Chris: “I also give him instructions to remake my…previous outfit. My…appropriately dignified outfit.”
Jason: “I’m not sure what you—“
Chris: “My Count Dooku outfit.”
Jason: “Ah. Yes. He is…less weirded out by that request than you’d expect.”
(Jason: “So, where shall we begin? Let me put it this way, who is in the most imminent danger?”
Chris: “Ooo, me! I’m getting tailored!”)
THE MIDDLE OF THE BAY
The shark circles, a grim shape in the gloom. It’s a great white, though one of considerable size. Based on previous experience, it is highly possible it’s another Rokea. Anstis watches it warily, waiting—
(Now, the following fuckery is probably best conveyed with the following soundclip from the game play, so if you can I recommend listening to it first. If you can’t right now and can’t wait—say, if you’re in the middle of your shift at your library-desk job—then go ahead and read on:)
The shark suddenly flips direction in the water, lunging straight toward Anstis and the cloud of blood around him. Anstis holds his place, treading water, and right before the shark strikes he—
—Turns into a bird.
(Jason: “…You turn into a bird!?”)
The shark’s enormous jaws snap closed over the parrot, water pressure ramming Antis down its gullet, but he’s barely cleared the gills before he turns back into human form. The shark thrashes in shock and panic, but Anstis braces himself with his claws. He bites, fangs easily piercing the unprotected inner flesh of the fish, and as blood wells up he braces himself for the rush of drinking shifter blood—
But the red nectar that flows into his mouth isn’t heady and powerful, it’s merely fishy.
(Jim: “…It’s a regular shark??”
Jason: “Not quite…”)
There is a weird tang to it, something cloyingly familiar, but it takes a few seconds of drinking before Anstis realizes.
The blood tastes familiar. It tastes like him.
And then, and only then, he remembers that he ghouled a wild shark weeks ago, in the waters off Lands End.
At this point, though, the shark is dead, drained dry from the inside out. With nothing else for it, Anstis turns into giant octopus, bursting forth from the carcass, and jets away into clear water.
With the evening wearing on, he heads toward the East Bay, and his appointment to meet Helgi and oversee the Semtex exchange from Morgan.
SAN LEANDRO RESERVOIR
The soul-curdling howls of the Talons echo across the hills surrounding the reservoir. Sophia’s packmates stare into the darkness, heads cocked as if listening intently. She remains next to me, eyes wide, gripping her tablet tightly.
“What’s going on?” I whisper.
“The Talons are talking. They’re saying they can smell you, and him.” She jerks her head at Leeland, quivering in his long nightshirt behind Samir.
Finally the howls fade out. Stepping forward, Samir tosses his jackal head and howls back, less blood-curdling, though punctuated with piercing barks. A dispassionate part of me wonders if his werewolf-voice accent is as irritatingly condescending as his human-voice accent. It probably wouldn’t bode well for us if it is.“Is shit going down?” I whisper at Sophia.
She shakes her head tensely. “Not yet, but they’re asking for you.”
Urg, great. The only thing worse than handling negotiations was being the subject of one. “Well, look, if my car is nearby I can just fuck off and well call it even—“
“That’s the problem, they’re not just asking for you,” Sophia says. I glance at Leeland, but she shakes her head, clutching her tablet closer. “No. Me.”
A chill colder than the howls plunges into me. “…What?”
She takes a shuddering breath. “They’re saying give us the Wyrm-spawn and the Weaver-wolf and get out of their country.”
“Because you’ve been hanging around with me?”
“Maybe. Or maybe just because I know how to read.”
“Then why don’t they grab these other assholes too?” I glance at Samir and Stormwalker, both tense and howling at the hills. They don’t seem ready to give us up but they do seem to be taking the demands seriously….
“Cause these other assholes will kick their asses,” she mutters, frustration overwhelming her fear.
I snort. “Well, I’ll fucking kick their asses, girl! This is not happening!”
She ducks her head, but I catch a glimpse of a smile under the baseball cap. “Well, there’s a lot of us. I don’t think they’ll come at us here.”
“Okay, well just in case, where’s my car?” I look around. “You’ve got two rockets, but I’ve got the rest of the gear in the back—“
She bites her lip. “The car’s in Berkeley.”
I stare. “Wh—?”
She sighs and throws her arms out. “Look, there wasn’t a lot of time!”
Suddenly Samir’s howls increase, sounding more agitated. Stormwalker’s claws tighten on his sword. My grip on Glitch does as well. “What’s the plan?”
Her fingers drum on the back of the tablet. “Well, I’ve got one, but…you’re not gonna like it.” I flash Glitch but she shakes her head. “No, not that. You’re really not going to like this….”
She calls to Samir, but it takes him a few moments to stop howling and acknowledge her. “Sophia, this is a very delicate—“
“Yes I know,” she says hurriedly, “But I think we should just send Tom away from here before anything starts. Back to Berkeley.”
Samir glances at Stormwalker and Sees-Faces. They growl at each other a few moments in low conversation. “Perhaps this is best,” Samir finally says. “Tom has pledged his services to me, and he would not be very useful to me dead.”
Sophia’s shoulders slump in relief. “So can you send him back?”
“Yes, I think I can….” He turns grinning gold eyes on me. “…Though you may not like the process.”
I blink at him. “…What?”
“So.” He claps and rubs his enormous talons together. “By the earth, or the sky?”
I glance at Sophia for a clue but she just watches me tensely. “…Will the sky give me a better view?”
Samir laughs. “Moon bridge it is, then!”
I glance around again. “Is…that like the rainbow bridge? Cause if there’s a shirtless Thor at the other end I have no problem with this.”
(Jason: “Congratulations, Tom, you may be one of the first, if not the first, vampire to travel this way.”
Jason: “Just be glad it’s not daylight, cause if it was, it would kill you instantly.”
Me: “Well, yeah, cause I’d be in fucking daylight.”)
Samir ignores me, muttering to himself and making a few arcane-looking gestures in the air. He pulls a small gem—or perhaps just small in his claws—from a pack and holds it into a beam of moonlight shining between the trees. There’s a small flash, and the light is suddenly fractured, bending at an oblique angle to shine onto a nearby trunk, shimmering with faint opalescence.
The werewolves all watch me. I fight down a shudder at their intent stares. “Do…I need to step into the light?”
“Yes. It may burn, but…you should survive.” Samir shrugs and grins open-mouthed.
Ignoring him, I turn to Sophia. “Girls, are you coming too? If those assholes are looking for you we should get you away.”
She stares at the beam a long moment, then shakes her head, avoiding my gaze. “They’re not gonna attack while the rest of us are here.”
My heart sinks a little, then hardens in irritation as I watch Samir pull her into an awkward sidehug. “I have full confidence that Sees-Faces and Stormwalker will be able to make good on my distraction!” he says with a grin.
Still ignoring him, I watch her face closely. “Where do you feel safest?”
She draws a long breath and sighs. “Honestly, probably right here. It’s no offense, Tom, but shit does tend to happen around you.” She smiles apologetically. “Besides, you’re going to meet that Helgi guy, aren’t you? I can’t go there.”
Helgi. Oh shit, she’s right, the Semtex exchange. Where Anstis will tell me about my sister. Torn between loyalties, I finally concede and nod, though I level a finger at her. “If you need to ghost out of a situation and need backup, you call me.”
She smiles again, and in the cool blue shadows of her hat and the moonlight, I catch the barest hint of a blush. “Thanks. I can handle it. We can handle it. But I’ve got your number.”
I nod, and, without even a final glance at the other werewolves, step into the moonbeam.
—Swirls of light. Weightlessness. A sense of moving though the world while also being sideways to it. A dizzying, stinging sensation of being in two places at once—
—Then suddenly I appear on a lawn, back in Berkeley, in front of the archaeology building.
Shaking off dizziness and a weird full-body sting, I whirl around. There’s no sign of Flagg, or the Clarences, but I decide not to linger in the open anyway. I jog across the street to where I left my car. Vera and the Panzerfäuste are undisturbed in the back.
But there’s a parking ticket on the windshield.
I stare at it moment, rustling in the light breeze. “…Well, I’m not fucking paying that….” I tear it off, crumple it to the ground, and climb inside. I focus on starting the car and getting it into gear, trying not to look at the empty passenger seat next to me.
Before I move, though, I thumb out a text to Marcus: “Survived Flagg, and werewolves. Going to meet Helgi. Talk to you later.” With that, I drive off.
The flames engulfing the Hermetic mage rise higher in the foyer. Georgia fights off panic and raises her arms. “Jawahar, calm down! It’s ok!”
“It is not ok!” his voice echoes. “What is this!?”
“It’s the Chantry….”
“No, all of this! You arriving on the boat, taking us to Pluto, coming here, was this part of some plan!?”
“Well it was part of Dr. vonNatsi’s plan—“
“Dr. vonNatsi is insane, I am not!” Jawahar’s voice roars, louder than the flames.
“Well, I am his lab assistant,” Georgia says proudly.
“You are a vampire, a Tremere vampire!”
“That is true, I am also head of this Chantry.” She hesitates. “…Of which I am the only member.”
Suddenly, something in her head clicks and details start to come to her, vague things she remembers being told when she was a very-fresh neonate. Things about a house of mages consuming vampires to become vampires themselves. She sighs. “Jawahar, I understand that there is history between our people, but I was not personally involved and I doubt you were either. Are we about to start killing sons for sins of fathers?”
The flames hide Jawahar’s expression, but after a few moments, they suddenly stop, dissipating into the air. Normal temperature returns rapidly to the foyer as he watches her carefully. “How do I know you were not personally involved? You live forever!”
“Well, it’s not really forever, and I’m not quite that old.”
“So you say! You’re the head of a Chantry, this is not something they just hand out!”
“I only recently acquired it after everybody else in the Chantry died.”
His expression turns more wary. “…Why did everyone die?”
Georgia sighs. “So, this city has been going through some things lately. There’s this thing that’s possibly more older and powerful than a methusula vampire thats been eating methusula vampires, as well as killing other things—“
“More powerful than a methusula?”Jawahar’s face pales and he takes another step back. “More powerful than a methusula? “Oh god….an antidiluvian?”
Georgia shrugs. “That’s a good guess.”
He shakes his head, horror writ across him. “You don’t understand, there was another one, in India, not long ago. An antidiluvian, or a methusula of sorts, it awoke.”
“I know there was some crazy battle that raged for seven days, or something?”
“I don’t know the details, but they were talking about it in the Chantry.” He see’s her confused expression and glare. “The Hermetic Chantry. In Kolkata.”
“Ah. Well, it could turn out to be that bad here, except we don’t have anybody on our side to fight him, so…maybe worse.” Georgia shrugs apologetically.
“How do I know you’re not lying? You are a Tremere, you are known for lying!”
She shrugs again and lets her arms fall limply to her sides. “I don’t know, Jawahar, I think right now youre just going to have to take it on faith.
“The last time the Hermetics took the Tremere on faith, the result was terrifying,” Jawahar mutters darkly.
Just then there’s a knock on the front door, the wood ringing hollowly through the room. Georgia and Jawahar freeze. Georgia looks around and noticed Bob peering around the corner from the hall. “Bob, are you expecting company?”
Bob shakes his head vigorously. “No! No I didn’t do anything, I swear! I didn’t leave!”
The knock comes again, heavier this time. “Who is it?” Georgia calls. No answer. She peers through the peephole, drilled through the dense oak wood sometime during the last half-century, but the only thing outside is the dark, empty street.
She steps back. “Yeah, we’re not opening that door.” She pulls out her phone to text Paul and ask if maybe he was planning on coming by.
(Chris: “Paul is heading to Portola Valley to read some Les Mis and work on various things.”
Me: “Cause that’s how I calm down, is read Les Mis.”
Chris: “By what means did Paul head south?”
Jason: “I’m going to assume his bike, and I’m going to assume he did his usual routine to avoid the checkpoints, which is, ‘I’m rich and therefore not susceptible.’”
Chris: “If he is still on his bike, then he does not answer his text.”
Jim: “I thought you got messages through your helmet?”
Chris: “Voice messages.”
Me: “You don’t have GoogleVoice?
Chris: *coldly* “…No. That would be a competitor to Tesseract Messenger.”)
As she types, there’s a slight change in airpressure around the door, and the sensation of a light breeze passing. The breeze moves through the room, toward the hallway, and Georgia has the creeping realization that something unseen is moving down it.
She puts her phone away. “Bob, guard the door. Be nice to Jawahar! Jawahar, be nice to my ghoul!”
She rushes down the hall to
Max’s van Brugge’s the dragon’s her office. The door is open, light pouring into the hallway. The space whale is crouched against the wall nearby, out of direct sight into the room but watching the doorway intently. Georgia slows as she approaches. “Claude?” There’s no answer, so she carefully enters.
The chair, her chair, is facing the wall. As she crosses the blood-red carpet to approach the desk, it rotates with an ominous creak. She stares into it, casting her gaze down—
“Marcus,” she breathes, relieved.
Marcus smirks at her over folded hands. “Interesting place you have here….” The chair rotates again for him to survey the room, maneuvered by tendrils groping from the shadows underneath it. “I’m sorry, was I not supposed to walk in? The wards were down, so I assumed.”
“You’re really not, I’m still trying to get those back up, but I’m a little short on resources,” Georgia sighs.
“Well I believe it was a Tremere that once told me that any Tremere that can’t protect their own Chantry deserves to lose it.”
Her lips thin. “Mm, yes I have heard that.”
He swivels to face her. “Well, I apologize for dropping in on you, but no one was opening the door.
“Generally we are not in the habit of opening the door when we’re not expecting guests. It’s one of the few rules I’ve managed to follow since becoming regent,” she sighs again. “Anyway, what can I do for you this evening?”
“Well, you can start with…well, what do you feed your ghouls around here?”
Georgia blinks. “Food,” she says flatly.
“Yes, but I’m not sure what the Tremere regard as food.”
She sighs again and leans back toward the door. “Bob, come here!”
Footfalls echo down the hall, approaching rapidly, and Bob stumbles in. “Yes Regent! …Who’s this?”
“This is Marcus. He’s visiting.
Bob eyes Marcus, while Marcus regards him calmly. “Is he Tremere?” Bob asks.
“No.” Bob frowns at Marcus and Georgia pats him on the shoulder. “Yes, I know. Good frown. Bob, what do you eat?”
Bob finally tears his eyes from Marcus’s piercing gaze.“Food! I like the gruel!”
“But you’ve had the pizza, and you like that as well?”
He nods enthusiastically. “Yes!”
“Do you want more pizza?”
Bob hesitates. “…Yes?”
“Would you like to try other foods as well?”
“…There’s other foods?”
Georgia pivots back to Marcus. “His diet will soon be expanding.”
“I see the Tremere have not changed their policies vis a vie their ghouls,” Marcus says flatly. “So then, am I lead to believe that you actually have something worth eating around here?”
“Not at the moment but I can order something.” Georgia hesitates. “Why, are…you hungry?”
“No, but you’re not the only one with a ghoul.” Marcus whistles once. Aquilifer immediately swoops in from the hall and lands on the top of a high bookshelf.
Bob stumbles back in shock, but Georgia curtsies at her. “This is Aquilifer, Bob.”
Bob raises one shaking hand. “Hello Aquilifer-Bob.”
“Aquilifer, this is Bob.” The eagle glares down her beak at the human and the Tremere, then turns her gaze to her master expectantly.
“She’s a bird…?” Bob asks carefully.
“She’s a bird in the way that I am a vampire,” Marcus says, “But yes. She would prefer steak over pizza, but that’s not exactly the point. I was simply wondering if you were properly prepared for guests, seeing as how your door is wide open.” He smirks again, the chair swiveling back and forth slowly. “Metaphorically speaking.”
Georgia folds her hands in front of her. “Yes, we’re a little understaffed at the moment. In that, right now the entire staff is standing here talking to you.”
“Yes I know. I can’t say I’m terribly saddened by that, considering that I had a hand in reducing the staff count.”
“I can’t really object to the staff you got rid of,” Georgia says carefully, the part she is careful to omit being that she was planning on eating Max herself.
Marcus strokes a hand along the well-worn leather of the chair, dyed the same blood red as the carpet. “I figured as much, considering you’re the one who inherited his position. Which is one of the reasons I thought we ought to speak.”
Georgia sighs again and settles herself into one of the chairs facing the desk. “That sounds lovely. Bob, will you do me a favor and see if we have anything besides gruel and pizza to eat? If not, then see if Jawahar would like anything to eat, and tell him he can order whatever he likes, as long as he adds in something with steak.” Bob nods and runs off.
Marcus continues watching Georgia as Bob’s echoing footfalls recede down the hall. “So. This Chantry has obviously seen better days. Hopefully it hasn’t seen better leadership, but that remains to be seen. I assume that claiming the mantle will put you at arms with several of the Tremere who are going to be visiting?”
“Are you prepared to deal with their displeasure?”
Georgia considers this. “Probably no.”
Marcus lifts an eyebrow. “Well that’s candid of you.”
“To be honest, the most pressing thing is getting the wards back up, and I do not have the resources to do that. Once I do, I think I will have many opportunities to make myself ready.”
“Yes.” Marcus peers at the stone walls around them. “Do you even know what the extent of the warding in this facility is?”
Georgia hesitates. “…No.”
“Well, I don’t either. My thaumaturgical skills are rather hobbyish, in comparison to yours. That said, what is it you need to bring these wards back up?”
“A great deal of blood.”
“Mm, it always comes back to that doesn’t it. Well I’m afraid the Tremere and I have had sufficient dealings in the realm of taking my blood, so you may have to seek it elsewhere. Did you have a plan as to how you’re going to get it?”
She hesitates again. “Ah…no.”
The chair slowly swivels back and forth while Marcus watches her over folded hands. “Not all it’s cracked up to be, being the Regent, is it?”
Georgia sighs and smooths at her skirt. “So far it’s fairly enjoyable. I’ve got the whole building to myself, I’ve got Bob, there’s lots to learn, including rituals I’ve never seen before. It’s very exciting.”
“So let’s assume you do master these rituals, and the wards are sufficient to keep Gnaeus Perpenna Vento from kicking the door in and eating you. What then?”
She smiles. “Then I get to go up to Max’s old bedroom, pull all his books off the shelf, and read all of them.”
Marcus rolls his eyes. “I’m old enough to know how dangerous that actually can be. So are you. But I won’t begrudge it. However, there is a wider question. You see, rather against my will, I have been forced into a position ensuring certain things occur in this city. I don’t have the luxury of allowing everything to run around and trip all over itself in the presence of Perpenna. Fortunately, Mr. Bell and I have had to come to an arrangement.”
(Chris: “Georgia, you are being married off.”)
“I will shortly be coming to similar arrangements with the other powers that remain in this city. And that brings me here.” Marcus leans forward. “And there we have a problem, because after all, you’re Tremere.”
The room around them slowly darkens, the shadows flowing across the walls like ichor. Georgia continues to watch Marcus calmly, even as his voice takes on a new edge to its young timbre. “You see I knew the Salubri in my day, long before your clan ever existed, long before the founder of your clan was even born. I did not know them well, no one knew them well, but I did know them. And when I awoke, I found that all of the Salubri were dead, those who were rumored to remain had been placed on watch-lists to be hunted down and exterminated, and their place had been taken by a group of ex-mages who had devoured their souls for the purposes of living forever. Have I missed anything?”
Georgia nods once. “Those seem like the major highlights.”
“Which is why, among other things, I was going to ask you, why have a Hermetic mage in your Chantry?”
Georgia blinks, then smiles. “Oh I rescued him! In fact when you arrived we were just resolving the fact that he had found out I was a Tremere and was quite startled.”
“Yes, well he had a shield of fire on him, I imagine I know how he was intending to resolve that.” Marcus smirks to himself, but the shadows don’t recede. “So…assuming I haven’t missed any particular thing in this lengthy recap of the Tremere clan, I will repeat the problem. You are an untested, unassociated Tremere in charge of one of the more powerful Chantries in the country, which is coincidentally in proximity to where I am presently located.”
“Well, there are a few things that may calm you a bit,” Georgia continues brightly. “One thing, as you said, I am inexperienced, and no match for you, as you are well aware. Another is that we are severely understaffed here at the Chantry, by which I mean, I am the only Tremere in the city.”
“Well I don’t know how long that is going to be the case. More Tremere could show up in the basement via circle and no one would have any idea, possibly not even you.” The chair swivels back and forth again, the tendrils climbing up the back like vines. “Whether you are or are not, this Chantry is dangerous. And because it is dangerous, the concerns I have are that a Tremere will use it for purposes inimical to me, or Perpenna will kick the door in, destroy you, and then use it for purposes inimical to me.”
“Well, if you can help me get the wards back up, you can be assured wed have that much at least.”
Marcus’s eyes narrow. “I might be able to, but it would not be without some cost.”
“If there’s anything I can do for you, or service I can perform—“
“I want the Chantry master key.”
Silence stretches in the room. He watches her, she stares evenly back, then finally speaks. “I can’t give that to you.”
“Because…they would kill me.” There’s no lightness in her voice now.
“If they were to find out you gave the Chantry master key to a Sabbat Priscus, they would do far worse than kill you. They would summon you back to Vienna where you would spend the rest of your days, most likely as an armchair.” Marcus strokes the leather again. “But that does not change what I require.”
Georgia sighs and breaks her perfect posture to slouch back in her chair. “Why do you need the master key?”
“Because with the master key, I can insure that this Chantry is not put to purposes I would object to. I wouldn’t control it, I don’t have the thaumaturgical power to wield it. But I would, with the master key, be able to shut it down.”
“What if I just sent you a very nice fruit basket?”
“I don’t eat,” Marcus sneers, “And Aquilifer is a carnivore.” Feathers rustle above them at hearing the name, but neither vampire looks up.
(Chris: “Are there no fruit raptors?”
Me: “Well, no, then they wouldn’t be raptors. They would be parrots.”
Jason: “Parrots are douchebags….”
Jim: “Do do dee doo….”)
“It’s a hell of a thing to ask.”
“I know.” Marcus leans back. “I understand if you need to think on the matter, or if you insist on some quixotic effort to stop me from taking it. And if you can think of a better way for me to safeguard myself from the ramifications of someone using this Chantry against me, I would consider it.” The shadows in the room suddenly recede back to their proper places. “For now, I have other matters to attend to. There have been a series of unpleasant incidents that could only possibly have come from Tom Lytton.”
Georgia nods. “He does get around.”
“You have absolutely no idea.” Marcus hops out of the chair and walks around the desk. “We can talk about this more in a few nights. You can tell me then if you’ve come up with a solution that precludes me from just forcing you to hand the key over.” He regards her, and hesitates. “Incidentally, where have you been for the last several nights? This isn’t the first time I’ve called on the Chantry.”
“Ah, I was assisting Dr. vonNatsi. We were…away. Unexpectedly. Very far. For awhile.”
He stares at her. “You know, I don’t think I’ll ask.”
There’s a mewling behind them. The space whale wends its way in against the doorway. Aquilifer stills, watching it intensely. The space whale flattens its ears and hisses at her. Seeing a possible incident brewing, Georgia hurries over to pick it up.
“I didn’t know the Tremere kept pets,” Marcus remarks. “Or is it a familiar?”
Georgia strokes it till it purrs.“We’re changing many things here.”
“Hmm. Well, cats have been very popular as familiars for quite a while.”
Georgia’s hand pauses as she considers whether or not to correct him on his taxonomy. “…Yes,” she says finally, “There are many things which have been used as familiars.”
He frowns at her tone. “You know I don’t think I’ll ask about that either.” Aquilifer wings down from the bookshelf, landing behind him, and the two walk toward the door. Before he reaches it, though, Marcus pauses and turns back. “Oh, one more thing. There wouldn’t be any more bottles of vitae around here, would there? Say, elder vitae, derived from a particular source?”
“To be honest with you, I haven’t gone through the whole chantry to find out,” Georgia says.
He smiles innocently. “Mind if I take a look?”
Georgia sighs and walks into the hall, setting down the space whale. “Of course not, I’ll lead you down.”
Rabenholz steps out of a tailor’s shop downtown, having traded his stolen hospital scrubs for a high class evening suit, with orders for more on the way, to be delivered to his hotel.
(Chris: “I also give him instructions to remake my…previous outfit. My…appropriately dignified outfit.”
Jason: “I’m not sure what you—“
Chris: “My Count Dooku outfit.”
Jason: “Ah. Yes. He is…less weirded out by that request than you’d expect.”)
A cab stops at the light in front of him. The sign on top has carries an advertisement for Nightlife at the California Academy of Sciences, with a photo of young people holding drinks while staring at a white alligator. Rabenholz checks the date on his phone, realizes the event is this evening.
He stares at the ad a long moment, tapping his fingers against his tailored pants. “…No,” he decides finally, and puts his phone away.
It’s still early in the evening, with people doing some last-minute shopping among the stores before they close. Rabenholz wanders the alleys till he finds a place advertising investment managing, a small-looking firm with the lights till on. He goes up to the office, is told they’re starting to close up, but convinces one of the partners to meet with him anyway.
The moment the man sits down with him in his office, Rabenholz Dominates him not only into believing that Rabenholz is a long-time client of his, but that the firm recently lost a good deal of Rabenholz’s accounts on a multi-state lottery brokerage that went sour. The partner apologizes profusely, blames it on a new junior partner named Jackson, and asks if theres anything they can do to remedy the situation.
Rabenholz tells him to send this Jackson to meet with him in his suite at the Mark Hopkins later that evening so that they might discuss ways he can make it up to Rabenholz personally. With that he leaves, ignoring the perplexed stares of the office workers as the partner yells for Jackson.
Rabenholz returns to the hotel to prepare for this meeting, but before he can go upstairs, the concierge flags him down and says a man came by looking for him earlier this evening. A black man, specifically, with sunglasses and more leather than fucks to give. Though she didn’t put it in so many words, clearly her description is of Bell. She didn’t give Bell any information, though, as all the local hotels are a little edgy after some big fracas that happened at the Fairmont the night before.
Rabenholz thanks her, tells her to be on the lookout for a Jackson who will be coming by soon, then leaves to catch a car to the Pyramid.
Out front, one of the valets flags down a black car and helps Rabenholz into it. As soon as the door closes, the driver turns around, with sunglasses of his own and an easy smile a mile wide. “Where to?” he drawls.
(Chris: “Oh, god—)
“The Pyramid,” Rabenholz says curtly, staring out the window.
“The pyramid?” The man-who-is-very-obviously-Adam lifts an eyebrow. “You mean the TransAmerica?”
“Is there another pyramid?”
Adam smiles. “There’s always another pyramid.”
Rabenholz stares at him. “Then yes, the TransAmerica Pyramid.”
“Right on.” He turns forward and pulls the car out into traffic. “New to the city?”
“Yes, arrived recently,” Rabenholz says curtly.
“Fascinating. Business or pleasure?”
Adam nods sagely. “Ah, always business.”
“Quite. Excuse me.” Rabenholz leans forward to roll up the privacy window between the back and the driver. He gets one last glimpse of Adam’s grinning face in the rear-view mirror before the dark glass cuts him off.
Georgia leads Marcus down to the Chantry basement, to the rooms where we first discovered him being held captive, after Perpenna attacked. Marcus’s face remains carefully neutral as they walk the dank, dim hallways, but Aquilifer behind him cranes her head around and keens low in her throat.
Georgia opens the storeroom where we found the bottles of Marcus’s vitae, shelves upon shelves of them. The shelves are still there, as is all the creepy, blood-stained lab equipment, but besides that, the room is empty.
“So, here’s the interesting thing,” Georgia says, stepping aside to show Marcus. “Bob could have moved them, though I doubt he did. The dragon could have moved them I guess, or Perpenna.”
Marcus paces into the room and frowns. “The dragon was here? That’s concerning.”
“Oh yes. There was dung all over Max’s office. And on the chair, by the way.”
Marcus stops and glares at her. “Of course. Well Perpenna has no use for my vitae, so the dragon then, or…Bob.”
Georgia scoffs. “Well I doubt Bob did—“
“Did what?” Bob suddenly appears, sticking his head around the doorway.
“Oh hey Bob, do you remember the jugs of vitae that were down here?”
“Jugs, Regent?” He glances nervously at Marcus and Aquilifer, then shakes his head. “No, these shelves have always been empty, as long as I’ve been here.”
“Huh. Really.” Georgia stares curiously at the shelves, then curiously at Bob.
“He may have been ordered to forget,” Marcus remarks.
“We could search the other rooms, but I doubt it”s no longer in the Chantry.”
“I imagine so,” Marcus says grimly, scanning the room once more. “I will take my leave then. Do give what we talked about some thought.” He reaches a hand for Aquilifer’s shoulder. Darkness snakes forward from the corners of the room, envelops them both, and they’re gone.
(Jim: “DAMMIT, I forgot my line!”
Jason: “What line?”
Jim: “Right as I burst out of the shark, I was gonna say, ‘Release the Kraken!!’”)
Bell is staring out the window as Rabenholz arrives in his office, a rolled copy of the San Francisco Chronicle in his hand. “Rabenholz,” he says without turning around.
Rabenholz settles into a chair. “Mr. Bell. I understand I missed you earlier at the Mark Hopkins.”
“I understand you had quite an evening.” Bell turns and tosses the paper on the desk, revealing a lurid color photo of police and SWAT members storming the Fairmont Hotel the night before. “What the hell happened?!”
Rabenholz stares cooly at the paper. “I wish I could say.”
“I have a feeling you can say. Was I unclear before about the need for discretion in this city, the Masquerade already having been stretched to its limits? What in the hell were you doing at the Fairmont?”
“I don’t know,” Rabenholz says reasonably.
Bell strides to the desk. “Oh it’s like that, is it? I didn’t know you were Brujah.”
“I was paid a visit by someone last night,” Rabenholz continues. “A spy, for someone named Perpenna. “
Bell tents his fingers on the desk and leans forward. “…What?”
Rabenholz gives a brief account of finding the child, him leading him to a house, of meeting Everton, and Everton taking the boy.
“Everton.” Bell sneers and sinks into his chair. “Everton’s a wanted man.”
“Well I assure you if I see him again you’ll be the first to know.”
“What did he want?”
“Well he mostly seemed to want to make chit-chat. He was living in some run-down house in Russian Hill.”
Bell frowns. “Black-shingled place, at the end of a cul-de-sac?”
He groans and sinks back in the chair. “There was an ugly incident there a while back.”
“There was an ugly incident there last night. A partly decayed body arose from the floor and assaulted me.”
Bell continues to glare, then flicks the paper. “What does all this have to do with what happened at the Fairmont?”
Rabenholz shrugs politely. “I can’t say, but it seems my arrival was anticipated by some.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.” Bell leans forward, the strength of his glare piercing his sunglasses. “I am here by direct writ of the Camarilla, I will not tolerate political backstabbing among what’s left of this city while I am here.”
Rabenholz regards him cooly a few moments. “Mr. Bell, what do you need?”
“I need some peace and quiet around here while I complete my investigations. Why, are you offering to help me with what I need?”
Bell nods to himself a moment. “Well there are some things you might be able to help with. What’s your history with the Tremere?”
“The city I managed for a time had a long history of forbidding their presence.”
“This one didn’t. The oldest Chantry on the west coat is located here, and the last time I walked into that building, I had to walk out over a carpet of bodies.”
(Kara: “Well, that’s generally how a Tremere Chantry works.”)
“I’ve heard worse of Chantries,” Rabenholz says reasonably.
“I’ve seen worse of Chantries, but that doesn’t mean I like what’s going on. I’ve had my fill of dealing with the Tremere and their bullshit for the moment, but if you’re a man of contacts, you might be able to figure out if they have intentions on the Pyramid. The Regent there is new and running a one-man show at the moment. Her name is Georgia Johnson.”
Rabenholz nods as if he’s never heard the name before.
“Of Italy, I believe,” Bell continues. “Not a very Italianate name, but….” He shrugs.
(Kara: *mutters* “Cause that’s not her real name.”
Jim: “She doesn’t have a real name?”
Kara: “No, she has one real name.”
Jason: “She has other names that are not real.”
Jim: “What is her real name?”
Jason: “…How about we not tell you?”
Kara: “Yeah, let’s not tell the necromancer….”)
“I will reach out,” Rabenholz says.
“I would be most obliged,” Bell growls. He reaches for his phone and starts dialing.
Taking this as a dismissal, Rabenholz gets up. “I gather you wish to be gone as soon as possible.”
“You have no idea, but I don’t think its going to be likely.” His gaze flicks up to Rabenholz, once again burning through the glasses. “Something big and ugly is descending on this city, and im afraid I’m going to have to be here to meet it.”
OAKLAND, I-880 SOUTHBOUND
My ride down to the meeting with Helgi is quiet and brooding. The fact that the Talons were after Sophia hangs heavy in my mind, so to keep thinking about that I focus on how much I hate this asshole Samir. Not only is he trying to muscles in on the Boss-Tom-Around game, but he kept the werewolf statue, the one I promised to a dragon. Showing up to meet Charles empty-handed probably wouldn’t go well, but not showing up at all might be worse.
In the middle of this my phone rings. It’s Bell. I curse quietly and answer. “What.”
“I think you know what,” he says, voice equally flat.
I glower into the traffic. “Do I? Do I know anything that’s happening anymore?”
“Well, do you know what happens when you start firing rockets off the San Rafael Bridge!?”
“I do now.”
“What the hell happened?!” he roars.
Weeks ago, the sound of his unrestrained anger would probably have finally cowed me, but we were many piles of accumulated bullshit beyond that now. Dammit, I can’t believe I ever had a crush on this guy. “What happened is I’ve been running around trying to figure out the shit that you don’t seem to have time to deal with, cause you’re too busy sitting at the top of your tower every evening!”
A few moments of silence, and when he speaks again his voice is dangerously cool. “Oh is that how it’s going to be!? You big and bad, now, you’re the guy running around and I’m the dust-fart in the tower?”
I realize I’m starting to speed and merge over to the slower lanes. “I’m the guy whose got three dead-werewolves to my name from what I’ve been dealing with, what do you have, a nice cozy chair?”
More silence. “…Son you don’t want to be taking that tone with me. Not now. What I got ain’t something you even want to hear about, but what you got is eight dead national guardsmen!”
“Well, I’m not too pleased with it either, but sometimes you gotta break a few eggs. I’m sure you know.”
“I do know. Question is, who’s the egg? What did you find up there that was so valuable you had to blow a damn bridge near-apart and kill a bunch of people!?”
I wave my free hand in exasperation. “Apparently the werewolves are dealing with some of shit of their own they barely understand. They apparently have been talking to vampires and leaving them alive and I’ve been trying to figure out why!”
“Well I woulda thought you were the expert on remaining alive around werewolves, now aren’t you?”
“Yes, it’s a habit of mine,” I growl.
“Where are you?”
“I’m on my way to Oakland, Helgi’s having a BBQ, you should come!” I sneer.
“…You know what, I think that sounds like a good idea. See you in an hour.” He hangs up.
“See you in hell,” I mutter as I shove my phone away.
My rage clears enough for me to see my exit approaching. I coast off the freeway and into the sodium-lit storage yards of the Oakland docks. A man on a motorcycle, idling in the shadows, waves at my car, then pulls out to lead me through the maze of shipping containers to an empty dock sticking out into the bay, half-shrouded in low fog. More leather-clad Anarchs are standing at it’s base, with a towering figure in the middle that can only be Helgi. I park behind a line of bikes, Helgi’s rune-studded Harley looming over the rest, and get out. Last time with the Anarchs wasn’t exactly one of my better moments, so I decide to make a more impressive impression this time, grabbing Vera and a couple Panzerfäuste from the back before I walk over.
I’m halfway to the base of the dock when a parrot suddenly lands next to me, instantly billowing up into the human form of Anstis, beat half to shit and smelling even worse, streaked with unidentifiable liquids of every consistency.
“The fuck happened to you, man?” I say, looking him over. “You’ve gotten worse, I didn’t think that was possible.”
“It’s been an interesting couple of nights,” Anstis growls, smoothing at the remains of his pirate coat.
“You’re telling me,” I grumble.
Some of the Anarchs, including the one who lead me here, are staring at us. I smile awkwardly at them. “So, man, can I talk to you a moment?” I say to Anstis, gesturing him a few feet away. He follows me.
The moment we’re out of earshot, I grab the front of his slime-soaked shirt and pull his stinking face toward mine. “What the fuck is this about my sister?” Red rage rises at the edges of my vision but I fight it back.
He stares back cooly. “I know where she is.”
“And are you going to tell me?”
“Perhaps, that’s up to you.”
I jerk my chin toward Helgi and his men. “And how is it up to me, considering I have nothing to do with anything that’s happening right now?”
Anstis considers to stare, a bloody gobbet of ammonia-stinking flesh sliding down the tentacles of his “beard.” “If I do get your sister back with you, are you willing to make it worth my while?”
Ignoring his filth, I pull him closer. “Are you holding my sister ransom from me?”
“I’m not holding your sister ransom, she’s been held by others.”
My anger roils higher, fists clenching so hard my fingers tear his shirt. “Oh, so you’re the middleman!”
His face remains expressionless. “I will not only show you where your sister is, but help you get her back. If we’re successful—“
I let go of his shirt and flick at him. “Looks like you cant do anything successfully, why should I trust anything you say?!”
His cool stare breaks in a smirk. “At least I can remember the Semtex.”
I come close to breaking, the Beast inside screaming for me to tear him apart, but I force it down, stepping back. “All I have is your word you’re not pulling some job on me, again, like whatever the hell this shit is.” I gesture again at Helgi’s crowd.
“You also have my word you’ll get what you want first, and then you repay me. Does that sound fair to you?”
I eye him warily. Even beyond my anger, all my instincts tell me not to trust a pirate, this creepy fuck in particular. But this is the best lead I’ve had on Isabella yet…. “And if I don’t get what I want?”
“Then I don’t get what I want,” Anstis says.
“So then, what, you just wasted my time?”
“And you wasted mine.”
He continues to watch me evenly. “And what do you want from me in exchange for this vague promise?” I ask carefully.
He smiles. “Your Brujah speed.”
(Chris: “Not his mental speed.”)
I glower. We’ve traded in skills before—my strength for his endurance—but my Celerity was what he was interested in in the first place. I was cautious, though, because even then I’d seen its power, and now I trust trust him even less. “How do I know you’re not going to use it against me? I’ve seen what you’ve been doing to all the other assholes we’ve run into.”
He smiles and leans toward me. “Because, Tom, I like you.”
I blink, searching his face for irony or deception, but my god, I think he’s actually telling the truth—
(Jason: “How can I make Tom’s day worse….”)
Before I can answer Anstis, my phone rings. It’s Slayer. I scowl and pick up. “You best be having good news for me, son.”
“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON OUT THERE, MAN!?”
I sigh and look out to the dark fog over the bay. “Where are you?”
“I’M WHERE YOU LEFT ME! IN FUCKING MARIN!!”
“What?! I told you to go find a new place!”
“I fucking tried, there’s fucking soldiers everywhere!”
“So do your fucking taco trick again!” I bark.
“They ain’t fucking buying the taco-trick shit, man! Theyre fucking pissed off! They said some motherfucker wasted some soldiers up here!”
I pause. “…Oh, yeah that was me.”
“…What the fuck did you do that for?!”
“Cause they wouldn’t get out of my way! Look, curfew doesn’t start till like nine. Get up early tomorrow, force yourself if you have to, then get the hell out of there before they lock things down again!”
Slayer groans. “Man what am I supposed to eat up here!”
“I don’t know! You’re two hours from Bodega Bay, figure it out!”
“Maaaan….” He moans. “Goddammit…I shouldn’ta fucking talked to you at all.”
“No, you shouldn’t have. Look at what happens with the decisions you’ve made.” I hang up and turn back to Anstis. He just smiles at me.
My phone rings again, this time from an unknown number. What the fuck is going on. I jab the screen to answer. “Hello!?”
“Mr. Lytton.” I relax as I recognize the smooth drawl of Captain Morgan. “Do you know where I can find Captain Anstis? He is not responding to my hails.”
“I am actually standing right next to him, sir.” I turn to him. “Do you have your phone on you?” Anstis frowns and gropes at his pockets, pulling out the beaten Nokia Paul gave him. Seawater pours from between the seams in the plastic.
I stare, lifting my phone back to my ear. “Yeah, hold on I’ll pass you over.” I hand my phone to Anstis. He tries to hand me his phone in exchange, but I just glare at him.
Anstis shrugs and lifts my phone. “Captain Morgan!”
“Captain, I believe we have business. I have your cargo.”
Anstis turns toward the bay. “I am here.”
“Arrangements have been made for the fund transfers with our mutual friend. Where would you have the cargo deposited?”
“Let me speak with the client.” Anstis hands me my phone and saunters down the dock to speak with Helgi, still surrounded by a pack of his men, gesturing grandly, obviously in the midst of some tale.
Helgi stops and looks the pirate over as he approaches. “Anstis! It looks like you’ve gotten into an argument with a bear!”
“Much worse. A shark.”
Helgi laughs, the rumbling echoing through the dock under their feet. “Well, it seems you’ve survived, and any fight you can walk away from! So, have you heard from Morgan?”
“Aye, he is ready to send the cargo. Where would you like it delivered?”
“We have some cargo containers nearby.” He gestures to the end of the dock, awash with bay fog. “My crew will bring some of our trucks to the end of the dock, his men can unload directly into them.”
Anstis nods and walks back to me as Helgi goes to oversee the work. He gestures for my phone, continuing, “Have it delivered here, the south-most dock on the west shore. There will be trucks waiting at the end.”
“Agreed,” Morgan drawls, then hangs up.
Leaving the Pyramid, Rabenholz hails a car, a different car, but of course it’s Adam again, this time in a car with no partition. Rabenholz begrudgingly resigns himself to talking with the strange man, in the process collecting some information about the city and its businesses
At one point, he inquires about property for sale. Adam mentions a big property down by Bayshore, an old cement factory that blew up some months ago. Rabenholz considers it quietly and files it away for later.
The car arrives at the Mark Hopkins, but Rabenholz still doesn’t have any cash to pay him. He gets out and leans in through the passenger window. “I imagine I’ll be seeing you again. Open a tab for me.”
“A tab?” Adam chuckles. “I’m not a bartender. Don’t have the cash?”
“Something tells me you’re not in this for the cash.”
Adam tilts his head down, eyeing him over his sunglasses. “Man has to pay his way.”
Adam shrugs. “Well, can’t force a man to pay what he doesn’t have.”
Rabenholz nods. “Nonetheless, I imagine we’ll have an unusually profitable relationship.”
“I have every faith.” Adam smiles again and drives off.
(Chris: “Didn’t even have to use Dominate.”
Jason: “That’s…probably a good thing.”)
Georgia and Bob continue searching through the basement, discovering dark laboratories and unholy instruments of research and torture, but nothing really of interesting note.
Unfortunately, there’s also no sign of blood stores she can use to activate the wards, either.
(Kara: “How much blood did you say I need?”
Jason: “Probably six to seven full people. If you don’t want to kill the people in question, anywhere between double and triple.”
Kara: “And you said I can’t use the blood in the tank at the backup-Chantry cause it’s stale?”
Jason: “Yes. For a ritual warding you need fresh blood.”
Kara: “How fresh?”
Jason: “No more than a few hours. These rituals were designed to be done literally while you sacrificed people.”)
Georgia heads back to her office and sits in the chair, the space whale in her lap, trying to formulate a plan.
THE OAKLAND DOCKS
Beeping echoes across the dockyards as a U-haul backs up the dock, Helgi and some men pacing it down. After a few minutes, it’s joined in chorus by the sound of a boat engine, out in the mists on the bay. A small runabout loaded with crates appears from the gloom, with two men on the bow holding rifles. One pops a green smoke flair and waves it overhead. The men on the dock wave back and open the rollup door to the truck.
“What does Helgi need with this ordinance?” Anstis growls, watching them from our place at the base of the dock.
“Don’t know, probably shouldn’t care,” I say distractedly, keeping an eye out for Bell. Knowing my luck tonight, he’ll show up at exactly the wrong time and ignite this whole situation.
My phone rings. It’s Morgan’s same number. This time I hand it straight to Anstis. “Captain,” he answers.
“Captain, I am prepared to fulfill our bargain. The cargo is on it’s way.”
Anstis nods and looks down the dock. The runabout has been tied up and men are starting to shift the crates. Helgi jumps into the boat, lifting one by himself easily. “Aye, it is being offloaded right now.”
There’s a pause. “Captain,” Morgan says seriously, “My cargo has not yet entered the bay….”
Anstis stares, then realization sets in. He shoves the phone at me and moves to run. “HELGI!” he roars—
—Moments before the entire end of the dock—boat, truck, and all—is instantaneously consumed in an eruption of flame. The shockwave blasts us to the ground, pelting us with gravel and shrapnel. Smoke and fire roil up in a mushroom cloud, searing away the mists.
We roll, stunned, and scramble back to our feet. Other Anarchs are getting to their feet around us, some having been hurtled into the nearby shipping containers. Many of them, especially those closer to the blast, are missing body parts.
The boat, and half the dock it was tied to, is gone. And so is Helgi Isarnbjorn.
I stare, stunned, but Anstis comes to his senses faster, pulling one of his stones out of his pocket and casting his scrying ritual on Helgi. He closes his eyes in concentration. There’s no response.
One of the surviving Anarchs stumbles over and grabs me, shouting in my face, barely audible though the ringing in my ears. I throw him off and concentrate on healing. “…WHAT!?” I yell back.
“What the fuck just happened!? Did you do this shit!?” he shouts, gore-streaked face inches from mine.
“What? No!” I shove him away. He curses at me and runs back to the others while I stare at the flames. I’m still in shock, but I have to do something, so I fall back on my instincts.
He answers right away, voice unusually congenial. “Ah, hello, Tom. How is your evening going—“
“Boss,” is all I can say, concentrating on keeping my phone steady.
His voice cools. “…Tom, what did you do now?”
I shake my head slowly. “…I didn’t do anything.” Even I can hear the shocked disbelief in my voice.
“Where are you?”
“I’m at Helgi’s dock, in Oakland—“
“Oh, Jupiter, then what did Helgi do now?”
I stare at the flames. “…Boss, I think he’s dead.”
A long silence. “What!? What happened, Tom!?”
“The Semtex deal,” I sputter, “Something happened, there was an explosion, I think it was a double-cross—“
“…Who double-crossed? Did Anstis do this?”
“I don’t know, we were standing right here and the whole thing just went up….”
I trail off. Anstis takes the phone from my unresisting hand. “Marcus. A load of Semtex arrived that wasn’t from Morgan,” he growls.
“Why didn’t you check it?!” he barks, loud enough for me to hear.
“Helgi was checking it when it blew,” Anstis says cooly.
Another silence, longer than the first. “Captain, I swear to every god that has ever existed, if you did this, I will skin you alive.”
“I had no part in this,” Anstis growls.
“If it wasn’t you, then who?”
Tire squeals suddenly cut through the crackle of flame, followed by engine roars echoing across the dockyard, getting louder. “Marcus,” Anstis continues, “More are coming, we need to go.” Anstis hangs up and hands the phone back to me. “Tom, where is your car?”
Before I can answer, my phone rings again. This time, it’s Sophia. “Hey girl,” I answer hurriedly, “Now’s really not a good time—“
“Tom what the hell is going on? It looks like half of Oakland just blew up!”
“Yeah, I’m here, we’re think that Helgi Isarnbjorn might have been murdered by some kinda doublecross—“
Multiple black vans squeal to a stop behind the ranks of bikes and my El Camino. Their doors fly open and dark-clothed men start to pile out.
“—And more people are showing up and I need two hands to fire my gun so imma have to call you back later, girl, have a good night!” I shove my phone away and unsling Vera from my back, holding her at ready. I turn to Anstis…but he’s disappeared, fucked off somewhere to hide. Son of a bitch—
The Anarch from earlier runs over and grabs my arm. “You Cammy motherfucker, what the fuck is going on!?”
I swing Vera around. “Do I look like a Cammy motherfucker, you motherfucker!?”
More Anarchs run up behind him, and, in defiance of the 50-cal in his face, he doesn’t stand down. “Did you just try to fuck me!?” he shouts.
I level my best withering glare. “Son, if I’d tried to fuck you, you’d know by the smell of my favorite lube. And we got new shit to worry about.” I step aside, revealing the vans, the men ranking up in front of them, and a new figure standing behind them, a woman I don’t recognize.
Me: “No, I’ve met Adrianna.”
Jim: “Have you?”
Me: “Yeah, when Paul and I met her around here, when she was throwing Leela—Oh my god, what happened to Leeland? …Did I leave him in San Leandro with a bunch of werewolves!?”
Jason: “Yes! Yes you did!”)
She’s tall, shaved-bald, with deep-olive skin and Middle Eastern features. Jewelry of jade and gold glints against her wrists and long black robes. She surveys the scene a moment as the men finish unloading, over a dozen of them, then barks an order in an unfamiliar language. As one, all the men draw long, curved scimitars.
She glides through them, approaching me and the stunned Anarchs, stopping a few yards away. “Disarm yourself or die!” she shouts, more a command than a request.
I shift my grip on Vera, sending ominous mechanical clunks through the silence. “Lady, I have not had a good night, my nice relaxing weekend in the wine country has been totally blown to shit, so who the fuck are you?”
She chuckles, the sound rising with a maniacal edge. “The last thing you will ever see, Brujah.”
She lifts her ams. Around her, all the men run forward. With Celerity.
END OF NIGHT