1/22/2015

Jason: “Really? You’re going to walk in openly carrying a sword?”
Me: “Well I’m not gonna shove it down my pants!”
Jason: “Okay, but remember, you do have an Unforgettable Face and you do tend to attract attention.”
Me: “Yeah, well, with werewolves all the fuck over the place I am not letting that sword out of my sight.”
Jason: “Yeah, there are werewolves all over the place, including one right next to you.”
Me: “No, man, it’s fine, she’s cool.”

***

(Kara: “Here’s my notes from last week. ‘Session 57: Pluto! Goats. …Or not? I meet Professor Barnabas Chauncey Snodgrass. I hate him immediately.’ ”)

HMES HARRUMPH (GOD SAVE THE QUEEN)

Professor Snodgrass stands stoically at the edge of the room, staring out at Jupiter, slowly swirling a glass of brandy in one hand. Georgia is still in her seat at the long table, but craning her neck to see Snodgrass’s place at the other end. “May I see the map?” she asks.

Snodgrass turns slowly to glare at her. “Are you doubting my navigational skills?”

“Oh goodness no. I just want to go home, and how am I supposed to do that if I don’t know where I am?”

“Where is home?” he rumbles, taking a sip of brandy,

“Earth.” She peers at the stars. “I want to know which way it is in case I have to swim home.”

“Earth!” Snodgrass sputters disdainfully. “You cant swim back to Earth! It’s a hundred and fifty-seven million miles!”

“I’m a very strong swimmer,” Georgia says reproachfully.

He stares at her a long moment, sneering again at her patchwork “spacesuit” of flayed umbrellas. “You’re a vampire, you’d cook like a sausage.” He turns back to the view.

Georgia sighs. “Reginald, may I see the map please?”

“Very good, madam.” The butler brings the map over from the other end of the table and unrolls it in front of her, revealing a yellowing map. Rather than stars, it seems to show towns and countryside, with elaborate script at the top titled, “Dorset.”

Georgia blinks. “Oh, no, I meant can I see a map of our current location?”

“Yes, madam.” Reginald rolls it up, then immediately unrolls it. Now the map shows a very tiny dot in one corner labelled “Dorset,” and another equally-tiny dot in the opposite corner labelled “HMES Harrumph.” There is nothing else on the map.

“Oh…thank you, Reginald, this is very helpful.” She rolls it up and tucks it into her suit. “Um…am I excused from dinner, then?”

Snodgrass gestures dismissively without turning around. “Yes, you may have your run of the place. But…do not disturb the Blue Room.” He fixes her with another long glare. “I had it furnished specially, and I wish no…feminine touch upon my trophies.”

(Chris: “His trophies are phallus status from various historical civilizations. He finds them comfortably masculine.
Jason: “Well, they were gonna be, but if you gotta spoil it….”
Jim: “Phallus-chairs!”
Jason: “Best not to speak of those.”
Chris: “Yes, don’t make any assumptions, that would be a…phallus-y.”
Kara: “Well, I just know I’m gonna cock this up.”
Jason: “If you people are done dicking around….”
Me: *doing dishes, stops* “Wait! Am I missing penis puns!?”)

Georgia frowns at him, then leaves, returning to the sitting room where she arrived. Now alone, she takes a few minutes to scoot back the heavy furniture and fur rugs to the edges of the room, bites her hand, then carefully begins making a ritual circle on the hardwood floor.

#

THE FINANCIAL DISTRICT

As Marcus’s car approaches the Pyramid, Anstis reflects on his imminent meeting with Bell, realizing suddenly that in order for it to go as well as he would like, something is missing.

So he rolls down the car window and leans outside, using his Animalism to call Boopsy.

(Jim: “So, basically I go, ‘Yipyipyipyipyipyipyip!’ as we drive through downtown?”)

Once he gets the sense that the Shitzu is coming, Anstis rolls the window back up and settles calmly into his seat, ignoring Marcus’s  and Aquilifer’s stares.

They arrive at the Pyramid and find Boopsy waiting on the sidewalk out front. Anstis scoops him up, again ignoring Marcus’s look, and they head inside.

“You have an interesting taste in ghouls,” Marcus mutters. At that moment, Aquilifer burps a carnitas-laden burp behind him. Anstis diplomatically does not comment.

They reach the Prince’s floor and Marcus heads into Bell’s office without a word, closing the door behind him. Anstis settles into a chair outside, stroking Boopsy. Aquilifer flutters onto one across from him. There they sit, waiting quietly, staring daggers at each other.

#

HMES HARRUMPH (GOD SAVE THE QUEEN)

It takes Georgia some time to construct a teleportation circle to target the Chantry, Snodgrass’s map obviously being of no help, but she finally completes it to her satisfaction. She steps back and activates it.

Something is wrong. The circle glows, power thrumming through it, but she senses that it’s not right. Something is blocking the circle, not from the Chantry, but from reaching Earth at all.

“Reginald?” she calls. There’s a sharp rap at the door and he appears. He glances at circle imperturbably, then bows. “Is there a ward against teleporting off the HMES Harrumph, God Save the Queen?” Georgia asks him.

“I am afraid these are questions best addressed to the good professor,” he drawls.

Georgia sighs. “Fine, lead the way, please.”

Reginald takes her back through the ship, to the door leading to the dining room, but she steps through to find it now different. The room now has walls and, like the sitting room, another large mantle with a roaring fire. More hunting trophies cover the walls, along with framed photos and plaques. Between all these nick-knacks, the wallpaper is blue.

Professor Snodgrass, reading a book in a leather chair on a tiger-skin rug, looks up and frowns. “Mmmmyes?”

Georgia meets his gaze, then reaches out experimentally, gently poking a display of a stuffed bird with an overlarge beak. Snodgrass erupts into blustering grumbles. Georgia removes her hand, smiling to herself.

“Professor,” she asks delicately as she settles into a chair across from him, “Are there any…restrictions on your ship?”

His glare deepens. “Restrictions?”

“Wards, I mean, that would interfere with travel.”

“Hmmph,” he grumbles, reaching for his brandy. “The HMES Harrumph, God save the Queen!…” he lifts his glass in a toast and sips, “…Is protected against intruders, yes, but you may leave at any time.”

Georgia hesitates. “…False,” she says, explaining how she just tried to teleport and could not.

“Poppycock!” He turns back to his book. “Vampires cannot do magic anyway.”

Georgia goes very still, eyes narrowing.

(Kara: “…Is there like a bowl, or some kind of non-flammable container?”)

Suddenly Georgia gets up, sweeping across the room to pick a ceramic vase off the mantle. Snodgrass glares at her, but she ignores him, conjuring a small lick of flame in the vessel and setting it on the table in front of him.

Hmmph!” He sets the book down. “That is not real magic. Simple thaumaturgical trick!”

“Well what do you think magic is?”

“Magic is the proper application of unfettered will.”

“That’s ridiculous! It is the proper application of Science and study!”

“Bah! Nonsense! You sound that like teutonic fool!” He takes another sip from his glass, which strangely enough hasn’t seemed to empty at all. “You wish to use your parlor tricks to locomote from this facility? Where are you going?”

“Earth!”

“Earth!? You cant go to Earth! We’re passed the Umbral Veil!”

Georgia hesitates. “What’s that?”

Snodgrass chuckles meanly. “Don’t you know anything about Transdimensional Science? Most unorthodox! The Umbral Veil lies in the infinite space between us and Earth. Surrounding Earth.”

Georgia blinks, processing this. “Just around Earth?”

“Of course! Where else do you think it would be located? There’s no-one on the other planets! Well…unless you count indigenous tribes, but who would,” he grumbles.

(Me: “Whooah!
Jason: *shrug* “19th century Britain.”
Me: “You know, Australian Aboriginals were officially counted as ‘wildlife’ until the 1970s. ”
Chris: “Really? Were they kept as pets?”
Me: “Kinda, yeah, cause their children were taken away from them and sent to live with white people. Multiple times.”)

Snodgrass levers himself up and strides over a bookshelf. “You can’t return to Earth by thaumaturgical means, we’re in a completely different shard realm!”

Georgia throws her arms out. “Why not? It can do anything else!”

“Is that what you think?” He rumbles in blustering laughter as he replaces the book, then turns to her and smiles. “Can it do this?”

Instantly, without a snap, or even a blink, they’re back in the dining room, walls open to Jupiter and the stars.

Georgia stares for a long moment then turns to him, “I imagine that with proper study and application of blood I could do this.”

“Well, by all means try. Go back to your German.” He settles in his seat at the head of the table, picking up his brandy glass conveniently placed there.”

Georgia sighs and sinks into her chair. “Isn’t that what I’ve been trying to do for several hours?”

“I will take you there, in time. But we must make our stop at Pluto first. It shall not take long, this is a proper ethership.” He gazes proudly at the ships wheel behind him. “No teutonic nonsense, this is English engineering!”

(Me: “Just don’t ask about the electrical system.”)

Snodgrass sips his brandy slowly, glaring through the fourth wall. “Most unorthodox….” he grumbles.

Georgia watches Jupiter’s stately progression a few moments. “So what’s a shard realm?”

Snodgrass chokes briefly on his brandy, then leans forward to glare at her. “A shard realm is a realm outside Consensus. A realm wherein anything can be done because we create our own. No scratching about in the dirt amidst the Sleepers and miscreants.”

None of this makes sense to her, of course, but at this point she’s tired of beating her head against his patronizing wall. “How long till we arrive at Pluto?” she sighs.

“‘Shant be more than eighteen hours.”

She sighs again. “Is there somewhere I can rest?”

“But of course. REGINALD!” The butler enters the room with a bow. “Take Ms. Johnson to the guest quarters. Make certain they are properly dusted first, we cant have anything impugn upon her feminine constitution.” He gestures with his glass, level still untouched. “And fetch me more brandy.”

Georgia gets up to follow Reginald from the room, but hesitates at the door, eyeing an oil painting of dead pheasants in a baroque frame. “This is quite pretty,” she says, reaching forward to daintily knock it off alignment.

She leaves to a chorus of Snodgrass’s affronted blustering.

#

WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK

Augustus von Rabenholz, Pfalzgraf of his family holdings, Kurfürst von Bayern, is sitting on a bench at the edge of the park, drumming his fingers against the wood. It’s now almost an hour since Ms. Johnson was supposed to meet him, which he confirms against a pocketwatch. With a rumbling sigh, he finally gets up, adjusts his cape, grabs his cane, and heads deeper into the North Beach neighborhood, angling toward the Pyramid looming not far away.

While cutting down a long alley, Pfalzgraf suddenly senses someone following him. He waits until he’s deep in a patch of shadows, then whirls, drawing a sword from his cane in one practiced movement. In front of him is a bearded man, also dressed in a cape, but much more thread-bare, layered over a waistcoat and suit covered in buttons and brocade, barely covering the rapier sword slung on his waist.

(Chris: “A ridiculously-dressed vampire with a sword….”
Jason: “Says the ridiculously-dressed vampire with a sword.”)

The man eyes Rabenholz from under a strange half-squashed hat. “And who are you….” he rumbles.

“A visitor, for the moment,” Rabenholz says evenly, keeping the sword drawn.

“A visitor…I have heard of no visitors arriving here. What is your name, sir?”

“My name is my own for the moment.”

“And if I demand it of you?” the strange man says. His tone is assertive, carrying a weight of practiced leadership, and he hasn’t drawn his own sword yet. Assuming he is some sort of important local figure, Rabenholz relaxes slightly. “Then do I have your assurances of your discretion, sir?”

“Discretion?” The man steps forward. “I am THE VERY MODEL OF DISCRETION!!11!1”

The voice echoes through the alley. Rabenholz blinks. “I am…thrilled to hear it.”

“As well you OUGHT! Do you not know whom you are addressing, sir?!”

“I am afraid I have not made the pleasure of your acquaintance,” Rabenholz says carefully.

The man sweeps his cape back, revealing his full—for lack of a better term—finery. “I, sir, am EMPEROR JOSHUA ABRAHAM NORTON THE FIRST!!! RULER OF THESE UNITED STATES AND PROTECTOR OF MEXICO!!!!!!”

“…Quite,” Rabenholz says flatly. “You are familiar with this town, I imagine?”

“I am the EMPEROR, and this is my city! I know it as well as any!”

“I am very sorry Emperor, I have been misinformed. My understanding was this city is the jurisdiction of a Mr. Theo Bell right now.”

“THEOPHILIUS BELL!” Now Norton draws his sword, glaring around at invisible enemies. “Prisoner of the Pyramid! A Justicar sent down from on high to issue edicts! What does he know of this city? NOTHING!!!” Then, just as quickly as it appeared, the sword is sheathed and Norton whirls back to him. “And who might you be sir?” he asks, suddenly calm.

Notably, Rabenholz does not ask Norton about his clan. “I am Augustus von Rabenholz,” he says, bowing stiffly.

“Rabenholz? That is a GERMAN name! We have had our fill of Germans in these parts!”

“You’ll have to do with being filled a little more then.” Rabenholz sheathes his sword-cane and places it smartly in front of him. “As you are the executive of this area, I suppose I should present myself to you. I have been…out of the world, for a time.”

Norton beams and gestures grandly at the piss-stinking alley. “Well you have come back to the right place. This city brims over with gold and riches untold! And opportunities like no other!”

“I am glad to hear that,” Rabenholz says diplomatically.

“BUT! There is important business before we commence. I would know a thing, sir….” Norton leans forward, face drawn and serious. “The city in which you stand! What…is it’s name…?”

“…San Francisco?” Rabenholz says, bemused.

“…QUITE SO!” Norton whips up straight. “I shall show you to the Pyramid, and there you shall make such abeyances as you see fit, as any gentlemen must. THIS WAY!!”

The two cloaked men sweep up Columbus Avenue toward the Pyramid, Norton appraising Rabenholz on the state of the city along the way. To hear the Maklavian talk, it’s all Madness and Sparta all the time, but Rabenholz frowns and seems to take at least some of these concerns seriously. “I understand there is no longer a Prince?” he interjects during a brief lull.

Norton stops in the middle of the sidewalk. Late-night foot-traffic pours around them, giving only a few strange looks. “There is a Prince…but we do not know his location! And worse yet, we are subjugated to the Sabbat,” he spits. “A PRISCUS, no less, that resides within this city! Inserting his tendrils everywhere….”

(Me: “Phrasing!”)

Rabenholz glances around the crowd and neighborhood, which, for all intents and purposes, looks perfectly normal. “Is there a Primogen council?” he asks.

“The Primogens are dead,” Norton growls. “All but I and the Nosferatu.”

Rabenholz stares up at the Pyramid looming just a few blocks away. “That is quite a decimation. What about the Tremere presence?”

Norton stalks on. “There is a Tremere, she is quite clever. She is most certainly at the Chantry, in Russian Hill.” He gestures behind them, to the north. “Are you of the Tremere?”

“I have made a number of enemies in my years,” Rabenholz says diplomatically.

“Ah, you have made enemies of the wizards? It does not do to meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle! And good with ketchup!”

Rabenholz eyes him. “This Tremere, she is the Regent?”

“She is, now. The others are dead. There was a dragon.” Norton leans closer. “Do not meddle either in the affairs of dragons, for they are crunchy and quick to anger.” Rabenholz nods slowly and lets the rest of the walk pass in silence.

They reach the Pyramid. Norton offers to escort Rabenholz up to Bell personally, but he declines the offer with as much grace as he can muster.

“VERY WELL!” Norton bows. “I shall return to my abode. If you seek me, I shall be in the Imperial Palace! Ask anyone, and they will direct you to it.” With that, he pivots smartly on his heel and sweeps off into the night.

(Jason: “…Yeah, you’ll never find it.”)

#

HMES HARRUMPH (GOD SAVE THE QUEEN)

Reginald leads Georgia to a bedroom, just as wood-paneled and overstuffed as everything else she’s seen so far. A four-poster bed dominates the room, dressed in deep blue satin sheets with a bear skin tossed on top. She sinks onto the edge, stroking the linens, momentarily recalling Orlando’s creepy fleshbed and half-expecting it to purr back. If her teleportation circles won’t work, she needs a new plan to get off the ship, or at the very least, find some way to contact Dr. vonNatsi and Paul to let them know she’s ok.

“Will there be anything else, madam?” Reginald drawls from the doorway.

Her hand pauses. “Reginald…,” she says slowly, “What would you say if I were to offer for you to drink my blood?”

His face doesn’t lose its bored expression. “It would not be proper, madam.”

“Oh goodness. Is that the only thing stopping you?” She flutters her eyes at him.

“I’m afraid I don’t follow, madam. Are you experiencing some sort of difficulty? We have a blood-purifying capacity here, if you need.”

She tilts her head. “Purifying it from what?”

“Impurities, madam. Will you be requiring it?”

She sighs. Obviously maneuvering a new ghoul for herself won’t be part of the plan. “No. thank you, Reginald.”

“Very good, madam. Good evening.” He bows and leaves.

Georgia stares around this new room. There’s no hunting trophies here. Instead, the brocade-papered walls hung with oil paintings of landscapes, most of them unfamiliar. She gets up to examine one of a wide, red desert streaked with canals when something else suddenly catches her attention.

Her silver bracelet, the communication bracelet Max gave her, vibrates gently against her wrist, thrumming with magical energy. She peers at it, turning it against the gaslight, and as it rotates she hears a voice fade in and out, staticky as a radio receiver. She angles in on the strongest orientation, finally making out the sound of someone reciting what sounds like a list of coordinates.

“Hello?” she whispers into the bracelet.

The voice crackles, “…44×7, All systems check, scanners report no contact. Passing 15,000….

She blinks. “15,000 what?”

Getting a little bit of interference on the combands, trying to compensate—

“Hey, hey now, don’t compensate, listen to me—“

—Still getting interference, whats going on down there?

“I’m here!”

There’s a pause, the bracelet thrumming silently. “…Who is this?” the voice finally says.

Georgia paces the room slowly, speaking into her wrist. “Hi, this is Georgia. Who’s this?”

…We’ve got an unencrypted intruder on this line, cycle the band now—

She stops. “Wait, I’m totally encrypted!”

“…Who IS this?

“I told you, Georgia!”

Is that a code sign? We’re under radio silence!

“Then why are you broadcasting on the radio?” she chastises.

I—WHO THE HELL IS THIS?

“Georgia Johnson, Regent. Who are you?”

…Run that name! Look, what is going on here? If this is Control calling in again, I’m going to be pissed.”

“I am attempting to contact my people, your radio band is in my way.”

A pause. “…Okay, will somebody get this…whatever the hell this is off my channels?” There’s another long pause, as the distant sound of someone else fills the background. “I don’t care, try it again!” the first voice barks.

Georgia settles herself onto the bed again. “Well, it looks like we’re stuck talking to each other for at least a couple more minutes.”

Passing 12,000….” the voice says with obvious forced calm.

“Passing 12,000 what? Put units on your numbers, man!”

“…Give me another scan of that target…I don’t care what the scanners say, there’s no way this is the Professor.”

Georgia sits up. “Oh! Actually I am with the Professor!”

….RUN THAT GODDAMN SCAN AGAIN! Who IS this!?

She makes a blustering sound not unlike Snodgrass himself. “I told you, this is Georgia Johnson, currently a guest of Professor Barnaby Chauncey Snodgrass the Fourth! Where are you?”

…Alright, we’ll assume there’s a dampener on it for now. Passing ten—

“TEN WHAT!?”

(Kara: “ARRGGH unitless numbers!”
Me: “Label your axes!!!!”)

There’s a long silence. When the voice speaks again, its with sudden cool seriousness. “Open the ports.

Georgia tenses. “Don’t you open those ports—“

Please ignore the sideband chatter, we’ll figure it out afterward.

She looks around the windowless room. “Oh my god, are you firing on a whale? Don’t do it, that whale is protected property!!

Do NOT even start with me!” the voice roars suddenly, professionalism gone. “I don’t know what this is, some sort of automated broadcast or homonculus, but I’m not having it. Get me a shooting solution!

“Um…a what now?”

The bracelet goes quiet for a long minute. Georgia shakes her wrist gently, wondering if it’s still working. Then, finally, the voice speaks again, cooly, “Lieutenant, all batteries fire.

Georgia blinks. “Um, fire and batteries don’t really go well togethe—“ She’s cut off as the entire room shakes, violently, almost throwing her against the wall. A klaxon echoes through the room from the hallway outside, though it sounds more like a bugle call.

“Are you attempting to kill the Professor?” she shouts at her wrist. No answer. More rumbles and the ship shakes again. Georgia sticks her head in the hallway, hearing distant bellows that could only be Snodgrass, shouting for a musket and, quote, “his fighting trousers.”

She hurries down the hall, bracing herself against the sudden jolts, trying doors until she finds her way back to the dining room. Snodgrass is gone, but with the clear walls she can finally see outside.

Silhouetted against Jupiter’s swirling glow is an immense black thing, hulking yet sleek, with industrially-baroque protrusions pointing directly at her. As she watches, they erupt in a technicolor volley, sending missiles streaking through space. The missiles disappear off the view of the window as they approach, and moments later the entire ship shudders and rocks again.

The door behind her slams open and Snodgrass barrels in, wearing a freshly-pressed set of khaki chaps. Georgia turns to him. “Would you like me to set that ship on fire?” she asks, pointing out the window.

He glares at her and storms toward the helm. “We are being accosted by ruffians!!

“Would it help if I lit them on fire?

He peers at a panel covered with brass dials and starts flipping switches. “I don’t see why not,” he mutters.

“Ok. Also, do you want to talk to them?” She holds out her wrist.

Talk to them?” He snorts. “They’re enemies under arms! We must repel them! REGINALD! Prepare the sonic cannons!!”

Georgia claps her other hand over the bracelet. “Oh, I think they might be able to hear—“

Snodgrass suddenly stops, then whirls on her. “Wait…you have them there?” He grabs her wrist and pulls it toward his face, jerking her forward. “THIS IS MOST!! UNORTHODOX!!!!!” he roars at the silver.

No response. He examines the bracelet a moment, brow furrowed, then drops Georgia’s arm and hurries back to the door. “THIS WAY!” he shouts as he disappears. Georgia takes another glance at the ship lurking off their starboard side then follows.

Snodgrass leads her down a staircase into a small room with a small window opening out into space. Reginald is here, still with the same stoic expression, holding a lit torch and standing next to what appears to be a cannon.

“Reginald, quickly!” Snodgrass grabs her hand and shoves it in front of the muzzle. Georgia jerks back instinctively but his grip is surprisingly strong for a human. “Whoah, wait, the jewelry can come off the arm—“

Snodgrass points at the enemy ship framed in the window. “REGINALD! FIIIRE!!!

Reginald touches the torch to the fuse, and before Georgia can release the snap of the bracelet, the iron weapon fires. Instantly her hand is gone, evaporated, though there was no heat of explosion. Georgia shrieks and stumbles back, then turns to see explosions lace the broadside of the opposing ship. It shudders and starts spinning slowly on an oblique axis.

Snodgrass roars in triumph. Georgia stares, then lifts her other hand, pointing it shakily toward the window, and shouts, “That’s what you get for not using units!”

Snodgrass storms back to the stairs. “REGINALD! Ready a boarding party!”

“Very good, sir,” Reginald drawls, blowing out the torch and moving to follow.

Georgia stares out the window. “Oh, is that wise? She’s listing rather badly.”

“Indeed,” Snodgrass grumbles, “And we must retrieve the cargo before she sinks.”

Georgia hesitates, staring at the stump of her arm, then back to the enemy ship floundering in the dark. She turns to Snodgrass, taking a steadying breath, “…Can I come?”

#

CASCADE CANYON, MARIN

The humvee’s headlines bob through the darkness, briefly revealing twisted oaks looming over the dirt road before they slide away behind me. After twenty minutes of bumpy ride, the trees open up and the lights slide across a weathered two-story farmhouse centered in a clearing. I pull up out front, leaving enough room for Slayer to park once he arrives.

The house is more than simply weathered. Bullet holes of all sizes pimple the wood, along with some scorch-marks, and every window is now a glassless eye glaring blindly into the woods. I get out and lean against the open driver door, quietly staring at the house.

The taco truck arrives in a rattling, squealing cacophony and shudders to a halt next to me. Slayer stumbles out, gaping up at the house. “Shit, man, what the hell happened here?”

I happened here,” I say flatly, still staring. There’s no police tape, no sign anyone responded to the mini war-zone that erupted here when I rolled up with Paul and the rest of the team I dragged up here. We are pretty isolated out here, but it’s more likely that Marcus intercepted anyone who did show up.

No, not Boss, I realize suddenly. Aitor probably would have been saddled with that job.  I close my eyes against the memories. Unnecessary deaths, all my fault—

“Man, what the fuck we doing here!?” Slayer barks, kicking at the gravel.

My eyes open into a glare. Maybe not entirely my fault. “This is where I met our new Boss, son. You sent me here, thought you’d like to see it.”

“Shit, man, I didn’t know! This is the middle of fucking Marin, there’s fucking werewolves everywhere!!”

I peer into the shadows of the trees. “Yeah, and one’s about to show up, so—“

“Jesus!” He stumbles, staring around. “THE FUCK we doing here then, a WEREWOLF showing up!?!”

I snap sharply and level a finger at him. “Hey, heeeey…if you’re gonna be loud, you’re gonna have to wait in the car.”

“Man, we shouldnt be here, man, a werewolf comes around he’s gonna rip us apart!” He rubs his arms, shaking like a junkie.

With a sigh, I open the humvee, dig out the M16, and toss it to him. He catches it awkwardly. “The FUCK am I supposed to do with this?”

I shrug. “I don’t know, feel better?”

He stares at me. “MAAAAN, fuck you!”

A whistle drifts from the trees behind us, I turn to see Sophia approaching, dressed in trademark Cubs-cap and over-sized army jacket, carrying a small duffel but otherwise unarmed. Slayer squeals and fumbles with the gun. “Oh shit, oh shit—“

DON’T shoot her!” I bark.

He stumbles backward against the truck. “BUT IT’S A FUCKING WEREWOLF!!!!”

Sophia stops a few yards away, watching quizzically. I roll my eyes at her and turn back to Slayer. “How about you go wait in the car till you calm down? And by the ‘car’ I mean the taco truck, you’re not allowed in my humvee.”

Slayer doesn’t need to be told twice. He scurries into the truck, slamming the door behind him, leaving a muted trail of, “Fuck this shit, man!” drifting in his wake.

I turn back to Sophia and smile. “Hey, girl.” This is the first I’ve seen her since all the shit in San Simeon and I’m relieved to see her looking less jumpy than she did then. Her face is serious, though, as she walks up and unslings her bag to the ground. “Who was that?” she asks carefully.

“He’s…kinda an assistant I got right now. He’s a douche, though, so don’t get too close to him, cause I kinda need him, but I don’t need him in three pieces.”

She looks like she’s about to say something, but then lets it drop. “…Whatever. Look, thanks for coming. There’s some things going on up here, I don’t really understand them all, but it has to do with suckheads, so….”

“Well I’m not exactly a local guide or anything.”

“Yeah, but you got…stuff,” she glances at the humvee, “And people know who you are.”

I hesitate. “…People know who I am?” I ask carefully, a brief thrill passing through me. “What kinda people?”

“Everybody.”

My glee must be clear on my face because her scowl deepens. “I mean they all know about the werewolf you killed. And who you work for. But anyway, they won’t talk to me unless they know I’m a werewolf, and then they don’t wanna talk.”

“Well, if you need me to be your muscle, I’m your guy.” I use the opportunity to strike a flex.

She sighs and kneels down, digging through her duffel bag. I catch a few glimpses of electronics and what looks like a shotgun. “I don’t know what I need,” she mutters. “The Talons have been running around doing some really weird things and I don’t understand why. I’m worried they’re going to do something really, really crazy and get themselves and everything around them killed. “

“Well, what have they been doing, besides apparently showing up to redecorate my house?”

“Supposedly they’ve been running around the North Bay finding suckheads, but…” She glances around the clearing, “…They didn’t kill everybody.”

“That’s…good?”

“Yeah, except that’s not how they operate. Something strange is going on. Do you know any vampires up here?”

“Naw, I barely know half the vampires in the city.”

“Well, I’ve heard about this one guy. Jean, or something French. I think he’s up in Napa. I don’t know much about him, but I know the Talons went to see him, and he’s not dead.”  She glances around again, then beckons me closer. “Something went on up there. I don’t know what it is, and it’s kinda freaking me out.”

I nod. The concern on her face is reason enough for me. “So what’s your plan?”

She blinks and looks at me strangely. I realize that, werewolf or not, most kids her age probably aren’t used to being asked her opinion by adults. She rummages in the bag a few moments, then pulls out a small tablet, pockets it, and stands up. “Find this guy, find out what happened. But he keeps himself pretty well hidden and I don’t know how to find him. And like I said, your guys won’t talk to me.”

“Well, maybe we can go up there, roll around some bars, crack some heads. It’s seemed to work out well for me before when I needed to get information.” I glare at the taco truck. Slayer is peering at us through the driver-side window. He sees me staring, squeaks soundlessly, then ducks out of sight

“Where did you dig that guy up?” Sophia asks.

“What, Slayer?”

She chokes down a laugh. “…That’s his name?”

“I know, pretty douchey right?” Something occurs to me. I turn back to the truck. “Hey Slayer! What’s your real name?”

There’s a pause. “…Maurice!” his muffled voice shouts back.

“That’s pretty!” I turn back to Sophia. “Anyway, I met him at some bar and—“

She holds up a hand, grinning. “No, no hold on. I’ve heard of this guy. I see him online sometimes, bragging about how he’s some big ass-kicker that kills werewolves.”

“Reaaaaally….” I turn back to the truck slowly. “Cause from what I know, he sends other people to kill his marks for him.”

“What?”

“Oh, he’s the one who sent me up here,” I gesture to the farmhouse, “originally to kill Boss.”

“He sent you to kill the Devourer?” She looks at the truck, fighting a grin. “What a douchebag.”

“I know, right!? Worked out well for him though!” I shout. Slayer doesn’t respond.

We’re burning moonlight, so I instruct Slayer to stay in Cascade Canyon while we’re gone, holing up in the underground bunker behind the house if we’re not back by daylight. I open the back of the trucks to sort out the inventory I want to bring. As I’m finishing, Sophia comes over to toss her bag into the back of the humvee. “So, he’s like, your bitch right?” she asks.

I smirk. “Oh yeah.”

“So I can’t kill him?”

I shut the door. “Nah, he can still be useful.”

She nods. “…Do we have to tell him, though?”

As one we turn to look at the taco truck. “No, no….” I say, grin widening. “It’s probably better if he doesn’t know.

#

HMES HARUMPH (GOD SAVE THE QUEEN)

(Jason: “The next few minutes are filled with a series of strange things.”
Jim: “As opposed to the previous few minutes?”)

Snodgrass leads Reginald and Georgia to the other ship by way of a longboat. As in, an actual longboat, with oars and everything. Reginald rows. They soar through space, the ship growing larger until it eclipses the view of Jupiter behind it. Reginald steers them to what appears to be an airlock, which opens at a sharp, polite knock from Snodgrass and admits them into a landing bay.

Georgia stares around them as the boat settles to the deck, listing on its keel. Everything she saw of the HMES Harrumph was wood and overstuffed leather, but this ship seems to favor metal and clean, sweeping lines. Snodgrass climbs out and strides to a door. Georgia follows, leaving Reginald standing stoically at rest in the landing craft.

The door whisks open as they approach, revealing a long, empty hallway. Snodgrass peers down it and huffs. “We shall split up to cover more ground. I shall go forward in search of the bridge.”

Georgia leans around him. “Ah, excellent. I shall look for…not the bridge.”

“Quite so. REGINALD! Fetch my elephant gun!”

“Very good, sir,” Reginald drawls, suddenly standing behind Georgia hoisting a musket gun almost half as tall as he is, one that definitely wasn’t in the boat on the way over. Snodgrass takes it and stalks down the hall, Reginald marching in his wake. Georgia heads in the opposite direction.

Georgia walks for some time, passing various rooms and storage bays, but there’s still no sign of anyone. She eventually reaches a narrow hallway lined with heavy, identical doors. Most are locked, but she opens one to find what can only be a cramped, empty cell. She frowns thoughtfully and closes it with a heavy thud that echoes through the hall.

…Until she realizes it’s not an echo, it’s banging, coming from behind one of the other doors, undercut by muted yells, “Hello? Is anyone there?” Georgia tries the door but it doesn’t budge, though the key-panel next to it beeps angrily.

Footsteps echo down the hall, approaching rapidly. Georgia freezes, caught in the open, and gropes for her dagger. A woman suddenly appears from around a corner, dressed in some sort of coverall uniform, and running.

“Stop!” Georgia holds up the stump of her other hand. “Are you dangerous?”

The woman stumbles to a halt. “Who the hell…are…you….” She stares at Georgia’s colorful suit and the primium dagger brandished in her hand. “…Oh, shit!” she yelps, then turns and bolts back the direction she came.

But she only gets a few steps before Georgia tackles her from behind.

“Are…you…dangerous?” Georgia repeats as they struggle on the floor. The woman gasps and reaches down her leg toward something that looks like a holster. Without an extra hand to grab it, Georgia sighs and lunges down to bite her. The woman jerks once, then passes out.

Georgia rolls her over and starts looting searching her. She examines the gun in the holster, which, like the ship, is all brushed metal and clean lines. Georgia shrugs and pockets it, and keeps searching till she finds a keycard. She returns to the locked door, its inhabitant still pounding on the other side, and waves it open with the card.

The man on the other side stops mid-knock. Middle-aged, with small round glasses and dark South Asian features. He stares at her and steps back, stunned.

“Are you dangerous?” Georgia asks.

He takes another step back. “Who are you?”

Georgia sighs. “Are? You? Dangerous? Come on, it’s a simple yes-no question, I just knocked a lady out for not answering.”

He stares at the woman face-down in the hallway. “…No?”

(Me: “If a stranger wielding a dagger, who just took out a prison guard, asks if you are dangerous, you say…yes!”)

“I think you might be, but you’re probably confused so I’m going to let that slide.” She puts the card away and delicately holds out her only hand. “I’m Georgia, how are you?”

“What are you doing here?”

“I rescued you. What are you doing here?”

He stares a moment. “I’m seeing the sights, what does it look like I’m doing here?!”

“Well it looks like you were imprisoned. Want to tell me why you were imprisoned?”

“You weren’t?” He peers past her into the hallway. “What’s going on?”

“I helped take this ship.”

Take the ship? Who sent you?”

She holds up her stump of a wrist. “First, whats your name?”

He sighs. “Jawahar. Jawahar Singh.”

“Okay! See, that wasn’t difficult. So, why were you in prison?”

“Because they locked me up,” he snaps.

Georgia blinks. “Wow, okay. Well if you’re going to be rude maybe I should just put you back.”

“Look, I don’t know who the hell you are!”

“So, we’re not going to do one of those, ‘Enemy of my Enemy’ things then?”

“The enemy of my enemy would actually be a lot worse,” he mutters darkly. “Who and what are you? Are you with a Tradition?”

She draws herself up proudly. “I…am a practitioner of magic and Science.”

“You’re an Etherite?” He looks her over, lingering on her umbrella-suit. “You don’t look like an Etherite.”

“I’m apprenticed to an Etherite.” She hesitates. “But my powers are not entirely in line with what you think of Etherite powers—“

“What I think of Etherite powers is chrome and chaos.”

“Ah, well I’m more the fire and water kind. But also the chaos, a little—“

“If you’re going to explain your theories to me can we do it another time?” he says, peering into the hallway again.

“Sure. But what are you?” Her gaze goes soft a moment as she checks his aura. “…You’re sparkly, I like that.”

He gapes at her a long moment. “…Oh dear god, you are an Etherite. Look, I don’t know if you know where we are but it’s time we left!”

“Okay, but you lead the way,” she says brightly.

“I don’t know this ship!”

She gestures down the hall with her stump. “Well I came from that way, so we should probably explore that way—“

“I’m not trying to explore this ship I’m trying to escape it! Don’t you know where we are?” He leans closer, voice dropping to a hiss. “This is an Engineer’s ship! They’ll be looking for us!”

“Oh, okay. Well, what do you suggest we loot before we escape? We should probably check these other rooms—“ Georgia badges the next door open, then stops. Inside is a woman, lying twisted on the floor, half-burned beyond all recognition, and very, very dead.

Jawahar gasps and grips the door frame. “Oh my god, what did they do to her?”

“Hmm. Don’t know.” Georgia badges the door closed. “Well, we should continue searching the ship anyway. I’ll lead, if you promise not to stab me in the back. If they come looking for us, we will escape using the rowboat.”

Silence for a few moments as Jawahar stares at the closed cell door, the only sound his heavy breathing. Finally, he brings his haunted gaze up to meet hers. “Is it possible I can go back to prison?”

#

THE PYRAMID

After some time, Marcus exits Bell’s office. Aquilifer rouses herself, but Anstis remains seated. Marcus nods at the pirate. “I have other business to attend to, Captain. I’m sure Mr. Bell would like to speak with you.” With that, he smirks and walks down the hall, Aquilifer padding along behind him after one last death-glare. Anstis gets up, smooths his coat, straightens his hat, then tucks Boopsy under an arm and sweeps into the office.

Bell is standing at the window scowling as he enters, and the scowl only deepens as he sees the dog. “Captain. Hear you had an exciting night?”

Anstis takes a seat without invitation, placing Boopsy on his lap. “They’ve all been exciting lately.”

“Hear you had a more exciting one than normal. Hear you got your hands on some military hardware. Am I going to have a problem with you having this?”

Anstis smiles as he strokes the dog. “It is not my intention to make your life more difficult in the city.”

“Of the last dozen or so things you’ve done in this city, how many of them were your intention?”

Anstis considers his answer. “…I found these past few nights threw some unexpected things at me.”

Bell scowls again and stalks over to the desk. “You will recall, Captain, that some nights ago we had a conversation concerning letters of mark. This was before you had your hands on a ship, although you assured me you had the ability to do so. This ship, I need to know its armaments and I need to know what kind of problem we’re going to have with it, but if we can come to some kind of arrangement, we may be able to do something along those lines.  What do you plan to do with this new boat of yours?”

Anstis’s gaze darkens and drifts to the window. “There’s someone still around that’s greatly wronged me….”

“I imagine that’s a list gets shorter real fast. Who was he?”

“Sir Jonathan Flowers. I don’t know what he’s been up to the last few hundred years, but I know he’s alive. In India. Off the coast.”

“Hmm,” Bell grumbles. “India is a black hole right now, Captain. Something big went down over there. Something bad. Something woke up. Around Bangladesh. Not a lot of information coming out of there. We’re on it, but it’ll be some time, and I got local problems first. You wanna head to India, be my guest, but you’re on your own.” He levels a finger at Anstis. “But that doesn’t mean you go raiding every capital ship that comes by. Lot of them have the means to defend themselves, maybe break your submarine in half.”

Anstis smiles innocently. “Not planning on it.”

“I would hope not. You got local business first? Cause I hear a strange rumor, about something in Chinatown. I hear you know something about that something in Chinatown.”

Anstis shrugs. “I’m also told you know things about what’s going on in Chinatown.”

“I know a thing or two, but not as much as I want to know. I know the Giovanni run Chinatown. They stay out of everyone else’s way and everyone else stays out of theirs and that seems to work for everybody. But I know you’ve been in Chinatown and been talking to the Giovanni.” Bell leans forward. “I’ve found it’s pretty good business to know why people are talking to the Giovanni.”

Anstis is quiet a long moment, stroking Boopsy. Boopsy growls with Shitzu arrogance at Bell. Finally, Anstis speaks. “They wanted something from Marcus.”

“Really. Does he know that?”

“Aye. But the deal has fallen through.”

“Hmm. What else do they want? No way they just sent you to take out a Methusula.”

“They also want me to track down some…Vampire of the East.”

Bell nods slowly. “Yeah, I heard there were a few of them still hanging around. Anarchs mostly drove them out, but they get everywhere. They don’t like us, one bit. You planning on going own there, trying to take one apart?”

“There is a sizable reward.”

Bell rolls his eyes. “Well, I got no objection. Can’t tell you more about what you got there, but the Nosferatu might know something. If they don’t the Sabbat will. Since you guys are…in with the Sabbat, already.” He glares, then pulls over his computer and starts clicking through as he talks. “Anything else I ought to know about? Dragons, sharks…you collecting the whole set?”

“Killed one of the sharks. The dragon…I’ll leave to others.”

“That’s a mighty fine idea.” Bell taps at the keyboard a moment. “What about Helgi?”

“I have promised to reacquire some of his property, after which he has promised to leave.”

“And what property is this?”

“One thousand pounds of Semtex.”

Bell freezes, then leaps to his feet. “You’re going to give a half ton of explosives to Helgi Isarnbjorn!? I want him out of the city, not to blow it up!!”

“I doubt he’ll blow up the city,” Anstis chastises.

“I know Helgi Isarnbjorn, if he wants a thousand pounds of Semtex it ain’t so he can put his feet on it!” Bell leans over the desk, leveling a finger at Anstis, ignoring Boopsy’s barks. “You get the Semtex, bring it here, and we’ll deal with Isarnbjorn ourselves.”

“The deal has already been struck, and I do not back out of deals,” Anstis says darkly.

“You may want to rethink that statement in front of me, Captain, cause I’m not letting that insane viking walk around with that much firepower. Where is the Semtex now?”

“A colleague of mine has it off the coast.”

Bell goes still. “…Morgan,” he mutters, “Captain fucking Morgan, Morgan the Terrible, has a thousand pounds of Semtex?”

Anstis fights a grin. “From what I’ve seen, that’s the least of his armaments.”

Bell comes around the desk to loom over him. “Captain, you know as well as I that nothing runs to plan in this town and I cant really do all I want to do, but I want to be very, very clear on this point. If that Semtex isn’t recovered and put into proper hands, I will go to war out here. I will put Morgan’s fleet on the bottom of the ocean, I will send Isarnbjorn to Valhalla in pieces, do you understand me?”

Anstis regards him calmly. “The Semtex will be delivered in two nights, if you wish to be there.”

“Let’s say I do. Where’s the drop?”

“Helgi’s place, in Alameda.”

Bell nods slowly. “Well then I’ll see you in two nights, and we’ll have ourselves a good ol’ time.”

Anstis nods a nod in the careful space between gracious and mocking, tucks Boopsy under his arm again, and gets up to leave. At the door, though, Bell suddenly calls, “Oh, and Captain…do I want to know what’s with the dog?”

Anstis hesitates, then turns back with a smile. “It’s just a dog.”

#

Rabenholz steps out on the 40th floor of the Pyramid, and as he exits the elevator, a smelly squid-faced pirate carrying a dog enters it. They look at each other as they pass but don’t say anything. Rabenholz has already forgotten him by the time he knocks and enters Bell’s office.

Bell is behind the desk, looking more than a little put-upon. “Yes?” he sighs, looking Rabenholz over.

Rabenholz bows. “I am Augustus von Rabenholz, childe of John of Bohemia. In life I was Kurfürst Wanderfall’s Kurfürst von Bayern. Formerly of Köln.”

Bell sinks into his chair with a leather squeak. “I’ve heard of you. What in the world are you doing here?”

“I was rendered…out of the world for awhile, recently awakened, and recently arrived in this city. I’ve come to introduce myself to the authorities.”

“Well you picked one hell of a time to wake up. Theophilius Bell, Justicar.” Bell gestures him to a set. “You’re a Ventrue. This city was Ventrue-run until recently. There’s been some…problems.” He hesitates. “That’s not true, there’s been all kinds of fucking problems.”

Rabenholz nods slowly, recalling Norton’s lecture on the way in. “If there’s anything I can do to assist….”

“That depends.” Bell stares at him. “You literally just woke up?”

“Several months ago.”

“What brings you to this city?”

“The situation in Europe is different than when I was last around. Starting with nothing, I figured I might as well try my luck in the American West.”

“The frontier.” Bell sighs and rotates his chair to face the window. “Well, you found it. This city is filled with all manner of terrible shit right now. Prince got dropped by some damn shadow-monster. The city’s filled with dragons, Sabbat. We got werewolves running around the North Bay, packs of Tzmitscian hell-monsters to the south, Anarchs crawling all over the East Bay, sharks and pirates off the coast, and God knows what else. What’s your business?”

Rabenholz is quiet a moment before answering. “I have thought to establish myself once again,” he says carefully. “I have previously done well with the railroads and electricity.”

“Well you picked a good moment, your competitors will all be dead. We’ve lost half the city’s population in a month and a half.”

Rabenholz blinks. “That is…unprecedented.”

“Why do you think I’m standing here? You got a place to hole up?”

“Not yet. By morning I will. Are there any areas I should not meddle in?”

“Where do I start,” Bell mutters. “Golden Gate Park’s off-limits, if the werewolves aren’t running it then something considerably worse is. I wouldn’t mess with the zoo. I wouldn’t go further west than Twin Peaks, and whatever you do don’t go near Sutro Tower. Do your hunting quietly.”

“I wouldn’t dream otherwise,” Rabenholz rumbles.

Bell watches him a moment, fidgeting with a pen on the desk. “You’re Ventrue, what’s your…preference? I understand your caution, but this is  special case. I need to know what I’m dealing with.”

If Rabenholz is taken aback by Bell’s forwardness he diplomatically does not show it. “I cannot feed on firstborn sons.”

Bell rolls his eyes. “You can sort that one out yourself then. City’s been pretty quiet since the Guard came in, but I wouldn’t leave the city limits if I were you.  There’s a couple others running around. A Brujah running around with more guns then brains. A lunatic in a pirate outfit. A neonate Tremere Regent who seems to have more going on than she’s letting on. A crazed tech-guru running around the South Bay, seems to have something set up with the Sabbat. If you see him, just pander to him. He’s Toreador.”

Rabenholz nods regally. “I’m familiar with the type.”

Bell’s hand tightens on the pen. “There’s also a Lasombra running around. Big, nasty, old. Named Perpenna Vento, something Roman like that. Last time I saw him, he took the Chantry apart in one night.”

Rabenholz blinks. “That’s…quite an achievement.”

“It is.” Bell points the pen at him. “So if this Perpenna shows up around you, get out and tell me.”

Bell gets up, and, sensing his imminent dismissal, Rabenholz gets up as well. Bell stares out the window a moment, sighs again, then looks at Rabenholz with a worn smile. “Other than that, welcome to the West Coast.”

(Me: gfjnu68 )

#

SONOMA COUNTY

The ride north is thankfully quiet and werewolf-free, even as the freeways and expanding Bay Area sprawl gives way into open farmlands. I figure if this Jean guy is running the wine country, the best place to start looking for leads is right in the heart of things. Thus, Sophia and I roll into downtown Sonoma and start cruising the central square. I find the dive-iest bar on the strip, the one with the BMW’s out front instead of Mercedes, and park across the street.

“Tom,” Sophia says nervously as we get out, “I don’t know if this is going to work….”

I pat her shoulder. “I know these wine-country types. Everyone knows everyone so finding a lead should be—“

“No, I mean, Tom, I’m sixteen.

Oh. I look her over. She’s definitely small, and the wrong light might give her a waifish-innocence, but luckily the heavy coat hides a lot of that. Humming thoughtfully, I settle it closer around her shoulders and tug the hat lower. “There. That should help, but don’t worry. I’ll be your beard.” I wink, then gesture at the car. “You want a weapon or something in case things get, ah, hairy?”

She glares reproachfully from under her hat, then pulls a gun out of an overlarge pocket of her coat, a 9mm almost twice as large as her hands.

“Damn, girl! Nice!” I level a finger in mock-chastisement. “But that’s for the last resort, alright?”

“No,” she mutters as she puts it away, “I think that’s the second to the last resort.”

I sober up. “…Right. Well, anyway, let’s go.” Leaving my guns behind—but keeping my sword—I lead us to the bar.

(Jason: “Really? You’re going to walk in openly carrying a sword?”
Me: “Well I’m not gonna shove it down my pants!”
Jason: “Okay, but remember, you do have an Unforgettable Face and you do tend to attract attention.”
Me: “Yeah, well, with werewolves all the fuck over the place I am not letting that sword out of my sight.”
Jason: “Yeah, there are werewolves all over the place, including one right next to you.”
Me: “No, man, it’s fine, she’s cool.”)

The bouncer ends up not being a problem, I flash my ID and joke-flirt with him a bit while Sophia sneaks by. Once we’re inside, it’s so loud and crowded no one takes notice of her. It’s a sports bar, though one filled with polo shirts and top-end flatscreens playing European soccer. A few people glance over as I lead us through the crowd, but fortunately they all stare at me and my leathers, rather than the nervous girl behind me.

I squeeze into a perch at the bar and flag down a bartender. “What’ll ya have?” he yells, eyeing my leather jacket with bemusement.

“Actually, we can’t stay long, we’re looking for some guy. His name his Jean, I think he owns some wineries around here? Wondering if you knew of him, or knew someone I could ask?”

He frowns. “Jean? No…you got a last name?”

I glance at Sophia. She shakes her head, wide-eyed. “No….” I say.

The bartender shrugs. “Then I don’t know. I can ask around, but we’re coming up on closing soon so I gotta keep moving here,” and with that he disappears down the bar.

I sigh and turn to Sophia. “Well there’s some other bars on the square, maybe we can try another before they let out—“

“Hey! I hear you’re looking for Jean?” comes a new voice from behind me. A gaggle of popped-collar patrons are gathered behind us, smirking at me and taking obvious notice of Sophia. I move to stand between them and her.

They grin wider. “Maybe we know something about this Jean,” the lead guy—in a salmon-colored shirt that does nothing for his complexion—says. He leans next to me on the bar. “You not from around here?”

“I’m from the city,” I say flatly.

“The city? Yeah, you look it.” One of the guys behind him snickers. “What do you want with Jean anyway?”

My mind races for something these assholes might actually respect. “I…got some information he might be interested in….”

“Yeah, well a lot of guys got information around here. Lot of guys think they got the next big investment opportunity, come looking for independent VC’s.” He examines his glass. “I’m wondering if you got something real or if you’re just making up shit.”

(Me: “…Awe.”
Jason: “Roll it.”
Jim: “Really?”
Me: “Well I’m trying to go with less shooting things latel—oh. Shit.”
Jason: “That’s a botch!”)

I flash my best charming smile. “I think this is an opportunity he’ll be really interested in.”

The guys look at each other. Salmon-shirt puts his drink down and beckons me closer. “You know what I think?” he asks with a smile, pitching his voice to be heard over the music, “I think you should take your faggot ass back to the city where you belong.”

Hot anger flashes through me, but it’s not from the Beast, and is easily quelled. I simply don’t have time for assholes like this anymore. I sigh and turn to Sophia to tell her to leave—

But Salmon-shirt continues, “And, ah…leave the jailbait.”

I freeze. In front of me, Sophia’s face flickers through shock and disgust. The men behind me laugh and high-five. I catch her eyes, holding up a finger in warning…then clench it into a fist as I whip around and smash Salmon-shirt right across the jaw.

Somehow, he ducks at the very last second, so the blow just staggers him instead of flooring him like I intended. In response, he leans down to tackle me, but as he approaches I knee him in the chest. The other two guys come at me then, smashing their bottles full of local microbrew over my head. I stumble, dazed, but don’t fall over.

I catch a glimpse of Sophia. She’s stepped back to the edge of the circle formed around around us, watching wide-eyed. She see’s my look and points to her pocket—the one with the 9mm—questioningly. I shake my head moments before a kick to the ribs brings me back to the issue at hand.

(Me: “Dammit, these guys aren’t down yet?”
Jason: “Nope!”
Me: “But I can tear through steel doors!
Jason: “Not when you roll fucking no damage!
Me: “Ah. …Ahhh, haha, ha, haaa…no damage. :|”)

I grab at Salmon-shirt and shove him at his buddies, knocking them all down at once. Salmon-shirt leaps back to his feet, groping for something in his pocket—

A heavy crack punctuates a yell of “HEY!” behind me. Silence falls on the bar and we all stop. The bartender has pulled out a wooden baseball bat and smashed it against the bar. He levels it at us. “Enough! All you, get the fuck out!!!”

Salmon-shirt and I glare at each other. He sneers, adjusting his collar. I stare back flatly and brush bits of broken-glass off my jacket. Without breaking eye-contact with the fucker or any of his buddies, I reach over and lightly pluck the baseball bat out of the bartender’s tightened fist. Ignoring his sputtering protests and the shocked stares of the crowd, I turn and leave, Sophia close behind.

The cool air outside is refreshing after that sauna of stale beer and testosterone. I walk silently back to the humvee and toss the bat onto my cache of weapons in the back. “Alright, girl, I’m sorry about that, but we still got time to check somewhere else.”

“Uh, yeah we do, but…we may want to deal with this first,” she says nervously. I turn to see that Salmon-shirt and his pastel-platoon have followed us out of the bar. I sigh and lean against the car. This should be interesting.

“Hey! Asshole!” Salmon-shirt barks as they fan out, “You think you’re some tough motherfucker?”

I stare at him, arms folded, taking a long look at my loaded humvee before responding. “Me? No. I’ve met tough motherfuckers, though.”

A few of the guys take a look at the car and step back, but Salmon-shirt is unswayed. “Yeah? Well, what do you gotta say about this?” He reaches into his pocket again, pulling out a four-inch switchblade.

“Oh, son….” I sigh sadly, then draw my sword. It’s only steel at the moment, but the edge glints evilly in the neon lights of the bar.

Now he takes a step back.

I look between the sword and his knife. “Do I have to say the whole line? I think you know how it goes.”

“…Fuck this,” he mutters. He and his buddies bolt back to the bar.

Relief washes over me. It’s been a long night, but things finally seem to be getting back to normal. I shove the sword back through my belt and turn to Sophia. She’s huddled against the car, hat pulled low over her face, whether it’s out of fear or embarrassment I can’t tell.

“Subtle,” she mutters.

Ah. So, embarrassment it is. I gesture at the car. “Well, we’re already rolling around in this, what the hell did you expect?”

(Chris: “Yeah, how is Tom getting around all the checkpoints, driving in that thing?”
Me: “Carefully.”
Jason: “She hasn’t been driving where the checkpoints are.”
Chris: “Really? There wasn’t one on the Golden Gate Bridge when they went to Marin?”
Jason: “…Apparently not. It has nothing to do with me forgetting that they should have had a checkpoint at that bridge.”
Me: “Well, maybe they were on break or something. I mean, part of the point of the humvee is that if they just glance at it, they’ll think it’s one of theirs.”
Jason: “Yeah, cause that’s how it works.”
Me: “It’s how I’m going to make it work, sonofabitch!”)

I gesture for Sophia to get into the car, but before we can climb in I hear footsteps running up behind us. I whirl, reaching for my sword again, but the guy—a stranger, not one of Salmon-shirt’s crew—staggers to a halt a few feet away, holding up empty hands in submission. “Hey,” he gasps, “You’re looking for Jean?”

I peer at him. He’s dressed like any of the other wine-country bros at the bar, and breathing heavily. Human. “Who wants to know?” I ask carefully.

“You, you know…connected?

I glance at Sophia. “You could say that.”

He walks closer. “I mean, vampire,” he whispers, glancing back at the bar. “I saw how you took the bottle.”

I shrug noncommittally, but inwardly I relax slightly. There’s a good chance this is a ghoul, exactly the lead we were looking for. I flash a brief grin to Sophia. She watches the man warily and shrinks further back into the shadows of the car.

“Look,” he says, “Jean doesn’t meet people. Not direct. Especially not crazy motherfuckers running around with weapons.”

“So how the hell do we get ahold of him?”

“You go through an intermediary.” The guy winks.

I groan and slump against the car. “Really? Cause the last time I went through an intermediary things got a little confusing and now that guy is taking care of my taco truck.”

His smile vanishes. “Look, tough shit man, Jean’s not gonna meet with you rolling up here with a bunch of guns and swords saying hey, I gotta talk! You have any fucking idea whats running around up here?”

“Yeah, I’m one of them!”

He sneers. “There’s fucking werewolves running around up here, man!”

“You don’t say….” I glance at Sophia, but she’s buried in her phone, avoiding my gaze.
“Look,” the guy sighs, “You fuck with me, man, you’re never gonna see him.”

Great. Everybody’s gotta get their powertrip. “What happened to everyone knowing who I was?” I ask Sophia. She continues to ignore me, so I gesture the guy closer and lower my voice. “Word has it Jean’s been having some sort of sit-downs with the werewolves and I gotta check my facts. And if it’s not true, fine, but if it is, inquiring minds want to know why.”

The guy considers this a moment, then nods. “Alright, I’ll let him know you’re looking. I’ll need a name.”

“Tom.”

He hesitates. “Tom what?”

Uh-oh. This could go one of two ways. “Tom…Lytton?” I say carefully.

His eyes snap wide and he dances back. “Oh shit! Oh shit!! Well that’s fucking different! Why didn’t you say so, man! About fucking time, somebody showed up here!” He points to a car, another BMW parked two stalls away. “Follow me, I’ll take you to see him.”

“O…Kay?” I glance at Sophia. She looks surprised, but I beam at her.

“Who’s that?” the guy asks.

I freeze. “That’s…my intern.”

He looks her over. “I thought you weren’t supposed to make ‘em that young?”

Sophia and I trade another awkward glance, filled with about five kinds of irony. “…You’d be surprised,” I mutter.

#

COIT TOWER

Upon leaving the Pyramid, with all the things the Giovanni and Marcus and Bell have asked him to do, Anstis decides to work on the most important thing first: find that fucking birdbrain Gus and get his fucking book back. He does his stone ritual, tracking Gus to, “The Signaler’s Hill.” He releases Boopsy back to the darkness of the city then launches into parrot form to head to Coit Tower.

He arrives to find the place deserted of everything but flocks of dark birds. They fill the trees and the air, circling the tower with movement and cacophony, numerous enough to be crows but far larger. Ravens.

Figuring that this Gangrel powers will come in useful here, Anstis lands nearby, pops back to pirate-form, and tries to Summon them.

(Jim: “…Fail.”
Jason: “You get shit.”
Me: “Man, he cannot summon animals for shit! Every time he does, he gets one pigeon, one rat, one cat—“
Cameron: “One Rokea…”)

The ravens caw at him in a way that sounds suspiciously like laughter.

Where is Gus?” Anstis shouts at the squawking mob. The flock circles faster. “We’re not telling! We’re not telling!” they scream back. One bird flies very low, making an aerobatic twist in the air, almost taking off his hat. “Pirate want a boooook?” it caws.

Anstis snarls and drops back into parrot-form, launching himself after it. The rest of the flock screams excitedly and circles around them as they barrel through the air. They circle the tower a few times, a dark murmuration with one rainbow speck in the center, then finally the entire flock peels off and settles in a tree at the base of the tower, cawing in laughter.

At the top of the tree is a very, very large raven, watching Anstis silently.  Anstis circles around the tree warily, keeping a distance.  This can only be Gus, and he has been nothing but unpredictable every time Anstis has met him so far.

“You will return what you stole from me,” Anstis orders, using his (weak-ass) Animalism.

The bird cocks his head, keeping Anstis in his field of view as he circles. “I don’t have it,” he whistles.

“Then what did you do with it?”

“Gave it awaaay. To a friend.”

Anstis lands on the ground, still in parrot-form. “And who is this friend?”

Instantly all the ravens fall silent. Anstis senses a presence behind him, coming up the path around the tower, and awkwardly turns. A man is approaching, a strange man, in a white linen suit, shoulder-length white hair, white skin like carved alabaster, sunglasses over his eyes, and a very, very unsettling sort of smile.

(Me: “…Does he have any other kind of smile?”)

Anstis cocks his head, peering at the man from all angles. “Are you the buyer?” he squawks.

“What a well-trained bird,” the man says with a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “I love the parrots up here, but you don’t look like one of them. I assume you’re looking for this?” From under his jacket, he pulls out a heavy illuminated tome.

Anstis hesitates another moment, thinking. He’s not sure who this guy is—nor does he have any reason to suspect who he is—and his very presence is giving Anstis the absolute chills. But he has the book….

Anstis morphs back up into human form, straightening his coat. “How much do you want for it?” he growls.

The pale man grins and gestures to the door at the base of the tower, standing open like a dark maw. “Why don’t we go inside and talk about it?”

Anstis hesitates, casting one more glance to the tree. The ravens have suddenly and silently disappeared, leaving just the large one at the top, watching him intently. “Very well,” Anstis grumbles and follows the man to the doorway, stepping through at his gesture. “And, you are…?” Anstis asks as the man follows.

The man smiles again, teeth almost glinting in the darkness. “Charles,” he says, and closes the door behind them.

END OF NIGHT

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