see it back, and even more who would pay a high price to see the man who took it decapitated.” A smirk cracks Morgan’s face. “Of course, decapitating someone who wields one of those is not a small matter.”
I look at the sword with new eyes. “Indeed. Also there aren’t many Tremere left in the city anyway, and if it’s a Tremere secret, then why does everyone seem to know what it is…?”
“The secret is how to make it, not what it is. I’ve seen its like before, though I’ve never wielded nor owned one.” Morgan nods at the sword seriously. “You hold a blade of orichalcum.”
(Me: “…Spell that?”
Jim: “Just sound it out and Google will autocorrect it. It’s a commonly used term.”
Me: “…Is it?”
Jason: “It’s a commonly used fantasy metal.”
Me: “Oh, like, mithril and some shit?”
Jim: “Orichalcum is a magical mix of several different things that don’t belong together put together, depending on the lore.”
Me: “Oh. Like orgonite…” *silence. I laugh awkwardly* “…The joke I just made is very funny, but no one else will get it, so…nevermind.”)
“Orichalcum is a secret of the Tremere artificers,” Morgan continues. “The blade is comprised of an infinite number of substances, as far as I know. It brings forth the substance necessary to destroy what you have struck with it.”
I hesitate. “That…checks out.”
“Strike a vampire and it will burst into flame. Strike a steel door and it will become acid, or worse.”
I nod slowly. “Don’t strike a computer, though, because…you’re gonna have a bad time.”
Morgan continues leading me through the ship, entering a large hold bustling with more crewman activity. He makes his way purposefully through the mess and leads me to a cluster of identical wooden crates in slightly newer-shape than the ones around them, stenciled with a faded but uncomfortably-familiar logo of a broad, stylized eagle clutching a wreath in its talons.
Morgan gestures for a crowbar. “It is a valuable thing, Mr. Lytton. But if it is more weapons you seek, we have a number. Perhaps I can interest you in these….” He pries the crate open.
Stacked inside, layered in dust, are about two dozen odd-looking tubes, each about three feet long and painted matte-grey. One end of each tube is significantly larger than the other, making it look something like a mace. I stare, and, at Morgan’s gesture, pick one up. Stenciled yellow writing lines the tube, and though I recognize it as German, I can’t read what it says.
“Have you not seen its like before?” Morgan asks.
“Well, I haven’t seen much History Channel lately….” I peer down the tube.
Morgan takes it from me. “I would not point it at your face, nor at mine,” he growls. “I forget how young the newcomers are.” He heads to the exit of the hold, gesturing for me to follow. “This weapon is called a Panzerfaust.”
I hurry after him, rummaging through my two-months of high school German in my mind. “…Tank…punch?”
“The Armored Fist. An anti-tank rocket, developed by the Germans for the latest war.” We reach the open air of the deck. Smoldering wreckage still surrounds the Revenge, dissipating slowly in the current, and the Twilight’s Fortune lurks as a silent shadow nearby.
I stare at the weapon in Morgan’s hand. “Is it handheld?”
In response, he smiles and points the tube at a nearby clump of wreckage. The thing fires with a muffled concussive thump. Seconds later, the wreckage explodes in a fireball. “Single shot, single use,” Morgan says, tossing the tube overboard. “The Germans employed them against tanks, but I have seen them put to other use. Such as against the monstrous agents of the Tzmitsce,” he adds with a knowing grin.
I, meanwhile, am staring in awe at the twice-burned wreckage. “And…I can have some of them?”
His grin widens. “Mr. Lytton, you can have an entire crate.”
Paul and Marcus arrive at Tesseract via car-service. The campus is nearly empty, but not abandoned, so walking in with a 9-year-old in tow is going to look a little strange. Paul tells Marcus to meet him inside through his usual surreptitious means and heads into the building alone.
On his way past the front desk, one of the security guys stops Paul. He says that Klaus still has the captured Tremere Nazi-ghoul, Wolfgang, under containment and wants to know what Paul wants to do with him. Paul considers this and realizes that, Nazi or not, he is a Tremere ghoul so perhaps will be useful to Georgia. He calls her and arranges to have Wolfgang sent to the Chantry as soon as she has it back under control.
(And now, a special artist’s rendering of their phone call.)
THE BISON VAN
Georgia hangs up the phone call with Paul and resumes driving. After a moment, she notices Bob staring at her from the passenger seat. “Uh, Reagent…” he starts hesitantly, “What was that about a ghoul…?”
“Oh, it’s this other ghoul we found on Alcatraz. Paul has him, but now he’s transferring him to me.”
“Oh….” Bob stares out the window a moment. “…If he’s a ghoul, am I still the Head Ghoul?”
“Yes. He would absolutely be lower-ranked than you.”
“So…he has to do what I say?”
“Yes.” She reaches over to pat his back. “See, I told you things would be better with me.”
(Jason: “The smile Bob gets is in no way reassuring.”
Kara: “Or sane.”
Me: “That’s how we know he’s Tremere.”)
Past the risk of awkward questions from building security, Paul heads up to find Marcus on the roof-garden—the same place they met the last time Marcus visited the company—then leads him down to the labs. “Do you have an explanation if we run into some of your employees?” Marcus asks.
“It’s late, it should be pretty quiet right now.”
“I would advise you have something to tell them, I’d be unfortunate if I had to wipe their memories.”
Paul frowns, thinking. Marcus is at least in normal modern clothes, instead of one of his retro tunics, but unfortunately everyone knows that Paul doesn’t have younger relatives. Finally, Paul nods. “Alright, well if anyone asks, you’re with the Make-a-Wish foundation.”
Marcus glances up. “The what?”
“It’s an organization that grants ‘wishes’ to terminally-ill children.”
Marcus stops and stares at Paul flatly. Paul stares back. After a long moment, Marcus turns away. “I think I’ve heard of that organization, I know the guy who embezzles from them,” he grumbles as he stalks down the hall.
They reach the lab. A few engineers are present, looking up as they enter. They stare at Marcus, then scramble to their feet as they see Paul. “Sir!” a woman near the door says. “We’re fairly confident that we’ve got the mobile emitters working! Only a couple have exploded so far.”
Paul nods. “That’s progress.”
“Yes, it’s great progress! We’re up to seconds of exposure time before… catastrophicsystemfailure…” she mumbles.
Paul claps her on the shoulder. “I have full faith in you.”
She nods, beaming through her exhaustion, then her gaze falls on Marcus. “Sir…who’s that?”
Paul glances down. Marcus looks up at him, face a picture of wide-eyed childish innocence. “…This is Matt. He’s with the Make-a-Wish foundation. I want to show him the new technology, but we’re trying to keep this quiet.”
She frowns. “Should…he be out of bed at three in the morning?”
Paul pulls her close. “That’s what I told the lawyers, but they said that for exposure purposes, not only can’t his parents be allowed past the lobby, but it had to be in off-hours. Fucking assholes, right?” Paul shakes his head. “Anyway, we’d better be going—“
“Sir!” she says, still staring at Marcus, eyes widening. Marcus’s shoulders start to tense. She leans in closer to Paul. “…I don’t think you should swear around the kid,” she hisses.
Paul blinks. “…Fuck, you’re right.”
Paul eventually leads Marcus through the gauntlet of engineers to a small side lab already set up with some of the solar tech. Paul closes the door with a sigh of relief. Marcus’s timid demeanor evaporates and he strides over to the machine. “I hate when that happens,” he grumbles. “Let’s see this contraption of yours.”
“Alright, well this is a smaller version of the lights from the Shark Tank.” Paul points at a flashlight-looking protuberance sticking out of a nest of voltage-meters and optical fibers, aimed at the wall. “For some reason they designed it to only be on-off, but I’ll check the wattage. Don’t stick yourself in front of it yet.” Marcus steps back. Paul digs around in the components for a few minutes, then nods to himself and dims the lights in the room. He comes back to the device, double-checks that the angle is clear of Marcus, then flips it on.
A circle of light, like a spotlight, hits the wall, bright but not painfully-so. Paul checks the dials and taps at a nearby laptop. “This light is all the way from Dubai,” he says. Marcus doesn’t respond. Paul looks up to see him staring intently at the wall.
“That’s…actual sunlight?” Marcus says softly.
“Yep. Noon-time sun.”
Marcus steps closer. “Dubai…and you can bring the sun clear through there into here?”
“Yes. We should have another 130 sources or so coming online in the next week or two.”
Still staring, Marcus gestures with one hand. A tendril of shadow coils up from the corner of the room and darts toward the spotlight. It sweeps across the beam, disintegrating instantly.
There’s a few moments of silence before Marcus speaks again. “You know Paul, there’s a fair part of me that assumed you were making this whole thing up. That whatever you did with those lights in San Jose was something else. Fire or acid or some other indiscernible routine.” He turns, a hint of genuine wonder on his face. “This is actually sunlight?”
“And you just decided to make this?”
“Well, funny story, it actually turned out we already had the technology, by creating the best digital optical network possible. We designed it so well it can carry full-fidelity sunlight. So it was really a lucky accident.”
Marcus turns back to the wall. “I won’t pretend I understood how that works, but nevertheless….”
“Let me play with this a second….” Paul switches off the light and fiddles with the cables and dials again. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Marcus walk over to touch the wall where the sunlight shone. A few minute later, Paul finishes his adjustments, tells Marcus to step back, and turns it back on. The spotlight returns, but significantly dimmer than before. Paul reaches one finger carefully forward and pokes into the circumference of the beam. It’s hot, like being held inches from a heatlamp, but it doesn’t burn. He turns to Marcus and nods. Slowly, Marcus steps forward and, carefully, reaches a finger up to try the same thing.
Smoke instantly blooms from his finger and he jerks away. He hisses and cradles his hand against him, scalded red like a bad sunburn.
Paul frowns. “Hmm. I can probably reduce it further, I have some other cables I can replace—“
“No, no it’s alright….” Marcus waves the suggestion away and takes a careful step back from the light. After a few silent moments, he turns to Paul. “I have an odd question for you, Paul. When were you turned?”
“Um, about sixteen months ago.”
“A minute ago, then. Do you remember the last time you saw the sun for real?”
“Probably would have been that morning.”
“Does it stick out in your mind?”
Paul is quiet a moment, thinking. “It does. Strangely, I don’t associate it with my embrace, I just remember it. But I have a thousand memories of sun and they’re all mostly nice. Except for the sunburns, I guess….“
“I only have one,” Marcus murmurs. “But it’s perfect. The morning, and the whole day before…this….” He gestures at himself, stares at his scalded hand, then closes it tightly. “If it’s all the same to you, Paul, do you mind if I remain here for awhile?”
Paul nods slowly. “Sure. Can you find your own way out discretely?”
“I’m nothing if not discrete.” He nods once. “Thank you, Paul, that will do. I’ll see you tomorrow evening.”
Paul nods back, then exits the lab, leaving Marcus staring at light, his mind thousands of years and thousands of miles away.
THE TWILIGHT’S FORTUNE
After Morgan takes me to the Revenge, Anstis heads down to make a ritual circle in the bottom deck of the sub, out of the way of foot traffic. He finishes and comes back up just as I’m directing the workman-drones to bring down and stow my new collection of Panzerfaeuste.
Anstis strides up to me. “If you are done, we must set sail to Alameda. I have business to conclude with Helgi.”
I eye him. “Really. You’re going to bring the nuclear wessels to Alameda?”
“Aye,” Anstis says, oblivious to the sound of my joke rushing by over his head.
He wanders over to check out some charts, and I decide that I should probably phone in a status report. There’s no signal inside the boat, obviously, but I pull up Marcus’s phone number and walk over to the ship-to-shore phone on the wall. “Do I dial nine to get out?” I ask the nearest drone. He stares at me blankly, of course. I roll my eyes and figure it out on my own.
The call rings over four times before Marcus picks up. “…Tom. How are you tonight?”
“Hey Boss. Better than most would have expected, so, there’s that.”
He sighs. “Shall I ask what the state of everything is over there, or do I, by hearing your voice, know?”
I stare at the men and the lingering blood splatters on the wall. “If what you know is that things are mostly destroyed, then yes, but in a good way this time.”
“Well. I’m glad we could improve things.” Something about his voice doesn’t seem right. He seems…strangely distant….
I clear my throat nervously. “Yeah, so, we’re gonna head back to the Bay and swing by Helgi’s—“
“Helgi?” he mutters, puzzled. “Where are you?”
“Oh, the pirate’s new submarine.”
“…What!?” And with that, his voice is back to normal.
“Yeah, it was Anstis’s loot from the job.”
“A submarine?? Morgan gave him a submarine!?!” He’s almost shouting now.
“Yeah. You got your scepter, though, so….” I pull it out and stare at it as I talk.
He pauses. When he continues, his tone has shifted again. “…You found the scepter?” he asks, disbelief and forced-nonchalance lacing his voice.
“I did! I’m looking at it right now. I mean, I could have grabbed a different scepter, but—“
“Oh I doubt that. I don’t know why Accio would have had another made. Still, it’s possible.” Another pause. “I would very much like to see it….”
“Oh yeah, I’m bringing it to you, it’s your share of the loot.”
Marcus chuckles. “It’s part of my share of the loot. Sire’s privilege, Tom. And Accio, then?”
I glance over at Anstis, still bent over the map table. I turn my body to face the console and lower my voice. “Yeah, about that, Boss. So, we destroyed the fleet and tracked him to the sub. We fired a torpedo at him—which was fun—but…we didn’t find his body, and I’ve seen this movie before—“
“I understand your concern, and I share it, but in fairness, if you actually struck Accio with a torpedo I doubt there’d be much left. Besides, if his fleet is destroyed then his powerbase is removed and he can be very little help to Perpenna….” He trails off again at the mention of Perpenna, then seems to pull himself back out. “…You’re heading to Helgi’s, are you?”
“Yeah, I didn’t have a cool motorcycle last time we went there so hopefully showing up in a submarine will help me gain some street-cred.” I check myself over, realizing I’m going to have to make sure my clothes are in good order as well.
Marcus chuckles. “Well, you should be just in time for a very special event.”
“Why, is there going to be a rumble?”
“No, something I haven’t seen in years. Helgi’s got a flyting.”
“What’s that?” I ask, angling check the back of my pants in a screen reflection.
“I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s a Norse thing. An insult-battle, of a sort. A battle of poetry and wit. Paul, as it turns out, challenged him to one, for reasons I’ll never understand.”
I stop. “Paul…is in a Viking rap-battle?”
“That’s about the long and the short of it.”
I’m quiet a moment, contemplating the full implications of this, then glance across the command center. “…Great, so, okay, we’re gonna have to move faster, cause I don’t want to miss a minute of this.”
“It’s scheduled tomorrow evening, if you sail through the night you should be there in plenty of time. Do mind the Coast Guard, though.”
(Me: “Oh shit, they’re still looking for me aren’t they—“)
“Anyway, Tom,” Marcus continues, “All things being equal, if Accio is dead or at least seriously inconvenienced…well done. Well done indeed.”
A smile spreads across my face. Compliments from Marcus are rare, but genuine gratuity is even rarer, and for once I can hear both in his voice. “…Thanks, Boss,” I mutter.
I expect him to hang up then, but another pregnant pause fills the line. “…I have a rather odd question for you, though. Regarding the scepter….” He hesitates, poised to continue, but seems to think better of it. “…Actually, it’s probably best handled in person. If you don’t mind, I’ll be going. I’ll see you on the morrow.”
With that he hangs up. I stare at the phone a moment, then replace it in the cradle. I turn back to the room and catch Anstis watching me from the other side of it.
(Jim: “How much did I hear with Auspex?”
Jason: “Every goddamn word.”)
Georgia pulls the delivery van up in the curved drive leading to the front door of the Chantry. Everything is quiet, no sign of cops or dragons or anything about. Georgia and Bob stare at the door, then Georgia pulls out her phone to call
Max’s her office, where the dragon seems to be hanging around. There’s no answer. She sighs, gets out of the van, and walks up to knock on the door.
Seconds pass, then slowly the door creaks open, revealing Charles Steinhart, human-form of Claude, his pale skin practically glowing in the gloom of the foyer.
“Ah!” Georgia smiles cheerily…but takes a step back. “You’re still here. It’s good to see you again.”
“Well, I didn’t expect to see you back so soon.” His red eyes pierce past her and scan the street. “Where is that mage of yours?”
“Um, occupied at the moment, but never too far away. I came back because there is something I wanted to alert you of.”
His eyes snap back to her. “And what might that be?”
“I understand you are something of a protector of the park?”
“The park is my domain in the absence of those otherwise deputed to it, yes.”
“Ah. Well, there is an erstwhile bison you may want to remand back to the park.” She beams and steps aside. “It’s here in this truck!”
Charles stares at her in silence a long moment. “…Let me see if I have this straight. You went to my park, took a bison, put it in your van, drove it here, knocked on the door, and told me you had done this?”
Georgia’s smile falters briefly as she thinks. “That’s…not exactly what happened. See, the bison was wandering and I gathered it into the truck so that I could allow you to return it to where it came from.”
Another few moments of long, unblinking stare. “…How did the bison come to be wandering?”
Georgia raises a finger. “That, I have no idea. Bison, I assume, are great wanders. It’s in their nature, as they are descended from great plains-wandering bison of old.” She glances around the empty street. “So…do you want the bison?”
Charles stares at her again, then folds his arms and leans against the door. “Well, here is the difficulty I’m having, and do you mind if I run this difficulty by you? Your name, again?”
“Ms. Johnson is fine.” She curtsies lightly.
“Ms. Johnson. The difficulty I’m having is that there is entirely nothing stopping me from ripping you into tiny little piece right where you’re standing now, tearing your truck open like a can of sardines, retrieving the bison, and doing what I wish with it. So the salient question is, why shouldn’t I do that?”
Georgia nods agreeably and considers this. “Well for one thing, it would be terribly destructive to the truck, which actually is rented.”
“Somehow I have very little problem with this,” Charles says.
“Interesting. Well, in some courts it’s possible that, as my murderer, you would inherit my debts, so you might incur the deposit on this truck.”
“I’m confident I can handle that,” he mutters, leaning forward. “Here is the difficulty. You are a vampire. There are a number of you in the city, I have engaged others, and the last time I engaged you your little mage friend decided to engage in some mysticisms which were most unpleasant.”
“Well, he’s quite fond of me, as I am of him, understandably. Our alliance goes back quite a ways, all the way into last week—“
(Suddenly, an out-of-game kerfuffle erupts.)
Georgia goes quiet, a thought suddenly occurring to her. “—Um, anyway, as I was saying…what did you ask me?”
Charles glares. “Your mage friend. He engaged in various mysticisms, but he’s not here, and you are.”
“Oh, right. And you wanted to ensure he wouldn’t shoot you with a death ray again? Well, it is entirely possible other people might come to my aid.”
“Such as?” Charles growls.
Georgia starts ticking off fingers. “There is the Prince, and there is the Justicar…and there is my excellent adviser, Adrianus van Brugge!”
(Jason: “Uh oh. Ben, she’s called for van Brugge, does van Brugge appear?”
Ben: “Um…maybe in her head…?”
Jason: “Nope, nope, I’m sorry, van Brugge appears. You’re an NPC, I can do this. Ben, you appear, and there in front of you is the same dragon that beat the shit out of you the last time you were running around the city.”)
van Brugge—or, rather, the incorporeal projection of van Brugge—appears suddenly next to Georgia. He’s still looking somewhat wan and worn, but a lot better than the near-mummy he was when we last saw him (when I slogged him all over town before striping off all his clothes and giving them to Sophia). He stares around at the Chantry drive, sees Charles, and freezes. “…I am so glad I am astrally-projected right now,” he mutters in his German accent.
“As I was saying,” Georgia continues, gesturing at van Brugge. “I have allies everywhere.” She smiles proudly.
Charles barely spares a sneer for van Brugge. “So you’re threatening me to get me out of the Chantry?”
She smiles innocently. “Am I?”
van Brugge tears his gaze from Charles and whirls on her. “That is a really bad idea, also apparently he has already broken in?!”
“Yes I am aware.” She turns back to Charles. “I would like to backup and summarize is that you probably should not eat me because I have allies, not that I wish to use my allies to break into my own Chantry and oust you. There is a very, very clear difference between those two.”
Charles stares at her a moment, then turns to van Brugge. “Do you have the slightest faith that you can stop me from devouring this Tremere?”
van Brugge’s apparition takes a step back from Charle’s gaze. “Absolutely none whatsoever, actually. She can however be extremely useful—“
Charles turns to Georgia. “You haven’t answered my question,” he snarls, “Why should I give you back your Chantry?”
She thinks for a second, unperturbed by his rising irritation. “Because there are other Chantries that need to be cleaned out of Tremere worse than I am,” she says firmly.
“So why shouldn’t I kill you and then go clean them?”
Georgia hesitates. “…I can see how that would be compelling for you. The counter argument is that if you don’t kill me, I will also go clean out the other Chantries. And then we will have twice the power!”
Charles blinks slowly. “You will go and clean out other Chantries….”
She nods. “…Of bad Tremere.”
“…As opposed to?” Charles makes a go-on gesture.
Georgia smiles. “Good Tremere.”
“Of which there are…?”
Georgia glances at van Brugge. “At least two.”
Charles snarls again. “According to a Wyrm servant.”
“Yes. Again, I cannot help what I am, I can only answer as a Wyrm servant. If you would like me to also answer as a woman we can get into feminist issues, but I am not very well-versed in those.” Georgia glances at the van. Bob is still in the passenger seat, watching the scene unfold, eyes wide. “Alright, well, this has been a lovely chat, so…I’ll just unload the bison here and return the truck, then?”
Charles stares at her a long moment, but his expression is suddenly calculating. “Your mage friend. The one from the Tower.”
“There’s only the one.”
(Garvin: “Never admit you’re only friends with only one mage! You’re best friends with dozens of mages! You go to all the great mage parties!”)
Charles glares. “No, there is not.”
“Oh, good point! I am friends with more than one mage.”
“Oh, you know others then? Who?”
Georgia hesitates, then folds her arms. “I…decline to comment at this moment.”
Charles leans a hand on the frame of the door, slowly drawing his fingernails—unusually long and well-groomed—along the wood. “What if I give you the Chantry and then I go up to that tower and burn it down. What do you say to that?”
Georgia turns to look at the red lights of Sutro Tower blinking slowly in the distance. “Well, for one thing the city kind of likes that tower. For another thing, that tower is full of a lot of cabbage, so its entirely possible if you light it on fire it will explode and the whole city with it. Also it will smell bad.” She turns back. “Is this a personal vendetta you have against the mage?”
His fingernails dig deeper. “I have a personal vendetta against anything that serves the Wyrm. Unlike the werewolves, I have the capacity to deal with such things rationally.”
She tilts her head. “I don’t think the mages serve the Wyrm.”
“Ah, but the mage helps you, what do you think that makes him?”
“Uh, a Nazi-killer?”
Charles hesitates with another glacial blink. “Nazi-killer?”
“Yeah, that was the only reason he agreed to help me. Also because I am his scientific research assistant.” She beams proudly. Behind her, van Brugge facepalms.
Charles stares at her a long moment, leaning forward. Georgia leans forward as well. He stares down at her, breath hot, slowly growing hotter, until… “…Very well. You may have your Chantry back.”
Georgia blinks. “Oh?”
He releases the door frame and stands up. “Oh yes. Entirely intact. Yours to do with as you wish.”
“That’s…quite kind of you.”
He smiles. “No, it’s not, but you’ll find out soon enough. “
Georgia hesitates, but soldiers on with her attack of politeness. “…Well, I am indebted to you in some manner, though I know not how yet.”
“You will discover it. Or perhaps you will be dead first. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see. Please, head right in.” He looks at van Brugge. “You too, Mr…whatever your name is. Do as you will, with my blessing.”
“Interesting…that’s a really odd change of heart,” van Brugge says skeptically.
Charles grins. “No, it isn’t.”
Georgia glances at the van again. “Um, so should I let the bison out or…?”
“No, no I’ll take the bison back myself.” Charles steps past the threshold and bows to her. “Enjoy your stay at the San Francisco Tremere Chantry.
Georgia curtsies back. “Thank you, I hope you did as well.”
Charles produces a cane from behind the door and calmly walks to the van. Bob jumps out and scrambles away, giving him a wide berth, to join Georgia. Charles climbs into the van, starts it up, and drives off without another look.
“How did you convince him to leave?” Bob whispers, awed.
Georgia draws herself up. “I asked him politely. That means he has almost certainly left a death-trap for us within this building.”
van Brugge clears his throat and gathers himself as if to leave. “Well, I will leave that to you—“
Georgia glares at him. “Thank you, you have been very helpful,” she says with uncharacteristic sarcasm.
Bob, meanwhile, is peering closely at van Brugge’s apparition. “Who are you?”
van Brugge looks down at him. “Your dark lord and master.”
Georgia steps forward and gestures. “This is Adrianus van Brugge, he is our Fireman.”
“Oh….” If Bob’s face got any paler, he could rival Charles. “…Hi. I’m Bob. Head Ghoul.”
van Brugge stares at him a moment, then turns to Georgia. “I do have one question, why did you have a bison?”
She beams. “To get the dragon out of the Chantry!”
(Me: “The steaks were really high!”
Jim: “That’s the meat of it.”
Ben: “…van Brugge looks like he’s trying to understand a Salvador Dali painting. One of the weirder ones.”
Chris: “…As opposed to?”
Kara: “Look, I needed a succinct way to tell the dragon to hoof it.”
Ben: “…I should vaporize you for that pun.”
Jim: “Yeah it’s getting pretty hairy in here.”)
van Brugge stares between Georgia’s innocent face and the giggling assholes on the other side of the fourth wall. “Well, I guess it did work, so…I’m going to let that pass, I guess…?”
(Me: “Just go home and ruminate on it for awhile.”
Ben: “…I hate you so much.”
Kara: “Don’t have a cow.”
Jason: “I swear, this is a load of bull.”)
van Brugge facepalms. “…I’m just going to go.”
Georgia throws up her arms. “But we need to check for death traps!”
van Brugge sighs. “Fine, I’ll assist you with that. Don’t want the Chantry exploding.”
“….Again.” Georgia stares at the open front door and the darkened foyer beyond. “Well, it’s almost morning, so we must be expeditious.” She claps Bob on the shoulder. “Bob, you go in first.”
When Bob doesn’t explode upon crossing the threshold, Georgia enters and van Brugge peaces out with promises to return the next night. Georgia and Bob lock themselves in the foyer, too nervous to venture further into the building, but Georgia realizes that this leaves Bob without access to anything. She calls Paul and asks if one of his people can order Bob a pizza or something, Paul promises to do one better and offers to send Gates to ghoul-sit Bob.
(Garvin: “This is the best day ever for Bob! He’s getting a henchman, gets to go outside in the daylight, and maybe even a pizza!”)
Relieved, Georgia accepts this, and also accepts Paul’s invitation to the Thing in Alameda tomorrow night.
(Kara: “Oh wait, wasn’t I supposed to go to Pluto tomorrow night?”
Me: “No, not yet, it was delayed because of cabbages.”)
THE TWILIGHT’S FORTUNE
Once our loot is stowed, the Twilight slides under the wreckage of Accio’s fleet and charts a course back for San Francisco. Deep as we are, I can still feel the weight of rising daylight settling on my consciousness, so I slink off to find a place to crash for the day. I eventually settle in one of the forward torpedo rooms, the one I sliced our way out of earlier. I slouch against the cold metal, waiting for oblivion, but—just as in life—a rush of thoughts seems to hold it at bay.
The long-awaited Boat Job was a success—I’m sitting in the proof of that now—but it certainly wasn’t without its low points. Pwning Accio’s bitches with Vera was…well, a little fun, but more freeing. But now that that rush is gone, the unintentional deaths weigh on me. The mind-fucked drones on the sub. The slave-boy on the cruise liner. Hell, even Monterey still hangs heavy on my mind. I scowl and shift against the wall. Sure, maybe it’s all just signs of me finally living up to my nature, but from where I’m sitting, the shape of that “nature” is clear:
A thug. Mindless muscle-for-hire. Vampire-muscle, sure, but at the end of the day no different from human specimens of the same breed. Just point me at something and step out of the way. I chuckle. Cost-efficient, too, since the simple mechanics of my existence means I can mow down everything in front of me without wasting a single bullet.
My laughter trails off, choked by a rising tension in my throat. I lean back and squeeze my eyes shut. I can’t stop killing people. I want to, but I can’t. Sooner or later I’m going to lose control again, whether or not I have a gun in my hand. Sooner or later I’ll be forced to bite someone of unknown status, someone who won’t think to get tested before spending nights with other people. Such fears have loomed over me the last two decades—shoved aside when possible, drowned with distractions when they weren’t—but now that I’m finally sitting and facing them head-on, I realize that they’re not even the worst.
Losing control scares me, but what terrifies me is someone twisting it to their advantage, setting me loose to destroy while taking everything else away.
My fist clenches against the deck. I can’t stop myself from being a vampire, but maybe I can stop myself from being just a thug. I need to change the equation, need to do something more. I’ve been living halfway between the human and the vampire world for twenty years now. Every time I’ve tried to change something I’ve dipped into the human side of the fence, and every time I have, things have come off worse for it. Maybe it’s time I tried going the other way. It wont stop all the deaths, but all else being equal, nothing else I can do will either.
I pull the scepter out from under my shirt, and after a moment, I pull out the small leather bag too. The scepter is impressive, but something tells me this bag hidden inside is what Marcus was after in the first place. I carefully examine the bag’s figures a moment before closing and stashing it safely in the tightest pocket of my jeans. Whatever it is, it’s something I plan on delivering to him in person.
And maybe, this time, Boss owes me more in return than just his thanks.
END OF PART 1