4/28/15

Jason: “These guns look old, and immense. Course you’re used to immense guns by now.”
Me: “Cause he’s been hanging around with me!”
Jason: “No, these are clearly bigger than the ones Tom’s been holding.”
Me: “Those aren’t the guns I mean!” *ARM-FLEX*

***

THE PYRAMID

The door slams behind Bell. Ignoring me, Anstis pivots on a booted heel and storms back into the bathroom.

It looks like someone detonated a whale in it. He trods across the wet tile and slides his vision back into the underworld. Once again, mists obscure the walls, but the ghastly ship and its one-eyed captain are gone. Irritated, he slams a fist into the wall and returns to the hallway.

Meanwhile, I’m slowly coming to my senses. Academically, I recall that I’m still hungry, but for some reason, none of the carnage around me looks appetizing.

Anstis reexits the bathroom, scowling. I glance at Bell’s office door.

(Jason: “You can hear him loading shells into something.”
Me: “I…gotta go–”)

At that moment, Bell kicks open his door, this time with a loaded shotgun. I instantly hit the floor, heedless of further damage to my clothes. His glare, though, is reserved for Anstis. “Captain! What the fuck was that!?”

Anstis takes a moment to straighten his hat ostentatiously. “That was a wraith.”

“Why is there a wraith in the bathroom of this fucking building!?”

Anstis glances at Bell significantly. “I have many enemies, most of them dead. One of them attacked me.”

Bell’s eyes narrow. He lowers the shotgun slightly, but doesn’t take his finger off the trigger. “So how is it that one of them decided to attack you in my building?”

Anstis shrugs. “These things happen from time to time.”

Another long silence falls. I stare between them, still down on the sticky carpet.

Anstis finally breaks the tension. “I’m leaving to find something to deal with it,” he growls, heading toward the elevator.

“How the hell you gonna deal with this?” Bell barks after him.

“I need a fetter. Something that Georgia’s holding, in the Chantry.”

“Why, you wanna go to the Chantry and make that bleed?” Bell snaps, but lowers his gun all the way. “Georgia just left, but she’s not going to the Chantry, and you’re not getting in without her say.”

“How far is she?”

“She should still be in the garage.” Bell levels a finger at him. “You’d best have a plan for this, Captain, or this is going to come down on you so hard, you ain’t gonna believe what happens next.”

They glare at each other till the elevator arrives. Anstis turns away, steps in, and the doors close behind him.

(Chris: “So this included all the fire sprinklers and everything too?”
Jason: “Yep. Every bit of plumbing in the building.”
Chris: “Oh god…So it’s not just the plumbing, you’re gonna have to replace all the carpets, repaint everything after scouring it down…. You’ve probably just caused, like, forty or fifty million dollars of damage.”
Jason: “Yep!”
Chris: “Hey, how much did Marcus give you for that gold you got?”
Jim: “How much does Bell owe me for what I did with Helgi and he didn’t pay me for?”
Everyone: “Ooooooooh!”)

Meanwhile, I’m still sprawled awkwardly on floor. Bell looks down at me.  “Get. Up.” he growls.

I get up.

“Go with the pirate and find some way to deal with this.”

I stare around the ruined hallway. “…With this!?”

Yes!” He storms back and slams the door to his office, leaving me alone in the hall. Grumbling, I punch the buttons and wait for the next elevator to take me down.

#

Anstis steps out of elevator into garage just in time to see a Pyramid towncar disappearing up the driveway ramp. He drops down into parrot form and flaps his way after it before the security gate closes.

#

Inside the car, Georgia is driving, with Rabenholz in the passenger seat. She sees something blue and gold fluttering in rear-view mirror. Frowning, she decides that perhaps it’s best not to lead Anstis directly to the Chantry, even though it’s hidden again. Instead, as they cruise the streets, she turns north, toward Humboldt.

Rabenholz, noticing their change in direction, turns to her. “Ms. Johnson, I must attend to something before leaving the city.”

“Yes?” she asks brightly.

“I must meet with Jalut.”

Georgia blinks, still watching the road. “…With Jalut?”

“Yes.”

“Why are you meeting with him?”

“Because he wishes to destroy you, and I wish to turn him to useful purposes,” Rabenholz says evenly.

“So you’re working with him?”

“After a fashion.”

She pulls up at a stoplight and glances over. “I’m sure you understand this isn’t particularly comforting to me?”

“Why do you think I was so insistent on having the wards activated when they were?” He eyes her seriously. “I assure you, he has not been idle. Letting him go about unchecked is not wise.”

She sighs. “That’s probably true.”

“Yes. Which is why I think you should acquiesce to letting me wipe his memory. He would be a very handy Chantry gargoyle.”

She frowns at the suggestion. This is an idea that apparently came up between them before (in a side-scene conversation that I didn’t transcribe). She wasn’t fond of it then. “It’s complicated, isn’t it. I mean, we can’t just go wipe away everything he knows.”

“Why not?”

“He hasn’t volunteered!”

Rabenholz’s eyes narrow. “We had this conversation before and I didn’t understand it then. I dont expect it to be any more enlightening this time.”

“I think perhaps if you could persuade him that we’re not his real targets, that would be more effective.”

Rabenholz watches her a moment, then looks away. “Perhaps we can revisit the idea at a later date. I am attempting to persuade him, though, that he will have greater success attempting to destroy the Tremere through you than by destroying you. ”

“…Okay,” she concedes hesitantly. The light turns green and she drives on. “So you’d like to meet with him?

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“The Ferry Building. That is where he claims to reside.”

“Do you want me to drop you off?”

“No, I think it might be best if you dropped me off at the hotel so that I might take other transit. He might be able to detect you. As Dr. vonNatsi mentioned, he might have equipment for identifying the thaumaturgically-inclined.”

“Well, so long as you don’t mind if this parrot follows you to your hotel–” she glances in the rear-view mirror, then all around. The parrot has disappeared.

Rabenholz, though, staring out his own window, doesn’t seem to have noticed her comment or reaction. “That should be fine. “

#

THE PYRAMID

I step out of the elevator into the garage and stop. No one is there.

“Hello….?” I call into the echoing space, but no one answers, not even ghouls. I wait a moment, then shrug. Bell may have told me to help Anstis, but if everyone has ditched me, then now I don’t care.

I step back in, hit the button for the ground floor, and pull out my phone to call Sophia. “Hey girl!” I chirp the moment she answers.

“Tom!” Her voice sounds surprised, with a note of relief. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, plenty of things. Sorry I’ve been out of touch this past week. Also sorry for my terse conversation last week in the park, I was a little occupied at the time.”

“Yeah, I get that feeling with you a lot.”

The elevator stops and I exit into the lobby. Firetrucks have pulled up outside, followed by what looks like trucks from the city department of public works. A bloodsoaked security guard is out front talking to them, gesticulating widely. I duck and hurry to exit on the other side of the building. “Heeeey, so how’s your remote surveillance capabilities these days?”

“Depends what I’m looking for,” she says cautiously.

“So, I’ve been looking for a person for awhile, and I’ve got some leads that she may be at St. Ignatius, but she may have other assholes with her.”

There’s a noticeable hesitation before she answers. “So…Tom, well, when it comes to you…are we talking about a person or we talking about a corpse?” There’s a pause. “Cause it’s kinda hard to track you guys with heat sensors.”

I pause on the sidewalk. “Well, she definitely is a vampire…now….” A shudder rolls through me. I don’t think I’ve ever admitted it out loud before. “…But there may be other vampires there and I’m trying to figure out what’s going on in there before I show up, for once. You know how well showing up guns blazing tends to work out for me.”

She sighs and I hear a keyboard. “…There’s some red-light cameras outside, I can tap those, but what’s going on inside is going to be a lot harder.”

“There aren’t, like, security cameras?”

“Not that I can see. But I’ll see what I can do, maybe send a spirit to the area. You got a description of this vampire?”

The blood-streaked picture of Isabella flashes in my mind, followed by a thrill of revulsion. “Well, the girl I’m looking for is blonde, probably in her mid-20s or so, but she might be with this other guy.” I force away her image and consider my memory of Cantor’s photo. “Big, overweight, scraggly black beard, a smile you want to punch.”

“Kind of a lot of guys like that around, but I’ll see what I can find.” There’s another pause, then, tentatively, “…Is there something going on I should know about?”

I reach the Vespa and stand next to it a moment, picking at the grip-tape wrapped on the handles. “…It’s complicated.”

She sighs. “It always is. I’ll see what I can do. How is everything else?”

“Oh, it’s fine. Slayer and I will have a housewarming party at some point. You should come, bring the whole gang.”

“That doesn’t seem like a good–Wait,” her tone drops, “…You’re…with Slayer?”

I hear the implication in her italics and sputter. “…What!? Oh, girl! What! No! Please! He…well he doesn’t wish, he’s terrified of the very concept, but absolutely not!”

“Alright, well….”

There’s still a note of suspicion in her voice, so I change the subject rapidly.  “Did you tell Samir about the Settites?”

She sighs. “Yes. We know. We’re looking for them. Which brings me to something else, Tom, since I got you. That…boss of yours?”

Dread coils through me. “…What about him?”

“Well he was connected to Helgi, right?”

“Yeah, for, like, centuries or something.”

“So is he looking for the Settites too?”

I bark a laugh. “Oh, god, yes, as soon as he heard they were in town he flipped out and went south to go hunt a bunch of them down.”

“Oh, shit. I really, really don’t want to just randomly run into him down here.”

“Yeah, that would be super awkward!” I laugh woodenly.

She doesn’t join in. “Awkward isn’t the word. The other guys would try to kill him. Tom, I’m not even supposed to be talking to you!”

I hesitate, then start picking at the handle tape again. “…Do you…not…want to be talking to me?”

She sighs. “You’re not the Devourer of Innocence. He really is.”

I glance up the street, where more emergency lights have joined the cluster around the Pyramid. “Everybody makes mistakes, girl,” I say softly.

“A hundred werewolves isn’t a mistake. But…hopefully we won’t see him. I don’t even think we can kill him.”

Relieved, I swing onto the scooter. “I don’t recommend shooting him in the face, it usually doesn’t work and he doesn’t like it.”

I’m pretty sure I hear a facepalm through the phone. “Anyway,” Sophia mutters, “I’ll see what I can find about this vampire of yours.” A pause. “…Who is she?” she asks, suspicion back in her voice.

I close my eyes. “Somebody I knew a long time ago.”

“Oh.” Silence sits between us, and eventually she decides to leave it at that. “Well. I’ll see what I can do. Good luck.” She hangs up.

#

MARK HOPKINS HOTEL

Georgia drops Rabenholz off at the hotel. He hesitates after he gets out, eyeing the sleek Pyramid town car. “If we’re going up to Humboldt, I do not wish to be known,” he says smoothly. “I was thinking something more non-descript. Perhaps one of those vans so good for abducting children you hear about on the news.”

Georgia grins. “I think the Chantry has one of those!” she says brightly.

(Jason: “I think Carlos had one of those.”)

Rabenholz eyes her flatly, then nods. “Why don’t we arrange to meet later, say the parking garage at Stockton and Southern? In one hour.”

Georgia agrees and drives away.

#

DOWNTOWN

Earlier, when Georgia headed north in the town car, she had quickly outpaced Anstis, losing him in the fog-patched darkness. Giving up, he peeled away to handle business of his own, the first order of which: talk to Carlos, since the summoning in the bathroom didn’t work out so well.

This time, Anstis heads back downtown to the historic plaque marking the once-location of the Committee of Vigilance. He lands, switches to human-form, and shifts his view to the otherworld again. The Shadowlands, and the corpse-hung facade of Fort Gunnybags, fades into view around him.

(Jim: “Is Carlos there?”
Jason: “I don’t know, is he?”
*Everyone looks to Chris*
Chris: *shrugs* “Meh. Hmm…where’s another creepy place…oh, where is there a carousel?
Jason: “…Uh, Golden Gate Park.”
Chris: “Ok, Carlos is currently there, riding the carousel.”)

Anstis scans the street and sees a figure watching him from the distance. Not Carlos; a man standing calmly in featureless dark clothes. Something about the barren landscape jogs Anstis’s memory, though, and he recognizes him: the wraith that visited him the first time he visited the Shadowlands. The one who stalked him through a featureless space, who knew so much about the living world and pressured him to betray Georgia.

Perhaps ironically, this wraith has one eye as well.

Anstis frowns at him and turns away, back to the building. Since Carlos hasn’t appeared on his own, Anstis uses his necromancy to summon him.

(Jason: “Carlos, you are suddenly compelled to abandon your activities and manifest at Anstis’s location.”
Chris: “Awww.”
Jason: “This is why no one likes a necromancer.”
Me: “No one likes a necromancer, Jim!”)

Carlos fades into existence in front of Anstis, gleefully playing a flute, the reedy tune wheedling through the lifeless underworld air. The lanky, rags-draped man finishes on a long note that slides down the nerves as it dies, then sighs happily.

Anstis nods. “Carlos, good to see you.”

Carlos puts the flute away and straightens as best he’s able. “Likewise, Captain.”

Anstis scans the street again. The mysterious man in the distance has disappeared, but the sense of being watched still crawls over him. He ignores it. “I have a task for you. There is a vampire in the city by the name of Cantor. I need to find anything you can find about him.”

Carlos eyes him through his long, lank hair. “And have you found MacMannus?”

“Not yet. But I will place a few discrete inquiries.”

Carlos’s expression doesn’t change but the shadows at his feet flicker. “What have you done so far, Captain?”

“I’ve been studying. Practicing.”

“Captain. The world here may appear unchanging, but I assure you things progress. I will not be able to help you for long if you do not acquire MacMannus. I will look into this as you have asked me to do, but only if you do what I have asked of you.”

Anstis shifts, hiding his irritation at being commanded by a wraith. “What is the importance of MacMannus?”

“He will know how to accomplish that which you seek.” Carlos grins shiftily. “He won’t teach you, but you can still learn it from him.”

(Jason: “…Subtle.”)

Anstis smooths at his coat. Even in the underworld, it’s soaked in blood. In fact, here the blood is wet and fresh once again. “Very well. I will look into this, and call upon you tomorrow.”

Carlos nods, pulling out his flute again. “One day is much the same as the next here, but I will see you then.” His wheedling tune begins again as Anstis fades back to the real world.

#

THE CHANTRY

Georgia returns to her Chantry. MewMew the space whale is sitting inside the foyer as she enters, and chirps a greeting. Georgia leans down to scratch its head. “I’m going to have to go for awhile. I would ask you to come with, but I don’t think where we’re going is space whale friendly. Are you ok staying here guarding the Chantry?” MewMew mews again, arching its back into the scratches.

Georgia strokes once more and continues deeper into the Chantry. Halfway down the hall, she passes an open door. From the corner of her eye, she sees that it leads to one of the libraries. She also sees that Jawahar is inside.

Georgia stops, then backs up. The Hermetic is pacing the room, perusing the shelves closely. A little too closely.

“This is fascinating,” he says as she enters the room, though he doesn’t turn to face her.

“It is, isn’t it?” she says brightly. “So much information.”

“We have several of these volumes ourselves, but these have been edited.”

“Oh, well, you know, as we learn more, we update our books. And, you know, different Tremere are interested in different things.” She draws a blue book from the shelf, the cover lettered in gold leaf. “I particularly like this book on elemental magic.”

He lifts a heavy volume from a table, its cover scarred and bloodstained. “And not the one on 1001 Torture Techniques?”

She stares at it. “I haven’t read that one yet.”

The book drops to the table with a heavy thump. “So you maintain the torture chamber in the basement for nostalgic purposes?”

She throws up her hands. “I haven’t been maintaining anything! I’ve only been Regent about a week!”

“And yet you have a torture chamber! In fact, by the looks of it, there appears to be four!”

She hesitates. “…Really? Four?”

Jawahar glares at the tone of pleased surprise in her voice. “I have seen mages who have spent too much time offworld suddenly forget the necessity for mortals to breathe while in the middle of a temper tantrum over not getting the research books they require, yet I have never seen anything as horrible as what’s in the basement of your Chantry. You appear to have a mulcher the size of a gas chamber.”

She waves dismissively. “Yes, well we are equipped to handle a  variety of needs. But I am sorry to have given you this experience.”

“I don’t think you quite take my meaning.” He eyes her, the shaded gas lamps of the library casting shadows across his face. “You claim you wish to do different things, but how do you imagine you’re going to change the nature of a Chantry that employs torture chambers on an industrial scale?”

She draws herself up. “Because there’s only one member of the Chantry right now, and that means I get to rebuild it, for a time, from scratch.”

“Are there not Chantries in other cities who could send vampires here and protest you shutting down the torture chambers?”

“Probably, yes, but for the immediate future I think it’s safe to say that we can’t be carrying out that research because we simply don’t have the manpower.”

He stares a moment. “But at some point you will.”

“Ah, but here’s the interesting thing,” she says, lifting a finger. “In between then and now, other vampires may arrive at the Chantry, and they may or not be as strong as I am. If they are less strong, then I can examine them, find out what their motives are, whether they have been involved in creating gargoyles against Camarilla edict, and if so, kill them. If they are stronger than I am, then they will kill me and that will be the end of this quest.” She clasps her hands seriously and falls silent.

Jawahar lets the silence hang a moment. “You seem awfully lackadaisical about that prospect.”

She shrugs. “It’s nothing personal; it’s just the way the world works.”

“I would suggest it is intensely personal when someone is trying to kill you,” Jawahar grumbles.

“Well, we may agree to disagree, but I think we can both agree that the vampires making gargoyles need to be rooted out.”

Jawahar stares another long, silent moment. He looks around the room, at the elegant and bloodstained volumes surrounding them, then lets his arms fall limply to his side. “The official position of my order is that all of you need to be rooted out. But I guess I see no particular difficulty in starting with the ones who were producing gargoyles.”

“Great.” Georgia beams. “Once we finish that, you and I can have a reckoning and see how we feel about each other at that point.”

#

Dark as this conversation has been, it doesn’t weigh heavily on Georgia’s mind, and not just because she’s Georgia. Over the last week, as well as researching her Chantry and the Tremere, she’s been doing a different sort of research, in her head, through the dark, winding paths of Heinrich Himmler’s memories.

From him she has learned many things. He was embraced shortly after the war, so she focuses on those latter memories, since she doesn’t have much context for the strange visions she sees from before. She’s been focusing on details relating to the gargoyle production–apparently they had a few captive vampires from the necessary clans and were using them to embrace humans as raw materials–but notable in this is that Himmler never met the senior Tremere in charge of the entire gargoyle operation. But there’s no question this person exists, considering the logistical overhead behind the entire thing.

(Me: “What about…the other guy who was on the island? The one Paul met, the blonde guy with the ice blue eyes?”
Jason: “We’ll get to him.”)

From the details she’s gleaned, though, something seems off. The financials behind the gargoyle operation were immense, but Himmler was certain of two things: 1) That the Tremere Council of Seven didn’t know about it, and 2) Whoever was in charge wasn’t afraid of them finding out about it, as if they had some sort of guarantee the Council wouldn’t be looking too closely at things, even when the rumors started circulating.

Which is strange, because it’s in the Council’s best interest to stop such things before the rest of the Camarilla find out. If even the smallest shred of proof came out that Tremere were violating the gargoyle ban, it might be enough to get the entire clan kicked out of the Camarilla. And that might be enough for the rest of vampire society–especially the ones with grudges to bear–to hunt them all down.

(Jason: “So how in the hell did this guy manage to get the Council so far off their backs that they didn’t even pay attention when rumors started flying about gargoyles? The only options you can think of is that either the entire council was in on this–which makes no sense, cause you can’t get the entire council to decide on what to order for lunch–or this guy had something over the council or around the council that was not within the boundaries of the power structure.

“And what cements that theory is the other guy. The blonde guy. Georgia didn’t meet him on the Farallones, but he features quite prominently in Himmler’s memories, if only because Himmler knew him when he was alive.

“The man’s proper name is Reinhard Heydrich.

“He used to be a subordinate of Himmler’s back when everyone was alive. He supposedly died. And I don’t mean faked his own death and turned into a vampire, I mean he was publicly assassinated and buried. Half of the SS attended his funeral. His nickname was the Man with the Iron Heart. Hitler gave him the nickname.”

Me: “Thus the pull-quote, ‘When Hitler accuses you of not having a conscience, you might want to check yo’self.’ “

Jason: “Yes. Hitler regarded him as the most fanatical supporter of the Nazi regime in the world. Himmler was afraid of him, even though Himmler was his boss.”

(Jason then took a tangent to explain some of the finer, more entertaining points of Nazi beliefs.)

Jason: “So, Heydrich supposedly died, but halfway through the gargoyle project he suddenly showed up. Alive. And I stress that, alive, not a vampire. Himmler checked, repeatedly. What Heydrich is now, Himmler doesn’t know. He was afraid to put it to the test. And, moreover, Heydrich brought the Spiral Dancer with him.”

Kara: “Where is Heydrich now?”

Jason: “You don’t know. The last place Himmler saw Heydrich was on the Farallones.”)

#

“So…what do you plan to do now?” Jawahar asks cautiously.

Georgia blinks herself out of her reverie. “We need to find Heydrich.”

“Who’s Heydrich?”

“A Nazi. Also, I need to pack to leave for a day or two.” She sees his confused expression. “It wasn’t my idea, but it’ll be fine; I’ll leave Bob in charge of the Chantry. You can maybe do some research so by the time I get back we can go find Heydrich and kill him. Can you feed the space whale while I’m gone?”

Jawahar stares. “What…does it eat?” he asks woodenly.

“It seems to like meat–” But MewMew isn’t the only creature around who likes meat, she suddenly remembers. “–Also…this is going to sound like a very odd request, but strange creatures from other planets can have odd dietary needs. When you make up the space whale’s food, make up two plates of it. Twice as much as you’d think the space whale would eat, then put one plate of it in my bedroom and close the door. And put the other plate at the bottom of the stairs.”

Jawahar’s eyes narrow and he folds his arms. “What am I feeding with the other plate?”

“The space whale,” she says flatly.

He gestures leadingly. “And the first plate…?”

“The…space whale?”

“So you’re saying the space whale will eat one plate of food, go up to your room, get into it even though it is locked, and eat the other plate of food?”

(Me: “Uh, have you ever owned a cat?”)

Georgia nods seriously. “Strange dietary habits, like I said.”

“Why don’t I just leave both plates at the bottom of the stairs?” Jawahar asks.

(Jim: “Because then the space whale won’t eat either plate.”)

She doesn’t answer. His glare darkens. “I understand that I am a Hermetic and you think yourself superior to me, but I am not that dumb. What is it you are feeding in your chambers?”

“Certainly not another space whale,” she laughs dismissively.

“I am sure not, since you only brought back the one.”

Still meeting his gaze, she starts backing toward the door, smiling. “Well, you sussed that out then, very good. So, I must be going, good to see you, and I’ll see you in a couple of days!”

With a jaunty wave, she steps out of the library back into the hallway, but before she disappears she notices a strangely intent look cross Jawahar’s face. “Very well,” he mutters. “Enjoy your trip.”

#

THE FERRY BUILDING

After conducting a short bit of business before the trip north, Rabenholz heads to the Ferry Building, a wide dockfront building of arched colonnades and classical architecture. Besides the passing traffic on Embarcadero, no one seems to be around. Rabenholz sweeps around the building, cane ticking on polished concrete, till he finds an unlocked door and lets himself in.

The inside is dim and silent. He paces down the long, empty hall, his cane clicking louder in the vast, two-storied space, ignoring the luxury storefronts on the ground floor. Finding nothing there, he heads upstairs to the second floor and paces along the balconies, peering over the wrought-iron banisters. Finally, he heads to a window at the back of the building, looking out over the black waters of the bay, reflecting the glittering lights of the Bay Bridge above.

You have come,” a deep voice says from somewhere behind him.

Rabenholz nods without turning around. “I have. “

What for?

“I wanted to let you know you probably have allies.”

Allies….” the voice draws the word out, as if tasting it. “Who?

“The Nosferatu of this city are none too pleased with the Tremere. They want to keep things on the down low but I’m sure they would align with your general cause. The Tremere have been making others of your kind.

I know. They will pay for each and every one.”

Rabenholz nods to himself. Strangely echoing as it is, the voice is clearly Jalut. “According to many it was the new Regent herself who put an end to the program. According to others, she’s actually ferreting out other Tremere herself. And killing them.”

Rabenholz turns, then hesitates. Jalut isn’t there.

The Tremere devour their own,” Jalut’s voice echoes sourcelessly.

(Chris: “…Aura perception?” *rolls it*
Jason: “Well. I’ll be damned. After literal years, aura perception finally told Chris something useful. Jalut is in the walls.”)

There’s an aura glow radiating from one of the walls nearby. Rabenholz paces toward it slowly. He can’t meet Jalut’s eyes this way–which is probably the reason Jalut did this–but he still focuses his Dominating charm in the aura’s direction, just in case. “One might think you would be more successful to consider working with her.” Rabenholz eyes the wall sternly. “At least for the time being.”

The aura doesn’t waver and Jalut doesn’t respond. Rabenholz lets the silence sit a moment, then paces in front of the wall. “The other thing you might be curious to know is she’s taken in a Hermetic mage. A willworker. I understand them to be incredibly dangerous. This man has cause to dislike her, but not enough to motivate him to action yet. But nevertheless, I think he would be sympathetic to your cause. His name is Jawahar.”

There’s a low growl. “Where is he?

“I’ve been told he remains close to the Chantry. Has been seen coming and going.”

I must enter the Chantry.

Rabenholz nods. “In time you shall accomplish that. The Justicar has sent me on an errand for the next several days. I do not know what your schedule is like, but it might be in your interest to make contact with this Jawahar, when next he leaves.”

Another growl. “I will speak to the mage. He will assist me.

“I suspect it so. And even if he does not, I suspect he doesn’t care enough to get in your way.”

He will assist. Willworker or not, I will see to it.”

Rabenholz smiles thinly. “Very good.”

Where is the Tremere going?

Rabenholz’s smile fades. He didn’t say Georgia was leaving…. “The Justicar has dispatched many people on errands outside of the city. He is sending me to Humboldt. I do not know where he sends the Tremere.”

Very well. I will let her leave, this time.

“A prudent measure.” Rabenholz straightens his cape. “On that note, I will let you carry on with your evening.”

Jalut’s growl rumbles from the stone again. “Aid me in this, and everything the Tremere were, everything not burned from the Earth, will be yours.

Rabenholz bows lightly in the direction of the hidden aura. “There is scarcely a higher treasure I can imagine. Goodnight.”

#

BAYVIEW

I think about Cantor on my long ride back home from the Pyramid. It’s clear I need more information before I go after him, and since Sophia is limited in her access, it might be time to go to the source of all spywork in the city: the Nosferatu. They may have secret info on Cantor, or Isabella herself. At the least, they probably have some sort of schematic of St. Ignatius church for me to plan an attack.

Something occurs to me and I grin. While we’re at it, maybe they can also help me figure out a way to sneak into Claude’s secret vault under Cal Academy so I can steal Vera back.

I putter up in front of the house. The taco truck is gone, so Slayer must still be out working the Mission circuit. I consider the Nosfertatu as I climb the porch stairs. I’ve had very little experience with them over the past few decades, but it’s clear from what little I’ve had that they don’t like me much. I’m too pretty. Thus, if I’m going to get in with them, I’d better talk to the one person in town that everyone seems to like, or at least tolerate.

Norton.

Leaning against the porch rail, I dial, then hold my phone a good six inches from my ear as it connects. “Emperor! How is your evening?”

Rather than shouting, though, Norton’s voice sounds distant, almost labored. “Yes, yes…that is my name….Lytton….”

I hesitate. “Emperor, are you alright?”

“Lytton…have you seen the fire?”

Oh god. “I mean, I’ve seen a fire.”

“Not like this….” he whispers.

“…Are you ok? You’ve been more emperor than usual this evening.”

“You have no conception of what I’ve seen. She’s coming…and I SEE you there!”

“Where?”

There! Rolling your eyes! Oh, the madman speaks! He speaks in riddles!”

I hesitate a moment, then decide to just roll with it. I turn to face north, toward the distant lights of downtown. “I’m just concerned about you!”

“You should be concerned for all of us! She comes and she brings death with her!”

“Where should I be looking for her? Should I be looking for her?” I blurt.

“At dawn, look to the east,” he says darkly.

I hesitate. “…I would rather not.”

“Look to the east, you shall see her fire there!”

I glance toward the bay, lurking beyond a stretch of wide weed-choked lots. “Are you talking about the sun?

He coughs a dry laugh. “No, no…were it only the sun. This is a greater fire than that. One to consume us all. All of us, Lytton…ALL OF US!!!!1!11!1!!”

I hold the phone away but it’s too late, my ears are already ringing. “…I am certain that will be the case.”

“Have you not seen, then? Have you not heard her name whispered in the darkness?”

I switch ears and dig a pinky in the offended one. “I have heard no name from you, and if it was, it certainly wasn’t whispered.”

“Not even whispered in your shadows?”

I glance at the darkness surrounding me on the porch, huddled away from the orange glare of the streetlight out front. “They’re still new to me, they don’t talk much.”

“Then it is you that does not listen to them. They do speak. Ask the Small One, he knows.”

Out of habit from my practicing, I mentally push at the nearest patch of shadow. The edge wobbles back and forth like a rubber sheet. “I will, when he gets back to town.”

“He will never return.”

My body, and the shadows, go still. “…What?”

“He will not return. She will have him, and all of us.”

Cold seeps through me, climbing from the darkness at my feet. “Okay, I need to make some other calls,” I say hurriedly, “But before I do, do you have any connections with the Nosfertatu? Cause I hear they’re still around, but on lockdown.”

“The Nosferatu…I have known them. They shall burn like the rest, Lytton.”

“I don’t know, it’s pretty wet down in the sewers.”

“You do not see,” he says sadly, then falls quiet a long moment. “…I have a name for you. Andrea.”

I grope in my pocket for a pen. “Do you have her number?”

“It does not matter. She is coming.”

I stop. “Oh, this isn’t a Nosferatu.”

Behold, the pale horse,” Norton proclaims, his voice taking on a new timbre, “And the man who rode on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.”

I glance around nervously in the weighty silence that follows. “I…don’t remember an Andrea in the Bible. Then again, my father mostly focused on the reasons-to-hate-people parts. “

“More than you know, more than you know, Lytton….” Norton trails off, then speaks confidently again. “Seek Karl Sutro if you wish to speak with the Nosferatu. Have it known that you would speak to him and they will find you.” With that the call ends.

I linger a moment on the porch, drumming my fingers against the rotting wood, then come up with a plan.

I head to a shed behind the house, filled with random yard equipment and house supplies from the family who lived here before. I duck and curse through the mess until I find what I’m looking for: a box of spray paint cans. I select a pink one. With that in my pocket, and the house locked up behind me, I set out across the neighborhood toward the dark waters of the bay.

As I walk, I pull out the phone to call Marcus.

“Tom!” he answers, surprisingly cheerful. “How’s it going?”

“Hey Boss.” I glance around. No one is around, but I still pull a few shadows over me to help sink further into the darkness. “I just had a creepy conversation with Norton.”

“Are there other kinds?”

“Well, there’s also the ones that mess with my tinnitus.”

“Hold on a moment, will you Tom?” The call muffles suddenly. I hear footsteps, then a series of gunshots, followed by someone screaming. “…Sorry about that,” Marcus says cooly as he picks up again. “I’m still practicing my aim with these things.”

“Yeah, ok good, cause Norton said some things that made me think something had happened to you, so I just wanted to check.” More screaming in the background. “But it sounds like everything’s fine.”

“Yes, well, there was a group of Settites who thought they were going to eat me. Not the first time, probably not the last, though it is for these guys.” There’s another gunshot, followed by what sounds like panicked pleading in another language.

“Yeah….” I reach the muddy shore of the bay. A storm pipe lets out here, jutting out of a concrete bunker below an embankment. Banishing the shadows, I hop down and pull out the can of paint. “Oh, hey, speaking of,” I say companionably as I start to spray large letters across the concrete, “It sounds like some of the more neutral-minded werewolves are also running around down here looking for Settites.”

“Oh?” Marcus asks.

“Yeah, Sophia’s pack. That Stormwalker guy, and this big jackal-looking dude–”

“A Strider!?” he blurts. “A Strider is in town!?”

I stop painting. “…Uh, yes?”

“And you didn’t think to tell me about this earlier!?”

“He was being an asshole!”

“He’s a werewolf, Tom, you get used to that! I would have thought you of all people would know this. Expert as you are on the subject of werewolves.”

“Well when I publish the dissertation I’ll let you know!” I snap, resuming my painting.

Marcus sighs. “If they’re down here, this complicates things nicely. But if I see these werewolves before they see me, I will do my best to not rip all your friends to pieces.”

Finishing my work, I toss the can to the dirt. “Okay, well, be careful.”

“Oh, dont worry. These Settites were well-prepared, just not as prepared as they thought they were.” More sputtering echoes in the background. “I might be out of contact for the next hour or so,” Marcus says reasonably. “This man and I have something to discuss and I don’t really get good reception in the Abyss.” With that the call ends.

I put my phone away and step back to admire my handiwork, scrawled in three-foot pink letters across the concrete berm next to the sewer drain:

KARL – 4 A GOOD TIME CALL [MY PHONE NUMBER]

I stoop to pick up the can again. I should probably add a heart.

#

DOWNTOWN

A few miles to the north, not far from the historic plaque marking the Committee of Vigilance, Anstis is also trying to get ahold of the Nosferatu. With no spray paint on hand, he tries something a little more conventional.

Finding an empty alley, he pries the lid off a manhole and shouts down into it–

(Jason: “You people and your Nosferatu hunting.”)

“–This is Thomas Anstis! I would like a word if you have the time!” Expecting no immediate response, he closes the cover and looks around. It’s still early-ish in the evening, and with time to kill, he decides to meander into the Financial District for some hunting.

#

BAYVIEW

I am just finishing my heart around Karl’s name when there’s suddenly a shout from above, “Hey! The fuck you doing in there!”

I look up. It’s a cop, standing on the embankment above the storm drain, flashlight aimed down. Dammit, I probably should have kept the shadows around me.

(Me: “Urg. I don’t have time for this. Dreadgaze.”
*I roll…a triple. botch.*
Jason: “Oooh! OOOH!”
Jim: “Four total 1’s on six dice!”
*I stare in disbelief*
Jason: “Can I see someone’s book? I need to figure out how to adjudicate this. See, single botches are funny. Double botches are really funny. Triple botches are…interesting….”)

I squint through the flashlight glare into his face. I snarl, directing the full force of Beastly-terror at him–

It rebounds. From the light or what I don’t know, but I feel a spike of unmitigated panic and horror rush out of the light and swamp me like a wave.

Then everything goes black.

#

DOWNTOWN

Anstis is stalking humans, though not very successfully. He’s still covered in dried blood so most people are giving him a wide berth. After half an hour of this, he pauses a moment on a shadowy sidewalk, considering.

“You just gonna stand here all night?” a voice says behind him. Anstis turns to see a man that can only be described as “one hideous motherfucker” leering at him from the shadows of an alley, massive fanged teeth chewing slowly on something. By the brown dribbles down the sides of his face, it seems to be tobacco.

Anstis bows and smiles. “Thomas Anstis, pleased to meet your acquaintance.”

The Nosfertatu grunts and shifts the cud in his mouth. “The name’s Rocko. The hell you want?”

“I have a number of questions.”

“Yeah?” Rocko folds his arms and leans against a dumpster. “We the fucking public library down here?”

“I assume you have your price.”

Rocko chews a long moment, eyes narrowing as he stares at Anstis, taking in his outfit. “I know you, don’t I? You’re that fossil the Tremere dug up.” He shakes his head and spits. “You wanna deal for info? You’re gonna have to talk to Karl.

Anstis smiles and gives a half-bow. “That is acceptable.”

“You might get a little wet, we’ll have to go down.”

Anstis flicks some dried blood from his coat and shrugs. “These clothes have seen better nights.”

Rocko looks him over again. “Yeah.” He jerks his chin toward a nearby manhole. “Let’s go.”

#

CITY SEWERS

Rocko leads Anstis down through the sewers, through narrow tunnels and caverns, finally stopping as the walls open up into a massive cistern. A massive fortification bisects the space, a high fence of metal and concrete studded with guard towers. Shapes shift in the towers as they approach, pivoting massive guns to track them.

(Jason: “These guns look old, and immense. Course you’re used to immense guns by now.”
Me: “Cause he’s been hanging around with me!”
Jason: “No, these are clearly bigger than the ones Tom’s been holding.”
Me: “Those aren’t the guns I mean!” *ARM-FLEX*)

A gate lifts as they approach and Rocko leads them through. The far side of the fortification has been converted to a gathering place, with equipment and crates scattered around the edges. In the center though, is some sort of throne, though by the chipped paint and cheap fabric it looks more like something from the props department of the San Francisco opera than anything of actual nobility. Sprawled across it is a lanky Nosfertatu only slightly less hideous than the ones around him, more corpse-like than tusked monster, dressed in a worn antique suit.

He stands as Anstis approaches. “Well, look who’s decided to darken my door. Captain Thomas Anstis. Of the Good Fortune, right?”

Anstis sweeps off his hat in a bow. “You have me at a disadvantage.”

The man chuckles dryly and holds up a worn, black leather-bound book. The gold leaf of the title is flaking, but it’s clearly a copy of Captain Johnson’s General History. “Original edition,” the Nosferatu smirks and puts it down. “Karl Sutro. Primogen. The last Primogen, way I hear it. Course not all us run our organizations as sloppily as everyone else did.” He sinks back into the chair. “So what brings a Gangrel pirate in league with a Sabbat Priscus down to my warren?”

Anstis glares. “I am not in league with the Priscus. The Priscus would like me to be in his employ.”

“Oh that’s right, I’m sure, you’re using the Priscus.” Karl chuckles dismissively, and leans back. “Old story, Captain. but the Priscus’s credit is alright around here. The question is, what are we going to do with yours? I don’t think you’re here on his behalf, he tends to deal with his own intel gathering, way I hear it.”

“Nay. I had a few individuals I’d like information about.”

Karl spreads his hands, taking in his small, fortified kingdom. “Well, we deal in the finest of information! Question is if you can afford it. See, we’ve had a few problems around here, you may have heard about. Something to do with the Tremere?”

Anstis strokes his slimy beard. “I may have heard something about that. I think you and I have something in common in that regard.”

“Really? You about to burn a Chantry down, are you?”

“Let’s just say I arose from my time at sea within the Tremere Chantry. In processing.”

Karl leans forward, one lifted eyebrow stretching the paper-thin skin of his face. “Well, my my, Captain. Your questions wouldn’t happen to be related to that, would they?”

“These ones not specifically. But I assisted in the purge of many Tremere.”

“Well that is music to my ears. But I’m afraid payment is payment. So what are you willing to pay for what you’re looking for? See, it’s not that I know everything, it’s that I can find everything, but different things require different effort.”

Anstis folds his arms. “I’m looking for people.”

Karl tents his fingers. “Alright, who?”

“Let’s start with Albert Smythe. Do you know him?”

Karl snorts. “Of course I know him, he’s Nosferatu. What’s your business with him?”

“My business with him is he shot me in the face.”

Karl smirks. “I knew I liked Smythe for some reason. What could you possibly have been up to to make him shoot you in the face?”

Anstis glares a moment. “I ate a seal nearby.”

Karl shakes his head, chuckling. “Ohh, Captain, captain, captain. You shouldn’ta done that. See, Smythe was a marine biologist before he got bit. He tends to take those things a little personal-like. Still, you got beef with him I can request his presence.”

Anstis nods and grips at the lapels of his coat. “The next name is probably not so easy to summon. Admiral Jonathan Flowers.”

Karl sits up slowly. “Oooh, my. Gentleman Johnny Flowers. I’ve heard of him. Never met the man, of course, but there’s whispers. What interest do you have with him?”

Anstis’s hands tighten. “Let’s just say he’s the one responsible for me ending up at the bottom of the sea.”

Karl waves a bony hand dismissively. “Well of course he did, you’re a Gangrel and he is a Ravnos.” A flicker of confusion crosses Anstis’s face but he hides it before Karl notices. “If you’re looking for information on him it will be very expensive indeed, but I’ll see what I can do. What other names you got?” Karl continues.

Anstis asks about Cantor next, confirming to Karl that he is in the city. In exchange, Karl confirms Cantor is Black Hand, but beyond that he doesn’t have current specifics.  Anstis also asks about Carlos’s MacMannus. Karl has never heard of him, Anstis says it’s not surprising considering he’s in Scotland. Karl hisses and says Scotland is a tricky place, neither Camarilla nor Sabbat; the Giovanni hold most of the ground up there. Still, he says that for the right price, he might get some information from there.

Karl scans the cistern a moment, a slow smile creeping across his face. “Before we discuss payment, though, maybe you can help me with something immediate.”

Anstis bows. “Happy to be of assistance.”

Karl stands. “Then why don’t you follow me.”

Karl leads the two of them down a wide pipe tunnel leading out of the cistern, then turns into a rough-cut tunnel through the rock. They wind their way through the darkness, finally stepping out into an actual room, finished with crumbling drywall and an even, hard-packed floor. Besides a table, a rusted dentist’s chair is the only object in the room, currently with a staked, unconscious figure strapped into it.

Tom Lytton.

(Me: “…OH, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!!”)

He–or, rather, I–am smeared with blood, dried but clearly recently-acquired. The stake is driven neatly through the heart, clean through my leather jacket.

Anstis stares, then chuckles, rubbing his hands together. “Oh, what has Mr. Lytton been up to, to draw your ire?”

Karl paces toward the chair. “Mr. Lytton has been a very naughty boy. We found him at the entrance to one of the sewer grates ripping a small group of soldiers to pieces.”

(Me: “It was ONE cop!”
Jason: “Yeah? What do you think happened after you ripped him apart publically?”)

“Human soldiers?”

“I think they were at one point.” Karl picks a chunk of drying flesh from my fingers. “We threw their car into the bay and hid the bodies best we can, but the investigation is going to come tramping through our sewers. And that means we got to hide from a whole mess of inquisitive douchebags.” He sneers. “And this Brujah is the cause of all that. Now what do you suppose we do about that?”

Anstis grins wider. “What indeed?”

“See, one of my guys got kinda sliced up when we went to subdue him–”

(Me: “Oh my god, where’s my sword!?!”)

“–But he’s Brujah, he does take a bit of disabling.” Karl picks up something from the table nearby. It’s Glitch. “But this…this is an interesting piece, this little blade. I’ve seen talk of these before, never actually held one.” He hefts it a moment. “Lighter than I expected. Tremere got a word for it, forget what they’re called now.”

Anstis is quiet, but he’s eying the sword closely. Covetously, even. “Orichalcum. Stolen from the Chantry itself.”

Karl lifts an eyebrow. “Well. I knew I liked this Brujah.”

“He does have a few redeeming qualities.”

“He does indeed, but lacerating one of my boys isn’t one of them. Especially not when he makes a lot of trouble for us in the process.”

Anstis approaches the chair to join Karl in leering down at me. “I find he needs the proper application of guidance. Point him in the right direction, shoo him on his way.”

“Well, normally I’d just blood-bond his ass and make him work it off, but I don’t think that’s gonna work. He’s got someone else already and I can’t compete with that blood.”

Anstis shrugs. “We could see if he’s reasonable. Maybe he’s willing to work off a debt or two.”

Karl grabs at the stake. “I guess we can find out.”

Anstis moves to stand behind the chair, out of view, while Karl pulls it out.

#

I slowly come to, chest burning, arms heavy, and blink my eyes open to see an ugly asshole staring at me, holding my sword. “Wakey wakey,” he grins in a corpse-like smile. I jerk in surprise and feel my arms come up against heavy restraints. “Lytton, isn’t it?”

I slowly settle, but remain tense. “Yeah. You Karl?” I look around the barren room. “I see you got my message. Wasn’t the good time I had in mind, but, you know.”

His sunken eyes narrow. “Yes, well it’s good to meet you, though I know a few men might not say the same. You got something against the National Guard there, Lytton?”

My gaze passes over my hands, strapped to the chair. The dried blood, plus his leering words, send a shock of horror through me. “We’ve…been having a little back and forth over the last few nights,” I say carefully, choking down dread.

“I’d describe it as a whole bunch of forth,” he snaps. “I got five dead guys that I gotta throw away somewhere, I got a car overturned and smashed to pieces, and I’m about to have so many National Guardsman climbing up my ass they’ll declare my colon part of Camp Pendleton. Now what do you think we should do about that?”

His fist on Glitch’s grip tenses. I shift against my restraints. “I…find that the careful application of rockets sometimes helps.”

“Oh you want me to kill them? That’s a great idea! Cause the US Army is only, what, two and a half million? I’m sure we won’t get any trouble dealing with all that!” He paces. “Now, I’m not in close contact with that Justicar up in the tower of yours, my kind don’t get to go out too much, but I understand he was hoping things would quiet down a little bit, and I don’t think this is gonna quiet it terribly much.”

As usual, the sudden reminder of Bell sends mixed feelings flooding through me. I close my eyes. “Well…life is full of disappointments….” I mutter.

His glare deepens and he lifts Glitch, levelling the tip surprisingly steadily in his skeletal arm. “You got an awful big mouth for someone staring down the blade of this thing. I could wax you right now and I’d get a medal for it.”

Secretly I test the restraints again. Maybe I could bust out of them, but he’s right about Glitch being the last word in any conversation. So if I can’t use power, time to try falling back on that other favorite vampiric discipline: Politics.

I meet his gaze evenly. “Yeah, right before something else comes looking for you in these tunnels. Once he finds out.”

Karl stares at me silently a long moment, sword still high. “I don’t think he’d do that. I think he’s got better fish to fry. He is Sabbat after all, they’re not known for that sort of thing.”

I don’t blink. “Remember Max?” I ask.

“Strauss? Yeah, I remember him. Not tremendously fond. He got himself eaten by a shadowmonster, what I hear.”

“No, he got himself torn to pieces in front of me because he ruffled the feathers of Marcus’s pet,” I say slowly.

Karl’s face doesn’t change, but the tip of the sword droops slightly. “Bullshit, where was this?”

“Orlando’s place, down in San Simeon.”

The sword dips a little further. Karl glances up behind me and I get the sense that someone else is standing there. I can’t see who, but there’s a suspiciously familiar fishy odor in the air. The person doesn’t say anything, but Karl’s face falls a little further after a moment. “Why would a Sabbat Priscus give one shit whether you’re alive or dead?” he snaps at me.

I do my best to affect a nonchalant sprawl. “Cause I’m entertaining and he doesn’t have much left to make him laugh these nights.”

Karl stares, glances behind me again, then finally lowers Glitch all the way down. “Alright. So maybe I don’t cut you to pieces. Maybe I let my boys work you over for a little while and make you do what I say. How about that?”

I roll my eyes. “Depends on what you mean by working over.”

He leans over me, sneering. “Oh, we got all kinda meanings for that down here.”

I lean back as far as the chair will allow. “That…sounds like a fun sexy time?”

His sneer turns into a leer. “Pretty boy thinks he’s gonna have fun with the Nosferatu?” I shrug, meeting his eyes, calling his bluff with an open smile. After a moment he looks away–thereby forfeiting the gay-chicken–and resumes pacing with a grumble. “This is not what I needed right now….”

I groan. “Look, I didn’t want to kill a bunch of assholes. I just…can’t help myself when I lose my temper.”

“Oh I’m shaking in my boots here, Brujah. I could just chop you apart and leave you at someone else’s doorstep. Or maybe you’ll just never be seen again. Or maybe I set a neat little trap for that Sabbat. You have no idea who’s willing to pay for him.”

I sigh. “Well obviously we’re in your house so you make the rules. But I find that things–”

Suddenly my cellphone rings. Karl stops pacing, staring in disbelief as AC/DC blares through the dingy room.

“…Mind if I take that?” I ask finally.

He sneers and reaches for the phone instead, jerking it out of my pants and glancing at the caller ID. “Who’s Sophia?”

Ooooh, no…. “She’s a friend,” I say carefully. “She’s been helping me collect some information. Which I thought maybe you guys could also help with, but obviously that’s not gonna work, so if you just let me take the call–”

“Information? Well I love information.” He answers, levelling Glitch in his other hand. “Hello, Tom Lytton’s phone…Well, I don’t think that’s important right now, what I think’s important is that you’ve got information to give me…Oh, I do think you are going to give it to me, cause see if you don’t tell me exactly what I want to know, I’m gonna have to take this pretty little sword here and start cutting small pieces off of this wonderful Brujah here in front of me.” He grins at me, twisting Glitch.

I close my eyes. “Oh, you did not want to mention that to her.”

He pulls the phone away a moment, glaring at me. “Well I don’t think that matters overmuch.” He lifts the phone again, and his face falls. “…Hello?” He looks at the screen, then shrugs. “Your friend doesn’t seem very chatty right now.”

“Yeah, the reason we’re friends is cause we like to act before we think.” I jerk my chin at his hand. “You might want to put that sword down, she knows what it does and she doesn’t like it.”

“Don’t know if I see how that’s particularly relevant at the moment.”

“Yeah…you will.” I sit back and close my eyes.

Just in time, because a second later, the screen of the phone explodes in brilliant white, washing out the room like a flashbang. Karl and Anstis yell and cower instinctively.

By the time the light clears and vision returns, the chair I was strapped to is empty.

#

TOM’S UNKNOWN LOCATION

I am suddenly flat on my back on a hard floor. My vision returns, dimming to reveal cool light and a high ceilinged, featureless room with glowing motes running up and down the walls. It’s otherwordly, but also strangely familiar.  After a moment, I remember.

It’s the Digital Web.

I sit up. Sophia is in front of me, in her roan-furred werewolf form, covered with her pulsating skinsuit of glowing circuitry, adjusted to fit. As I watch, she shrinks down to human form, face anxious. “Tom?”

“Hey girl,” I smile, getting to my feet and looking around. A window behind me looks out on a similar spider-streaked LED-lit landscape as the one we saw last time. It’s easier to appreciate its cyberpunk beauty now that I’m not being chased through it.  Off in the distance, a black scar cuts through the digital canopy like a canyon. Spiders are working to repair it, but it stretches to the horizon.

She’s tapping at a tablet as I turn back to her. “Who the hell was that?” she mutters.

“That was Karl Sutro, he’s the Nosferatu Primogen.”

“What does he want with you?”

I pace to the window, peering down at the myriad spiders travelling the lines below us. “I was hoping to supplement some of our information gathering, and to see if he could hook us up with access into places.”

She looks up but doesn’t stop typing. “I’m guessing it didn’t go too well.”

“No…not so much. Not so much with him, but right before that, I kinda had a Hulk-out moment down by the waterfront. I think the National Guard was involved again.” I look at my blood-stained hands and rub them futilely against my jeans.

She groans. “Tom! You can’t just go around killing these guys!”

“I know!”

“Then why are you doing it?”

I throw out my hands. “Cause I can’t help myself! I dont want to but sometimes things snap! At least I didn’t burn down a town this time.”

“Yeah, well.” She rubs at her upper arm uncertainly. I get the sense it’s not a normal feeling for her when she’s in this place. “What did he want with you?” she asks quietly.

“Well, he wanted my sword, like every other asshole in town. Also wanted to lord shit over me and bitch about the mess he has to clean up.”

“This guy an asshole?”

“Based on current data, I can extrapolate that, yes.”

Suddenly she stills. Her face turns sly. “So you’re not gonna object if we take him apart?”

For a brief moment I consider saying yes, but while Karl threatened me, he didn’t actually do  anything, and even I’m not comfortable with killing someone in cold blood simply for the crime of being an asshole.

Yet.

Outwardly, though, I hide my unease with a nonchalant swagger. “Weeeeell, we’re kinda running low on people of his standing here in the city. And from what I gather about the Nosfertatu, they’re a force unto themselves. If we took one of them out, it’s rumored they would go, quote, ‘go nuclear’.”

Her fingers tap the tablet, this time thoughtfully. “Well if you don’t kill him, what if we snatch him? Drag him back to Samir and Stormwalker for a little conversation? It might warm them up to the idea of you a little more, you know.”

I grin. This punishment, however…. “Well, he chatted with me, so I think it’s fair to exchange a conversation for a conversation.”

She matches my grin and taps purposefully at the tablet. “Alright then, what about the pirate?”

“So he is there?” I ask. In response, she taps something and gestures at the window behind me. The view of the Digital Web fades, replaced by a fisheye camera angle staring up at two men from what is obviously the floor. One is Karl, the other is Anstis, looking as bedraggled as he was since I last saw him. Based on the shape, and the angle, and the fact that I’m getting a sense of how this all works, I realize that the “window” is actually the screen of my phone, looking out into the real world. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but Anstis looks grim and Karl is gesticulating angrily. I think I can lip-read the word “werewolves” a couple times.

“Asshole….” I mutter, glaring at the pirate. “Yeah, well he’s a tool but he might have information on this Cantor guy we’re looking for, so we probably shouldn’t do more than rough him up either.”

Sophia frowns. “Yeah…why are you looking for that guy, again? I did some research and nothing came up.”

“Not too surprising. He’s of a…tribe, I guess, called Assamites, they’re pretty secretive.” I fold my arms. “They’re pretty much fucking ninjas.”

“What do you want with him?”

I go still. “He’s keeping this other person around. Possibly hostage. I don’t know, I need more information,” I say slowly.

Sophia watches me carefully. “Tom, are you related to this other person?”

I scramble to keep a poker face. “In…the vampire sense? No, she’s a completely different clan.”

“No, I mean…Tom, I pulled your bio.” She taps at her tablet and makes a gesture. Hovering screens appear in mid-air. Birth records, report cards, even newspaper clippings of little-league game scores flash between us like microfiche. “…I know you had family,” she says softly.

I stare, frozen, as she taps one image, expanding it. A grainy black and white picture from a 1970’s summer camp bulletin, two kids with their arms around each other. An older boy with dark hair and cherubic features, and a younger blonde girl with his same blue eyes. “You…use the past-tense,” I say carefully, fighting to keep the words from cracking.

“Well, you’re dead, I don’t know how this is supposed to work.” Sophia stares at the image a moment. “Is she your sister?”

I try to reconcile that grainy black and white memory with the gristly photo from the dossier. I turn away. “I haven’t seen her personally lately, but from the photo I saw, it’s…possible.”

“Jesus.” Sophia gestures and the images fade. “How did that happen?”

“I don’t know,” I mutter darkly. “But it’s something to do with this asshole I’m looking for.”

“So you want to kill him?”

Yes.
“Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve been trying to get more information so I don’t run in guns blazing and kill a bunch more National Guardsmen, cause we’re running out of those too.”

Sophia looks to the window-view. Anstis and Karl are still talking, still alone in the room. “And you think this Nosfertatu guy may have that information?”

I shrug. “It’s the only lead I have right now.”

She grins. “So what do you say we beat the shit out of him and take him with us?”

I follow her gaze. “Karl? Or Anstis too?”

“Well…why not grab both of them?” The tablet in her hand suddenly disappears. She turns to me, still grinning, and slowly cracks her knuckles. “Wanna go back out?”

Her grin is infectious, as his her plan. “So…what, we just reappear in midair?”

“Yep. They’ll never expect it.” She glances at the window. “What is it you say? Full…Brujah? Not sure what that means, exactly.”

I stretch some stiffness out of my arms. After getting jerked around all evening, it’s about time I get to be a jerk of my own. I clap her companionably on the shoulder. “You’ll figure it out.”

#

“A werewolf!?” Karl roars. “He’s friends with a werewolf? Why in the world would a werewolf be working with him?!”

Anstis watches him, arms folded. “That I don’t fully know, but I know that Marcus knows and he’s not entirely happy about it.”

“You dont say,” Karl sneers, pacing around the chair, brandishing Glitch. “So you have no idea where he went?”

Anstis dips a hand into a pocket. “No, but I can find out.”

Karl, though, doesn’t seem to have heard. “Well, if we’re lucky, the werewolf took him off to be ripped apart. He’s not finding his way back here, that’s for sure. He’d be ripped to pieces at the gates.” He stops, grinning triumphantly, then, slowly, his face falls. “…He’s finding his way back in here, isn’t he?”

And that’s when Sophia and I reappear in the room.

I lunge at Karl’s arm, the one holding Glitch, and wrench it behind him. I feel a wet crack under my hands as the ligaments of the shoulder snap. He screams and drops the sword. Sophia, behind Anstis, is back in werewolf form, towering head scraping the low ceiling, and grabs the pirate, pinning his arms and snarling a warning in his ear to stay quiet. Anstis struggles a moment, then meets my eyes and glares. The next instant, he slides out of Sophia’s massive grip as he melts down into the packed earthen floor. She grabs at him but he disappears, hat and all.

Sophia stares at the ground, then up at me. I shrug. “Son of a bitch, I didn’t know he could do that.”

Karl is still screaming and struggling. I shove him against the wall to muffle him. “You’re not gonna pull this one off,” he spits. “I got a dozen Kindred and thirty ghouls down here, they’ll blow you to pieces if you try to leave this room!”

Sophia, meanwhile, has dropped back to human form and picked my phone up from the ground, typing at it. She also picks up Glitch, carefully, and hands it to me, hilt first.

“The fuck you think you gonna do here, Lytton?” Karl grunts.

I tuck Glitch back in my belt with one hand and shove him harder. “Look, I just wanted to have a nice quiet conversation.”

You tore five people apart!!!

I said I was sorry! But no, you had to be an asshole about it!”

Sophia nods and shows the screen to me. A cartoon animation of a cockroach is dancing across the screen. She reaches one hand out to grasp my shoulder, then thumbs the animation with the other. There’s a flash of light, and the three of us disappear.

#

Sometime later, Anstis deems it safe and climbs his way back out of the ground and into the room.

But the room isn’t empty; it’s filled with angry Nosfertatu.

“YOU!” Rocko yells, levelling a very large gun at him. The rest follow suit with the metallic clatter of more guns. “What happened!? Where’s the Brujah? Where the fuck is Karl!?

Anstis brushes dirt from his coat. “The Brujah summoned his werewolf friend.”

“WHAT!?!” Rocko roars, spraying tobacco spittle over him.

Anstis eyes him calmly. “You heard me.”

Rocko lowers his gun but lifts an accusatory finger. “If you were part of this, you’re gonna die by inches. Get this motherfucker to a holding cell!”

“One moment, let me see if I can help.” Anstis digs in his pocket and pulls out a stone, a hunk of rough-edged chert, with my name on it. As the Nosferatu watch, he mutters the ritual, and the rock responds:

Tom is near Pedro’s Reservoir, with the wolves.

Anstis relays this to them. Most look angry, but Rocko looks perplexed, glancing at the rock. “Reservoir? How do you know this?”

“A little bird told me.” Anstis smirks and puts the rock away. “I can find Sutro, but it will take time. He may be at the same spot, he may not.”

The Nosferatu look at each other, then to Rocko. He stares a moment, jaw clenching at his cud, then nods. “Fine. Do it.” He turns to one of the Nosfertatu, lurking directly behind him in a dirty trenchcoat. “Abelard, gather the kill team, and break out the silver.”

“If you have any personal items of Sutro’s, bring them too,” Anstis adds.

Rocko eyes him. “Why?”

“Because if you do, I can bring us all to them, in an instant.”

Rocko glares suspiciously, then nods slowly. “Okay. Abelard, do it. And call the Pyramid. Tell the Justicar we might need his help.”

#

101 NORTHBOUND

Earlier this evening, Georgia brought the Chantry’s Possible-Child-Abduction van to meet Rabenholz at the parking structure as agreed, and he had two cars from two different car companies show up as well. He randomly selected one and Dominated him to be their driver, instructing him to not notice anything unusual.  With that, they set off, heading north toward Humboldt.

The drive is largely quiet, the Dominated driver focusing on his job up front, Georgia and Rabenholz staring out the small windows in the back. Finally, Rabenholz turns to her.  “Ms. Johnson, I’ve been meaning to ask you about your education. I have some concerns about you claiming the Regency.”

“Well, you’re not alone in having concerns,” Georgia laughs breezily.

“Yes. Not that there are any other viable candidates, but rather, I would like to offer you my help.”

“You do seem to be offering be quite a bit of help so far, for which I am grateful,” Georgia says. “What else did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know where to start.” Rabenholz hesitates a moment, choosing his next words carefully. “Have you in fact had…any education in thaumaturgy?”

Georgia stares and, ever so slightly, bristles. “Yes, I have had quite a bit, thank you.”

“So you could recite for me the principles involved in thaumaturgy and ritual craft?”

“Yes, I could.”

Rabenholz reaches under his cloak and pulls out a paper bag with a fresh, dirty onion in it. He hands it to her. “Do not damage it. Can you explain to me what you think it does?”

(Jason: “Intelligence + Occult, and this one is going to be real hard.”
Me: “Because nobody fucking knows!”
Jim: “I know what it does!”
Kara: “I know what it does.”
Jason: “You two know? Wow. Ok. Well, I mean, I know.”
Me: “…I’m the only one who doesn’t know!?!??! I’ve been pining over this for months now!
Jason: “And that’s the best part!”)

Georgia peers at the bulb. She can tell that some sort of personal magic is involved, but not much else. “Just by looking at it there isn’t much I can determine.”

“That will not do. You must hone your skill, have at least some idea of what any magical artifact is capable of. You are familiar with the skill of aura perception?”

“Yes…?”

Rabenholz leans forward. “Read mine.”

Georgia clutches the onion and focuses.

(Kara: “Um…botch.”
Jason: “Wow, ok. Then I guess it doesn’t work.”
Me: “OH MY GOD SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT THE ONIONS DO!”
Jason: “NO!”)

“Oh my god,” Georgia gasps excitedly. “When I’m holding an onion, my aura perception doesn’t work!”

Rabenholz’s expression doesn’t change, but the temperature in the van grows noticeably more judgemental.

At that moment, their phones ring.

(Chris: “I don’t have a phone.”)

At that moment, Georgia’s phone rings. It’s Bell. “Yes?”

“Ms. Johnson,” Bell’s voice responds. “We have a little bit of a situation that’s come up. Where are you?”

“Uh, heading north, like you wanted us to.”

“There’s a slight change of plan,” Bell says grimly. “I need you to meet me in Berkeley. This supersedes the previous plan; we have a problem. A large problem.”

“What kind of problem?”

“The werewolves just abducted the Nosferatu Primogen from inside his own warrens.”

She blinks. “They what?”

“Yes, what is right. I just got a call from them, they have a war party ready to go out and kick everything’s ass.”

Georgia stares, meeting Rabenholz’s confused expression. “I’m…wondering why I shouldn’t join up–”

“You are joining up. And so am I. Meet at the house of the Berkeley provost, in the hills. I think you know him.”

She smiles. “Oh lovely, I like Leeland!”

(Me: “And he’s learned a lot about werewolves lately.”)

“If Rabenholz is with you, tell him he’s coming too,” Bell snaps, then hangs up.

Georgia puts the phone away and turns to Rabenholz. “Werewolves just abducted the Nosferatu primogen from inside his warren.”

Rabenholz’s glower darkens. “Has there been trouble with the werewolves historically?”

She blinks. “You mean, like, ever? Well, yeah.”

“I meant here, in the city.”

“Well, we’re not in the city right now.”

Rabenholz stares into her open face a long moment, then slowly reaches over and takes back his onion.

(Chris: “Jalut’s offer is looking better and better.”)

Georgia tells the driver to turn around and head toward Berkeley. “I don’t think the werewolves here have ever abducted a primogen before,” she says to Rabenholz.

Rabenholz turns to the window. “So this is new behavior.”

Georgia considers this a moment, considerably less worried than Rabenholz appears to be, but thoughtful nonetheless. She stares out her window as they head back south, toward the East Bay.

(Jason: “Kara, give me a raw Intelligence test.”
Kara: “…One success.”
Jason: “So, you’re not sure what’s going on, and it is a bit odd that they would start doing this, but one thing you’re pretty certain of…somehow, in some way, this is probably Tom’s fault.”)

END OF NIGHT

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One Response to 4/28/15

  1. I love how everything always happens because of Tom.

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