Jason: “I decide to add Victoria Lovelace to the game because I think she’ll be awesome and [Kara] decides to murder her for her dress.”
Chris: “Can’t say any of us are surprised.”
(Me: “This night has gone on for, like, a month and a half, and we all have ag-damage, so please, God, let it be close to morning.”
Kara: “Do we have damage?”
Me: “Well, Jim and I do.”
Jason: “Some people are just incompetent.”
Kara: “Some people think they’re representative of everyone.”
Jason: “Check your privilege, Colleen.”
Me: “…Colleen is problematic.”)
THE OUTER SOLAR SYSTEM
(Jason: “Before we start, I’d like to point something out. I rolled a bunch of dice, and the successes are basically how accurate you are going to be to get to Pluto. Difficulty 7. I’d like you to look at these….”
Jim: “HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!”
Chris: “Does someone want to narrate this for Colleen’s writeup?”
Me: “Okay, we got 9, 10, 10, 9, 8, 8, 9, 10, 7, 9!”
Jason: “That’s…ten successes, on ten dice.”
Kara: “I’m…just going to take a picture so you can put it in the writeup:”)
The circle around Georgia, Jawahar, and the Void Engineers erupts into a column of unadulterated power. The blood sigils incinerate into etherial trails in the air, growing and morphing as the magic builds. Everyone within the circle stares in mute amazement.
Everyone, that is, except Georgia. Watching the results of her magic, her face is rapturous.
Reality washes to blinding white…then slowly returns, fading to a flat plain in cool darkness. Georgia, though, still feels buoyant, almost floating with glee.
But it’s not just her. Everyone moves slowly in their spacesuits, reeling from the effects of a decimated gravity well.
(We did the math, incidentally. Pluto’s gravity is about 6% of Earth’s.)
Georgia waves her arms, marveling at their lightness, but as the excitement of her successful spell wears off, she gets the sense that something is watching her. Glaring, actually. She looks for Jawahar, but he’s still staring around in shock, and the Void Engineers are similarly awed or otherwise occupied. She gradually gets the sense that whatever’s watching her is overhead, and looks up.
There, surrounded by a field of stars like opals on velvet, is the sun, barely more than a large star itself. Her eyes tingle to look at it, feeling like they want to water but can’t, and her exposed skin crawls, but the effect is no worse than that. The sun beats down on her for the first time in over 500 years, and she stares calmly back. “Wow,” she breathes, soundless in the razor-thin air.
(Jim: “Also, congratulations, Jason, at successfully separating the party further than ever before.”
Jason: “…Jim suddenly goes to Tau-Ceti.”)
She turns from the sky to examine their surroundings. The ground is a level plain of ice stretching to a caldera-ring of obsidian mountains all around them. Georgia claps once. “Well, welcome to Pluto!” she mouths, then frowns at the disconcerting sensation of having her lungs fully collapsed and unable to re-inflate.
One of the Void Engineers carefully hobbles over and hands her an ear-bud receiver and sub-vocal microphone, then shows her how to apply them. The captain lurks behind the man, watching them with arms folded, and as soon as the radio is activated his voice crackles in her ear. “Well, looks like the place. Now where the hell would Snodgrass be?”
Georgia looks around for whales. There aren’t any. She shrugs and points toward the mountains, then starts walking. The captain grumbles and the rest of the group follows. They start at a slow walk, but soon everyone is bounding in the low gravity, each step launching them yards across the plain, whether they want it to or not.
(Jason: “This is some John Carter bullshit going on.”
Jim: “Yeah, but stopping is going to be the real problem.”)
Georgia sails along in the lead, colorful umbrella suit billowing around her like Joseph’s technicolor acid dream, reveling in the magic and the stars and even the ice slowly creeping through her skin. The mountains approach much more rapidly than expected, and as her last leap descends, she looks for a way to stop—
—Which she finds by Wile E. Coyote-ing-herself right into the side of a cliff.
Jawahar and the Void Engineers are there to meet her when she slides down to the bottom. The captain glares as Jawahar helps her up. “Alright, that’s enough. We can’t just go wandering around aimlessly looking for whales, or an ethership. This planet has a surface the size of Asia. I’m going to send out scouts in a defined search pattern. Everyone else will stay here.” He glares pointedly at the two of them and walks away to talk to his crew.
Sophia and I drive back through the rolling wine country hills, heading back to Cascade Canyon. Dawn is in a few hours, and I figure this is the safest local area to hole up for the day. We may have aggravated the Talons, but hopefully the lingering influence of Marcus on the ranch will keep them away.
I glance over at Sophia. She’s typing on her tablet, her shotgun close at her feet. I can’t help but smirk. We haven’t made the most efficient team so far on this investigation, but at least we’ve been having fun doing it—
My face falls as I realize something.
I clear my throat. “So…do you have any idea why the talons didn’t kill Jean?”
“No.” She swipes at her screen. “It doesn’t make sense, we’re not supposed to be talking to vampires at all, and the Talons don’t talk to anybody.”
“Right, but here’s my concern,” I say carefully. “They’ve seen you with me, and apparently they’re talking to vampires, and every single vampire in the Bay Area knows that I’m with Boss….” I trace a triangle in the air with one finger. “We can’t let them put those things together, girl, for your sake.”
I see her tense out of the corner of my eye. “I know. But…I hope the Talons don’t know any better either. They don’t usually distinguish between different vampires. To them, you’re all just suckheads.” She hesitates after she says the word, but I let it slide. I’ve made enough dog-jokes around her that we’re probably on even footing now.
“So why the hell they leaving suckheads alive?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I don’t understand how the Talons really think, I’m not wolf enough. See’s-Faces would understand better, but I don’t know where he is.”
I vaguely recall meeting that other wolf from her crew. Her pack. “Last time I saw him was on the Farallones with Stormwalker.”
“Yeah.” She sighs and turns to the window. “I talked to Alex a few times, they had to run off to the East Bay to deal with something.”
Leaving you here with me. I wonder if that means I’m gaining the other wolves’ trust…or maybe they don’t see me as a real threat. Yet. “Right….” I grin again as something new comes to mind. “Hey, can you give me Stormwalker’s phonenumber? Cause I keep trying to get it from him and he keeps blowing me off.”
She gives me a weird look. I realize how that probably sounds, but that just makes it funnier. “I…can,” she says hesitantly, “But he’ll completely kick your ass for it, and probably mine to for giving it to you.”
“True, but if he kicks my ass in a situation where we need some ass-kicking, it could be useful.”
She rolls her eyes. “Fine, but if he asks, tell him you got it somewhere else.” I hand her my phone so she can program it in. She pauses mid-type. “Tom, can I ask you something? And I understand if you can’t or won’t say….”
Her tone worries me. “Sure….”
“What is…your boss….doing here?” she asks carefully.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? He’s looking for his sire, the same asshole who tore up the Tenderloin.”
“Yeah, but…” Her fingers tap against the back of my case. “Don’t you think he could have found him already, if he really wanted? He seems to know everything else.”
“Everything except what the hell Perpenna is up to, and why he seems to have demonic powers and resurrection shit. Theres something else weird going on here.”
“Theres a lot of weird things going on here,” she mutters. “Look, I know you have to work with him—” I stare straight ahead, pointedly not correcting her on this detail, “—But is there any way you can guarantee that…I won’t have to deal with him anymore?” She’s unable to disguise the quaver in her voice.
Breath I don’t have catches in my throat. “I didn’t want to leave you with him at that place down in San Simeon, and I understand how it upsets you to be around him. I’ll do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.”
“I don’t know if you do understand. When I walked in there, I thought he was going to kill me, but now, I’m kinda more worried that he didn’t.” She fiddles nervously with my phone, turning it in her hands. “He could have done anything in there, some mind control thing or something, and I wouldn’t know it till I had to do what he said—”
“Girl,” I reach over to grip her hands. They’re warm against mine, almost hot, but she doesn’t pull away, and neither do I. “I can’t guarantee anything anymore, but I promise…I’ll try.”
She meets my eyes briefly, nods, and lets her hands fall to her lap. I release them and turn back to the road. The swish of passing traffic fills the car for minutes before she speaks again. “Anyway, you know the vampires better than I do, do you know where the Talons might have gone up here?”
“I don’t know, it’s all a shitload of wineries and B&B’s.”
She snorts a laugh. “Didn’t Jean say something about the statue?”
“Oh, yeah….” The statue of Ceoris that Everton was on the hunt for, when he wasn’t hunting Primogens. “Well, the last person who knew anything about the statue was Everton.”
She sits up. “Everton…the British guy? The last time I saw him he had the cub.”
It takes me a minute to remember: the werewolf cub, the one that looked like a mini-werewolf, the one Georgia was chasing around Orlando’s. “Oh yeah, at the pawn shop—“ My voice darkens as it all floods back to me, “—and Anstis said he could find him, using his hand….” I glance at her grimly. “Anstis has been up to something weird, he knows a lot of information he’s not supposed to know about. People’s locations, other creepy shit—“
“He’s a vampire, Tom.”
“Yeah but this is all stuff I haven’t seen before.”
“So what else is new.” She finishes on my phone and hands it back over.
As I maneuver to shove it back in my pocket, I notice my sword, tucked down next to my seat. It’s still silver, so I’ve been trying to keep it away from her while still being handy. “So, this thing was pretty fun, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah,” she says carefully, leaning away from it.
I continue to glance at it thoughtfully, between moments watching the road. “Isn’t it true that all the big name swords over the years have their own name, much like…” I glance at Vera in the backseat, “…Other weapons?”
“Like Excalibur and stuff? I guess so, why?”
“Have you ever heard a name for a sword like this?”
“No, I’ve never even heard of a sword like that. Where did you get it?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” I grin at her. “I stole it from the Tremere. Or, well, they were all dead, so it wasn’t really stealing, more looting.”
She looks at the sword again, with wider eyes. “Are they going to be mad about that?”
“Maybe, if they ever find out. But the fun part is I replaced it with another, lesser-quality sword I found somewhere else.” I chuckle a moment, pleased with myself. “But, considering what it’s done for me so far, I feel it deserves a name.” I glance at her slyly. “How about Wolfsbane?”
She gives me a Look right back. “Considering what it’s done for you so far, how about Computer-bane?”
“Touché.” Her joke, though, brings something new to mind: “Well, considering the sword does unexpected things at unexpected times, seems good at breaking rules…” I grin, “…How about ‘Glitch’?”
She stares a long moment, then bursts out laughing, the sound bringing new lightness to the inside of the car. “It’s…very you, Tom.”
“Thanks, girl,” I wink.
After escaping whatever shitshow was going on at St. Ignatius, Anstis goes and feeds on some regular, not-methed-up people in the park until he feels better. He’s no longer feeling the immediate drive to go diablerize a bitch, but his interest in Isabella Lytton hasn’t waned. She—or information about her—can still be useful to his purposes, so he files the whole event away for later.
The next most pressing thing on his mind is the one that’s been on it since he woke up in our time: tracking down the remains of his mutinous crew and signs of his arch-nemesis, Admiral John Flowers. Much of the information he seeks appears to lie in the direction of India, which is part of the reason why he went to such lengths to acquire a ship in the first place. The fact that it’s a nuclear submarine is just gravy. Of course, he can’t do anything with it at the moment, since Helgi still has it impounded in Alameda.
So Anstis decides to steal it back.
He flies into Fort Funston, to the tunnels where he ate the Tremere during the firefight, and swaggers through the maze to the runed circle already inscribed on the floor. Using that, he teleports into the circle-room in the belly of the Twilight. From there, it’s a simple matter to climb up and instruct his crew. It’s almost dawn, so if they get moving now, they can be well out of the Bay before Helgi or his men notice. Thus, before falling asleep, he orders them to set sail.
Rabenholz watches cooly as the kid, the one enslaved to Perpenna, sobs at his feet. After a few minutes, the crying stops, and the boy stands again, hunching as if expecting a blow.
“Where is the Tremere Chantry?” Rabenholz asks.
The boy drags the back of his hand against his nose. “I don’t know.”
“Do you know any of the Tremere in this city?”
He nods. “Johnson…”
“Have you ever followed her?” Nod again. “What buildings has she come out of nearby?”
The boy stumbles out of the alley. Rabenholz follows him through the neighborhood to the edge of Russian Hill, arriving at a large mansion at the end of a cul-de-sac. The house looks as if it’s been through a war, the yard torn up and windows knocked out. Incongruously, though, everything else on the street looks untouched. The faint smell of blood drifts through the fog, along with the scent of something else, something rotting and bad. Rabenholz regards the house a long moment, tapping his cane against the sidewalk, then walks up the steps and enters.
Inside, the house is even worse. Walls are smashed, water damage stains the floor, and for some reason, a mattress has been abandoned at the bottom of the staircase. Rabenholz makes his way carefully through the mess, while the kid lurks nervously behind him.
“What happened here?” Rabenholz asks, examining what looks like a shotgun blast in one wall.
Rabenholz poke the mattress with his cane. “Against what?”
“Against more vampires. Against all the vampires, the same vampires.”
Rabenholz turns to him. “What do you mean, the same vampires?”
“There were hundreds of them, but they were all the same….”
“Curious….” Rabenholz finds his way to a ruined bathroom and breaks off a shard of its mirror, handing it to the boy. “Carry this.” The boy nods mutely and pockets it.
The stench he caught outside the house seems to get worse the further in he goes. He follows it down the hall, to an area of the kitchen where the floor seems weakened. The smell is drifting up through the wood. Carefully lifting his cape aside, he smashes through the boards with his foot.
Which is immediately grabbed by a rotting zombie.
Rabenholz wrenches his leg back, but the zombie has a firm hold, moaning and gnashing at his shoe. Behind him, the kid screams and runs from the room. Rabenholz remains calm, backing up to pull the zombie out from under the floor and into the kitchen. From there, he’s able to kick it off him.
“Speak!” Rabenholz commands, but the zombie just hisses and lunges at him again.
And then the kitchen light goes out.
Now officially done with this shit, Rabenholz whips out his cane-sword and slices at the zombie’s lurking shape in the gloom. The head flies off, and as it and the body hit the floor, they both explode into dust. Rabenholz sheathes the sword and sweeps from the room to find the boy.
There’s no sign of the kid in the house, but as he reaches for the front door to check out front, he’s suddenly bathed in light as every bulb in the house comes on at once. “That’s far enough,” says an unfamiliar voice.” Rabenholz turns to find a man, middle aged, of medium height in a simple tweed coat. One of his hands is holding a cane, the other is resting on the shoulder of the boy, who’s watching both of them nervously.
Rabenholz regards him and steps back from the front door. “Was that your Wiedergänger in the kitchen?”
The man blinks. “My what?”
“I know what one is, but I don’t believe I have such a thing as to misplace it in the kitchen,” he says in a calm English accent. “May I ask your name, sir?”
Rabenholz draws himself up. “I am Pzalzgraf Augustus von Rabenholz. Whom do I address?”
“My name is Dr. Corwin Everton. Oxford. I believe I’ve heard your name before, though never in conjunction with men who would burst into other men’s houses in the middle of the night, smash their floors, and uncover rotting corpses. What in the world brings a Knight of the Penitent all the way out here?”
Rabenhol spreads his hands. “The American Dream, what else?”
“Mmm. And what clan might you claim, Herr von Rabenholz?”
He shifts his cloak. “Have you any doubt?”
“Well I know the teutonic nature of most Germans I encounter does lend itself toward the Ventrue clan, but there are always exceptions.” Everton tilts his head. “Might i enquire as to the purpose of your unexpected, and yet quite welcome, visit?”
“I was out on an errand of sorts and made the acquaintance of this young man.”
“Yes,” Everton looks at the boy, who has been watching the two of them like a mouse between two snakes. “This young man is quite interesting. Where would you have come upon something like this?”
“He is working for someone else.”
“I gathered that, as the matter of being a ghoul. So he’s not yours?”
“No. I’m not quite sure what to do with him yet. Does the name Gnaeus Perpenna Vento mean anything to you?”
Everton goes still. “It means a great deal, I’m afraid, and if you intend on spending any time in this city, you will come to make its acquaintance promptly. Gnaeus Perpenna Vento is a vampire of considerable vintage.”
“Hmm. Indeed.” Rabenholz strolls the foyer. “Well, I apologize for smashing your floor, though I dare say you’ll rest better with one less reanimated body.”
“The difficulty is, I’m not sure where it came from. It wasn’t my creation and I can’t imagine why anyone would put one. If they wanted to destroy me they should use something a bit more effective than a moaning creature.” Everton watches Rabenholz while he paces, still gripping the boy, and his cane. “What are your intentions in this city? Seems an odd place and an odd moment to decide to take a vacation.”
“Truthfully, I was looking for the Tremere Chantry. I need to pay the Regent a visit.”
“The Regent? I’m afraid the Tremere Regent is dead. I witnessed his death myself.”
“The new Regent, then. A woman, Ms. Johnson.”
“Ahh, yes, Ms. Johnson. I don’t know her location at the moment, I’m afraid, but…well you might try up at the tower. The radio tower at the center of the city, done up like a candy cane. Sutro Tower, I believe they call it.”
Rabenholz recalls Bell’s obtuse warning about the place. “Why the devil would she be there?”
“She’s been known to frequent it. I believe she finds the company convivial. It’s a mage’s domain.”
Rabenholz pauses. “She keeps strange company.”
“She is a Tremere, they do indulge in such escapades, do they not.” Everton shrugs. “It’s a bit odd to request the presence of a Tremere Regent when you’re the Clan of Kings. You’re not known for being friendly to one another, necessarily.”
“One does not need to be friendly to conduct business.”
“And what business do you wish to do here?”
Rabenholz peers at a time-darkened picture on the wall. “Again, that is my own.”
“I suppose it is, though it does return me to the question of why I am standing next to a small child who appears to be in your possession when he is in fact the ghoul of someone else far more powerful?”
“Apparently Gnaeus Perpenna Vento decided to spy on me, and this was his spy.”
“This was his spy?” Everton peers at the boy, who returns his stare blankly. “Interesting choice…. Then again Perpenna Vento has known predilections for the sort.”
Rabenholz turns. “…How do you mean?”
Everton meets his gaze cooly. “Well, I imagine an urbane man of the world can infer what I mean. It isn’t exactly a polite subject. Safe to say, he has been known to employ such minions before.”
Rabenholz nods, then gestures with his cane. “Do you want this one?”
The boy stiffens in Everton’s grip, but Everton chuckles. “Want? No, I have no particular need for something like this.”
“You see I haven’t quite figured out what to do with him.”
“Were you planning to simply feed?”
Rabenholz regards the idea like he regarded the painting. “No.”
“Tear his mind out then and send him packing?”
“Perhaps. There are other messages that can be conveyed but I don’t know this Vento.”
“I’m not entirely certain I recommend knowing him, but if you are insistent on remaining in this city, I have a feeling you’ll get to know each other quite well. And if not him, then perhaps one of his…competitors.” Everton shrugs, tucks his cane under his arm, and grips the boy’s other shoulder. “Well, if you have no plans with the child, then I shall take him. If he does belong to Perpenna, then I can find a use for him. I assure you, he won’t remember a thing about you.”
“That’s alright, I think I shall maintain his employment for a while longer.”
Everton’s hands tighten. “And if I insist?”
The two men stare at each other, their gazes as cool and sophisticated as their accents. Finally, Rabenholz nods. “Then I shall let you have him.” He shifts his own cane and strides to the door. “I am sorry for barging in to your abode.”
Everton makes a dismissive gesture. “Quite alright, I don’t think I shall be making this my domicile for much longer. It has rather outlived its usefulness and its expiration date. And where, might I ask, have you made your quarters?”
“I’m staying at the Mark Hopkins, for the moment.”
“Ah.” Everton follows him to the door. “Capital institution. I understand the man who possessed it at one point came to a rather sticky end, six or seven months ago. It was quite an unfortunate matter, some accident at a cement plant, or something.”
Rabenholz hesitates on the front step, sensing subtext in that statement. “Quite a pity for them. But perhaps fortuitous for me.”
“Fortuitous for a number.” Everton smiles and bows lightly, hand on the door. “Have a good evening, Pzalzgraf.”
We arrive back at Cascade Canyon about an hour before dawn. I’m fading fast, and next to me Sophia is stifling yawns as well.
I lead us to the hillside bunker behind the main house. Sophia hesitates at the threshold, crinkling her nose, but follows me inside. The place is just as grimy and dank as I remember it, but now that I have more freedom to explore—and kick down locked doors—I find a lounge area with a couch, and a set of sparse bedrooms. Slayer is already passed out on a cot in one of them, and I’m sure if he wasn’t technically dead he’d be snoring obnoxiously. I drop one of Jean’s blood bottles on his chest and close the door.
I find Sophia in the lounge, staring between the faded paisley couch and the rusted blood smears staining the concrete floor. “Tom, what is this place?”
“Well, this is where I met Boss, but he said he stole it from some other asshole before him, so who knows what that guy got up to.” I see her face. “I know, I know, but like we said, the werewolves won’t come here and it’s unlikely anyone else is going to get the jump on us all the way out here.” I shrug. “I mean, if it’s too much, you can stay wherever you want, if you want to go running around in the woods or whatever.”
She glares as she settles on couch, pulling out her tablet. “I’m a werewolf, Tom, not an animal. I need wifi.”
“Well, if you wake up before me and finish the snacks and need to order a pizza or something, do you need some cash?” I grope for my wallet.
She shoots me her Look. “Tom, I can hack Bank of America.”
I stop mid-grope. “Ah. So…you can order arbitrary numbers of pizza, then.”
She smirks. “Alright, I guess I’ll see you in the…evening, Tom. Unless something blows us up before then.”
“Well, if it does, try not to wake me.” I shoot her a pistol-hand and head to one of the cot-rooms down the hall.
MARK HOPKINS HOTEL
Rabenholz goes back to the Mark Hopkins, whereupon he finds that his flower pots have arrived. He thanks the concierge and gives her his now-classic “generous” Dominate tip.
(Jason: “You cheapskate asshole.
Chris: “I don’t have any money!”
Me: “Get some!”)
The pots and bags of soil are already in his room. He fills and lines them up against the south-facing window. He stares out the window a moment, ruminating over his conversation with Everton, then walks briskly into the bathroom. Digging around in the drawers, he finds a small hand mirror, which he snaps smartly against the counter. He selects two shards, then, holding them against his eyes, smashes them and grinds them in.
Jason: “Yeah, I’m gonna need a self-control test—That is a botchy-ass roll, there.”
Jason: “Um…very nice effort, but unfortunately the Beast panics and you frenzy.”
Chris: “Okay, excellent! Cause…I don’t actually have self-control.”
Jason: “Oh that’s right, that was a botched instinct check….”
Cameron: “…Oh dear….”
Jim and Me: “Wh…what does that do?”
Jason: “Well a botched self-control test means you just hyper-frenzy, but botched instinct means you fail to ride the Beast. Really badly. Which means the Beast is going to get mad and try and punish you. So…we’ll get back to you in a minute….”)
The Void Engineers send out search parties, leaving a few crewmen to guard Georgia and Jawahar. Georgia eventually gets bored and decides to go exploring anyway, ignoring the captain’s protests. Finally he concedes and sends his lieutenant to go with her her. The two women follow the line of the mountains, bounding in slow silence across the sepulchral landscape.
The weak sun is approaching the rim of the caldera by the time they find anything interesting. Ahead of them, protruding from the cliff and crashed out onto the ice, is an immense tube, like an oil pipeline. In the distance, it tapers off to a closed point.
Georgia fumbles with the throat-mic. “Is that where the whales come from?”
The woman glares at her but walks closer. As they approach, Georgia realizes it’s not metal, but some sort of living organism, less a tube and more a worm, thirty feet in diameter at its widest point. The head isn’t visible, buried somewhere in the mountain, but the skin in front of them seems to twitch with the movement of hidden muscles.
“What the hell is this…” the woman mutters, then her face darkens. “…You took us to Pluto, right?”
Georgia nods enthusiastically.
“Did you specify which Pluto?”
Georgia looks around. “I…brought us to the one on the charts. The dwarf planet.”
The woman shakes her head slowly. “There’s nothing living on the dwarf planet.”
“Well, there are the whales.”
“No, there’s no whales on Prime Pluto.”
“Well, surely they’re nearby? In space!” Georgia says brightly.
The woman ignores her, keying her radio. “Um, sir? We found something and I think…I think we might be in a memetic reality….”
“Is…that another type of mage? Memetic?”
“No, a memetic reality, it’s…not the Pluto that you know.”
Georgia droops, realizing her spell may not have gone as well as she hoped. “I’m…sorry? You said you wanted to get Professor Barnabus….”
“I know, but, if he’s coming here…” The woman glances around, gripping her rifle. “There could be anything on this planet, including whatever the hell this is.”
“Yeah we probably shouldn’t wake that up.” Georgia watches a moment as the thing heaves in the lengthening shadows. “We should report to the others what we found, and probably scout the sky for signs of Barnabus’s ship.”
“Do you know anything about these…whales…he’s looking for?”
“‘Fraid I don’t. I know they vomit. Or at least, thats what Barnabus and Dr. vonNatsi say.”
The lieutenant shakes her head and makes a spitting noise inside her helmet. “Etherites. This is so far outside my jurisdiction. We should go back.” She turns and starts bounding back across the ice.
Georgia follows. “What’s wrong with Etherites?”
The woman’s next bound takes her extra far. “You know what happened the last time an Etherite decided to change the fundamental tenants of reality on a mass scale? He tried to burn all of Europe down with a fleet of airships. It was in 1910. We chased him off, but that’s the kind of stuff Etherites get up to when you let them just run around. They don’t like reality so they decide, well everything I don’t like should just go away.”
Georgia considers what Jawahar told her about the Technocracy. “Isn’t that kinda what you people are doing?”
The lieutenant skitters to a stop on the ice. Georgia flails to keep from crashing into her. “No! We protect people! We like Consensus to stay kind of stable, that way people can survive it!”
Georgia remembers what the woman said on the ship. “The reality-cops, right?”
“Well if you’re trying to protect people, why did you attack Professor Snodgrass?”
She sighs. “Look, okay, so we’re not like the rest of the ‘reality-cops,’” she makes air vacuum-quotes with her gloved hands. “We’re the Department of Memetic Polyrealities. We were out here working on something else, we weren’t expecting to run into Snodgrass at all.”
“What’s a memetic polyreality?”
“It’s basically an alternate reality reinforced by mass memetic ideals.” Georgia stares blankly. The woman sighs. “Ever read a book, like a fictional book?”
“Like a book thats not about real stuff?”
The lieutenant stares. “Movies, then?”
Georgia brightens. “Oh, yes.”
“Okay, well this is like Lord of the Rings. I used to be posted there.”
“You were in New Zealand?”
The woman stares, then paces a few moments on the ice before continuing. “Look, you’ve heard of Consensus? That the world is the way it is because everyone believes it’s that way? Well a memetic polyreality is like that, but it’s not our world.”
“Ah…and why is that a problem?”
“It’s not, by itself, but reality malefactors kind of like to bridge between Prime Reality and the polyrealities. And we think your Professor Snodgrass is one of them. He could grab a balrog from Middle Earth and drop it into the middle of New York, and since everyone knows what a balrog is, it would bring along its own Consensus.”
Georgia considers that and frowns. “Yeah, he’s kinda a jerk, but vonNatsi’s not like Snodgrass. He’s just doing Science.”
She grabs at her helmet. “He’s an Etherite, he’s never just doing ‘science!’”
“He’s just trying to get published so he can prove Victoria Lovelace wrong.”
The woman freezes. “…You’ve met Victoria Lovelace?”
Georgia nods enthusiastically. “Oh yeah, she’s really nice, once you realize she’s not trying to kill you.”
The woman stares a long moment. “Victoria Lovelace is…well, there’s a really big reward out for her. Big enough that the Syndicate isn’t even involved.” She glances around the barren plain, then gestures Georgia to lean closer. “Look,” she mumbles over the radio, “You didn’t hear this from me, and I can’t guarantee anything, but…if you brought in someone like Lovelace to the right people….” She trails off significantly.
Georgia’s eyes go wide as she completes that statement. “Could…I have her wardrobe?”
(Jason: “I decide to add Victoria Lovelace to the game because I think she’ll be awesome and you decide to murder her for her dress.”
Chris: “Can’t say any of us are surprised.”)
MARK HOPKINS HOTEL
Rabenholz awakes the next night in a hotel suite.
A trashed hotel suite.
Actually, someone else’s trashed hotel suite.
(Chris: “…Well. Is there any blood around?”
He levers himself off the bed. Blood is pooled around him on the starched sheets, overflowing to soak the carpet. The walls and ceilings are streaked in a Rorschach damask. Two torn bodies lay on the floor next to him, one half-stuffed under the bed. He climbs out and rolls them over. A man and woman, late 40’s, unrecognizable even despite the damage. Rabenholz frowns, then opens the door to the rest of suite.
It’s a warzone. Blood streaks torn walls and smashed furniture, and a cold, damn breeze blows in from the broken windows. A few bullet holes pepper the walls, matching the ones in Rabenholz’s ruined suit. He leans his head into the entry hallway and finds it piled with more bodies, many of them police.
(Chris: “…This is really not how I wanted my evening to go.”
Me: “Welcome to Vampire.”)
It’s dark in the bunker when I wake up the next night, darker than I remember it being when I fell asleep. I lie on the cot a moment, waiting for my eyes to adjust.
Uh oh… I sit up, groping for the switch on the wall. It clicks, but no light comes on. Reaching instinctively for
my sword Glitch, I stumble to the door. It’s locked. Concern ratcheting up, I raise the sword high to plunge it through.
“I wouldn’t do that,” a voice behind me says.
Relief pours over me and my sword-arm drops back to my side. “Hey Boss.” I turn. In the gloom, I can just make out his small form perched on the edge of the cot, much like the first time we met, just a few rooms down the hall and an entire lifetime ago. “This is a familiar sight.”
He looks around. “I should hope so, I picked it for that reason.”
I re-sheathe Glitch and gesture toward the hall. “What, this place?”
“Thought it might help. Your first exposure, so to speak.”
It takes me a moment to drag my mind away from the places it would usually go and realize what he’s talking about: the first time I ever saw the shadows, and the power they could wield. “Oh. Yes,” I nod grimly.
“Yes, indeed.” He gets off the bed to pace. In the gloom, I can just make out his sword strapped to his back, as large on him as a broadsword on a grown-man. “So, I’ve been ruminating on a question, Tom. How exactly do I get you what you want? Not an easy thing. See the problem here is, Potence and the like are simple. Hit harder, move faster. But this is a little more refined and a little more difficult. So the question becomes, how do we do it?” He stops and turns to me. “I cant very well just teach you to worship Erebus, it won’t help. Erebus isn’t really what you’d think of when you’d think of a god. He’s more….” He pauses, searching the darkness for the right word.
“…Of a Platonic ideal?” I suggest.
He stares. “Why, Tom Lytton, have you been reading books?”
I narrow my eyes at his mock-surprise. “I…remember some philosophy from high school.”
“Anyway,” he continues pacing, “We would call them vital forces. Erebus isn’t really the master of Obtenebration, he is Obtenebration, in a sense. But this is all philosophical, and doesn’t answer my problem. I can’t just have you eat someone, I’m afraid, that’s cheating,” he says nonchalantly.
A shiver traces up my spine, more at his tone than the suggestion itself. “I’m…fine with that, Boss.”
“So to start with, given what we’re dealing with, before you can manipulate the darkness, I think it’s best that you understand what it is. Fluently.
I look around. “Is…that why the lights are out?”
“No, Tom, that’s why they’re about to be.”
Suddenly Marcus moves, faster than thought, grabbing something from his robes and rushing at me. My own supernatural reflexes instinctively jerk my sword up in defense, but it’s barely to my waist before pure darkness falls.
(Me: “How many dice did you roll for that?”
Me: “What the fuck!!!!?”)
I stumble back, hitting the steel door, which means I’m at least still in the room. “—Boss?”
“I’m here, Tom,” Marcus says, voice clear and unmuffled, coming from the same place before he lunged at me. “Now, don’t panic. Can you see what I’m doing right now?”
“…No….” I wonder for a moment if he’s flipping me off.
“Good,” he says calmly. “Don’t worry too much, I’ve severed both your optic nerves.”
A crash echoes as I stumble against the door again, groping at my face. “Jesus Ch—Why don’t I feel anything!?”
“I avoided all your primary nerve clusters, Tom, I’m extremely good.”
(Me: “…I had those nerve clusters moved!”
Jason: “No you didn’t!”)
I force myself to calm. Marcus voice starts to move as he paces again. “Now. The first rule of darkness is figuring out how to get around it. So, if you don’t mind, we’re going to run a little test. A game, if you will. I do so enjoy them when I get the chance.”
I nod, quivering with nervousness but also, underneath it, excitement. “‘Kay.”
“See, I’m not the only one here in your little lair. Or, my little lair, to be honest.”
“Well, yeah, Slayer is here.” I gesture to the room next-door.
“Slayer’s not what I mean. Slayer’s not a good…incentive.”
He lets the moment hang, and a realization creeps over me. Cold tendrils rise inside, smothering my excitement, leaving a rising fear in its wake….
“I think a good game needs incentives,” Marcus continues calmly, “So I’ve hidden your wolf around here somewhere, and I really strongly recommend you find a way to get to her before I do.”
Nameless instinct pulses through me like the rush of blood, anger and desperation and horror. Underneath it, my promise to Sophia, to keep her from Marcus, echoes in my ears—
Marcus chuckles. “Don’t worry though. I mean, I do have an advantage or two, so I’m going to make it easy on you. I’ll give you…five minutes head start. Course, I do know where I’ve hidden her, but, well, life isn’t fair, is it? Even so, I will be watching you, Tom. If I get the sense you’ve healed your eyes to find your way around, I will be…displeased. And we may have to repeat this test under more adverse conditions.”
Hand shaking, I grope for the door handle behind me. He chuckles again. “Remember, you’re not simply going to find her by feeling your way around like a drunken blind man. You have to see through the act of not-seeing.”
A look of confusion at this must have passed over my face, because he laughs again. “Oh I’m sorry, Tom, I thought we were talking about philosophy?” I can hear the grin in his voice, and it has teeth. “Five minutes starts…now.”
MARK HOPKINS HOTEL
Rabenholz searches the ruined room, then goes to the shattered windows, looking for cops outside or helicopters overhead—
BAM! Something shoots him in the eye. It bounces off without too much damage, but he stumbles back. Figures shift in the shadows of the rooftops across the way. He retreats deeper into the suite and turns to the pile of police in the hall. Rooting through their pockets, he finally collects some cash by skimming it out of their wallets, and also collects any photos they have of older relatives (for some reason). Once he’s done, he stares at the bodies thoughtfully.
(Chris: “If I use Celerity, how long will it take me to remove half of the faces?”
Jason: “…What do you mean by ‘half’?”
Chris: “As in, the faces from half the men in the hall?”
Jason: “With what?”
Chris: “Well there’s broken mirrors, right? How long would it take me to use a shard of mirror to slice half their faces off?”
Jason: “…I love how you’ve gone back to Carlos shit.”)
Rabenholz digs a shard of mirror out of the rubble and uses it to quickly flense off the faces of half the men. He pockets the shard, then places the faces carefully over the faces of the other half, reserving one to place over his own face. Then he collapses next to them, for all intents and purposes, just another dead corpse of some insane ritual.
(Me: “Oh my god, it is more Carlos shit.”)
I stare blindly into the dark. “…Marco?”
“You may act like the Greeks, Tom, but you do not speak it; it’s Marcus.”
“You’re supposed to say ‘Polo,’” I mutter, groping for the door. It’s unlocked now, and I stumble out into the hallway. A clammy breeze blows past, drifting deeper into the bunker. With no heartbeat to echo in my head, every creak of stone and drip of water rings clear. I remember that left takes me back toward the surface, but few rooms are that way. Instead I turn right to follow the draft further underground.
I move slowly, without groping for the walls, forcing myself to walk straight and tall. A few cracks catch my feet on the uneven floor, but I recover from each stumble without complaint. Every few feet I stop and listen, hoping to hear Sophia’s breath or heartbeat, trying not to think how fast with fear they probably are at the moment.
Some distance down the hall I sense something in front of me, a subtle smell and eddying of the breeze. I stop. “Hey!” I bark, feinting an attack.
Marcus’s voice chuckles a few feet away. “Very nice, Tom, but let’s see if you can be a little scarier than that.” There’s a whisper of steel on leather. Boss’s sword. Cold sinks through me and I grope for Glitch. “Now then, Tom. Ever heard of blind-fighting?”
“I…can probably figure out what it is based on context.”
“Well, let’s have a look then….” An instant later, the flat of his sword whacks me on the side of the head. I stumble as he chuckles, his voice sounding way out of reach of that attack. “Now, now, Tom, you’re going to have to be more perceptive than that.”
(Me: “Oh my god, he’s fucking loving this isn’t he?”
Jason: “Hey, you wanted Obten! It’s tough!”
Me: “This isn’t controlling darkness, it’s getting beat up by assholes!”
Jason: “Yes, because you have to get used to being in darkness!”
Jim: “And you have to get used to being an asshole.”)
I grumble, trying to think of a good comeback, but before I can, something whirs behind me at head-level. I duck instinctively and it swishes overhead. The air shift as it changes direction, I lurch out of the way as it crashes into the concrete behind me. No longer sensing Marcus in front of me, I continue down the hall until everything has stilled again.
Silence. I keep Glitch out and move forward cautiously, trailing my free hand delicately along one wall. Eventually I reach the door frame and grope to open it. It’s locked, but one kick sends it crashing down.
“Tom,” Marcus’s voice echoes from further down the hall, “I know the property values aren’t great out here but try not to bring the whole place down.” I freeze uncertainly. I haven’t checked this room but maybe he’s already moving closer to Sophia.
“I wouldn’t bother tracking me, Tom, there’s other things about,” he chides, milliseconds before something clubs me back in the head, staggering me into the room. Irritation is starting to override fear. Crazy elder powers or not, there is no way he could have cleared that distance that quickly.
The draft echoes slightly in the room I’m in. I feel for the circulating current, trying to get a sense of it’s size, but there are no eddies. The draft continues forward, unbroken. Clutching Glitch tightly, I move deeper, reaching my other hand ahead toward the far wall, expecting the brush of stone.
Instead, my hand sinks into something cold, deathly cold. The clammy air of the room feels like a warm bath by comparison. I try to pull back but it grips hard, pulling me closer, soft as a whisper but strong as steel. More cold brushes my skin on the other sides. I have a sudden vision of falling into that cold forever, a darkness so dark it makes night seem like day, trapped in this sightless space until I dissolve into it.
I sense something coming at me, from the other side, like jaws about to snap closed. With equal speed, I grip Glitch and whirl, circumscribing an arc around me. Heat washes over my hand as the sword undoubtedly bursts into flame, and I hear something long and heavy hit the floor.
Silence again. I slash at the cold gripping my other arm till it releases, then continue following the draft. It’s funnels to an alcove in the wall, cut out of the concrete at shoulder-level, wide and deep. Ignoring all my animal instincts telling me not to reach blindly into darkened holes, I grope inside.
I stop as my hand brushes fur. It’s soft and dry, but not warm. My throat catches—
“Alright, Tom,” Marcus says from right behind me. “You can have your eyes back.” I heal instantly and blink into the dark.
Tucked in the alcove, paws splayed awkwardly…is a stuffed wolf. As in, a plushie wolf. Through the echoes of fading panic, something dispassionately points out it’s actually more a huskie. Glass eyes stare at me over a permanently-lollling felt tongue. I pull it out and stare uncomprehendingly, Glitch still burning in my other hand.
I turn to the room. Shadows crawl across every surface and tentacles writhe like a kelp forest. One of them is wrapped around Marcus’s gladius. The boy himself is in the middle of the room, watching me with an unreadable expression. He reaches a hand out and the tendril returns the sword. He takes a moment to tuck it away in its scabbard before looking up at me.
“I thought it was best for everyone if we used this wolf instead of the other one,” he says, then smiles.
THE TWILIGHT’S FORTUNE
The next night, Anstis wakes in his cabin. His sub rumbles around him, pulsing through the steel like a heartbeat. Through it, he senses the siren call of the open sea surrounding him in a lover’s embrace. He grins in satisfaction, then spends an idle early-evening flipping through his recovered necromancy book before stowing it and going to the command center.
The crew working calmly, mindlessly, just as they were the morning before. Anstis asks for their position, one man points on the chart table. They’re about 200 miles off the coast of California, heading in a near-perfect trajectory toward the South Pacific, and thereon passage to India. Pleased, Anstis orders them to continue and descends though the ship to the circle-room, activating the circle to teleport instantly back to Fort Funston.
Anstis exits the antique tunnels and surveys the scene, gripping the lapels of his pirate-coat. It’s a little later after sundown here, but there are still people about, walking dogs and jogging along the paths. He waits for one jogger to approach while everyone else is out of sight, stepping out in front of him to meet his eyes. “Come with me,” he commands.
The guy stumbles, stares at him…then pulls the headphones out of his ears. “What the fuck, man?!” he yells, and punches Anstis in the face. Caught by surprise, Anstis falls to the ground, while the guy runs off, disappearing down the path with occasional cries of, “WINNING!!” drifting in his wake.
(Jim: “Oh, fuck this guy—“)
Anstis growls and climbs back to his feet. Claws snick out of his fingertips, itching to dig into the asshole’s throat, but more people have appeared on the path. As the triumphant yells disappear into the distance, Anstis decides to let it drop…for now.
He walks the coast, waiting for thinner crowds and better hunting, when up ahead he spots a lone hiker scrambling up the dunes with an overladen backpack, half-hidden from the trail by scraggly cypress. Anstis grins and starts climbing up after him, but as he ducks out of sight behind the trees, he realizes something: the hiker is already being hunted…by a mountain lion. The great cat slithers through the dry grass, watching the hiker, unseen to everything but enhanced sight.
(Me: “He is the Puma Man.”)
Anstis watches the predator curiously, wading through the grass after it. The puma instantly stops, snapping its head around. It stares at Anstis, who meets the golden gaze calmly.
“Come here and take this,” Anstis growls in its own language, biting his wrist and holding it out. The cat just watches.
Suddenly, a resonant voice speaks, echoing directly in Anstis’s head, “Do not molest my children.”
Anstis looks around. There’s no one else in sight. “Who is this?” he thinks back.
“This is my land, I will ask the questions. What are you doing in my domain?”
“I wasn’t aware it was yours.”
“All these lands are my domain.”
And where have you registered this claim?
The giant paws knead the ground. “Approach my childe and I’ll show you.”
“And how far does your range extend? So that I may avoid it in the future.”
“I have no belief whatsoever that you will avoid my range…Anstis. Captain. Sometimes pirate.” The long tail twitches. “You’re not accustomed to avoiding anything. So tell me…why shouldn’t I rip you to pieces and throw you off the cliffs?”
“Well thats up to you. Your reasons are your own, and since you will not tell me who you are.”
A chuckle echoes in Anstis’s head and the cat’s eyes narrow. “I am the Baron of the Skyline. And you…are a pirate and a rogue. I have seen you here, Anstis, with armed men and magic circles. I watched from the shadows as you left, and then I watched as you returned. And now I watch you here trying to feed on my land. You are a parasite.”
“And what do you want of me?”
“This is my land, I want nothing of you. I would know only what you are doing here, and how you came to be here.”
“Well, Baron. Show yourself and perhaps I’ll tell you.”
The mountain lion turns to face him, then shifts up into an old man, grizzled, with a long white beard and wispy hair under a bowler hat. His suit is a faded tweed, well-worn, but despite his aged appearance, his eyes are as fierce and sharp as the cat’s they replaced.
Anstis sweeps off his hat in a bow. “Greetings. A Gangrel, I see.”
“Some of us have some respect for our origin, doing things other than rampaging about,” he says in the same resonant voice that echoed in Anstis’s head. “Some of us are custodians. These are my lands, I have precious few left, and and if you are here to divest me of them, you had best bring more than your dashing looks!” Claws flick out of his hands, thicker-looking than Anstis’s.
Anstis calmly replaces his hat. “Well it’s certainly not my intention to encroach on your rightly-claimed territory.”
“Yet here we stand.” He takes a long sniff. “You have the stench of the Sabbat all over you.”
How he can smell anything about Anstis over the pirate’s usual low-tide stench is unclear. “The stench of the Sabbat?”
“Don’t play games with me, I know who you turn with. The False Child.”
Anstis gestures dismissively. “Oh, I have met him.”
“Met? You do his bidding!” Anstis stiffens and growls at this, but the old man just laughs. “Oh, you don’t like that, pirate?”
“You cant rightly complain about people being on your territory if you did not tell them,” Anstis grumbles.
“I can do whatever I like, I’ve had more than one territory taken from me in my time and I will not have another. There was a time, boy, when this whole state was mine to roam.”
Anstis watches him a long moment. “I didn’t catch your name.”
The man rumbles in displeasure. “You can call me John. Everyone called me John, once. What do you want with this place? There’s nothing here for your kind, the Kindred who skulk about downtown. It’s a quiet corner in the city.”
Anstis meets John’s bright eyes. “I do not want to hunt on your territory, I do not want to possess it. All I want a quiet corner in the city.” He gestures toward the tunnels. “Access in and out, undisturbed.”
“And what about the other one?”
“Which other one?”
“The other one you’re with, I know them all. The one with the guns, and the leather.”
“He needn’t trouble you.”
“He does trouble me.”
Anstis flicks idly at his coat. “Well that’s between you and him, I won’t stand in the way.”
“Really. The Small One wont like that.”
“That’s between you and the small one. I don’t recommend it.”
John stares at Anstis for a long, evaluating moment, then gestures to the tunnels. “Show me this bolt hole you’re seeking, and I’ll perhaps I’ll grant you passage.”
Anstis nods and leads the old man back to the tunnels, deep into them, to the circle on the floor. The man stares, squatting to investigate closer, but doesn’t touch. “Tremere sorcery…. Your doing?”
Anstis hesitates, then nods. “Aye.”
“Where does this go?”
“Wherever I want it to go.”
“No,” he gestures to the runes, “This goes to specific places.”
“I imagine it goes to a great deal of places I do not know. But the others…the Farallones, Alcatraz, the Chantry.”
“The Chantry….” A growl rumbles through the tunnel.
“You have business in the Chantry?” Anstis asks innocently.
“Not unless you mean wrecking it,” John snarls.
“Well, somebody beat you to it.”
“The little one’s sire.”
“More shadows.” He growls again. “It’s not the building I have business with, it’s the denizens. The Tremere themselves. No good, no good at all.”
“On this we agree.”
John stands and turns to him. “You’re really a pirate? An old pirate?”
“Aye. Sailed with Howl Davis and Bartholomew Roberts.”
“Black Bart. I’ve heard that name. Heard he died, heard the Royal Navy killed him.” John shakes his head. “But I am a landsman, the sea is not my domain.”
“Well, it is my domain.”
“Good. Then I don’t have to claim yours and you don’t have to claim mine.” John walks back toward the tunnel entrance, Anstis follows. “I’ll grant you passage through my territory. Everything from Sloat Boulevard south is mine. That pompous imbecile in the Sunset thinks he rules the roost, but nothing goes on south of that road that I don’t okay. And if it does, it doesn’t go on for long.”
They reach the entrance, and the wide clearing in front of it looking out over the sea. John leans back, taking a deep breath of the foggy air, smiling as if it was still pleasurable to him. Anstis waits next to him, patiently.
“Last time you came here,” John says finally, “you had an army of gargoyles and mercenaries, but if you don’t have that, you’ll have to answer to me. And sometimes even if you do.” He gives Anstis a significant look.
Anstis nods. “If I need to contact you, how shall I?”
“I have a place. The zoo. It’s mine. Every branch, twig, and creature that runs in it is mine. Even the keepers. Touch a hair on anythings head there and you wont live to see the next sunup. But if you need me, thats where you’ll find me.” His bowler hat twitches as he glances over. “And what about you? You’re a pirate, you have a ship?”
“I may,” Anstis says carefully, but nothing more.
John nods. “Fair enough. You may enter and exit these tunnels, but do not hunt without permission. I’ll know. I always know. But be careful, there have been werewolves about.”
Some of Anstis’s swagger dims. “Here?”
“Some nights ago, yes. They’ve been hunting. For a turncoat, and the one with all the guns. They stopped by my place, asked if I’d seen him. I said I’d keep an ear out. You don’t say no to a werewolf.” He smiles, his fangs clearly visible, and larger than normal. “But if you keep an ear out, and I keep an ear out, perhaps something can come of it.…” This time, his significant look has an different edge to it.
Anstis grins back, nodding in understanding. “The one with the guns is a Brujah named Tom Lytton. He defended that turncoat werewolf.”
John lifts an eyebrow. “A pet, then. Which one is the pet, I wonder?”
“I wonder as well, but the little one was not too pleased.”
“Werewolves aren’t fond of him either. These ones especially. They’re out for blood, blood and fire and all the rest of it.”
“Well I don’t believe that’s my business.”
John shrugs and scans the hills, nodding as he spots the same hiker still scrambling in the distance. “Might be. Might be some business might be done from it, especially if you know where this Lytton is.“
“Perhaps. He owes me a few things at the moment, I’d rather capitalize on that before…terminating the contract.”
John chuckles and starts walking away across the cracked concrete, his movements surprisingly fluid for an old man. “You can say no to me, Gangrel, but if they come, you going to say no to them?”
With that, he shifts back into a puma and melts into the darkness of the dunes.
(Jason: “So glad you finally met John. I’ve been working on him for a long time.”
Jim: “Is he some sort of historical character?”
Jason: “Do I have many characters that aren’t?”)
MARK HOPKINS HOTEL
Rabenholz lays with the bodies, undisturbed for some minutes, then finally hears careful footsteps approaching down the hall. Without moving, he uses his mental discipline to gently crack the front door open. The footsteps collect outside, echoed by nervous breathing and the click of loaded weaponry. Seconds pass, then something small and cylindrical is tossed into the room.
Rabenholz lifts it with his mind and tosses it back out.
Moments later there’s a shout, then a flash and a bang so loud it hurts his ears. Scuffles and yells, then three more cylinders fly into the room, larger than the last ones.
He tosses those back out too.
This time the bang is a small explosion, rocking the door and walls. There’s a sound like men hitting the floor, then more yells.
Still lying on the floor, Rabenholz clears his throat and pitches his voice higher than his usual baritone rumble, “Send one of your men in! But only one!”
Silence, then someone responds, saying they’re coming in to negotiate. A man pushes the door open and steps inside, both hands clearly visible and unarmed. He steps over the bodies, visibly jerking in surprise as he sees their skinned faces, then cautiously leans around the corner to stare into the suite.
Behind him, Rabenholz slowly closes the door and rises to his feet.
(Chris: “Wanna try something fun? So, I think this will only require the first dot of Movement of the Mind….”
Chris: “I wish to hold his throat closed.”
*silence in the room*
Jason: “…It would only require Movement of the Mind 1, but it would require a number of successes.”
Chris: “I got seven.”
Jason: “…That’ll do, pig.”)
Blood from his kills and gristly mask dripping down his face, Rabenholz watches cooly as the man starts to sputter and choke. He waits until it looks like he’s about to collapse, then releases him. The man gasps and falls to his hands and knees, coughing and heaving. Rabenholz kicks him over onto his back and stands over him, staring down into his eyes.
“Say nothing, close your eyes.” The man nods and obeys. “Answer honestly and no harm will come to you. What is going on here?”
“We just…we just want to talk. What are your demands?”
“That depends on a great many things. First answer my question.”
“Who are the hostages, and who took them?”
“We thought you did.” The man’s face looks around, but his eyes remain glued shut. “The hostages, are they all dead?”
“Everyone but you in this room.”
The man hesitates. “Then…I guess I’m the hostage….”
“Very good. And who were the hostages before that?” Rabenholz glances toward the bedroom, and the naked legs just visible through the doorway.
“Mr. and Mrs. Williams.”
“Who was involved apart from the Williams?”
“We don’t know. We’ve had the place barricaded all day, waiting for your demands.”
Rabenholz glances at the pile of men in the entryway. All of them have radios but none look like they got the chance to radio out. “What is my description?”
“We don’t really have one. You’ve been staying away from the windows and the thermal scanners aren’t picking anything up.”
Rabenholz nods and peels the skin off his face. “Did things begin with the Williams and end there?”
“So far, except for the police.” He hesitates, licking his lips, eyes still closed. “Why are you asking me this?”
“That is none of your concern.” Rabenholz paces thoughtfully. “Perhaps the Williams did this. Perhaps they killed themselves after speaking with you. Perhaps they were influenced by opium, or some other substance.”
“Look, I can’t help you cover up your crime! The windows are being watched by snipers, more SWAT members are in the hallway, and besides, this place is filled with forensic evidence pointing to a third man.”
Rabenholz paces in silence a few more moments, then pauses. “…Or perhaps a fourth man. Perhaps I am simply a friend who was staying with the Williams.”
Having reached a plan, Rabenholz nods to himself and orders the man’s eyes open again. He then Dominates a description of a fourth, vagrant-looking man strung out on something, who broke in to murder the Williams and their…nighttime companion…before slipping into a drug-fueled psychotic rage. He sends the negotiator back out to the SWAT team with this story, then mentally swings open the outside-balcony door.
Gunfire erupts from the rooftops across the way. Moments later, the SWAT members burst in the front, tactical shields at the ready, yelling for surrender.
But all they discover, besides their dead comrades in the hall, is a naked, mutilated couple in the bedroom, and an old, bloody man lying dead beside them.
I wake up. I’m back on the cot in the makeshift bedroom. Once again it’s dark, but this time when I grope for the switch the light clicks on. Sighing in relief, I look myself over. There’s no sign of any of the bruises Marcus’s shadows beat into me. Another dream-thing, then. Grumbling, I get up.
The bunker is dank and cool, but shadows don’t have the same sinister edge I remember from the dream space. Slayer is still asleep in his room down the hall, as dead as he was when I found him last morning, but I don’t relax until I find Sophia, thankfully in the break-room where I left her. She’s asleep, in wolf-form, curled up on the couch like a family dog, baguette-crusts and pizza boxes scattered around her.
I sink to the edge of a table, relief flooding me. Realistically, I know I can’t protect her from Marcus, or from anything, but for the moment, watching her ruddy-red fur rise and fall in peaceful breaths feels like a success to me. I smile, wishing I actually had the wolf plushie to tuck between her twitching paws.
Her annoyance when she woke up would be hilarious.
Letting her sleep for a while more, I leave the bunker and scan the surrounding vale. Both cars are still here—thank god—and color is rapidly leeching from the sky overhead. I stare at the gathering twilight a long moment, then pull out my phone.
“Hello, Tom,” Marcus answers on the first ring.
“Good evening. Again.”
“Why Tom Lytton, whatever do you mean?” he says innocently. “Have a good day, did you?”
Asshole. “Well, you know, I’m a fairly light sleeper.”
“Well that’s a good attribute to cultivate. Never know when something will invade your personal space and make you do unfortunate, strange things.”
I grumble. “I’m calling cause I had more to report. There’s been some interesting werewolf shenanigans and goings on up here. There’s a bunch of Talons running around apparently talking to vampires, then not killing them.”
A long silence on the line, and when Marcus speaks again all humor is gone. “Say that again?
I give him a quick rundown of our wine tour at Val Du Rhone.
More silence after I finish. “…You killed a pair of Talons?”
“Yeah. I left one in the Frog’s basement and one out in his vineyard.”
More silence, then a chuckle. “Well, well, Tom, that’s quite an achievement. I wont insult you by pretending that werewolves never deal with vampires, obviously you have one, but Talons simply don’t. In fact I never met a Talon that spoke any human language—”
“Well they didn’t talk much before, you know, going Full Werewolf.”
“Fair. But what in the name of every god there is are a bunch of Talons running around the North Bay dealing with vampires?”
I pace in front of the bunker, idly picking at herbs growing on the hillside. “Well there’s some word they’re looking for that statue. The religious one, the one Everton was looking for. Have you seen him?”
“It’s not my business to know the affairs of wayward Toreadors,” he grumbles. “Besides, people keep not telling me about these things until after the fact. But if the Talons are looking for Everton, my suggestion would be to find him first, even if they aren’t behaving exactly to type.”
I nod to myself. This is as good a next-step plan as any. I figure as soon as Sophia wakes up I’ll relay it to her and we can start looking.
A hesitant pause keeps me on the line. “Tom…the next time you encounter one of the Talons, and I can’t believe I’m about to ask this, but…do you think you might be able to disable it, instead of just killing it?”
“Uhh….” I glance at Glitch, tucked at my hip, having returned to steel sometime during the day. “From what I understand, silver is like cyanide to them, and that’s pretty much my only weapon against them.”
“Not quite cyanide. It cleaves through all their mystical defenses, leaving them as nothing more than flesh. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but if you can take two of them out, you might be able to take one of them down, so to speak.”
“Are you…going to try and interrogate it?” I ask carefully. I certainly hope that’s the case, cause if he just wanted a werewolf for other reasons, what’s to stop him from coming for the most convenient one?
“If I can get near enough I won’t even need to interrogate it, it will tell me what I want to know. But they’re not stupid enough to get close to me and, despite you being one of the few others in the area known for killing werewolves, they seem to be willing to take you on. Fortunately, werewolves aren’t known for their good judgement.”
I glance at the bunker door and grin. “Well, that’s perhaps why we get along so well.”
“Yes. Perhaps it is.” He sighs. “Find Everton, and if the Talons show up, perhaps you can kill two birds with one stone. …Oh, and find out where Anstis got off to. His ship is missing and no one seems to have seen him, which makes me think the two are connected.”
I pause. “He pirated his own boat?” I can’t keep an impressed note out of my voice.
Marcus sighs again. “Apparently. One can only hope he’s up to something useful.”
Marcus hangs up. I stare into the woods again, considering my next plan. I need to find Everton, and I need to find Anstis, and finding the latter might help lead me to the former, but I really don’t want to talk to Anstis, because fuck that guy. But the night is moving and so are the Talons and if I want to get to Everton I’m going to have to do something drastic—
I blink as a realization hits me. Or…I could pull a Georgia and just try fucking calling him….
Thankfully I still have his number. I dial and listen anxiously as it rings and rings—
Click. “…Mr. Lytton?” a familiar British voice says.
I sigh in relief. “Doctor Everton, I presume?”
“Quite so. What can I do for you?”
“Well I’m sorry to disturb you at this early hour—“
“It’s quite alright, I’ve been up for some time as it happens. How does the evening find you?”
“Well, I’m up in Marin—“
“Marin? That’s a rather uncomfortable place at the moment.”
I glance at the trees owlishly. “Yeah, well I wanted to go wine tasting, but it turns out my partner is under-age.”
“Really? It’s my understanding your partner, so to speak, appearances aside, is older than all of us.”
“Oh, no, a different partner.”
“Hmm. You make an odd habit of associating with the under-aged.”
Crickets literally chirp in the silence. “SO ANYWAY,” I continue, “There’s been some interesting developments up here regarding werewolves. A bunch of Talons have been running around apparently not killing everything they see.”
“Yes, I know. I encountered one not long ago. It went…less cordially than I would have liked. But I’m afraid I can’t tell you a great deal as to why the werewolves would engage in such odd behavior. I could see Shadowlords or Striders having more patience with vampires, but the Talons tell to claw first and forget the questions cause they’re too busy clawing later.”
I pace in front of the bunker, still picking at foliage. “Well, word on the street is they’re looking for a statue, and since I can’t imagine there are that many werewolf statues floating around….” I trail off significantly.
Everton pauses. “The statue of Ceoris? Oh dear…do they know where it is?”
“I don’t know, they haven’t lived long enough for me to ask them.”
“That’s something of a problem. You see, the statue was located, it’s in Berkeley.”
I groan, remembering the arguments and firefights that happened last time I went poking around there. “Not at your old place, is it?”
“No, no my old house rather burnt to the ground, but I did leave it in the custodianship of the local provost.”
My mind takes a moment to translate that statement, but once it does I wish I hadn’t. “Oh god, you left it with fucking Leeland!?”
“I’m afraid so, it was either that or trust it with a mortal.”
I throw my handful of leaves to the ground. “That would probably be better than Leeland, have you met the guy!?”
Everton’s voice suddenly cools. “I recognize, sir, he may not be able to punch as many werewolves to death as some colonials present, but not all of us measure worthiness and valor by such metrics. Leeland is one of the foremost scholars of your nation, on matters Kindred and werewolf and the like. He has authored almost as many papers on early vampire origins as I.” There’s a pause. “But all that said, I do take your point. Are you in position to get to Berkeley? I am presently not.”
I glance at the humvee and the taco truck. “Yeah, I got a couple cars here.”
“Then I would strongly recommend you find Mr. Leeland prior to the Talons doing so, or else you will not be encountering him, or the statue, or whatever university building they were standing in.”
I nod, already planning a route to Berkeley in my mind. “Alright, we’ll get on it.”
“Indeed. And how is your werewolf doing? The one I had the pleasure of meeting down at Orlando’s?”
Something about his tone seems suspiciously nonchalant. “She’s fine….” I say carefully. “She’s interning with me, though right now she’s being paid in pizza.”
He chuckles. “You do have a magical gift with the creatures, Mr. Lytton. It is a rare one.”
“Yeah, I’m a real Dances with Werewolves.”
He chuckles again. “Do take care,” he says, unusually calm for someone who has just advised me to stop the imminent murder of his colleague, and hangs up.
By now full, black night has fallen. I stare into the darkness a long moment, listening to the crickets and movements of small things in the underbrush, then head back inside to rouse the troops and get the fuck out of Marin.
END OF NIGHT