6/30/15

Jason: “They don’t call him The Man With The Iron Heart Who Listens To Shit From Mouthy Brujah.”
Jim: “Yeah, Reinhardt sounds like he’s all business.”
Me: “And not in the fun way….”

***

THE CHANTRY

Georgia races down the hall after the fire-panicked pirate.

(Jason: “Kara, you catch up with Jim right as he reaches the top of some stairs heading down. Which is a good thing, because you know what happens to those who are not ward-prepped who do this.”
Kara: “They trip?”
Jason: “Sometimes, and then they go head-first into the exsanguinarium, instead of feet-first.”

Seeing the stairs he’s headed for, Georgia dashes ahead and tries to block him. “Nope, nope, not this way!”

(Jim: “Can I roll to end Rotshreik-frenzy?”
Jason: “You can spend a willpower and roll to end the frenzy.”
Jim: “Urg, I don’t want to do that.”
Jason: “Let the record state that Jim did not want to spend willpower, even when it might mean not ripping Kara to pieces.”
Chris: “Can’t say any of us are surprised.”)

Anstis stares at her sightlessly, snarls, and moves to barrel through her. She steps out of the way just in time.

(Jason: “Kara, are you going to try and stop him from going down into the exsanguinarium?”
Kara: “…Not at this point, no.”)

Anstis disappears down the stairs. Moments later, there’s a crash, and a howl. Georgia sighs and heads down. She finds in him in the antechamber of whatever torture machinery room he was heading toward, trapped in a cage. She watches a moment as he rattles the bars and screams at her.

(Kara: “…That seems like a good place to leave him.”)

With a sweep of her robes, she turns turns and heads back upstairs.

#

Rabenholz, meanwhile, is still in Georgia’s office, scanning the bookshelves. Noah is nearby, occupying himself by tracing patterns in the lush red carpet, and the space whale is curled on the desk, nonchalantly observing both.

(Chris: “I begin sorting her library into rubbish and useful books.”
Jason: “Define rubbish.”
Chris: “Anything relating to ghoul etiquette and discipline.”
Jason: “Kara, you walk in to find him throwing away all of your books.”)

Georgia walks into the room and stops as she sees Rabenholz flipping through a large tome. “Uh, hi…?”

He flashes the cover at her. 1001 Torture-Enhanced Management Techniques is scrawled on the cover in what one hopes is blood-red ink. “It speaks poorly of your predecessor that he kept these in his library.”

(Jason: “That isn’t even the beginning of what speaks poorly of her predecessor.”)

Georgia shrugs. “It does, but there’s no need to work on that as a first priority.”

Rabenholz puts the book away. “Did you take care of Mr. Anstis?”

“Well, he seems to have locked himself in a cell downstairs, so….”

Rabenholz nods slowly, then looks down at the Malkavian child. “Noah, would you step outside a moment?” Noah looks up at him with wide eyes, then obediently gets up and heads out the door.

Georgia stares after him nervously. “MewMew, would you do me a huge favor and follow the young one while I chat with Rabenholz here and make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble? You can come back and meow at me if he does.”

The space whale’s eyes narrow quizzically, but it hops off the desk and strides out, tail high. Georgia shuts the door behind it.

Rabenholz idly pulls another book from the shelf. “While you were chasing the pirate I performed the ritual.” He looks up at her. “The child is Anstis’s.”

“Really?” She looks at the door again. “He said it wasn’t.”

“I imagine anyone with half a mind would have said the same thing to the other child vampire in that room.”

Georgia blinks, then settles herself in her chair. “Huh. Okay. Why would he sire a child?”

(Jason: “Why would he steal a submarine.”
Kara: “…Does Georgia know Anstis has a submarine?”
Jason: “…You know, I don’t think she does.”
Jim: “Who have I actually told?”)

“I don’t know,” Rabenholz rumbles, cradling the book in his arm as he flips through. “Is he useful?”

“Probably. Most people are, in one way or another.”

“Then we should keep the information to ourselves. Hold it over him to extract that usefulness. If he becomes a problem, let Marcus Sertorius know.”

“Why would he sire a five year old, though? Was it some sort of experiment?”

Rabenholz eyes her. “You’re thinking like a Tremere. I doubt our friend Mr. Anstis thinks the same way. You may find his reasoning very foreign.” He closes the book with a heavy thud and places it on the desk, waiting till she meets his gaze before speaking again. “Right now, there’s the other matter.  Mr. Bell has called the blood hunt on that Lytton fellow and I would like to curry favor with the Justicar.”

Georgia considers this a moment, then nods enthusiastically. “Well, I think a blood hunt is an excellent way to do that and make some lovely gains as well.” She glances at the door. “We do kinda need Anstis, though, since he said he could locate Mr. Lytton.”

Rabenholz paces a moment. “What is Anstis doing now?”

“He was still frenzying when I checked on him a moment ago. It’s probably prudent to check on him again. Would you like to accompany me downstairs?”

Rabenholz considers this, then grabs his cane from where it’s leaning against the desk. “Very well.

They exit the room to find Noah just outside, staring down the hallway to where it disappears in gloom. Staring very intently. They stop next to him, but he doesn’t react.

“Noah?” Georgia asks. “What are you looking at?” He doesn’t respond. She places a hand lightly on his shoulder, and when he doesn’t react even to that, she peers at his aura. He’s petrified. She steps in front of him, kneeling down to meet his gaze, but he stares through her. She realizes, though, that he’s whispering. She picks him up so Rabenholz can hear. She doesn’t recognize the language, but Rabenholz does. It’s a form of Greek.

Daddy doesnt want him to go,” Noah mutters in the strange language. “Daddy’s gonna be mad.”

Rabenholz relays that to her and frowns. “There is something wrong with this child.”

“Should we take him back to the pyramid?”

Noah turns to Georgia then, still staring through her. “He doesn’t want him to go. He’ll never see him again.

“Noah, who doesn’t want whom to go?” Rabenholz asks sharply.

Daddy. Daddy said no.”

Georgia stares between them. “What did he say?”

Rabenholz frowns, tapping his cane against the polished stone floor. “Apparently the father he’s referring to doesn’t want someone to go.”

Ten years…ten years….ten years….”

“Now he’s saying ‘ten years.’” Rabenholz eyes her imperiously. “I’m sure you recognize that, from the root [something] for ‘ten’ and [something] for ‘years.’”

Noah turns to Rabenholz then, his eyes taking on a new intensity. “Don’t go…you’ll never come back….

Come back from where?” Rabenholz asks him, this time also in Greek.

Noah shakes his head slowly, gaze piercing through them, then suddenly relaxes. He blinks, and squirms in Georgia’s grip. “Can I have some blood now?” He realizes they’re staring at him and squirms again. “Did I do something bad?”

“Do you have any recollection what happened the last two minutes?” Rabenholz asks sternly.

Noah stares back at him, then lifts one arm to point down the hall. “Cat peed.”

Georgia gasps. “In the hallway!?” She puts Noah down and rushes off.

#

Anstis finally comes to, finding himself in the cage. By the rough-hewn walls and random bloodstains, he realizes he’s in the Tremere dungeon. He tries the bars of the cage, but they’re locked shut. “Georgia!” he yells, rattling them.

(Jason: “Someone’s yelling from down below.”
Kara: “Are you kidding? There’s no way someone in the office would be able to hear yelling from the dungeon. It would be sound proofed”
Jason: “Oh you’re right, the torture chamber would be sound-proofed wouldn’t it?”
Me: “HA-ha, Jim, you’re stuck in another sound-proofed chamber just like when Clarence was tied up in the studio of Kink.com!”)

Minutes pass with no response, so with a grumble he pulls out his phone and calls Georgia. “I have recovered,” he says as she answers. “If you wouldn’t mind coming to get me. There’s some things we need to discuss. About Tom Lytton.”

She says she’ll be right down, once she finds Bob to get him to clean up the cat pee. He hangs up, stares at his phone thoughtfully a moment, then calls someone else. Slayer.

(Me: “WHAT!? How do you have Slayer’s phone number??”
Jim: “Because. I do.”
Chris: “Let’s just say that taco truck gets a lot of money from one very important customer.”
Me: “…Has he been giving out business cards for the truck?! That asshole, I told him to stop having airs.”
Kara: “It sounds like he’s been having gay sex with Captain Anstis.”
Me: “…Now I’m kinda jealous!”
Jason: “I had a homoerotic scene with pirates, what more do you want!?”
Me: “Not gonna lie, Slayer is kinda hot.”)

Slayer answers after a few rings, unnecessarily breathless for some idiotic reason, like he’s been running hard. Or flying. “Yeah?”

“Is this Slayer?” Anstis growls.

“Who the fuck is this!?”

“Anstis.”

Slayers tone changes immediately. “…Oh, shit, what do you want?”

“We have some things we need to discuss. Can we meet in person?”

“…Motherfucker, you’re just gonna kick my ass or something!”

“Nay.” Anstis grins in the dark. “We need to discuss something of value to the both of us.”

There’s a pause. “…I’m listening.”

“I’ll speak in person only. It’s a sensitive matter. Where would you like to meet?”

Slayer is quiet a few more moments before responding. “Daly City. Costco.”

Anstis grins wider. “Is Lytton around?”

Slayer snorts. “You want him there? He’s gonna beat your ass!”

“Why?”

“…Motherfucker, you been keeping up on current events!?”

“No,” Anstis says flatly.

A few tense moments, then Slayer groans as he realizes Anstis isn’t kidding. “You wanna talk to Lytton and me? Alone? No one else?”

“Aye.”

“…Alright, I’ll make a call.”

“Two hours.” Anstis hangs up.

(Kara: “Georgia leaves Anstis in the cage for three hours.”
*everyone laughs*
Kara: “No, Georgia lets Anstis out of the cage. Rabenholz and Noah are there too, because Georgia thinks that, at five years old, it’s finally time Noah saw the inside of a torture chamber.”)

Georgia, Rabenholz, and Noah finally troop down to the dungeon and let Anstis out. Anstis brushes himself off, apologizes for his outburst but insists that even though his ritual failed unexpectedly, he can still get them Lytton.

While Rabenholz and Anstis talk, tensely trying to evaluate each other’s’ trustworthiness while being somewhat less than trustworthy themselves, Georgia realizes that Noah has wandered off, upstairs and into the Chantry. She goes looking for him, finding him in the ghoul quarters, sitting on an empty bunk, alone. He looks up as she approaches him, face streaked with blood. It’s not from feeding, though. It’s tears.

He twists a corner of the sheet in his hands. “Daddy misses him,” he mutters.

She kneels next to him. “Who’s ‘daddy’?”

“Daddy from the island.”

“Island? which island?”

Noah rubs the back of his hand against his face, smearing the blood. “The island in the sea.”

Georgia tenses. “The Farallones?”

Noah shakes his head.

“Angel Island? Treasure island? The one you went to with Anstis?” She reaches out to touch his blood-streaked hand. “Is Anstis your daddy?”

Noah shakes his head. “Daddy’s very angry,” he mutters. “Daddy misses the liar.”

“The liar,” she echoes. “Can you tell me anything about the liar?”

“He says he’s one thing but he’s not.”

She nods encouragingly. “That would make him a liar, wouldn’t it.”

“Daddy misses him.” Noah glances around the empty barracks furtively, then leans closer to Georgia. “Daddy’s very hungry,” he whispers.

“Do you want to stay here for a little while?” He nods and buries his face against her shoulder. “Can I take a small amount of your blood, just to test?” He nods again. She carefully dabs some of the blood from his face, then re-runs the bloodline ritual.

This time it completes successfully. She discovers that though he is blood-bound to Anstis, Noah is definitely Malkavian.

(Kara: “And what is the name the ritual gives me for ‘Elizabeth’? Cause she didn’t give a name to Georgia.”
Jason: “…Sir Not Appearing In This Film. Chris, what are you doing?”
Chris: “I’m looking for the non-ghoul-discipline books.”
Jason: “Takes awhile to find those.”
Jim: “If Rabenholz leaves me alone, then I’m searching for necromancy books.”
Jason: “You’re looking for books too? Necromancy books? Okay, roll me…three dice. Add them together.”
Jim: “…Sixteen.”
Jason: “Sixteen, then it takes sixteen minutes before you trigger something else and wind up back in a torture chamber.”
Jim: “From looking at books!?
Jason: “YES, from looking at books!! It’s a Tremere Chantry!!!”
Chris: *Rabenholz voice* “You still did better than I, Mr. Anstis. After almost an hour of checking, all I found was an entire library filled with Ayn Rand.”)

#

GUADALUPE CANYON

The man–the living man–calling himself Reinhardt Heydrich is standing on the side of San Bruno Mountain, cold blue eyes boring through me. I don’t recognize him, but something about the name nags me, some half-remembered association clawing at the base of my brain, telling me to run run run

I shuffle uncertainly, foot still planted firmly on Glitch. “Well, uh, if you want to talk…I got nothing but time.”

He smiles pityingly. “Oh, I’m afraid you don’t. Someone is trying to watch you as we speak. Tell me, what are your intentions? Your options have narrowed considerably the last few nights.”

“Have they?” I tear my eyes from him to scan the road. Still no sign of the men hunting me. “I mean, a bunch of guys jumped me, but I’ve had good nights like that.”

“What does your…little friend say?”

I tense. He’s obviously not talking about Slayer. “…He says some shit’s coming.”

Reinhardt chuckles. “‘Some shit’ is coming. And you have no interest in discovering what?”

“In general I find the further you stay away from shit, the better.”

He smiles thinly, the traces of humor on his face starting to drain. “Then perhaps it would be good of you to take action against this shit.”

I point down at the truck and kick one of the rockets at my feet. “Well these guys should be showing up at my trap any minute now!”

“I would concern myself with the others. The pirate…”

I shrug. “Oh, well, yeah, he is very concerning.”

“…The sorceress….”

I hesitate. “…Wait, really? Georgia? I mean, she’s weird but, you know…she’s alright.”

“…The nobleman.”

I blink. “What nobleman?”

Reinhardt’s face hardens. “There is a great deal you don’t understand, Mr. Lytton. Do you know who I am? Do you know who I represent?”

I scan his clean-cut, but unmarked, black clothes. My eye lingers suspiciously on the Luger on his hip. “Not…really….”

“No interest, then, in discussing what future you might still have?”

“I…don’t know—?”

“Are you so ignorant,” he snaps suddenly, “That you don’t know what comes?

I bristle. “Bad things, I’m sure, but I’ll deal with them when they do!”

He eyes me a moment, then laughs, meanly. “My apologies, then. I mistook you for someone with interest in continuing to live.” He nods stiffly and clicks his heels. “Have a very good unlife, Mr. Lytton, it will be short.” With that, Reinhardt turns and walks away, disappearing down the hillside behind a gust of fog.

I stare after him a long moment. “…The fuck was that about?” I mutter. The wind doesn’t answer. Still no sign of the assholes, or Slayer, so I bend to pick up Glitch and start reloading up with the other weapons.

My phone rings. It’s Slayer. I shove a couple Panzerfauste under my arm and answer. “Hey, did you find the assholes trying to get the jump on us–”

“Uh, dude….” Slayer says slowly. “They ain’t coming.”

“What? Why?”

“Someone lit em up.”

I stop. “How so?”

“I’m staring at their fucking car right now, man. It’s on fire.”

Slowly, I turn to scan the hillsides around me. At the moment visibility is fairly clear, but there’s no sign of Reinhardt in any direction, and no vehicle he could have left in.

Slayer suddenly clears his throat. “Hey man, so…someone called me, just a minute ago.”

“Who?” I ask absently, staring into the night.

“That freaky ass fucking Gangrel pirate you deal with.”

Reinhardt’s cryptic warning comes to mind, bringing a burst of adrenaline along with it. “What the hell did he want?”

“He wanted to talk!”

“About what?”

“Fuck if I know, he didn’t say! But he wants to meet!”

My hand tightens on Glitch. “…Where?”

“Costco.”

I glower. “Nothing good happens at the Daly City Costco. That’s where I first met Alejandro.

“Yeah, well there’s worse shit than Alejandro in Daly City.”

“Yeah I suspect it might be there to meet us if we go, so we’re not going.” I squat to pick up more rockets one-handed. “Get back here, let’s load up the truck and get moving.”

“Where the fuck we going, man?”

I hesitate. Red Talons may still be running around Marin to the north, and the East Bay seems to be filled with geriatric werewolves and Anarchs pissed about losing Helgi. That only leaves one place we can go to collect ourselves and figure out a next move. “South.”

“What the fuck is south!?”

(Jim: “It’s one of the cardinal directions.”
Me: “But that’s not important right now.”)

I roll my eyes. I don’t like it either, but maybe I can trade on my shitty Camarilla rep at the moment to buy some amnesty from Liedesdorff. “Look, something weird is going on. I don’t  like it, but we gotta get away from Bell till we figure out what to do about it.”

Slayer groans. “Alright, I’ll be right there.”

I start hauling gear back down to the truck. With no rush to avoid an incoming posse, I split it into two trips, taking the rockets first. I’m on my second trip when my phone rings again. It’s Slayer again, and according to the clock it’s been almost fifteen minutes since he last called. I answer as I trudge my way back into the grass. “Dude, where you at?”

“Oh, I’m afraid he won’t be coming,” a smoothly accented voice answers instead. Reinhardt.

I stop. “…What? Dude—”

“My apologies if we sounded final, or had not understood the full import. But I’m afraid your friend is indisposed.”

I stare around. I’m still alone on the empty road and barren hillside. “I’m sorry, did piss you off? Cause he does that, I’m sure we can make amends somehow.”

“Oh we can. Quite simply. Meet me in Colma. The Necropolis. I’m sure you’re familiar with it, your kind frequent such places,” Reinhardt says.

“Wha—?” I stare around again. “You were just here, why didn’t you talk then?”

“It’s best not to ask questions you might not want to know the answers to. You do understand so little, afterall. By your own choice.”

I’m silent a long moment before responding. “…Dude, who are you and what the hell do you want!?”

“I am the man who is hanging up this telephone.” The call ends.

(Jason: “They don’t call him The Man With The Iron Heart Who Listens To Shit From Mouthy Brujah.”
Jim: “Yeah, he sounds like he’s all business.”
Me: “And not in the fun way….”)

I stare at the phone. Foggy wind pulls at me and rattles the sides of the truck. Various injuries clamor weakly for my attention, but I’m way too hungry to heal anything right now. That deer already feels like it was a week ago. Going to meet this kraut asshole in Colma sounds even worse than meeting Anstis at Costco.

I stare into the night. I could leave on my own. Not having Slayer around would actually make it easier to deal with Liedesdorff, after all.

But Slayer may be an asshole, but he’s my asshole.

“Fuck it.” I jog back out of the grass, leaving the rest of the weapons up on the hill. As I climb into the truck, I pull out my phone, trying to find the fastest way to Colma.

#

THE CHANTRY

Georgia finds Rabenholz flipping through a heavy book in one of the libraries, The Fountainhead stamped in gold leaf on the cover. “Ms. Johnson, I recall your library was significantly more interesting last week,” he mutters as she enters.

“Oh it still is, don’t worry.” She glances around the room. “Have you seen Mr. Anstis?”

“He went off a while ago.”

“You left him alone in the Chantry?” She sighs. “So he’s probably trapped in a cell.”

“That’s what I assumed.” Rabenholz carefully places the book back on the shelf.  “Shall we go collect him?”

Georiga leads Rabenholz back down to the basement, to the standard cell blocks and torture rooms. Anstis isn’t in any of them. She searches a few minutes, then pulls out her phone to try calling him.

#

Anstis awakes in a gloomy place, sprawled awkwardly across an uneven surface.

(Jason: “You are in an interesting predicament right now, cause guess where you are?”
Jim: “Umm….”
Jason: “Al. Ca. Traz.”
Jim: “I’m on Alcatraz?”
Jason: “Let me rephrase. You’re in a giant, flesh-devouring exsanguinatorium. A blood vat, to be exact.”
Jim: “Is it filled with blood?”
Jason: “No, it’s filled with sharp.”)

Anstis climbs carefully to his feet. He’s in a tank of some sort, but every surface–the curved walls, the ceiling, the floor–is dotted with florets of toothed blades. Fortunately, they all appear to be off. He reaches a finger toward one carefully.

Suddenly his phone rings. He jumps, then gropes to answer. “Georgia! Do you know where I am?”

“Um, haven’t a clue, do you?” Georgia asks.

He looks around again. There’s no doors, hatches, or even viewport windows to the outside. “Nay.”

“Ah, well, we have something in common, then.”

Suddenly there’s a sound of machinery starting up, outside the vat. It doesn’t sound friendly.

“Where are you, and how soon do you think you can get back?” Georgia asks.

“I be in a tight container with blades.” There’s another mechanical grinding noise, like the sound of an engine trying to turn over. “It is currently making a noise,” Anstis continues.

“Hmm…can you get out of it?”

He shoves at the ceiling, carefully avoiding the clusters of blades. “Nay.”

“Hold on a moment….” She yells for Bob in the background.

Another grinding noise, this one much closer, and louder. Anstis looks up to see one of the fans of blades on the ceiling spin up, then slowly coast back down.

Georgia comes back on the line. “Mr. Anstis, Bob says you are probably in something called a ‘mulcher’ and are probably at the research facility on Alcatraz. Luckily, I have a circle that will take us right there.”

Before he can respond, more blades whir to life, on all sides, churning the air in a deafening roar. Anstis shoves his phone away, drops into bird form, and launches into the air, trying to hover in the clear space in the center of the tank.

(Jason: “Yeah, because parrots are good at that.”)

Unable to hold position, Anstis pops back into human form and falls to the floor of the tank. He makes his way to a set of blades on the wall that haven’t activated yet, pops his claws, and winds up to start tearing at them.

(Kara: “You do realize that ‘Gangrel’ is one of the main ingredients in gargoyle, right? Which means Gangrel have been in these tanks before.”
Jason: “As have Tzmitsce, with their Zulo forms.”
Chris: “…As have Nosferatu, with their ugly faces!”)

Anstis’s claws grind uselessly against the metal. He steps back moments before that set of blades spins up too.

#

Back at the Chantry, Georgia and Rabenholz have finally made their way down to the basement teleportation circle, but Georgia takes her time, chatting with Rabenholz to update him on the question of Noah’s sire, pausing occasionally to examine the circle and adjust a line or two. Midway through, her phone rings suddenly and she idly gropes through her robes to find it.

“Oh yes, it was quite fascinating….” she says absently as her pocket continues to buzz. ”…I was able to see the lineage all the way back to fourth generation…”…buzz buzz buzz… “…And he’s definitely Malkavian. Hello?”

Haste might be an issue!” Anstis’s voice barks, over the roaring sound of machinery and death.

Georgia blinks. “Oh dear, is it on?”

AYE!

Georgia hangs up, pulls Rabenholz into the circle, then hastily activates it.

They arrive in the ruins of the Alcatraz subbasement, sound of machinery echoing off the mildewed concrete walls. Georgia leads them through, following the noise, till they reach the vat room. Machinery fills the space, but only one of the tanks is clearly running. She runs up to the control panel to turn it off.

It is off. But the machine’s whine climbs higher.

She gropes at the controls. Not only is it supposed to be off, there’s no power in the unit. She stares up at the whirring machine, flabbergasted. She grabs a lever and tries to turn it down at least. Instead, it accelerates.

Rabenholz watches coolly as she runs to grope at the vat. There’s no door, but gears and cantilevers bolted to the outside indicate that the entire top is supposed to lift off. Right now, though, with the machinery running, it’s magnetically sealed shut. As she fusses with it, Rabenholz strides to the control panel.

(Chris: “What’s the speed set to?”
Jason: “‘Puree.’”
Chris: “I try to lower it to ‘Chop.’”
Jason: “The lever is stuck.”
Chris: “Movement of the Mind 4.”
Me: “…Gangrel dust, don’t breathe that!”)

Rabenholz tries to force the lever with the combined strength of force and magic, but it’s stuck solid, as if something was holding it in place.

He follows the cables connected to the machine. They lead to a generator at the back of the room, but the generator is dead.

Rabenholz turns to stare at the vat. The roar of the blades fills the room. Yells echo from inside, followed by what sounds like squawks.

Rabenholz strides slowly forward and taps the vat with the head of his cane. “Ms. Johnson,” he says smoothly, “I have been an avid reader all my life. I am no expert by this time’s reckoning, but I can tell you that this device operates on electromagnetic principles.” He gestures to the power lines, raising his voice to be heard over the rising din. “The cables here are conductors, clearly. The blades themselves are intertwined with the electric field of the cables. As they spin, they will consequently induce a current in the cables. The generator there is off, but right now there is electricity running through the cables because that is acting, supernaturally, as a generator.”

More squawking echoes from inside the vat. Georgia stares at it, but Rabenholz raps his cane sharply to bring her attention back to him. “If we spin up the generator, we will run it out of phase with the machine. It will cancel and deactivate.”

She stares between him and the machine. “What?”

Rabenholz rolls his eyes. “Let us turn the generator on.” He strides over and throws the lever to activate it. “Now, with any luck, the two currents will cancel.”

There’s an ascending hum, then BAM, generator belches smoke and sparks, as does the machinery innervating the vat. The magnetic seals fail, and the top lifts up in a hiss of hydraulics. After a moment, a battered, frazzled parrot flutters out and flops onto the pitted concrete floor in front of them like a boned fish.

(Jason: “…Do NOT go in there!” )

#

COLMA

Empty boulevards stretch before me, winding between the graveyards and mortuary temples of the city of the dead. Everything looks deserted at the moment. I drive slowly, waiting for a phone call or some sort of sign from Reinhardt on where to meet him.

Finally I see a light, at the top edge of one of the mortuary parks spreading up the foothills of San Bruno mountain. The gate to the attached graveyard is open, with no guards in sight, so I drive the truck through and make my way toward it, past parched lawns and through a line of twisted monterey pines. The light is a burning torch, bright enough to signal Gondor, stuck in a mound of loose dirt next to a half-collapsed mausoleum. Construction cones and caution tape flutter across the road, and a hand-scrawled sign announces “Danger!” and warns not to get too close.

Yeah, no shit, I think as I park the truck and climb out.

A figure stands a few yards away, silhouetted by the flame. I can’t see his face, but by the clean cut of his clothes it’s Reinhardt. There’s no sign of Slayer. I stand by the truck, waiting to see what he does, but he just looks at me, hands folded behind him. After a moment, I grumble and walk over to meet him.

He eyes me coolly. “So we found a reason for you to come.”

“I don’t understand why we couldn’t have had this conversation before–”

“There is a great deal you don’t understand,” he says sharply.

“Apparently.” I shuffle my feet in the gravel. “I am willing to learn…?”

“I don’t believe you are. I believe you hold learning in contempt, as you hold me and any other who know more than you in contempt.” His eyes flick to the truck, then narrow. “This is funny to you. Shall I make it less funny?”

I instinctively grope for Glitch. “I would really rather not–”

My hand stills as I see his gaze. “…A weapon?” he chastises lightly.

My grip tightens. “This doesn’t leave my side.”

“Doesn’t it? You speak in great declarative statements for someone who does not know where it is you stand.” Reinhardt lifts one hand lightly and flicks his fingers.

Something hits me in the chest with the force of a battering ram, knocking me back into the side of the truck. I slump, then stagger to my feet. There’s no object or attacker visible anywhere near me, and the caution tape still flutters loosely nearby, undisturbed.

I turn back toward Reinhardt, then freeze. He’s holding Glitch, drawing a finger slowly along the flat of the blade. The sensuousness of the act twists my stomach. “Fascinating…” he murmurs. “Where did you get this?

“Borrowed it,” I mutter.

“Borrowed, yes, that is what your kind does. Borrowed it from the Tremere, I should think? Who borrowed it in turn.” He lowers the sword and looks to me again. “Your man is in the mauseoleum. If I give the signal, my associates will tear him to pieces the size of a paperclip. Shall I give them the signal?”

I stare at the broken monument behind him. The roof is collapsed, chunks of marble casting broken shadows that twist and dance in the light of the flames. Jagged walls reach toward the sky like an open maw. “I…would rather you not–”

“Did I ask if you would rather I do things, or did I ask if I should?”

I take a breath, gathering my willpower before speaking: “Please don’t.”

“And why shouldn’t I?” Reinhardt snaps. “He annoys me.”

I shrug. “He annoys everybody.”

“Then why shouldn’t I remove him and all of his annoyances from all of our presences? He is inferior, you see.”

Unexpected rage rises in me. I remain motionless, pouring all my energy into containing it, but Reinhardt lifts an eyebrow. “Oh you don’t like that I call him inferior? Maybe some have called you inferior?” He watches me a moment, then chuckles. “Now you wish to hit me, yes?”

I force my fists to uncurl. “Not while you’re carrying that,” I mutter, jerking my chin at Glitch.

“Oh, is this the difficulty then? Well then, please, take it.” He throws the sword back to me. The hilt feels warm in my hand as I tuck it through my belt. “What will you do then, Brujah? Do you understand where you sit? In the world, in the city? Amidst those who you would call your peers?”

“It generally seems to be the bottom,” I mutter. “Sir.”

He chuckles. “Your Justicar will kill you if he sees you again.”

I sigh. “Yeah, that’s nothing new–”

“And so will everyone else in the city. He has declared…what is the term, a Blood Hunt?” Reinhardt tsks to himself. “So dramatic, the Kindred. Everything comes back to the blood, and their addictions.”

I barely hear him, though, because ice has plunged over me. Marcus’s warning rings in my ear as suddenly all the pieces fall into place: The posse hunting me. Anstis’s sudden desire to meet….

Reinhardt tsks again and shakes his head. “I had an associate, he was one of the Kindred, because he was imperfect. He was killed. Devoured, by your compatriot. The Italian.”

The incongruity of this breaks me out of my shock. “…Really? Georgia ate someone?”

Reinhardt smirks and nods. “Yes, that is the name she has taken.”

My mind wrestles with this. If she’s diablerizing people now–oh god, is she coming for me too–?

“And why is that surprising?” Reinhardt snaps, drawing my attention back. “That the Tremere, of all people, should engage in such activities? How is it possible that you could live among the kindred for as long as you have and have that surprise you?”

“Cause…she’s kinda weird but in general she’s pretty inoffensive. Not like the other soul-sucking assholes.”

Reinhardt stares at me a long moment, then shakes his head slowly. “How did you people win the war?” he mutters, then gestures grandly down the hill. “By all means, take your sword and stab something with it. I had thought to discuss something of business but clearly you are not smart enough.”

Assuming that this is about to end as suddenly as our last meeting, I take a step back toward the truck. “Well, I’m sorry this is proving to be a poor business opportunity.”

“No, you’re not, but you’re about to be.” He pulls a phone from his pocket and holds it to his ear. “Kill the Gangrel.

“Whoah, whoah!” I leap forward just as a bloodcurdling shriek rises from the mausoleum, followed by sobs. My mind races. “Wait wait wait…how do I know that’s really Slayer and you’re not just fucking around with me?”

Reinhardt stares at me dispassionately, then lifts the phone again. “Bring me his arm.”

The gasping sobs continue as another figure steps from the shadows behind the mauseoleum and makes its way toward us. It’s a woman, carrying something long and heavy. She steps into the torchlight and I see that it is indeed an arm, clad in the same purple-striped shirt sleeve I saw Slayer in earlier this evening. I scowl, glance up at the woman, and freeze. The piercing gaze of the Black Spiral Dancer glares back at me.

“You will forgive me,” Reinhardt says smoothly. “I had not thought to do this to a Gangrel no-one likes, but you have very few other dependants to threaten.” Reinhardt takes Slayer’s arm from the Spiral Dancer’s hands, examines it a moment, then drops it to the gravel. “If this is not enough, then perhaps I can find someone else. A werewolf perhaps. Or an Assamite.” He grins as I tense. “Do you doubt me? You doubt that I can find the werewolf wherever she’s been hidden, or the Assamite, wherever her master has sent her?”

I lift my gaze from Slayer’s mangled arm and shake my head slowly.

Reinhardt smiles wider. “Good. That is the first smart thing you have done all night, perhaps in your entire life. Now, shall we discuss business or did you have further jokes to make? I believe Slayer has additional limbs.”

Still glaring, I fold my arms and gesture for him to go on.

Reinhardt folds his hands behind his back and paces slowly, stepping nonchalantly over Slayer’s arm. “Contrary to what you are thinking, I am not here to make your life more difficult, I am here to make it considerably easier. There are three Kindred in this city, three particular Kindred who pose a difficulty. To you, and to myself. I wish them dead. But, they are not the easiest ones to find and kill. I could do it, but it would require an expenditure of more resources than I am willing to spend.”

I glance at the Spiral Dancer, snarling at me through a scarred face and severe ponytail. “Really? Cause you have some pretty high-powered resources already.”

Reinhardt gestures dismissively. “There are Kindred in this city who have made themselves somewhat famous for the disposal of werewolves.”

I smirk. “Yeah, you’re looking at one of them.” The Spiral Dancer growls. I blow her a kiss.

“I am,” Reinhardt says calmly, “But I am not looking at the only one of them.” He looks at me as he paces, watching my grin fade as I realize who he’s talking about: Marcus.

“Oh, I see…” Reinhardt chides. “You do not like that I speak of him. Surely you don’t think he requires your defending? You’ve seen what he can do. But no, he is not one of the ones I speak of. I have other associates who have plans for him. The ones I speak of are three that you are associated with and who wish nothing further to do with you except your death. The names are Thomas Anstis, Augustus von Rabenholz, and Georgia Johnson. Do you know what they intend at this moment?”

I look away. Muffled movement echoes from the mauseoleum and I can only hope it’s still coming from Slayer. “Well…it sounds like they’re taking Bell up on his offer.”

“Yes. They are. All I need from you is to draw them to a specific location so they can all be killed.”

My gaze snaps back to him. “What? These are just some assholes no better than I am, why the hell do you need me to deal with them?”

He smirks. “Let us postpone that question a while. Assume for a moment that I know more than you do, which shouldn’t be a difficult assumption given that you know nothing. I believe they have made arrangements to meet with you. tonight, not far from here.”

I snort. “Uh, they tried, but I’m not walking into a trap.”

“Oh you’re not, are you? Very well, then you’re of no use to me and neither is your associate.” He raises his phone.

I lift a hand and sputter till he lowers it again. “Why can’t you go into the trap yourself!? what the hell do you care about what these assholes have? You’ve got a fucking Spiral Dancer on a leash!”

The woman’s growls take on a new timbre. I hear a crack and look down. She has one booted foot on Slayer’s arm, snapping the bone and grinding it down into the dirt.

Reinhardt merely shrugs. “I have my resources. They’re not yours to presume to direct about, they’re mine. You’re accustomed, I think, to dealing with vampires who consider themselves to be without, what is the English term…nonsense?” He smirks, then his face falls back to stony seriousness. “Regard that as preparation for this. You will do as I say, or you will not. If you do not, the consequences shall be apparent. If you do, you may survive tonight.”

Flames crackle in the silence that follows. I take a slow breath. “So…you’re saying if I go to this thing, they may very well kill me, and if I don’t go to this thing, you will kill me?”

“Note the ‘may’ and ‘will’ in those sentences and you will have the long and the short of it.” He tilts his head, regarding me with the same impassivity he had for Slayer’s dismembered arm. “What exactly is your resistance? I am offering you a means of destroying your enemies. And they are your enemies.”

My mind struggles. It’s true, I don’t even particularly like them, but I have spent more consistent time with them in the last few weeks than I’ve spent with anybody in the last two decades. That’s gotta be worth something. “They’re…I don’t know, they’re assholes, but they’re my assholes.” I fold my arms tighter and look away. “…Or they were….” The silence lingers before I turn back. “I guess I still don’t understand why you need me to go talk to those jerks.”

Reinhardt smiles toothily. “I need to bait the trap.”

I suppress a shudder. “So how about I just say I’m gonna show up and they show up without me?”

“Because I have some faith that not everyone in the universe is as stupid as you.” He paces a moment, regarding me, then smiles silkily. “Perhaps you feel that the deal is not sweet enough. How about this, you may devour them. All of them.”

This time I can’t suppress the shudder that rolls through me. I look away. “I wouldn’t call that sweetening the deal.”

“Really? Why not? Because you are too good for it? Because you are so moral? Hmm?” He leans into my line of sight. “I asked you a question, American.”

I avoid his gaze. “It’s not my bag.”

“Then what is your bag? Mass murder? Indiscriminate death by means of weapons and weaponized disease?”

My head snaps up. “What? Disease? I’m not running around with fucking anthrax–” Wait, shit, what has Slayer been putting in the tacos?

Reinhardt, though, just smiles evenly. “Oh but you are.”

My adrenaline cools into a lead weight as I realize what he’s talking about. New memories come to mind, faces from another lifetime. Faces who died slowly.

I fold my arms tighter and look away. “…I got that under control,” I mutter.

He raises an eyebrow. “You have that under control?”

“Well I’m not on antiretrovirals anymore but yeah, I keep a watch on where things fall, if you know what I mean!”

“Do you.” He stares a moment. “How many have you caused to be infected in the last year alone?”

Rage flickers like the torch behind him. “Anyone I’ve been feeding on already has it,” I snap. “For years, now.”

“Really? Anyone? Everyone you feasted upon has already had this sodomites’ plague of yours?”

My hand twitches toward Glitch at the slur but I force myself to relax. “Yeah, or they’re vampires themselves and can’t get it.”

One eyebrow arches elegantly over his cool blue eyes. “Oh, is that what you think?” He leans back, chuckling. I watch him carefully, not sure where this is going but assuming there’s a trap at the other end. “Do you know what the American Center for Disease Control is?” he asks.

“Uh, I think it’s in Atlanta?”

“But you understand what this organization is.” Reinhardt starts pacing again, spiralling closer toward me. “Let me tell you what they’re going to do in the next six months. Next month, in their report on infectious diseases in this country, they’re going to report on the first evidence of a remarkable upswing in cases of human immunodeficiency virus in this city. The month after that they will report on a further upswing. And the month following, and the one after that. The reason they will report on all of these things, Mr. Lytton, is because of you.”

Now I laugh, rage evaporating. I’ve spent years in the darkness of the city and pretty much every vampire I’ve come across has grossly misunderstood how the hell HIV actually works. “I’ve been in this city for two decades, and you’re saying this shit is suddenly coming down now?” I laugh again, harder at the glares the Spiral Dancer is shooting at me. “It has an incubation of six months, and everyone in the scene I feed on gets tested!”

Reinhardt’s expression doesn’t change. “Only if they feel they have a reason to. You see, you’re right, you haven’t been spreading it with a bite.” He glances toward the mauseoleum. “But dear Mr. Slayer, on the other hand, is not quite as…restrictive in his feeding.”

My laughter trails off. “What? He doesn’t–”

“He is a Gangrel,” Reinhardt says sharply, “A low creature, scuttering about in the gutter, feeding on anything he chooses, any one he chooses, and every one of them…have others. Some to feed upon, some to fuck. And like liquid it spreads, through everything.”

I stare. “Slayer’s been in this city for decades! If he had AIDS this whole time it would have–”

“But he hasn’t carried your blood for decades now, has he?”

Silence falls. Reinhardt’s gaze bores me like an ice pick, stabbing into my brain, sparking an electric current of shock to descend my spine and collect in my stomach, pulling down toward the dirt and the forgotten graves beneath my feet. The blood bond….

Reinhardt smirks, watching my face closely. “Yes, I think you see. Slayer did not have the virus while he was alive, and he cannot die from it if he is already dead, but he has carried your blood, and the plague within it, on his feeding excursions for months now. Long enough now, I think, for the first cases to appear?”

The ground suddenly sways beneath my feet. Reinhardt resumes pacing, circling closer with each step. “In five years, this city will experience a resurgence of your virus as great as any that occurred in the last two decades. And by the time it’s stamped out once again, thirty years from now, you will have killed…five, six thousand kine. None of whom you’ve ever met. And all because you decided that you didn’t need to think.”

He stops in front of me, hot breath washing across my face, waiting for my vision to swim back into focus and meet his gaze. “So please, Mr. Lytton, tell me again how it is that killing these three, who want to kill you, is beyond your moral pale?”

(*silence in the room for a full minute*
Kara: “…Holy shit, Jason.”
Jason: *leans in toward me, drinking in the shock and terror on my face* “Two notions, Colleen. Number one, you’re not the only one who can keep secrets. And number two, I’d like a Humanity roll.”)

The cold terror twisting in my gut suddenly ignites. I lift my arms to grab at his shirt but stop myself just in time. “How was I supposed to know that?”  I snarl instead. “I haven’t been reading fucking research papers on vampiric AIDS!!”

Reinhardt barks a laugh. “How were you supposed to know AIDS could be spread by blood? I haven’t the first conception how!”

I glance at the mausoleum. Something at the back of my mind that’s been screaming for attention leaps to the forefront. “…Is it…anybody who drinks my blood?” I ask cautiously.

Reinhardt shrugs. “Significant quantities.”

The landscape around me suddenly spins. Marcus. I’ve fed him when he’s been injured or weak, over and over, for months now. Enough that at any one point, his blood probably contains at least traces of mine.

And Marcus used his blood to spike the blood pool of the entire Pyramid.

Gravel crunches as Reinhardt resumes pacing. “I don’t care if you poison this whole city, Mr. Lytton. I care that I get what I need, and what I need right now is for you to go to Daly City and bring me those three. Because we have suffered long enough under their antics. And I think it should be clear enough by now, to you, that you have nothing to gain by pretending that you are somehow above this.” His cold gaze swims into view. “Five thousand people–at least–will be dead by your hand in a matter of years. Assuming, that is, that you don’t kill more than that in the next week.”

My jaw works soundlessly a moment. “You…want me to bring them back here?”

“No. Just show up to their encounter, witness what happens, and I’ll let you have the pick of the remains. Call it a down payment on what I hope to be a mutually beneficial relationship.”

Reinhardt steps back and smiles. “You are now thinking that you do not wish to help me, because I am eeeeevil.” He waggles his fingers melodramatically. “Because I work with ‘bad men.’” The smile drops with the speed of guillotine. “Well you are a bad man, Mr. Lytton. And I am here to work with you. I guarantee, no one else in this city will.”

Flames crackle and fog blows through the trees. Distantly I hear Slayer’s whimpers, but my immediate world has shrunk to the man in front of me, and the monster growling behind him. I look away. Without another word, I turn and climb into the taco truck, starting it up in a rumble of diesel. I slowly grind a turn through the gravel and head back down the long graveyard drive..

When I reach the road, I turn south. Toward Costco.

#

THE CHANTRY

Once Anstis recollects himself and rescues a few shreds of his coat from the vat, the three of them return to the Chantry. As they’re exiting the dungeons, Anstis asks Georica about his anchor. Specifically, the anchor from his original ship, the Good Fortune, which he was tied to when his mutinous crew threw him overboard. It’s the only tangible piece of his former life that was recovered from the bottom of the sea and he needs it. For…reasons.

Georgia takes him to a storeroom in the basement and pokes around till they find it, half buried under some suspiciously-bloodstained crates.

(Kara: “How big is it?”
Jason: “It’s the anchor from a forty gun warship, it’s immense! A ton and a half!”
Kara: “It fits in the Chantry?”
Jason: “Yes!”
Kara: “How’d they get it in the front door?”
Jason: “They teleported it!”
Kara: “Oh, that makes sense.”)

Anstis peers at it thoughtfully, hands on his hips.

(Jim: “Will this do for my purposes?”
Jason: “What are they?”
Jim: “Using it as a focal point to summon members of my crew.”
Jason: “Yeah, it’ll work for that.”
Chris: “Do you want to cast a necromantic ritual in the Chantry again?”
Jim: “…Nay.”)

As Anstis figures out how to remove his anchor, Georgia returns to her office and casts the owl-blood scrying ritual to try to locate me.

(Kara: “…Jason, you’re going to love this. Double botch. On nine dice.”
Jim: “Can any of us do anything right?”
Me: “No, but I’m happy cause nobody knows where the fuck I am!”
Chris: “The scrying ritual shows a park bench in Ottawa.”
Me: “Keanu Reeves is feeding the birds.”
Kara: “It’s sunny there. I take sun damage.”)

Rabenholz enters as she’s finishing. She looks up from the bowl. “He’s in the mountains. Presumably the Santa Cruz mountains, but I assume it could be the Sierras as well.”

Rabenholz twirls his cane against the floor thoughtfully. “He kidnapped a Primogen, I’d assume he would have fled as soon as possible.”

“That does make sense.”

(Jason: “Which is why he didn’t do it.”)

The two of them return to the basement, where Anstis is clearing the junk off his anchor. “Mr. Anstis,” Rabenholz says crisply. “To what degree can you narrow down Mr. Lytton’s location? We know he is in the mountains somewhere and we have suspicions as to which ones.”

Anstis hesitates, a crate in his hands. “I can retry the ritual, but I am uncertain about the effects.”

“Well, if you frenzy again, we’ll lock you up until you finish,” Georgia says helpfully.

“Whatever you did to wind up on Alcatraz…maybe don’t do that this time,” Rabenholz says.

Anstis grumbles, drops the crate with a crash, and pulls out a new rock to write my name on it.

This time, the ritual succeeds:

Tom Lytton is where it all began, near the necropolis by the sea. Awaiting the arrival of the Three. That all may perish as one.

“Necropolis…” Georgia repeats thoughtfully. “Well that’s obviously Colma.”

“But where are the mountains….” Rabenholz asks, perplexed.

“San Bruno Mountain,” Anstis adds. “I’ve been there.”

“Well, then let’s go!” Georgia claps eagerly, then pauses thoughtfully. “Though we should probably prepare.”

Excited at the prospect of unleashing new magic, Georgia runs off to secure some barrels of water to bring. Anstis continues unearthing his anchor, but Rabenholz steps away. After a glance to make sure he not overheard, he calls Rhona.

“I require a car at [address of Chantry],” he says as soon as she greets him. “Also, I would appreciate it if you could take the arrow and the crossbow from my suite at the Mark Hopkins and see that they arrive with the car.”

#

COLMA

I’m heading south on El Camino Real when my phone rings.

(*Jason hums “La Cucaracha”*
Me: “Uuuh, my ringtone is “Thunderstruck,” remember?”
Jason: “Well, anyway, your phone rings.”)

I glance at the screen. It’s Anstis. With a steadying breath, I grit my teeth and answer. “What?”


“Mr. Lytton, how are you this evening?”

I coast to a stop at a red light. “…Been better.”

“I spoke with your associate earlier, he said you’d be willing to meet tonight.”

“Did he say Costco?”

“Aye.”

The familiar brick building looms above the trees ahead. “I’m on my way there now,” I mutter.

“Ahh, excellent.” Anstis hesitates. “…You alright?” he asks in clearly-forced concern.

I hang up.

#

THE CHANTRY

As they’re finishing their preparations, Anstis pulls Rabenholz aside into one of the libraries. “It might be to our advantage to bring Noah with us,” the pirate mutters.

Rabenholz eyes him imperiously. “Oh?”

“Lytton has a soft spot for children,” Anstis says with a knowing look.

Just then, Georgia sticks her head in the room. “Oh, we could use him as bait!”

Anstis scowls at her. “Not bait. Insurance.”

(Me: “Oh you son of a bitch.”
Jason: “How does that even work? Insurance!?”
Me: “A human shield.”)

Rabenholz eyes him. “You know this for a fact? You can control the boy?”

Anstis smooths his coat proudly. “Aye!”

Rabenholz twirls his cane a moment, then nods. “Clever thinking, Mr. Anstis.”

(Jason: “Anstis, give me your path of morality.”
Jim: “Sure.”
Jason: *reads, hands it back* “Conviction check, Sin Rank 1. Betraying your captain or crew!”
Jim: *shocked*
Jason: “Someone forgot to read the fine print!”
Jim: “…Yes, yes I did!”)

Antis suddenly blinks and hesitates before nodding in agreement. “Aye….” He smooths at his coat again, nervously this time.

#

COSTCO

I pull up in the Costco parking lot. Even though it’s late, there’s still cars in the lot and people moving about. Deliveries, and late-night restocking employees by the looks of it. No one so much as glances at me as I pull the truck into the emptiest part of the lot on the far side of the warehouse and park.

I sit a moment, listening to the engine tick as it cools, then pull out my phone to call Marcus.

“Hello Tom,” he answers. His young voice sounds serious, but at least he doesn’t seem annoyed.

“Hey Boss,” I mutter. “…If I can still call you that….” I add under my breath, then take a deep one. “Boss can I ask you a personal question?”

He hesitates. “I don’t see why not.”

I look at the scattered people moving around the lot. A janitor leans against the building nearby, smoking a cigarette in the shadows. “When you go feeding, whom do you feed on?”

Marcus hesitates again. “You mean, my….preference?”

My mind balks, trying not to visualize the specifics of what the regular feeding habits of a nine-year old vampire look like. “I mean if there’s regulars, or…I don’t know.”

“Regulars? No. Pyramid ghouls and herds excepted. I have…my own taste. When you’re my size and apparent age you don’t have as many options as you do. I can’t pick people up in clubs. I look for those I can pick up, and I kill them.”

I wince and nod. “Have you fed on any who might still be alive?”

“A number.”

Nausea rises again. “Have…any of them gotten sick recently?”

“Well, I haven’t checked the status of the Pyramid herd. Why?”

I take another breath. “Because in the last few months there’s been a couple times when you’ve been passed out or desperately injured and I’ve tried to help things by…donating blood to you.”

“Yes, I’m aware. And…?”

(Me: “Oh my god, this is like The Awkward Herpes phone call, isn’t it?”
Jason: “It is exactly like that.”
Chris: “Except it’s not herpes. It’s AIDS.”)

I fidget, my mind trying to focus on anything but what I’m about to say. “Um…I have sudden and previously unexpected reason to believe that anyone who feeds on my blood might become a carrier for my condition.”

Marcus is silent a moment. “…What?” His protest sounds perplexed, not infuriated. “We’re dead, Tom, we can’t catch diseases,” he says pedantically.

“We can’t catch diseases, no, but I know for a fact that if I feed on humans, it can spread….” Memories of Rob flash in a bolt of anguish. “…And now it looks like anybody who carries my blood can also spread it.”

Silence on the line. I watch as the janitor grinds out his cigarette and goes back inside. “…You’ve been spreading a plague?” Marcus says slowly, then gains force. “You’ve been feeding with full knowledge that you carried something that would kill the kine?!”

“I’ve been careful feeding on humans, I didn’t know it could pass to another vampire!”

More silence. “Tom, you have a rare gift for making my life more complicated. I will check the state of the Pyramid ghouls, but I doubt very seriously they’re the ones you need to worry about, are they?!”

“No,” I mutter, slouching in my seat.

Marcus groans. “What do you want me to do with this information, Tom?”

I glance over at the entrance to the lot. No new cars yet. “There’s a good possibility I will be dead in the next ten minutes and I wanted you to know.”

“…You called me to tell me you gave me a plague, that’s what you wanted to do with your last ten minutes?”

“If it keeps it from spreading, then yes!”

But deep down I know it won’t be enough. I know full-on modern humans who don’t understand how AIDS works, let alone a 2,000 year old vampire who never took a biology class. He can call it a plague, but plague kills quickly, and the same way every time. This is a disease that grows and mutates for months, spreading quietly the entire time….

Marcus sighs again. I hear the groan of leather and imagine him shifting in his chair in his new Pyramid office. An office I essentially helped him acquire. “What’s happening, Tom?” he sighs.

“Well, apparently Bell has called Blood Hunt, so I’m at the Daly City Costco waiting for the other assholes to show up and try to kill me.”

There’s a long moment of silence. “…Will you kill them?” Marcus asks finally. He doesn’t sound surprised, more…resigned.

I pick at the seat. “I don’t know, but I’ve got a few rockets left.” I don’t mention that besides Glitch, they’re all I have left.

“That might do, it might not. She’s a Tremere. The pirate is a Necromancer. And who knows what secrets the Ventrue has.”  Marcus is silent for a very long moment, as if waiting for me to snap a comeback against them. I don’t. “I can’t interfere here, Tom,” he says finally. “You know that. It would mean the Red List. It would mean Bell’s death and my own. Not even for a client can I do that.”

I lean on the steering wheel, pressing my forehead against the cold metal. “…Yeah.”

“I will see what I can do about this…toxin. But…I’m sorry it came to this.”

I nod. “I am too.”

“I’m sure you are.” He hesitates, and I hear him shifting again. “You know, you do have the option of just leaving. Go anywhere. Marin, Leidesdorff’s place. Orlando’s if you have to.”

I shake my head. “I don’t think I can. All this shit seems to want to follow me.” And even if I save myself, I think, that wouldn’t save the city.

“Well.” Marcus is quiet another long moment. Shouts and beeps echo outside as workers help maneuver a delivery truck through the back of the lot. I ignore it, waiting for whatever he’ll say.

Finally he takes a breath. “For whatever it’s worth, Tom believe it or not, I’ve had worse clients.”

I release a sigh I hadn’t realized I was holding and smile in the darkness. “Thanks Boss.”

He takes another long breath. “I hate to have to say this, particularly given everything that’s happened, but…do what you think is the right thing to do. If nothing else it’ll be entertaining.”

“I’m sure I’ll try.” I laugh dryly. “I mean, like they say, it gets better.”

Marcus doesn’t echo my forced cheer. “Not always. But you know that too.”

I don’t respond. Marcus ends the call.
END OF NIGHT

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