6/9/15

Jim: “Kara thinks she’s a Slytherin, but she’s really not.”
Jason: “Yeah, well, Colleen thinks she’s Brujah.”
Me: “I am the most Brujah! Do you know my Brujah level? Do you want me to find a dial to show it to you?”
Jason: “Your Brujah level is ‘Full Toreador.’ ”

***

MOUNT DIABLO

Paul, Georgia, the werewolf-woman, and I enter the cabin. I’m still limping so Paul carries Sophia’s body. The cabin is just one room with simple furniture and a cast iron stove. We mill awkwardly inside as the woman closes the door, leaving the blind werewolf outside. We hear him stalking around, though, occasionally tripping over things and yelling, “WOMAN!” She ignores it.

Paul lays Sophia on the bed. The woman comes over and examines her, poking at her bruises and lifting her eyelids. “Who did this?”

(Kara: “I look at Tom.”
Chris: “I look at Tom.”
Me: “…HEY!”)

I stare down at her. Part of me has been numb ever since Doc told me she was dead, and then I was too focused on plowing ahead to any solution. Now that I’m here, though, that numbness is starting to crack. “There was an explosion, she got knocked into the water.” I find myself gulping at a saliva-less mouth. “I…don’t know if it was the concussive shock or if she was in the water for too long….”

The woman whirls on me, her knife suddenly brought to bear again. “You did this?”

“I was there, but I didn’t do this!”

In one movement, she grabs my hair and twists me down, splaying me on my back across the foot of the bed. Pain explodes through my chest. I glance down to see her knife embedded in me, almost to the hilt and directly above the heart.

“Did. You. Do. This?” she repeats calmly, holding me down easily with her free hand.

“No,” I wheeze, which turns into a gasp as she twists the knife deeper.

“Whoah whoah whoah!” Paul steps forward, holding his hands out placatingly. “These two are friends, he wouldn’t hurt her! In fact she’s the one thing Tom wouldn’t intentionally damage.”

The woman sneers. “A werewolf…and a vampire?”

Paul wobbles his head. “I know, it’s weird, and I can’t say either of them profited for it, but he would never hurt her.”

Her hand on the knife clenches tighter. “Says a vampire.”

“I can back that up,” Georgia chimes in.

The woman turns her glare on her. “Another vampire.”

“We did bring her here for healing, didn’t we?” Georgia says.

“You brought her here for whatever reason.”

Paul, still calm, meets her eyes. “We were told there would be healing.”

The old woman lifts her chin. “You were told wrong.”

At her words, my head falls back and I close my eyes. The pain in my chest drifts away, everything drifts away, into darkness–

“In that case, should we take her somewhere else for healing?” Georgia looks around hopefully.

“She’s dead. And there’s Wyrm-stink all over her.” The woman twists the knife again. I don’t even twitch. “Think you could fool us?”

“No-one’s trying to fool anyone, we’ve told you the truth,” Paul says.

Her eyes narrow and she looks him up and down, taking in his scrawny build and expensive motorcycle gear. “Who are you? All of you.”

“I’m Paul Stewart.”

“I’m Georgia Johnson.”

They look at me. “…Tom,” I whisper.

The woman turns to Sophia, laid out near me on the other end of the bed. “And who’s this?”

“…Sophia.” Her name stretches from my lips like a final sigh.

(Chris: “Did we ever get her last name?”
Jason: “No. You didn’t. You never asked.”)

I try to add more details but realize there’s not much else I can. “…She’s a Glasswalker,” I whisper.

The woman laughs darkly and leans over the body. “Glasswalker, eh? Where’s your fancy computers now!”

Her tone fans a flicker of rage in me, enough to help me lift my head up. “Can you do anything?”

Her head snaps back to me, long grey braid swinging like a whip. “What do you care?”

“We were told you were her only hope,” Paul adds.

Georgia nods. “She’s our friend.”

The woman glares and twists the knife again. “Friend? You’re dead, the dead have no friends.”

Georgia glances at Paul awkwardly. “Well, we’re kinda all friends.”

“Also I’d disagree on the dead thing, since we’re walking around and talking,” Paul says pedantically.

The woman growls, then suddenly rips the dagger out of me, swiping it at Paul in one movement. Before he can react it catches him across the arm. She snarls and lifts the knife again, then hesitates. Paul’s arm is bleeding. “Well, that’s new,” she mutters.

The room goes quiet. Georgia tears some strips off her robe and hands them to Paul to bind the cut. He wraps it, staring at the woman stoically the whole time. She turns her knife over slowly in her hands. “So what’s the game? This Glasswalker really, what, a Spiral Dancer? A thrall? Bloodbound?”

I sit up on bed, rubbing at my chest, and once again stare quietly at Sophia’s huddled form.

Paul shakes his head. “No, none of that. You want the whole story? Other vampires kidnapped her on the peninsula, we rescued her, set her free.”

“Why?”

“Because she was small. And scared,” Georgia adds, shifting her bag on her shoulder. The cub is still here, but everyone but her seems to have forgotten about it, or not noticed it in the first place.

Paul nods. “Anyway, we set her free and we’ve kinda just been helping each other out of jams ever since.”

“Well, great job you’ve done. Every werewolf in town dead.” The woman shakes her head. “I told them it would happen. They made deals with your kind, that’s what always happens.” She starts pacing the cabin, like a predator in a cage. “They always make deals. Oh, we know better, we can stop the cycle! Make a deal here, make a deal there, then everyone’s dead and looking around asking themselves why.” She stalks over to the bed and leans over me. “So why, leech, why is this one dead? What deals did she make this time?”

I suddenly realize my face is wet. I touch it, examining my fingers dispassionately. I haven’t cried since Rob died. I forgot it was blood….

The woman sneers in disgust and turns away.

Paul waits till she catches his eye. “We’re not trying to stop the cycle or anything, we’re just interested in helping our friend. If she can be helped,” he says seriously.

The woman stares back a moment, then examines her fingers, picking dirt from her nails with the knife. “…Maybe.”

I look up. Paul and Georgia glance at each other. “Maybe?” Paul asks.

“Maybe. I wake her up, what’s she gonna do? Help you tear this place apart? Kill us? Take us slaves?”

“No, that’s not her style,” Georgia says.

“How will she wake up?” Paul asks skeptically.

The woman paces again, ignoring his question. “What if I wake her up, what will you do for me? That’s how it works, right?”

“What do you want?” Paul asks.

She shoots a glare. “I have what I need here.”

“Paul whittles a mean cabinet,” Georgia says, eyeing the rustic furniture of the room.

“I have lots of money if that helps, but I don’t think that’s something you’re interested in,” Paul says seriously.

Suddenly the door kicks open and the male werewolf lunges in, grabbing Paul and shoving him against the wall. “WOOOMAN!” he roars, staring into Paul’s face myopically.

She turns and sighs. “Put it down, it’s mine.” She pulls Paul out of his grip, shoves him out of the way, then drag the old wolf to the corner of the cabin, pulling his ear low. They start arguing with each other in another language.

Paul and Georgia approach the bed. “What happened, Tom?” Georgia asks.

I wipe at my face. “I told you what happened, there was an explosion.”

(Jason: “I’m just gonna point out here–this isn’t the GM talking, this is just me–Tom uses the expression, ‘There was an explosion’ a lot.”
Me: “Yeah, it’s–Oh my god, it’s the passive voice, oh my god, am I an abuser!??)

“Why was there an explosion, Tom?” Paul asks sternly.

Georgia glances at the werewolves. “Paul, some questions we may not want to ask right now.”

Suddenly a phone rings. Sophia’s phone, still in my pocket.

(Me: “What’s her ringtone?”
Jason: “It’s on vibrate, and this isn’t a number the phone recognizes.”
Me: “But what is it normally?”
Jason: “……Sandstorm.”)

The werewolves in the room don’t look up from their conversation, so I answer. “Hello?

Tom!!!!” It’s Marcus.

I glance at the wolves again and turn away. “Boss! How did you get this number?” I whisper roughly.

“That’s really not important right now,” he snaps. “You wanna start telling me about the things that are important right now?”

“Um, well, Paul is here and we’re trying to get some help for Sophia from some other werewolves. Georgia’s here too.”

“Oh, good.” By his tone, it’s not good. “Where the hell are you?”

I tense. The last thing I need is for him to try and swoop into the middle of this. “Boss there’s other werewolves here, you probably shouldn’t stop by–”

“Tom, what is going on?” he barks. Somehow his nine-year-old’s voice is as stern as the old woman’s.

“I told you, Sophia is hurt, we’re trying to get help–”

“Yes, I’m very sorry to hear that but what is going on?!?”

Georgia suddenly leans close. Hi Boss!”

“…Was that Johnson?”

I wince. “Yes.”

“Put her on.”

I hand the phone over, mouthing the words, “Don’t tell him where we are!

“Ms. Johnson,” Marcus says to her, “Would you do me the favor of telling me what in the name of fuck is going on!?”

“Uh, Tom and some werewolves kidnapped Karl Sutro. I think there was an altercation–”

“Tom kidnapped Karl Sutro? …I’m going to regret asking this, but why?

Georgia looks me in the eye. “I’m pretty sure that the exact quote was, ‘For the lulz.’”

There’s a long silence on the phone. The only noise from in the cabin is the arguing in the corner and the sound of my face hitting my palms. “That means, ‘for the laughs,’ “ Georgia adds helpfully.

Finally, there’s a sound of Marcus taking a slow breath. “…You’re telling me that Tom Lytton declared war on the Camarilla because it was fun?”

She nods. “That is what Tom himself told me.”

Give me the phone!” I grab it out of her hands. “Boss, we were just gonna ask him some questions and bring him back!”

“You, and Sophia, kidnapped Karl Sutro to ask him questions,” he says slowly. “And whose idea was that?”

I rub my face. “Actually it was hers. “

“I love doing things that sixteen year old girls suggest!” Georgia says brightly. I glare at her.

(Chris: “Paul steps outside, being unable to bear any more information for the time being.”)

#

Paul is no more than a few steps into the cold night air when his phone rings.

(Kara: “It’s also Marcus.”)

It’s Gates. “Paul? Is everything ok?” she says as he answers.

He sighs and stares at the distant lights of the Tri-Valley. “For some definition of ok, why do you ask?”

“I got a very strange phone call a minute ago. Someone left me a message saying you had gone out to kill your enemies?”

He closes his eyes. “Yeah…I know who left that message.” His phone buzzes. “Hold on, I have another call.”

“Paul,” Marcus’s voice says the moment he switches over, “I’m going to ask you with all the sincerity I can to make some sense. Did Tom Lytton just start a war?”

Paul carefully lowers himself down to a rock. “This is the first I’ve heard of it, when you heard of it, but it sounds very likely. Maybe. Have you ever heard of anything like this?”

“Paul, I can assure you, there is nothing in the universe like Tom Lytton.”

“I meant bringing back a werewolf that’s been dead for almost two hours now.”

“I kill werewolves, Paul, I don’t resurrect them,” Marcus says darkly.

Paul glances back at the cabin, and the massive shadows moving against the windows. “Point taken.”

#

EAST BAY HILLS

Anstis, meanwhile, is in the stolen Myrmidon car, slowly grinding his way through the parking brake. After barely clearing half a mile in five minutes, he gives up and gets out.

He stares out at the eerily silent countryside, fiddling with the stones in his pocket. Finally, he pulls out the broken chert with my name on it and casts for me.

Tom is in the Cairn of Devils, where the blind see and the lame walk

Anstis frowns and shoves the rock away. Without anything better to go on, he drops into bird form and heads back toward the city.

#

SUTRO TOWER

Upon leaving the Chantry, Rabenholz decides that he needs to collect more information on this mage pandemic in the city, so he makes his way up to Sutro Tower. The guard is in the shack out front and looks up as he approaches. “Can I help you?”

Rabenholz nods tersely. “Is the doctor in this evening?”

“One second.” The man gropes under his desk and pulls out a clipboard. “Have you in the last seventy hours imbibed or been in the presence of cabbage or any members of the Brassica family?” he drones.

Rabenholz stares. “No.”

The man makes a check mark. “Do you have any objects made of pure magnesium?”

Rabenholz eyes him. “…Yes,” he says experimentally.

The man sighs. “Sorry sir, I can’t let you in.”

“What if I leave my item of pure magnesium with you?”

He checks the clipboard. “It says here that the presence of the magnesium will have warped your e-their-ick signatures and disrupt the functioning of the ‘science,’ all caps, exclamation point.”

Rabenholz peers up at the triptych tower looming overhead, the upper reaches cut off by the fog. “Can you get the doctor on the phone?”

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“Lord Augustus von Rabenholz.”

The man lifts a phone receiver, one that looks surprisingly new compared to the technology of everything else in the shack. “…Yes, doctor, it’s Sam…no, I didn’t find another goat…no…yes, I’m sure there’s no cabbage, I did the perimeter check twice…no, no kimchi either. I do have a Lord Augustus von Rabenholz here to see you.”

Rabenholz gestures for the phone and the guard hands it over tentatively. “Doctor,” he greets him.

“Who is zis?!”

“This is Augustus von Rabenholz. I am an associate of Ms. Johnson’s.”

“…OH, ze vampire from ze Chantry vith ze cane! Ja, vat do you vant?”

“It may interest you to know that Ms. Johnson is presently meeting with a Victoria Lovelace and a Mr. Mwonge.”

“…She is vat!? But I just spoke vith her!”

“Yes, she downplayed it on the telephone, I doubt she had any other choice.”

“MEIN GOTT! Zey vill not interfere vith the SCIENCE! Is she still at ze Chantry?”

Rabenholz pulls a pocketwatch from his overcoat. “She was there when I left forty minutes ago.”

“Zen I shall go to ze Chantry and confront ze malefactors! FOR SCIENCE!!!”

“Yes. For Science.” The guard meets Rabenholz’s gaze and rolls his eyes. “If you confront them, please do not mention my name to them,” Rabenholz continues.

“OF COURSE!! I AM ZE VERY SOUL OF DISCRETION!!!!”

Rabenholz holds the phone away from ears. He notices then that the guard has already put in earplugs. “Yes, very good doctor. Guten Nacht.”

With that, Rabenholz thanks the guard and heads back down the drive, cane ticking softly against the pavement.

(Chris: “Hmm. Where else are interesting places Rabenholz was told not to go…)

The night is getting late, though, so he heads toward a hotel. Any hotel, because by now he has instructed Rhona to rent suites on a standing basis all over town.

#

MOUNT DIABLO

I’m still sprawled on the bed, on hold with Marcus. Finally, he clicks back over. “Tom. Have you started a war?”

“No…?”

“Have you employed werewolves to kill major Camarilla figures in this city and then gotten into a major arms fight with them?” he asks slowly.

“I don’t know who sent the missile, I assume it was Bell–”

“Bell sent a missile at you? Bell sent a missile at you?” His tone is suddenly very clipped. “Hold on a moment–”

There’s the sound of the phone being handled, then, suddenly, “Lytton,” Bell’s deep voice grumbles.

I sit up. “Heeeey–”

“What have you done?” His voice is low, sending shivers through me that have nothing to do with arousal.

I scramble to my feet, non-existent heartbeat pounding. I look down at Sophia. “I…don’t know….”

“I think you do know. What have you done, Lytton?

I glance at the werewolves. Their voices have dropped but they’re still focused on conversation with one another. “I think that whatever I’ve done is still unfolding before me, so no, I don’t know.”

“So why don’t you fill me in on the first particulars?”

His brusque tone, after all I’ve been through tonight, fans my rage to life again. I stand straighter. “Did you send the missile?”

“WHAT fucking MISSILE!?!?” Bell yells.

“The missile that blew us into the fucking stratosphere!!!” I shout back.

“No, I think missiles are more your style, aren’t they?!”

“Those were rockets,” I snap.

(Jason: “…You say that?”
Me. “Yeah. I do.”)

There is a long, long silence. Something inside me, a small voice not yet burned out, cries in warning, but I ignore it. Finally a rustle, then Marcus comes back on the line. “Well, you do have a rare quality to you, don’t you,” he says coolly. “I don’t know that I can fix this one, Tom. If you murdered a Primogen at the behest of werewolves–”

I start to pace. “I didn’t murder him, the fucking bomb murdered him!”

“And the bomb was…whose?”

“If it wasn’t Bell’s, I don’t know!”

“So why was Karl Sutro with you when a bomb went off?”

My pacing slows. “Because we were asking him some questions…?”

“Because you kidnapped him, I think you begin to see!”

I groan. “We didn’t kidnap him for the purposes of blowing him up, we were going to bring him back–”

“Except now he’s dead, so explain how that’s going to matter.” Silence. “That’s what I thought.” Marcus’s tone drops. “I have some leverage over Bell, but I don’t have that kind of leverage, and he has the authority to call a Blood Hunt. “

(*Silence in the room. Slowly, I turn to Jim.*
Me: “This. Is all. Your. Fault.”
Jim: “It absolutely is! And I’m really pleased with it!”)

Marcus’s voice then gets so serious I forget it’s coming from a nine-year-old. “Theo Bell is one of the most lethal Brujah alive, Tom, and he just left here in a hot rage. If he finds you, you will die, and I don’t have the capacity to stop him. And right now, I’m not entirely sure I’d want to.”

At that, the fires inside me die, and the darkness closes in again. I stop pacing and close my eyes.

“The next few nights are going to be very interesting for you and they’re probably going to be your last,” he continues. “And I don’t see that there’s much to be done about that. Run and hide, Tom. Or stand and fight if you think you can.” He pauses, waiting for a snappy comeback but I just stand in silence. “Either way, you’re in a great deal of trouble,” he says finally. “And warn your client. Bell doesn’t know where you are, but he can find Slayer in a heartbeat.”

#

Georgia, meanwhile, steps outside to make a call, trying to update Lovelace on her temporary parole.

“MS. JOHNSON!!!!” a familiar teutonic voice answers instead.

Georgia blinks. “Doctor? What are you doing with Ms. Lovelace’s phone?”

“I do not have Ms. Lovelace’s phone, I have intercepted the signal! Vith SCIENCE! Vere are you at ze moment?”

She glances at the cabin. “I am currently being detained. By werewolves.”

“Vell! I shall use ze etheric deathray!”

“Well, I might ask you to hold off on that, ‘cause first we need these werewolves to resurrect another werewolf.”

“Vhy?”

“Because we like the other werewolf. You remember, the one we pulled the silver out of? Yeah, she’s dead again.”

“BAH! Ze verewolves, zey have no respect for the long-term value of SCIENCE!”

“Yes, I agree.” Georgia waves at Paul, sitting crosslegged on a nearby rock. “Anyway, I’m trying to get ahold of Ms. Lovelace. She was trying to decide whether to kill me or not before I vanished from her presence and I told her I’d get back to her, but now it looks like I’ll be here awhile.”

“VERY VELL! Do not vorry about Lovelace and ze others. I shall deal vith zem mein self!”

“Okay, but be polite! We had tea earlier, and there is a code when you have tea. It means that for several hours thereafter you must be polite.”

vonNatsi grumbles in German. “Very vell, I shall deal vith them mein self…politely.” He pauses. “…UND VITH SCIENCE!” He hangs up quickly.

Georgia puts her phone away and turns around. The door to the cabin has shut behind her. She tries the handle, but it’s locked. She frowns. “Paul?”

“Yeah?” he calls back.

She leans her ear against the door. No sound comes through the wood. “Do you think they’re killing Tom or reviving Sophie?”

His shoulders heave with a sigh. “Possibly both.”

#

After Georgia left, and while I was still on the phone with Marcus, the old woman and her companion stopped their bickering. They watched me pace awhile, then she stepped over to close the front door. The moment she does, my call cuts out.

The male werewolf drops back to human form, suddenly quiet. He grabs the hammer from her back and crouches in a corner, pale eyes staring. The woman turns slowly to me. “Lytton, right?”

I freeze, dead phone in hand. “Yeah. “

She paces the room slowly, evaluating me like a fighter. “I heard of you. The Spirits whispered about you.”

I keep still, following her with my eyes. “Did they.”

“Yes, they did. Said they found the dumbest vampire that ever lived.”

I sigh. “It’s always good to be known.”

Are you the dumbest vampire who ever lived?”

I snort. “No, but I know him, he works for me.”

“Really.” She nods at my phone. “I call back that boss of yours, he gonna say the same. Who was he? Master?”

I shift nervously. “Well, you know how our hierarchies get. It’s complicated.”

She pauses next to the bed, looking down at Sophia. For a moment I’m struck by the handsomeness of her profile, the light of the room highlighting her wrinkles and the curve of her braid. It’s the sort of thing Isabella would have loved to sketch.

“And this one’s…Sophia, you said?” she asks, smirking. “I heard that name too. The dumbest werewolf that ever lived and the dumbest vampire. You’d make quite a sitcom.”

Suddenly her head snaps up. All the softness is gone. “You really walked in here to have us bring it back?”

My eye twitches at the “it” but I ignore it. “I was told this would be the only help.”

“By who?”

“His name is Doc.”

“Doc.” She snorts. “If he was much of a doctor he’da told you the truth.”

“He said it was a gamble, and he knows a little bit about that.”

She laughs then, deeply. Her partner behind her, though, doesn’t. I realize that the runes on his hammer are glowing.

She looks at me haughtily. “We don’t live and die like kinfolk do, or you do. But might be able to do something. What if I do? Just gonna go out and get killed again?” She paces toward me with even steps. “Spirits tell me all kinda stories, strange stories. Car chases and islands of blood. What’s all that been about?”

I look away, embarrassed as much by what I’m about to say as the mistakes she’s just listed. “It’s…about friendship,” I mutter.

She stares at me, the skin around her eyepatch squinting suspiciously, then chuckles softly. “You know you’re not the first.”

I glance up at her. “First what?”

“First one to try this. She’s not either.”

“Try what?”

“Oh, every so often you get some young idiot who thinks she can run out and save the world, change everything.”

I snort. “No, that’s Paul.”

“Paul, yes.” She turns toward the door. “The Spirits don’t have much to say about him. Interesting. And the woman. Blood mage. I should kill her just for safekeeping.” She turns back to me, blue eye cold. “I should kill all of you just for safekeeping.”

I don’t answer. She comes closer. I realize her knife is still in her hand. “I asked before if you bound her, or tied her mind in knots, but you didn’t do any of those things, did you? No, we got altruists over here.”

“Is that worse?”

She shrugs one shoulder, twisting the knife in her hands. “Might be. Hard to say. Spirits don’t say, one way or another. They just watch, cause it’s fun.” She rolls the handle between her fingers. “What’ll you do if I help you help her?”

I watch the blade flicker in the light. “I don’t know, what do you want?”

“I want vampires to leave me the hell alone, but I don’t have that and you can’t give it to me. So what do you got?”

I realize Paul was right, there’s nothing material we can give her, nor would favors be useful. We simply have to prove we’re more valuable to her alive than dead. I meet her gaze seriously. “As irritating as we are, there’s worse ones running around, and we’ve been trying to deal with them.

She snorts. “Great job. You can’t deal with them.”

“We may be the only ones who can.”

She bursts into laughter. “So what are you, the Chosen Ones? I’d say you’d been reading too many books but you don’t look the type!”

I glare. “It’s this asshole, Perpenna, he’s got connections we’re all tangled up in–”

Her laughter cuts off instantly. She stops rolling the knife. “Perpenna? Oh, now that’s a name. That’s a great name. Old name. What does he want with you?”

I throw my arms out. “Fuck if I know, but he’s been eating half the city!”

She flicks the knife tip at me. “But not your half.”

“He’s been trying to eat us too! He chased us into the fucking Internet, Sophia got us out!”

She shakes her head. “If he were trying, you’d be eaten.”

“Well he’s prolly got more important shit at the moment.” I fold my arms sulkily. “You know vampires. Layers upon plans, plans upon schemes.”

She eyes me. “What are you to him? Why would Perpenna chase you through the Digital Web?”

“Because we pissed him off!”

“And how’d you do that?”

I can’t fight the smirk that crosses my face. “I gave him some snarky backtalk a few weeks ago about losing his armies, that…that was pretty fun.”

She doesn’t match my grin. “Do you know what Perpenna even is?”

“No, do you? Because I would love to.”

She shakes her head slowly. Almost pityingly. “There’s no words to describe it that you’d understand. He’s a hole.”

I remember, then, how the shadows Perpenna calls are dark as the absence of the universe. “A hole…in reality?”

“No. A hole in everything. Can’t fill itself up enough, has to drain the rest of it dry. Empty the oceans if he can.” She shakes her head again. “Perpenna’s dead. You’re all dead, but he’s more dead than most.”

I shrug. “Well everyone who hangs out with him seems to die and come back, so….”

“Not like this. Some awful thing attached to him. Don’t know if he planted it there, or if it used him as a puppet. Skin-riders, they call them.” She shudders and for a moment looks as weak as her age. “He’s a thing, now,” she murmurs. “Awful, awful thing, and anything he turns to dies. Turns to you, you’ll die too.”

I process this a long moment. “So…what you’re saying is, he hasn’t really fully tried for me yet?”

She glares and instantly she’s the warrior again. “You’re sitting here talking, aren’t you? Leech?”

I gesture at Sophia. “Well he had her on the Farallones, that’s why we went to get her. If he’s so unstoppable, why’d we get away with that?”

“Heard about that. Interesting.” She stares at the bed a moment, fiddling with her knife again, then stabs it into the bedpost. She folds her arms. “Maybe I can bring her. Maybe. Gonna have to call a favor in. BIG favor.”

I tense, remembering Doc’s warnings about these wolves. “A favor…with whom?”

“Not sure yet.” She strokes her chin. “Pegasus, maybe. Cockroach. Maybe all of them. Big favor, unlikely to be cheap. You can’t pay it, you don’t know how.”

I shrug. “I got a real nice sword.”

“Totem Spirits don’t care about your sword. But they do talk, they talk a great deal.” She eyes me a long moment. “You know the other one.”

I fallgo still, rapidly thinking back through my conversation with Marcus and whether she might have overheard something incriminating. “…What other one?”

“The other one who comes out here sometimes. The one who doesn’t know any better. Once in a long while, comes out to rave and rant.”

Suspicion gathers. “…Rave and rant–do you mean Norton?!

“Yes, I think that’s his name. Leeches drove him mad, but I don’t think much changed. The Spirits remember, though. Even after the leeches got through with him.” She eyes me. “I see him on you, smell him on you.”

I glance at Sophia. “What does he have to do with the situation? I mean, he’s met her–”

She shrugs a shoulder. “Maybe nothing, maybe everything. Maybe there’s more going on than you know about.”

I sigh. “There usually is.”

“He comes around every so often, shouts and yells and ignores whatever threats are made. We beat him, cut him, but it doesn’t matter. He comes again and again. Says he sees things.”

I roll my eyes. “He showed up at my place earlier this evening, saying things about fire, coming from the east, and something about seeing…her….” I trail off and look at her suspiciously.

She meets my gaze flatly. “He said the same things here. Don’t know what he meant. But he does see things. There’s Spirits that take notice of him. Just like there’s Spirits take notice of you.” She leans back against the bed. “Now what should I do about that? Let’s say I bring her back but the totems demand a price. Every drop of blood in your body and your fangs. What would you say?” Suddenly she tilts her head thoughtfully. “This isn’t the first time someone’s asked you that, is it? I can see it on you.” She inhales a long sniff. “There’s someone else. Another scent…don’t recognize it–”

Shit. “It…might be my roommate. He’s an asshole.”

“I doubt it.”

“No, I assure you, he is.”

She smiles humorlessly. In the corner of the cabin, the man picks up his hammer and hefts it, watching me surprisingly intently for a blind man. “What’ll it be?” she asks.

I eye her carefully. “You’re asking if I’m willing to sacrifice myself to save her? Or….” I think of all the questions dancing around Marcus. She says the spirits have told her things, how much do they know? “…You’re asking if I’m willing to sacrifice somebody else to save her?”

“No,” she says flatly. “You had it the first time.”

The first relief I’ve felt all night flickers through me. “Well, I’ve put myself in harm’s way–and harm’s death ray–for her before, so….” I look at Sophia, then down at the floor.

“Yes, then?” She gets to her feet and I hear movement in the corner as the man shifts his hammer. I wait for them to do whatever must be done.

Then she laughs. “Naw, it’s alright.” She gestures to her partner to put the hammer down. “Like I said, I can see it on you, you’ve been asked this before. I just wanted to see if I was seeing right.”

I almost collapse in relief. Then suddenly she’s in front of me, knife in hand, staring into my eyes with her one. I freeze. “If she comes to,” she says seriously, almost a growl, “We’ll be taking her. Away from here. Where your kind can’t get at her. Cause she’s young and stupid, but she doesn’t deserve this. Does she, leech?”

Relief evaporates, replaced by a cold emptiness, as I realize what that means. “…No,” I mutter.

“Good.” She flicks her knife toward the door. “Get out. Don’t ever come back, or you won’t see what kills you.”

I nod once, and look down. Sophia’s phone is still in my hand. Seeing it, I suddenly remember that finding her phone on the side of the road is what started this whole mess, when I used it to track down Alejandro and discovered her kidnapped by him. The wolves don’t stop me as I step over to place it on her chest, smoothing one of her hands over it. I linger a moment, staring down at her. If I squint just right, I can pretend she’s sleeping, like when she crashed on the couch in Marcus’s old place in Marin….

Needles erupt behind my eyes again. Without another word, I turn and leave the cabin.

#

Paul and Georgia are milling outside as I step out. The door closes behind me with a final-sounding click.

“What happened?” Paul asks.

“She still dead?” Georgia asks.

I shrug. “They’re gonna try.”

“Well, that’s good news!” Georgia says brightly.

Paul glances at the door, then to the eastern horizon. “Should we wait here?”

“No, we need to go.” I poke at a rock with my toe. “Or, at least, I need to go. I don’t know about you but it’s probably not a good idea to hang around.”

Georgia looks at the door. “So, she’s not gonna have any friends around when she wakes up?”

The needles flicker again. I turn away. “Well, they’re her kind, so it’ll have to do.”

Georgia considers this, then shrugs. “Well, I do have other places to be.”

(Jason: “Like wherever the warmages aren’t.”
Kara: “Hey, like here!”
Jason: “Not sure it’s a great improvement.”)

Paul nods tersely, but leaves a business card tucked into the door.

I walk down the road as they settle themselves on Paul’s motorcycle. Amazingly, the horse is where I left it. As I mount up, Paul’s bike roars to life behind me. He cruises past, slowly, Georgia clinging daintily behind him. Paul waves, meeting my gaze seriously. I return the wave weakly. They disappear down the road in a cloud of dust and an engine shriek. I let the horse have his head, assuming he’ll set his own pace to take me back to Doc.

Maybe we’ll get there before dawn. Not sure if I care that we do.

#

GRACE CATHEDRAL

Anstis spirals down into the city, landing in the belfry of Grace Cathedral and breaking in via his usual route. There, he consecrates himself a handful of new rocks, inscribes one with Rocko’s name, and casts for it:

The Caverns of the Mad in the Northlands, en route to the Great Spiral

Anstis considers that a moment, then leaves the cathedral, flying to the nearest sewer entrance and climbing down into the dripping darkness. “We need to talk!” he shouts into the gloom.

Minutes pass. No one answers. He lingers for almost an hour, watching pale light collect in the sky outside, then finally gives up, abandoning the sewer and flying west to Fort Funston to teleport back to the Twilight for the day.

(Jim: “Once I get there, I check on Noah.”
Jason: “Noah is doing just fine.”
Jim: “Good. Before I sleep, I spend some time reading to him.”
Me: “Aww.”
Jim: “You say aww, but I’m reading him the Necromancy book.”)

#

DOWNTOWN

Rabenholz meets Rhona in one of their hotel suites. She’s typing at a laptop but stands as he enters.

He nods at her and brushes past to check on the onions. “Did you get that list from the Pyramid?”

“Yes.” She slides a dossier from her computer bag. “Every…Ventrue…left in the city.” She hesitates briefly over the unfamiliar word and hands the papers over.

Rabenholz flips through. Almost every name of note has fled the immediate city, but many remain ensconced in lairs around the greater Bay Area.

“Excellent.” He hands the papers back. “Send a representative to each of these, introducing myself and offering my services in whatever assistance such upstanding members of our community might need and my interest in working with them in the future.”

Rhona nods, uncertain smile evaporating into a real one. “Very good, sir.”

#

PORTOLA VALLEY

Paul and Georgia arrive in the Portola house not long before dawn. By now the house has been completely repaired, but the foundation shakes with resounding thuds as they enter the foyer. Paul’s gargoyle turns a corner, hesitates, then bounds toward them. “Master! Second Master!”

Paul spreads his arms in greeting. “Dug!”

Georgia hesitates, then copies him. “Dug!”

Paul looks at her. “How did you know his name was Dug now?”

She blinks back. “Because you just said it.”

Dug stops in front of them and sinks into a respectful kneel. “May I slay your enemies, Master?”

(Jason: “You’re used to this by now. ‘May I Slay Your Enemies, Master?’ seems to be his equivalent of, ‘Hello.’”)

Paul sighs and pulls Dug back to his feet. “Good evening, Dug. What have you been up to this evening?”

Dug beams, drawing himself up high. “I have defended your garden against your enemies, Master!” Then he suddenly droops. “I was not successful”

“Was it the raccoons again?”

“No, Master.” Dug’s rough face darkens. “The enemies…they flew.”

Paul sighs and rubs his face. “You remember what we do with the enemies of the garden?”

Dug shifts nervously, the polished wood floor underneath him groaning. “We…don’t slay them, Master?”

“No, we shoo them away! They are small enemies, unworthy of slaying.”

Dug considers this, then nods enthusiastically. “We make the servants slay them, Master!”

Paul closes his eyes. “No, we metaphorically slay the threat. We don’t literally slay the raccoons. Or the squirrels. Or the crows. Here, I’ll show you…”

Paul suddenly ducks into his study, rifles around in his filing cabinet till he finds a stack of essays on stoicism. He gestures Dug to sit in a chair and hands him the stack, asking him to read them aloud.

(Jason: “Oh, wow, cause you haven’t fucked up this gargoyle enough.”)

Dug drones his way through the material with flat, gravelly patience, then, after some discussion on the meaning, looks up eagerly. “I think I understand, Master! I will become stone, Master!”

Georgia, who has been watching all this from the doorway with uncharacteristic patience, frowns. “Are you not already stone?”

Dug beams. “No, Second Master. Observe!” Instantly, Dug petrifies solid in a chorus of crackling ceramic. His chair shatters, dropping him to the floor, still folded in a sitting position.

Paul kneels and starts picking up splintered wood. “That’s been happening a lot. I’ve asked Gates to look into ordering reinforced chairs, in bulk.” Paul carefully works the papers out of Dug’s stony grip and sets them on a table, picking up a book instead.  “We’ve also been reading Les Mis. It’s a study in humanism and compassion and duty against identifying with other people. We just got the part where Jean val Jean gets to M____-sur-M__” He holds the book out to Georgia, his eager smile suddenly strangely reminiscent of Dug’s. “Would you like to read with us?”

Georgia stares at him a long moment, but the strength of her blood bond forces her to slowly smile in return. “…Yeees.” She accepts the book, sits in an unshattered chair, and, at Paul’s urging, begins reading at the bookmark.

#

ALTAMONT SPEEDWAY

About an hour off the mountain, I finally lift my gaze from its dejected stare at the horse’s withers. I assumed the horse would take me back to Doc, but we’re heading east, not west. The barren hills and razor-thin windmills of the Altamont Pass stretch off on all sides. I watch one of the windmills slowly pass, then go back to staring at nothing.

The next sensation that brings me back to consciousness is a crash and rattling hoof-falls on chain link fence. The horse has shoved his way through the thing like it was dry brush, knocking an entire panel over and continuing forward without pausing. In front of us stretches the wide, weed-cracked oval of the abandoned Altamont speedway. The horse walks stately to the middle of the ring, then stops.

I look around. “Doc?” My voice echoes off the empty stands but there’s no response. I look down. “Horse, what the fuck?” He ignores me, tearing at dead grass.

I groan and look at the sky. Dawn is coming soon. For a moment I think maybe the decision about whether or not I should just stay out and meet it has been made for me, but the announcer’s tower looms nearby, looking rickety but light-safe enough. After a moment I sigh and dismount, heading toward it, dragging the horse behind me.

The ground-level door to the tower is closed, dirt collected up against it, but it looks like it’ll be easy enough to force. I tie the horse up nearby to a metal pole rooted in concrete, pile some more grass next to him, then pry the door open and head into the gloom.

Two steps in, I trip over something, and a rusted voice shouts, “Hey!

I stumble back, eyes adjusting. A figure is climbing to his feet in front of me, glaring at me from a face light half-melted wax. I fight to keep from grimacing. I’ve seen some ugly-ass Nosferatu before, but this one clearly takes the shit-cake.

(Jason: “This reminds me of a good line I had recently in the Dark Ages game. I ran into a Nosferatu and someone mentioned he was really ugly, and Lys was like, ‘He’s Nosferatu, they’re all equally ugly.’ And I said, ‘No no no. Yes, they all have appearance zero, but there’s a difference between appearance-zero and appearance-Daaaaaaaaamn!’”)

I look him over. His clothes are black, and dirty, but under the grime they look like some sort of antique suit set. “Who the fuck are you?” I ask.

He sneers at me. One of his fangs is so long it pierces through his bottom lip. “I’m the motherfucker whose tower this is, asshole, who the fuck are you!?”

I jerk my chin toward the door. “The horse brought me here. I’m looking for Doc Holliday to give it back to him.”

His sneer widens grotesquely. “Yeah, and I’m Wyatt Earp. Fuck you. This is my place, piss off.” He grumbles and resettles himself down against the wall.

I glance out the door. There’s definitely no other shelter in sight. “Mind if I crash here?”

He spits. “Why should I? Who the fuck are you?”

I…hesitate. On the one hand, my reputation does often precede me, but on the other hand, I was just party to the death of the Nosferatu primogen, so in this case it might not be a good thing.

He looks me over and sneers again. “Fucking Toreadors. Go find some nightclub to hide in.”

My eyes narrow at the Toreador comment. “Well, I don’t got time to get to Tracy tonight so were gonna be roommates whether we like it or not.” I step over him to go to the furthest corner of the room, slouching to the ground, chin against my chest.

I can feel the asshole glaring at me through the gloom. “The fuck you doing out here, Torrie?”

“I don’t know, ask the horse,” I mutter without looking up.

“Maybe I will. The fuck are you? Some kinda bigshot?”

Now that I’m sitting, the willpower that got me into the room starts to drain, sucked out into the bottomless earth underneath me. I stare at my hands, caked with dirt and dried blood, none of it mine. “No. Not anymore.” I mutter.

He chuckles meanly. “Aww, poor Torrie!” When I don’t respond, he chuckles again. “What, got nothing to say, Torrie? Ain’t gonna sing for me? Maybe I wait till you fall asleep and then we have a little chat?”

No rage flares at his words. I continue to stare at nothing, finally closing my eyes.

Across the room, the Nosferatu scoffs and grumbles. “Useless prick.”

My eyes snap open. That word, useless, echoes in my mind, repeated by a dozen different voices back through my life. My will starts to rise again, and with each repetition, anger beats through me like a pulse.

Slowly I stand, dirt and gravel rasping under me. I walk deliberately across the room to face him. He sneers and climbs to his feet, bringing his rotten face up to stare me in the eye. “Fucking what, Torrie?” he growls.

Fucking Nocturne.

Thick, cold darkness instantly swallows the room. The Nosferatu stumbles back, staring wildly around him. I approach at an easy stroll. It’s kinda nice being able to see clearly through this shit for once.

I reach him and shove him against the wall, pinning his neck with my forearm. He stammers apologies, but stops as he feels me lean close to his ear. “Do you have a phone?” I growl.

His eyes dart around, focusing on nothing. He licks his twisted lips. “…The fuck do I look like?”

I shove him again and press my arm tighter. “Like someone who lives in the goddamn twenty-first century! Do! You have! A fucking!! PHONE?!”

He lifts a shaky hand and points upstairs. I let him slump back to the rat-stained floor. “You’d better be asleep by the time I get back,” I shout.

He glares up in my general direction. “Okay, mom.” I ignore him, already walking toward the stares. I hear him mutter something about asshole Sabbat as I climb up.  

False dawn is starting to light the horizon beyond the cracked control room windows. I dig through the dirt and pigeon shit until I find a phone. Amazingly, it has a dial tone. I stare at it a moment, thinking. Unfortunately, knowing no phone numbers, I’m in the same boat I was before when I had Sophia’s phone, but that asshole’s comments gave me an idea.

I call 311, successfully getting to the English menu this time. From there I’m able to reach a live operator, and I ask him to connect me to William Leidesdorff.

I hear him typing, then he pauses, confused. He says there’s a William Leidesdorff Historical Society, but no person registered by that name. I say that will be fine. He transfers me, and seconds later someone answers, saying the society’s office hours open at nine am and asking me who I am.

“Tom Lytton,” I say.

The line goes quiet. “…One moment,” she says finally, and there’s a click as I’m put on hold. A minute or so later, the line clicks back.

“Well, Tom Lytton,” Archbishop Leidesdorff says, cool amusement tinting his voice. “You are not someone I expected to speak to tonight.”

“Yes, well, I wasn’t expecting to talk to you either but…interesting times.”

“Indeed, I have heard a number of interesting rumors going around at the moment. What can I do for you?”

I stare out the window, trying to feel out the best way to approach this. “Well, it’s actually a minor issue, considering everything, but I lost my phone and I’m trying to get ahold of an associate of mine who…ah…has been seen with your types before.”

“If you mean the Priscus, he usually calls me,” Leidesdorff says, his tone suddenly slightly more honed.

“Ah, no.” I take a breath. This probably won’t do any good for my reputation but Marcus’s warning echoes in my mind. “I mean…Slayer.”

Leidesdorff hesitates, then bursts out laughing. “Slayer!? Slayer is persona-non-grata down here, Mr. Lytton, you know that.”

I grimace and rub my neck. “I know. But you’ll be happy to know I’ve been making him be poolboy around my house and I gotta get a message to him.”

Leidesdorff snorts. “No more than he deserves. Well, I can ask around, but most of my people have crashed for the day. Is there a number I can reach you tomorrow?”

“Well, at the moment I’m staying at the Altamont Speedway, but I probably won’t be here for long.”

“Altamont? What in the world are you doing there?”

I stare out the window and sigh. “I don’t know. The horse brought me here.”

Leidesdorff is silent a moment, but with Malkavian courtesy, doesn’t inquire further. He promises to do his best about contacting Slayer–as a courtesy to my boss, he stresses–then wishes me good day and hangs up.

I stare out at the empty hillsides a moment, then return to the room below, still brimming with darkness. The Nosferatu is curled up where I left him, pretending to sleep. That’s good enough for me, so I slouch down against the wall on the other side of the structure, folding my arms and waiting for death.

#

FORT FUNSTON

As the next night dawns, Anstis awakes first, stepping out of the Funston caves with new plans and a fresh outfit. He adjusts his hat and breathes deeply of the salty fog air, then turns to beckon a small shape out of the shadows to join him.

Noah, the five-year-old Malkavian, stares wide-eyed at the barren dunes around him. His clothes are simple but clean, as befitting a young crewman. He has also been fitted with a small pirate hat of his own.

Anstis smiles, takes his hand, and leads him out of the caves and toward the city.

#

PORTOLA VALLEY

Georgia wakes up in a guest room of Paul’s house. The cub is there too, curled up in a basket in the closet, asleep. She pats it gently and leaves to find Paul.

Paul is already awake, working at his computer in his office. He nods as she enters but doesn’t look up.

“Paul, do you have any meat?”

He stops to frown at her. “I have some tofu.”

“Do you have any raw meat?”

He makes a disgusted face that has nothing to do with his vampiric condition. “No….”

She sighs. “Okay, I’ll order delivery.”

His eyes narrow. “There’s some vegetarian takeout menus on the fridge.” He turns back to his computer.

She sighs again. “Maybe I should just go to the grocery store. Can I borrow your car?”

He stops typing. “…I’ll drive you.”

They drive down to the boutique epicurean store that passes for a grocery market in downtown Portola Valley. There, they find a couple cuts of locally-sourced, grass-fed, cruelty-free, heritage-breed steaks, a steal at $90 a pound. Georgia buys two and they head back.

Thuds rock the house the moment they walk in. Dug comes bounding into the foyer. “Master! I have slain your enemies, Master!”

Paul and Georgia glance at each other. “What do you mean, slain my enemies?” Paul asks.

“Your enemies, Master! I slew them!”

Paul squeezes past him and heads to the kitchen, peering out the window into the garden. There’s no sign of new dead animals. “Dug, which enemies did you slay?”

Georgia walks into the room then, still carrying the steaks, a puzzled look on her face. “The cub isn’t in the closet.”

Paul whirls to the gargoyle. “Dug, which enemies did you slay!?”

Dug draws himself tall and beams. “The lupine, Master! I slew the small lupine!”

Silence falls, no sound but the steaks dripping onto the floor. “Now, by ‘slay,’ you mean you rose above the need to slay, right? The stoicism we talked about?” Paul asks.

Dug droops slightly, looking between them nervously. “Please show me the small lupine,” Georgia urges. The grin returns to Dug’s face and he leads them proudly through the house.

He steps into the den and gestures dramatically. The cub is there, crudely bound to a chair in the middle of the room, but still alive. It turns its head to look at Georgia, eyes wide and pleading. In front of it is a massive flat screen television. It’s playing Up.

Dug puffs his chest. “I have slain the enemy, Master, as you dictated.”

Paul and Georgia stare a moment, then Paul pats Dug’s shoulder gently. “Very good, Dug. Very good.”

(Kara: “Is the werewolf crying?”
Jason: “Yes, little bit. Not because it’s tied up, though; because it’s watching Up.”)

#

ALTAMONT PASS

By contrast to the rest of the party, I wake up beaten, hungry, and alone. As consciousness returns I look up blearily. The Nocturne shadows are gone, as is the Nosferatu. Whatever. I slowly shove myself to standing and stumble outside to check on the horse.

The horse is gone.

(Me: “MOTHERFUCKER, I specifically said I tied the horse up!!!”)

I stare at the hole in the ground that once held the metal pole it was tied to, then cast my eyes to the empty hillsides of sun-bleached grass, cast silver by the moonlight.

I sigh. Well, at least I got all night to figure out what to do next. I start walking toward the freeway along the weed-cracked roads of the pass.

(Jason: “Someone play the Sad Hulk Walking Away Music.” )

Not sure what I’ll do when I hit the interstate. Westbound is a straight shot to the heart of the Bay, back toward the drama and the politics, the mysteries and the blood hunts. Eastbound is an equally-straight shot away from all that. If I can get ahold of Slayer, he could meet me out here. We could go east to Tracy, and then just…keep going.  

My steps grow so heavy I stop, taking a long shuddering breath. East would take me to safety, yes, but west would take me home.

I stare at the rolling hills around me, trying to make up my mind, when suddenly…

“…MR LYTTON!!!1!!1!1

I practically leap out of my skin-tight pants. Standing behind me on the decaying road, in all his moth-eaten glory, is Norton.

“…Emperor??” I take a step back, half from his expected outburst and half to avoid throwing myself at him in hunger.

But he rushes forward and grabs my shoulders, pulling my face close in a now-familiar gesture. “…Have you seen?

Frustration momentarily kills my hunger. “Have I seen what, Emperor?”

“Have you seen…what comes?”

“No.” I pull out of his grip. “I’ve just seen horrible things.”

“What things?”

I turn away from him as my mind flashes through the themes of last night. Darkness. Fear. Alone. “Apparently the fate that awaits all of us,” I mutter.

He smiles and nods sagely. “Then you have seen. You have seen the fire. The fire that heralds her coming.”

I glare at him. “Whose coming?”

He beckons me close, then whispers, “…Andrea.” I stare at him, expecting more, but he just nods to himself. “She comes. She wakes.”

“Who is she?”

His smile fades but he continues to talk, his eyes starting to burn. “She splits the earth with fire. She rains devastation upon the unworthy. She who is come, who is risen to judge us all. Are you prepared for judgement, Mr. Lytton!?”

Bell suddenly comes to mind, and not in a good way. I scowl. “Whether I am or not, apparently it’s coming. And I’m facing it alone.”

He cocks his head, then smirks again. “Is that what you think? Then you have not seen.”

I groan and throw my arms out. “Emperor, everyone I know is either dead, ignoring me, or coming to kill me. Except for you.” I stare at him, then look around. There’s no car, or horse, or anything visible for miles. “…Why are you here?”

He grabs my shoulders again. “To show you, Mr. Lytton! To show you what comes! To see if you will see. Will you seeee? WILL YOU SEE????”

I sigh and shrug. “Sure, I got nothing else going on.”

He shifts his hands to my temples, gripping like a vice, but before I can protest my mind fills with images.

Fire, fire everywhere, consuming the entire Bay Area. San Francisco aflame like it’s never been before, the skyscrapers toppled and pitching into the depths of the bay, like the money shot of a Roland Emmerich film. Flames erupt from the hills and ridgetops in every direction, but the vision focuses on one site in particular: Diablo, burning like a volcano, burning like its namesake implies. The vision swoops closer, against my will, but amidst the destruction and pulsing lava I see something else: figures, dark figure, encircling the mountain top, dancing and celebrating in some kind of orgastic escatcy. I hear their voices, shrieking and chanting in languages I’ve never heard, until Norton’s voice suddenly booms like the word of God.

She comesto purge us all. Do you see….?”

With a rush, I’m back on the road, the cool air whisking away the heat of the vision. I step back from Norton, gasping uselessly. Jesus, does Norton see shit like that all the time? “I…I see fire….”

He nods approvingly. “Then what shall you do?”

Slowly, I start to calm. “I…well, first I gotta find my way to a Verizon store to get my damn phone back.”

“And then what?”

I turn to the hills. “And then I gotta make sure my poolboy isn’t dead. Then I gotta go try and find my boyfriend who is trying to kill me and convince him not to.”

“And when shall you commence the work?”

I glance at him. “What work? The Great Work? Cause I didn’t get along well with the last guy to throw that around.”

“No, not the great work, The only Work. You have already begun it. Do you not seeeee?”

(Jim: “Oh my god, Tom Lytton is going to be the cause of the apocalypse. Again.”)

I stare at him, searching for a clue about the meaning of all this, but I’m afraid if I admit my ignorance he’ll force the vision on me again. “I…think I see?”

He smiles. “Then commence it.” Somewhere from the depths of his worn coat he procures a phone and hands it to me. I stare as I take it. It’s not just a phone, it’s my phone, with the same screen-shatter pattern and everything.  

Norton just smiles. “COMMENCE!!!!” he bellows, then pivots sharply and turns and walks away. I unlock the phone with my code, further proving it’s mine. When I look up again, Norton is gone.

Breeze rustles the grass around me. I hesitate a moment, then hurriedly call Slayer.

After three rings, he answers with a yawn. “…Hey man, it’s early, what the fuck you waking me up for?”

A surprising amount of relief floods me. “Yeah, so…Theo Bell may be coming to kill you.”

“WHAT!?!” His drowsiness evaporates. “What the fuck is Theo Bell coming to kill me for?”

“Cause he’s trying to get to me.”

“…WHY!!??? What the FUCK did you do?

“I…don’t know. But, look, ditch the house. Load up the taco truck with everything we got and keep moving. Leave the Vespa, it’s too identifiable.”

He sputters a few moments, then, “…Maaan! Fuck you!”

“I know, right?” I hang up and evaluate the road ahead of me. A frontage road lies a dozen yards ahead, pacing the interstate. I jog toward it, then turn left, heading west.

#

THE OUTER SUNSET

Anstis and Noah are making their way across the city slowly, as Anstis takes the time to show the boy how to hunt. He is proudly watching Noah hunch over a homeless man when his phone rings. It’s Marcus.

“Marcus!” Anstis greets him with a flourish.

“Captain.” It’s early in the night but Marcus already sounds exhausted. “We have something to discuss. I would like you to meet me at the Pyramid at your earliest convenience.”

“As ye wish. Ye be there now?”

“Yes, I’m here now. Bell is out on…extracurricular activities.”

“Aye. I’ll make haste.” Antis puts his phone away and looks at Noah thoughtfully.

(Jim: “Do I have any concept of Marcus’s dislike for vampired children?”
Jason: “You’re not sure what his position on it is.”
Jim: “In that case I might actually think it’s a good idea to introduce them!”)

#

ALTAMONT PASS

Eventually, I reach an onramp to the freeway and use a bank of apps on my phone to call for a Lyft, a Sidecar, and an Uber simultaneously. After ten minutes or so, a low black sedan with a glowing Uber sticker in the window pulls up.

(Me: “Who’s the driver?”)

The window rolls down. “Where to?” a familiar voice drawls.

“Thank! God!” I shove my phone away and climb in the front.

(Jason: “You wanted Adam? I should have made it a douchebag!”
Jim: “You did!”)

Adam smiles at me from behind his sunglasses, but the smile falters briefly as I lean over, grab the front of his shirt, and pull him close. “What the hell. Is going on?” I growl.

He stares at me a moment, then smirks. “Accident on the 580.”

“No, I think you know what I’m talking about, Mr. Showing Up At Every Location We Happen To Be! Why the hell was Norton following me around the bay spouting shit about fire and death and some bitch named Andrea? What the hell is all that!?”

Adam stares at me, then grins. “Not going anywhere, then?”

I pull him closer. “You’re not fooling anybody! Everyone knows you’re more than what you seem!!

He just smiles. “Aren’t we all?”

“Yes!”

“So where to?”

“To wherever the hell I need to go next to figure this shit out! And where Bell won’t find me!”

“Bell? You got a problem with the phone company?”

I stare at him a moment, then release him. “You’re a cheeky asshole, you know that?”

He continues to smile, tapping the screen of his phone mounted on the dash. “Double surge-pricing tonight.”

I slouch back in my seat. “Fine.”

Adam initiates the app and drives on, merging onto 580 westbound. “So, where is this next place you need to be?”

I decide to try again. “Do you know where Doc is?”

“I think Kaiser is the nearest hospital.”

I glare. “Brisbane.”

Adam nods. “Brisbane. Nice town. Quiet.” He glances over at me when I don’t respond. “Rough night?” he asks.

I turn away from him, staring at the dark landscape passing beyond the windows. “They’re all rough nights.”

#

PORTOLA VALLEY

(Chris: “Paul is on the phone with a psychiatrist for Bob and the gargoyle. He’s arranging their first appointment. Georgia has agreed to send Bob down twice a week for counseling.”
Jason: “…What?”)

(For the full details on this plan–and Jason’s reaction to it–it’s best to listen to the audio yourself.)

#

BRISBANE

About an hour later, Adam drops me off in front of Doc’s shop in the two blocks of stores that pass for “Downtown Brisbane.” Even though it’s still early, no one is around for blocks, and most of the houses crawling up the hillside have already turned out their lights. I watch as a cat skulks its way slowly across the main street, then go into the shop.

It too is empty. “Doc?” I call, peering behind the counter, then sticking my head into the storeroom in back. The lights there are off, and the card table is empty. I return to the front of the store and stare around, hands on my hips. There’s no sign of my sword anywhere. “Mother. Fucker.” I mumble.

Suddenly the phone on the counter rings. I stare at it, expecting a voicemail, or at least an answering machine, to pick up. But it continues to ring, rattling so hard it almost dances off the counter. Finally, I pick it up slowly, holding it silently to my ear. I’m greeted by silence on the other end. “Hello…?” I say tentatively.

There’s a strange crackling sound, then a soft voice whispers, “…Tom?”

I almost collapse against the counter. “Girl!?

“Tom??” Sophia’s voice repeats. Again it’s modulated by a strange distortion, but I barely notice.

“Girl, what happened? Where are you? Are you still on the mountain? Girl, I’m so, so sorry–”

“Tom…?” she repeats, a fearful edge to her voice.

Ice douses my rising joy. “…Sophia? Can you hear me?”

More crackling, then, “…Yes, barely. I can hear you, but…Tom, what’s going on?”

My free hand grips the counter tightly. “Girl, I don’t know. I left you with the couple on the mountain, they said they would try to help but weren’t sure if it would work. That was the last I heard.”

“Tom, what do you mean? What would work?”

The ice in my stomach plummets, as if the Abyss was pulling me from the inside out. “Sophia…you were dead.” The crackling comes again in the silence. “Sophia, where are you now?”

“I…don’t know.”

“Well, look around, what do you see?”

“That’s the thing, I don’t see anything! It’s dark, and it’s cold, and….” Her voice wavers.

I start pacing. “How are you talking to me? Are you on your phone?”

“No, I just…I thought about you, and suddenly your voice was there.”

I pace faster. None of this sounds any good. “Okay, well, maybe see if you can get in contact with Samir or Stormwalker? Have you tried to contact them?”

“I haven’t, but I…” More crackling. “…Wait. I see them…?”

There’s a strange questioning edge to her statement. “You see them? You mean they’re there with you?”

“No, I see them. In the city. They’re…hunting. At the Pyramid.”

Oh shit. “Hunting? Hunting who? Are they going to try to break in? Shit, Boss has been hanging out there!”

“No, they’re–wait, Tom, I see you! At a market. In…Brisbane….”

I stop. Slowly, instinctively, I look up and scan the ceiling. There’s no sign of security cameras.

“…Tom!” Sophia’s voice suddenly yells, sending more distortion echoing across the line. “That’s not all, I see more–”

I look around the empty store. “More what, girl!?”

“–Tom, they’re coming. Right now, they’re coming for you. Run.”

There’s a burst of static, then the call ends.

END OF NIGHT

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3 Responses to 6/9/15

  1. Execute/Dumbo.exe says:

    I…
    I’m not really sure whether or not I should feel bad for Sophia.
    On one hand, she’s probably going to be forever stuck in limbo, unable to truly move beyond the material plane.
    But on the other hand, we now have a werewolf ghost with a knack for technology helping a hard-bitten and retreated vampire, who only wants to do good in a dead-end world.
    I mean, shiz, the stories write themselves!

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