3/26/2015

Jason: “…Let me be clear here, you are firing a rocket launcher in melee combat!?
Me: “That’s what I said.”

***

(Jason: “So. We have two players locked in mortal combat, one player desperately trying to figure out how to reactivate the wards before a dragon eats her, so clearly I think we should start with the player relaxing at a hotel.”)

#

MARK HOPKINS HOTEL

Rabenholz is lingering in his suite, hanging his new clothes and finding other chores to pass the time while waiting for Jackson to arrive.

(Me: “Have we figured out what’s going on with the goddamn onions yet!?”
Chris: *smugly* “No, not yet.”)

He checks on the onions, still unsprouted in their bag, but luckily the gardening supplies he requested have finally arrived, so he decides it’s time to get to work.

He carefully sets six onions in six separate pots, burying them loosely in potting soil, then goes to the bathroom and finds a hand-mirror in the drawer. Steeling himself, he breaks the mirror into small shards, then lifts to shards to his eyes….

(Jason: “You sure? Lot of bad luck…”
Chris: “Well, luck is for people who are not doing this. And apparently me too.”)

Slowly, deliberately, he grinds the shards into the corneas. This time, he retains his control through the pain. After a few moments, he digs the shards out, heals his eyes, then takes the shards to the pots, breaking them into smaller bits so he can mix them into the soil. He also removes the bottles of blood he collected the night before and pours a little into each pot, one bottle per each of the six. As a last step, he holds his hands over the soil and intones eldritch words, clearly thaumaturgial in nature, then sets each of the pots carefully by the window.

Evening is now sliding into night, and with still no sign of Jackson, Rabenholz decides to try and make his way to the Chantry, again. On his way out, he stops by the concierge and tells her to let Jackson into his room when he arrives.

She nods and rummages through her station. “Yes, sir, but before you go, we received this for you.” She holds out an envelope, sealed with wax.

Rabenholx frowns and slits it open. The paper folded inside is blank, but by holding it against the light, his Auspex-enhanced sight can just make out a faint indentation, scripted in archaic-looking letters:

MEET ME ON THE ROOF

(Jim: *whispers* “Dodge the plot hook! Dodge the plot hook!”
Jason: “Yes, cause that always works out well!”
Me: “Jason’s not vindictive at all!”
Kara: “I was never punished for doing that!”)

Rabenholz folds the letter, tucking it in his jacket. He drums his fingers on the counter a moment, then nods once at the concierge and returns to the elevators to head up to his suite. As he steps into his hallway, though, he examines the fire escape stairwell, peering up. Security cameras dot the walls above the landings, and he can only assume some of them point toward the entrance to the roof and would alert the hotel if someone climbed up there. Frowning, he closes the door and heads to his room.

He crosses the sitting room, tossing the letter into the small gas-lit fire on the way, and exits out onto his balcony. Cold, foggy air and the sounds of the city wash over him, but he ignores them, walking to the edge of the balcony and peering up.

Nothing seems amiss on the roof. He scans the skyline. Nor on any of the neighboring rooftops. Still, though, he gets the sense that someone, or something, is watching him. He stares into the night, gripping the stone ledge, then goes back inside, closing the doors firmly behind him.

He decides to stay, locked in his suite, practicing with his sword until Jackson arrives.

#

THE CHANTRY

Georgia is wandering the Chantry, trying to come up with a plan to obtain a very large amount of very fresh blood in a very short period of time. In her circuit, she passes a small reading room where Bob and Jawahar have settled in, apparently having ordered Indian food for dinner. Although, things don’t look very settled at the moment, as Jawahar is rapidly trying to explain the concept of “spices” while Bob drinks his way through every glass of water in sight.

Unperturbed, Georgia continues past and makes her way back to her office. With no clever plans in sight, she decides to just Georgia-her way through the thing and take the direct route. She calls Bell to get the number of the local blood dispensary the Pyramid uses, then calls them.

A man’s voice answers after a few rings. “California Pacific Medical Center.”

Unsure how best to manage this situation, Georgia plunges straight in. “Hi, this is the Regent at the Russian Hill Chantry…?”

A long pause, then, “…Oh! Yes, I heard there was a new Regent. What can I do for you? Wait, let me guess, you want blood!”

There’s a lilt to his voice that Georgia decides to interpret as “cheery” rather than “sarcastic.” “That is why I’m calling a blood dispensary—“

But the man continues, tone dropping, “Everybody just call over to us and well just ship you out some! Do you have any idea how hard it is to get blood when were under quarantine? I got the national guard storming down here every night demanding O-negative for the casualties they keep racking up!”

Georgia sits back in her chair. “Ah, so you need people to donate?”

“I need people to not be afraid to leave their goddamn houses, which means I need you people to stop eating everyone! But that’s not going to happen, is it?”

“You do realize we’re under quarantine because the entire city is being attacked by something scarier than a vampire, right?” Georgia asks carefully.

“No, what I realize is we’re under quarantine because you people cant keep your fangs in your pants!”

Georgia sighs. “Well, I’m sorry you view it that way. This isn’t the foot I wanted to get off to with you.”

The man, perhaps remembering that he is talking to the Tremere Regent, sighs as well. “…I’m assuming you’re going to want another one of Max’s deliveries?”

Georgia’s expression turns cagey. “…What did Max used to have delivered?”

“Max was a special customer, he wanted them live. We had to empty the catatonia ward a few times for him,” he says matter-of-factly.

Georgia blinks. “Well, we won’t be doing that anymore.”

“Oh, well, thank you so much.” This time the sarcasm is clear even to her.

“I would have thought you’d be pleased by that,” she says.

He grumbles. “Right now is a hard time. Our stock of virgin blood is pretty low, or at least the guaranteed stuff.”

“Ah, well I’m not looking for anything specific at this point, I just need volume. Whatever you got thats fresh.”

“Volume? What sort of volume?”

“Say…fifty pints?”

“Fif—“ The man sputters, then calms himself. There’s a long breath, and the sound of typing in the background. “…I can maybe get that much in about 48 hours. We’ll have to do a taxation run.”

Georgia grabs for a pad of paper to take notes, but pauses. “Taxation run?”

“We go bed to bed, through the wards. Take about half a pint each, chalk it up as blood tests.”

She nods and scribbles a few notes. “How much of that could you collect tonight?”

“Don’t know, don’t know how full the wards are. Maybe half of what you need, at most. I could get that to you by tomorrow evening.”

Georgia sighs and puts her pen down. “Still no faster turnaround?”

“You can’t just go running through a hospital with a gallon jug of blood under your arm! We got special needles we use for this stuff, paperwork needs to be filled out. You have any idea how long it takes to fake an equipment request around here? You cant drop a catheter without having six lawyers shove it up your ass!”

Georgia makes careful notes on all that as well. “Well I’ll see about lubricating things with funding for you.”

(Jason: “Thank you for using the word ‘lubricating’ right after I mention catheters being shoved up asses.”
Kara: “That was intentional.”)

“What was your name?” Georgia asks calmly.

The man grumbles. “Henry—“

(Jim: *pronounces it with a fake French accent*
Kara: “Wait, is he a grumpy black Frenchman?”
Jason: “…Yes, he should be that.”
Kara: “Then his name is Michèle.”)

“—Michèle,” the man answers with a belabored sigh.

After a little more negotiating, Georgia agrees to a blood delivery tomorrow, and authorizes Michèle to try using less-fresh blood to dilute it down to 50 liters if he has any on hand.

With that, she thanks Michèle politely and hangs up, then starts digging through Max’s desk looking for credit cards.

#

THE OAKLAND DOCKS

The dark swordsmen rush forward with a yell, spilling around their ominously-calm leader, scimitars brandished and glinting in the sodium-yellow light of the docks. Behind me, I hear the surviving Anarchs shout and start grabbing for weapons of their own—

(Jason: “—And you have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.”)

I stand firm as the men approach, thumbing Vera’s trigger. Barks of gunfire erupt behind me, but the men don’t hesitate. The fact that they have literally brought swords to a gunfight—plus their super-speed, plus the general creepiness about the whole thing—tells me they’re probably vampires, which means that bullets are probably going to be minimally effective, but…fuck it.

I heft Vera and strafe across the front of the mob, her thunder echoing off the nearby shipping containers and out across the water.

(Me: “Are the Anarchs still watching?”
Jason: “Yeah.”
Me: “Good. Man, all I do is rep-grind in this game.”)

Holes the size of shotglasses pepper the leading man. He’s blown back, crashing into the cluster of Anarch motorcycles, but the rest of the swordsmen don’t even blink. They fan out across the tarmac, crashing into clusters of Anarchs with more yells and bursts of gunfire.

I take a moment to glance around the melee. Where the fuck is Anstis!?

#

Anstis dips his head around the edge of a shipping container, watching as the brawl unfurls. Two of the swordsmen make their way along the edges of the containers, apparently looking for escapees. They haven’t spotted him yet, but they will soon.

Anstis ducks back behind the container, drops into bird-form, and leaps into the air—

—Right as another swordsman comes around the other corner, crashing right into him. The man startles at the explosion of blue and gold feather in his face, then shouts and swings his sword as Anstis pumps for altitude. The blade misses, but his arm clips Anstis’s wing, sending him wheeling back down—

—And right into one of the other swordsmen, who have just come around to see what the commotion is about.

Still in the air, Anstis grabs onto one of their faces with his claws, pulling his hooked beak close. “Convince your allies to stand down!” he squawks.

Or at least he tries. In the confusion and rage it comes out as a garbled mess, too much for his macaw vocal cords to handle. The man snarls and grabs at him, but Anstis lets go and labors out of reach into the air.

(Jason: “So you feel like you’re perfectly safe, out of reach of these guys—“
Jim: “Yeah, I don’t like the way you say that….”)

On the ground, the bald woman lifts a finger as Anstis passes overhead, toward the darkness of the bay, and intones alien words that echo strangely above the sounds of battle. There’s a stirring, and unease in the air, then a gale force wind rises like a wall, crushing Anstis’s feathers and smashing him back toward the ground.

#

THE MARK HOPKINS HOTEL

A knock at the door. Rabenholz puts his sword away, smooths out his jacket, and opens it. The concierge is there, leading a 30-something man with a messenger bag and a rumpled suit, introducing him as Jackson. Rabenholz thanks her and lets the man in.

Rabenholz gestures to a chair in front of the fireplace. “Have a seat. Can I offer you a refreshment? Wine perhaps.”

Jackson glances around nervously as he sits. “Oh, no thank you, sir, I have to drive.”

Rabenholz nods and goes to the wetbar anyway, grabbing a decanter and pouring a glass ostensibly for himself. “Do you have any idea who I am?”

The man scrunches his face and fidgets with his messenger bag, still slung across him. “You are Augustus…von…Raven-holes?”

“Rabenholz. Not bad for a first try.” He finishes pouring and takes the seat across from Jackson, setting the glass and decanter on the table between them.

Jackson’s eyes dart around the room again. “Can I ask why you wanted to see me?”

Rabenholz leans back and regards the man over folded hands. “In a roundabout way. I’ll ask the questions first, though. What do you aspire to, Mr. Jackson?”

“Aspire to?”

“Yes. Career aspirations, life goals. That sort of thing.”

“Well, I like to make a lot of money.” Jackson smiles apologetically.

“Good. Mr. [So-and-So] at [Such-and-Such Place] thought highly of you, when last I spoke to him. Do you feel you were successful there?”

Jackson smiles and unslings his bag. “Yeah, totally! I’ve been leading sales commissions for three months in a row now. The Brookeworth deal was my idea.” His smile falters. “I’ve been trying to convince Mr. [So-and-So] to take on more of my ideas, but he says they’re too much risk. Nevermind that I’ve had consistently more returns than some of the chief partners combined.”

Rabenholz nods once. “I’ll have you know you no longer work there.”

Jackson tenses. “…I don’t?”

“No. You work for me now.”

“And…who are you?”

“I am Augustus von Rabenholz. I am the man who will make you an awful lot of money.”

Jackson stares at Rabenholz, taking in his tailored suit, and looks around the room again, slowly, as if seeing for the first time that he is in a penthouse suite in the Mark Hopkins Hotel. “…You know, on second thought, maybe I will have that wine.”

Rabenholz slides the glass and the decanter forward. “Help yourself.”

They settle into a long discussion, as Rabenholz asks to hear about some of these new venture ideas that were too liberal for Jackson’s firm. Rabenholz also admits that he is rather…low…on capital at the moment, so if Jackson knows of someone looking to invest, he can help arrange it.

(Jason: “Ponzi scheme! Ponzi scheme!”
Chris: “It starts out a ponzi scheme, but what it grows into—”
Kara: “—Is the guy at the top getting rich?”)

Their business concluded, Rabenholz sees Jackson out, then goes back to practicing with his sword.

#

THE CHANTRY

Bob sticks his head around the door to Georgia’s office, finding her digging through every cabinet and drawer in the room in her search for the Chantry credit cards. “Regent…?” he asks hesitantly.

Georgia backs out of the cabinet she’s presently half buried in. “Bob, how were the Chantry finances handled before? Did Max assign someone to it?”

He nods enthusiastically. “Yes, one of the ghouls! His name was Andre!”

“Ahh, do you know what happened to him?”

Bob’s smile fades. “The…Shadowman…ate his heart. In front of him. While he was still alive….” Bob wrings his hands and glances down the hall. “…I do not like the Shadowman.”

Georgia sinks into the red leather of her chair. “I would really like us to defeat the Shadowman. But before that, I need to get the wards back up. So, on that note, do you remember where Andre kept the money?”

Bob cocks his head a moment. “Yes! In the safe!”

“Great, do you know the combination?”

“Um…no.”

Georgia stares at him over folded hands. “…Do you know how to get the combination?”

“Well…I could try every number?”

“Ah. Well I like your cooperative thinking here, but I think that might be the slow method. Do you have any other ideas?”

“I could…jimmy the lock, I saw him do that once.”

“Okay, how?”

“He had a tool, I remember now.  I think I’ve seen it in the ghoul barracks….” Bob backs out and runs off, footsteps echoing down the hall. Georgia remains patiently seated at the desk. A few minutes later, the footsteps echo back and Bob stumbles in. “I found the tool!” he cries, holding something aloft.

It’s a credit card.

Georgia stares. “That’s…great Bob, where did you get it?”

“It was in his locker. It’s a jimmying tool of some kind.” He turns it over in his hands. “See, it has his name on it.”

“Well, you did a very good job finding it.” She gets up and comes around the desk to pat him gently on the back. “Lets see if it works on the safe.”

#

THE MARK HOPKINS HOTEL

Rabenholz is just finishing his sword practice, when the balcony doors suddenly rattle. He stops instantly, his thin cane-rapier held perfectly still. It could just be the wind, but he’s been around town long enough to know that things are rarely what they seem. He moves smoothly back into his practice as if nothing was wrong, but he keeps an ear out. The doors rattle again, and this time he can hear a gentle tapping on one of the panes of glass.

In one smooth motion, he sheathes his sword in his cane and approaches the doors, pulling them open. There’s nothing there but wind and fog. He steps outside, peering into the darkness.

Something heavy lands on the balcony behind him, cutting him off from the room. Rabenholz stops and turns. A slate-grey figure towers over him, wide, leathery wings spanning the reach of the balcony and cupping forward like a mantled hawk. His legs and folded arms are thick as columns, and the face that glares down at Rabenholz is ugly and warped, but very clearly angry

Rabenholz stares, posture erect, face showing no hint of his surprise at size and impressiveness of the gargoyle before him. “Did you send the note to meet you on the roof?”

“Did you ignore me?” the gargoyle rumbles in a voice like stone.

“No, I was merely unsure how best to get up there without being spotted.”

His long spade-tail twitches. “So you dance in your house rather than speak with me?”

“I’m a patient man,” Rabenholz says evenly.

The gargoyle leans forward. “I am not. “

Rabenholz stares back. “Unfortunate.”

“For you, perhaps. I know you.”

“I’m afraid you have the advantage.”

“Good.” The twisted face cracks in a fanged smile. “I am called Jalut. Do you know what I am?”

Rabenholz nods once. “Academically, yes.”

“And what are you?”

“Lucky not to be one of you.”

Jalut sneers, wings flexing. “Luckier than you know.”

“What did you want to speak to me about?” Rabneholz asks. His sword cane is still in his hand but he holds it loosely, for now.

“You are Camarilla. Ventrue.”

The statements aren’t a question but Rabenholz nods anyway. “Yes.”

“New to this city. Your name. Raben-holz. German.”

“Yes.”

“Do you know the Tremere?”

“I know of the Tremere.”

Jalut’s wings flare wider, casting shadow upon them both. “You know more than that. You use their witchery,” he rumbles.

“I’m not alone in acquiring that advantage for myself.”

“You use it all the same. Where did you get it?”

“A long time ago,” Rabenholz says calmly. “From people who are no longer amongst the living.”

“Did they give it to you?”

“They give nothing.”

Jalut considers this a moment, then nods. “You took it, then. Would you take more?”

Rabenholz is quiet a long moment before answering, staring evenly into the gargoyle’s red eyes. “I take what is useful to me.”

Jalut’s shoulders ripple as he folds his wings against his back, then levels a long claw at Rabenholz. “I have need of assistance. You will assist me. You will receive witchcraft if you assist me.”

Rabenholz nods carefully. “I’m interested.”

“There are Tremere in this city. Dark Tremere—“

(Kara: *gasp* “Where!?”)

Jalut’s head instantly snaps toward the 4th wall. He growls low, then snaps back to Rabenholz. “They create abominations. They practice witchcraft, consort with demons and beasts. They must die. They will die. You will help me destroy them. If you help me destroy them, I will give you all of their works. To use as you see fit. With one exception.”

“Which is?”

Jalut extends his hand to the wall, drawing inch-deep furrows into the stonework. “The creation of more of me.”

Rabenholz doesn’t flinch. “I can agree to that. How many Tremere are there?”

“Not as many as there were. Still some, I think. Their leader, a man. Maximillian Strauss. Regent of the city, feigns loyalty to Camarilla. Loyalty to himself alone. He is a forger, he must be incinerated in his own forge, and all those who work with him.”

Rabenholz hesitates, unsure how to break the news to him. “…Have you heard there’s a new Regent, that Strauss hasn’t been seen in some time?”

Jalut’s eyes blink slowly. “New Regent? What new Regent?”

“A lady. Georgia Johnson.”

Johnson….” He growls the name and his claws clench deeper into the wall. “We have met.”

“Doesn’t sound like that was a pleasant meeting.”

“She escaped me.”

(Kara: “You broke my spine, jerk!”)

“I got the impression she had no particular love of Mr. Strauss,” Rabenholz says.

Jalut tears his claws from the wall, removing a chunk of stone. He crumbles it to dust in his hand. “Tremere hate each other, they eat each other—“

(Kara: *sadly* “Not in Max’s case.”)

“—If she is the Regent,” Jalut continues, “Then she must be destroyed. They all must be destroyed.”

“They’ll send more.”

“Then we kill them too. I will kill Tremere until there are none. If you assist me, all they have will come to you.” Jalut crouches down, looking less like a twisted monster of a man and more like a great cat about to pounce. “You are Ventrue, you are listened-to. Your clan rules the Camarilla. you can make this happen. I know where the Chantry lies but I cannot enter. The wards are too strong. You are not the Tremere’s enemy, not yet. You can enter. Cripple the wards. Bring me in.” His wings rustle, half-extending. “Blood will run deep in the halls. I will burn them all to ash and you may take what you would.”

“A Tremere Chantry is not lightly defended,” Rabenholz says, reasonably.

“Defended by my kind. The Tremere are fat and lazy. They trust to their homunculi and servants.” Jalut suddenly stands again, moving faster than something his size rightfully should, and flares his wings with a snap. “We will be their servants no longer! Their witchcraft will come to an end, in this city as in others. I will kill Tremere until they are all dead or the stars burn out!”

Rabenholz regards him calmly. “…You mean every word you’re saying,” he says, slight surprise in his voice. “Good. I admire a man with conviction. Where is the Chantry?”

Jalut turns to the night. “On the hill beside this one. The hill of Russians.” He crouches down and scrawls the address directly into the stone. “I cannot enter with the wards active. They must be brought down. I do not have the witchcraft to do so.” He looks up. “But you do.”

“A Chantry ward is no light business. It may be beyond my power to surpass.”

“Then you must acquire the power.” Jalut stands again and folds his wings around him like a cape. “Will you assist me in this?”

Rabenholz nods once. “I will.”

Jalut’s red eyes narrow. “…Swear it.”

Rabenholz clasps his cane firmly in front of him and nods again. “I swear it.”

Jalut stares at Rabenholz a long moment. The wind tugs at Rabenholz’s suit, rustling the tailored lines in the wind, but every inch of Jalut is motionless. “If you break your word,” he says slowly, “I will slay you with your own jawbone. If you do not, every secret they have will fall to you. Find the power to shatter their wards. I will be watching.” In one movement, Jalut leaps onto the balcony ledge and snaps his wings open with a crack. “If you seek me, look to where the ferries land.” With that, he throws himself off and into the night.

#

THE OAKLAND DOCKS

The rising wind buffets Anstis. He tumbles—

(Jason: “Roll me Dex + Athletics.”
Jim: “I really shouldn’t let you look at my character sheet.”
Jason: “Oh I love looking at your character sheet, cause I can be like, where are there empty dots? Let’s make him roll those!”
Jim: “Well then, if you ever have a reason to make me roll ‘Appearance + Computer,’ that will go really well for you…” *rolls* “…Oh, Jason, you’re gonna wanna look at this.”
Jason: *stares* “…How does Colleen fuck-up an eighteen die roll, and you get three successes on three dice?!”
Jim: “How my dice work is if it will fuck me more, it’ll fuck me, but if it’ll fuck you more, it’ll fuck you.”)

—But after a moment he recovers, rising his wings in a high dihedral and soaring through the maddening air.

(Jason: “…For that roll, I’m going to be really nice to you. Unbeknownst to all of you, way off in the distance, over the city, something with incredibly good eyesight is watching. Aquilifer, from miles away, sees you accosted by all the winds of hell, sees you get through it, and just for a moment, she’s jealous.”)

Clearing the windstorm, Anstis tries to lose himself in the darkness over the bay, but, after a shout from the bald woman, one of the swordsmen suddenly comes after him, leaping into the air and condensing into a bird form of his own. Large, with square-shaped wings and a long bill arcing off a narrow head.

(Me: “That’s…not a good sign….”)

Anstis wheels away to the north, trying to lure his pursuer away from the main combat, but the ibis catches up fast. Driving forward with powerful wingbeats, it’s clearly angling to impale the parrot on its bill.

Moments before it strikes, though, Anstis shifts into octopus, grabbing the ibis with razor-tipped suckers, and instantly toward the water.

#

A swordsman is approaching me. I drop Vera to the concrete with a clang that makes me wince and grab Glitch instead, swiping with one movement. He raises his sword to perry, and I grin, visualizing Glitch sliding right through—

CLANG. Glitch bounces off his sword and I stumble back. What the hell…? I glance at the blade. Glitch has destroyed every blade its come into contact with, slicing like diamond, but right now its just plain steel, shining dully in the light. This from a sword that exploded into thermite and punched through a steel hatch of a submarine like it was cheese.

A high-pitched shriek draws me back to the issue at hand. The man comes in for another strike, but instead of targeting the sword, I dodge and slash from behind as he passes, rending him almost in two. I brace myself, expect Glitch to burst into flame, but once again it remains very stubbornly steel. I tap the tip against the ground. What the actual fuck—?

Three more men run forward, unhesitating at the sight of their comrade at my feet. I groan. That blood I stole from Jean seems like months ago, but I pour some of my last energy reserves into a flurried dance, leaping away from two strikes and parrying the third with the flat of my arm. I stagger out of range, pleased—

(Jason: “You look really badass, until you realize you’ve used all your actions and they still have two.)

The man at the ground climbs slowly back to his feet, having pulled himself together, then all four attack, swinging into me in a whirlwind of blades. Gouges split my skin in streaks of fire, so fast the pain hits me like a wall, making me stumble.

Anger follows the pain. The sights and sounds of the other battles around me fade into the distance as I stare at the dark-clothed men, circling as they preparing for another round of strikes.

I deliberately lift one hand, grope at my back for the handle of one of the Panzerfäuste—

(Jason: “…Let me be clear here, you are drawing a rocket launcher in melee combat!?
Me: “That’s what I said.”)

—Clenching the cold steel, I whip it out, aim at the man in front of me, and fire.

The rocket leaps forward, spraying me briefly with fiery backwash, smashes into the center of his chest, blasting him fifty feet back across the tarmac, then explodes.

I sense the rhythm of the battle stutter as everyone ducks from the shockwave. My three other assailants stop mid-strike, turning to stare at the fireball behind them. After a moment, as one, they turn to look at me.

The empty shell in my hand clatters to the concrete. With my other hand, I reach up and draw the other rocket, smirking.

The men glance at each other, then turn and run.

I spread my arms, gore-streaked sword in one hand and a rocket launcher in the other. “Why you running?! Why you running!?” I shout after them, grin on my face. This is much more like it, exactly the sort of respect I’d hoped to get from carrying these things around. My gaze tracks them as they rush for escape, then pauses as it crosses the bald woman.

She’s glaring at me with venomous intensity, approaching with firm strides, one arm outstretched, intoning words from an unknown language, in a voice resonating deeper than her own. The Panzerfaust in my hand suddenly quivers and I look down. Rust is blooming across the surface like rot. As I watch, the whole thing crumbles as if made of sand, sifting through my fingers.

I stare at the dust in shock, then dive for Vera, trying to swing her up and around before the woman can open her mouth for another spell.

#

THE CHANTRY

Bob leads Georgia to the Chantry safe, tucked behind a set of bookshelves in a storeroom. Using the credit card and Bob’s half-remembered instructions, they crack the lock and open it, revealing stacks of gold bullion. Georgia scans it appraisingly, but closes the safe without removing any, explaining to Bob that the bullion won’t be easy to use. The “jimmying tool,” however, should be just right for her purposes.

She sends Bob away to finish his dinner with Jawahar and heads back to her office, but hesitates as reaches the ground floor. Something in the building feels off, and the feeling increases the closer she gets to the office. Carefully, she opens the door. Nothing is visibly different from when she left it an hour before, but a strange noise rustles from behind the desk.

“Hello?” she calls hesitantly as she enters. “Oh good grief, I know you’re back there, come out.” A pause, then something peeks slowly around the dark, carved wood.

The werewolf cub.

“Puppy!?” She gasps and looks around. “…Dr. Everton?” No response. The puppy seems to be here alone. She squats down and holds a hand out. “Hey, how’d you get here?” It watches her with wide eyes, not approaching, but it doesn’t resist as she leans forward to pick it up. Everton was the last person to have the cub, so if it’s here perhaps that means he’s back from whatever journey he set out upon with it. She cradles the cub against one hip and pulls out her phone to call him.

He answers after a few rings. “Ms. Johnson, how are you?” His voice is as pleasantly British as ever, but an ominous rumbling echoes in the background.

“Doing well,” she says brightly, “How are you? Are you back from your…vacation?”

“I’m, ah, having an interesting evening. There’s been a great deal of complication around these parts, some necessary detours—” An inhuman shriek pierces the rumbles. “—A few lesser Hells, but nothing for it. Anyway, what can I do for you?”

Georgia glances down at the cub, watching her with wide brown eyes. She wants to ask him how it got here, but something suddenly tells her that he may not be in a place where he can speak freely about werewolves. “…Yes, it’s been quite an interesting series of evenings here as well,” she says slowly, then brightens. “Speaking of, I was wondering if you perhaps know anything about mages?”

Everton sighs. “I make it my prerogative to know as little as I can about mages. They are subtle and quick to anger, and all that. They are unquestionably one of the most dangerous things you are likely to encounter, though from what I understand you’ve encountered more than your fair share?”

“Indeed. The last two weeks have been quite filled with them—“

(Jim: “You’ve encountered, what, seventy in the last two weeks?”
Jason: “Well, not all of the Void Engineer crew were full-fledged mages.”)

“I assume you’ve been associating with our friend from the tower?” Everton says, a slight grumble to his voice.

“Oh yes, but not just him. But anyway, really I wanted to check on you and see how your quiet getaway was going, but I’m sorry to hear that it’s not so quiet. Do you need any assistance?”

Everton is quiet a moment, perhaps suspicious at he understated subtext to Georgia’s words about mages, but as it’s no more than his own polite understatements, he lets it pass. “At the moment, not to put too undue alarm, but I am rather beyond the reach of your assistance in this matter. If it should turn out in my current circumstances that I do need assistance, well, I’m afraid there will be nothing for it. No offense, of course.” The shriek comes again, closer, and echoed by two more.

Georgia sinks into her chair and sets the puppy down. “Well, I do hope you find your way to quietude sooner rather than later.”

“Well, some nights one engages in mortal combat against a host of evils the likes of which the mind cannot sustain. And some nights one has tea.” There’s a soft sound, as of a sword being drawn from a walking cane. “We shall see which day this is. Have a good evening, Ms. Johnson.”

#

THE OAKLAND DOCKS

Vera thunders once again. The 50-cal rounds pummel into the bald woman, piercing her robes. She staggers and slows, but the slugs bounce off her actual body as if they were BB’s. I let Vera shudder to a stop. Dammit, she’s a vampire too.

She smoothes at her clothes, jewelry glittering in the lights, glares at my gun, and before I can react, raises her hand again—

(Jason: *rolls* “…She fails.”)

The same words as before ring out across the docks, but Vera remains blessedly unblemished. The woman’s narrow face twists in frustration, but before she can try any new bullshit I drop Vera and grab my shotgun, pump a round of dragonsbreath, and fire. Magnesium-hot fire arcs over her. She shrieks, the smell of burning hair rolling toward me. Not sure where it’s coming from, though, since she doesn’t have any—

The fires on her robe go out, suddenly whisked into nothingness by a rise of wind, but they’re no match for the fire in her eyes, sunk in burnt skin and piercing the yards that separate us. As I grope for another shell, she shouts something new, raising her char-streaked arms. The ground rumbles and groans, then suddenly the tarmac between us splits, opening a gaping crack into the ground. I stop, then back up.

Things are crawling out of the chasm, three heaving black shapes with long claws that pierce the concrete. My first thought is of hellbeasts and costco-monsters, but these don’t have the human-centipede look of tzlotscha. They’re writhing with muscle, but they only have two arms and two legs each, and tower over me with a single head.

A jackal-headed head.

(Me: “That’s…reaaally not a good sign—“)

As if their claws weren’t bad enough, they’re carrying sickles. As I stare, the lead one snarls and runs forward, lifting its blade. I stagger back, distantly aware of the sounds of fighting behind me.

(Me: “…Are there any named-NPC’s around? Like, ones we brought with us?”
Jason: “No, but Bell is on his way.”
Me: “Oh shit, he is, isn’t he….”
Jim: “Make sure you look bad-ass for him when he arrives.”
Me: “I’m trying!
Jason: “If you can survive long enough for him to get here.”
Jim: “Oh, fuck, I need to call Boopsie!”)

The jackal-thing slashes one of its sickles toward me, but before it connects I turn and run, toward the melee crowd of dark swordsmen and Anarchs—

(Jason: “You plunge into the crowd filled with gyrating, fighting motherfuckers.”
Me: “I’ve been in clubs worse than this, it’s fine.)

—Dodging between their strikes and blows, skittering on the ground, slick with vitae and viscera.

The jackal-things—No, wait, who am I kidding, the Anubis-things—plunge after me, swinging their sickles mindlessly, felling Anarch and swordsmen alike in their fury to get me, but the fray is so thick it slows them.

An eternity later I clear the melee, bolting toward the bikes. The bald woman is on the far side of the battle but sees me escape and shouts an order. Some of the swordsmen peel off to come after me, moving faster than the jackals, though those monsters aren’t too far behind.

#

Anstis and the ibis hit the water like a boulder, fountaining water into the air. The impact knocks the bird from his grip. He wheels away in the dark water, searching for his target. As the water settles, he senses struggled fluttering at the surface. Lazily, he reaches one tentacle toward it.

The water pulses, displaced as the ibis shifts form. Not to human, but to a new one. Crocodile.

(Me: “…Yeah, pretty much.”)

The crocodile—(—which I’m going to go out on a limb and posit is a Nile crocodile—)—flips in the water and dives, driving its fourteen-foot length into the depths with massive beats of its tail, jaws gaping, aiming right for Anstis.

(Jason: “Didn’t I see a SyFy movie about this once? Giant Octopus vs. Mega Crocodile?”)

Anstis hesitates briefly, then flares his arms, gnashes his beak in clear challenge, and reaches forward.

#

I pound across the concrete toward the bikes. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do when I get there, since I don’t have the keys, but right now I’m just focused on escape.

Escape, or rescue. Where the fuck is Bell!? This is exactly the sort of thing he’s supposed to be dealing with, the thing he was sent to the Bay to do! Watch him show up only after everything’s over and everyone is dead, again, just like when the Clarences attacked us in that abandoned house, or when Perpenna ate the Chantry. Useless asshole, I can’t believe I ever had a crush on him—

—Dammit, focus on a plan. If I can get a bike working, maybe I can get the hell out of here, but t do that I’ll need  jump. Without breaking stride, I grope for my phone and thumb through the “recent” list to call Sophia.

“…Tom?” she answers.

“Hey girl!” I’m not breathing hard, obviously, but the noise of battle echoes around me and I shout to be heard over it.

“…You okay?” she asks cautiously.

“Yeah, hey, can you track my location at the moment? I’m approaching a motorcycle I’m gonna need jumped!”

“What? Tom, I can’t jump it remotely….”

I stagger to a halt as I reach the bikes. “…Why not!?”

“Because I can’t! I need to physically be there! This isn’t the Matrix, Tom, you can’t just download things you need!”

Shit shit shit. I look back. The swordsmen are coming up fast and behind them it looks like the jackals have cleared the melee. “Arghh, I really need it though!”

There’s a groan, and what sounds like a laptop being dragged onto her lap. “Okay, okay, let me take a look at it, do you have a camera on your phone?”

“Yeah, hold on….” I hit the button for video-chat, but by default it comes up in selfie-mode. The screen fills with a clear shot of my face—bruised, bloodied—and a chaotic mess of swords and men in the darkness behind me.

JESUS, Tom, what’s going on!?”

“Sorry! Just a sec!” I switch it to rear-view, scanning the camera across the nearest bike. Just then, a new sound joins the cacophony, a high-pitched whine of a racing motorcycle engine, approaching from the distance.

Tom!?” Sophia shouts.

I hold the phone closer and shout back, “Nothing, everything is fine, can you get one of these bikes working for me please?”

A tire squeals, followed by the sound of acceleration. I turn to look, then freeze. One of the jackals is here, looming over me, snarling, sickle held high—

—Then is instantly smashed away by a motorcycle, barreling riderless at 160mph. Milliseconds later, a figure lands before me in a sliding crouch, effortlessly disemboweling two approaching swordsmen before skidding to a stop, furrows from his boots ground into the dirt behind him. He glares away from me, scanning the carnage, but I don’t have to see his face to know who it is. If the entrance wasn’t clear, the billowing leather duster and crossed shotguns on his back are more than enough.

Theo Bell.

(Jason: “Potence 5, Celerity 5, Strength 5, Dex 5, Stamina 5, Fortitude 4.”
Me: “…Do I have to roll to not swoon?”
Jason: “Sure, self control test.”
Me: *rolls* “…Oh. My god. I botched.”
Jason: “Oooh, yeah…yeah, you’re so hot for him right now.”)

I gape, phone held loosely in my hand, call totally forgotten. The disemboweled swordsmen are struggling to their feet, but Bell twitches once and suddenly both men’s heads are thudding to the ground. Bell rises slowly from his crouch, taut like a dancer, his machete held away from him, gore dripping down its length and onto the ground.

Now he looks at me, gaze pinning me in place, even from behind his sunglasses. I freeze, suddenly remembering the time he interrogated me, when he first arrived in the city, how he shattered my lies as easily as he just shattered those men and how I was sure I was about to die at the end of his gun. He stares at me and I stare back, paralyzed, as he reaches up, shoulders straining under leather, to draw one of his shotguns from his back. A lever-action gun, he cocks it with a flip and a heavy chunk, and in the silence that follows I hear the echo of every snarky backtalk I’ve ever said to him.

Then he whirls, blasting dragonsbreath across another swordsman sneaking up behind him, and with that he’s away, streaking off with fire and blades to dive into the fray.

(Me: “…Goddammit, crush back on.”)

END OF NIGHT

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