Kara: “We can certainly try this more than once. I mean, the bowl is reusable, and we have plenty of owl blood.”
Georgia and Rabenholz are on their way to Berkeley to meet up with Bell at Leeland’s house when Georgia gets another call, this time from Dr. vonNatsi.
They exchange rather loud, science-y pleasantries, then Dr. vonNatsi gets to the point. “Ehrm, I vas vondering…ze Chantry of yours…vould it be possible at some point for me to…ehrm…inventory certain elements? Nothing zat vould be missed, of course.”
Georgia frowns. “By inventory, you mean, remove?”
She sighs. “Well you know I’m always happy to help you, but I can’t just give you carte blanche access to the Chantry. What do you need?”
“Vell, you know I have been looking for ze werewolf bone, ja? Und you know I have not had ze success vith finding ze verewolf bone because it is usually attached to ze werewolf?”
Georgia nods seriously. “Ja.”
“Vell, I have found a substitute. I can employ ze human bone, so long as it is properly treated.”
“Oh!” Georgia sighs in relief. “Well, how does it need to be treated?”
“Vith a precise application of quintescal materials. You vould call it ze…Vitae? Ze thaumaturgical sorceries, zey are crude but they can suffice for the preparation. But…zere is one other concern…. It is a trifle, really….”
He clears his throat. “You see, ze bone must belong to someone who is still alive in some form. Und…ze Tremere are known to do these things, ja?” He hesitates. “I do not condone zese things! It is important to state this! But if zese things are done, und there are leftovers, vell…it is best to donate them to Science!”
She sighs again, then nods. “I agree fully. At the moment, though, we don’t have any ongoing experiments that would generate this kind of side product.”
Dr. vonNatsi grumbles. “How is it I pick ze one Tremere Chantry zat does not have mutilated people running about?”
“We could put out a call for volunteers,” Georgia offers brightly.
vonNatsi seems to consider this seriously. “Vell, ze problem is ze size of bone I require. Only ze femur is likely to suffice.”
Georgia digs in her bag for a scrap of paper to make a note. “Well, I’m sure there are people who don’t need those. Let me get back to you after I’ve finished my plans tonight.”
“Ja. You can reach me again after about two hours. I vill be doing…nothing important…” He trails off, muttering again, and this time it seems peppered with German curses. “…I’m sorry, I should be more professional. You see…she is back in town.”
Georgia frowns in puzzlement, then sits up. “Oh! Are you expecting a visit from Professor Lovelace?”
“Ja…” vonNatsi says, tone darkening.
(Me: “Ehrmagerd, a sexy visit?”)
“Are you having tea?” Georgia continues excitedly.
“I am certain zat I am having ze tea,” vonNatsi grunts through clenched teeth. “Und ze crumpets, und ze smalltalk about ze weather!”
“That does sound like a lovely time. Well, if I can stop by in two hours, I will.”
He hangs up. Georgia puts the phone away and turns to Rabenholz, who has been staring at her throughout this entire conversation. She stares calmly back. Finally he takes a breath and speaks, “Ms. Johnson, you wouldn’t happen to have a silver bowl with you? Or spring water? Or owl blood?”
She looks only slightly more perturbed than when vonNatsi asked about a femur. “What do you need them for?”
“It would be wise to surveil where we are headed before we arrive, and I will need such items to accomplish this.”
Georgia sighs again and starts digging hopefully through her purse.
SAN PABLO RESERVOIR
I appear on an oak-studded hillside, still holding Karl by his broken arm. Sophia is on his other side, scanning the landscape. We’re not far from where we were the last time we met up with her pack, and as I follow her gaze down the slope I see three large familiar shapes looming in the shadows halfway down the slope. Sophia nods to me. With that, I shove Karl forward, ignoring his whimpers, and we descend the hill.
Sophia trots ahead to reach the other wolves before us. Once she’s out of earshot, Karl turns to me. “Are you fucking insane?!” he hisses.
I ignore him, watching the ground for potholes. “What do you mean?”
“Those are werewolves!”
“Well, yeah. Are you gonna be a little bitch about it like Leeland? Cause that didn’t go well for him.”
“Oh, because vampires are supposed to react calmly after being kidnapped by four werewolves!”
“Kidnapped?” I snort. “We’re just having a discussion! Youll be back in your crappy house before sunrise.”
He staggers and I jerk him back to his feet. “Are you fucking crazy?” he sputters.
I glance ahead. Three pairs of bright eyes watch us approach. “This is probably the least crazy thing I’ve done in a while, honestly.”
Wincing through the pain, he twists backward to whisper at me, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but they’re gonna kill both of us.”
“They’re not gonna kill you,” I sigh dismissively. “They didn’t kill Leeland when I brought him around last week.”
“How the fuck do you know that!?”
“Because I talked to– “ I hesitate. (Me: “Wait, have I talked to Leeland since I ditched him?”) “–Ok, well they probably didn’t kill Leeland. But they didn’t kill me, did they? And I apparently do nothing but piss people off.”
“Son of a bitch…” he moans, then glowers. “I should have had my men cut your fucking head off.”
I smirk. “See, told you.”
We reach the pack. Stormwalker and Samir are in full-werewolf form, as twisted and hulking as the trees they’re crouched under. Sees-Faces is in dire-wolf form, eager drool leaking from his mouth. I nod at him. Shit, I still owe that guy some tacos….
Stormwalker unslings his massive silver sword and braces it in the dirt before him. “Hello again, Tom.”
“Heeeey Stormwalker,” I mutter. Karl glances at me, eyes wide.
Samir strides forward, his jackal ears twitching in amusement. “So, Tom, you have brought us a lovely friend.”
Karl goes still under my grip, staring up at Samir. “Look, we can be reasonable about this–”
“I know we can,” Stormwalker chimes in. “Samir and I are going to ask you some questions. If you cooperate fully and give us some good info, we’ll all be cool and you’ll walk away from here.”
I grip Karl’s arm tighter. “Just like I told you.”
Karl whimpers, then nods. “Yeah…yeah, we’re gonna be real cool.”
Samir’s jaw cracks in a grin. “Well, you have an advantage on us, you’re already room temperature!”
The two full-werewolves break into laughter. Karl forces himself to join in awkwardly.
Samir then settles down to business, asking about Settites. Karl groans, says he’s heard theyre around but doesn’t know much more than that. Samir, though, needs more than just rumors. Karl says from what the Nosferatu have gathered, the Settites have been moving into the area quietly for awhile, not even doing their usual routines. Trying to keep under the radar as they look for something. Or someone.
“Were they looking for Helgi?” I ask.
Karl scoffs. “He’s not exactly hard to find.”
“Then why would they have targeted him?”
Karl suddenly breaks into real laughter. “Have you not heard the stories? You’ve been hanging out with the man, he can’t introduce himself without telling this stuff. Helgi and the Settites go way back, a thousand years or more.” He glances at me and his face falls into a sneers. “Your Little Friend and he go back nearly as far–”
Now I tense, glancing at the werewolves. Sophia meets my gaze nervously, but the rest of the pack is focused on Karl and don’t notice.
“Okay!” I twist Karl’s arm, cutting him off with a yelp. “Back to why the Settites are here–”
He glowers and continues. “They weren’t here for Helgi. At least, I don’t think they were. He may have just been a convenient opportunity. No, they were looking for someone else in particular. I thought initially they were looking for that Sabbat Priscus–”
I’m much better at concealing my wince this time, but I avoid everyone’s gaze, even Sophias.
“–But I don’t think it’s that,” Karl continues. “They didn’t bring the firepower for that, or at least not till recently. Word has it they’ve been asking around about the Chantry. Whoever they’re looking for, they tracked him there. And from what I hear they’re looking for someone small, which is why I thought it was the Priscus. But he’s set himself up at the Pyramid, not the Chantry.”
Sophia and I meet each other’s gaze, an unspoken suspicion forming. Stormwalker leans down closer to Karl. “Why do you know it’s someone small?”
“I don’t, this is coming from multiple sources, but we’ve inferred it, based on the cages they’ve been getting.” Karl chuckles grimly. “I mean, unless they’re looking for stray dogs.”
Sophia’s and my eyes widen at the same time. The cub….
Karl waves his hand dismissively. The only other thing we’ve heard is some babble about the ‘perfect sacrifice.’ But they’re Settites, they spew that shit all the time.” His mood suddenly drops, as he remember who he’s talking to. “…You know I’m not with them, right?”
Stormwalker twists his klaive, drilling a gash into the dirt. “Well, Samir hasn’t spread your guts all over the clearing, has he?”
Samir lolls his jaws wide in a grin. “…Yet.”
Karl gulps visibly and continues. “Th-There’s another thing, too. When they got here they were quiet, but something spooked them into moving fast. The Helgi thing wasn’t exactly subtle, and that’s usually not like them. I mean, I understand why they went for him. If the stories are true, he’s killed half their clan over the years.”
Samir laughs. “Really? I like this man! Pity he’s a vampire.”
“Pity he’s dead,” Karl says, “They blew him up with a thousand pounds of Semtex.”
“Well, everyone has to die sometime, especially the undead.” Samir’s grin widens. Karl tugs at his collar.
“Anyway, that’s all we know. We haven’t been keeping too close a tab on the Settites. We’ve had more pressing problems running around. Like this guy.” He jerks his free thumb at me.
I glare. “What?”
“Yes, you, the Sabbat Enforcer, or whatever the hell you are now!”
(Me: “Oh my god, I just realized, you guys are trying to trick me into outing Marcus on my own!”
I shift nervously. “I’m…pretty sure that’s not the case.”
“Really, it’s not? So you run around with that guy for what reason, now?”
I glance up at the werewolves. Sophia has gone white, but Stormwalker and Samir are rolling their eyes at each other.
“Vampire politics,” Stormwalker grumbles.
Samir laughs and claps his shoulder. “Ah, but that’s the wonderful thing about vampire politics! The more they have, the less there are!”
Jason: “You say that to the werewolves?”
Me: “What? NO! I, Colleen, say that, not Tom!”
“Fewer,” I mutter.
Samir sobers and regards me down his long muzzle. “I can show you a fractional vampire if you’d like,” he says, and when he grins again it’s suddenly a lot more predatory.
Rabenholz and Georgia arrive in Berkeley and discuss where to get the items he needs. There are mysticism stores and shit around–quite a lot of them, actually–but while they may have bowls and water, the owl blood is tricky. Georgia points out that the best thing would probably be to find an owl and bleed it.
Halfway through this conversation, her phone rings again. “Good GOD,” she exclaims as she digs it out.
(Me: “Hope you’re not running out of minutes.”
Jason: “She’s charging it to the Chantry.”)
The number is unknown but she answers anyway. “Ms. Johnson,” a familiar drawl greets her.
She sighs happily and sinks back in her seat. “Ah, Doc.”
“Am I catching you at an inopportune moment?”
“All moments are inopportune, but for you, no moments are inopportune.”
“Well, I’m flattered. I was wondering if you would indulge me. Being as how you are an authority in the city of San Francisco, and being as how every authority in the city is presently en route to an area of the Eastern Bay, are you among those who has been called out?”
“Our presence has been requested, yes.”
“I see. And are you by yourself?”
She laughs lightly. “These days, never.”
“If I may make a strong suggestion as a person interested in your continued well-being?”
“Please do so.”
“Do not go to the reservoir. Under any circumstance, do not go to the reservoir.”
She glances at Rabenholz. “Intriguing.”
“What I fear may be about to transpire would stand you very ill if you should fail, and even worse if you should not.” Distortion obscures his voice for a moment, like the sound of a strong wind.
“Can you elaborate?”
“I’m afraid at the present time elaboration would not be particularly helpful. Just that there are other forces at work besides the ones that have compelled your duty.”
“Are you planning on going to the East Bay, then?”
“I’m afraid I am already in the Eastern Bay, and that I have no choice but to do something I would rather not do. I have to speak to a number of individuals. They will not wish to speak with me, nor I with them.” The wind distortion comes again. “Have you other duties which may compel your attention? I would suggest attending to them, even if that would risk the displeasure of some, for I fear you will not have to concern yourself with their opinion for very long.”
“Indeed. Well, I’m sure I can find some other duty which will pull me away. Your concerns are…intriguing, but if there is anyone in the entire Bay Area whom I am willing to trust, you would probably fall within that circle.”
“Well, I am flattered, but all I ask is you consider whether your destination is where you would wish to find yourself presently.” The distortion comes again, and when it returns, she realizes there’s another sound underneath his voice. It sounds like hoofbeats, riding hard.
“Are…you perhaps galloping through the East Bay?” Georgia asks tentatively.
“I am not taken to galloping,” Doc says seriously. “My horse, on the other hand, has had the notion on occasion.”
“Is it legal to talk on a cellphone while riding a horse in California?”
“Well, I am no stranger to violating certain laws when I find them inconvenient. Consider my words, Ms. Johnson.” With that the call ends.
“Ms. Johnson, you’d do well to heed your friend’s advice,” Rabenholz says as she tucks the phone away again. “I’ve never heard of encounters with werewolves going well when unplanned. Or, for that matter, planned.” Rabenholz leans forward and tells the driver to pull over, now that they’re near campus. “As I was saying, we should endeavour to get eyes on the situation without getting anywhere near it.”
The UC Berkeley main campus is a veritable forest of elegant old trees dotted among the buildings, so Rabenholz and Georgia wander the pathways till they hear the hooting of an owl. They follow it to a tall sycamore tree near the center of campus, with the large silhouette of a great horned owl perched at the very top.
Between the ground and the owl, though, are about a half dozen patchouli-soaked protesters camped out on a platform and hammocks strung up in the tree.
(The following sequence is a comedy of errors, irony, and amusing voices that honestly, to be best appreciated, needs to be experienced for yourself.)
With the owl blood obtained, they still need spring water and a silver bowl, but figure the best thing to do is to continue on their way to Leeland’s house, as that’s the sort of random thing he might have. They can meet up with Bell, do the ritual to scout out whatever the hell is going on at the reservoir, and figure out what to do from there in the safety of the Berkeley hills.
THE NOSFERATU WARRENS
Fifteen Nosferatu and about thirty of their ghouls have gathered with Anstis in the main fortress of their warren, all as armed as they are ugly. As requested, they acquired an item of Karl’s to weave into the thaumaturgy of his teleport circle. Anstis is kneeling on the concrete finishing the circle when his phone rings. It’s Bell.
“Captain,” Bells voice greets him. “Are you prepared?”
“Aye.” Anstis finishes the last rune and climbs to his feet. “We can be there within twenty seconds.”
“Good. I’m going to try to see what we’re up against. Don’t move till I give you my command. Have you ever gone up against a werewolf, Captain?”
“It’s nothing to recommend. I would not be doing this if it wasn’t because of a Primogen.”
Anstis glances at the figures around him. Rocko nods at him and digs taloned fingers through his pack of tobacco. “The Nosferatu should be able to keep us hidden,” Anstis says.
“Not from this,” Bell says grimly. “The werewolves will be able to see through it. They have…ways.”
“Well, then I recommend we arrive at the same time.”
“I agree. I’ll call you back.” Bell hangs up.
Rabenholz and Georgia arrive at the house. They leave the driver with the van out front and approach to knock on the front door. The lights are all on, and there’re muted sounds of movement inside, but no-one answers. Rabenholz leans closer and hears a series of heavy metallic clunks.
“Ms. Johnson, are you sure this is the place?” he asks.
Georgia checks the number on the front. “…Yes.”
“Then why am I hearing firearms being prepared inside?”
She considers this. “Possibly because some are going to be fired shortly.”
“At us, do you suppose?”
“It’s possible. We may wish to move.”
There’s a thump from the other side of the door. “I HAVE A GUN!” Leeland shouts. “DON’T COME IN! IT’S LOADED WITH SILVER AND…uh…ACID!”
“Leeland! It’s Georgia Johnson!” she shouts through the door.
“…The Tremere?” he calls back hesitantly.
“Do you have a silver bowl we could borrow?” she shouts back.
“And spring water, if it’s no trouble,” Rabenholz adds.
There’s a pause “Who’s that?”
“My associate, um–” Georgia turns to Rabenholz and pauses thoughtfully.
(Chris: “I think I’m going to go with Lord von Rabenholz as my title.”)
“–Mr. von Rabenholz.” She sees his sudden glare. “Herr von Rabenholz, I mean.”
“The Ventrue? O-one moment!” There’s more sounds of firearms, and a strangely tangled clattering, then the door squeaks open an inch.
Georgia and Rabenholz lean over to meet the sliver of Leeland’s gaze. “Hi!” Georgia waves brightly.
Leeland’s eye darts around. “Were you followed?”
“No,” Georgia answers.
“Are you sure?”
Leeland’s eye closes a moment, then he opens the door all the way. “Come in.” He lets them in and closes the door behind them, locking six different bolts on the frame, some of them obviously new and haphazardly installed. Jagged, frantic warding runes have been carved into the wood around the door.
Rabenholz eyes them. “Are you anticipating a siege?”
“There’s werewolves around!” Leeland hisses, glancing furtively out the front windows.
“I thought they were on the other side of the ridge, at the reservoir?” Georgia asks.
Leeland points east. “But the ridge is right over there!”
“Do you get them on campus a lot?” Rabenholz continues, pacing slowly through the room as he examines it.
Leeland groans. “More often than I’d like.”
“Hmm. You should call an exterminator then,” Georgia suggests.
Leeland groans again and sinks into a chair. “I’ve tried.”
Georgia pats his shoulder in a gesture approximating comfort. “Do you have a silver bowl we could borrow?”
“Um…sort of?” He shifts nervously. “You should have come yesterday.”
“Why? Did you give away your last silver bowl?”
“No, I…repurposed it.” He gets up and opens the door to the hall closet. A clutter of weapons falls out–his larping weapons, all jerry-rigged with various silver items beaten into pointy shapes and duct-taped to the handles. He gestures at it weakly. “This was all the silver in my house. What do you need a bowl for?”
Georgia and Rabenholz eye the mess. Anything round enough to hold water has been reformed beyond use. “To scry on the werewolves. Do you have a silver thimble, maybe?” Georgia asks.
“No, it’s all here.” Leeland returns to his chair and plops his face into his hands. “I can’t believe all this is happening. Y0u know the protesters are back in the tree?”
“Oh, we took care of that,” Georgia says breezily.
He glances up. “How?”
“Last we saw, the police were carting them away.”
“They came to blows over whether they liked owls,” Rabenholz adds helpfully.Leeland stares a long moment, then seems to shake himself and climbs back to his feet. “I’m sorry, its been a long couple of–Can I get you anything?”
“No, we’re fine, we just need the silver vessel,” Georgia stresses gently.
“Yes, right….” Leeland wrings his hands. “Well, I know there’s an antique tea set in the English Department, it might be on a silver platter.”
Rabenholz and Georgia glance at each other. “That might do.”
“Good. I can give you directions, but I can’t leave to show you myself.” He looks to the window again. “There’s werewolves…everywhere.”
Rabenholz sighs resignedly and heads toward the door. “I will take the car to search the department. In the meantime, I’m sure the Regent would be more than happy to ward the rest of your villa.”
Leeland whirls on her, his face suddenly hopeful. “Can you?”
“Um….” Georgia considers this a moment (as Kara checks the manual) “…Yes. Anything I can touch.”
Georgia sets to work carving more anti-werewolf wards into the door- and window-frames of the house while Rabenholz has the driver take him down to campus to seek out the tea set.
SAN PABLO RESERVOIR
My staredown with Samir is suddenly broken by my phone ringing. Stormwalker growls and Samir lifts one jackal eyebrow at the rock music, but I ignore them and check the screen. It’s an unknown number. Keeping my grip on Karl so he doesn’t disappear on us, I turn away to answer. “Hello?”
“Mr. Lytton,” says Doc’s voice.
“Oh, hey Doc. I can’t really talk right now, can I call you back?”
“I’m afraid you cannot, there’s a pressing matter. Who might you be in the company of at the present time?”
I glance at the wolves and Karls wan face. “Uh, kinda a mixed crowd at the moment.”
“Might I inquire as to how mixed it is?”
I pause. “…That’s racist.”
“Sir.” Docs tone drops considerably. “I don’t know what you think of me, but right now you are in immense danger.”
I sigh. “I usually am.”
“Not like this. You are in immense danger of causing the ruin of a great many people, including everyone you are currently laying eyes upon, do I have your attention yet?”
I meet Sophia’s eyes and shudder. “Yes?”
“I need you to do something that you’re not gonna want to do and it’s not gonna be easy. I need you to convince the werewolves to release their prisoner and leave, now.”
I sigh. “I don’t have a problem with that, but I’ll see what I can do–”
“I would suggest seeing to it rapidly, Mr. Lytton,” Doc says.
“Do you have any information I might pass on to speed up the process?”
“There’s a Justicar stalking you.”
I almost drop my phone. “…Oh.”
“There may be worse,” Doc continues. “And if those werewolves think they can deal with a Justicar, be assured, they cannot deal with the worse. Moreover, we do not need a dead Justicar at this moment.”
“No, we certainly do not,” I agree grimly, even though I am sure he is not stalking me in any good way.
“Make some haste, Mr. Lytton.” Doc hangs up.
Anstis get another call from Bell. “We have a problem,” Bell says the moment he answers. “There’s more of them than I thought.”
“How many more?”
“Four. And you didn’t mention something else.”
“What would that be?”
Anstis grins. “You didn’t ask.”
“Captain, I would advise you to cut the crap to me right now. I need to attack something very serious, and I need to know why a Brujah known for killing everything he sees is involved in this little situation. He’s with four werewolves and they haven’t ripped his head off yet. Now why do you suppose that is?”
Anstis shrugs. “He seems to be friends with at least one of them.”
“Yes he’s made that claim before.”
“A female one, smaller.”
There’s a pause. “Yes, I see her. I don’t think we have the firepower for this, not even with all your guys. Four werewolves is…well, we need other methods. Are you ready to bring your team here?”
Anstis scans the armed monsters. “Aye.”
“Good. Who’s in command over there?”
Anstis hands the phone to Rocko, who takes it and grunts a greeting. “Yeah…yeah, we can get it…not a problem.” He hangs up and hands the phone back. “We need to bring something with us.” Rocko whispers roughly to some ghouls, who run off and come back with a crate, held on two long poles like the Ark of the Covenant.
(Chris: “Is it the Ark of the Covenant?”
Jason: “It is not the Ark of the Covenant.”)
They drop it heavily next to the circle. “Can we take this with us?” Rocko asks.
“I don’t see why not. What is it?”
Rocko smirks and kicks the wood. “Contingency plan. A chemical weapon. A bomb big enough to coat the entire hillside in aerosolized silver.”
Anstis nods, impressed. “Did Bell say when to go?”
“As soon as we have it.”
Anstis grins, then slices open his wrist with one long fingernail. “Very well.”
SAN PABLO RESERVOIR
I put my phone away and turn back to the wolves. “Sooo, apparently a Justicar is coming, and it’s probably Bell, so…you might want to wrap things up here.”
Stormwalker cocks his head. “A Justicar? That some sort of Roman official?” His ears twitch suggestively toward the fourth wall at the word “Roman.”
Jason: “You say that to the werewolves?!”
Me: “No!!! I, myself, am calling Julian, Cameron, and Jason assholes cause that’s what you are!”)
“No, it’s…” I grope for a way to quickly sum up the force that is Theo Bell, “It’s kinda a big vampire bruiser. And he’s probably bringing reinforcements, cause he’s not an idiot.”
During all this, Sophia has been fussing with her tablet and phone. She shoves them away in her bag and looks up. “Should we take him out?”
“God no, we need him…” I pause, “…In more ways than one….” I mutter “…So if you’re done, I should probably make sure Karl gets back safe.”
The werewolves trade looks. Sophia shrugs, Sees-Faces scratches himself, and Stormwalker and Samir look just about as nonchalant as you’d expect two armed eleven-foot death machines to look when faced with the prospect of one warrior vampire. Finally Samir stalks forward. “Well. It has been a lovely chat, and perhaps you should be taking him home. But first we should talk about what we get in exchange.”
He turns to Karl as he says this. Karl nods enthusiastically “Yes, a-anything you want!”
Samir kneels down. “Your people trade in information, yes? Well, when you get back, if you would be so kind, we would like it if you–”
Suddenly all four werewolves heads snap up, staring around into the darkness. A low chorus of growls echoes from their throats.
I peer around us. I don’t see anything. “Girl, what?”
“Wyrm…” Sophia mutters, sniffing.
“What, like…me?” I sniff at myself, then Karl.
“No, worse.” She slings her bag over her shoulder and backs toward the others. “And very, very bad.”
Moments later, Anstis and a cadre of armed Nosferatu appear up the hillside, the silver bomb slung between them. Below them they see me, Karl, and the werewolves in the shadows under the oaks, peering around us into the darkness. None of us look up the ridge at them.
Next to Anstis, Rocko spits once, then lifts a detonator and presses it.
The crate falls apart, revealing an oil-drum like container covered with tubing and mechanical devices. The top of the drum flies off, releasing a cloud of glittering green-tinted fog. It swells around them, then pours down the hill.
I see the fog first as it billows down toward us. “What the hell?” I point up.
Stormwalker snaps his head toward the gas, then growls deeper. Before I can react, he strides forward, grabs Karl by the base of the face and rips his jaw clean off. Karl staggers back with a gurgling scream.
“What the hell?!!!” Stormwalker ignores me and grabs at Karl again, dragging him down the slope, away from the encroaching mist.
“Here,” Rocko grunts and hands something to Anstis. A pair of goggles. He puts them on and instantly they can see shapes through the cloud roiling around them: bright green werewolf forms, and two faintly-tinted vampire ones. All of them are moving away.
“Girl! What’s going on!?” I stumble down the slope after her as the werewolves retreat, dragging Karl with them. She’s tapping intently at a tablet, and either doesn’t hear me or chooses not to respond.
I hesitate and glance back at the fog. It glitters ominously. I’ve heard of aerosolized silver before, from Everton, but just in case this is something else I stay clear of it as well, following close behind Sophia.
Anstis and the Nosferatu watch quietly through their goggles from above. Then suddenly the goggles go black.
“The fuck!?” Rocko strips his off. Everyone else is removing theirs too.
“What happened?” Anstis growls.
“I don’t know, they just went dead!”
(Everyone: “ZE GOOGLES! ZEY DO NOTHING!”)
The cloud has now totally enclosed them, blocking normal view of the reservoir. Rocko curses, pulls out a gun and fires it into the gloom.
The gun doesn’t go off.
Everyone stares. Rocko looks up. “Uh…anyone else have other ideas?” They answer with resounding silence.
A sound suddenly penetrates the fog. High pitched, almost on the edge of hearing. Coming from above.
We reach the shore of the reservoir. “Shall we make haste?” Samir asks, peering along the shore.
“We would move faster if this one was in pieces,” Stormwalker growls, dragging the gurgling and flailing Karl closer.
I glare at the Shadowlord. “Hey! I only checked him out for the weekend, I gotta get him back in mostly one piece!”
He turns his grimacing maw toward me, free hand groping for his sword. “If they wanted him back alive, they shouldn’t have pulled this shit!”
I open my mouth to snark back, then let it go slack. A red dot has suddenly appeared in the center of Stormwalker’s chest.
“…DROP!” I shout instinctively. Stormwalker snarls back, thinking I’m talking about Karl, but Samir follows my gaze and sees the laser too. He grabs Stormwalker by the scruff of his neck and leaps away, clearing the width of the reservoir in a single bound. Sophia, Sees-Faces, and I stare after them.
Moments later, the missile hits.
From the hillside, the unnatural fog below suddenly lights up in a massive fireball, followed by a roar. Anstis stumbles back, awed, while Rocko and the rest of the Nosferatu stop everything they’re doing to stare as well.
My world explodes in fire and crashing chaos, sending me tumbling through the air. I crash to the ground, pummeled by dirt and burning shrapnel. An eternity later I start to come back to my senses: dizzy, ears ringing, waves of agony momentarily drowning out my panicked fear of the scattered fires around me. Coughing up dirt and blood, I shove my way out of earthy rubble to stumble back to my feet.
The hillside around me is a moonscape, charred and smouldering, momentarily cleared of the silver fog. I look around, first uncomprehending, then frantically. “SOPHIA!” There’s no sign of her, or anyone else. I stumble over a shattered tree trunk and start searching.
Leeland’s house suddenly shudders and a muted roar echoes from outside. He dashes to the window in time to see a burst of flame and a pillar of smoke rise up from beyond the ridgeline.
Georgia comes up behind him, having just finished her warding. They stare in silence a few moments. “Well, that’s exciting,” she says brightly.
UC BERKELEY CAMPUS
Rabenholz enters the English building. It appears to be empty of students, but even though it’s late, he finds a secretary working in the front office.
Rabenholz strides up to the desk. “Mr. Leeland requests his tea service,” he announces without preamble.
The secretary eyes him a moment, then leans forward with a slow chair creak. “Oh he does, does he? Well, you can tell that man that the English Department materials are not at his beck and call!”
Rabenholz’s eyes narrow imperceptibly.
(Chris: “Is he the only person there?”
Jason: “Of course.”
Not long after, Rabenholz returns to the house, silver tea-platter in-hand. They then start casting around for an acceptable source of spring water, but Leeland appears to be the only person in Berkeley who doesn’t have at least a case of locally-sourced flouride-free microbottles in his fridge.
With a sigh, Rabenholz sweeps back out to the van and asks the driver to go pick up spring water from a market.
SAN PABLO RESERVOIR
The smoke is still clearing when Anstis’s phone rings again. “Aye?” he answers.
“Confirm the target,” Bell’s voice asks.
Anstis tries the goggles but they’re still darkened. He grumbles and tosses them away. “Two avoided it.”
“Two escaped? Where did they go?”
“To the other side of the lake.”
Bell curses. “Any sign of Karl?”
“What about Lytton?”
“Not sure–” Just then a breeze wafts up, clearing the silver fumes and smoke, revealing a charred, leather-clad form picking its way through the wreckage.
Anstis grins. “–Ah, there he is.”
I stumble through the ash, occasionally kicking at a few piles of dirt that seem roughly teenager-sized, but uncover nothing but burnt wood and rocks.
But then I stumble over something else: a hunk of spine, with a few ribs and chunk of shoulder blade sticking off it. I hold it carefully between my fingers and, grimacing, gingerly dab a finger at the blood to taste it. It’s dirty and weak, too little to tell if it’s werewolf or vampire. I drop it and keep looking.
As I approach the shore, I see something floating in the water, bobbing amongst chunks of wood and debris. Something roughly body-sized. As I watch, it sinks out of sight.
I immediately plunge in after it.
In a few moments, I flail out to where I saw it disappear, but it’s already sunk out of sight in the murky water. I tread in place a moment, scanning the shore, looking for any other sign of Sophia.
A group of people are approaching, striding down the hill out of smoke and fog. Some of the figures are twisted and shambling, but the one in front strides tall with a smug grin more obvious than his damn fool hat.
My lip curls. Anstis. With a whole goddamn crew of Nosferatu, by the looks of it, all armed. As I watch, the entire posse disappears into thin air.
Fuck! I dive, trying to get below sitting-duck depths, crawling down through the gloom. My eyes adjust somewhat to the murk, and that’s when I see it: the dark shape of a sunken body, settling into the mud. Gulping water for weight I pull myself closer. It’s too dark to make out features, but in the shifting current, I see what looks like a billowing coat, and a heavy black satchel.
I strain forward, grabbing Sophia by the back of her army jacket, then kick back toward the surface.
Anstis and the rest of the Obfuscated mob reach the shoreline and spread out, looking for Karl while they wait for me to resurface. Anstis stares at the water a moment, then reaches into his pocket, pulls out a blank consecrated rock, and carefully carves Karl’s name onto it. With a drop of blood to finish the inscription, he closes his eyes and casts the locating ritual on the missing Primogen.
(Jason: “Yeah, he’s dead.”
Jason: “No creepy bullshit, he’s just dead.”)
“Karl Sutro is dead,” Anstis announces, tossing the rock into the water.
A shiver of tension passes through the rest of the group. “What about the Brujah?” Rocko asks.
Anstis scans the opposite shoreline. “The other werewolves are still out there. We should go.”
Rocko glares at the water, then spits an extra large gob of tobacco juice. “Agreed.” He turns and stalks back up the hillside. The rest follow.
An eternity later I break the surface, haul Sophia up behind me, then crawl back to shore, holding her head above water the whole way. I don’t even bother to check if Anstis and the rest of his assholes are still there.
Nothing shoots or grabs me as I drag us out of the water and flop onto the mud. I cough up all my swallowed muck, then roll her back and feel for a pulse.
Shit shit shit– I strip open her coat to reach her chest. Bruises and char streak her exposed skin but I ignore them, carefully positioning myself and starting CPR. Water wells out of her mouth and I roll her to the side to clear it, then lean down to check for breath or pulse again.
I start CPR again, desperately trying to recall my high school first aid class. Something tells me it’s different now–something about the Bee-Gees?–but I plow on with what I remember, applying chest compressions and tilting her head back for breath.
Under my hands, her skin is wet and cold.
The driver returns with a few bottles of spring water and between three different brand options they find one that is actually spring water, and not just municipal water with a fancy label. With that, and the silver platter, and the owl blood, they’re finally ready for the scrying ritual, though they discuss whom they should cast it on.
(Kara: “We can certainly try this more than once. I mean, the bowl is reusable, and we have plenty of owl blood.”)
They eventually decide to view Bell, assuming that wherever he is, he will be close to the action….
…But he’s not. The view is a little murky, but they see Bell lurking in the corners of a dark room, watching with folded arms as Marcus Sertorius levels his sword at a beaten man tied to a chair.
“Wasn’t he supposed to meet us here?” Georgia asks, leaning next to him over the platter.
Rabenholz frowns. “Yes….”
“He doesn’t look like he’s in a rush to leave.”
“No….” They watch as Marcus stalks closer to the man, angling the tip of his sword directly toward the captive’s eye. The man jerks in terror, but before the blade connects, Rabenholz drags his hand through the water to dispel the vision. He leans over the bowl, drumming his fingers thoughtfully on the table.
SAN PABLO RESERVOIR
Minutes of CPR pass with still no change. Finally I sit back, mind racing. I grope for my phone. It’s dead, cracked and water logged. Panicked, I look around. My gaze falls on Sophia’s bag dragged half out of the water nearby.
I dig through it. Her tablet is here, along with a couple guns and personal items, but I find what I need in the bottom. Her phone, in a much better case than mine. The screen boots up at my touch and, thank god, takes me to a dial pad.
But I pause, new realization settling over me: I don’t know anyone’s numbers.
(Jason: “Roll me an intelligence check.”
Me: “Uh…one success.”
Jason: “Okay. I’ll let you remember two numbers, though they have to be numbers you’ve called a lot.”
Me: “Well Marcus, obviously. But I don’t know if I want to call him, he’s pretty busy.”
Jason: “Also he might not care.”
Me: “…Right. Well, if we’re looking for people who care about Sophia, I guess I only have one option.”)
With shaking hands, I call Paul Stewart.
TESSERACT HEADQUARTERS, MOUNTAIN VIEW
(Jason: “Chris, where are you?”
Chris: “I’m in the office.”
Jason: “In the office. Having set your gargoyle to do what?”
Chris: “He’s home reading some bit of poignant literature. Maybe. If he wants to do that.”)
Paul is working quietly at his desk when his phone rings. He stares at it a moment, but having been burned by ignoring unknown numbers in the past, he tentatively answers. “…Hello?”
“Paul!” I say.
“Tom? How are you?” He sounds more confused than pleased to hear from me.
“Not…great, Paul. I’m in the East Bay right now and some shit just went down, and…Sophia’s hurt. Real bad. Worse than last time.”
Paul frowns and closes his laptop. “Have you tried calling the police? Or an ambulance?”
“I don’t think those people will be able to help Sophia,” I stress.
“Then I imagine we would need Dr. vonNatsi, he helped last time. I’ll give him a call–”
“Paul!” I bark. “this is worse, she doesn’t have a pulse and–” the rest of my words choke out.
“Are you performing CPR?”
“I did, it didn’t help!”
“Well, don’t stop, keep up the compression and breathing–”
(Jason: “There’s some kind of irony here, a vampire trying to breathe life back into a werewolf.”)
“–I would come to help but I’m an hour away, at least,” Paul finishes.
I take a shuddering breath. “…Can…can you contact Doc?”
Paul hesitates, then nods. “Yeah, yeah I can do that. Where are you?”
“San Pablo Reservoir, the west bank.”
“Okay. I’ll call him.” Paul hangs up, stares out the window a moment, then dials Doc.
It takes a few rings for him to answer. “Mr Stewart, how can I assist you this day?” The sound is distorted, as if from wind, and indistinct other noises echo in the background.
“I just had a rather panicked call from Tom Lytton,” Paul says.
“Yes, I imagine you might have!” There’s a sound of a gunshot.
Paul hesitates before continuing. “I don’t suppose you are anywhere near San Pablo reservoir?”
“As it happens, I am making my way there right now!”
“One of our…friends appears to be without a pulse. Not a vampire, a werewolf.”
“Werewolves tend to require such things, in my experience.” A new sound echoes in the background, a wavering, unholy sound. “May I suggest haste, sir! Where is Mr. Lytton and this friend of yours?”
“The west shore of San Pablo Reservoir.”
“I will see what I can do, but I cannot give you guarantees sir!” There’s another gunshot, followed by a distant, rending scream. The call ends.
Paul stares at his phone a moment, then out the window at the waxing night. After a long moment, he gets up, grabbing his motorcycle helmet from a table on his way out the door.
SAN PABLO RESERVOIR
As I hang up call with Paul, I hear gunshots echoing in the far distance, and an undulating, spine-raking howling, different from anything I’ve heard from Sophia, or even the Red Talons. Carefully, I lift Sophia and carry her to the nearest shelter I can find: a tree only half-blown apart in the blast. I set her down in the shadows, pulling more shadows into the world to hide us further. I barely notice how easy the action is now.
More shots and howls echo in the distance. I ignore them and resume CPR.
Rabenholz and Georgia activate the scrying ritual. The shallow, blood-soaked water in the tray ripples, then clears into a vision, revealing a charred crater torn out of the earth next to the reservoir. Smoke and fog wind through charred trees, but no one is around.
“Ms. Johnson,” Rabenholz mutters, “Do you want to call Mr. Bell and let him know about the smouldering crater?”
Georgia dials her phone, but the call goes right to voice mail.
Rabenholz swipes a finger through the water to clear the ritual, then recasts it to check on Doc. They see him on horseback, riding hard over broken ground. His gun is drawn, but he’s not firing, both hands clenched tight on the reins, pulling the foam-flecked mouth of his steed. The landscape beyond is passing too fast for them to see, but in the shadowy movement, there is a pattern. Something large is pursuing Doc in the background, something dark, moving as fast as his unnaturally-fast horse.
SAN PABLO RESERVOIR
Anstis and the Nosferatu make it to a fireroad running along the ridge and head north, back toward some sign of civilization so they can commandeer a car.
After a few minutes of silent walking, Rocko grunts and spits into the dust. “Something is weird here, where the hell is Bell?”
“Good question. Let me find out.” Anstis pulls out his stone for Bell–a smooth black river rock–and casts the spell.
Theo Bell is in the Chamber of Truth. Far away to the south.
Anstis frowns at the stone. “Does the Chamber of Truth mean anything to you?”
Rocko stops mid-chew. “The what? What the hell do I look like, Harry Potter?”
“He’s to the south, not sure how.”
The Nosferatu stare at each other, indignation giving way to confusion. “The south?! Where!?” Rocko barks.
“I’ll call him.” Anstis exchanges the rock for his phone, but the call rings without answer, eventually going to voicemail.
Suddenly, a creeping sensation climbs up the back of Anstis’s neck. “Something is watching us,” Anstis he mutters, scanning the trees.
Rocko scoffs. “That’s impossible, we’re still Obfuscated. And I don’t care what Bell says, even werewolves couldn’t see through this. I added two extra layers just to be sure.”
The rest of the Nosferatu, though, quietly cluster together, forming a circle and raising their weapons against the shadows lurking on the sides of the road.
Rabenholz, Georgia–and Leeland behind them–are still peering into the tray, when there’s suddenly a knock at the door. Leeland and Rabenholz turn and stare silently, the latter swiping a finger through the water to clear it.
“Who is it?” Georgia calls cheerfully.
“Campus security. There’s been an incident we need to discuss with Leeland. Down at…the tree.”
Leeland slowly facepalms.
“Leeland is actually out at the moment,” Georgia replies, “Can I take a message?”
“…Who are you?”
The cop is quiet a moment. “…Okay, ma’am, and where is Mr. Leeland?”
“He just ran to the store, he should be back in a half hour.”
“Alright, well I really need to speak to him about this in person, is there a way I can just wait inside?”
The three of them look around at the piles of silver-adapted weaponry, the streaks of spilled owl blood, and the runes carved around every door and window. “I’m…afraid that won’t be convenient,” Georgia shouts back.
Leeland shakes his head and grumbles. “What the hell’s he coming to me for? I already told him how to deal with the damn tree.”
“I will send him on his way,” Rabenholz says, brushing past Georgia to open the door. The campus security officer is there, his puzzled face lit by the lights of his car. Rabenholz steps outside to join him, closing the front door behind him. “Everything is fine, Officer–”
And that’s when Rabenholz notices the figure crouched in the bushes three yards ahead, aiming something his way.
Rabenholz throws himself to the side moments before the flaregun explodes against the front door.
Inside, Georgia and Leeland jolt in surprise. Brilliant red light flickers in the front windows, while shadows suddenly move outside the others. To the left, a shape rears up in the window of the sitting room, lifting an arm as if it’s about to throw something.
Georgia rushes to the window and peers out, meeting his eyes. “Stop that!” she commands, shouting through the glass. The figure freezes. She pries the window open and leans out. “What are you doing?!”
A man dressed in black fatigues stares at her, then blinks. “This,” he says, and chucks the molotov cocktail at the house.
SAN PABLO RESERVOIR
Anstis and the Nosferatu stare tensely into the woods around them, searching for whatever presence Anstis senses is following them, till Rocko curses and re-holsters his gun. “Fuck this, I’ve had it with these werewolves. There’s enough of us to take them.” He draws a long knife, glinting with real silver. The other Nosferatu draw similar bladed weapons.
“Ye have an extra one?” Anstis asks with a hopeful smirk. One hands him a silver-plated cutlass. Anstis’s grin grows wider.
They wait in silence a few more minutes, then a shape moves out of the shadows further down the road. Man-sized, features indistinct, it moves slowly toward them. As it approaches, it becomes clear its shape is obscured by a long black coat and a wide-brimmed hat, which tilts back to reveal a man’s face Anstis doesn’t recognize. The man looks them over and grins.
“Well now,” he drawls in a deep Southern accent dripping with hellfire, “Look who’s come to find the Lord.”
(Jim: “Wait, have I met Flagg before?”
Me: “No, he mostly follows me around.”)
“Who the fuck is this?” Rocko grumbles. Anstis shrugs.
Flagg spreads his arms. “Do you wish to be reborn in Righteousness?”
Anstis steps forward, silver cutlass bared. “Who be ye?”
“I am a servant of the Lord.”
“There is but one God, and you shall have no others before you.”
Anstis frowns. “Not which god, which servant.”
Flagg’s grin turns crazed. “You are a Sinner, and I shall teach you Perdition’s flame. Bask in his glory.”
Anstis steps closer, meeting his gaze. “You will travel East until the sun rises.”
Flagg gazes back, grinning, then reaches into the pocket of his coat. “The sun always rises. Would you care to gaze on its radiance?” He draws out his hand, revealing a small leather-bound book. He raises it high, and as they watch, it begins to glow.
I’m still desperately attempting CPR when I suddenly realize the subtle noise of nighttime life around me has stopped. I freeze, silencing rustle of my movements. Moments later, heavy movement pierces the unnatural silence, something big approaching though the trees. I clutch Sophia’s pale form against me, drawing us deeper into shadow.
A werewolf melts out of the darkness, stepping into view at the edge of the water. It isn’t Stormwalker, or Samir, but it is one I’ve seen before: the Spiral Dancer. Her scarred, twisted hyena face sniffs the air and growls. I pull the shadows closer around us, grateful for the first time in twenty years that I don’t have to breathe.
The Spiral Dancer stalks along the bank and pauses, bending down to sniff at something near the waterline. Sophia’s bag. Her growls deepen. She scans the trees, gaze skimming past me for one heart-bursting instant, then turns away. She tosses her head back and releases an undulating howl that fills the valley and slides down my spine, every instinct of mine resonating in return telling me to run, runrunrun. Her howl dies slowly, painfully, on the night air.
And is answered by a distant, identical chorus.
In one movement she leaps up and lopes into the trees, disappearing far more easily than any eleven-foot creature should be able to. After a few minutes, the sounds of nighttime creatures returns to the crater.
But I remain motionless. Motionless as Sophia’s body in my arms. Gingerly, I check for a pulse again. Her skin is the same temperature as mine.
Evening cicadas buzz in the distance. A cold breeze blows off the lake, stirring the ash at my feet. After a long moment, I bury my face in the folds of her coat and sink back against the tree. The shadows gradually dissipate, leaving me there.
Alone in the dark.
END OF NIGHT