Kara: “Yep, I’m going to need to eat something soon.”
Jason: *stage-whisper* “Anstis is right there…. You know, PvP doesn’t have to be just a two-pronged affair.”
Jim: *comes back from the bathroom* “Wait, what’s going on?”
Both before and during the ride down to the Daly City Costco, Georgia, Anstis, and Rabenholz prep themselves for the expected battle. They all know my capabilities, probably better than anyone else in the city, and even though there’s three of them they don’t hold back.
(Seriously, they spent like twenty real-time minutes prepping and casting shit)
Rabenholz is in a towncar by himself, while Georgia and Anstis–and Noah, still in his own pirate hat–ride in a van following behind. Georgia spends most of the trip pouring over some Thaumaturgy books she grabbed from her office, ones she’s glanced at but never had a chance to really experiment with yet.
Anstis watches Noah carefully as the small child stares out the window. He leans down close. “Ye be staying close to me, savvy?”
Noah nods silently and turns back to the window.
I’m lying on the roof of the warehouse, flat on my back, staring up into the nighttime fog rolling overhead. Thoughts roll through me with the same chilling urgency.
It’s all my fault. Every death I’ve dealt with, in some way or another, the last few months has been because of me. Sutro’s death. Sophia’s death. Aitor’s death. Perpenna killing the werewolves. The soldiers on the bridge. Monterey. And now…thousands more.
I press my hands into my eyes, trying to bury my mind in darkness like I’ve buried my body. I could run, just like I have before, but that would just leave more deaths in my wake. Also like before. I don’t know Reinhardt’s plan, but maybe if I face this shit head-on, I can beat my way through to the other side.
I’ll figure something out, I think, then realize I’ve murmured it outloud. “I’ll figure something out,” I repeat, louder.
The nighttime wind echoes coldly in response.
My mind races back through the events of the last months, trying to remember allies I’ve forgotten, avenues which might be left. Liedesdorff’s face keeps coming to the forefront, along with memories of the last time I saw him in person, at the Monomancy. A businessman at the head of an army, watching cooly as his men secured his bloody takeover of the South Bay. He might grant me enough amnesty to fall back and reevaluate, but for all my time hanging around with Marcus, I still don’t really know how the Sabbat works. Whispers and rumors I’ve heard over the years twist cloyingly through my mind and I shudder. I could be trading one betrayal and terrifying fate for another.
Suddenly my mind spasms in grief, as thoughts of the Sabbat bring up something else I keep running from: Isabella. She is as much a death as the rest on my list. I don’t know what happened to drive her into Cantor’s hands, to turn her into the blood-soaked monster I saw in the photo. Maybe it was voluntary, the only escape she thought she had from the hell of our childhood.
But maybe it was worse…. I take a breath to calm myself, but it turns into a sob. “I’m sorry, Izzie,” I gasp into the night. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there….”
My memory of Isabella’s teenage face suddenly morphs into Sophia’s. I grope for my phone, still hoping for a message from her. Nothing. Whatever’s happened to her, I can only hope my desperation didn’t doom her to a fate worse than death. Everything about our friendship has just made things worse. If I hadn’t been around, she wouldn’t have gotten shot-up with silver, she wouldn’t have been abducted to the Farallones. If I hadn’t interfered in her life, she and her pack could have just done whatever the hell they needed to do.
If you hadn’t interfered, a small voice in my mind suddenly whispers, she would have died in Alejandro’s cage in the mountains.
“Great, so I just postponed her death,” I mutter, throwing my arm over my eyes. My mind drifts back to those early nights at the start of all this: the first time I met Paul, the Elysium when the Prince first ordered us to find Everton.
I laugh darkly. Hell, this Costco was the start of everything, that night I got the call from the Primogen to come meet him down here. Too bad I can’t reach back in time to me in the parking lot that night and tell past-me to turn his bike around and head right back to his rent-controlled loft in SOMA–
I open my eyes. Something is nagging me, something about that night…. My crane my neck to peer into the lot below. Still just night-shift employees wandering around. No sign of the assholes yet. My fingers drum on my phone. It’s probably nothing, but…it’s possible it’s a clue I’ve missed in all of this….
“Fuck it,” I mutter, and pull up my phone to make what could possibly be my last phone call. Perhaps it’s fitting that it’s the man partly responsible for getting me into all this.
“Mr. Lytton,” the Toreador’s smooth British voice answers. “I must confess I hadn’t expected to hear from you.”
“Yeah, well, very few will be expecting to hear from me in just a few minutes here.”
“Indeed. You have made yourself quite a nuisance.”
“Yes, well, you should know something about that.”
“I know a great deal about that, Mr. Lytton,” Everton says sharply, “Which is why I know the difference between someone who needs to die and someone who is on a joy ride. What is it you want?”
I stare at the sky a moment. “Something’s been on my mind, as I face my possibly imminent death. Don’t know if it means anything, but figured it would be worth a shot, and you’re the best option I have to answer it.”
“Well, I’m all ears.”
I sit up. “Why were all the bolts on my bike unscrewed the night you blew up the cement factory?”
Everton hesitates. “…Bolts?”
His confusion gives me the first real burst of triumph I’ve felt all night. “I was there, three blocks away when it blew. Afterwards, for some reason, every bolt on my bike unscrewed that night. Twice. I don’t know if you had something to do with that but I gotta know before I die.”
Everton is silent a long moment. “Mr. Lytton, I’d like you to be very, very clear with me in the next few moments. You’re telling me your motorcycle suffered an unexpected malfunction the night I destroyed John Edmonton’s cement factory?”
“Yeah. I mean, it didn’t break or anything, I only noticed ‘cause it was riding weird–”
“What were the consequences of it?”
I comb my mind for the events of that night. The primogen told me to meet some guys about a drug deal, the goods were bad and they told me to complain to Alejandro by meeting him down at Costco, I passed Bayshore on the way and saw the explosion, then I continued on.… “Uh, once I noticed, I pulled over on the side of 280 and tightened them.”
“Where were you going?”
“I was coming here, actually. The Daly City Costco.”
“For some nocturnal shopping?”
“No, I was meeting Alejandro for the first time. That’s when he turned into a Costco Monster and killed…what’s his shit, the old Brujah primogen?…oh, Daunte.” I glance down into the lot. My taco truck is parked roughly in the same place Alejandro’s car was when the fleshwrought monstrosity crawled from behind it.
“And in consequence to your vehicular malfunction, you were not there when the murder occurred, is that correct?” Everton asks carefully.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Everton is silent a long moment. “Mr. Lytton, I haven’t the first conception of why your vehicle malfunctioned, but I suspect I know who does.”
My nonexistent heartbeat suddenly races. “Who?”
“Well that’s rather the tricky part. If I were to tell you, I’d have very little confidence that person would be alive within the next twenty-four hours.”
“I probably won’t be alive in the next twenty-four minutes! Look, I was with the bike the whole time, I know someone didn’t come prank it or something–”
“No, no one did, did they. It was an unfortunate coincidence. Or a fortunate one, depending on who you ask. Someone wished you to be late that night, and arranged that it be done. Someone who has been doing a great deal of arranging in the past bit. I wonder who that might be.”
I watch the entrance to the lot, hoping Everton gets to the point before they show up.
“As I see it,” he continues, “There are three possibilities for who may have sabotaged your motorcycle. One is Alejandro himself. But from what research I did on him while he was still alive, he does not strike me as someone who had the necessaries. Second, would be someone unnamed, someone who has an interest in arranging that certain events transpire in this city in a certain pattern, and who has demonstrated quite an ability to arrange such things and has taken quite an interest in you. And I’m afraid the third person fits the above category as well, someone you’re intimately familiar with. Gnaius Perpenna Vento.”
I blink. Really? I’m about to die and this bullshit he’s telling me? “Perpenna?! I hadn’t even met Marcus yet! Why the hell would Perpenna have cared who the hell I was?!”
“Maybe it has something to do with the fact, Mr. Lytton, that you’ve been destroying everything you lay your eyes upon.”
It’s nothing more than what I’ve been telling myself, but hearing it from his pompous accent makes my rage crawl higher. “This was way before any of that! I was working at a bar!”
“Mr. Lytton, had you had any congress with elder vampires prior to this series of events?”
I bark a laugh. “As little as possible!”
“So then you don’t know the timescales on which they choose to operate. I could quite easily envision Gnaius Perpenna Vento arranging for you to not meet your end that night, under the assumption that the general chaos you would cause in the ensuing eight months would be to his advantage. Do you deny this possibility, sir?”
“That doesn’t make any goddamn sense–”
“Why does it not make sense? Precisely how many have you killed?”
I fight down a snarl. “Look, how the hell would he have known that Slayer would have sent me up to Marin? Or that I would even decide to go!?”
“Maybe he asked him to. You are speaking of a two-thousand year-old elder vampire returned from the dead with secrets no one is privy to. Even his own childer, another two-thousand year-old elder vampire, doesn’t know the extent of his capabilities. Mages and Mokole have been unsuccessful in combating his influence. And you wish to tell me that there is no way he could have possibly predicted that Thomas Lytton would kill people!?” Everton waits for me to make a comeback. I don’t. “I tend to think he would have made that calculation,” he finally says, reasonable. “It’s a leap of faith others seem to have made in recent nights.”
Foggy wind whips my face. “So, what, now I’m to die cause not loose-cannon enough to be useful to him?”
“Mr. Lytton, listen very closely,” Everton’s voice murmurs. “You are living in a nexus point of the intentions of a great many kindred, and others. What is happening now to you is the result of actions you have taken. I have been the recipient of Blood Hunts in the past; they are not pleasant. I, however, have had the advantage of knowing why it was that I was Blood Hunted, and thus able to make the calculation that it was worth being done. You, on the other hand, are being Blood Hunted because you indiscriminately slaughtered those you had not intended to kill. You had no intention of fighting them or killing them, no reasoning behind why you did it, you simply did it. And they died.”
“I didn’t kill Karl Sutro,” I mutter, but the words taste hollow in my mouth.
“You were in his proximity when he died, your actions lead directly to his death. And, moreover, I seriously doubt I am the first person to try and explain this to you. Or shall we speak of Monterey?”
I close my eyes. “Monterey was a mistake.”
“And San Rafael?”
“That…was a miscalculation.”
“And how many bites do you expect you get at the apple, before someone comes to ask you to pay? Perhaps Perpenna will intervene to stop this Blood Hunt, but if he does, wouldn’t that indicate something as to his intentions, as well as conceptions as to what you are actually good at?” He lets that thought hang a moment before continuing. “And if he does not…well, then you must make a decision. Am I to assume that your former compatriots are to be the ones to execute the Blood Hunt?”
I glance at the lot entrance again. “Oh, I’m pretty damn sure that’s going to happen.”
“It typically occurs that way. Will you slay them too?”
I stare in silence a long moment. “…I don’t want to,” I mutter.
Everton is silent as well, then sighs. “If you survive the ensuing night, and if I have some confidence that the results of my telling you will not result in an additional bodycount, then perhaps one day I will put you in touch with the other man I believe may be responsible. Assuming it was not Perpenna. Or Alejandro. But that’s a great many assumptions. And one does not live on assumptions.”
“No,” I mutter distractedly. Two cars have pulled up at the red light outside the parking lot, turn signals on. “One lives on a prayer.”
“If you believe it will help.” He sighs again. “It is time to determine who you really are, Mr Lytton. I wish you well in the discovery.” With that, Everton hangs up.
The light turns green and the vehicles pull into the lot below. The lead one is a black towncar, followed by an unmarked white van. They maneuver between the employees’ cars still in the lot, heading toward the front of the warehouse.
I reach to the side. Two Panzerfaust roll on the gritty tarpaper next to me, the only things besides Glitch I was able to sling onto me when I climbed up to the roof. I grab one.
Night shift workers mill about the lot near the approaching cars, many heading to cars of their own. My eye darts between them as I raise the rocket. For a moment, I try to view them as a normal vampire would: inconveniences, resources, a source of blood or distractions.
Probably a good thing I was never a normal vampire.
I aim the Panzerfaust at my own taco truck, check it’s clear of bystanders, and fire.
An explosion rocks the ground, and a fireball erupts on the far side of the warehouse. The humans in the lot duck, then start yelling, running for their cars, or simply away. Through this chaos, Rabenholz’s car rushes up under the front awning, narrowly dodging the people emptying out of the warehouse.
The van stops outside the awning. Georgia instructs the driver to haul out the barrel of water she has stashed in the back, casts a ritual to make herself invisible, then climbs out, carrying a heavy thaumaturgy book. Behind her, Anstis slides open the side door and steps out, Noah perched on his shoulders. Two dead bodies are stashed in body bags behind him, ready to become zombie shock-troops. You know, just in case.
Amidst the chaos, Rabenholz gets sedately out of his car, carrying nothing but his cane and a crossbow.
I watch Anstis get out of the van, carrying a child. For a moment I think it’s Marcus, then realize it’s too small. This development unsettles me, but I don’t have time to dwell. Right now I can’t see Rabenholz, but I assume he was in the car that drove out of view under the awning.
Any humans left in the lot are quickly leaving. Below me, someone yells to evacuate the warehouse and I see people making their way toward the safety of the apartment buildings on the far side of the lot.
I nod to myself and pull away from edge, cloaking myself in shadow. Now all I need is to hold out until whatever the hell Reinhardt’s plan is comes down.
Anstis stares around. Though the bystanders are clearing out, there are many cars and trucks scattered around that I could be hiding in, not to mention inside the building itself. Luckily, he has a plan to triangulate his target.
He pulls out his phone and calls me.
Moments later, the distant chords of “Thunderstruck” echo down from the roof.
(Jason: “All the rocks, all the necromancy, all the bullshit, and all you had to do was call his phone!?”
Kara: “It’s a very Georgia solution.”)
Rock music suddenly blares from my pocket. I scramble for my phone, smashing it against the roof to shut it up, but it’s too late. I peek over the edge and see Anstis peering up, scanning the roofline. Halogen lights along the rim help blind him, but it’s not going to take him long to figure out a way up. The pirate grins, raises a hand, and waves.
I pull back just as Rabenholz levitates himself up onto the far side of the roof, cane in one hand and a crossbow in the other. He settles himself, cloak billowing, and scans the roof imperiously.
Shit shit shit– With nothing else to hide me, I grope for Glitch and sink deeper into shadow.
Anstis makes sure Noah is settled on his back and starts climbing the walls, Protean claws sinking into the cinderblock like butter. Georgia, though, pauses next to the van and her barrel of water, flipping through her heavy thaumaturgy tome.
Something catches her eye, not in the book but across the lot. Movement, slinking out of the shadows of the oleanders at the edge of the property. She holds a finger to mark her place and looks up.
It’s a wolf. A three-legged wolf. Limping toward the building.
She ignores it, focusing back on her magic. Finally, having memorized her target to her satisfaction, she puts the book away, closes her eyes, and casts a spell she has never used before.
(Kara: “…Seven successes.”
Jason: “…Seven? What’s the normal number?”
Kara: “You only need one success, and it lasts for an hour. The additional successes can be additional hours, or additional…steps.”
Jason: “Okay, which one are you going for?”
Kara: “Umm…what are the benefits to the steps?”
Jason: “A lot. What’s your generation?”
Jason: “Yeah…well, it’s up to you.”
Kara: “Yeah…alright, then I use Path of Blood 3 to drop my generation to two.”)
Georgia stumbles. Power surges through her, like she just tapped the main circuit line of the Chantry wards and inhaled it. Through force of will she collects herself, though every cell in her body continues to throb with potency…and hunger.
Instantly, strength like she’s never dreamed of ripples through her. Now more prepared than anybody thought possible, she grabs the barrel and leaps toward the roof.
Rabenholz peers across the roof. A shape crouches on the far side, strangely obfuscated, but clearly me. He lets his gaze slide past. He starts pacing slowly across the tarpaper, pretending he can’t see me, but moving obliquely closer.
Moments later Anstis climbs up, Noah on his shoulders. Anstis peers into the darkness but sees nothing. Rabenholz ignores him, so the pirate starts sauntering boldly across the roof in a different direction. One that also inadvertently brings him closer to me.
I crouch low, staring at this weird sort-of Mexican standoff that seems to be evolving, when a strange flapping sound draws my attention up. A small shape drops out of the darkness and lands on the roof, flowing into human form.
It’s Slayer. He’s missing an arm, his pale skin stained with bruises and leaked vitae, but it’s definitely him. And he looks piiiiissed.
Anstis stops, grins, and spreads his arms in greeting. “Slayer! Good too see you!
Slayer glares back at him, chest heaving unnecessarily. I stare at him, though he doesn’t appear to see me. I obviously can’t blow my cover by talking, but I really want to know what the fuck is going on.
If things weren’t strange enough, suddenly a barrel flies onto the roof, landing behind Anstis, clanging with an echoing sound like it’s full of liquid. Neither Slayer nor Anstis even glance at it.
(Kara: “Yep, I’m going to need to eat something soon.”
Jason: *stage-whisper* “Anstis is right there…. You know, PvP doesn’t have to be just a two-pronged affair.”
Jim: *comes back from the bathroom* “Wait, what’s going on?”
My gaze slides back to Rabenholz. He’s a manicured Ventrue asshole but something tells me he’s the real threat here, and he’s slowly moving closer. I need to get away from all of them before Reinhardt’s shit goes down, but I also need to avoid that crossbow. Maybe I can rush past Rabenholz, slashing him with Glitch before he realizes what’s going on. Even if the strike doesn’t take him down, the fire might be enough to distract him as I jump off the roof. El Camino Real Boulevard is right there, I can rush across it, maybe force my way into a car….
“The FUCK you want, man!?” Slayer yells at Anstis.
The pirate shrugs, shifting Noah on his shoulders. “I’m here to speak with Mr. Lytton, as we—”
“BULL!!! SHIT!!!!!” Slayer raises his one hand to point accusingly. “You’re here to fuck him up!”
Anstis spreads his hands, showing their emptiness. “I’m just here to speak with him.”
I shift my weight, ready to leap into action…
Slayer’s hand shakes. “I don’t believe your ass!”
Anstis grins, then steps forward to meet Slayer’s gaze in a Dominate.
Then a lot of things happen at once.
At that moment, Rabenholz finally moves into a clear line of sight to me, spins to face me, levels the bow and fires. The same instant, I whip out Glitch and spring from my crouch to rush him, preparing to dodge the bolt, slash as best I can, then leap to safety.
(Jason: “Well, to do all that, are you using Celerity this round?”
Me: “I don’t have a lot of blood…. Can I split my dice pool to dodge?”
Me: “Okay, how?
Jason: “What would your normal dodge be?”
Me: “Eight…plus three, is eleven, minus two is…nine dice.”
Jason: “And what’s the other action you’ll be taking?”
Me: “I’m going to dodge the bolt and then try to rush him.”
Jason: “Okay, nine dice, split them in two however you want. But you’re at plus one difficulty.”
Me: “Okay, I’ll roll five to dodge and four to attack—”
*I roll, then freeze. After a moment, I sit back from the table in silence. Everyone else leans in to look.*
Jason: “That…is a Triple. Botch.”)
The bolt slams into me like an iron fist, followed by the tarpaper roof as I fall and skid to a stop. A shard of fire is wedged through me, missing my heart by hair breadths, but mainlining waves of pain up and down my spine. Somehow I’m not unconscious yet, but I almost wish I was.
Anstis stares into Slayer’s eyes. “I am your personal trusted friend, and we will discuss this with Tom Lytton–”
Anstis cuts off in surprise as, across the roof, I suddenly appear from darkness then fall over.
Slayer tears his gaze away to stare at me, writhing weakly on the ground, then turns back to Anstis. His face hardens. “Nice try, pendejo. Not gonna work. You shouldn’ta done that.”
Just then, the lid of the barrel flips off. Water pours out, rising into the air to form ropey chains. They dart forward, wrapping around Slayer like tentacles. He struggles. “What the fuck!?”
Unseen by anyone, Slayer’s struggles trigger something in Georgia’s deep bestial brain. Her gaze turns predatory.
(Jason: “Tom, soak check. Stamina plus fortitude.”
Me: “So six dice.”
Me: *I roll. Silence.* “…No successes.”
Jason: “What’s your health level at?”
Me: “Three agg, two lethal.”
Jason: “Then…you are instantly incapacitated.”)
Darkness drags at my vision but I fend it off, pulling just enough energy through force of blood and will to roll myself onto my back. Rabenholz stalks toward me, light from the parking lot catching a glint on his sword as he pulls it from his cane. Darkness swirls again but I fight it back, mind struggling through the pain for a plan, anything–
Scraping the last of my reserves, I open my mind and summon it to me.
Nocturne falls, instantly slicing off sound and the weak light reflecting off the fog-streaked sky. Rabenholz hesitates, cold face flickering briefly in surprise. In the silence, I start dragging myself toward the edge of the roof, inch by agonizing inch, anything to get away.
Rabenholz strides into the dark without hesitation, surprisingly calm for someone who cannot see.
(Jason: “Chris, give me a Perception + Alertness.”
Chris: “Um…seven successes.”
Jason: “Oh…well…where did he go? Well unless he’s that Tom Lytton shaped object right in front of you….”
Chris: “That seems improbable, I probably lost him.”)
Rabenholz scans the fog a moment, then strides directly toward me.
I grope weakly for Glitch, but my hand lands on something else first: the last Panzerfaust. With a shaking hand, I drag it from underneath me, angle the head at him, and fire.
(Jason: “Dex + Firearms, please.”
Me: “And a willpower.”
Jason: “Good, go for it.”
Me: “Um…shit. Just one success.”
Chris: “I roll to dodge.”
Jason: “Okay, what do you get?”
Chris: “…Eight successes.”)
The rocket roars from my hand. I blink, and instantly Rabenholz is three feet to the side, cleanly sidestepping the line of fire. The rocket arcs low, skitters across the roof, then explodes. Fire and light melts the Nocturne, rolling smoke across us in its place. Rabenholz doesn’t hesitate, continuing toward me.
There’s a groan, a series of metallic cracks, then suddenly the corner of the roof opens up, dropping Rabenholz and me into the warehouse below.
Anstis’s head snaps around at the explosion. He lifts Noah down off his shoulders and wanders over to see. He finds the hole through the last drifting wisps of Nocturne. Dust roils below. He peers into it a few moments, then drops himself inside.
The moment he’s out of sight, Georgia lunges at Slayer, latching onto his neck, grabbing him through the slithering bands of water. Slayer yells and struggles, flailing at his assailant, then suddenly dissolves into mist.
(Jim: “Damn, he’s better at Protean than I am!”
Jason: “There was a time when Slayer was supposed to be a boss you guys would face. But that was a long time ago, before he got humiliated for two years.”)
Georgia dances back, realizes what happened, then instantly morphs the water chains into a solid cube, trapping the mist inside. With a gesture, the water flies through the air and flows back into the barrel. She shoves the lid back on top.
Noah standing there with wide eyes, staring uncannily in her direction, even though she’s still invisible. “What was that?” Noah asks.
She drops the ritual, popping back into reality. “That was elemental magic,” she answers, glancing around. No one has returned from the hole in the roof. “We should get you back in the van.”
Using her magically-enhanced generational strength, she hoists the barrel in one arm and the Malkavian child in the other, then leaps off the roof and back into the parking lot.
Slowly, my mind swims back to my senses, senses that immediately spasm with pain. I’m sprawled on the concrete floor of the warehouse, rubble and toppled shelves piled around. Rabenholz standing over me, Anstis leering behind him. As I stare up blearily, Rabenholz lifts his sword, angling it right at me.
No, not his sword. It’s Glitch.
“Mr. Lytton if you spare me any further trouble I will attempt to spare you final death, if it’s within my power,” Rabenholz rumbles.
Rabenholz’s grip is unwavering, but the tip of the sword undulates in my vision. Rational thought collapses and the bestial side of me screams to get away, however possible. Slowly, I scrape myself back along the rubble-strewn floor.
Anstis growls and brushes past Rabenholz, leaning down to grab my head and force my gaze into his. “You will come quietly,” he orders.
(Me: *glares* “Just like fucking Isaac. Outside the fucking Chantry. The very first fucking night of this fucking game.”)
The last of my will drains from me and I slump to the floor.
Georgia lands next to the van and sets the boy down, then the barrel next to him. Thumps echo from inside. She opens it to reveal Slayer under the water, back in human form. He grabs the lip with his remaining arm and pulls himself above the water, sputtering.
“He’s mad,” Noah mutters.
Georgia nods once, gaze fixed on Slayer. “Yes, yes he is.”
She moves to lunge at him. Slayer jerks back, thrashing water. “Wait wait wait! You don’t have to do this!”
She sighs and puts her hands on her hips. “What?”
“I know some shit, man. Shit that could help you!”
Slayer glances around. “You know…fucking magic shit!”
“Can you be more specific?”
“I don’t know fucking magic, man!” He wipes water from his face. “I know…I know where Max’s shit is. His secret stash, the one outside the Chantry!”
Georgia blinks. “I…see…. Stash of what?”
“Stash of fucking magic shit, man, what the fuck you think he stashed in there? Fucking baseball cards!?”
She eyes him patronizingly and takes a step closer. “You’d be surprised at the things Tremere stash.”
“Look, it was where he put the shit he didn’t want the other Tremere to see. I know where it is.” Georgia takes another step closer. Slayer jerks away, pressing back against the far side of the barrel, eyes wide. He raises his hand, shaking. “I can take you there! Just don’t do this shit, man!”
(Kara: “Yeah, Georgia eats him. She can get that knowledge from eating him.”
*Silence in the room. Jason nods, then slowly leans forward*
Jason: “You’ve eaten people before. It was fucking great. But you just ate someone as a second generation vampire. In this state, this isn’t diablerie. It’s rapture. This makes eating Himmler feel like scratching an itch. It’s unreal, you’ve never felt anything like it. You feel ecstatic as you devour him.
“But then two things happen. One, you feel your consciousness recede. It’s not like a frenzy, it’s more like a trance. But before you lose track of what’s going on, you start to get the memory dump from Slayer, and you realize there might be a problem.
“See, all ya’ll have never really taken Slayer seriously, and who could blame you. But you now know that Slayer’s not from the U.S. He’s from Central America, as it turns out. Slayer knows some people whom he called before he came here, saying he was in trouble and might need their help. A gang of people if you will. The name ‘Mara Salvatrucha’ keeps coming up.”
Kara: “…Can you spell that?”
Jason: “I can spell the acronym they’re better known by: MS-13. They are one of the most violent latino gangs in the world. They make the Cali Cartel look like Mr. Rogers. And before he came here, Slayer asked thirty of their baddest bangers in the Bay Area to load up on guns and come to Costco.”)
Sometime later, Georgia comes back to her senses sprawled on the ground next to the barrel, vitae smeared across her face. The last trailing wisps of ecstasy drain from her and she gets woozily to her feet. Nothing’s left of Slayer but a thin sheen of ash on the top of the water barrel.
Something, however, is off. She looks around. Noah is gone too.
Rabenholz and Anstis exit the now-abandoned Costco, Anstis carrying an immobilized Brujah slung over his shoulder. Anstis calls for Noah as they approach the van, but the boy doesn’t respond.
Flames crackle from the burning taco truck, and sirens start collecting in the distance, but above that a strange rhythmic sound echoes across the parking lot. Hoofbeats. Anstis and Rabenholz turn to see a man approaching on a horse, walking at an even pace. Anstis shifts the weight on his shoulder and bows. “Mr. Holliday!”
Doc pull his horse up next to them and nods back. “Captain. I see you have acquired something.”
Anstis grins. “A miscreant. Wanted by the law.”
Doc’s expression is hidden by the shadows of his hat. “I’ve never thought you for a lawman, Captain. I myself was a lawman once. It did not take.”
Rabenholz steps forward, sweeping his cloak back. “I think the position suits Mr. Anstis well. I do not believe we’ve been introduced.” He bows. “I am Lord Augustus von Rabenholz.”
Doc eyes him. “I have heard that name. It has been spoken by a number of men in these nights. I do not know all their names, but whispers come back.” Doc tips his hat. “My name is John Henry Holliday. There are those who call me Doc.”
Georgia suddenly appears in their group, cheery as always but looking slightly flustered. “Doc! You haven’t seen a little kid running around have you?”
Doc nods to her, strangely curtly. “Ms. Johnson. I’m afraid I did not, should I have been looking for your erstwhile patron?”
“Ah, no actually, there’s another little kid.” She turns to Rabenholz. “Anyway, we should–”
“You have an interesting color to you, Ms. Johnson,” Doc interrupts, eying her closely. “I wonder, have you had an interesting evening?”
She turns back to Doc and curtsies politely. “A very interesting evening, that is about to get more interesting if we stay in this parking lot.” Doc’s gaze doesn’t soften. Rabenholz, noticing this, peers at her too. His eyes narrow.
Anstis, though, is oblivious to this. “Do you have Mr. Slayer?” he asks her.
“I do,” she says without hesitation.
Anstis shifts the weight on his shoulder and glances around. “I would like to speak with him.”
Georgia clasps her hands. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible, and like I said, we should be getting out of this parking lot–”
“You refer to the great number of armed men who are coming this way,” Doc says. “A posse, if I might be so kind. They are approaching at some speed but I felt it was necessary to view what was being done here. These are momentous occasions. And momentous nights.” He glances at the body on Anstis’s shoulder then turns back to Georgia. “Are you sure all is well, Ms. Johnson?”
“Well, I suppose that depends on your definition of ‘well’.”
“It does indeed.” He tilts his hat back and leans across the saddle horn. “You look positively as if someone just tried to slay you.”
Georgia stares back silently. Doc turns away and nods at Anstis. “May I ask what your intentions are for the lawbreaker? I am rather surprised to find him amongst the unliving.”
“He is to serve as a warning for the other would-be malefactors,” Rabenholz answers.
Doc lifts an eyebrow and shifts in his saddle. “A man may serve as a warning in many ways.”
Rabenholz meets his stare unflinchingly. “Ask plainly, what do you want to know?”
“He wants to know why you haven’t eaten him,” Georgia offers helpfully.
“I would like to know whether you have intentions on devouring him yourself, or presenting him for such purposes to another,” Doc says coolly.
“Did you want me to eat him?” Georgia asks, a little too eagerly.
Everyone glances at her. “No, Ms Johnson, I do not,” Rabenholz says. “Mr. Lytton will serve our purposes better remaining amongst the unliving.”
Anstis, meanwhile, goes to put the body down in the van, then pulls out a rock to search for Noah.
(Jim: “Six successes.”
Jason: *tilts his head, stares evenly* “Who?”
Jim: “For Noah.”
Jason: “…Who’s Noah?”
Jim: *understanding dawns* “…Noah…has not told me his real name. Guess it’s the family history there. I probably had that coming.”
Jason: “Course…there’s another possibility….”)
Anstis turns slowly, eyeing Georgia carefully.
Rabenholz bows formally to Doc. “Mr. Holliday, I am very glad to have made your acquaintance, but we must be returning to the city. Mr. Anstis, where has your little ward scampered off to?”
Anstis shoves the rock away in his pocket, and meets Doc’s gaze. The old cowboy is smiling thinly. “You should take care with those small ones,” Doc drawls. “They do get everywhere. And I mean everywhere. You never know when you’ll find them underfoot.”
“He knows where to go if we do not meet,” Anstis grumbles.
“Does he. I am glad your confidence is so boundless.” Doc leans back. “Gentleman, lady.” He tilts his hat at each of them in turn, then turns his horse to walk off into the night.
With that, the three of them load up in the cars and head back to the city.
(Kara: “Hey guys! The party is united again!”
Rabenholz instructs the drivers to deliver them to the Chantry. As soon as they enter the foyer, Bob runs up to fuss over Georgia and apologize for things.
Anstis, once again, is carrying the body. “Shall I call Bell and tell him we’ve done the deed?”
“Let’s wait a few hours,” Rabenholz says. “I would like Mr. Lytton ready when we bring him to the Justicar.” Rabenholz turns to the ghoul and raps his cane smartly on the flagstones. “Bob. I will require a metal worker, a taxidermist, and an embalmer this evening.”
Bob squeaks in terror and runs off down the hall, probably in search of a yellow-pages. Georgia glares at Rabenholz and folds her arms. “Why?” Rabenholz ignores the question, leading Anstis and his shouldered-load past her down into the basement.
Just then, there’s a knock at the front door. Georgia peers through the peephole, but sees nothing. The knock comes again. She activates the remote-view spells of the wards. It’s Marcus, standing openly on the front steps, nonchalantly playing with his sword. Taking a moment to compose herself, Georgia opens the door and smiles down at him. “Marcus! Can I help you with something?”
“Oh, that’s a very interesting question.” Marcus lifts the sword, watching the sheen flicker as it catches the streetlight. “Hear you guys had an interesting night?”
She takes a breath. “Yes.”
“We had an encounter with Tom and Slayer at Costco.”
“Yes, I heard.” His gaze snaps to hers. “I also heard they didn’t make it out of there in as great a shape as they would have liked.”
She hesitates, then nods. “That is correct.”
“So are they dead?”
“Well, Slayer is.”
Marcus eyes her a moment. “He is, isn’t he. And how did he taste, Ms. Johnson?”
She tilts her head thoughtfully. “Like sparkleberries and rainbows,” she says.
Marcus eyes her another long moment, then braces his sword against the ground in front of him. “Do you know what Slayer’s full name was?”
Georgia searches her new memories a moment. “Yes.” She doesn’t offer it.
Still watching her intently, Marcus pulls a finely-rolled parchment scroll from his pocket. “I have a writ here that might interest you. A writ for a Blood Hunt, for Tom Lytton. I suppose you should take it.” He hands it to her. “Would you open and read it?”
Georgia does so. The language is a bit more formal, but it’s essentially the same provisions and stipulations Bell laid out, signed at the bottom with a formal seal of the Camarilla ankh.
Marcus nods as she finishes. “Yes. And what’s the name on that scroll?”
She looks again. “Tom Lytton.”
“Is that the name of the man you diablerized?”
“No, but Slayer was working very closely with Tom at the time.”
Marcus smiles disarmingly, but the grin has fangs. He lifts a hand to his heart and bows placatingly. “Oh, you don’t have to defend eating Slayer to me. I’m a Sabbat, you see. We practice diablerie. We practice it a bit more than we probably ought.”
Georgia frowns and hands the scroll back. “Then what was your point?”
Marcus ignores her outstretched hand, his grin evaporating. “Not everybody in this city is Sabbat. So if you just devoured someone you weren’t licensed to devour, well…that would be unfortunate, wouldn’t it.” Light flickers off the sword as it twists slowly back and forth. “Wonder what Bell will say.”
Georgia shrugs, unperturbed. “I’m not really entirely sure, but I think he’s going to be pleased.”
“He might. On the other hand, he is Brujah. You can never quite tell what those people are going to do.”
“I see.” She glances at the sword, then hesitates. The glinting light is actually coming from the undulation of shadows crawling along its length. “And…are you disappointed in my behavior this evening?”
Marcus smiles again. Shadows instantly engulf the blade in a solid shard of obsidian. “What cause would I ever have to be disappointed in the behavior of the Tremere?”
“Well, I believe we’ve had an excellent working relationship these past few months,” Georgia says, drawing herself up proudly.
“I would agree, and that’s why I’m here. See, it would sadden me tremendously for Mr. Bell to take the wrong impression in what you just did and think you’d gone diablerie-mad.”
“Ah. Well, that’s kind of you.”
Marcus waves a hand dismissively. “It’s not so much kindness as elementary precaution. This city has seen enough chaos, don’t you think? I mean, we’ve already lost one Regent to…” his grin grows sharper, “…totally unforeseeable circumstances. I’d hate to lose another.”
Silence hangs between them for a long moment. Finally, Marcus lifts the sword and resheathes it in one smooth motion. “But I do seem to have a lot of influence with Bell at the moment. So, realistically, if I were to sanction such a thing, well then it might all work out properly. I shall speak with him.” He takes the scroll from her hand and tucks it away, then peers past her into the Chantry foyer. “Tell me, where is Tom Lytton?”
Georgia brightens again. “Oh he’s in the basement, would you like to see?”
His eyes narrow. “Please.”
Georgia leads Marcus down to the basement, to the same dungeon hallway we rescued him from weeks ago. Marcus hesitates a moment at the foot of the stairs, then visibly forces himself forward. The shadows flicker in his wake. Noise echoes from one of the rooms. Georgia gestures Marcus through the open door, then follows.
Two large constructions occupy the room. One is the rack Aquilifer was bolted to, mostly wood and half-torn apart from when we released her. The other construction is another rack, made entirely of metal, filling the back wall where the other rack once stood.
My body is half-bolted to it.
Rabenholz gestures for Anstis to stop the work as Marcus enters, watching cautiously as the young Roman approaches the rack and peers at it. “Well, well, well,” Marcus mutters, then turns to Rabenholz. “What exactly are you planning on doing with him?”
“I’m planning to preserve him, and put him on exhibition for a gathering I intend to host. As a warning for any other malefactors in this city.”
Marcus lifts an eyebrow. “Since when do you call…gatherings?”
“Since my piece of art is ready.” Rabenholz gestures at it. “This shall send the message that any other flagrant violators of the masquerade will not run to ground and if they try, they should do so very far away from here.”
A shadowy tendril uncoils from a corner of the room and snakes forward to wrap around one of the bars of the rack. The tendril writhes, but barely dents the metal. Marcus nods once, then turns back to Rabenholz. “Are you certain that the message in question won’t be taken by those who see it that Marcus Sertorius cannot defend his clients?”
Rabenholz doesn’t flinch. “I would think the message would be something more along the lines of, Marcus Sertorius chooses not to defend clients who so violently and flagrantly flout the masquerade.” Rabenholz strides forward, examining the construction and the unconscious body sprawled across it. “Tom’s reputation is quite well known. I think you should better decide if you want to be known as the patron who allows his clients to get away with everything, or the patron who is willing to let them meet justice. Certainly you have been generous with Mr. Lytton, no one can disagree with that, but you did not discipline him yourself.”
Marcus glares. The tendril suddenly tightens. Metal squeals. When the shadow pulls back, the bar underneath it is squashed flat. “I believe the Americans say that you have a set of balls on you, Mr. Rabenholz, to criticize how a Roman patron deals or does not deal with his clients. That could be interpreted in a number of unpleasant ways.”
Rabenholz meets his gaze evenly. “I don’t doubt it.”
Marcus stares, then finally nods. The tendril retreats to the corner of the room. “I will not stop you from doing what you must do with the Blood Hunt, but there are requirements of my own involved.” Marcus paces closer, reaching out to touch the metal with his own hand. “Like it or not, I took this Brujah as a client. That may have been a wise decision, or a terrible one, but it happened and I cannot set that aside. Now, if you propose to show him justice, as you or the Camarilla understand it, then so be it. You want to display him as an example? I’ve done that before to countless malefactors of my own. But when it comes to the art of devouring the soul, that is another question entirely.”
“Oh?” Georgia asks nonchalantly.
Marcus flicks a glare at her. “Oh yes. Lock him in your cage you have in mind, or slice his head off right here in front of me. But if you take him away and I find out later that his animus wound up within somebody else’s corpus then that person’s corpus would soon be liberated of all of the animae within them.”
“…I see,” Georgia says.
“No I don’t believe you do, but you would. Very, very shortly before you expired.”
Rabenholz lifts a hand placatingly. “If it is within my power, no one will drink his heart blood. You have my word.”
Marcus regards him a moment, then nods. “Then I suppose we shall see what the word of Augustus von Rabenholz of the Palatinate is worth.” He turns to Anstis, slouched against the wall, turning a small rock over and over in his hands, frowning thoughtfully. “I trust all went well with you, Captain?”
Anstis tenses, then shrugs. “As well as could be hoped, I suppose.”
Marcus continues pacing. “With Mr Lytton out of the picture I expect things to calm down a bit. I would very much appreciate it if those of you in the position to do so would help with the calming process.” He eyes each of them in turn. “That means no more blood doll conscriptions from the street, no more wild parties on a boat. No more child embraces, from anyone. In fact no more embraces period, for a time. Let us see if we can’t give Bell the space he needs to do his job, and the space I need to do mine.”
“And what is your job?” Anstis asks.
“At the moment? I need to find Helgi, I need to find Perpenna, and I need to dole out what is necessary to all those in between.” Marcus’s fingers twitch a moment, as if itching to grab his sword. “…But that’s my problem, you each have your own.” He looks at Anstis as he passes. “You have somebody, I believe, waiting for you in the Spice Islands.” He looks to Georgia. “You have a Chantry to defend against those who would take it from you. And you…” He turns to Rabenholz, then pauses.
Rabenholz nods at him. “…Have a party to throw.”
Marcus eyes Rabenholz a long, silent moment. “You wouldn’t happen to have been from Cologne at some point?”
Rabenholz blinks. “Yes.”
“I knew someone once, who styled themselves as a major player in Cologne. They had an interesting name. A Greek name.”
Rabenholz’s hand tightens on his cane. “Did they now.”
“Yes. If it weren’t for Homer I doubt I would have remembered it. You meet so many people in your travels when you’re as old as I am. But this one left an impression. A strong impression.” Marcus tilts his head thoughtfully. “I think he called himself Laertes. You wouldn’t happen to have known him, would you?”
Rabenholz goes very, very still. “…May I asked when you chanced upon him?”
Marcus waves a hand vaguely. “This would have been in the 19th century. Maybe the 18th. One loses track. Regardless, it was just a name I heard somewhere. What ever happened to old Laertes?”
“I don’t know,” Rabenholz says carefully. “I’d actually be content not to know.”
“Hmm.” Marcus eyes him a moment, then smiles and turns to Georgia. “In any event. You have a Chantry to run, do forgive my intrusion.”
She curtsies. “Not at all, always happy to host you.”
“I’m sure you are. Your predecessor was too.” Marcus’s smile vanishes. The shadows flicker again. “You should know, I heard the most interesting rumor recently.”
“Oh?” Georgia says.
“It concerns some chatter going on between a pair of magpies up North, in Seattle. Something about new management amongst the Tremere.” He shrugs. “I don’t know much beyond that, but perhaps it might be prudent to inquire.”
Georgia blinks. “Oh…well, thank you.”
Marcus turns to Anstis next, who is watching Georgia in approval and caution. “Oh Captain, I thought about it some more, and perhaps you should bring that ward of yours around. I do know some tricks useful to vampires of his status and mine. Bring him by when next you can, assuming there are no…impediments.” He watches as Anstis tenses, then smiles.
Marcus glances up at the rack for one long moment, face expressionless. Then, without another word, he turns and leaves.
END OF NIGHT
SPECIAL EPILOGUE – MEANWHILE IN REAL LIFE
Jason lingers behind as the other three’s chattering voices disappear down my stairs. I’m huddled in the corner of my kitchen, arms wrapped around me, tucked between the dirty dishes and my roommate’s espresso machine. I don’t even wince as the front door slams shut.
Jason cranes his head to see my face in the shadows of the kitchen lights. “You alright?”
I turn away. “This isn’t how I wanted things to go.”
“Tom’s not dead yet.”
“No, he’s just in fucking carbonite.” I scrub at my face with my palms, then stop, remembering giving that same habit to Tom, back when I started writing him. I start pacing the kitchen instead. “Dammit, I had a plan, I was gonna get him away and park him for awhile, so he’d be out of everyone’s hair and I could just focus on the new character–”
“I know, I know, and this isn’t as perfect as your plan, but it still isn’t over.” Jason’s cool demeanor, the lingering aftermath of his control over the game, starts to fade. He shifts nervously. “It’s supposed to be fun….”
The hurt in his voice pulls me back. “I know, it is, but….” I grab a paper towel to dry my face. “But with the writeups, I start thinking of this more as a story than a game, and a story has to make sense….” I press the towel closer as new tears well up. “…And right now nothing in my life makes sense and this is the one thing I had.”
“I understand. But your job will work out. And as for this, it might not be the story you wanted, but honestly?” He leans in conspiratorially. “I think this may turn out better. It has a lot of dramatic potential.”
I nod, still sniffling. Cognitively I know he’s right. Possibilities whisper to me from the depths of my subconscious, but right now they’re dulled by a fog of hurt.
“It’s also, it’s just….” I hesitate, feeling stupid about the words rising in my mind but forcing them out anyway. “I’m under so much stress right now, worrying about my job and rent, and my future, and everyone says not to worry about money or my future cause I’ll always have friends to rely on, but then to sit here for three hours and listen to my three best friends in the whole world laugh and joke about hunting me down….” I realize I’m twisting the paper towel into bits in my hand and lean down to shove it into compost, then turn back to Jason with a sad smile. “I mean, I know this is supposed to be a game of personal horror, but…fuck.”
“It’s a game, Colleen,” he says firmly. “You can’t start thinking like that.” I nod. After a long moment, he smiles again. “But…since it’s a game, there is always the possibility of revenge.”
I start loading the dishes. “I couldn’t even save Tom with a handful of rockets, and that was the only thing I was good at. If brute force doesn’t work, the only thing left is subtlety and politics and I’m really, really shitty at those.” I hesitate, picking dried rice from a fork. “Also, that’s the thing about the writeups. I’m invested in their stories now too, so I don’t want them to die either. I want to see what happens.”
“Well, there’s plenty of time for that.” Jason pulls me into a sidehug. I don’t resist. “It’ll be alright, I promise.”
I nod, wanting to believe him.
He hugs again then releases me. “Are you going to go with Kahina as your backup character, or…the other one we’ve been talking about?”
I shrug. Kahina Seveda, an Anarch Lasombra on the Path of Lilith, has been my intended backup character for almost a year now, but right now she sits in my mind like a lead weight. Her character is a dancing spirit of confidence, joy, and irreverence; none of which are things I can summon right now; or, in fact, have been able to summon in weeks. “Probably the other one,” I sigh. “Though I have no idea how she’s going to work either.”
He chuckles and pats my shoulder. “Well, you have two weeks. Work on her character sheet while I’m gone, and I can take a look at it when I get back.”
I nod as I shove the last dishes in. The painful fog still hangs low in my mind, but as I force my attention away from Tom and the events of the night, the barest tips of new ideas start to break through.
“I came up with a name for her, though,” I say, dumping an arbitrary amount of soap into the tray and snapping it shut. “The other day, while I was in the shower. Not sure what it means, but it came to me and seems to stick.” I close the washer door, giving it an extra-hard shove to make sure it’s locked.
I press start. The dishwasher roars to life, blasting away the remains of the night, the noise a promise of a clean start tomorrow. I turn back to Jason and smile slyly. “I think I’m going with ‘Scout.’ “
END OF REAL NIGHT