4/23/15

Jason: “Your ringtone is Rick Astley.”
Kara: “My phone? How is that possible?”
Jason: “You may want to blame Dr. vonNatsi for that.”
Chris: “Cause he’s never gonna give you up.”
Jason: “But he’s also never gonna let you down.”
Jim: “He’s never gonna run around and hurt you.”
Kara: “…Is this ‘cause I brought a unicorn coloring book tonight?”
Jason: “Look, I wouldn’t worry about it. He’s never gonna make you cry.”
Me: “But will he say goodbye?”
Jason: “Well, he’ll never tell a lie, or desert you.”

***

AN UPDATE ON THE WEEK OFF

As the story indicated, Anstis has spent most of the last week amassing his necromantic empire and preparing for an eventual assault on Admiral Flowers. He’s been using the teleportation link between the submarine and Fort Funston for some time-zone hacking, getting extra hours in the day for his research and other plans. Most importantly, though, he has finally secured himself a new wardrobe, baroque and hand-tailored, and complete with a very large hat.

Rabenholz has been putting Rhona and his other new employees to good use, amassing more power and property in the city.

Tom has been doing…not much, actually, and what he has attempted–trying to track down more information on Cantor and his location–has been met with dead ends. Instead, he’s been spending most of the week laying low around Bayview, occasionally going out with Slayer and the taco truck to make some cash on the side.

Back at the Chantry, Georgia has been getting on well with her roommates–Jawahar, Bob, and Wolfgang. Halfway through the week, though, a large shipment of blood arrives: the shipment she ordered from Michele at the blood bank. She no longer needs it for the wards, but it gives her a handy supply of safe food for the entire week, a week she largely spends curled up in her newly-secured Chantry, space whale at her feet, reading.

#

MARK HOPKINS HOTEL

Rabenholz wakes up in his suite early in the evening. Rhona isn’t there, but there’s a message blinking on the suite phone. It’s from one of the Prince’s ghouls–technically now Bell’s ghouls, while the prince is out of commission–passing on a message that Bell wants to speak with him at his earliest convenience.

Rabenholz gets himself ready and has the hotel call him a car. When he goes down to meet it, of course, Adam is grinning behind the wheel.

“Good evening,” Rabenholz says begrudgingly as he gets into the vehicle. “It’s been some nights since we last met, how has the week been treating you?”

“Oh, it’s going just fine,” Adam drawls as they merge into city traffic. “Feel like something’s coming, though. Something in the air. Big fare, maybe.”

Rabenholz nods curtly. “Let us hope so.”

They arrive at the Pyramid without incident and Rabenholz heads immediately up to Bell’s office. The justicar is at his desk on the phone, but hangs up as Rabenholz enters. “Hear you’ve been up to some business. Anything I should know about?”

Rabenholz settles into a chair and shrugs. “Mostly finance related. I plan to be acquiring some properties next week. I don’t believe any of them are currently owned by any of our kind.”

(Chris: “You see these five dots in resources? Not only do they mean I’m better than you, but I didn’t have any of them a week ago.”)

Bell eyes him a moment. “What’s your game here? Looking to position yourself for when this all blows over?”

Rabenholz folds his hands neatly in his lap. “Yes.”

“Well, I don’t object. Means you’d actually have to help it blow over, which is more than I can say for some of the people around here.” His eyes flick toward a table in the corner.

“So I’ve noticed. I followed up on that thing you asked me about last week. The nearest my contacts can find out, Ms. Johnson was sent here by some faction of Tremere, the details of course no one is willing to say. Her mission here is to…make right what is wrong with the Tremere. It appears that not only has she been executing certain members of the Tremere clan, but she continues with the endeavour.”

(Kara: “Wait! How did you find that out!?”
Chris: “I talked to you.”
Kara: “…Oh, right.”)

Bell lifts an eyebrow. “You’re telling me she’s some kind of Tremere vigilante come into town to clean house?” He snorts. “She won’t make it one day, once they find out what’s going on.”

Rabenholz shrugs noncommittally. “There’s something more I must tell you. I don’t put much stock into it, but you should know all the same. One of my contacts had mentioned that the same group responsible for sending Ms. Johnson here may have been responsible for your appointment.”

“The Tremere did not send me out here,” Bell scoffs, but for a brief moment he glances at his computer, uncertain.

“I agree, there are certain structural mishaps with that interpretation. But that is what I’ve heard, so I thought you should know as well.”

Bell leans forward, levelling a finger at him. “If what the Nosferatu are talking about is true, and if they did find the industrial scale gargoyle production going on in this city, the council won’t have any choice but to throw the Tremere out of the Camarilla. Rather than that happening, a whole lot of people are prepared to do a whole lot of things. I’m one of them. But this is not a moment to start witch hunts, not even where there are actually witches.”

“I’m not suggesting we do,” Rabenholz says smoothly. “Mr Bell, you are not alone in wanting to hold things together.”

Bell eyes him a long moment, then gets up, pacing to the window, peering down to the street below. “City’s been calm for a few nights now, this is the way I like it. So we’re getting to the point where we gotta start thinking about the long term play. For that, I’m in need of a Ventrue, to help with a thorny issue dealing with the Masquerade. Everyone thinks that all the crap that’s been going on is due to terrorism. We need to let them continue to think that. And in order for them to continue to think that, we need some terrorists. People nobody is gonna miss and everyone is gonna believe are perfectly capable of crap like this. And it just so happens, I have exactly the terrorists in mind.”

He strides back to his desk and slides a pamphlet over to Rabenholz. It’s poor desktop-publishing work, littered with clipart and novelty fonts from the mid-90s, and the content of it appears to be a lengthy screed on the imminent destruction via conspiracy of “white America,” and the need for white people to stand up and achieve proper nationhood against “the enemy.”

Rabenholz skims through it, chuckling.

Bell stabs at the paper with a finger. “This particular group of nut jobs are a splinter group of the fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints. They call themselves the Knights of the Yellow Rose.” Bell clearly rolls his eyes, even behind his sunglasses. “They’re crackpots, I’m sure this tells you all you need to know.”

Rabenholz flips it to the back. “They have centralized leadership?”

“Sort of. They’re a small group, but they have some kind of cult compound way up in Humboldt county. They’ve never been terribly violent, but they’ve sent the usual death-threats to media figures, politicians, so the FBI’s been watching them now and then. But every once in awhile they hit a little too close on their conspiracy rhetoric.” Bell eyes him significantly over his glasses. “All the conspiracy theorists do, eventually. They’ve been on a lengthy kick about sodomy recently, and the city of sodomites being sunk into the sea. Or some damn thing.” Bell sinks back into his chair with a creak. “There’s plausibility that they might do something like this. What I need is someone to go up there and make arrangements to push it beyond plausibility. I need them to turn violent and attack a few National Guard checkpoints.”

(Me: “Well if you need someone for that, Jesus—“)

“I need it to be low key,” Bell stresses.

(Me: “—Oh, nevermind.”)

“—But enough firepower to get people’s attention.  Once we’ve got them, FBI will raid them and put them on trial for all manner of things that have been going on around here, and I will need them to gleefully admit to doing those very things. Which is why I need a Ventrue. Does that sound like something you might be able to arrange?”

Rabenholz sets the pamphlet down. “I can accomplish this.”

“Good, because I’d like you to take the Tremere with you. Not because I got any particular need for her in this operation, but I’d like you to take the opportunity to speak with her a bit. Find out more about what she knows.” Bell allows a brief smirk. “You do this for me, and I might be able to help you with your endeavours. Or, more importantly, the Prince will, once he’s reinstated.”

Rabenholz nods and stands. “I will leave tonight.”

#

FORT FUNSTON

Anstis digs his way out of the sandy ground outside his transport-cave. He brushes himself off, reclaims his hat, and starts making his way inland. For the moment he is on foot because he has some things to do. Namely, now that he has some consecrated rocks again, he needs to do some location-tracking.

His first name is Helgi Isarnbjorn.

He sleeps beneath the Arena of the Damned, the rock whispers. In the Serpents’ Den. Beside the windy hill.

Anstis contemplates this, turning the stone over in his hands. “Serpents” clearly means Settites, though “windy hill” is more vague..

(Jason: “Problem is, there’s no lack of windy hills in San Francisco.”
Me: “Yeah, we’re on one right now.”)

One thing’s clear, though: it sounds like Helgi may not be as dead as we thought. Anstis pockets the stone and calls Marcus.

“Hello Captain,” Marcus answers pleasantly. Some strange, muffled noises echo in the background but Marcus doesn’t comment.

“Marcus, good evening. I have a question, do you know a thing or two of the Assamites in the city?”

“I know a thing or two of the Assamites in general, what of the ones in the city?”

“I mean specifically the one under the Church of St Ignatius?”

Marcus’s light tone drops. “I didn’t know there were Assamites there, what are they doing there?”

“I ran afoul of one who resides there, or at least did. A larger man, with scraggly beard.”

Marcus is quiet a long moment. The odd noises continue in the background. “…Captain, who else knows about this?”

“Just me.”

“And what do you know about this Assamite?”

“I know that he made me flee,” Anstis grumbles.

“Did he give you his name?”

“No, he refused.”

Marcus sighs briefly. “That’s for the best. Yes, I know this Assamite by reputation, if not in person. What else do you know about him?”

“I know he may have a connection to Mr. Lytton, hence my call.”

“That’s something of an understatement. So he’s in St. Ignatius, is he? And you haven’t told Tom this yet?”

“Not the specifics, but I did promise to help Tom recover his sister.”

Another long pause. “…Alright. The Assamite’s name is Cantor. He’s Black Hand. I’m sure I dont need to tell you what that means. If I were you, Captain, I would strongly recommend against attacking him, or even getting in his way. Cantor is a trained assassin, all Assamites are—”

(Chris: “Assass-amite!”)

“—But the Assamites have been hunting him for the better part of a century and I would expect there’s a reason they haven’t caught him. My contact advised me that I should not approach him unless I am well prepared, and if I am not sufficient to take him on then imagine what you would need. What do you intend to do with this Assamite?”

Anstis stumbles his way out of the dunes and onto the shoulder of Great Highway, making his way north. “I intend to live up to my arrangement with Tom.”

(Me: “Only cause there’s something in it for you.”
Jason: “Well, yeah, what’s wrong with that?”
Julian: “A mutually-beneficial arrangement! How terrible!”
Me: “Well here’s the thing, I don’t want him to have Celerity!”
Jason: “You accepted the deal!”
Me: “Did I accept the deal?”
Jim: “You haven’t accepted it yet, no, but it’s on the table. I’m doing a little homework ahead of time.”)

“Well as I said I don’t know much about him, but there are rumors he is a demonologist. But he is not my prerogative. I have business with other Kindred who need my…chastisements.” The noise in the background rises again, suddenly sounding like moaning.

“What are you up to?” Anstis asks carefully.

“Me? Oh, nothing whatsoever,” Marcus says lightly. “I’m just having a conversation with a new friend of mine.”

Anstis nods grimly to himself. “A Settite?”

“His name is Khemet, and yes, he is a Settite. We’ve been talking about a great many things. Isn’t that right, Khemet?” A fearful groan rises in response.

Anstis’s walk picks up a swagger. “In that, then, I have glad tidings to report. I have reason to believe that Helgi is still around and being held by the Settites.”

“Yes, I have reason to believe this too,” Marcus says darkly. “Where are you getting your information?”

Anstis literally hesitates, stopping in the middle of the road. On the one hand, he’s been doing well keeping his necromancy from the rest of local Kindred society, but on the other hand, Marcus is definitely the sort to figure things out on his own, and lying to him might be worse than him finding out.

A car swerves around Anstis, honking, but he ignores it. “The underworld,” he says matter-of-factly.

Marcus chuckles. “Dangerous game you play, Captain, trafficking with spirits. If you’re not careful, it will come back to haunt you.” There’s a slight pause, and an almost audible smirk in the silence. “But in any event, Khemet here has not been as forthcoming as I would have liked him to be, so I think we may need to use other methods of persuasion. Isn’t that right, Khemet?” The groans break down into sobs.

Anstis nods and continues walking. “In that case, if there’s nothing else, I will leave you to your night.”

“Oh before you go, Captain, how is that submarine of yours?” Marcus asks innocently.

“Fine. Currently near Indonesia.”

“Indonesia? That’s quite a long way, are you heading there for reasons I should concern myself with?”

“It does not involve you,” Anstis grumbles, “Unless you know a Sir Jonathan Flowers.”

Another pause. “Jonathan Flowers?” Marcus repeats hesitantly. “Of course I know Jonathan Flowers.”

Anstis stops again. “What do you mean, you know Flowers?”

Marcus laughs. “You truly don’t know? Of course you don’t, you’ve been asleep for three hundred years. Jonathan Flowers is a fairly senior member of a clan it pays to know something about. What’s your interest in him?”

Anstis’s eyes narrow. He turns toward the sea, foggy and dark to the end of the horizon. “He was the source of my ruin.”

“Really? Well that is interesting, because your Mr. Flowers has been getting up to some very odd things in the interim. What do you know about the Ravnos?

Anstis blinks himself out of his reverie. “…Not a lot.”

“Well that puts you in good company, the Ravnos don’t like a lot of things known about them, but one of the few things that is known is they don’t take a lot of outsiders. Yet, for some reason, they seem to have taken him.” Marcus chuckles again. “He’s either a Ravnos or effectively masquerading himself as one, and the Ravnos themselves are not saying. I dont know the truth of it, but he has made waves over the last few hundred years.” There’s another silent smirk. “Confrontations with Oriental Kindred and Assamites.”

“Who would know more about him?”

“I imagine the Nosferatu would, they tend to know everything.”

Anstis turns around, toward the nighttime city lighting the eastern sky. “Do you know where to find the Nosferatu in this city?”

“My understanding is the sewers are a good place to look, but to be perfectly honest, put the word out and they’ll find you. I would warn you to mind the smell but I feel they would need that warning before meeting you more.”

Anstis smiles slowly, his tentacles twisting over themselves. “Thank you for the information. I wish you well.”

Marcus chuckles again, darkly. “Yes, I am going to have fun tonight.” There’s a sound of metal being drawn, the whimpering increases, then the call ends.

Now swaggering gleefully, Anstis calls me.

#

BAYVIEW

I wake up sprawled on a bed in my beaten room in my shitty house, but after being here a week it’s actually starting to feel like home. Probably because I’ve been here longer than I’ve stayed in any one location for months. I do some quick math in my head. Counting the six months of time that Marcus kept Paul and me captive, it’s barely been seven months since I last woke up up in my studio in SOMA. It was a small but quiet place, filled with vintage vinyl and art collected from dead friends, nestled in a neighborhood that gentrified around me in the two and a half decades I was there.

And now here I am, on the edge of Bayview, with nothing to my name but a stack of guns, a taco truck, and a pink vespa. Things change fast in this city for people all the time, but I’d wager my story is novel, at least.

My phone rings. It’s Anstis. I answer and shove it to my ear without sitting up. “What do you want?”

“Mr. Lytton! I was wondering if you had interest in what we discussed a week ago?”

About finding Isabella, he must mean. I groan and sit up. “Well I’ve been doing some poking around but I don’t seem to have any leads. What do you got?”

“The one with her is extremely powerful. Black Hand.”

I glance at Marcus’s file and wrinkled papers scattered across the dresser. “Yes, I knew that.”

“But the real question is, do you accept the arrangement I proposed?”

Shit. I was almost hoping he’d forgotten. “Well, you haven’t been around town that much. I know, cause I’d smell you before I saw you—”

“I have been away. I needed time to heal.”

“Yeah, I believe that.” I pick up some of the papers and flip through them till I reach the grainy photo of Cantor’s fat face. “Remind me of the terms again?”

“If I assist you and we recover your sister, safe and unhar—“ he hesitates, “—or, well, safe, at least, you shall teach me Celerity.”

The dead candle, the one I proved my Obtenebration skill with, sits mockingly in front of my face. “Only after we discover her, right?” I grumble.

“Aye.”

I put the papers down. “…Fine.”

“Excellent! The man we’re looking for is Cantor, makes his haven in St. Ignatius church.”

The name isn’t new to me, but the location is. “Huh, that’s weird. Didn’t think vampires could hang around churches.”

There’s a pause. “…You’d be surprised,” Anstis says carefully.

A resounding series of bangs on the front door suddenly rocks the downstairs. This early, Slayer is probably still dead asleep, so I groan and get up. “Anyway, I got some stuff to do, we can hash this out later.” I hang up without waiting for a goodbye, grab Glitch, and go downstairs.

The bangs come again, rattling the door on its hinges. Unfortunately there’s no peephole, and no windows nearby to give a clear view of the front porch. Clenching Glitch tightly, I slowly open the door.

The door is flung aside and a huge shape rushes into the room, forcing me back, grabbing my shoulders and pulling my face close, filling my vision with a fading beard, moth-eaten hat, and wild eyes.

Norton.

Have. You. Seeeeeeeen?!” the Emperor hisses at me, breath fishy like seal blood.

“Jesus, Emperor!” I try to pull back but his grip is iron. “Seen what?”

“Have you seeeeen it!!?”

“It? What?

He leans closer, voice dropping to a whisper. “Have you seen her?”

I gape at him. “…Who?”

“She is riiiiising! They are mad, you see. Mad! They will raise her! They will raise her, and sink us all! I have seen it…do you seeeeeeee?” His hands shake, clenched in a death grip.

My fingers float above Glitch’s hilt. Though it’s been awhile since I’ve seen Norton lost to a full Malkavian frenzy, I’ve seen the sort of madness he can summon, and I sure don’t want to be at the wrong end of it. “…Can I offer you something to drink, Emperor?” I offer cautiously.

He shakes his head slowly. “We shall all be drinking the oceans…all the seas run dry…have you not SEEN!!?!??!?!” He roars the last word, close enough to make my ears ring.

Slowly I reach up, carefully peeling his fingers out of my shoulders and forcing his hands down. “Emperor,” I say deliberately. “How are the dogs?”

His eyes waver a moment, then focus on me. “…Well. They are very well. Jupiter!! Mercury!!!” he bellows toward the door. The great dane and the dachshund stride and waddle in from outside, respectively, and sit expectantly on the floor, peering up at us.

I sigh. This madness, at least, I can handle. “Slayer!” I shout up the stairs.

“…What!?” a sleepy voice responds.

“Get up! We have guests!”

Distant grumbles, then the house creaks as Slayer stumbles downstairs. He pauses halfway down the stairs as he sees Norton. The drowsiness in his eyes evaporates instantly. “…Oh, fuck!

HIIIIIM!!!” Norton lifts an accusing hand at Slayer. “MALEFACTOR!!!!” Norton tries to barrel toward the stairs but I throw out my arms to stop him. Slayer leaps the bannister and runs past us into the kitchen as I hold Norton back, blustering shouts following him the whole way.

“Emperor!” I grab onto Norton’s worn coat and pivot him to face me. “It’s alright! What’s going on?”

He calms a bit but his eyes still flash. He raises one hand, trembling with rage, toward the kitchen. “That man…is a pestilent blight!!!”

“I know, but he also cleans my house—“

“HE SHALL CLEAN NOTHING!! Having sullied the great name of THIS! FAIR!! CITY!!11!!1!!

I lean back. Uh oh. “Are…you saying what I think you’re saying?”

Norton jerks out of my grip, folding his arms and glaring. “He uttered…an ABOMINATION!!11!

Yeah. Thought so. I sigh and turn toward the kitchen. “Slayer?” I shout. “Did you use the ‘F’ word around Norton?”

“FUCK YEAH, man, what the FUCK!?!”

“That’s not the F-word I mean—”

“DO YOU DARE VIOLATE THE IMPERIAL PRESCRIPT!!?” Norton bellows back, then reaches into his dirty woolen coat and pulls out a scroll. He snaps it open and announces, like a town crier, “WHOSOEVER shall be heard to utter the ABOMINABLE word of FRISCO, being of neither linguistic nor cultural merit, shall be punished with a fine of TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS! Moreover, he who does repeat this offence shall be BODILY PITCHED into SAN FRANCISCO BAY!” Norton meets my eyes. “BY ORDER OF HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY, NORTON THE FIRST!!!!!” He rolls the scroll smartly, drawing himself up. “…Emperor of these United States, and Protector of Mexico.”

I close my eyes. “Slayer, come out and pay the man twenty-five bucks.”

“WHAT!? Fuck no, I’m not going near that crazy asshole!” his shout echoes back.

With another sigh, I storm into the kitchen, corner Slayer, grab twenty-five bucks from his wallet, then come back to thrust it at Norton. The emperor takes it, glaring, and shoves it into his coat without counting it. “This is not Slayer’s first offense,” he growls.

I groan. “Oh, dammit, Norton, we have things to do–”

“Do you vouch for him!?”

Son of a bitch. “Slayer!” I shout. “Do you want to take the taco truck on the Mission route tonight, or would you rather go for a swim in the bay?”

WHAT!?

“Urg, nevermind.” I turn back to Norton. “Yeah fine, I’ll vouch for him.”

Norton sniffs haughtily, then tucks his scroll away. “Very well. I shall be listening, Mr. Lytton.”

I maneuver him toward the door, Jupiter and Mercury following. “I certainly hope you do. We need someone to maintain the honor of this city and you are always on guard.”

“Always.” Norton straightens his coat, straightens his hat, then suddenly stares around the room, blinking. “….What was I doing here?”

“I dont know, you showed up here mentioning something about ‘her rising–’”

Eyes instantly wild, he grabs my shoulders again. “HAVE YOU SEEN HER??!

(Me: “Goddammit, as soon as the words left my mouth I knew it was a bad idea–”)

Resignedly, I let him pull me close. “She will rise…from the very bowels of the world….” he whispers, fear tinting the madness in his eyes.

(Me: *flips through sheet* “Chris, how does Entrancement work? I just got it.”
Chris: “You roll Appearance plus Empathy, I think, but the number of successes correlate with how long they are deeply in love with you.”
Me: “Oh, I do not want that to happen.”
Jason: “Well, it’s more like fascination.”
Me: “Kay, well I don’t know if that’s good either in this situation, if I ever want Norton to leave.”)

I pry his hands off. “Where is this ‘her’ you speak of?”

He peers around the room, sightlessly. “She is around us, she is always all around us, and they will cause her to rise. They are waiting now for the stars to be right, and then they will cause her to rise, and in her majesty she will reap death on us all.”

“…Who?”

He turns to me. The fear is gone, replaced by something stranger: pity. “She is coming,” he whispers. “She is coming….”

He stares into my eyes a long moment, then, “JUPITER! MERCURY! We are leaving!” he bellows. And with that, the Emperor and his canine retinue sweep out my house, as suddenly and dramatically as they arrived.

I stare after them a long moment before closing the front door. “Well, that’s a good start to the night. Slayer!”

“What?” he calls from the kitchen. I can smell cooking, probably the meat for the truck.

“Did you hear that? Do you have any idea what he’s talking about?” I go in to meet him. Sure enough, he’s standing at the stove with a mountain of ground beef in the largest pan. He’s also wearing the apron I “suggested” he use. It’s pink.

“Man you have no fucking idea what’s been talking out on the streets,” he mutters, stabbing at the meat with a spatula.

“No? So why don’t you tell me?”

“Man, werewolves and mages and vampires and shit–”

“I know all that, I’m involved in all that, I mean is someone planning some ritual?”

He slams the spatula down and grabs the container of seasoning. “I don’t know man!”

I roll my eyes. “Alright, finish here, clean the kitchen, then take the truck to the Mission. Work the usual crowd, see if you hear anything about any rituals going on.”

“Yeah, cause the techbro crowd are really going to be talking about rituals!”

“I don’t know, maybe there’ll be people out hunting or some shit!” I turn to leave, trying to remember where I left my jacket.

“Man…fuck you….” he mutters, stirring the meat.

I stop in the doorway. “…I’m sorry, what was that?”

He freezes and looks up, eyes darting to the shadows. “Nothing, nothing!”

I glare. Tonight is not the night for this. “…Slayer, come here,” I beckon.

(Me: “Fucking Entrancement.”
Jason: “…Wow. Ok, roll it.”
Me: *rolls* “That’s…that’s a bunch of tens, and three eights, a six and a seven.”
Jason: “…Oh boy….”
Chris: “Does Slayer love Tom long time?”
Me: “Oh god, is he gay now? Cause I’d feel bad—”)

Slayer staggers a bit, staring at me, spatula held loosely in his hand. I lean in. “Slayer?” I say carefully. “Look, I need you on board with these plans, alright?”

He nods vigorously. “I’m on board, I’m on board—”

“Well, I don’t appreciate this backtalk you’re giving me,” I say calmly.

“No, no man—”

I pat him on the shoulder. “Good man.” He winces slightly, then stares at his shoulder in awe.

There’s a knock at the front door. “Mother of god, what?” I shout. No answer. I leave Slayer standing dumb in the kitchen, returning to the entryway to open the front door.
Norton bursts in, grabbing my shoulders and shoving me backwards into the hall. “HAVE! YOU! SEEN!! HER!?!!!

(Me: “…Alright. Can we cut the scene there?”)

#

THE CHANTRY

As we said, Georgia has spent the week researching, reading, and by all accounts enjoying the quiet of the Chantry. She also has been sifting through the remainder of Himmler’s memories for new leads in the gargoyle investigation, but nothing particularly useful has surfaced yet. She has also been looking for new rituals and thaumaturgical knowledge from his experience, and is much more successful in this area. Taken together, these endeavors are all geared toward making her a better Regent, and figuring out what actions she will take next in the larger politics of the city.

It should also be noted that most of these efforts have been undertaken in the company of the space whale and the werewolf cub.

(Me: “Does the space whale have a name yet?”
Kara: “Has the space whale indicated to me what it would like to be called?”
Jason: “…Mew.”
Kara: “Alright, from now on the space whale’s name is MewMew.”
Me: “Like…Mjolnir?”
Kara: “Yep!”
Jason: “…What the hell—?”)

As this evening sets, Georgia is in bed, reading, when someone taps her bedroom door. Gently, as if the visitor was afraid the door might be about to open up and eat him because he knows from experience. “Yes Bob?” she calls.

“Regent, there’s someone at the door.”

She mentally accesses the wards in a sort of CCTV mode she’s learned and sees a view of Everton. He’s not exactly at the door because the door is now hidden, but he is in the general area of the street the front door is supposed to be, peering up and down the street.

She returns focus to the room. Both MewMew and the werewolf cub are curled up here, the space whale on the bed and the cub in a padded basket in the corner. But while MewMew is delicately asleep, the cub is clearly awake, watching Georgia from behind the tuck of his tail, eyes bright.

Georgia climbs out of bed and fishes around for a fresh set of robes. “Is Jawahar around?” she calls to Bob.

“Uh, no Regent, he stepped out about an hour ago.”

“Okay, good.”

Bob hesitates. “Regent? Is he going to be here long?”

She pulls on brand new set of tailored robes in embroidered rust-orange silk and spends a moment admiring herself in the mirror. “Jawahar? Well, yeah, he lives here now.”

“But…he’s Hermetic.”

She opens the door, revealing Bob’s anxious, sallow face. “Yes, but we rescued him. He’s our Hermetic.”

“But…how can he be yours if you haven’t even put him in the torture rack?”

MewMew suddenly darts out between them, disappearing down the hall. Georgia closes the door carefully behind her, though, locking the cub in. “Sometimes loyalty is enforced through alignment of goals.”

“Oh…what’s the goal?”

“To make the Tremere clan better.” Georgia pats Bob’s arm and goes downstairs to meet Everton.

Rather than inviting him in, though, she ducks outside and closes the front door behind her before he notices her. The door fades into obscurity, but she can still feel its location through the humming of the wards. “Why hello!” she announces. “Fancy seeing you here!”

Everton turns, bracing his cane squarely in front of him. “Ahh, quite so. I understood that congratulations were in order on the rebirth of this rather old and august chantry….” he glances around the street of non-descript Victorian buildings, “ …which is likely somewhere around here. I expect that my inability to find it is a good sign.”

“That is correct. Also, it is currently free of dragon inhabitants.”

“One can only hope that will remain the case.” He glances briefly at the sky, then tucks his cane under his arm. “I was wondering, I have been making certain inquiries as to the whereabouts of a particular item, you might say, and I haven’t had a great degree of luck. It’s lead me to believe that the item in question has either been spirited away well outside my ability to locate or is somewhere…rather well hidden.”

“Ah, I see,” Georgia says.

There’s a tense pause.

“And given that the Chantry is rather well equipped to locate such locations, I thought it might be best to inquire,” Everton continues.

“Ah, yes! Good thinking.” She hesitates, tilting her head. “Losing things seems rather unlike you.”

“Yes, well this one has given me quite a degree of difficulty. I’ve been ruling out options all week and am running out of places where it could possibly be. Moreover, since you do have a history with this particular object I thought you might know something.” He eyes her carefully.

She nods. “Perhaps we might speak more, inside.”

Georgia lets Everton inside and leads him to her office. He stares around as he sinks into the leather chairs in front of her desk. “Well, you’ve done a capital job on this place.”

She glances around the room, filled with baroque antiques and blood-red everything. “Thank you, though I haven’t changed any of the decor–”

“Well it’s not so much the decor as the lack of soul-devouring monstrosities.”

Georgia settles into her chair and folds her hands on the desk. “Oh, yes, many of those were looted.”

Everton eyes her. “I meant the particular unwelcome monstrosities who have lately made it a habit to visit, not the ones the Tremere conjure themselves.”

“Ah. Yes, indeed.”

Everton settles himself in the chair, watching her a moment before continuing. “So. As I am sure you have by now realized, the ‘object’ in question is a rather small werewolf.”

She sighs lightly. “Indeed. I remember entrusting it to you so that you might hide it away. What happened?”

“Yes, there was a slight difficulty. I left the vicinity of Orlando’s location in the accompany of two werewolves, and arrived at my destination in the accompany of none. Which I expect is better than arriving in the accompany of eight, but you do understand. It concerns me somewhat.”

“And…you’ve heard nothing?”

“I’ve heard rumors of one of them, rumors that relate to our dear Mr. Lytton, who has been making something of a habit of producing a great sound and fury around the bay.” Everton waves a hand dismissively. “But that’s another matter. Lytton may be foolish enough to engage with Shadowlords and Silent Striders, but I am not. It’s the other one that concerns me the most, the one who has disappeared. Werewolves in general tend to be rather reliable, in that they will turn up in the most inconvenient locations and destroy everything in sight. But this cub…” he eyes her carefully as he says this, “…may be something else.”

She blinks. “Oh? Like what?”

“I have nothing concrete yet. Various legends of the Garou about savior figures and the like. Not that I particularly believe their legends but I do believe they believe them. And the only thing more dangerous than a fanatic is a fanatic who believes he has just found Christ.”

“I see,” she says, not really seeing.

He shifts again in his chair, bracing his cane in front of him. “So, I believe this is just a rather long-winded way of asking if you’ve any means of determining where it has gone to?”

“Well, let me ask you, if you do find it, what do you intend to do with it?”

“That’s a delicate question. I can’t know until I’ve had a chance to investigate. Particularly alongside a colleague of mine who has agreed to assist me in this regard.” He sighs. “But that said, in all candor, there is a possibility I will need to destroy it.”

Georgia stares. “Oh.”

“I’m not going to regard that as plan A, but if the legends are correct—or at least the wrong ones—it may be a necessary evil.”

“And how will your colleague go about determining this?”

“A certain degree of magical engagements which I am not qualified to speak to. You see, he’s not Kindred, he’s a Mage.”

She brightens. “Oh! Which mage?”

He frowns. “Not your colleague, the good Dr. vonNatsi.”

“Is it Victoria?” Georgia asks eagerly.

His frown deepens. “Victoria? I’m afraid I don’t know a Victoria. Whom do you mean?”

Georgia waves vaguely. “Oh, nevermind. There are so many mages. It’s not important. Please go on—”

Before he can though, Georgia receives a call. In her head. “—Hold on one moment, Everton.” Her face goes blank as she turns her mind inward. Who is it?

Ms. Johnson, Rabenholz’s voice rumbles, Mr. Bell has requested your presence at the Pyramid. I also need to speak with you.

You’re speaking with me now, she answers.

This is not the most efficient means of communication.

But we can have intimate conversations over very long distances.

He pauses. …Very well. We are to leave for Humboldt County this evening.

(Kara: “I…decline.”)

Ms. Johnson, Rabenholz says sharply, the Justicar has requested you specifically for this task.

Her eyes focus briefly on Everton in front of her who is calmly looking around the room again. Tell the Justicar I am otherwise disposed.

I’m afraid if you want me to render that service, you will owe me considerably more than you already do.

Georgia sighs loud enough for it to carry across the mental link. Tell him I will attend his audience.

Good. I was also wondering if you would attend to another project of mine this evening. The trip to Humboldt County will give us good excuse to leave if it does not go well.

(Kara: “Wait, what project?”
Chris: “It’s the Give Her a Pet Jalut project!”
Kara: “Georgia’s…not on board with that plan.”
Chris: “Ok, but consider this: A pet gargoyle wearing bows, shiny sparkly bows, and he’s holding a little cat–I mean, a space whale–under his arm, and he says, ‘Good evening, Regent! MewMew is happy to see you! Here you go! Would you like your evening tea?’”
Jason: “…Let the record show that Kara is face-palming.”)

The mental link fades. Georgia folds her hands politely on the desk again. “Dr. Everton, I am sorry to interrupt our conversation, but it seems I have received instructions to attend a meeting at the Pyramid.”

“Ah yes, of course. Do give my regards to the Justicar. You will understand if I do not accompany you. I am still technically under interdict.”

“Do let me know if your mage friend is willing to tell me anything about those rituals; maybe there is something I can be of assistance with.”

Everton gets up from his chair and moves toward the door. “Ah, well, I’m afraid that what he does is a little different from the Etherites with which you are acquainted, not to mention the thaumaturgical research of the Tremere. Or such is my understanding.”

“Well, don’t underestimate me, I might be able to take that information and do something with it.”

Everton chuckles, pausing at the door. “Regent, believe me, I wouldn’t dream of underestimating you.”

#

THE PYRAMID

Captain Anstis is also on his way to meet with Bell in his office—

(Me: “Does Bell have flowers in his office?”
Jason: *glares* “I don’t know, why don’t you come and find out?”
Me: “I’m just saying, two people now have been to his office, I’d think one of them would have seen.”
Jason: “They didn’t think to look for flowers.”
Me: “Jim you should look for flowers in Bell’s office.”
Jim: “Admiral Flowers is there!?!?”
Me: “No! Nononono—”
Jim: “NEMESIS!!!!!!!!”)

—And runs into Georgia and Rabenholz on his way up, the latter having come down to meet her in the lobby.

“Georgia!” Anstis beams, spreading his arms wide in the confines of the elevator. “How fare ye?”

She takes a half step back. “Ah, quite well, Captain, thank you–”

“I hear you have secured your Chantry. I was wondering if you’ve found any items that might belong to me? Items from my previous life, recovered from wherever the Tremere dredged me up.”

Georgia hesitates a moment, considering, and remembers that in her explorations of the building over the past week, she did come across a small box of assorted nautical-themed items, most rusted or broken. “Oh…yes, a few things, maybe, in the basement.”

“Aye, and when can I receive them?”

“Well, let’s see how the evening proceeds, I suppose.”

“Aye.” Anstis turns to Rabenholz, who has been watching him, bemused, since they entered. “And I don’t believe we’ve met. Captain Thomas Anstis!”

“Augustus von Rabenholz. Charmed, I’m sure.” Rabenholz does not extend a hand. “Mr. Anstis, do you hail from San Francisco?”

“Nay, I be from the Caribbean, formerly.”

Rabenholz eyes Anstis’s new outfit, layered with more trim, lace, and coiffed wig than the floor of a French whorehouse. “…Indeed.”

The elevator dings and lets them out. A ghoul meets them, leading them wordlessly down the hall and into Bell’s office. The Justicar is standing at the window and turns as they enter. “Ms. Johnson…” his eyes narrow, “…and Captain. Good of you to come.”

Anstis sweeps his hat in a bow and Georgia settles into a chair. “What can we do for you?” she asks gracefully.

With one last glare at the pirate, Bell launches into another discussion of the Humboldt County cultists, and his plans to maneuver them into taking the fall for all the ‘terrorist activity’ around the bay.

“Mr. Rabenholz will be heading up there for the purposes of arranging this, and I would like you to go with him,” he says to Georgia. “Assist him in this matter, make sure nothing goes wrong, and most importantly, make sure no one interferes in the situation. Northern California is filled with all kinds of fun, fun things.”

Georgia nods sagely. “With teeth. “

“Most of them, yes. And the ones that don’t, you’ll wish they did.”

She nods. “Very well. I shall take my smallest deathray.”

He stares at her a long moment. “Whatever, just so long as no one starts another war. Be discrete. If I wanted somebody to cut their way to Humboldt and back, I would have gotten the Brujah.”

“Delicacy, got it.”

“Please.” Bell extends his glare to Rabenholz, standing regally behind her. “Your clans are so famous for it, after all. If you two can arrange this it will get the National Guard off our backs so we can return to focusing on the true problem, the gigantic and extremely powerful Sabbat monster running around eating everything.”

He turns to Anstis, lounging against a wall by the window. “Captain. What can I do for you?”

Anstis straightens, smoothing at his coat. “Are you aware that there’s a Sabbat Assamite operating in the city? A member of the Black Hand.”

There’s a long silence as Bell stares at Anstis, face hardening. For a moment, it’s unclear whether he’s about to bang his head against the desk, or break it in half. “…Where?” Bell growls, finally.

“Church of St. Ignatius. In the Catacombs.”

“Who is he? “

“Cantor is the name.”

Bell straightens. “Cantor. What in the name of hell is he doing here?” He growls under his breath and stalks to the window. “It’s getting awfully crowded in my city.”

“There’s some connection to Lytton.”

“Well, of course there is. A major Sabbat rolls into town, how could there not be? What is this, another tool of Sertorius’s?”

“Nay, Cantor, I believe, is the sire of Tom’s sister.”

Bell goes still. “Well. Now that is interesting.”

“I have promised to aid Tom in recovering his sister. Which is why I’ve come to you.”

Bell paces the room a moment. “Cantor is on a wanted list. Everyone in the Black Hand is, but Cantor has made his bed.” He drums his fingers on the edge of his desk. He’s in St. Ignatius? Now?”

“He was last week.”

Bell looks up sharply. “I’m gonna assume you had the best intentions of waiting a week before letting me know of this, but he could be anywhere now, and if we missed an opportunity to grab him I’m not gonna be very happy. Where’s Lytton now?”

“I don’t know.”

Bell reaches for his phone. “Then I think it’s time we had a word.”

#

BAYVIEW

Slayer has just left with the taco truck, “La Cucaracha” echoing off into the night, and I’m on the porch watching Norton feed taco meat to the dogs with my phone rings. My breath catches as I look at the screen. It’s Bell. I have to stop myself from smoothing at my hair before I answer. “Uh, heeey, what’s…what’s going on?”

“Lytton. I hear rumors of a certain Assamite.”

The knot in my throat drops to my stomach. “…What sort of rumors?”

“By the change in your voice I think you know already. How long have you known about Cantor?”

“I only heard about him a week ago, before Boss left town, I’ve been trying to ask around about him–”

“It doesn’t concern you the sheer number of senior Sabbat officials that seem to be in this area?” he barks suddenly. “Or…does it explicitly not concern you?”

My hand clenches on the porch railing. “I don’t know if I like that tone.”

“I dont know if I care. You are already implicated with one Sabbat methuselah with a hefty price tag on his head, and I don’t like the notion of you neglecting to tell me of others who happen to show up.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve lost track of what the latest top threat is in this town.”

“Lytton, surely even you are smart enough to understand that the Black Hand is a problem.”

“So are the fucking Talons!” I snap, “And the fucking Settites! And that damn Spiral Dancer that keeps showing up!”

There’s a long, dangerous silent. “Is Cantor here with Sertorius?” Bell growls.

“No! Hell, he told me to find him! He showed up in my room with a dossier and everything!”

“Why’s he telling you about him?”

“Because he has my sister.”

“And what’s that to Sertorius?”

Rage clouds the edge of my vision red. I’m sick of people thinking Isabella is just some pawn, or using her as one. These assholes with their games…. Marcus is probably the only one who actually understands anymore. Besides Paul, that is. “I don’t know,” I hiss at Bell, “Maybe I’m just a convenient cannon to point his direction.”

My sarcasm apparently doesn’t come through. “You aren’t able to take on Cantor, so I’ll ask again. Is it possible he told you about Cantor so word would get back to me?”

“I don’t see why he didn’t just tell you himself, you work for him now too,” I mutter.

There’s a very long silence, deadlier than the first. “…You’d best be in the Pyramid in an hour.” He hangs up.

(Chris: “I don’t think your crush likes you, Tom.”
Me: “Yeah…”
Jim: “Entrancement!?”
Kara: “Entrancement!!!”)

Shoving my phone away, I turn to bid goodbye to Norton, and ask if he needs to go downtown, though I hope not cause my Vespa isn’t great for two people and Norton is a lot larger than Slayer.

Norton sniffs disdainfully. “No. I have other business I must attend.” He climbs the porch steps toward me, leaning in. I tense, expecting another shoulder-grab. “She is coming,” he says assuringly, his voice free of its earlier maniacal edge. Somehow, though, that is more distressing. “She is coming, and before her, the very mountains will crack asunder.”

Mercury and Jupiter climb to their feet behind him. Still holding my gaze, he steps off the porch with them and into the dead weeds of the front yard. No more than a few feet from the steps, all three of them disappear.

I stare into the empty evening a long moment, then lock the house and go to drag out the Vespa.

#

THE PYRAMID

After Bell hangs up with me, Anstis asks him what he knows of the Ravnos, or anything about Admiral Flowers in particular. Bell says not much, rumors mostly, and advises Anstis to speak with the Nosferatu for anything more concrete than that.

Bell also ventures that Rabenholz and Georgia will be wanting to leave for Humboldt soon. Taking the hint, they get up to take their leave.

“When do you expect to be back?” Anstis asks Georgia.

She hesitates. “I…don’t.”

(Jim: “Well! Free Chantry!”)

“I mean, sir,” Georgia continues, “That it is best not to try to stick to schedules when one has no idea what one is walking into.”

(Chris: “A wizard arrives precisely when she means to!”)

Anstis nods, accepting this. “Well, will you do me the courtesy of calling me when you get back, so that I may inquire about my effects? Here is my new number.” Anstis digs in his pockets and hands over his entire phone. Georgia takes it automatically, staring, then sighs and uses his phone to call hers so she’ll have the number.

(Jason: “Your ringtone is Rick Astley.”
Kara: “My phone? How is that possible?”
Jason: “You may want to blame Dr. vonNatsi for that.”
Chris: “Cause he’s never gonna give you up.”
Jason: “But he’s also never gonna let you down.”
Jim: “He’s never gonna run around and hurt you.”
Kara: “…Is this ‘cause I brought a unicorn coloring book tonight?”
Jim: “Possibly.”
Jason: “Look, I wouldn’t worry about it. He’s never gonna make you cry.”
Me: “But will he say goodbye?”
Jason: “Well, he’ll never tell a lie, or desert you.”)

With that, Georgia and Rabenholz leave to make their preparations for the Humboldt mission. Anstis, though, lingers in the office, waiting for the door to close behind them. “There’s one final matter,” he growls to Bell the moment it does.

“What’s that?” Bell sits at his desk, occupying himself with some papers.

“The arrangement we made. To get Helgi Isarnbjorn to leave town.”

Bell glances up sharply. “My understanding is that’s not what you did.”

Anstis grins and spreads his arms. “Is he in town?”

“Well, I don’t know the answer to that, Captain, and I’m sure you don’t either.”

“He’s not,” Anstis says firmly.

Bell sits back. “I’m gonna have to ask how it is you’re so sure of this.”

Anstis grins. “According to Marcus, he is being held by the Settites.”

“Really.” Bell’s chair rotates slowly back and forth. “Well that doesn’t exactly generate a nonvolatile element, does it. Sertorius and Isarnbjorn have been running around together for the better part of a millennium, I expect he’s chopping his way in this direction now. I don’t object to a pile of dead Settites, but I do object if that comes about because of a battle in the streets.” He leans forward, levelling a finger. “If you can get word to Sertorius ask him for some discretion. And if it so happens that you manage through all this to get Helgi Isarnbjorn out of my hair, then yes, I will honor my end of the bargain. But for the moment, I need something better than your guess and his intuition about where he is.”

#

I enter the lobby of the Pyramid just as Georgia and an unknown man exit the elevator. “Oh, hey Georgia….” I say awkwardly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without Paul around and don’t really know what to talk about with her, like running into your buddy’s girlfriend at the grocery store.

But my attention soon slides to the older man looming behind her. His tailored suit and imperial air that just screams Ventrue, though I can’t be sure. His gaze travels over me, coolly, then settles on my sword. His eyes narrow. I tense. Shit, maybe this is some high-level Tremere boss of hers–

“That’s a lovely sword of yours,” he rumbles, voice as deep as he is tall.

“Yeah,” Georgia says slowly, frowning at Glitch now too. “Is that a new sword, Tom?”

I shift my hip away from them. “Oh, no, I’ve had it for awhile now.”

“Really? Where’d you get it?”

“Oh, you know. Around,” I say breezily. “You know me, I just pick up weapons as I go. And who are you?” I ask the man.

“Augustus von Rabenholz,” he says smoothly, not extending a hand.

I stare back. “Charmed.”

“Do you know anything of its lineage?” he asks, gesturing to the sword.

I stop myself from cupping the handle protectively. “No, but it’s been making a new history rather quickly.”

He nods slowly and stares a long moment. “This is terribly forward of me, I know, but would you mind if I touch the handle a moment? You won’t have to relinquish it.”

For a moment, I almost snap a joke about not being into swordplay with older men, but one glance from his steely eyes and the humor dies on my tongue. I take a half step away, jerking my thumb behind me. “Actually I’m in a rush, Bell called me, so I’ll catch up with you another time if you don’t mind. Good to meet you, Mr. Rabenholz. Georgia.” I nod at them and walk quickly to the elevator, feeling their stares on me until the doors close.

I lean against the back wall as I rise. I’ve had Glitch for weeks, so why is it now, when I need it to ensure my continued survival, that everyone is suddenly interested in it? Fortunately, dragons aside, everyone seems to be staying in the realm of curious-but-civil. I can’t imagine what I’d have to do to keep the sword from the hands of the less-honorable sorts.

As if on cue, the elevator dings and the doors open, revealing Anstis. “Tom!” he shouts enthusiastically, standing proudly in a pirate-y getup that, for once, very much does not look like something cheap from the costume shop.

I sidle my way past him, nodding tersely. “Hey, I’d love to catch up, but Bell’s called me–”

“I know, I’m here to show you in!” He bows me down the hall with a flourish. I roll my eyes and enter Bell’s office. Bell is behind the desk, as usual, glaring, as usual, but my stomach still jumps when I see him.

(Me: “Are there flowers in the room!?
Jim: “Why are you so concerned about flowers!?”
Me: “Because at the beginning of the night, I gave Jason a ninja note saying: ‘During the week off, I sent Bell some flowers with a card saying, ‘Thanks for saving me from the assholes,’

My eye darts around the room, and then I see them. On an end-table in a corner, a bouquet of tiger lilies in a purple glass vase. They’re not exactly well-displayed, but by the look of them, the water’s been changed recently, and the stamens trimmed. I keep my face cool, but I stand a little straighter as I cross the room and slouch into a chair in front of him.

Bell watches me over folded hands a long moment. I stare evenly back. “You done?” he says finally. The tone is not friendly.

I sigh, hopes evaporating. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Well I half expected you to come in here with a one liner. You ain’t gonna tell me about how you gonna fight the power?”

Well, I was, I think, but now that I see you kept my flowers…. Outwardly I shrug.

“How about you tell me about Cantor,” Bell continues, “And why you decided to wait a whole week before letting me know about this guy?”

“Because you got so much other stuff on your plate I assumed that one guy was probably not worth your notice.”

“This ain’t exactly one guy, if you know what I’m talking about. Let me ask you this, when you found out where Cantor was, when your little friend there decided to have a looksie into his past, did he volunteer to clean this mess up for you?”

Not after he already spent all that time teaching me the shadows…. “No, but this is a delicate situation.”

“Oh, well that makes perfect sense, cause you’re exactly the person I’d want to handle delicate situations.”

There’s a short laugh behind me, and I turn to see Anstis leaning against a filing cabinet, grinning at us. I glare at him and turn away. “Look, I didn’t know where he was. Marcus didn’t know where he was, all he had was a dossier with a grainy photo–”

“No, Marcus didn’t tell you where he was, you don’t know what he did or did not know.” Bell jabs a hand toward the window. “More importantly, I’m concerned here, because I just managed, finally, to pull this city back into some manner of working order and I’m in the process of making sure it stays that way. I don’t really need you burning a church down, or blowing it up, or having a running gun-battle with an Assamite elder down Haight Street. So what was your delicate plan for this situation?”

I hesitate, trying to keep my face even. Honestly, those were the only plans that had come to mind so far.

Bell leans forward, leather creaking. “This is a situation here, a serious one. The Black Hand will kill anything that gets in their way. You have a connection to this so I’d like to know what you plan to do about it. And if you’re not, then I’ll have to deal with this situation, and if I go in, it’ll be a clean sweep. And you don’t want me to do that, do you?”

His gaze pierces me through his glasses, stirring a whirlwind of emotions, anger being only part of it. I look away. “No,” I say softly.

“Figured you didn’t, so what is your proposal for me not doing that?”

“Well I’m not much of a strategist. I tend to do things more…organically. But I’ll need some more information first.”

“When was the last time you spoke to her?” Anstis suddenly chimes in.

Rage flares like a backdraft. I grip the edges of the chair to lock it down. The dark voice inside has been asking that very question for weeks, maybe even months now, ever since I learned what had happened to her. So far I’d ignored it, shoving it away, but to hear it come from the mouth of the pirate, with his incessant mocking lilt…

I turn slowly to face him. “1983,” I say, voice dangerously low.

“So you don’t know her current mindset.” Anstis nods and turns to Bell. “I believe that should be assessed before we move with any rash action–”

In a flash, Anstis is against the wall, my forearm shoved against his throat. She’s not a monster! and other protests want to tear from me, but with that photo of her lurking in my memory, I’m not sure I can deny it, even to myself. “Be careful talking about things you have no right to know about,” I growl instead.

Anstis stares back calmly, no movement but the twitching of his calamari beard. “I’m trying to come up with an equitable solution to this.”

There’s a heavy clunk as Bell sets his sawn-off on his desk. “You might consider convincing me of your bona-fides in ways other than shoving people around, Lytton.”

“Funny,” I mutter to Bell, still staring into Anstis’s stinking face, “I thought it’d impress you, considering it’s your favorite strategy.”

In the silence that follows, I can hear every movement as Bell slides two cartridges into the barrels and closes them with a click.

Anstis glances between us. “If this Assamite sister of Tom’s is being held against her will by this Cantor, and if she is willing to join the Camarilla, or otherwise be non-offensive, would you object to her remaining alive?”

“…No,” Bell says finally. “Sins of the sire, and all that.” With the possibility of compromise lurking in the air, I release Anstis and step back, begrudgingly. Bell places his shotgun back down on the desk. “But understand,” he continues, “I need this situation dealt with. I’m prepared to deal with it myself, but if I do, things are liable to go ways you won’t like. You wanna take the lead, I’ll let you do it, but under conditions.”

I slouch back to the chair, hitching one leg up over the arm. “Those being?”

“Well first, I don’t trust you alone with this situation. It’s too personal to you and you got too short a fuse.” Bell jerks his chin to Anstis. “So you be sure to take the captain with you. He seems to know the most about this, after all, and I doubt either of you could take him on alone anyway. The second being that there is to be no collateral damage here. I want that church open for Sunday worship the next day, if necessary. No fires, no vandalism, no explosions, no litter. Do I make myself clear?”

I kick my leg against the chair. “Sure.”

“And if you do somehow manage this, and recover your cargo, I want you to make sure that she does not become a problem. You want her to stick around, join the Camarilla or whatever? That’s fine, but you’re gonna be sponsoring. You got a problem with that?”

“No, I just…don’t know what to expect when I get there.”

“Well, that’s true you don’t, and you’re not gonna know till you do.” Bell braces two fists on the desk, leaning forward. “I don’t pretend to know what family business is going on here, and it is a might weird to find two vampires from the same family, independent of one another. You given any thought to how this came about?”

“Like I said, last time I talked to her was 1983.”

“And she was human at that moment?”

Anger coils, but this time it’s at myself. “…Yes.”

Bell frowns. “It’s unsettling that this is the case. You should be prepared for the situation that she is not your sister.”

I look away. “I know.”

Bell lets the silence hang, then sits down with a sigh. “I’m not unsympathetic but this has to be understood, and dealt with. Peace will come to this city, one way or another. It can come your way or mine but it will come.” He watches me a moment, then turns to Anstis. “Needless to say, Captain, this goes for the both of you.”

Anstis nods. “I’ll put out discrete inquiries to see if he’s still in the same location.”

“Good.” Bell eyes both of us a moment. “Anything else new in the last week I should know about? Anything either of you have been up to?”

Forcing my best pokerface, I fake thoughtfulness a moment and shake my head. Next to me, Anstis responds surprisingly similarly.

Bell glares suspiciously. “Fine. Please try to handle this appropriately. I have kept you alive after the Monterey fiasco under the hopes that you might figure out how to do this properly.”

Taking that for a dismissal, I get up and leave, without another word to Bell, or a glance at the flowers. Anstis bows and follows behind me.

Reaching the hall, I flag down a passing ghoul and ask her to bring me something to drink. “Chilled!” I remember to specify as she walks away.

Next to me, Anstis is fiddling with something in his pocket and looking thoughtful. “I’ll be right back,” he mutters, then into a bathroom down the hall. I stare a long moment, then, deciding it’s probably best not to ask, sink into a chair to wait for my drink.

#

Once inside the bathroom, Anstis pulls out one of his stones. This one has also been pre-inscribed with a name: Isabella Lytton. Just to be safe, he locks the door, then casts his ritual.

To the south. Hunting for prey, both great and small.

Anstis considers this as he puts the stone away. He needs more information, but he’s out of blank rocks, so he decides to do the next best thing and get help from the spirit world directly.

By summoning Carlos.

(Me: “Omg, are you going to look into the mirror and say his name three times?”
Chris: *whispering roughly* “Carlos the tickle-monster slips into your dreams…what is laughter, and what are SNAKES!!!
Jim: *rolls* “Oh, fuck. Botch!”
Jason: “Ooooh, oh-hoho–”)

The room goes dark, and cold, like the crushing depths of the ocean. Frost spiders across the mirror and the pipes creak with expanding ice. Anstis stops, knowing instinctively that something has gone very, very wrong….

Something is in the room with him, something unseen. Anstis murmurs a necromantic incantation and slides his vision elsewhere, scanning the local spirit world of the bathroom. The walls fade into mist and he peers into the gloom, searching. Nothing is visible, but waves of emotion roil from somewhere nearby: betrayal, outrage, and anger.

(Jim: “I’m, ah…imma leave the bathroom.”)

Anstis reaches for the door, but as he does the entire surface freezes over. He gropes for the handle and throws himself against it. It’s stuck shut.

Anstissssss….” a voice whispers, the trailing hiss echoing across the tiled room.

Anstis whirls. “Show yourself.”

“…Anstisssss…an eye for an eye, Anstissss….” The voice comes from all directions, and no direction.

Anstis touches his eyepatch reflexively and advances slowly across the floor, the mist returning as he slides his sight back into the spirit world. “Do you wish to be known?”

I am known…to EVERYONE!”

Something grabs him from behind. Anstis roars and struggles, digging bony fingers out of his coat and flinging their owner to the floor. A withered, twisted, skeletal form; its fleshless jaw cackles at him until he smashes it with his boot. He stands a moment, growling, until something else skitters behind him and he whirls, coat churning the icy mist.

A ship has appeared, far off in the gloom, sailing on the thin surface of darkness.  A wooden ship, though nothing like his own Good Fortune. Narrow and low, with a single mast and long sweeping oars. Figures scurry about the deck, and as it approaches closer, he sees them for what they are. More skeletons, hefting the tattered sail and pulling the oars, all chittering at him, their voices carried away by the cold spirit wind.

The boat bobs in its abyssal sea and turns hard, facing Anstis broadside from a dozen yards away. In the stern, manning a tiller, is another man, this one of flesh, though his body is racked with piercing wounds. The drifting mists obscure many of his details, but they’re clearly pierced by his one glaring eye.

(Kara: “It’s you!”
Jason: “No, it’s not Anstis.”
Jim: “Do I recognize him?”
Jason: “Roll me…raw Intelligence.”
Jim: “…One success.”
Jason: “Maybe…it’s hard to see, but, you know…it occurs to you, your boatswain had one eye. An officer on your ship, one of the ones who betrayed you. Tuke was his name, you recall.”
Me: “Fool of a Took!”
Jason: “No, T-U-K-E.”)

“Call on who you will, Anstis, you walk the path of the damned now,” the man’s voice growls through the mist. “What are you doing I wonder, raising the dead? Are you really fool enough to meddle with that one? Is your revenge that important?”

Anstis squints at the spectre, then sneers.

(Jim: “…Haunting.”
Jason: “How’s that work?”
Jim: “He can be bound to any object or location, but it’s more difficult to bind to an object….”
Jason: “…You’re gonna bind him to the fucking bathroom?!
Me: “Oh my god, you’re going to Moaning Myrtle his ass?”)

Anstis extends a hand toward the ship, calling on his unholy power. Iron chains erupt from the wood of the deck, snaking around the one-eyed wraith. He struggles a moment, rage burning the distance between them.

Anstis snarls, his face twisted in three hundred years of fury. He steps forward, hand still extended. “You’re in my world, and I will make you pay!”

The chains twist tighter, coiling like pythons, but the man stands tall. “How will you make me pay, Captain, when your world has become mine!

He rips his arms from the chains and raises them high. An icy wind erupts, screaming from the darkness with the force of a thousand souls, battering into Anstis in a liquid torrent. Anstis staggers, forced from the vision back into reality.

#

Meanwhile, I’m slouched on a chair in the hall, sipping awkwardly at the goblet of blood the ghoul brought me. It’s…fine, it’s slaking the thirst, but it’s pretty poor quality, already starting to clot despite being chilled. I’m used to better stuff from around here.

I wave down another passing ghoul and point to my glass. “Hey, do you have anything fresher?” The kid hesitates and starts to reach for his collar but I hurriedly wave him to stop. “No no, bottled is fine, I just mean…not this.”

Relief flickers briefly across his face. “Sorry, sir. Bell ordered the Pyramid’s store purged, and the city blood banks have been drained by the recent cholera outbreak.”

He continues down the hall. I sit back resignedly and glare at the bathroom door. I don’t know what the hell Anstis thinks he’s going in there, but I’ve been hearing weird groans and bangs periodically for the last five minutes. I’ve had nights like that, sure, but not in twenty years, and I know he hasn’t either.

I toss back the rest of my glass and look around, still a little hungry. “Hey, kid!” I shout down the hall. “Any chance I could get some more?”

The bathroom door suddenly flies off its hinges, smashing into the hallway, followed by a gushing roar like the split hull of the Titanic. But it’s not seawater, it’s blood, great arterial rivers of it, smashing against the far wall and flooding the hallway. I leap to my feet, shocked, but I can only stare as blood fills the floor, flowing shin-deep past me in a sharp current, the spray soaking the brocade walls and painting the furniture in grisly macabre.

Finally it stops. As the flood recedes I see Anstis, pinned upside down against the wall opposite the bathroom by a veritable torrent of blood. The stream abates, leaving Anstis sliding down the wall in a wet and sticky mess, his new clothes drenched in red ichor.

Another bang, from behind me. Bell has burst from his office and is staring at the hall, shocked. He looks at me, standing in front of him with an empty glass, but I point mutely down the hall at Anstis.

We watch silently as Anstis peels himself from the wall and staggers to his feet. He peers around at the carnage, the only sound his squelching steps in the carpet, carefully smoothing at his ruined jacket.

Do not go in there,” Anstis announces to us.

Bell stares at him, stares at me, then returns to his office, slamming the door behind him.
END OF NIGHT

SPECIAL EPILOGUE:

(Jason: “I’d just like to point out, you’ll all find out about this very quickly, but basically every water pipe in the Pyramid just started vomiting blood all over the entire building.”
Me: “The entire building!?”
Jason: “The entire building.”
Chris: “That’ll be cheap to fix.”
Me: “That’s…gonna be awkward when people come to work tomorrow.”
Jason: “It’s eight in the evening, there’s still people at work now.”
Me: “…Oh god…. ”
Chris: “Bell said something about discretion, didn’t he?”
Me: “Well at least, for once, this was 100% not me! I was just standing there!”
Jason: “I’m guessing even Bell knows that.”
Jim: “I would like to put forth that this was not the discretion Bell asked for. He asked for discretion on the Cantor case, not this one.”
Me: “Bell didn’t say don’t turn all the water in the building to blood!”)

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