1/28/15

Me: “Also I changed into new clothes before I left the house.”
Jason: “Into what?”
Me: “New clothes.”
Jason: “…Describe them?”
Me: “Uh, black…leather…black…leather…and black. And a t-shirt, cause I don’t go shirtless, cause I’m not that guy.”
Jason: “And what’s the t-shirt?”
Me: “I don’t know, American Apparel?”
Jason: “It’s got ironic shit written on it?”
Me: “No.”
Jim: “Does it have a mustache on it?”
Me: “No.”
Kara: “Does it have a polar bear perched on a melting iceberg?”
Me: “No.”
Roommate-Ben: “Does it have wolves on it?”
Me: “No.”
Jim: “Does it have bears on it?”
Me: “No, it’s just a plain black shirt! It’s—” *grabs own shirt* “—It’s literally this shirt guys, but with less breasts!”

***

COIT TOWER

Anstis enters the foyer of Coit Tower. It’s dark, but enough light leaks in through the windows to light the murals on the walls in monochrome shadows, and illuminate Charles like a pale specter.

Charles closes the door and moves further inside, steps echoing off the vintage marble. “So. Here we are.” He taps the baroquely-bound book against his thigh. “I don’t think I have your full name?”

Anstis tips his hat. “Thomas Anstis.”

“Mr. Anstis. Would I be right in guessing you are part of the…less-than-living community?”

“Perhaps. But there is something interesting about you as well.”

Charle’s pale red eyes glitter in the gloom. “Oh a great many things are interesting about me, I should hope. Right now what i’m interested in is this book.” He holds it up.

“As am I.”

“Well then we have an interesting situation, don’t we? Why should I give it back to you?”

“It was wrongfully taken from me.”

(Cameron: “…Says the pirate.”
Jim: “Anything that’s taken from the pirate is wrongfully taken. Anything that he takes is, you know, perfectly fair.”)

Charles chuckles. “By a compatriot of mine, Mr. Gus. I believe you’ve met him. But how could it have been wrongfully taken from you, Mr. Anstis? You’re dead.”

“The dead have a great many possessions.”

“And those possessions are up for grabs by whomever may grab them.” Charles opens the book against one arm and flips through it as he paces. “I find this book quite interesting, don’t you? I don’t think I should part with it. Unless of course theres a reason.”

Anstis watches him carefully. “What would you like for it?”

“Well, what do you have to offer?

“It all depends on what you’re interested in. I don’t know your particular tastes.”

“My particular tastes are somewhat…refined.” Charles grins and snaps the book closed. “Right now I have a taste for knowledge. About certain things going on in my city. There are others of the less-than-living community in the city, after all. I’ve met some of them. I would like to know more about them, they fascinate me.”

Anstis nods slowly, considering this. So far he has had great luck trading in accurate information that ends up being of no use to the people he’s provided it to, so this deal seems attractive. “Then can we come to an arrangement?”

“We can, but not necessarily the type you’re thinking. You, the Less-Than-Living, like to make these arrangements. Deals and swaps and equitable understandings. I’m accustomed to a slightly different form of barter.”

“Which is?”

Charles pauses to examine one of the murals. “Which is where I ask you for a thing, and you give it to me.”

Anstis glares. “That’s a poor way to do business.”

“And if it were business we were doing, I’d agree with you.” He turns, holding up the book again. “You see, the problem I have is that if I give you this book, I don’t know what you’re going to do with it.”

“Well I don’t know what’s in the book completely yet.”

“Well you see I do, and that concerns me. This book deals with those…less-than-living persons who have not decided to remain here, but have gone…somewhere else.” He tilts his head, strange eyes unblinking. “You are a connoisseur of dealings with them?”

Now Anstis smiles unsettlingly. “There are people long gone who have wronged me.”

“And their deaths did not atone for these wrongs?”

“Nay.”

Charles chuckles. “Mr. Anstis, what an irascible temper you must have, whatever could they have done to you to deserve such dedication?”

Anstis watches him flatly. “What is it they say about the lowest level of Hell?”

“That it’s reserved for traitors,” Charles says cooly, “But there are those who would say that the dead should remain where they are. All the dead.” Suddenly he smiles again. “But you see, you can help me, because you are not the only connoisseur of these things in the city. And you know these others, don’t you? Where they live, who they are, who they do business with?”

“I do. At least one of them, the one in charge.”

“The one in charge? Fascinating.” Charles taps the book against his chin. “I’ll tell you what, Mr. Anstis. I’ll give you this book, if you will show me to this man. You see, this city has had a rough time of it in the last month or so. Murders, killings of various sorts, strange creatures wandering the night. Monsters. Some have even seen dragons.” He chuckles in mocking disbelief. “All this talk of disturbing the dead, it doesn’t seem to me like that will help matters at all. It seems to me that this will just complicate an already complicated situation. This man in charge, who is he?”

Anstis regards Charles a long moment before responding .“He goes by Xiang Li Weng. He resides in the Temple of Eternal Brotherhood.”

Charles nods. “In Chinatown, how quaint. Well. This shall do for our…business…for the moment.” He holds the book out, but before Anstis can take it, he pulls it back. “Now, I do need to know you will be considerate with this book? See, if this is just a personal vendetta of yours, well, things are as they are, but disturbances of this scale, they are worrisome. I’d hate for you to be abusing my generosity.”

Anstis searches the man’s patient, pale face. “What would you consider abuse?”

“Well, sort of like pornography, I’ll know it when I see it.” He grins and drops the book into Anstis’s outstretched hand. “Pleasure doing business with you, Captain.”

“You as well.”

With that, Charles leaves out the door they came in. Anstis flips through the book, smiling to himself, then follows a few moments later. Outside, the ravens are back in the tree, silently watching, but Charles is gone.

#

SONOMA COUNTY

Sophia is quiet as I drive, following the ghoul’s car through winding country roads. We pass estates and wineries dotting the hills and valleys, lit like fantasy castles, but the lands surrounding them are vast and dark.

I glance at Sophia, slouched in the passenger seat. She’s been playing with her phone for the last half an hour, but from what I can see, the screen hasn’t changed. I clear my throat awkwardly. “So, what’s gonna make you feel comfortable in this situation, girl?”

She sighs and scrolls the screen idly. “Well, I’m not wild about walking into vampire lairs.”

“Well, if shit goes pear-shaped, are you gonna go…full-furry?”

She glares petulantly, but scoots up in the seat. “Look, Tom, I’m kinda new to this myself. If things get really bad, I usually just take off and side-step, but you cant really do that.”

“True, but you need to do to look out for yourself….” My mind flashes memories of the last time she had a run-in with the talons, when she showed up in Berkeley torn half to shreds. “…I worry about you sometimes,” I mutter.

She blinks, then looks out the window. “…Thank you,” she whispers. “But it really does take a lot to kill one of us.”

“I’ve noticed.” Suddenly self conscious, I change the subject. “I saw you got more hardware in your bag, what is it?”

She smiles and digs around in her duffel, pulling out a a sleek black shotgun. “Got this in Tennessee,” she says proudly.

“Nice, want some of these?” I pull some shells from a pocket and hand them over. “Dragonsbreath rounds.”

Her eyes go wide. “Really?”

“Yeah, here, take a handful.” I grab a bandolier from the back and toss it to her. Still grinning, she pumps out the rounds from her gun and starts slotting dragonsbreath in. She sets the old shells on the dash, and I notice they’re hand-painted. “What are those?” I ask.

She hesitates. “Oh…silver. I took these from some hillbillies that were expecting us. Or at least they thought they were.” She laughs lightly as she chunks the shotgun closed. “We were in Tennessee, on our way to this meetup point. Alexander had planned for us to stop for dinner on the way, but See’s-faces demanded we stop for a snack on the way to that, so—“

Suddenly everything goes black. My leg jerks, instinctively pumping for the brakes, but I’m not in the car anymore, I’m standing, in a shapeless void. I whirl around. “Girl? Sophia!?

No response. After a few moments of nothingness, I hear footsteps in the gloom. Small footsteps.

I hesitate. “…Boss…?”

Instantly illumination appears, not from any particular source, but enough to see my hand in front of my face, and Marcus standing in front of me. He’s not in modern clothes, or one of his simple tunics, but full-on Roman regalia the likes of which I haven’t seen this side of Hollywood: silver-plated armor and red cloak like fresh-spilled blood. He stares up at me from under a crested helmet. “Hello Tom,” he says.

For a moment, I am very tempted to make a joke about Halloween costumes, but one glance at his gladius—cleaned and honed and in-hand—convinces me not to. “…Damn, Boss, that’s some swag,” I say instead.

I catch the briefest glimpse of a smirk before he starts pacing around me in the darkness. “So. Tom. I’ve been doing some thinking on the subject of the shadows….”

“I see….” I look around the space. I doubt he’s teleported me somewhere, I don’t think he can, but I’ve never seen something like this and I’m suddenly concerned. “…Am I unconscious in the car? Cause I was driving—“

“Oh don’t worry. You’ll return to the exact moment you left. Your companion won’t even notice you’re gone. You are in a car with a werewolf, right?”

I hesitate, still not entirely sure I trust Marcus’s intentions toward Sophia. “Yes….” I answer carefully.

He shoots a small glance at me and shakes his head. “You have any idea how weird it is for me to just say that?”

“Not the weirdest thing that’s happened lately.”

“You know, it really isn’t.” He sighs. “Anyway, the question is, Tom, not so much high minded idealisms, but practicalities. You see….” He lifts his hand. Shadows collect from the darkness around us and flow down his arm like water. “You can’t do this, but I barely remember not being able to do this, so how do we bridge this gap?”

I watch his arm, mesmerized.“Well, they say remembering some things is like riding a bicycle, but at some point you gotta learn to ride the bicycle.”

“Yes, but the question is how.” He regards me thoughtfully and the shadow-gauntlet disappears. “How committed are you do this notion? You are aware there may be sacrifices involved.”

His tone instantly sobers me. “So you’ve said.”

“I’m not trying to be willfully obtuse. I don’t know what the sacrifices may be, or even that they will be paid by you. Do you understand this?”

I nod, ignoring the anxiety flickering through me. He regards my face and frowns. “You don’t understand this.”

The flickers rise into low flames, but I affect nonchalance. “I’m willing to see what happens.”

“That’s the question, am I? I only know one way to teach the shadows, Tom. It’s not a way that I particularly like employing and it’s one you’re going to like a lot less. It’s the same way I was taught.” He sees my confusion. “Yes, I had it built into my blood, but I still needed to learn. I was embraced at the age of nine, you think it all came to me like that?” He snaps as he paces. “I barely knew Latin from Greek, let alone how to properly engage in Erebus’s disciplines.”

I shrug. “Well, my first few times on a motorcycle I crashed pretty bad, so….”

“Yes, but you have a passenger this time.”

The hot breath of anxiety turns instantly to ice. “…What?” I glance around. “Are you going to do something right now?”

“If I do, you couldn’t stop it. If I do, I may not be able to either. I don’t know how this is going to work.” He stops, fixing me with his gaze, dark beyond his apparent age, darker even than his actual one. “Risk, Tom, not just to yourself.…”

Instantly I’m back in the car, lit by passing headlights and the glow of the dash. Next to me Sophia is laughing, still in the middle of her story, but she trails off as she sees my face. “…Tom? You okay?”

I blink and grip the wheel tighter. “Yeah, I’m sorry, I just…drifted off a moment. What were you saying?”

She sighs. The sound is familiar, it’s the same noise I made as a kid when adults ignored me, and my heart wrenches at it. “Nevermind….” She gathers the silver shells from the dash and dumps them in the center console. “Just that I save these for special occasions. Mostly spiral dancers.” She stares out the window at the countryside. “I really hope we don’t run into a spiral dancer.”

Mind spinning, I try to focus on the taillights in front of us. “Yeah, me too, she’s kinda a bitch.”

#

MARK HOPKINS HOTEL

Upon leaving the Pyramid, Rabenholz tells the driver to take him to the finest hotel in the city. Soon after, they arrive at the Mark Hopkins, a towering, historic hotel at the top of Nob Hill. Rabenholz enters, sparing only a glance for the carved facades and art deco’ed interior as he sweeps up to the concierge desk. The woman looks up as he approaches.

I require the presidential suite,” Rabenholz announces without preamble, staring deep into her eyes.

She hesitates a moment, taking in his tailored clothes and heavy cloak, then nods. “At once, sir.” She fumbles for some keys and snaps for a bellman. “Your bags, sir?

He flicks his cane. “I’m traveling light.”

A bellman leads him up to the top floors of the hotel, letting him into a penthouse suite at the end of the hall. Rabenholz sweeps in, glancing at the opulent furnishings, but is drawn to the windows, displaying a panoramic-perfect view of downtown.

“Will there be anything else, sir?” the bellhop asks nervously.

Rabenholz paces the windows, taking in every detail of the skyline. “I will require someone familiar with the local players.”

The man nods. “May I have your name, sir?”

“Count von Rabenholz.” He meets the bellhop’s eyes. “You seem to recall having heard of a Count von Rabenholz before. You’ve never seen him. It’s quite an honor, he is apparently very reclusive.”

He licks his lips nervously. “Yes…yes, of course, forgive me. Whom do you need to meet?”

“Financiers at the moment. Fund managers. But local politicians would also do.”

“I’ll speak to the concierge, see what we can do.”

Rabenholz nods and pats at his suit.

(Chris: “Hmm, do I have any money?”
Jason: “What are your resources?”
Chris: “I have…no dots in it.”
Jason: “Then nope, you don’t have a cent.”)

He meets the man’s gaze again. “You have received a substantial tip.

#

THE VOID ENGINEER’S SHIP

Georgia and Jawahar make their way through the ship, Georgia badging open random doors and peering at signs, Jawahar following nervously behind. After awhile, they reach a very large reinforced door that beckons them to something important. Inside is a massive hemispherical room layered with some sort of insulated panelling, but her eyes are immediately drawn to the center, to a knotted, spinning device almost a full story tall, twisting in on itself like a gyroscope and crackling with visible magical energy.

“Whoaaaah,” Georgia breathes, stepping into the room. “That’s nifty, what do you think it is?” She turns to Jawahar, still outside the threshold.

He scowls up at the device. “Some creepy-ass shit,” he says.

“Do you think we could take it with us?” He stares at her. “What?” she says, then pauses. “Oh…yeah, you’re right, we probably can’t fit it into our bags.”

“Are you actually from the traditions?” he asks carefully.

“Which traditions?”

“Any of them! Who are you with?”

She paces around the room, staring at the device. “Well, I came here with someone I’m not exactly friends with. Barnabas Chauncey the…Third? Anyway, he’s a mage.”

“Are you a mage?”

She pauses. “Ah…no.”

“But you work with a mage?”

“I’m kinda like the lab assistant to a different mage.”

“An Etherite?”

“A different Etherite.”

Jawahar sighs and lifts his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose. “Where is his ship?

“He doesn’t have one.”

He looks up sharply. “Then how did he get out here!?”

“He’s not out here. You’d probably want the ship of the guy I did come out here with.”

“Who is…?” Jawahar prompts.

“Barnabus Chauncey the Third. Or Fourth. Oh, and Reginald.”

He stares at her, still outside the room as she wanders merrily through it. “Are you part of the torture? Sent here to drive me mad?”

Georgia seems to consider the question before answering. “No.”

He mutters something in Hindi, then clasps his hands plaintively. “I. Would like. To get off. This ship.”

She pokes the mysterious device carefully. “Oh, yes, right after we loot it.”

“There are Technocrats on this ship, are you mad!?”

“Don’t they die as easily as anybody else? I mean, I took the guard down pretty easily.” She turns to smile at him reassuringly, but sees his face and sighs. “Alright, I’ll take you to the rowboat, come on.”

Georgia walks to the door, about to leave, when they suddenly hear something. Heavy metallic footsteps, echoing down the hall. She pulls Jawahar in, huddling with him against the wall behind the door frame. The footsteps slowly approach, resonating within the room…then stop outside.

#

NAPA COUNTY

The ghoul’s car leads us out of the Sonoma area and into the hills above Napa. We finally turn off the main highway onto a long, tree-lined drive, passing a lit stone sign saying Val Du Rhone Vineyards. At the end of the drive is an estate house, all stone and stucco, smaller than some of the wineries we’ve passed but well placed with a grand view over the valley. I park at the main entrance. The ghoul parks his BMW nearby, and hurries over to open the thick oak doors. Sophia and I get out of the humvee, scan the property silently, and start loading up with gear.

(Me: “Also I changed into new clothes before I left the house.”
Jason: “Into what?”
Me: “New clothes.”
Jason: “…Describe them?”
Me: “Uh, black…leather…black…leather…and black. And a t-shirt, cause I don’t go shirtless, cause I’m not that guy.”
Jason: “And what’s the t-shirt.”
Me: “I don’t know, American Apparel?”
Jason: “It’s got ironic shit written on it?”
Me: “No.”
Jim: “Does it have a mustache on it?”
Me: “No.”
Kara: “Does it have a polar bear perched on a melting iceberg?”
Me: “No.”
Roommate-Ben: “Does it have wolves on it?”
Me: “No.”
Jim: “Does it have bears on it?”
Me: “No, it’s just a plain black shirt! It’s—” *grabs own shirt* “—It’s literally this shirt guys, but with less breasts!”)

We approach the doors, but the ghoul holds up a hand. “Uh, Jean’s not going to see you if you walk in like that. You’re gonna have to leave all that in the car.” He gestures disdainfully at Vera.

I glare. So much for the shock and awe entrance. “You got valet, or something? Cause I tend to lose things.”

“Your ghoul can bring the car around the back.”

I glance around again. The property is peaceful, the only sounds the breeze through the vineyards and a nearby fountain, but a suspicion is clawing at the back of my neck and I’m suddenly very nervous to let Sophia out of my sight. “No, she needs to stay with me. It’s part of her internship program.” I dump Vera and the rest of my gear in the back of the humvee, but I keep the sword.

Sophia leans over as she drops off her shotgun next to mine. “What do you want me to do?” she whispers.

“Just stay close, I want your read on things,” I mutter and close the door.

The ghoul leads us into the winery, through grand foyer and tasting rooms, to a staircase leading down to a wine cellar. Racks of wine and barrels stretch into the darkness, barely visible in the ambient light from upstairs, but a brighter light flickers at the far end of the room, accompanied by the sound of someone muttering. The ghoul gestures for us to enter, then climbs back up the stairs.

I trade a glance with Sophia, then lead us closer. A figure moves at the end of the row, half-hunched in a red satin dressing gown, turning the bottles and peering closely at labels. We stop a few feet away. He continues peering at labels for a few moments until I clear my throat politely.

He stops. “What do you want?” he hisses behind hunched shoulders. His accent is a rough, thick French, almost comically so.

Sophia’s eyes lift in surprise and I suppress a smile. “Are you Jean?” I ask.

“Am I Jean? Am I Jean? Well, why don’t you tell me what you think?” He turns, sending a thrill of surprise washing over me. His face is twisted, rotting, putrid skin hanging off in some places and stretched drum-tight in others, and the hand clutching the bottle is missing fingers. Thin lips peel back from fangs that are more tusks.

I force myself not to take a step back. That asshole in San Simeon excepted, I haven’t seen many Nosferatu around lately so I’m not used them. Behind me, though, Sophia gasps, but luckily she keeps her cool.

Jean bares his teeth at us in a scowl and shoves the bottle back on the rack. “Who are you?”

“I’m Tom Lytton.”

“Lytton…. Ahhh, le tueur. The slayer of werewolves.” His mouth morphs into a shape like a grin, though no less hideous than before. “The slayer of werewolves comes to see me? How fortuitous. And you come with this…interesting implement?” He gestures at the sword.

I pat the hilt. “Yeah. I got more gear in the car, but this stays with me.”

Jean grabs his lantern and moves down the rack to a new cluster of bottles. “You have brought weapons? You are American, you are Rambo, you run around and shoot people.”  The light flickers as he sets the lantern down with a thump. “You have big guns, eh? Maybe you show me?”

“…Yeah, alright.” Fighting to keep a straight face, I strip off my jacket and flex.

Sophia chokes down a laugh. Jean, though, is less amused. Glaring at me, he raises one long skeletal finger at her. “You should discipline your ghoul, it is not right to laugh in other people’s property, how do I know she’s not laughing at me?”

“Oh, it’s alright.” I wink at her. “She’s my intern. I’m the one who signs the paperwork at the end of the semester, so, if she wants college credit, she’ll have to do what I say.”

He stares a moment, then scoffs and picks up another bottle. “You come to discus business?”

“What business you offering?”

“Oh I have many things to offer. As you can tell, I have contacts with several clans, I know things, but one of the things I know right now is that there are werewolves all over the place. Here, there, in the places you least expect, eh?”

I glance at Sophia. She’s fighting a smirk. “They do tend to do that, yes,” I say evenly. “Generally I tend to find myself in the presence of them whether I like it or not, and I tend to deal with things as the situation dictates.”

Jean glares in the lamplight. “Why have you come up to Napa? None of you ever come up to Napa. You think it is a place for the wine connoisseurs and the hipsters and the Toreadors and all of this, because of course we have wine and we are French so we must be Toreadors. All of us are beautiful, no?” He thumps the bottle heavily on the rack and grabs another.

“I heard the rumors about things getting…hairy up here, so figured it was a good time to collect more information.”

“Do you make it a habit of being where there are werewolves known to be?”

I hesitate. “Apparently, actually, yes.”

“And here I thought the Americans could not get stupider. So maybe I will tell you where you can find the werewolves. Maybe I will do this for free because the werewolves, they kill everyone. But there are many of the werewolves and there is only one of you. Because you are Rambo and you have all the guns!”

“And an intern.”

“And an intern.” He spares a brief glance at her. “What will you do, Rambo, when there are eight werewolves who wish to kill you?”

“Eight?” I rock back on my heels, considering this. “Probably run.”

“Oh, you will run, cause you can run faster than a werewolf?”

“I run pretty damn fast.”

“Oh, really? Very impressive.” He sneers and wipes dust off the bottle. “The werewolves, there were many of them. They killed several of my associates. Not vampires, ghouls.”

“Well, that’s not too surprising. I mean, if they were killing unaligned humans—“

“Oh they have killed them as well.” His claw-like fingers clench on the bottle. “There were many incidents. A traffic accident. A fire. A dam burst its banks, swept away several houses. These things you see when you read the newspaper…but it was none of these things, it was werewolves. They kill the humans, they kill my men, they kill my competitors, they’d kill me if they could. They kill and they kill and I do not know why. Do you know why, Tom Lytton?”

“That…seems to be what they do—“

He slams the bottle down next to the lamp. “So it has nothing to do with the werewolves that were killed in your city?!”

I blink. I have to admit, being blamed for werewolf attacks is something I wasn’t expecting. “That…was an unfortunate side effect of the Methusula running around—“

“Oh yes, how convenient, the Methusula…” He wags a bony finger. “No. Nonono. You do not come to me with rocket launchers and tell me that it was other vampires, Tom Lytton, who kills werewolves!” He smacks a barrel, stenciled with the same winery logo we saw on the sign out front. “I have done business in this valley for a century, and now there are werewolves everywhere! Whose fault is that? What do you think I should do, what price should I exact for the lives of my men?!”

I glance at Sophia. She’s huddled behind me at the edge of the lamplight, retreating into her jacket, and shrugs. “From what I hear…” I say carefully, “…Just rumors mind you…the werewolves have come to this house as well, and walked out.”

Jean hesitates, and his posture turns wary. “…Yes. They did come to my house. You see not all of us can run as fast as you. Some of us, when the werewolves come, we must do other things.” He picks up the bottle again and sets it carefully back on the rack. “They wanted to know things, they wanted to know where things could be found.”

Suspicion rises. “They weren’t looking for a statue, were they?”

He pauses. “As it happens, yes. They asked about a statue. And I told them what I’ll tell you, I have not seen their statue. I do not deal in art, I deal in wine.”

I nod, processing this. The statue, of course, could only be that brass figure of Ceoris, the one Everton was running around looking for. I seem to remember him mentioning that the Talons were in the area cause they were hunting for it too. By the look on Sophia’s face, she’s thinking along similar lines.

But something still isn’t adding up. I watch Jean’s thin frame under his robe as he shuffles along the row. It might be my imagination, but it suddenly looks like he’s hunched smaller. “So, now, if the Talons are running around the valley tearing down full-humans just for the hell of it, why didn’t they wreck this estate when you didn’t have what they were looking for?”

Jean reaches up for a high bottle. His hand is very subtly shaking. “Because I did have what they were looking for. They were not just looking for the statue. They were looking for information, and I have the information. I have much information. I gave it to them because if I did not, they’d rip me to pieces.” He turns to glare. “Maybe the reason the werewolves come to me is because you sent them to me?”

“What? Why would I do that? If I wanted information from the Nosferatu I’d just go digging around the sewers of my own town.”

His mean laughter echoes off the stone. “They will not deal with you. You are too pretty.” He turns back to the rack. “These werewolves wanted to know about what lies to the east.”

“What, the central valley?”

He shakes his head. “Le montagne. Diabolique.”

I never took French, but that’s easy enough to pick up. “…Mount Diablo?”

“Oi. Have you been there?”

“Not in years.”

He chuckles. “Ahh, you should go. It will be fun. But bring your running shoes.”

I follow him down the row, still pressing the issue. “Why did they come to you to ask about it? Why not just go there?”

“I do not know. They asked the questions, I did not. But some of them left to go to the mountain. Others, I think not.” He places the bottle back, hand still shaking. “What will you do about them?”

I wink at Sophia and draw myself up.“Well, if you”re looking to hire an extermination contractor, I have been known to take such jobs before.”

“So you will hunt the loup garou?” He glances over his shoulder. I realize he’s not looking at me, but past me, into the darkness. “You have the weapons?”

“Yeah, sounds like a fun weekend.” I lift a hand and snap with just the right amount of limp in my wrist. “Sophia, let’s show the man some of the special shells.”

Jean freezes, twisted body frozen like a Rodin statue. “Sophia…her name is Sophia?” He stares at her, as if seeing her for the first time.

“That…was the name on her paperwork?” I look at her, but she’s just as confused as me.

Jean’s shock turns to horror and he takes a step back. With one shaking hand, he sets the bottle down, staring into darkness again, then back at me. “Désolé,” he whispers, then vanishes.

Shit!” I whirl around, groping for my sword, but he’s gone.

Sophia moves closer, also peering into the darkness. “What did he say?”

“I don’t know, I only speak Kraut. Poorly.” I feel Sophia back up to me as we stare around, the gloom barely penetrated by the flickering oil lamp. She’s so close I can practically hear her heart pounding, but I slowly get the sense there’s something else in the room with us, hidden in the darkness.

Many something else’s.

“Tom, what’s going on?” she whispers.

“I have no idea.” I draw the sword.

Sophia starts sniffing the air. “…Tom, something is very wrong. You know the Wyrm scent I keep telling you about?”

The tension keeps me from jokingly sniffing at my own armpits. “Yeah….”

“I can’t smell it anymore, and you’re standing right next to me.

A cold breeze rushes by, guttering the light. “Let’s get out of here.” I grab the lantern with my other hand and lead us quickly down the row back to the staircase. As we reach it, though, there’s a heavy thud of a door, echoing down from the top, and the dim ambient light cuts out.

Never a good sign…. “Shit, maybe there’s another way….” I turn back to the room, holding up the lantern.  The light reflects off bottles and puddles on the stone….

…And three pairs of eyes, large as saucers, high in the dark and slowly rising higher.

(Me: “…Did you lock me in a fucking basement with three werewolves!?”
Jason: “No, I locked you in the fucking basement with four werewolves!”)

#

RUSSIAN HILL

Anstis has some time to kill, so he decides to go hunting. After a short search, he finds a homeless person asleep in an alley toward the base of Russian Hill…and drains him dry.

(Jason: “Okay, well, you get two things. One is eight points of blood. The other is a biiiig mouthful of meth.”)

Anstis sits back up…feeling awesome. Super awesome. He’s got a lot of plans he’s been working on and he now realizes he needs to work on them all right now. On his to-do list has been to practice his Necromancy more, especially now that he has the book back. To that end, he uses the dead homeless man’s body to practice Tremens, making the body stand up and dance like a half-broken zombie marionette.

(Me: “…Umm, iBen just brought up an interesting point on the Skype chat: Big hit of meth, plus diablerie addict, equals….”
Jason: “Oooooh, oh you are correct!”)

Anstis grins sickly at his puppet, but the novelty soon wears off. A deeper hunger is throbbing within him, pushing through to the surface. He releases the corpse with a wet splat and stares into the night, eyes almost glowing with animal instinct.

It’s time to go hunting.

(Jason: “I mean, you’re not absolutely psycho, not like, ‘Yeah! I’m gonna eat Perpenna!’ But you wanna eat somebody, you wanna eat a motherfucker now. Who you gonna get?
Jim: “Well, there’s been two characters that have been in my mind lately. One is the Nosferatu fucker—”
Me: “Yeah! The Asshole! The one that took my fucking whip!”
Jim: “—And the other one is Isabella Lytton.”
*silence in the room*
Me: *speechless*
Jason: “Oooooh, oh woooow—“
Me: “…How do you know her name!?
Jim: “Fatima.”
Me: “When did you talk to Fatima!?
Jason: “You did, in the cellar of Paul’s house. Anstis was eavesdropping the entire time, I remember that perfectly.”
Jim: “And I wrote the name on a rock back then, it’s been in my pocket since!”
Me: “…I…b-but…we don’t even know if Lytton is still her last name!”
Jason: “No, but we’ll find out shortly, won’t we?”)

Anstis pulls out the stones and casts for both of them. The Asshole, Albert Smythe, is apparently at his shop, which probably means back in San Simeon, halfway down the coast.

But the second spell tracks Isabella Lytton to the Church of St. Ignatius…only a mile or two away.

#

THE VOID ENGINEER’S SHIP

The footsteps hesitate outside the door. Georgia remains calm, as only Georgia can, perfectly content to wait with perfect silence and stillness until whatever it is wanders away. Unfortunately, though, the human next to her isn’t so blessed, and his panicked breathing echoes perfectly through the concave room.

“Quiet!” Georgia mouths at him. Jawahar claps his hands over his mouth, eyes wide, but the muffled wheezing only seems louder. The footsteps stop again, then walk closer. Thinking fast, Georgia shoves the access badge against the inside panel of the frame. The door whooshes shut. She can still sense the footsteps outside as vibrations in the floor, but after a few moments they ebb, retreating slowly back down the hall.

Georgia sighs. “That was close,” she mutters, badging the door again.

It doesn’t open.

She and Jawahar glance at each other. “Umm….” Georgia mutters, trying it again. Nothing. She tries flipping the badge over and flicking it against the panel. Still nothing.

“Well,” she says brightly, ignoring Jawahar’s panicked face, “I guess now we have time to check out this device in the—“

She’s interrupted by a new voice, ambiguously male, emanating from the ceiling. “I-Is anyone there?”

They look up. Between the insulation panelling, they can just make out some speakers. “Hello? Who’s that?” Georgia replies.

The voice sounds broken, from hesitation or static, or possibly both. “Wh-Who’s there? Hello?

“Yes? Who’s this?” Georgia says, louder.

Oh good, someone’s there. I’m…I’m actually not sure.”

“You’re not sure who you are?”

It’s been a long time. It’s been a very, very long time.”

“What is this?” Jawahar mutters suspiciously, but Georgia waves him quiet. “Ok, well, where are you?” she shouts to the ceiling.

”It’s…very dark. It’s cold.”

“Interesting. Are you in space?”

I was. I’m not sure now. I…can see a planet, and I think it was a ship—

“What did the ship look like?”

The speaker crackles. “…What’s going on?…What’s going on? Do you know why it’s so dark? What’s going on?” Each repeated statement is said with the exact same cadence and inflection as the one before.

“I don’t know why it’s dark, and I’m not sure how you’re talking to us.”

“Everything’s sort of…confused right now. The control’s not so tight. What’s going on?

The hands on her hips clench to fists. “The control on what?

Everything. Whats going on?”

(Kara: *rubbing her face* “Oh my god.”)

Suddenly there’s a tone and the door whooshes open behind them. They lean cautiously around the frame, but there’s nobody outside. “Did you open that door?” Georgia shouts.

What door? What’s going on?”

“Where are you?” Jawahar barks at the ceiling.

“…Please don’t leave.”

Georgia steps outside. The hallway is empty. “Alright, well Jawahar, if we’re going to find him, we’re not going to find him in this room.”

He tears his gaze from the ceiling. “You want to just wander this ship?”

“Well we could head back to the rowboat”

“I would prefer that, yes,” he says, nodding vigorously.

Georgia sighs. “Uh, nameless voice thing? We’re going to go get in a rowboat to leave the ship. If you can get to a place that isn’t full of blackness, we might be able to help you.” Silence. “…Nameless voice?” There’s no answer. She shrugs and turns back to Jawahar. “Ok, let’s go.”

They head back to the docking bay where she first landed the rowboat with Professor Snodgrass and Reginald, but there’s no sign of the mage and his butler. Which is fine, because there’s no sign of the rowboat either. More to the point, as Georgia examines the bay, she looks out a window and sees that the HMES Harrumph (God save the Queen) is missing as well.

She stands in the middle of the space, hands on her hips. “Reginald!” she shouts.

Speakers in this room crackle to life. “Who’s Reginald?” says the same voice as before.

“The guy who took our rowboat! Jawahar, you’re human right?”

He stares at her. “…Are you not?”

She suddenly hesitates. “…Sure,” she says carefully.

His eyes narrow. “Look, this is a very strange place, you need to know who you are!”

“I agree. So, what do you know about teleportation circles?”

“A great deal. It’s a very basic concept.”

“Really?” She gestures at the airlock doors of the loading bay. “Do you think if I used one now we could get ourselves to the Etherite ship, or are we too far away?”

“I don’t know what Etherite ship you’re talking about!”

“Ok, well you wanted to go back to it—“

“I wanted to be anywhere but here!

“Me too!” the voice chimes in.

They glance at the ceiling, then back at each other. “You know a lot about teleportation circles,” she repeats calmly, “Can I use one in space?”

“Of course, why not?

“So earlier I tried to use one to try to go back to Earth but it wouldn’t work.”

“Of course it wouldn’t, you cant cross the Veil.”

“Okay….” She’s still not sure what that word means but she’s accepting it. “But if the Etherite ship is on the same side of the Veil, then you should be able to get us there, right?”

“Maybe, but I need to know what the Ethership looks like to get there!” Jawahar snaps.

If you turn the lights back on, I might be able to help…it’s so dark—”

“That would be great.” She turns to Jawahar. “We should find him and get his lights on.”

He throws his arms out in exasperation. “By all means, lets do what the crazed voice on the loudspeaker says!”

She holds up her hands. “Hey, I’m not in charge here, I’m just the one making all the decisions. If you want to change that, by all means.”

He sighs and gestures to the door. “Fine, lets go.”

#

MARK HOPKINS HOTEL

The concierge comes by Rabenholz’s room not long after the bellhop leaves. Rabenholz asks her if there are any people of note staying in the hotel at the moment. She tells him Larry Ellison is in town, staying in the suite directly below. Rabenholz considers this and, though he knows nothing about Ellison, a strange feeling tells him he should avoid the man.

Instead, he sends her to check out the hotel’s lounge, the Top of the Mark.

She returns and reports there is in fact someone in the restaurant, someone who would like to speak to Rabenholz. A local businessman and a regular at the hotel, he’s heard Rabenholz is here and would like to speak with him.

Rabenholz follows her to the lounge at the top of the building, a wide space with tastefully-understated decor and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the city.  The concierge leads him to a man reclined in a low leather club chair, staring at the view. He looks up as Rabenholz approaches. He’s a small man, with blonde hair and glasses perched on a thin face. The concierge introduces him as Ricardo Clement before bowing herself away.

Rabenholz bows. “Mr. Clement.”

Clement nods. “Count von Rabenholz.” He gestures Rabenholz to a seat. “You are new in this city. How long have you been here?”

“It’s…been a long while since I left Europe,” Rabenholz says diplomatically.

“Where in Europe, precisely? I’ve worked with many Germans in my time. I’m from Argentina, we have a large population of them.”

If Rabenholz understands the historical subtext to this comment, he doesn’t let it show. “The Palatinate, though it has been some time since I was there.”

“And yet you retain your title.”

“I’m an eccentric.”

Clement smiles. “Aren’t we all.” He leans forward and plucks a wine list from the table. “May I order you something?”

“Please.”

Clement summons a waiter and orders a bottle of red without even looking at the price. “So. I hear you wish to make contacts. Are you familiar with what this city has been going through lately?”

Rabenholz twirls his cane, staring out the window. “I understand there have been a number of terrorist attacks. If you believe the headlines, that is.”

“Mm, well headlines are half-lies, but then so are most things. There have been a great many of disturbing incidents in this city, but things should be rectified. Are you prepared to rectify them?”

Rabenholz fondles the cane. “I was taught that a well-functioning government is a necessity for a civilized society.”

Clement chuckles. “I was taught this as well. I have some experience in these regards.”

Rabenholz turns to him, fixing him with his gaze. “Do you recall your formative events as a young man?”

Clement nods calmly. “I have an excellent memory.”

“What would you say gave you the most drive, defined you the most?”

Clement folds his hands. “Destiny.”

“What type of background do you come from? Were your parents around?”

“Intensely. They instilled in me a great sense of my duty and what was to come of me.”

“You looked up to them?”

“Greatly.” Clement is still watching him calmly, unflinching at the intensity of his stare.

Rabenholz leans forward. “You recall I was a family friend.” Clement’s gaze softens and he nods slowly.  “You’ve been married?” Rabenholz continues.

“Yes, as it happens. Quite happily.” Now he looks away, out over the city. “I lost her, some time ago….”

Rabenholz waits till his gaze drifts back. “You recall having a long, heart-felt conversation with me before you proposed. I convinced you to ask her.

Once again, Clement nods slowly, but a frown breaks the tranquility on his face. “Interesting…that’s not how I recall things….” Suddenly his gaze sharpens. “I wonder, sir…in this city nothing is what it seems, you may be something yet more.”

Rabenholz sits back up, bemused. “You’re quite the interesting character, mr. Clement. I have to say, I’ve not met many men of your caliber.”

“I try to surprise. And I have a very strong sense of my destiny. I wonder, do you? What is your destiny sir?”

“What indeed. Perhaps I will let you know sometime.”

Clement chuckles. The waiter returns and sets out a bottle and two glasses. Clement passes a cursory glance over the cork and gestures for the boy to pour. “How may I help you in the meantime, Herr Rabenholz?”

Rabenholz takes his glass and lifts it for a very small sip, feigning a larger one. “I was looking to undertake some ventures here. I am seeking partners in funding for the moment.”

Clement admires the glow of the wine in the soft lounge light. “The city’s power structure is in flux. There are still a number of troubling agents roaming about. They shall be dealt with, in time. I represent certain institutions that are prepared to benefit by these changes. Speaking candidly, of course.” He smiles at Rabenholz. “Do you sense opportunity here?”

“More than I have sensed in a very long time.”

Clement takes a deep drink from his glass and lifts it in a half-toast. “I do as well. Where, I wonder, will we begin?”

(Now, I actually would love to describe more of the tense details of this exchange, but unfortunately my laptop’s fan kicked on and Chris and Jason were talking softly, so I only caught about every third word in their conversation, but the general gist is as follows:)

Mr. Clement has a problem. An associate of his has misplaced some property and is pleading with everyone who will listen to have it retrieved. The nature is the property is described simply as “sensitive,” and the situation surrounding it even more so. Many power structures in the city are moving for it already, but Clement senses that Rabenholz is just the sort of person who can deal with this delicate issue properly.

Rabenholz takes Clement’s compliments in stride and asks whom he must deal with to find the property. Clement says it’s a man of somewhat less-refinement, but who nonetheless is at the center of this issue. Political ties prevent Clement from dealing with him directly, but he hopes that intercepting this issue will prevent worse problems in the future. In exchange, Clement promises to make the introductions necessary for Rabenholz to accomplish the things he is looking to accomplish in this city.

Rabenholz nods, still taking careful sips. “The garden that is tended early bears great fruit…”

(Chris: “—Or vegetables? What do people garden?”
Me: “Cabbages.”)

Clement pours himself another glass. “All I wish to convince this man of is for him to go. I will pay him if I must, I will deliver things to him if I must, but I do not wish him to further interfere with the affairs of this region.”

“Who is this man?” Rabenholz asks, staring out over the city.

Clement savors his sip before responding. “His name is Helgi Isarnbjorn.”

#

WESTERN ADDITION

Anstis makes his way across the city to St. Ignatius church. Since he’s not sure where it is, rather than flying, he takes the landlubber route so he can ask people on the way. Unfortunately, methed-up as he is, “asking people” amounts to a lot of shouting, gesticulating, and maniacal laughter, which, combined with his stench and squidly-visage, serve to keep everyone he passes at least twenty feet away.

Unsurprisingly, word of him eventually spreads, and the National Guard rolls up about an hour into his trek.

Two men jump out of the humvee with assault rifles. “FREEZE!” one shouts, leveling his at the pirate.

Anstis stops, stares at them, then pops his Protean claws.

“Drop the fucking…knives!” the guy shouts, glancing at his partner in confusion. “What’s up with this guy?” he mutters, looking back to Anstis….

…Who uses the opportunity to Dominate him.  “Shoot him,” Anstis says with a grin.

The man turns and fires on the other guardsman. The instant the shot rings out, Anstis jumps the gunman from behind and rips him in half. He continues hurtling forward, drinking blood from the half he grabbed, then tosses it aside as he lunges into the night.

(Me: “Jesus, was he a fucking CapriSun?”)

#

VAL DU RHONE VINEYARDS

The three sets of eyes loom over us, almost to the cavernous ceiling. As I watch, they all narrow.

“…Girl?” I mutter.

“….Tom?”

“Is this where we start the fun part?” She doesn’t respond, but I hear her breathing, almost as heavily as the unseen monsters looming in front of us. “Hey, girl…?” I snap my fingers sharply.

Suddenly the air shifts as she erupts into her full form next to me, not as tall as the ones we’re facing but still close to the high cellar ceiling. She growls at them, not as a threat but in some kind of guttural language, though it still sounds pretty threatening to me.

The three werewolves stare at her and don’t respond. The shadows shift, and at the edge of the light I can see one of them lift a hand. A strong breeze, almost a wind, rushes through the cellar, sucking at the lamp until it goes out. Darkness falls. Growls erupt from four throats, starting low but rising higher.

I…start backing away….

A warzone erupts. The void in front of me fills with roars and crashes and unearthly shrieks. I stumble half up the stairs, but the battle don’t follow. Which, strangely, is actually more concerning. I decide to risk exposure for more information and smash my sword into the wooden railing, instantly bursting it into flames. Descending slowly, I scythe it it front of me, peering into the darkness.

The darkness lunges back.

I catch a brief glimpse of a werewolf looming above me, talons slicing down like the sword of Damocles, before ducking out of the way. The claws miss by the barest breath, embedding in a wooden stair behind me. The werewolf howls, but before it can tear free, I slash back, throwing my entire weight behind the sword.

(Jason: “…I failed a nine-die roll, jesus—“)

The room plunges back into darkness the instant the sword hits. Its weight increases in my hand, but the blade doesn’t stop till my fist is embedded in blood-soaked fur. The werewolf grunts, spasms, then collapses on top of me. Hot, bleeding weight forces me to the flagstones, but I shove it off, wrenching the sword out as it falls. It’s not dead yet, but it’s close, whining and heaving in the dark. A shadow darts toward me as it swipes again, but I step easily out of the way….

…And chop its head off in one strike.

More hot blood splashes me as it thumps to the floor. I glare at its bulk, relief slowly collecting, then instantly scattering as I realize there’s still two more to deal with.

But that’s when I realize that the rest of the cellar is perfectly silent. No fighting, no breathing, nothing.

Now dread rises. “Girl…?” I call softly, but the only reply is my echo off the stone. Fighting panic, I remind myself that if she was killed, I would have been too not long after, so the fact that it’s quiet means the fighting must have moved somewhere else. If I can find her, we can still do this. I heft the now-silver sword, wiping sticky blood with the flat of my hand.

Blood…. And that’s when I realize something else: I’m hungry.

I hesitate and sniff my hand experimentally. I have no idea what drinking werewolf blood does to you, whether its good or bad, and the middle of a battle probably isn’t the best time to experiment. But I don’t have time to go rooting around Jean’s complex looking for possible blood stores, and the carcass is right here, cooling quickly, and smelling surprisingly good….

I dab a finger to my tongue. Lights explode at the edge of my vision. I grab a nearby cask to steady myself. It’s good, real good, dangerously good, like an adrenaline rush and a hit of E rolled into one. I have to stop myself from licking my hand clean. I’ve heard of vampires getting addicted to this, and now I can understand why. There’s no way to tell what an addiction like this might do to me, but I’ve watched enough human friends ride the junkie-descent to stay far away from the edge of that precipice.

But, at the same time, desperate times….

“Fuck it,” I mutter, and fall on the carcass

#

THE VOID ENGINEER’S SHIP

Georgia and Jawahar working their way through the ship, searching for the source of the mysterious voice. They don’t run into anyone, mage or otherwise, and though this should probably concern Georgia, it doesn’t.

“So, what kind of magic do you do, Jawahar?” she asks conversationally.

“I’m a Hermeticist,” he mutters, peering around a corner.

“Okay. Can you locate this voice in this place? Or make us a map of the ship?”

“Maybe.” He frowns, thinking. “I’d need access to one of the power conduits. Can you tear up the panels on the floor?”

“Um…sure….” Georgia kneels down and, with Jawahar’s help, pries up a thin metal panel of the floor, exposing brightly pulsing tubes and wires.

“This is it…” Jawahar grabs a large node and starts muttering in Sanskrit while tracing lines on the floor.

A hidden speaker above them crackles. “What’s happening? I feel something.”

“We are making a map,” Georgia says to the wall. “You should make an imprint on the map if you can.”

I’ll see what I can do…this isn’t exactly what I do….”

“What do you do?”

This is a Technocratic ship, he could be anything,” Jawahar mutters, continuing the ritual. “Do you have anything to write on?”

Georgia digs out a scrap of bloodstained parchment paper from her robes. Jawahar stares at the blood suspiciously. “It’s not mine,” she assures him.

He glares at her, takes the paper, and continues working. He mutters some more, gripping the power tubing with one hand and tracing lines with the other, then touches his free hand to the paper. Instantly dark blue schematic lines bloom across the surface, cramped and complicated, but clearly a map of the ship. They peer at it, and as they watch, some of the blood pulls together to form a bright red dot on the map, not too far from where they seem to be located.

“I think he’s here,” Jawahar says, pointing to the dot.

“Great, then lets go there!” She plucks the map from his hand. “Good job!”

Jawahar, though, is still kneeling on the floor, staring at her. “What kind of mage are you?” he asks suspiciously.

“I am a fire and water mage,” she says proudly.

“That isn’t what I meant. What tradition are you?”

“Um, Italy?”

He climbs to his feet. “Do you practice magic of any sort?” he asks accusingly.

Georgia opens her mouth, but before she can respond, the voice cuts back in. “Are you coming? Please, its still so dark and cold.”

“We’re coming now!” Georgia shouts to the ceiling, then hurries down the hall, Jawahar a few paces behind.

They follow the map, occasional calls from overhead speakers telling them to hurry. Finally, they reach an unmarked door that corresponds with the red dot. Georgia badges it open.

Twenty men are standing in the room on the far side of the door, all armored, all carrying heavy guns, all aimed at Georgia and Jawahar’s heads. Jawahar staggers back, choking on a cry. Georgia freezes…and waves. “Hi guys!”

Hello, vampire,” the voice says from a speaker, though suddenly it is a lot less panicked sounding.

Jawahar stares at her. “Vampire!?

Georgia gestures weakly with the badge. “Did…you want me to close this door?”

By all means, step in. We should talk.”

“Is this the ‘you shoot me a whole bunch’ kinda talking or ‘the we actually have a dialogue’ kind of talking?”

If you don’t enter, you’ll find out very quickly.” In response, the man at the front of the group flicks a switch on the side of his gun. A low whine rises.

Georgia sighs. “Well, alright. Jawahar?” She politely gestures for him to enter first.

He stares between the vampire and the line of armed space marines, wide-eyed. “…I should have stayed on Mars.”

#

VAL DU RHONE VINEYARDS

I tear myself away from the dead werewolf a blissful eternity later. There’s still no sign of Sophia,  and now that my hunger is slaked my concern is back. I stumble up out of the cellar but there’s no sounds of fighting. I consider calling for her but am worried about attracting unwanted attention, so I make my way through the hallways and tasting rooms quietly.

I reach the front foyer and am about to head outside when my phone buzzes. DROP PHONE, the screen says. I do so, stepping back moments before the air shifts and a seven-foot werewolf appears in mid-air and drops to the floor, half-crashing on top of me.

“Girl!” I yell, struggling under her weight and helping her to her feet. “What happened, where are the other two?”

She shakes her lupine head woozily, then shifts back to human form. “No time, we have to go, now.”

She doesn’t have to tell me twice. I wrench open the heavy front door, leading us out into the driveway where I left the car—

The car is gone.

“GODDAMMIT!” I whirl around, but all I see is manicured landscaping and tasteful accent lights. “Girl, did you move the car?”

No!

“Shit!” I need the car, but we also need to keep moving. We jog down the long tree-lined drive, heading back toward the highway. Eventually, I spot heavy-gauge tire tracks leading off the drive onto a dirt road into the vineyards and stumble to a halt. “There,” I point.

Next to me, Sophia tenses. “No, Tom….” she lifts an arm shakily, pointing down the long drive. Something steps out from the trees, way down, half-hidden by the shadows of the oaks, but clearly werewolf in form. It raises its arms, growling something, and in return a low, grinding moan echoes from the shadows. I whirl, catching glimpses of movement through the trees, half expecting an entire werewolf army to descend any moment.

But then I realize…it is the trees, twisting their limbs and wide-flung roots, looming and grasping, surrounding us on all sides.

(Cameron: “Do you want ents, Tom? Cause that’s how you get ents.”)

(So, it’s not the best audio scene we’ve had, but I made a clip anyway cause there were some amusing and dramatic bits to the end of this scene.)

#

SAINT IGNATIUS CHURCH, UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO

Anstis arrives at the church, runs up the steps, and kicks the door open. The building is massive, in a baroque Spanish style, and currently empty. He stalks through the pews, hunting for signs of life. Nothing.

Stopping near the altar, he casts the stone ritual again for Isabella. The catacombs, it whispers in his head, gentle as a dying breath. Rushing to the wall, he tears open a side door and finds stairs heading down.

(Me: “I’m sure hunting an Assamite is going to go real well for him.”
Jason: “Says the woman who just chopped a werewolf in half.”)

He plunges down to a basement level, brick-lined and dark, but lit with red votive candles spaced evenly down the corridors. Making his way down the largest hall, he finally reaches not a door, but a hole torn through the brick, leading to a tunnel. He steps through and follows the tunnel to the entrance of massive vaulted chamber. More light flickers inside. Anstis grins and enters.

Candles of all shapes and sizes line the base of the rough-hewn walls, but Anstis barely notices the flames. His eyes instead are drawn upward to a figure hanging overhead. A large man, with dark hair and a scraggly beard, nearly naked, hanging from chains thirty feet in the air in a sick facsimile of a cruciform. His head is lolled to his chest, and from where Anstis is standing, he can’t tell if he’s breathing.

Anstis searches the room, but finds nothing else and no other exits. He stares up at the man again, thinking, finally deciding to test if he’s alive via the zombie puppetry spell. He raises a hand and tries to make his legs twitch.

The man’s eyes fly open. He stares wildly, till his gaze settles on Anstis, turning tight and cold. “Well now…” he sighs. “Who are you?”

“Who are you?” Anstis counters.

“I am that I am.” His arms twitch against the chains and a sick smile spreads across his face. “Why have you come? Have you come to find enlightenment? Have you come to find answers?”

Anstis stares at him then, bored and still hungry, turns to leave.

“Stay, my brother. We have things to discuss.” There’s a heavy thump. Anstis turns to see the man crouched on the rough stone behind him, grinning maniacally. He stands and raises his arms. “Come to me. Let me show you. Let me show you what it is to be loved.”

(Jim: “…And I’m the one on drugs?”)

Anstis sneers and turns again to leave.

“Have you come for her?” the man sighs.

Anstis hesitates, then turns back. “Where is she?”

The man grins. “She’s near, my brother. Very, very near.”

“Show me.”

“I will show you….” The man stands, arms lifted in welcome. “I will show you wonders, and you will not believe them. Let us go. Come, brother.”

Anstis nods tersely. “Lead the way.”

The man’s grin widens. “I shall.”

Instantly, all the candles in the cavern go out—(—becauseofcoursetheyfuckingdo—)—but Anstis is still able to peer through the gloom. The man is gone.

Antis glowers and walks across the floor. Strange scuttling noises echo around him, low on the floor and just out of sight. Anstis tries to follow one, but chasing it leads him to a wall. Scowling, he backs up, making his way toward the entrance.

The scuttling increases, sounding almost like chittering laughter. Anstis moves faster, tripping over a line of candles. Then, suddenly a whisper, inches from his ear, “Come to me, brother….

…Moments before fangs plunge into his neck.

END OF NIGHT

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