4/7/2015

Kara: “I need to make some delivery requests.”
Jason: “Alright, GrubHub should still be open this time of night.”
Kara: “Then I will order some food on GrubHub.”
Jim: “Wait, when was the last time you actually ate, and do you have any idea how to order food?”
Me: “Yeah, she’d definitely have no idea how to use GrubHub, or SpoonRocket, or whatever fucking food app is hot right now.”
Jason: “Yes, this is true, and beyond using it, do you even know that these apps exist?”
Me: “Do you even know what a grocery store is?”
Kara: “Georgia’s been around long enough to pick up grocery stores, I think.”
Jason: “Yeah, the concept of a grocery store isn’t hard. ‘Food store.’”
Kara: “Georgia knows that food has to eat.”
*silence*
Jason: “…You know, it’s moments like these that really convince me Kara has the right clan.”

***

THE CHANTRY

Wolfgang  comes around with a car and he and Rabenholz leave to find “volunteers.” Dr. vonNatsi also leaves, ostensibly to find the best deathrays for Georgia’s needs. Although he doesnt say anything, Bob is still obviously hungry and needs food that isnt going to burn his face off. Georgia considers a grocery run, but she doesn’t want to leave the Chantry, and can’t send Bob himself, obviously.

Jawahar is there as well, looking rather tired.

(Me: “Why is Jawahar still hanging around and not just going home?”
Jason: “Jawahar is still fairly new to being a mage and doesn’t have the ability to teleport to fucking India.”
Me: “Oh, well, you know, we do have a submarine on its way there now!”
Jason: “Yes, but Jawahar doesn’t know that and neither do you. Besides, Jawahar is in a Tremere Chantry and thinks that perhaps he might want to find out a little more about all this.”
Kara: “Right, because we’re allies.”
Jason: “…For the moment.”)

Georgia gathers a polite smile. “Jawahar, can I show you to a guest room?”

He stares at her. “You have bedrooms?”

“Of course!”

“With beds?”

“Well, yeah, what else would we rest on?”

He glances around. “This is an undead house, I half expected there to be coffins.”

She waves a hand dismissively. “Don’t be silly. We sleep on beds, only we’re up at night and sleep on them during the day.”

He hesitates. “That’s…not that different from how I work, actually….”

She shows him upstairs to a lush room on the penthouse floor, quickly removing all incriminating Tremere texts from the bookshelves as they enter. Vivisection and You is definitely the first to go. Once she’s assured Jawahar is comfortable, she waddles with her pile of books out of the room.

As the passes the door to the Max von Strauss suite, though, she remembers the other reason she needs to find real food: the werewolf cub.

(Kara: “I need to make some delivery requests.”
Jason: “Alright, GrubHub should still be open this time of night.”
Kara: “Then I will order some food on GrubHub.”
Jim: “Wait, when was the last time you actually ate and do you have any idea how to order food?”
Me: “Yeah, she’d definitely have no idea how to use GrubHub, or SpoonRocket, or whatever fucking food app is hot right now.”
Jason: “Yes, this is true, and beyond using it, do you even know that these apps exist?”
Me: “Do you even know what a grocery store is?”
Kara: “…Yeah, Georgia’s been around long enough to pick up grocery stores, I think.”
Jason: “Yeah, the concept of a grocery store isn’t hard. ‘Food store.’”
Kara: “Georgia knows that food has to eat.”
*silence*
Jason: “…You know, it’s moments like these that really convince me Kara has the right clan.”)

Dumping the books in the hall, she ducks back to Jawahar’s room, hands him the Chantry card and asks him to go to the grocery store to gather supplies for himself and Bob. He stares at her as she rattles off suggestions, the last item of which being several pounds of raw meat.

“Meat?” he asks, “What for?”

Georigia pauses. “Ah…an experiment.”

Jawahar eyes her suspiciously but agrees, leaving to go to the store.

Once he disappears down the stairwell, she ducks into Max’s room to check on the werewolf. The tiny creature is still curled up on the bed, and, against all assumptions one would have of half-puppies, the room is not soiled or destroyed.

She sits on the edge of the bed. “Do you speak any human languages?” she asks, cycling through multiple languages she knows. The cub just stares at her, face half buried under arms and tail. Georgia sighs and gets up to go, but sees the space whale sitting on top of a dresser, staring down at the cub, obviously perturbed.

(Me: “What does the space whale look like?”
Kara: “A cat.”
Me: “Yeah, no, but I mean what kind of cat?”
Kara: “Um, it’s yellow, right? Like sunny yellow.”
Me: “Oh, it doesn’t look like Claire?”
Kara: “No, it is not a Claire cat. Claire was made of demons.”)

Georgia walks to the dresser and looks up. “Ms. and/or Mr. Space Whale, do you speak any human languages?”

The space whale meows once, tail twitching.

“Do you understand what I’m saying? If so, meow twice.”

“Meow, meow.”

Georgia blinks. “…That’s pretty cool. You’re pretty neat. Is there anything you need from me at the moment?”

The space whale meows again, softly, and blinks at her slowly.

“Ah, excellent. Will you mind keeping an eye on our werewolf friend, here?”

The space whale hisses, narrow eyes glaring at the cub.

“Oh you don’t like the werewolf, I see. In that case, I’m very sorry it has crowded your quarters, and I appreciate you’ve been so polite so far.” She reaches up to pet it. The space whale head-butts her hand, purring. “Meow twice if you’re the best space whale on this entire planet.”

The space whale chirrups two meows, then starts bathing itself. With one more glance at the cub, Georgia quietly  leaves the room.

She goes back to her office, realizing she needs to charge her cellphone, since it apparently drained itself dry searching for signal on pluto. She plugs it in and sees a stack of missed calls—most from Paul—but just one voicemail message.

She accepts it and listens. Silence, for thirty seconds, then the message ends. She frowns, perplexed, but has the nagging sense that something is there, at the edge of hearing. She replays it, straining to hear with Auspex, and hears an unfamiliar voice speaking in the subaural:

If you can hear this, please dial the following number. We have business to attend to. Business only for the ears of the Chantry head.”

(Jim: “Business business business.”
Me: “Numbers.”)

She shrugs and dials the number. It rings multiple times, but no one picks up. Nor does it go to voicemail. After the seventh ring, she hangs up.

“Why hello there,” a voice says from right behind her. She jumps. A heavyset older man of vaguely Middle-Easter complexion is standing behind her chair, wearing worn faded clothes, a scraggly beard, and a half-vacant smile.

Georgia, no longer shocked by creepy unexpected visitors to the Chantry, simply smiles back at him. “Greetings, I don’t believe we’ve had the honor of meeting before?”

“I don’t believe so either.” His is voice is soft, carefully measured, but the gaze that scans the room is strangely intent. “Is this your Chantry?”

“For the moment.”

“For the moment? You expect to lose it?”

She laughs lightly. “My dear, eventually everyone loses everything.”

His smile widens, but the look is more manic than mirthful. “I think, child, we shall get along just fine.” He folds his hands in front of him. “My name is Cantor.” One hand gestures toward the cellphone on her desk. “You got my message, and you called. That was very, very wise. I’ve been hoping someone would give me a call from here. Someone who wants to see enlightenment. Are you enlightened?”

“I think we could all strive to be a little more enlightened. Could you excuse me a moment?” Angling her body away from him, she picks up the phone and starts typing a message to Bell, “Need backup at the Chantry. Fast.”

Cantor watches her, smile unwavering. “Who would you be calling, I wonder?”

“Oh, no,” she says without looking up, “I’m just taking a note, I just have trouble remembering names so I’m writing it down.”

Cantor glances significantly at the pad of paper and fountain pen on her desk, but says nothing. “I can do something for that. I can give you something that will make your memory flawless. You’d remember so much, you’d swear half of it wasn’t true at all.”

(Chris: *stage whisper* “Georgia! You may be in danger right now!”
Kara: “Really. You think so?”)

“Intriguing….” Georgia tries to send the message. The app churns, then aborts. There’s no signal, though it was fine just a few moments ago.

Cantor eases himself onto the corner of the desk, still smiling. “Now then, child, why don’t you introduce yourself to me?”

Georgia turns off the screen and sets the phone down. “It seems you already know quite a lot about me.”

“I know you run this Chantry. And I know you’re looking for enlightenment.”

She sighs. “My name is Georgia—“

He leans back. “Ah, sweet Georgia! I’ve been there.”

“Yes, it’s a lovely state. And a lovely country.”

“I have not been to the country. But one day I will go anywhere I choose, and do what I please. Once I have reached enlightenment.” He winks at her.

A strange shiver creeps through her and she shifts in her chair. “Ah, well, what remains between you and your goal?”

Slowly Cantor picks the pen off the desk. “That is the difficulty. You see, to achieve enlightenment isn’t a small thing. You need discipline. Firmness. Wisdom. And no small amount of help.”

“Indeed, I was going to say, a good teacher makes a big difference.” She pauses. “Who has been your teacher?” she asks carefully.

He turns the pen over in his hand, one finger testing the point of the nib. “I have had tutelage from a variety of sources. But that is not why I’m here. I wanted to know if you wished to find enlightenment?”

She folds her hands in front of her. “I’m always interested in learning more about the world.”

“Then, I think you should come and see.”

“Come where?”

“To the Temple. Here in the city. For the People. The people who look for enlightenment.” He leans forward. “Do you want to come? Do you want to learn?”

(Chris: *stage whisper* “Georgia, this temple? Probably more dangerous than your current situation!”
Kara: “…Thanks.”)

She picks up her phone again, burying her face in the screen to avoid his his manic gaze. “I’m actually free next Wednesday,” she says.

“Next Wednesday may be too late.”

She scrolls down. “What about Monday? Does Monday work? I mean, I understand enlightenment is a lofty goal and should be at the top of all our priority lists, but unfortunately I have prior commitments.”

“And what are those prior commitments?”

She waves a hand vaguely. “Oh you know, the day to day of running the Chantry.”

“The Chantry you fear you will lose.”

She glances up, contemptuously. “It’s not a fear, it’s eventual that everyone loses everything.”

Cantor chuckles, a strangely breathy sound. “Not for everyone. Those rules apply to mortal men, not to the enlightened. You do wish to be enlightened, don’t you?”

Frowning, she scans him carefully, peering at his aura. The colors say vampire, clear from taint of diablerie, but anything beyond that is unclear.

The silence lingers. He tilts his head, still smiling. “You think I’m crazy?”

“Not any more than any of the other vampires I’ve met in this city.”

“You think they are crazy?”

She sighs. “Yes, I think most vampires are crazy.”

Cantor sets the pen carefully back down on the desk. “I understand why you think that. I do. You think I’m crazy so you try to tell your friends to come and save you from me. But there’s nothing to be afraid of. I am here to show you wonderful things.”

He trails off, smiling silently. She watches them a moment then places the phone down next to the pen. “I have a couple of minor followup questions. Do you know anyone named Flagg?”

Nothing about his expression indicates he recognizes the name, but neither does he seem surprised by it. “I’ve known many people in my time. Some of them may have been called Flagg. Names are temporary things. They bind us, define us. That is not the way to enlightenment.”

(Chris: “That is not the Way.”)

“I see.” She eyes his aura again. Something about it seems strange, but she can’t put her finger on it. “Are you all vampires?”

“Yes. In a sense, and in a non-sense. Some of us are kindred. More every day. Will you be our kindred?”

She taps her fingers on the desk. “That’s actually a very intriguing offer,” she says carefully. “I would like to know more.”

“I thought you might.” Still smiling, Cantor reaches into his coat and draws out a large book, a tome almost, leather-bound and unmarked, much larger than should have fit into his pocket. He places it on the desk and taps the cover. “Salvation lies within. In your own time, perhaps you will come to see what I am offering you. It is not a simple trick. It is enlightenment.”

She peers at the book. “This is wonderful, I would love to read through.”

“Do.” He stands and walks across the room, but not toward the door. “When you are ready, just call.” Still grinning, he steps backward into the shadows gathered there. They swallow him up, and he’s gone.

Georgia stares a moment, then picks up her phone. She now has five bars of reception, but the message hasn’t been resent. She deletes it.

She puts the phone down and drags the book over. It’s heavy, the leather cracked and well-worn, but it doesn’t appear to be human at least. She peers at it from all sides without opening it, then picks up her phone to make a call. To Dr. vonNatsi.

“Hello!?” he answers enthusiastically. For once, no explosions or suspicious noises echo in the background.

“Doctor! This is Ms. Johnson. I have an academic question for you. Is is possible to read a book without opening it?”

There’s a thoughtful pause. “Ja, it is possible! You use ze etheric microvand!”

“Oh, excellent. Do you have an etheric microwand?”

He hesitates. “Ehm…technically…. But ze goats ate it.”

She sighs and plops the book onto the desk. “Damn the goats!”

“Vhy do you vish to open ze book vithout opening ze book? Vat is ze book?”

“Oh, I got an interesting book from a stranger, and you know how that goes—“

“Mein Gott!” he yells, cutting her off. She tenses, wondering if he knows whats going on, then, “…Ze Jehovah’s Vitnesses have visited you as vell!? I tell zem dat I am not interested, zey don’t have ze science, but zey leave ze literature on ze doorstep!”

(Me: “He got The Great Controversy in the mail like everyone else in the city.” )

She sighs. “No, it’s something different. Maybe its not a big deal, maybe I should just read it. That’s what books are for, right?”

“That, or for SCIENCE!”

“What kind of science do you do on books?”

“Ehm…I am not sure. But I shall think of something!”

“Great! Call me when you do!” With that, she hangs up.

She stares at the book a long moment, drumming her fingers on the wood, then finally impatience overcomes caution and she drags it toward her and opens it.

Thankfully, nothing happens, no spells flying out or tentacle mouths erupting to eat her hand. She pulls it closer and starts flipping through the pages, with increasing eagerness. It’s a book of magic. There’s no title, no chapter headings, nothing identifiable, but she can tell that it’s discussing thaumaturgical magic, to a level like anything she’s ever seen before. It’s not particularly more powerful magic, but it contains entire paths she’s never heard of, discussed in details a lot more exact and technical than anything she’s read before.

Strangely enough, even though it’s magic, it doesn’t feel like a Tremere book. It’s too direct, with no discussion on theory or history of the spells, or veiled references to further, secret information not contained herein.

About a third of the way into the book, she reaches a section on fire magic. She finds the beginning of the passage, then starts to read.

#

OAKLAND DOCKS

Anstis wakes up from his crocodile battle-frenzy sprawled on a boat launch ramp below the main dock. He’s back in human form, but he’s torn near to shreds, and he’s naked.

(Jim: “So my phone is gone.”
Jason: “Yes, your phone is, once again, gone. I swear you go through phones faster than you go through blood.”
Jim: “Oh fuck! If I lost my clothes, I also lost my supply of rocks!”)

I, meanwhile, am up on the main dock, scanning the aftermath of the fight. Dead bodies and pieces of bodies litter the concrete, a few of them the dark-robed Settite swordsmen, but most of the dead appear to be Anarchs.

(Chris: “You should go around picking up pieces so you can collect the whole Set-tite.”)

Marcus stands nearby, also staring at the carnage. His face is flat, but rage radiates off in an aura even I can perceive. Aquilifer stands nearby, off to one side. Neither of us approach him.

Bell ignores all of us, stalking through the bodies checking for survivors and glaring into the shadows surrounding our sodium-lit battlefield. Watching him surreptitiously, I find myself fussing with my clothes. My jacket and shirt are totally destroyed, maybe I should just take them off—

Anstis swaggers up to the dock then, naked as the night he entered the game. Bell stares, then ignores him as well. The pirate wanders toward me, head high, as if nothing was wrong. I scowl and examine Vera, actively avoiding checking whether that tentacle-beard bullshit of his matches the carpet.

A crowd of footsteps echo from the canyons between the shipping containers. Bell and I whirl toward it. A small cluster of bloodied Anarchs appear lead by a Costco-monster. Before I can bring Vera around, the form twists sickeningly, folding and retracting in on itself, and becomes human again, strangely familiar. It takes me a moment to place him: Matt, one of the Anarchs hanging around with Helgi at the Flyting. He and the surviving Anarchs talk low amongst themselves, faces grim.

I put Vera down and head toward Marcus. He doesn’t acknowledge me, I’m not even sure he sees me approaching. His eyes swim with darkness, a reflection of the waters of the bay. This close, I realize the look on his face isn’t just anger, it’s also fear.

I clear my throat carefully. “Boss?”

He blinks. His eyes slowly calm and focus on me. “…What happened?”

I glance at the carnage. “Umm…. The Semtex handoff, there was a boat, Helgi went to meet them, shit blew up—“

Suddenly he’s in my face, grabbing my shirt, jerking me down to his level. “Every. Detail. Tom,” he hisses. The rage is rising, overshadowing the fear.

Quickly, I lay out everything I can remember, about the boat we thought was Morgan’s appearing out of the fog, then blowing up without warning. Anstis saunters over and corroborates.

Once I finish, Marcus lets me go and turns to Anstis. “Where was Helgi?”

Anstis gestures wordlessly and leads us to the end of the dock, still smoldering slightly, the charred remains of the truck tossed to one side. Marcus kneels down at the ragged edge of the crater gouged from the asphalt, sticks his hand in a pool of water collected there, and closes his eyes. Aquilifer waddles up behind him, glaring at Anstis as she passes.

“I’m assuming he’s asking the same question I’m about to,” Bell suddenly says from right behind me.

My heart leaps at his voice but I successfully keep my cool. “That’s what were trying to figure out here. Sir.”

“Do you know who those men were?” Bell asks.

“Settites,” Matt says, wandering over to join the party, staring at the corpses littering the ground.

“Yes I got that,” Bell snaps at him. “Do you know who those Settites were?”

“Do you?” Anstis asks Bell.

Bell glowers. “No. There aren’t any Settites in this state, or there aren’t supposed to be. Course our intelligence has been a little less than ideal recently.”

There’s a long moment of silence as everyone waits for someone else to supply more information. Eventually, Marcus stands up, staring out over the bay. “Where did the cars come from?”

I speak up first, “They just appeared from somewhere in the docks—“

He whirls on me, fists clenched. “Cars don’t just appear!

I glare. Why is this suddenly my fault? “They came from the road, I don’t know!”

Marcus stares at me a long, tense moment. No one else speaks up in the silence. “And you’ve never seen them before?” he asks slowly.

I shake my head. “No.”

He steps forward, face skeptical. “You’ve never seen them before?”

I throw up my arms. “How could I? Have they been to any of the clubs, or the Prince’s little soiree’s, for the last twenty years!?”

“I don’t know! You tell me, Tom!”

No!!!” The word echoes across dock like a gunshot. Silence falls again, but I stare evenly at Marcus, ignoring the shadows licking up from the shattered asphalt. “Why the hell would I be lying about this? I don’t even know who those fuckers are! Not really!”

“They were Settites,” Marcus hisses, “You have heard about Settites?”

“Yeah, I heard about them from you.” I know he can’t read minds, but I’m sure he can read the memory on my face, of the time in Paul’s downtown penthouse, when he finally told me the dirty secret of his past. A flicker of doubt breaks my cool as he stares at me, wondering if perhaps I’ve gone too far, but at this point I’m too exhausted to care.

After a long moment, he barks something, a curse or command I don’t recognize. Shadows rush forward to engulf him, and he’s gone. Aquilifer stares around in surprise, then keens and launches into the air, disappearing into the darkness above the reach of the lights.

A clicking draws my gaze around. Bell is reloading his shotgun. “How did that many Settites get into an Anarch conclave without anyone noticing? Did you see anyone else here, anyone who wasn’t supposed to be here?”

I try to shake off the rest of my frustration at Marcus’s sudden paranoia. “I don’t know, usually at these things I’m serving tacos.”

“Well, while he’s off doing whatever the hell he’s doing, I suggest everyone else get the hell out of here.” Bell snaps the gun closed and looks up at me over his sunglasses. “Unless you had other plans?”

My heart leaps for a breathless moment, reading all sorts of interpretations into that, then, just as suddenly, drops. Fuck me, I have to meet fucking Charles about the statue I don’t have anymore. I could probably call and cancel, but something tells me that might be worse. I look away to hide my irritation, staring into the foggy waters. Damn that Samir asshole taking the thing, I still don’t know what the hell it is but I know it would be far safer in the hands of the dragon, ironically—

I freeze as a new idea hits me. I do know where the statue is, at least, and since it was promised to the dragon, perhaps I can send Charles to pick it up himself. A shit-eating grin tugs at my mouth as I visualize a dragon dropping in on Samir like an avalanche, demanding treasure, and probably tax-deductible museum donations. No way that jackal-son-of-a-bitch would expect that shit.

Meanwhile, Anstis has wandered up to Bell, who is also doing his best to keep his gaze eye level. “How do the Settites normally operate?” Anstis drawls.

“This isn’t like them, to attack in the open like this. They’re corrupters, acting behind the scenes to bring people down from within.” Bell glares. “But, then again, your little friend pissed them off something awful. And so did his big-buddy.”

Anstis picks at the crocodile-shaped bite marks on his flesh. “I know they had at least one gangrel with them, so it’s multi-clan.”

Bell considers this a moment, then nods. “They’ve been known to work with other clans, anyone willing to cash in on their idea of the end of the world. Resurrect some dead god from a million years ago.” He scans the scorch marks on the dock. “But this could have been anything. We cant find out much more from here, so let’s get out of here before they come back with another 800 pounds of Semtex.”

With this reminder, Anstis then borrows my phone to update Morgan on the situation and call off the actual Semtex shipment. Morgan is just as surprised as the rest of us and says he’ll lay low until things get figured out.

As Anstis hands my phone back, I grab his wrist and pull him close. “So. About my sister,” I growl. “You know, the entire reason I came all the way down here in the first place?”

Anstis growls back and gestures down at himself. “That will have to wait for me to heal. I’m not going in there like this.” My eyes dart down briefly. Being beat to shit seems to be his natural state lately so I barely noticed.

I jerk him close again. “Going in where?

He eyes me haughtily. “Do you wish to make the deal?”

“What deal is that?” I ask, secretly remembering, but hoping that maybe the details have changed. Something tells me that letting this creeper get Celerity will mean nothing but more headaches for the rest of us.

He smiles. “I will help you get back your sister and then…you’ll trade me.”

I scowl. “I just have your word that you can deliver any of this. How do I know that you know anything?”

He grins wider. “You don’t.”

“Gentlemen,” Bell barks suddenly, turning away from a conversation with Matt. “I’m sure this sounds important to you right now but I think you misheard me when I said we’re getting the hell out of here—“ Just then, black towncars with the livery license plates of the Pyramid pull up at the edge of the dock. Behind them, though, are a couple news vans which definitely do not look Camarilla-owned. Bell curses under his breath and stalks off to intercept them.

I turn back to Anstis. He’s kneeled over, stripping clothes off of bodies and trying them on. “So you expect me to just let you walk out of here without giving me anything about Isabell—“

There’s a sudden roar of diesel engines and two National Guard humvees pull up behind the news vans.

I stop. “—Shit, I gotta go.” Without another word to the pirate, I grab Vera and jog back to the El Camino, throwing her in the back. I climb in and am about to peel out when my phone rings.

It’s Slayer. I jab the screen to answer. “Motherfucker, what!?”

“…Uh, man was that you?”

“What, the explosion? What the hell do you think!”

“…Man, fuck you!”

“Fuck you, what do you want?” I glance nervously at the guardsmen milling amongst the news crews.

“I just called to say I got a new place, man. In Bayshore. Not far from that old cement factory.”

I roll my eyes. Something tells me I don’t have to ask which one. “Fine, great. I gotta go do some things then sleep for about three weeks.”

“What things, man?”

The El Camino chokes to life. “I got a date with a dragon.”

#

NORTH BEACH

Rabenholz and Wolfgang cruise silently down into North Beach, looking for “volunteers” for Georgia’s warding blood ritual.  There’s still quite a few people out, mingling between bars and restaurants, but Rabenholz watches them quietly as they pass, without asking Wolfgang to stop.

“Who enforces the curfew?” Rabenholz says suddenly into the silence.

Wolfgang straightens. “The National Guard seem to be patrolling, mein Herr.”

“Yes, but who gives them their orders?”

“Um, I do not know.” The young ghoul glances at Rabenholz in the mirror. “Um, mein Herr…who…are you?”

“I am someone hoping to gain the favor of the Regent,” Rabenholz says coolly.

Wolfgang glances around and leans back conspiratorially. “I think she is a Jew….”

Rabenholz meets his gaze sharply. “I assure you, she has as much religion as that trash can over there.” He turns back to the window. “No one gets to our age with conviction anymore.”

Rabenholz finally tells Wolfgang to park along Columbus Avenue, which seems to be the height of the crowds. Rabenholz gets out and surveys the street, then approaches some national guards soldiers. “Where might I find your commanding officer?”

They eye his suit, cloak, and cane suspiciously. “Is there something the matter, sir?” one says.

“Yes, my home was broken into some time ago, I just found out now.”

They glance at each other. “Sir, were here for the terrorists. Any criminal matters should be reported to the police.”

“Ah, I see. Is it you or the police who enforce the curfew?”

“I don’t know who’s on top of the chain of command, sir, we just have our orders.” The soldier looks him over again. “Can we see your identification, sir?”

Rabenholz meets his gaze. “You don’t need to see my identification.

The man turns to his partner. “Yeah, we don’t need his ID.”

Rabenholz looks to the other man. “I can go about my business.

The other man nods slowly. “Yeah, he can go about his business….”

Move along.” Rabenholz gestures them away with a flick of his hand. The two men turn and walk calmly down the street. Rabenholz gathers his cape and heads the opposite direction, toward the bay, with Wolfgang close behind.

They find their way to the open lawn and trees of Washington Square Park, where a small group of guardsmen are stationed around a humvee, looking more authoritative than the ones they just met on the street. Rabenholz sweeps briskly across the grass to the group, which goes quiet as he approaches. “Whom amongst you is in charge here?”

One steps forward. “I am. Identification, sir?”

Rabenholz meets his eyes. “There is a cholera epidemic among the vagrants of the city. You and your men are required to round them up so that they may be vaccinated.

They look at each other in confusion, and the lieutenant frowns. “We don’t have any medical supplies here, we would need to contact the CDC.”

Rabenholz doesn’t hesitate. “The CDC is set up at [the Chantry address]. There will be personalle to take care of the vagrants once you’ve rounded them. Quickly.

The lieutenant blinks, then snaps off a salute. “Sir!” He turns to bark orders at the other soldiers. They look confused, but move to obey, grabbing radios and starting up the humvee.

Rabenholz nods to himself and turns to Wolfgang. “Return to the Chantry and prepare to siphon as much blood from the people as you can.”

“Ja wohl!” Wolfgang clicks his heels together and runs back toward the car.

(Chris: “Oh he’s so happy to have someone like me around.”
Jason: “Yeah, he really is.”)

Now alone, Rabenholz calmly starts proceeding on foot across the city, making his way toward the Ferry Building.

#

THE CHANTRY

Georgia is still reading the book, carefully taking notes, when there’s a knock at her office door. Gets up to open it and finds a national guard soldier on the other side, glancing nervously around the hall.

Georgia hesitates. “Helloooo, sir….” she says slowly. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m looking for the local CDC office?”

She blinks. “CDC, sir?”

“Center for Disease Control? Is this the inoculation point? Do I have the right address?” He holds out a piece of paper.

“Uh, no, I think this is the wrong place.…” She looks at the note. “…But that is this address. Who gave you this?”

“My commanding officer. Said that this was the primary care point for the cholera vaccinations.”

“Cholera? In San Francisco?”

(Me: “Yeah, all the anti-vaxxers, it’s making a comeback.”)

She stares at the soldier a moment, thinking, then, finally, “You know what, I bet you do have the right address, why don’t you come inside and have a seat and I’ll go look something up…. Are you bringing more people by or are you just checking out the place?”

“We have like fifty-odd people coming. Are you set up for that number?” He stares around her office as he enters. “What is this place?”

She gestures him to a seat, politely ignoring his last question. “Yes, if you could give me ten minutes, I’ll get the room ready.”

There’s an echo of sharp boots running down the hall and Wolfgang suddenly appears at the door, gasping. “Fr…Frau Regent—”

“It’s alright, catch your breath. I assume this has to do with the CDC and the cholera?”

“Ja. Wohl. Herr Rabenholz—“

“Ahh.” Georgia nods, the pieces falling into place. “Why don’t you entertain this young soldier here while I go set up the room.”

The soldier, folded awkwardly in a blood-red chair, stares between her and Wolfgang. “Can I get your name, ma’am?”

“Of course. I’ll be right back.” She turns and leaves.

Bob appears from a side hall as she sweeps down the hall. “Bob, with me.” He falls in behind her. “Bob, do we have rooms set up for large-scale blood collection?”

“Yes, Regent. You mean the exsanguinatory.”

She sighs at the name. “Yes.”

“The primary or the secondary?”

“What’s the difference?”

“The primary is rated for, I think, ninety-nine? But the secondary is only for emergency uses only, its only rated for sixty.”

“Then the primary will be fine.”

“Excellent, I’ll prepare the mulchers.” Bob turns to leave, but she grans his shoulder to stop him.

“The goal today, Bob, is not to take enough to kill anyone,” she chastized.

He blinks. “Why?”

“Think about it.” She smiles disarming’y. “Because if we release them, and then recapture them after a week, we can get twice as much blood.”

“But won’t recapturing them be difficult?”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to recapture the same ones. But if you kill off too many of them the whole population crashes and you wont have any left. We just put them back out on the street so they can breed and make more.”

Bob nods slowly, wringing his hands. “I’m not sure how to make the exsanguinatory not fatal.”

“You’ve done it by hand before, right? With needles?”

“No, Regent.”

(Jason: “The Tremere don’t usually not-kill!”)

She sighs. “Alright, collect all the medical supplies you can and set them up in the exsanguinatory, along with as many cots as we have, just so it looks like a hospital room.”

“Ok. What’s a hospital?”

She sighs again. “I’ll send Wolfgang to help.”

#

Once she makes sure that Bob and Wolfgang understand the plan, she returns to her offie and convinces the soldier that yes, this is a medical facility, not a creepy old stone mansion filled with weirdos, and coordinates with him and his superiors to bring in upwards of seventy to a hundred people, collected from the homeless population of the city. Halfway through, there’s a heavy knock at the front door of the Chantry. Georgia hurries out to open it, finding Jawahar standing out front with handfuls of grocery bags, staring at the humvee parked in the drive.

“What’s going on?” he asks nervously.

“We just have a little bit of a situation. I’m just going to bring you to the kitchen and help you put these groceries away, thank you for getting them, and I imagine you’re getting pretty tired—“

He turns to her. “What is happening here?” he asks, tone now suspicious.

“Come with me.” She leads through the building to an aged industrial kitchen, obviously intended for food prep for the ghouls, but coated in fine sheen of dust. Georgia opens the fridge, finding nothing but a handful of half-empty condiments and a few mummified cabbages, shoves them out of the way, and starts loading the contents of the grocery bags. “Do you remember the gentleman who was here earlier this evening, von Rabenholz? He has a few acquaintances that need a place to stay and apparently they are arriving with the assistance of the national guard.”

Jawahar hands her a package of meat. “Who are these acquaintances?”

“Well, I don’t know, I don’t have a lot of specifics yet—“

Distantly, there’s a sudden yell, “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!” Georgia drops the meat and stands up. “Jawahar, stay here!” With that she runs from the room.

She rushes down the hall to find the national guardsman is standing just outside her office, assault rifle leveled, aiming at the werewolf cub.

Georgia stops, holding it together (but Kara is starting to crack under the pressure).

She runs up in front of the soldier, puts a hand on his chest, and looks into his eyes. “It’s alright, calm down. This is just a normal dog. Everything is fine.”

He lowers the gun, blinking at the cub but not focusing on it properly. “Jesus, scared the crap out of me. I didn’t think they let dogs in hospitals.”

“This is a special dog. It’s…a companion creature. Also hypoallergenic. I’m just going to take it back upstairs, I’ll be right back.” She gathers up cub, staring at her wide-eyed, takes it to her room this time, then returns to the kitchen.

Jawahar, squatted in front of the fridge unloading food, looks over as she hurries in. “What was that about?”

“Oh, nothing, Bob just startled the soldier.” Without another word, she grabs the packet of ground beef, two plates, and rushes from the room, ignoring Jawahar’s scowls. She brings some meat up to the werewolf cub, then, closing the door behind her, places the rest on a plate outside her door for the space whale to find at its leisure, wherever it is.

To her surprise, she finds the alien cat back down in the main hallway, rubbing up against the guardsman, purring. The soldier looks up. “You allow cats here too? What kind of hospital is this?”

“Like I said, this isn’t always used as a hospital, this is just an unexpected outbreak.” She looks down at the space whale. “Darling, there is food for you upstairs outside my room.” The space whale mews once bolts up the stairs, tail high.

The soldier stares at her suspiciously but she smiles disarmingly. “Have any of our…patients…arrived yet?”

“No, I should check in with base.”

Georgia nods and backs down the hall awkwardly. “Okay, well, I’ll just go and check on our facilities, then….” She ducks into a stairwell taking her down to the exsanguination chambers, where she finds Wolfgang setting up cots in a stone-walled room.

(Jim: “How much blood is on the walls?”
Jason: “Oh, they’re stained red.”
Kara: “Dammit, can they be cleaned?”
Jason: “Do you have any idea how hard it is to get blood out of things?”
Kara: *long, flat glare* “…YES.”)

Georgia stares at the walls and sighs. She’s learning life lessons on leadership all over the place tonight. “Wolfgang, change of plans, we are going to take our patients to the ghoul barracks instead.”

Wolfgang stops, staring at the dozens and dozens of cots he just finished setting up, and whimpers.

“Oh, no, the barracks already have beds, so you can leave the cots here. But move all the medical supplies, and please find new not-bloodstained sheets.” She scans the gore-stained room again. “And it’s probably a good thing that you just swept the place.”

(Chris: *breathless with laughter* “If you love what I just sent your way, you’re going to love what I send your way next even more!”)

#

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

I pull up and park on the road in front of the museum. The concourse is lit, but deserted, the museum deceptively quiet. I leave Vera and my remaining cache of Panzerfauste in the back of the El Camino, tucked under tarp, but keep Glitch in my belt and walk up the wide stairs to the front doors. Modernist geometric patterns of light and shadow fill the high, glass-walled interior, but there’s no sign of anyone inside. The Tyrannosaur skeleton in the foyer leers at me, perhaps remembering the last time I was here and laughing at my foolishness to return.

(Me: *takes a long, slurping drink of her wine* “…Alright, let’s do this!”)

One of the doors is unlocked. I open it and go inside.

The footsteps of my boots echo off the polished concrete floor as I pace through the ground floor of the museum. Most of the exhibits are lit, the digital ones active, but there’s no people, and no guards. As I pass the entrance to the planetarium, though, I see that the door is propped open, a dark maw on the far side of the open-air shark tank. After a moment’s hesitation, I cross the walkway and go inside.

The planetarium is cool and still, all sound muted by the terraced rows of stadium seating and the curved screen overhead. The dome is pale, lit in soft yellows and orange, like the inside of an egg.

But my eye is drawn to the two figures in the room. Charles is here, across from me on the entry-level floor, in white-suited albino-pale, human form, watching me with reptilian patience. But halfway up the rows, toward the middle of the room, sits another man. Dr. Everton. He is watching me in equal silence, but with a lot more tension.

“Well,” Charles drawls, “I didn’t expect to ever see you again. Certainly not here, certainly not willingly.”

“Well, you know, interesting times.” I shrug and glance up. “I wasn’t aware you had the acquaintance of the doctor.”

“I have the acquaintance of a good many people. A necessity, you see, as I now seem to be the sole custodian of the park, and its immediate environs.” Charles tilts his head. “But then that wouldn’t be your doing now would it?”

“No, I just work here.”

“That’s right, you do just work here. You don’t kill werewolves, or anything like that.”

I glare at him a moment, then slowly make my way up the dizzingly-steep stairs. I sit down in Everton’r row, though a few seats away. Everton watches me silently. His hand is gripping his cane very tightly.

I lean back in my chair, kicking my feet up on the row below. “Well, I was hoping to discuss an item of interest to the larger academic community.”

Charles gestures elegantly. “Produce the item and perhaps I’ll deign discuss it.”

I take a breath. “Well, that’s the thing. We seem to have run into some difficulties on our way here.”

A moment of silence. “That had best be a euphemism,” Charles says, voice echoing in the silent room.

I stare evenly back. “I really wish it was.”

He starts pacing the front of the room slowly, though he keeps his cool gaze on me. “You drove all the way out here and walked into my museum just to tell me you don’t have the object you told me you were going to bring? Or were you lying to me initially, I wonder, telling me what you thought I wanted to hear?”

“I can tell you what you don’t want to hear.”

“Oh really? I wonder, is it going to be a threat?”

I sprawl my arms across the seat backs, affecting as much non-chalance as possible. “I can tell you very specifically some werewolves seem to have decided it was in their interest to take the item off of me before I could bring it to you. Not long after, a bunch of assholes which I think go by the name of Settites jumped me. Which is why I’m a little late, I apologize for not calling ahead.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Everton shift in his chair, but I don’t remove my gaze from Charles’. The dragon’s human face is unreadable, but the Beast lurking inside me starts to twist uncomfortably under his stare. “One thing at a time,” Charles says softly. “You don’t have my item because a group of werewolves took it off you? And here I thought you had so many solutions to werewolves.”

Arms still sprawled, I shrug. “These weren’t the type that needed solving.”

“And yet you stand here, empty handed? Or…not, not entirely empty….” His eyes track down my body and I tense, fearing he’s going to ask for some other sort of compensation, but then I realize he’s staring at Glitch. “I recognize that blade….” he hisses, hungrily. “That’s an orichalcum sword, isn’t it? Now why in the world would you have something like that?”

I take another breath to keep my cool. “This? I liberated from the custody of the local Tremere.”

“Yes, the Tremere, and that new Regent of theirs. A woman, what was her name?”

I hesitate as I realize what he’s said. “…Wait, Georgia? Is head of the Tremere?” Man, when was the last time I talked to her—

“That’s the one. You liberated that from her, cause you assumed your hands were better for it?”

I briefly contemplate making a joke about “hands” and “swordplay” but decide to pass. “Well, apparently they are, since I’ve put it to good use since.”

“By killing werewolves.”

“By killing Talons,” I respond flatly. From what I understand, Charles is no fan of the werewolves, so he must be even less of a fan of those assholes.

He stops pacing. “Talons, as I understand, are werewolves.”

“Yeah, but they’re not exactly the fun kind.”

(Jim: “They’re kinda the Brujah of werewolves.”
Me: “Shut up!”)

Charles folds his hands in front of him. “So let me recapitulate. You took that sword from the Tremere and decided you would come to me and tell me that you had put it to better use by taking it out into the countryside and murdering shapeshifters. That about the long and the short of it?”

I glare. “No, I came here to discuss the statue.”

“Yes, and now you say the Garou have it?” He paces again. “Given that the Garou are the only things I know of more impulsive than you, thats an interesting handoff. Which Garou precisely?”

“This jackass named Samir.  Seemed to have sort of a jackal-look about him.”

Charles stops. “A Strider?”

“Sure.” First I’ve heard that word. I shrug and glare at him over folded arms.

He shakes his head slowly. “You don’t know a lot about the people you’re talking to, do you?”

“The werewolves don’t seem to like talking to me. I mostly just have the one.”

“Yes, the Glasswalker,” he sighs. I tense at his tone. “The one who deals with undead monstrosities. Interesting. Is she associated with this Samir?”

“They seem to be in the same pack,” I mutter.

“So this is a packful of werewolves who like to dance with the Wyrm?”

“I like to think of it more as dancing with the wolves.”

He tosses an askance look. “Yes, well, your predilections have never been in question. So, what is it you would have me do then? Go running out to where-ever these wolves are, bellow and heave and ho, huff and puff and blow their houses down?”

I tense. Actually, kinda, yeah, but I didn’t expect him to realize it. I affect an easy sprawl again to hide my surprise. “I think that you being the most esteemed curator in the Bay, you’re the one to make the choices on these items of antiquity. I simply didn’t want to neglect our appointment.”

“Even though you don’t have the item to bring me.”

“I believed I had information that would be equally valuable.”

“Yes, let’s get back to that information, you said you were attacked by Settites? My understanding, limited as it is, is that thats an occupational hazard for your kind.”

Damn. The way everyone else has been responding to news of these fuckers, I was hoping to touch a nerve with him too. “Really, cause what I hear, Settites haven’t been seen in the area for ages.”

“Not to my knowledge, no, but you are vampires, you do scurry about. When the cats away the mice will play.”

“I thought that you were the cat,” I say flatly.

He laughs, the sound echoing strangely in the flat air of the room. “I’m the exterminator. So then, you want me to go find these werewolves and beat them to a pulp?”

I shrug dramatically, trying to keep a bored expression on my face. “I want you to do whatever you feel you need to do.”

“Well what I feel I am needed to do is go hassle the werewolves that took what was yours.”

“You mean, what was promised to you.”

“Yes.” He’s silent a moment before continuing. “Maybe I will have a little word with these werewolves who are so free to associate with the Wyrm. But what of these Settites? All these bloodsuckers, its so hard to keep track of them all, with their plots and schemes. Why did you feel it so important I know about them, I wonder?”

“Because everyone else seems to have their panties in a twist with them being in town, I assumed you would be displeased as well.”

“Well, I don’t think these Settites are any of my concern. Unless you’re here to warn me that theyre about to lay waste to my museum.”

“I don’t know what they’re here for, I just ran into them on my way here.”

You escaped, clearly they cant be that bad.”

I scowl. “They escaped through the interference of Theo Bell and a couple others.”

Teeth flash in a smile. “Ah yes, the Justicar. I’ve been wondering, maybe you can help me figure something out. Is there a particular reason I shouldn’t eat the Justicar?”

(Me: “Umm…because he’s so pretty?”)

My stomach crawls at the thought but I keep my cool. “I don’t know, guy like that seems to be made of mostly anger and frustration, I imagine he tastes pretty bitter.”

“Well none of you taste very good, but sometimes medicine doesn’t taste good.” He chuckles, the sound sending the hair on my neck rising. I glance over at Everton. He’s still motionless, for all intents and purposes watching us with academic interest, but his grip on his cane hasn’t eased.

“Something the matter?” Charles croons.

“Well, no disrespect to those present, but I’m a little taken aback that you run around making such bold claims against ‘leeches,’” I lift my hands in air-quotes, “Yet here you are sitting in the same room as one.”

Two, by my count. But yes. A rather fascinating one, this one. Who knew we had gained so many scholars in town. He wanted to discuss a few matters with me, I should think, but I wanted to see what you had to offer first. I had anticipated you bringing me an artifact.”

“Well, this artifact was in his possession, so perhaps you should ask him why he didn’t bring it to you first.” As soon as the words leave my mouth, I realize it sounds like I’m throwing Everton under the bus, but he doesn’t react externally.

Charles smiles. “Oh, I did. But the answer is quite obvious. You see, he was afraid I would eat him.”

His grin looks suddenly sharper. “…And yet he’s here on his own volition?” I ask carefully.

“In part.”

I glance at Everton again. He’s still calm, but his eyes watch Claude with the intensity of a mouse in a snake pit.

“Tell you what,” Charles says, pacing again. “I’m going to give you the opportunity to do something that you should be thrilled to do. To prove to me that you are actually useful to have alive. You see I don’t much care for the werewolves, but there’s a long distance between not much caring for them and wanting to see them devoured by leeches. You understand this difference? Or are you just some block of dead meat with a sword in your hand?”

I glare and lean back. “Go on.”

“All these Talons you’ve butchered. Id like to know more about why.”

I snort. “I’d like to more about why too! As in, why they were running around Marin in the first place!”

“Well running around the woods is what werewolves do,” Charles says patronizingly.

“Yeah, except they’ve been talking to vampires up there and not killing them, which seems to be totally against their MO.”

The dragon tenses. “…They what?”

Realizing I’ve finally found a nerve, I grin and gesture vaugely. “Some guy, winery owner, Jean. Frenchman. Talons roughed him up, didn’t kill him, and used him to lay a trap for us.”

Charles is quiet a moment. “Jean…of Val du Rhone Vineyards?”

Now I pause. “Yeah, actually.”

“I see. The Talons talked to him and didn’t kill him?”

“Yes.”

He paces a moment. “You’re sure of this?”

“Well he was still there, and they were on site till they jumped us, which is why we had to axe them. I don’t know what they were doing, now they’re in pieces all over his property.”

His head snaps around to me suddenly and I freeze, still as Everton. “Is it necessary for me to remind you for the consequences of lying to me?” he says sharply.

I take a breath. “I have not lied to you from the moment I stepped in this building.”

(Jason: “…I’m trying to think back here, did you?”
Me: “Nope. I mean, I didn’t go to Jim-levels of truth-obfuscation.”
Jim: “Would I obfuscate the truth!? Slander!”)

Charles stares up a long moment, then nods. “Tell you what. Wait here awhile, I’ll be back. I have a call to make.” With that he leaves, closing the ground-level door behind him.

Everton immediatly slumps in his chair. I lean over. “What the hell you doing here!?” I hiss.

“It’s a very long story that I’m not certain we have the time for at the moment. What in the world possessed you to come here?”

“He invited me and I didn’t think it would be very polite to say no!”

“If I invited you to jump off the golden gate bridge at sunup, would you do so?”

“Well at sunup I’d be on fire, so jumping into the bay would probably help.”

He stares a long moment. “…Everytime I think there’s hope for your clan….” He shakes his head. “Were you telling the truth before? About Settites and the like?”

“Yes! It literally just happened! They jumped me and Helgi’s men—“

Everton blusters. “They attacked Helgi Isarnbjorn?! What in gods name would possess them to do such a thing!?”

I don’t know!

“Well, how many of them did Helgi leave alive?”

I meet his eyes. “Helgi was blown up, on what was probably a boat full of Semtex.”

Everton snorts and shifts his cane. “Helgi Isarnbjorn is dead? At the hands of Settites? Poppycock!”

“Well, it wasn’t fucking Henry Morgan cause his boat never came in!”

Everton shakes his head, staring up at the pale abyss of the dome. “This doesn’t make any sense. A great many things don’t make any sense.”

I slump back in my chair. “Tell me about it. Definitely don’t like how that asshole was looking at my sword, though.”

Everton eyes me. “You walked in here with an orichalcum blade and didn’t think a dragon was going to get covetous about it?”

“He’s seen it before!”

“Yes, but he was a bit distracted, I’d wager.” Everton glances down at the door then leans over, creaking the folding stadium seats. “You do realize you’re not walking out of here with that. If you’re walking out at all.”

The squeal of the door opening draws our gaze down. “We’ll see about that,” I mutter darkly.

END OF NIGHT

***

SPECIAL EPILOGUE

So I cut off the writeup here because it was the best dramatic place to do so, but in the recorded game, Tom and Everton had a bit more discussion that was ultimately inconsequential but is still worth a listen.

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