Jason: “As you’re staring at him, you notice Claude never blinks.”
Me: “Yeah…sounds about right….”
Jim: “Tom doesn’t have to blink either!”
Me: “That’s true, I don’t have to, but I do out of habit. Also for emphatic effect, because dammit, it is so hard to write vampires when they don’t have heartbeats, they don’t sweat, they don’t breathe, so finally I’m like fuck it, they blink and breathe habitually, because I need something to indicate emotion!”
THE OAKLAND DOCKS
Now dressed in a mis-matched ensemble of biker leathers and half a robe, Anstis putters around looking for things he may have dropped during the battle, specifically his scrying rocks and the journal and surgical kit he recovered from Carlos’s old hideout. He finds the kit washed up on the launch ramp below the main dock, but the journal and all the rocks appear to be gone.
He grumbles and starts gathering new rocks, though he’ll have to consecrate them later.
(Jason: “Does it have to be Grace Cathedral or can it be any church?”
Jim: “Any church.”
Jason: “Oh, then you should go back to St. Ignatius!”
Jim: “ 😐 ”)
Bell is still busy wrangling the national guardsmen and spinning the story for the news crews, so while he’s distracted, Anstis climbs into one of the Pyramid towncars and heads back to the city.
Rather than go all the way back to the Pyramid, though, he asks to be dropped off downtown. He wanders the streets of the Financial District till he finds a business-man hurrying along the sidewalk, either leaving very late or going in very early.
Anstis swagger up to him and meets his eye. “You will acquire for me a fine set of tailored clothing, ones which King George himself would have been proud to wear. And some grand hats.”
The man stares, stupefied.
Anstis leans forward. “Did I stutter?”
“Where the hell am I going to find that?” the man protests nervously.
“You look resourceful, I’m sure you’ll figure it out. You may deliver them to this location, in two nights time.” Anstis describes how to reach the transport-circle in the hidden bunker at Fort Funston. The man nods slowly as he wanders off.
A national guard patrol passes then, eyeing Anstis suspiciously, but Anstis ignores them, striding boldly down the street in his dirty mis-matched clothes. The soldiers, eventually deciding that he must just be a crazy homeless person, drive off. Anstis spends the next hour pulling aside two more random people on the street and giving them the same shopping instructions.
Once that’s completed, he makes his way toward Grace Cathedral. Just like before, he parrot-burglarizes his way in and flies down to the baptismal font to inscribe and consecrate his new stash of rocks. This batch has significantly more than his last.
When that’s done, he flies back to the Fort Funston circle and teleports to the Twilight’s Fortune to sleep the day, somewhere deep in the Pacific, on steady passage to India.
Rabenholz strides along the waterfront, on his way toward the Ferry Building, which is where he’s determined Jalut is hiding. On his way, alone in the night air, he ponders the effectiveness and usefulness of the new Tremere Regent.
(Chris: “Has Georgia shared her vision for the Tremere with me?”
Jason: “No. Not directly. Which is good, cause her vision for the Tremere is the extinction of 90% of it.”
Me: “That’s alright, they’ll probably be volunteers.”)
As he passes an alley between two dockside warehouses, he suddenly hears the sound of someone tapping on the side of a dumpster, a sharp deliberate sound. He stops and peers into the shadows. “Is someone back there?”
A scuffle, then a large rat runs out of the alley and stops in front of him. It peers up and him and scampers back into the shadows. Suspecting this is more than a normal rat, Rabenholz follows.
The end of the alley drops off into the bay, at the end of the pier. A figure is leaning against a dumpster there, hunched in a stained brown coat, a fedora pulled low over his face. The rat runs up, climbs the coat, and perches on his shoulder, glaring at Rabenholz with red eyes. The figure looks up as Rabenholz approaches. Though the shadows, he can see that the man is very clearly a Nosferatu.
Rabenholz stops a safe distance away. “Good evening, I hope I’m not intruding.”
“You don’t think id bring you down here if you were intruding, do you?” The man looks him over, twisted face twisting further. “You’re that new Ventrue in town, right? Raven-holes, or some Kraut name.”
“You do the reputation of your clan credit. Augustus von Rabenholz, at your service.” Rabenholz nods, but does not extend his hand.
The Nosferatu doesn’t appear to take offense. He steps away from the shadows. “Well, I’m Abelard, and I’m here to talk about something. Something you might find interesting. See a little bird told me you were hanging out with the Tremere.”
“I am hanging out with everyone so far.”
“Really. Tremere don’t just let anybody into their little mansion over there, on the hill.” Abelard jerks his head to the west. “Our kind don’t get invited to the fancy parties.”
“Have you spoken with the current Regent? I suspect she has a more all-inclusive policy than her predecessor.”
“Current Regent’s dead, and as for whatever neonate is running the Chantry, she can call herself the caliph of Bagdad for all I care, she ain’t no Regent.” Abelard looks out of the alley, off the end of the pier. The Alcatraz lighthouse blinks in the distance. “Seen a lot of guys rise and fall in this city. Seen a lot of strange things.” He turns back, scowling. I was hoping you might be of help in this regard. See, we got a lot of problems around here, especially recently, but we got one in particular and it would be nice if some of you aristocrats got off your asses to do something about it.”
Rabenholz gestures for him to continue, his own expression carefully blank.
“We got some gargoyle problems in this city, maybe you’ve heard about?”
Rabnholz’s eyes narrow. “Large blue one?”
Abelard hesitates. “Blue one? …Oh, him. No, I don’t mean him. See, he’s a loose canon, probably an autarkis, but not what I was talking about. We keep to our place, he keeps to his.”
Rabenholz nods, filing that information away. “In that case, I am uninformed.”
“Someone has been making gargoyles,” Abelard hisses, “Been making them out of me and mine, if you get my drift. There aren’t that many Fiends in town, and Gangrel, well, who knows where you get them. So somebody decided it was time to start harvesting us, cause who’d notice a few sewer rats gone missing, right?” He reaches up to stroke the rat on his shoulder. “Except we notice everything. That little Regent there, or whatever she calls herself, she was going to help us deal with that problem, but the problem got a little bigger than her paygrade, if you know what I mean.”
Abelard kicks at the overflowed trash on the ground, uncovering a mouldy hunk of sourdough breadbowl. He holds it up for the rat as he continues. “We need a message sent to someone in particularly high authority. Word has it, the people who were making gargoyles are all dead. Thats all well and good, but nobody shows up with an industrial strength gargoyle factory just because they just dreamed it up. Somebody really big signed off on this, and we’re not happy about that.” He glances sharply at Rabenholz. “And when I say we, I’d like you to assume I speak for a whole hell of a lot of us. We talk, you know, us rats, between the cities. And we’re really hoping that the leadership of the Camarilla will want to take a hand in solving this little problem. Before we’re forced to resolve it ourselves, if you know what I mean.” A chunk of bread crumbles in his fist.
Rabenholz, still standing stoically with cane braced before him, nods. “I do. Have you already brought Mr. Bell into the loop?”
“Bell’s a little busy recently. See he thinks the gargoyles are all dead, it’s time to move on. Well, that’s great for him, he’s not the one getting dragged out of the sewers and getting thrown in a vat. And Bell’s a Brujah. Justicar or not, he’s the guy they use to throw at people they want gone. He’s not a political type, he doesn’t have anybody’s ear.” Abelard grins a broken grin. “But a big ten-dollar name like Augustus von Rabenholz, well, now that sounds like someone who can get things done.”
The rat finishes nibbling and sits back to clean itself. Abelard throws the rest of the bread off the pier. “The Nosferatu in San Francisco have been loyal to the Camarilla since the Gold Rush. We’ve done our part. We’re not terribly interested in excuses coming out of New York anymore. Somebody needs to make the powers-that-be understand that this cant be tolerated and we want heads. Big heads, not some piddy-little Regent who gets himself torn to pieces. Not some wannabe replacement neonate that the Seattle group sends down to replace him. And if we don’t get those real heads, then we’ll go taking them, cause I guarantee we can find out whose heads are responsible.” Abelard glares, quivering with tension, then slowly relaxes back into his horrid smile, wiping his hands off on his dirty coat. “Now, my hope was that an upstanding Camarillian like yourself would wish to do everything he could to put this matter to justice.”
Rabenholz meets his gaze. “You’re quite right,” he says cooly.
“Well, I’m glad I judged my Cainite right.” Abelard leans back against the dumpster. “So. Who is it you know who can help with this little problem of ours?”
“At the moment the list is thin, but thickening by the night. I’ve been out of the world awhile, you see.”
“Of course. But like I said, thats a high-class name you got there. Seems to me Venture with fancy names tend to hang out with other ones who have the same. Maybe know some other Germans. Some Vons, or D’s, or Lord so-and-so’s.”
“Abelard your clan is recognized with full authority by the Camarilla, and I assure you, any right-minded Ventrue, or otherwise, in this city agrees wholeheartedly.”
“Well the problem is that right-minded Ventrue in this city have been kinda thin on the ground, last couple of months,” Abelard coos, stroking the rat again. “At some point were going to take matters into our own hands, and when we do, that little pretty Chantry of your neonate’s? We’re going to turn that place into a BBQ pit, and then were going to go to Seattle and Los Angeles and San Diego and Salt Lake and Denver and all the rest of the western Chantries until we find what were looking for.”
Silence falls a moment on the alley. “I will do my best to see that it doesn’t come to that,” Rabenholz says carefully.
“Glad to hear.” Abelard smiles, then spreads his arms. “Now, I’d hate to be inhospitable, being as how you’ve been so polite to have a chat with someone looks like me. What are you doing around here? What can I help you with?”
Rabenholz shifts his weight, cape rustling around him. “I’m actually looking to assemble a staff. I don’t suppose you know of any particularly talented and motivated hospitality experts in the city?”
Abelard tsks. “Hospitality ain’t really my business. Most of the hotels don’t really want me around. We can get you things, but hotel workers aren’t exactly our speciality. I’d rather assume they were yours. Or the Toreadors, if there’s any left.”
“Quite. I don’t believe I’ve met one since I’ve arrived here.”
Abelard waves dismissively. “There’s a couple running around. Paul Stewart is a big one, down the Peninsula. Some tech-magnate, thinks he’s the second coming of Steve Jobs or Jesus.”
“Yes, his name keeps coming up doesn’t it,” Rabenholz says, voice carefully flat. “Well perhaps a less particular item. Where would one find a firearms dealer this hour?”
Abelard chuckles, a rattling sound like small teeth gnawing at bones. “Well, this is something I can help you with.” He opens his coat, revealing a selection of semi-automatics and even an Uzi, strapped to the inside. “And I wont even charge you state taxes.”
Rabenholz smiles thinly. “Truly it’s my lucky night.”
CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
Charles steps back into the planetarium. Though he’s still in human form, and on the first level, his presence fills the entire domed room. His red eyes flick to me, but before he can speak, I blurt out, “Were you calling someone about the statue?”
He glares. “Maybe. It may be time to remind my canine brethren exactly what the pecking order is around here. Particularly this Samir you speak of. I think he and I may want to have a word. Or, rather, I want. But then, you will find, as will he, that it’s not a good idea to deny me the least thing. Particularly in my own house.”
I glance at Everton. He watches me owlishly, thin-lipped. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean, sir,” I say to Charles.
“Oh, I think you might. I know you’re a vampire but I don’t think they’ve addled your brains that much. You see I’m getting a little tired of all these vampires scurrying about, and I’m starting to think, shouldn’t I start somewhere by cleaning them up? So what do you think…Lytton, it was? Where should I start?”
I tense. “Um, well, you already did a pretty good job on the Chantry.”
“Ah the Chantry, yes,” Charles sighs, smiling. “See I’m a reasonable person, you must agree. After all, you’re not dead yet. And you’re right, I did do a number on the Chantry, and that sword smells so much like it.” He takes a long inhale, wafting air toward his face. “It’s a sort-of medicinal scent, not sure how to describe it in your terms. Clinical, cold. Chemical. Quite distinct.”
Cold and chemical like the feeling settling in my stomach. My eyes dart around. Perhaps if I can distract him for long enough I can sneak out of here. “Well…seems to me that something like this needs proper containment.
“What could possibly be more secure than my vaults?”
I affect a nonchalant shrug. “I’m just saying, I cant just hand it to you, you need to have the proper receptacle. Cause I know you’re not going to use it, you don’t need it. You’re gonna be storing it, you’d better get a decent crate. You know, one of your good ones, from down below.”
He grins mockingly. “And when I leave to go get it, thats when you run?”
Dammit. I gesture down at myself, hoping its clear enough through my shredded clothes that my last leg-day was decades ago. “Do I look like a man that does a lot of running?”
“Do I look like I was hatched yesterday?”
“No, I believe it was fifteen years ago, is that right?”
His smile evaporates like a snowflake in flame. “Oh a connoisseur, are we? Yes, most vampires are my elders, but that doesn’t seem to matter all that much. You’re right, of course, I do need a proper receptacle for a blade that shining. A blade capable turning into anything necessary.” His face drops further. “Even gold.”
I shift in my seat. “Yeah, uh, I’m sorry about that…and about the fish—“
(Jim: *sadly* “What did you do to the fish?”
Me: “It was when I was in the alligator pit, I sliced my way through the glass to get out and all the fish came flowing out too.”
Jim: “You killed the fish? What kind of an asshole are you!?”
Me: “I didn’t want to! I forgot they were there until they got sucked out—“
Chris: “Tom is enemy of fishes and fluffs.”
Chris: “Tom kills all the fishes and fluffs in all the world. He’s two aquariums down, he has 184 to go.”
Me: *is about to protest, stops* “…OH my GOD! It IS two aquariums!!!”)
“Oh I doubt that very seriously,” Charles chastises. “So why don’t we go back downstairs and I find a nice receptacle. Cause you see, I can always just mummify you and use you as the receptacle.” He steps forward, grin creeping back across his face.
(Jason: “As you’re staring at him, you notice Claude never blinks.”
Me: “Yeah…sounds about right….”
Jim: “Tom doesn’t have to blink either!”
Me: “That’s true, I don’t have to, but I do out of habit. Also for emphatic effect, because dammit, it is so hard to write vampires when they don’t have heartbeats, they don’t sweat, they don’t breathe, so finally I’m like fuck it, they blink and breathe habitually, because I need something to indicate emotion!”)
Charles lifts a hand, as if something as just occurred to him. “I’ll tell you what. We’ll make a little bargain. You hand that over and maybe I’ll do this thing you’re desperately trying to pretend is not in your interests for me to do. Maybe I will make the werewolves hand over what they’ve taken.”
I spread my arms. “Honestly, I don’t care either way! I just don’t want these Talons to go tearing up the city, like they did Jean’s place, looking for it.”
Charles chuckles. “Jean considers himself a patron of the arts, but he has no idea what he’s dealing with.”
“Yeah I got that impression,” I mutter. “Also Leeland was a little surprised to hear about all this.”
Charles freezes. “…Leeland?”
Now I freeze, mind racing. Leeland had told me about his tea parties with Charles, but he didn’t know Charles was a dragon. Oh, shit, did the ignorance go both ways—?
“…From Berkeley?” Charles continues, a strange vulnerability to his voice.
I clear my throat and force myself to sprawl nonchalantly. “Yeah, I was just at his house, he’s the one who gave me the statue—“
“Why were you at Leeland’s house?” He steps forward. “What does Leeland have to do with any of this?” he demands.
“He’s…one of the deans, so that’s how I got into the archaeology department….”
“What is he to your kind?” Charles voice fills the room. I take a slow glance at Everton. He’s watching me silently, but I get the sense he would rather be facepalming.
(Me: “Oh my god, I totally just outed them to each other.”)
My mind races for neutral ways to describe the situation. “He’s…trying to maintain his territory in the East Bay and he keeps getting pulled into this all this shit whether he likes it or not—“
“His…territory!?” Charles roars.
I stop. Oh. Shit.
Charles stares up at me, then suddenly looks away. “…I see,” he whispers, the soft sound almost as jarring as his yells.
For a moment, in the silence and the slope of his shoulders, I see him in a different light: a creature with the wisdom of ages but the experience of one grown up alone, isolated from his surroundings by his intelligence as much as his nature, spending his nights and days stalking amongst lesser beings. Leeland may be a tool but he is also, at heart, an academic, and one with an institution of his own to run. Though he and Charles shroud themselves with secrecy, perhaps they had seen these shared interests in each other. I suddenly envision their tea parties not as occasions for douchey political scheming, but as just two men quietly sharing their time together, as colleagues and equals.
And I had just ruined it.
Charles turns back to me. There’s a new hardness in his gaze, forcing me back in my seat. “You want the Talons to stop running around blowing things up and killing your associates? Why should I stop them?”
“Cause they’re killing everybody, including regular humans up in Marin—“
“They’re Talons, thats what they do. They’re fanatics. Anti-human fanatics. My teaching them a lesson won’t change that.” He sneers. “Besides, for every human they kill they seem inconvenience vampires plenty. Why should I care what they decide to do in Napa?”
“Well it’s only a short hop from there to tearing apart the city.” I pause. “I mean, your city.”
He laughs meanly. “Talons in a city, right.”
“They were in Lake Merced! They chased me down there!”
“Oh I bleed for you, I do.” He stalks forward again, gripping the chair-backs of the first row. “Poor little vampire has wolves after him and has to run to the big bad dragon. I’m no fan of the Talons or of werewolves in general, but they are alive. You, on the other hand, are an undead thing animated by the Wyrm and sent forth to despoil and suck the life out of everything you touch. I don’t need to like the Talons to respect what they do. And if they should choose to come into this city and intervene in my affairs, then ill slap them so hard they’ll wake up in China. So I don’t see a particular need to run around trying to stop them from killing your kind. Lord knows theres few enough werewolves left to do it.”
The words sting, but I desperately try to scrape together the last of my bravado, “If you’re not interested in the statue, then I don’t know what to tell you. I came here as a courtesy to try and develop some sort of professional rapport between us but obviously I was mistaken.”
Charles sneers again. “Professional rapport? You came here to throw me at some inconvenient problem you couldn’t kill yourself.”
(Me: “…You know what I just realized? This was my first attempt to try and manipulate people and I decided to start with the fucking. dragon.”)
“You want to build a rapport with, what is it now, three Garou dead on your hands?” His gaze scrapes across me. “I can see it all over you. And most of them done with that wonderful sword. You walk in here and want me to believe your intentions are honorable? Hand the sword over.”
He holds out a hand. I know it’s been coming to this, but still, I try to stall, gripping Glitch’s hilt protectively. “Right now this is the only thing keeping me alive—“
“No, my reluctance to slaughter you in the middle of my planetarium and present such an annoying problem for my janitors is the only thing keeping you alive.” His sneer fades into a mean smile. He takes a slow breath…and blows a smoke ring.
A shiver darts down my back. I glance at Everton. He shifts in his chair and sighs. “Mr Lytton,” he says softly, “There are times when it may be advisable to know when to fold.”
I turn back to Charles, watching me from almost twenty feet below but feeling like he’s looming over me. I close my eyes, take a long, slow breath—
—Before I’ve exhaled, I am halfway up the staircase, scrambling toward the exit doors at the top of the room.
I crash through, spilling out onto the catwalk leading high over the main museum. Without a thought, I vault over the railing, dropping almost three stories down to the concrete floor, roll, and come up running for the front doors. The door I entered through is locked, but I draw Glitch and slide my way through in a cascade of safety glass.
My sprint continues down the wide steps and across the concourse to my car, still thankfully where I left it, expecting at any moment to feel fire bearing down on my back. I dive in and urge the El Camino to life, peeling out onto the road in a squeal of rubber. The museum looks quiet, but I don’t slow as I roar out onto MLK Drive. Charles rarely leaves the park, so if I can get out of his territory I’ll probably be alright, it’s not that far to Lincoln Drive at the edge of the botanic gardens—
“Interesting choice of vehicle,” Charles Steinhart says suddenly, in the seat right beside me.
“JESUS CHRIST!!!!” My arms spasm in terror, jerking the wheel, and I lose control, skidding off the fog-slicked road, through the main gates to the garden. The El Camino stumbles down the hill, still at speed and close to overturning, then finally slams into a pine tree planted in the middle of the lawn.
Steam and the smell of burnt rubber wash over me, bringing me out of my daze, and I grope for the door, spilling out onto hands and knees. I hear the other door open and close and look up to see Charles approaching from the far side of the car, delicately brushing at his suit. There isn’t even a wrinkle in it.
He stands over me, staring down dispassionately. “They let you have a license?”
Coughing under a collapsed lung, I climb back to my feet. “I’m better on motorcycles.”
He walks to the back of the car and flips up the tarp, revealing Vera and the Panzerfäuste. “You wanna tell me what you were planning on doing with all of this? Cause I’ve been thinking of opening a military history wing, perhaps in the Legion of Honor.” He reaches in to pick up one of the rockets. “And these are such lovely period pieces. Aren’t they?” He turns and levels it at me.
I freeze. “Yeah, they’re, ah…my contingency plans.”
“I remember something happened in the North Bay, not long ago. Someone blew a number of soldiers to pieces. With rockets.”
A long moment hangs, the only noise a distant set of sprinklers. Charles stares at me, half-crouched in front of him in the grass. “That glass door was expensive, you know,” he says finally.
Slowly, I rise all the way up, keeping my hands visible. “I know some people who work with glass. Granted they mostly do dildos, but they can probably give you a good rate.”
Another silence, this one more irritated than the last. His fingers drum on the metal tube. He opens his mouth to say something, but before he can, rock music blares from my pocket. I grab instinctively for my phone, pulling it out to peer at the screen. It’s Sophia. “Do you mind if I take this?” Charles’ eyes narrow to slits but he doesn’t protest as I lift the phone to my ear.
“Tom?” Sophia greets me nervously.
“Yeaaah, girl, what’s up?” I reply, with forced cheeriness.
“Not much, I just wanted to check in. I kinda noticed your GPS, it says you’re in the park?”
“Yeah, I’m actually in the botanic gardens.”
“What are you doing there?”
“Is everything alright? What happened with the Oakland thing?”
Crap, I did forget to call her after that. “Oh, nooo…. So, there’s some Settites in town. You should probably tell Samir.”
She gasps. “Oh no, Settites? Really!? On top of everything else?” She groans and I hear the sound of frantic one-handed typing at a keyboard. “Ok, well, be careful in the park there, Tom. Even without us around, there’s nasty stuff out there.”
Charles hasn’t moved through all this, his arm holding the rocket rock-steady, steam from the El Camino’s engine writing around him like smoke. “…Oh, yeah, I know,” I say carefully.
She hesitates, obviously picking up on the cagey tone to my voice. “…Tom, is everything ok?”
“Everything’s fine! Don’t come out here! Have a good night, bye!” I hang up, shove the phone away quickly, and put both hands back in the air.
There’s a soft click as his finger flicks against the trigger. “I’ll make this simple because I have things to do. Would you like to walk away from this situation?”
“Then you do so unarmed.”
I hesitate. “Of the sword?”
He glances at the El Camino and smirks. “Well it was going to be just the sword, but look at all these lovely weapons now. Consider it a down-payment on my forbearance.”
I glare at him a long moment but it’s clear the game is over. I take a last look at Vera in the back of the car, then slide Glitch from my belt and jam it tip-down into the soil in front of him. It feels slightly heavier as I let go, but nothing else. Pity, I half expected it to turn into RoundUp or something.
Charles smiles and gestures me away with a flick of the rocket. Without another word, I turn and stalk up the hill out of the gardens, on foot.
Nothing stops me as I leave the park, stepping from the trees and crossing into the quiet commercial neighborhood of the Inner Sunset. I walk past closed restaurants and high-end boutiques, but luckily no one is around to see my beaten, broken self. The N-line is just arriving at its stop a few blocks in, so I climb in, blinking at the glaring lighting, and make my way toward the back. A couple punk-looking kids eye my filthy, shredded leathers as I pass, but I ignore them, slouching into a seat a few rows behind.
The doors whisk closed and the train pulls away. I sit quietly a moment, then pull out my phone to call Slayer.
“Hey man, what’s up?” he answers nervously.
“Hey, you at the new Bayshore house?”
“Yeah. ‘Cept wait, I was wrong, it’s in Bayview.”
I groan. “Ah shit, it’s not near Hunter’s Point, is it?”
“Not really, but it’s not far. Why?”
My other hand clenches to a fist. “Because we do not. Go. To Hunter’s Point.”
(Me: “I had. A bad. Experience.”)
“Man there ain’t shit in Hunter’s point!” Slayer protests.
“Yeah, not anymore.” Cause Carlos is dead and hopefully everything he ever touched has burned to the ground. “Anyway, run down what you got there. You took ten of the Panzerfauste, right? You’ve got the M-16, you’ve got the SAW, and you got a couple shotguns?”
The punk kids turn slowly to look at me. I meet their gaze evenly. They look away quickly.
“Yeah, I got all it man, why?”
“Cause I’m coming round and loading up, asap.” I watch as the kids quietly, meekly, get up and start making their way to the front of the train. “Also where did you park the Vespa?”
“In the Tenderloin, about a block from your old place.”
“Great, I’m going to go get it.”
“Alright…. What else you need from me, man?” He’s tense, obviously expecting some sort of harassment.
The moment hangs. “…Nothing. Have a good night.” With that I hang up and lean my head against the window, dejectedly, staring out at the passing night.
Rabenholz and Abelard discuss some arms-dealing. Abelard has a nice selection on-hand, but Rabenholz prefers revolvers, so, with a broken grin, Abelard says he’ll look into it and sends Rabenholz on his way.
It’s now uncomfortably late so Rabenholz decides to detour to his hotel for the night. The concierge is there to greet him as he comes in the lobby.
(Chris: “Same man as always?”
Me: “Actually I changed it to a woman cause it made the pronouns easier during the first scene with her. Also we needed more.”
Jason: “Oh, ok. So it’s the same woman as always.”
Chris: “…An attractive woman?”
Jason: “…Yes. An attractive woman…of color.”
Jim: “Which color?”
Jason: “Black, let’s say. Of East-African descent.”)
She nods a welcome at him, turning back to typing at her computer, then stops as she realizes he’s lingering in front of the desk. She regards him evenly, close-cropped hair revealing the elegant poise to her neck. Rabenholz looks her in the eye, realizing for the first time she’s almost as all as he is. “What are your career aspirations?” he asks without preamble.
She lifts an eyebrow, but answers, “Get promoted.”
“And what then?”
She keeps her gaze steady. “Run the hotel. Run my own hotel, maybe.”
“Sure,” she says after a moment, unenthusiastically. “Just not yet.”
Rabenholz nods. “Very good. I am looking to assemble a staff. I will be in town awhile and I find myself short-staffed to accomplish all I intend to in the next few weeks.”
She folds her arms. “What do you pay?”
“What do you want? Or, the more important question is, what are you willing to do?”
Jason: “Yeah, I’m gonna need you to give me a Charisma + Expression test on that one. Cause if you don’t get a lot of successes, she’s gonna assume you just propositioned her and throw your ass out of the hotel.”
Jim: “That sounded like an adult film offer.”
Jason: “That sounded like a prostitution offer.”
Chris: “I think it has probably been several centuries since Rabenholz had an erection.”)
Her eyes narrow. “You’d better not be meaning what I think you’re meaning.”
Rabenholz, surprised at her sudden shift in tone, tries to clarify, “I require a certain inclination to obedience—“
She reaches for the staff phone—
“—And an ability to complete the mission I assign you under any circumstances.”
She hesitates, finger poised above the security button. “You a porn exec or a spy?”
“…Excuse me?” Rabenholz stares back, clearly flustered and unaccustomed to being so.
There’s a tense moment, both staring at each other, then she sighs and puts the phone back down.“What is it you’re looking for?” she asks.
Rabenholz recomposes himself. “I am looking for someone who is comfortable managing other people and acquiring odd items for me.”
(Jason: “Goddamit, you want another Gates.”
Chris: “I do.”)
“I anticipate meeting with many people while I am in town,” Rabenholz continues, “I need someone to manage that schedule, keep things in line. I also need someone who is comfortable throwing social engagements.”
Her fingers drum on the polished hardwood. “Say I do all that, what’s in it for me?”
“Well I offered you your own price.”
Her eyes flick across his tailored clothes. “Quarter million a year,” she says, face perfectly neutral.
Now she stares, flustered, but recomposes herself rapidly. “…Alright. You make this work, we’ll have a deal.”
“Very good. If you’re good at what you do, you may stay with me as long as you like. But if you choose to depart, I assume discretion is not a problem for you.”
“Of course not.”
“Excellent.” Rabenholz allows himself a pleased smile, then continues. “The man I met earlier, the one named Jackson, should try to make contact with me tomorrow, either through the front office or in person. He will have a list of people I am to speak with. See to it that things are arranged.”
Still meeting his gaze, she inclines her head seriously. “You’ll want to speak with them at night?” she asks evenly, carefully, though it’s more a statement than a question.
There’s a long moment of silence. “Yes,” Rabenholz answers finally, voice equally neutral.
She nods slowly. “Sure. I’ll make the arrangements and have them ready for you to review tomorrow evening.”
“Excellent. Good night.” He bows lightly and heads toward the elevator. As he walks away, he hears her pick up the phone, asking to speak with her manager.
THE TWILIGHT’S FORTUNE
After waking up, Anstis spends the early evening actually being a captain for once: walking the decks of the sub, charting their course, checking the engines. Though the details have changed, these are, in essence, timeless rituals of the sea, and he loses himself in the work for awhile.
Until, while peering at the radar screens in the CIC, one of the crew members taps him on the shoulder, holding out a corded telephone headset with a mindless stare. Anstis eyes him, but takes it. “Yes?”
“Thomas Anstis….” A low voice growls. For a moment, he thinks it’s Morgan, but then he realizes that while the voice is familiar, its one he hasn’t heard in a long, long time.
“…Admiral. John. Flowers,” Anstis sneers back.
“I thought you were dead,” Flowers growls.
“I thought you were as well.”
“Ooooh, theres no grave that’ll hold me, Captain,” Flowers spits the last word mockingly.
“How’d you get this number?” Anstis asks.
“How do ye think? You steal a submarine from a man like Accio and you think no-one will notice? You think he didn’t have friends? You think I haven’t been watching for something like this?”
Anstis smiles, pacing the CIC as far as the cord will allow. “So you’re a friend of Accio’s? That’ll make this even more delicious.”
“Still after me head, are we?” Flowers chuckles. “Oh now, laddie, I was ready to let bygones be. It was a long time ago, matey. And yet here ye are, sailing for my lands. And what might you be doing here, might I ask?”
“What indeed?” Anstis growls back.
“You brought this on yerself, Tom, and now you want to sail the seas again and chase us all down?”
Anstis pauses, memories of the last acts of his mutinous crew flooding him. The tentacles of his beard writhes. “Aye. Every. Last. One of you.”
“You wont find most of them outside Davy Jones’, and if you come to my waters I’ll sink ye like a cannonball.”
Anstis chuckles low, still pacing. “Well a few things have changed in these nights.”
“Oh have they? What have you been doing there in California, seeing the sun?”
“Not yet. How about you?” Anstis mocks.
“I find in my old age that I don’t have the need for it no-more. I’ve got my own interests now and they don’t include being assaulted by some raider from the deeps from old times. I’m a respectable man now, Thomas!”
Anstis draws his hand slowly across the radar screen as he passes, its warmth soaking into his cold fingers. “And what is this respectable man doing with these nights?”
“Oh I do with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. You wouldn’t understand, you never understood. All you understood was how to run.” Flowers’ voice drops back to a threatening rumble. “Run from the Royal Navy, run from Black Bart, run from Howell Davis, and run from me.”
Anstis laughs, sprawling languidly in a chair. “Ah, but you’re so big and strong, with your mighty warships! You’ll find you’re not the only one with mighty warships.”
“Oh yes, that little swimming eel of yours,” Flowers sneers. “What you planning to do with it Thomas? Sail up off the coast and fire yer cannon at me? I got ships everywhere, and they don’t take kindly in these nights to piracy. No more so than they did back then.”
“Well, I wasn’t planning on engaging in much piracy.”
“No, you wanted murder, was it? You think you’ve got the stomach for it?”
Anstis smirks. “I just may.”
“Oooh, I think you’re dead wrong there, Thomas. I don’t think you’ve got the stomach for it at all. You didn’t while you was alive, you didn’t while you was the captain, and now, you yellow-belly, you ain’t got the stomach whatsoever. Sail into my hometown and I’ll show you what the stomach really is.”
Anstis gets up, moving toward his charts. “And where are you staying?”
“Come to see me, are ya?”
“Aye, it might be time for a visit! A good chat! Maybe a drink!”
Flowers hisses. “Well, then hows’ about we have ourselves a little get-together? Makassar. In the Indies, near the Spice Islands. No-one around but a handful of fisherman.” He lets that thought hang. “Come to Makassar and I’ll show you a thing or two you’ve never dreamed of. And maybe when we’re done, I’ll have you teach me those little dancing tricks of yours. The ones that made the spirits shine and the rocks glow. I know some tricks of me own now, Captain, but I wouldn’t mind all of yours.”
Anstis moves his pile of scrying stones to peer at the chart, spotting Makassar in Indonesia, not far south of the route they are already charted on. He grins. “I wouldn’t mind some of yours either, Admiral.”
“Oh well you’re gonna have to take them by force. And one little ship ain’t gonna do that for ya lad. Come and find me in Makassar, if yer stones ain’t shriveled up yet.”
Anstis picks up the largest rock, Flowers’ name already inscribed upon it. “Oh I’ve got the stones. I’ve got all the stones I need for you.”
“Is that so, lad? You’ve no conception of what yer doing.”
“And you’ve got no conception of who yer messing with.”
Flowers growls again, an almost subsonic sound. “I’m gonna nail yer tongue to me main mast, Captain, and stick yer teeth in to drive it home.”
Anstis smiles grimly. “I’m going to make yer corpse walk me ship till the end of the ages.”
Flowers chuckles. “Well all be corpses, matey.”
Anstis’s hand closes tightly on the rock. “One way or another, yer mine.”
“We’ll see, Captain.”
The line goes dead.
(Note: For extra appreciation of the homoerotic intensity of this conversation, listen to the audio recording! Bit of a warning, though, there’s a jump-scare toward the end.)
At some point in the wee hours of the morning, a cadre of cops shows up escorting close to a hundred homeless people in a fleet of busses and vans. The cops look confused, but when the national guard soldiers direct them to Georgia for questions, she smiles politely, says she’ll be happy to help, then bustles away without answering the questions. Still, somehow, she and the ghouls wrangle all the people into the
ghoul exsanguintory barracks and start drawing blood.
Once they complete that, though, they’re left with a new problem: close to a hundred homeless people wandering around the barracks woozy and, in many cases, deranged.
(Kara: “I give them cookies and OJ.”)
Jason: “You do not have cookies and OJ.”)
Georgia comes upstairs and asks the soldiers and cops to go get cookies and OJ.
Once thats complete, Georgia finds the leader of the national guard unit. “I think this is good for now. We’ve gotten blood samples so we can run some—“
“Where’s the rest of your staff?” the man asks suddenly, staring at Bob peering at them from around a corner. Bob squeaks and disappears.
“Well, this was unexpected, so they’ll be coming in over the next day or so,” Georgia says reasonably.
“Oh, right.” The lieutenant peers at the stone walls of the hall, decorated with rusting weaponry and niches displaying unnamed eldritch devices. “Kinda a weird place for a hospital.”
“A little bit, yes, but you know, in San Francisco you make do with the space you’ve got.” Georgia takes his arm and leads him toward the front door. “So, we’ve got things under control now, so if you guys wanted to take off thats fine. Please come around in a couple days to check on us if you’d like.”
(Jason: “You do say this knowing fully well that once the wards are active they wont be able to find you again, right?”
With that, finally the soldiers leave. Georgia, though, still isn’t sure what to do with all the homeless people, though at least they are now placated by cookies and juice.
(Kara: “Can I lock the ghoul barracks?”
Jason: “Oooh, yes indeed.”
Chris: “The ghoul barracks only lock from the outside!”
Kara: “I figured that was a question that had a high likelihood of providing an answer I would like.”)
She instructs Bob to leave the rest of the cookies and juice on a table inside the room, then leaves, locking the door behind them.
(Chris: “You’re going to leave them there all day?”
Kara: “Well, yeah….”
Jim: “Ladies and gentlemen, a Tremere Regent, back on the throne!”)
By now it’s getting dangerously close to morning, but after the parade of unexpected visitors she’s had over the last few nights, Georgia doesn’t want to waste any time in trying to raise the wards again. Also, though she’s tired, she’ll have a better chance of succeeding if the blood is still fresh.
With Bob’s help, she hauls the vats of homeless blood to the warding chamber, hidden behind a reinforced steel door in the heart of the basement. The walls of the room are empty, but a deep moat is cut into the stone floor, circumscribing the most complicated warding circle she’s ever seen. Bob dumps the blood into the moat and fills the engraved cuts of the circle while she retrieves the book on ward magic from her office.
With only an hour or so till dawn, she steps into the middle and begins chanting. Power rises up, from the blood and the stone, and she pours all her concentration into gripping it, channeling it. It writhes and fights, strong as the tides, but she holds on, body and mind so tense a few droplets of sweated blood actually collect on her brow. Her chanting rises higher, echoing through the room like a storm. Bob presses himself against the wall, eyes wide, as thaumaturgical forces twist the air around her. Reaching the crescendo, Georgia raises her hands—
—The blood erupts in blue flame, rising from the moat, igniting the channels along the floor, then racing out of them, slicing glowing sigils across the walls and ceiling. Power pulses from the room, echoing out across the entire building.
(Jason: “Congratulations, Kara, the wards are now reactivated. And these are wards that even Perpenna thought it unwise to test.”)
Georgia drops her hands, stumbling slightly, but in the back of her mind she can feel the deep hum of protective power surrounding the Chantry.
Surrounding her Chantry.
THE MARK HOPKINS HOTEL
The next night, Rabenholz awakens to the sound of a knock on his door. He gets up and, taking a moment to check the presentability of his suit, strides over to open it.
(Jason: “I need a name for his new assistant.”
Me: “Um…Rhona. Rhona Tyler.”)
“Ms. Tyler,” he nods. No longer in her hotel uniform, she’s standing crisply in a cream-colored suit, tailored almost as impeccably as his own.
She nods back and hands out a sheaf of papers. “The schedule of the appointments you asked for, spread through evenings across the coming week. I also took the liberty of collecting a dossier on each person, with special focus on the business interests of each.”
He flips through the papers, then looks up, appraisingly. “Thank you, Ms. Tyler. This will be most helpful.”
“I thought so, considering how new you are to the city.” She folds her hands in front of her. “Mr. Jackson called this afternoon to schedule a meeting with you tonight, in his new office. When shall I say is your earliest convenience?”
He stares a moment, then reaches into his room to grab his sword cane, propped by the door. “Now should be fine.” A brief smile tugs his lips.
She smiles back. “I’ll bring a car around.”
Georgia wakes up the next night in her room. Everything is silent except the soft breathing of the space whale at the foot of the bed, but she can feel the humming of the Chantry wards surrounding the building. She lies a moment, overcome with glee at her success, and for the first time in nights, feeling safe.
There’s a knock on the door. “Regent?” Bob’s voice calls tenatively.
“Yes, Bob? What is it?”
Georgia sits up. Quickly, she shrugs into a set of robes and opens the door. Bob is standing there, white as some of the homeless people after their blood draw. “What happened?” Georgia asks.
He wrings his hands. “All the…blood dolls you got? They’re gone.”
“They’re gone,” she repeats flatly. “Do you know where they went?”
“No,” he squeaks.
“Do you know how they got out?”
“Someone…must have opened the door.” He cowers. “It wasn’t me!”
Georgia, though, is more perplexed than angry. “Do you think it was Wolfgang?”
“No, I don’t think he could have, but I don’t know where he is either….”
That leaves only one other option. Georgia leaves the room and goes to find Jawahar.
She raps sharply on his guest room door and opens it without waiting for a reply. He’s there, sitting calmly on the bed, legs folded, apparently meditating. The paper bags from the groceries last night are cut open and spread across the bed in front of him, notes and alchemical-looking symbols scrawled across their surface.
Georgia hesitates, glancing at the papers. “Hey, Jawahar. What are you up to?”
He doesn’t turn to her, or even open his eyes. “What were you going to do with all those people?”
“Uh, well the ones who were healthy enough today I was going to take a little more blood from, then I was going to set them all free.”
Now he opens his eyes, regarding her cooly. “Which is why you put them in a locked room, underground, in a building no one can find, where there are manacles on the walls?”
“Yes,” she says firmly.
He shakes his head slowly. “I understand that you must think all of us as foolish as cattle, particularly if most of the humans you deal with are like him, but I am not that stupid.”
Georgia sighs. “They were…addled last night, and the spell addling them would have broken if I had simply released all of them afterward. They would have been even more confused, which would have caused a masquerade violation.”
“So then you have no objection to the fact that I have moved all of them off the premises?”
“No, but you should probably put them back where they came from.”
“Where did they come from, exactly?”
Georgia shrugs. “I assume the streets around the city.”
“Well, some of them will no doubt find their way back there,” Jawahar mutters.
Georgia opens her palms placatingly. “I swear to you I was going to set them free. I don’t believe in senseless killing.”
Jawahar sighs and shifts the cross of his legs. “You see, the difficulty I have is not that I don’t believe you, its that I’m not entirely certain you don’t have a different definition of those words than I do. Your man the German tried to intervene. I’m afraid I was forced to be unkind.”
Jawahar resettles himself, closing his eyes again. “You’ll find him on the ceiling of the barracks.”
Georgia trades a look with Bob behind her, who has gone paler. “…In what state?” Georgia asks carefully.
“Oh he’s quite alive. He’s experiencing a sensation you might call anti-gravity. I felt that he was less likely to put up a fight if he was out of the way. He spent the entire time caterwauling about how he enjoyed the presence of Jews.” Jawahar opens one eye. “He’s a German, I suspect he protests too much.”
“Yes,” Georgia sighs. She glances at Bob again and he runs off, understanding the unspoken order to go remove the young Nazi from the ceiling. “We took him from the employ of some Nazis and I’ve been attempting to rehabilitate him. I took him from other Tremere, but they are now deceased.”
“You’ll forgive me, but all Tremere are deceased. You see once again the definition of words has become an issue. You meant to say you killed them. These are the same Tremere you spoke of, the ones involved in creating those hideous beasts? The creatures you were afraid were going to kick the door in and rip you to pieces?”
“Well there is a gargoyle I’m afraid will kick the door in and rip me to pieces, but he’s rogue, and as far as I know, he wasn’t created by the Nazis I killed on the islands,” Georgia says reasonably.
He opens both eyes again and scowls at her. “You understand this is quite a bit to swallow.”
“Do you agree with everything every other mage has ever done?” she asks, exasperated.
“Of course not. But then I don’t make a habit of devouring the blood of the innocent either. Neither is my house founded upon the abject destruction of another’s.”
She glares back. “Yes, we get a lot of flak for that, despite the fact that many of us at this point had no hand in it.”
“The blood will tell, is the term I believe was used at the time.”
“And what do you think my blood says?” Georgia asks.
“I don’t quite know, but I do know what my house says, and that is that the Tremere are under interdict and that I should burn this building to the ground.” Jawahar stares around at the stone walls. “Difficulty is, I’m not certain I could.”
She glances at his notes on the bed. A chill settles over her. “Probably not now. You might have been able to yesterday.”
“Yes, you reestablished the wards, did you not?”
She beams. “I did, did you feel them?”
He eyes her. “I’m an apprentice, not a fool. So what will you do now that you’ve reestablished the wards and I’ve released your…guests, or whatever we will call them?”
“Where did you release them?”
“Around. Some here, some in other cities. I didn’t want to take the chance of you collecting them again.”
She frowns. “Did you take into account which ones had belongings, or families here?”
He glares and straightens. “I find it interesting that you should lecture me on my morality in doing this, after what you did to them!”
“I gave them a warm safe place to sleep!”
“And took their blood!”
“Only a little bit!”
“Enough to power a fairly large magical spell!” he snaps.
“Yes, but that’s because I took a little bit from a lot of people, instead of a lot of blood from a few. I could have powered those wards with seven people. I chose not to. “
He stares a moment, then settles back. “Well, I appreciate it. So I’ll ask again, now that your captives are beyond your control, what will you do? I’m not ungrateful for my liberation at your hands from the Technocracy, but this is an awkward situation for me as well.”
Georgia sighs and sinks down onto the edge of the bed, ignoring Jawahar’s irritated glare as he scoots his notes out of the way. “Well, I probably need to take a day or two and get used to being the Regent. There’s some reading I need to do, going though the old Regent’s belongings, that sort of thing. But after that, I believe it will be time to research the next steps in eliminating the gargoyle production problem.”
“I thought you shut down the facility.”
“I did, but the people working there were taking their orders from somebody.”
“How high can you really afford to kill before it becomes a problem?”
“I think it’s already a problem.”
“A problem for you.”
“A problem for the clan,” she stresses.
“Yes, your purge you wish to engage in.” Jawahar sighs. “Forgive me, I do not wish to cast aspersions and I know that your magical studies are more advanced than my own, but you are not an archmage, or whatever the equivalent is in this house. How can you possibly expect to take on the people who would be required to authorize something of this scale?”
“Well, if we take them on in increasing power, then theoretically I will be gaining power as we go.”
“If they wait and allow you to do so.”
“True, and if they don’t, then I may die in the process.” She sighs. “That would be unfortunate, I’m going to hope that doesn’t happen.” She’s quiet a moment, then beams again, patting him on the arm. “Well, I think you’ll be a valuable asset, and you seem like-minded in at least wanting the Nazis gone.”
“My superiors are not going to be too upset with me if I spend my time burning out large portions of House Tremere.” He unfolds his legs and stretches. “Im prepared to see where this goes.”
Jawahar suddenly goes quiet, staring out the lead-paned windows. “There are disquieting currents about. I cant tell much but something festers in this city. Not sure what it is, but it tugs at the brain. A presence, of sorts.”
“Ah.” Georgia nods knowingly. “You should not invite that into your brain. It’s probably this ancient vampire thing thats attempting to devour all its childer, and probably everyone else as well.”
“Yes, I’ve felt that too, and I can’t tell you why, but I think this is something else.” He continues to stare out the window, so clouded the city beyond is nothing but a gloomy cluster of shapes. “Something here in this city that chills the blood. Worse than anything I’ve seen yet.”
“Well, then the Chantry is probably the safest place for you to be.”
“Perhaps. Or the Etherite’s tower, few tend to molest them.” Jawahar thinks a moment, then slides off the bed. “I think I will have a word with the Etherite.”
“Alright, do you want his phone number?”
“I think it’s best if I talk with him in person. So long as I try to avoid being struck with a death ray. Or roped into some deranged experiment.”
Georgia hesitates. “Uh, you haven’t eaten any cabbage in the last twenty four hours, have you?”
He eyes her. “No. I have not.”
She sighs in relief. “Good. If either of those things happen, then, you should be fine.”
I wake up in my room in the new house, sprawled in a sagging bed, staring at the peeling wallpaper in the fading twilight. The place is actually a lot better than I was expecting, and conveniently furnished. Slayer got it at a crazy deal, said there had been few offers on it. Something about a family of six murdered there some months ago, or something.
Sirens echo in the distance, but the house itself is quiet, and I lay a long moment, enjoying the unusual sense of calm. Without Glitch, I could be killed by werewolves—or worse—at any moment, but for now, in this moment, everything is at peace.
Until I see a shadowy figure shift in the chair across the room.
A jolt of panic jerks me upright, but the figure isn’t pale enough to be Charles. There’s also a distinct lack of having been burnt to death in my sleep. That leaves only one other likely option. “…Boss?”
“Good evening Tom,” Marcus says.
I sink back in relief, scrubbing at my face. “Hey. What time is it?”
I see him turn toward the window. “Sundown was an hour or ago ago.”
“Well, I’m up. What’s up?”
There’s a long sigh. “Oh, not a great deal.”
His voice is unusually sullen, even for him. Slowly, I lift up to a seat on the bed. My eyes adjust to the darkness and I see him staring through the dirty glass, face drawn. “You…have a good day?”
“I had an interesting one. So did you. Recognize this?” He tosses something onto the bed. A broken, charred chunk of wood, glyphed with runes, like the handle of an axe. But it also has a few snapped guitar strings attached to it. “There has been a complication,” he says darkly.
I stare at the wood. “There usually is,” I mutter.
“This wasn’t one I had expected. I knew the Settites would be coming for us at some point, I even talked to Helgi about it multiple times, but, well, did they pick a good moment….” He turns to me, his dark eyes more piercing than normal. “Do you have any conception of how many there were in that little engagement? I didn’t get there in time to see all the ones you and Bell killed.”
“No.” I wrack my frantic memories of the night before. “There were a bunch of cars, the dark-skinned woman—“
“Yes, her,” he hisses. “That was Nitocris. A Settite sorcerer. I’ve seen her before. I’ve met her before. I’ve fought her before. So had Helgi. She’s a Blood Hound. The Settite equivalent to a Justicar, or an Alastor. A leg-breaker who hunts down the most wanted, and of course that would be me.” He looks away. “And Helgi. And she shows up in Alameda by surprise with no warning, with thirty goddamn Settites. And a quarter ton of high explosives.”
He drifts into silence. In the distance, I can hear some pops that might be fireworks, or gunshots. Neither of us react. Finally he turns back to me. “This presents a problem, Tom, and I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain to you what it is.”
“More assholes to deal with?” I mutter.
“These aren’t just assholes, do you know anything about the Settites?”
“Uh, they seem pretty Egyptian….”
He glares. “They are. Corrupt, vile, Nilotic, Egyptian monsters. Ones I’ve managed to stick my thumb in the eye of for centuries on end. Not to the extent Helgi did, of course, but…they’ve managed to deal with that problem, haven’t they.” He stares at the chunk of axe. “No the difficulty here, Tom, isn’t that theres more assholes in town, it’s what’s required of me due to their arrival. And due to what happened.”
He shifts in the chair again, suddenly looming a lot larger than his four-foot frame, accented by the shadows climbing the wall behind him. “I need to find these Settites. Not you, not Anstis, not Paul, not anyone else that works for me, I need to find them. Personally. And when I do, well….” he chuckles darkly. “Helgi once showed me a little technique he called blood-eagling. I think that would be appropriate. But you don’t need to see any of that.”
The bedsprings squeak as I squirm. “I’m sure I don’t.”
“The long and the short of it is, Tom, I’m going to be a little busy in the next few nights. If the Settites run to Patagonia I’m going to chase them down there, rip the continent apart and expose them to the sun. I assume you understand the whys and the wherefores here. You’ve picked enough up by now.”
Remembering his blood feud with Bell, and how he made Max just disappear in front of me, I look down and nod. “Yeeep.”
“There’s something else. I have a contact of sorts in the Assamites. We worked together, a long, long time ago. She’s a fairly senior figure in Alamut nowadays. I had her perform a few inquiries….” He reaches down next to the chair and picks up a folder, tossing it onto the bed. The papers inside fan out across the faded quilt and I carefully gather them up. At the top is a photo of a middle-aged man, with a scraggly beard and an equally-wild look to his eyes. “The man you’re looking for is named Cantor,” Marcus says, nodding at that page in my hands. “He’s an Assamite antitribu. He works for the Sabbat, or at least he did, last anyone heard of him.”
For some reason, as unsettling as the photo’s gaze is, I can’t look away. “When was that?”
“Bout ten years ago. How they traced him here I don’t know, even my contact didn’t know that. The Assamites claim he’s been dealing with demons.” Marcus snorts to himself. “But then they think everyone deals with demons, until proven otherwise. If he has, he’s somehow managed to evade the Sabbat Inquisition the entire time.” He looks at me. “He’s Black Hand, Tom. Do you know what that means?”
I frown. “I’ve…heard the term, I think….” Suddenly I wish I had paid closer attention during the Prince’s achingly boring rants at his Elysium parties.
“The Black Hand are a Gehenna cult, older than I am. I don’t know where they come from, no one does, but they’re a militant organization of extremely dedicated Kindred. What they’re dedicated towards, well, that varies by the day. I’ve worked with them before. They’re efficient, and they’re very, very good. If you take one of them on, you’re inviting on yourself a hellstorm the likes of which even I don’t think I could imagine. And if my source is right, he’s the one you’re looking for.”
My stomach clenches. “You mean, the one…handling her?” I flip through to the next page and suddenly there she is, Isabella, in the same photo Fatima showed me all those nights ago. Standing in an alley over a body, covered in blood. The glossy paper starts to warp under my tightening grip….
“I don’t know,” Marcus continues, “But that’s what my contact tells me, and she’s not in the habit of getting things wrong. I have no idea what a Black Hand would be doing here, and I certainly don’t know what one would be doing trafficking with demons and embracing your sister, but if he’s in the Black Hand his standing with the Sabbat is going to be considerably more senior than mine. I haven’t been active in the movement for 300 years, and he’s a member in good standing of one of the most lethal organizations even the Kindred have ever invented. I don’t know if he’s here with their sanction, or knowledge, or even if he’s still a member, but the smart guess is that all three of those are true.”
Slowly, I place Isabella’s photo facedown on the bed and continue looking through the file. The rest is mostly transcribed reports, details on a few scattered sightings, including a couple in the Bay Area. None of them are recent, and all of them are of Cantor.
“Effectively,” Marcus continues, “Taking Cantor on is like taking me on, and we all know how well that went for you last time.” He smirks. “Except I don’t think he’ll hire you.”
“Obviously not, he’s already got a Lytton working for him.”
“Indeed.” Marcus’s smirk fades. “Like I said, I have other issues I need to handle. Before Perpenna or anything else. It’s a matter of Honoritas. I assume I don’t have to explain to you what that is.”
I scoop the papers together and place them carefully back in the folder. “No,” I say softly.
The shadows around him have stilled, but Marcus still regards me closely. “So. What do you plan to do?”
“I don’t know. I just got half my shit taken away from me.”
“Yes. Everton mentioned it.”
“Oh good, he survived then,” I mutter.
“You walk into a dragon’s den, Tom, sometimes this is what happens.” He sighs belaboredly. “That said, I can’t resolve everything, Tom, but I do have a trick or two.” Once again he reaches down, this time into the shadows under the chair. He pulls something out and tosses it onto the bed, next to the file.
I stare. “How…how the—“
Marcus chuckles. “Oh, leave an old man his secrets, Tom. You remember this?” He unsheathes his gladius from the scabbard on his back, holding it up in the dying light. “I told you I don’t leave this one to chance. Bound-weapon enchantment.” He twists it playfully and smiles. “I took the liberty of enchanting yours as well.”
I pick my sword up carefully, stopping myself from clutching it to me. Last thing I need is for it to burst into flames in the middle of my new wooden house. “Thanks, Boss,” I say, pouring as much actual sincerity into it I can.”
“Yes, well it wasn’t entirely for your sake at the time. As to your gun, I’m afraid you’re on your own there.
“I’ll get her back—“ My grip on the hilt suddenly tightens. “—And Ill also get back my whip from that asshole—“ I growl low.
“There’s one last thing,” Marcus interrupts, snapping me back to the present. “You and the damnable shadows. Tom, I’m afraid I’m not very good at pedagogy, and I have no idea what I’m doing with this training.
I put Glitch down and rub at my neck, sheepishly. “Yeah, the last bout didn’t really go well.”
Marcus regards me critically, then shakes his head, disbelievingly. “Yes, I haven’t the first idea how you managed to do that. I’m not sure I want to know. So were going to make this quick and dirty.” He gets up. I watch tensely as he walks to a dresser on the far side of the room, places a candle on the top, strikes a match, and lights it. The glow springs to life, lighting the room. The shadows twist away from it, but I cant tell if its from the flickering, or if they’re moving of their own accord.
Marcus blows the match out. “It’s the simplest thing, Tom, all mysticism put aside. Shadow is just the absence of light. What you need to learn to do is push the light aside when you need to. I can think of no better way to do it than just try, try again. Somehow you managed to breach the boundaries of the Abyss and call something out. That means at least, if nothing else, you’re not untalented. You just have to channel that talent properly. The eternal lament of the Brujah.” He chuckles, then turns to me. “You have the blood, you have the skill. Just apply it.”
He gestures to the candle. “See if you can stop this light from flickering quite so much.”
I stare at the flame. The longer I stare, the darker the rest of the room becomes. Finally, I realize I’m focusing on the wrong thing and turn to the shadows undulating across the wall, just outside the perimeter of the flickering circle. I watch their dance and concentrate, trying to feel their movement as well as see it.
After a few moments, I close my eyes. There, in the darkness behind my eyelids, I realize I can still feel the shadows, crawling around the edges of the light’s warmth. Moreover, I can feel something else, something deeper, washing back and forth with their movement like a riptide. I concentrate on this, urging the waves to calm, to sever themselves from the pulse of the light, finding its own stillness.
There’s a sudden surge of power, then a cool serenity, like a glassy lake under stars. I open my eyes.
The candle is still dancing in the draft, but its light is plastered on the wall, surrounded by immovable, immutable shadow.
I glance at Marcus. He nods once. Inside, I soar with elation, but outwardly all I do is smirk and turn back to the candle. Let’s see how far I can take this….
Shadow oozes forward like molasses, swallowing the light, encroaching on the candle. The glow dims till only the flame is left, vignetted in the darkness. I urge the shadow to gather up against it, floodwater against a damn, then, with a mental push, release—
The dark rushes forward, engulfing the candle. I hold it a moment, then let it disperse. Nothing is left of the fire but a smoking wick.
“Well. I’ll be damned, Tom,” Marcus mutters, picking up the candle. “I don’t want to speculate, and of course I don’t know everything thats ever happened. But you may be the first in your entire clan who’s ever been taught to do that.”
Triumph rages through me, aching to fire to the heavens like the gunshots in the distance, but for now I hold myself as still as the shadows under my command, nodding once. “Thanks, Boss.”
Marcus puts the candle down. “My suggestion is you spend the next few days doing that as often as you can, cause if you want to be able to do this—“ Without even a gesture, the darkness of the room collects at his feet, twisting like a whirlpool. “—Well, work on it.”
It’s obvious he’s building up to a dramatic exit, but I hold up a hand to stop him. “Hey, Boss, if you’re hunting for Settites, you might start at the Rosecrutian Museum, in San Jose.”
He smirks. “Funny, I was just on my way there.” The shadows twist up and collapse on him in a wave, and he’s gone.
I stare at the candle a long moment after he’s gone, thinking about his various pieces of advice. Hunt this Cantor to find my sister. Practice with the shadows on my own, knowing implicitly the monsters that lurk just beyond the light if I screw up. Somehow, the shadows seem like the less scary option.
It’s tricky, though, since I don’t want to go showing it off all over town. Not yet, at least, not until I’m sure I’m well beyond the place where anyone would be able to stop me. In fact, with more mastery, that might be the perfect time to go looking for Cantor.
I get up and place the file on the dresser next to the candle, then head into the hall. First order of the night: use this shit to freak out Slayer.
END OF NIGHT