Jason: “When we last left off, I had not only united the party, I had gotten them to work together!”
Jim: “…Against the other member of the party.”
Jason: “SHUT UP!”
With the unconscious form of Tom Lytton safely secured, Anstis slips away from Georgia and Rabenholz to sneak through the Chantry dungeons and return to his anchor, finally finishing uncovering the barnacle-crusted thing from under the crates. For his next task, though, he needs to get it out of the Chantry and back to the Twilight’s Fortune. Despite his strength, he can’t actually lift the giant lump of iron off the ground. He leans it back over with a grunt, stroking his tentacle beard thoughtfully.
Meanwhile, Rabenholz and Georgia return to her office. Rabenholz uses her phone to call Rhona, asking her to look into renting out a few floors of the Bank of America building downtown. He tells Georgia he plans to set up some permanent offices there, but more importantly, he wants to secure a space to hold his own gathering in a week or so’s time.
Before that, though, he asks Georgia if the Chantry has information on a trusted mortician, a metallurgist, and a taxidermist, which Rabenholz needs to complete his new…wall art.
(Me: “What wall art?”
Georgia sends Bob to fetch a rolodex and asks Rabenholz what he needs them for.
Rabenholz paces the room, hands clasped smartly behind him. “As I said, I plan to present Mr. Lytton to the Kindred of the city, as a warning to others who would jeopardize the peace. I want to ensure he is properly secured, but I also want to ensure he is…presentable.”
Rabenholz stops as a sudden horrible metallic shriek echoes through the Chantry, coming from the dungeon stairway. The wails continues, sounding suspiciously like an enormous hunk of metal dragged across a blood-stained concrete floor.
Rabenholz turns to Georgia. She waves dismissively. “That’s probably Anstis with his anchor.”
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “Stealing from the Tremere?”
Georgia settles back in her chair. MewMew wanders into the room then and leaps straight for her lap. Georgia strokes the space whale absently. “I wouldn’t worry about it. Besides the stairs, the only way in or out of the basement is through a ritual circle.”
Rabenholz eyes her, then sweeps out to go check on Tom, just in case. The body is still secure, still unconscious. After a moment, Rabenholz digs through the pockets and finds Tom’s phone. The screen is smashed, but flickers on when he touches it. Rabenholz finds his way to the call log and pages through the most recent entries. Most of them are known contacts, listed under single names: “Everton,” “Doc,” “Boss”–
(Jason: “What’s Slayer’s name?”
Me: “Uh, well his real name was Maurice.”
Jason: “No, I mean what’s his name in your phone?”
Me: “Oh, probably ‘Bitch.’”)
–Someone named “Bitch.” Scattered throughout the log, though, is a name he doesn’t recognize: “Sophia.” After a moment’s hesitation, Rabenholz calls it.
The call connects after five or six rings, but no one speaks. There’s no sound on the other end, not even breathing. Rabenholz waits, then finally breaks the silence. “Hello? Who is this?”
There’s a brief crackle, then a strangely cheery voice comes through: “…Thank you for using In Case of Vampires Break Glass….”
The call disconnects. Rabenholz lowers the phone and stares at the screen. “Odd,” he mutters.
Moments later, the phone erupts with sunlight.
Georgia is showing Bob how to flip through the faded yellow cards of an ancient rolodex when suddenly the wards trigger an alarm in her subconscious. She tosses MewMew off her lap and runs down into the dungeons, stumbling into a charred, smoking Rabenholz coming out of the rack room. She stares. “What did you do?!”
Rabenholz beats out a smoking patch on his cloak. The skin on his face is an angry pink, but it heals as she watches. “I was trying to ascertain Mr. Lytton’s former associates. His cellular telephone appears to be more than what it seems.” The phone is lying on the ground where he dropped it, now spidered with more cracks. Rabenholz pokes it carefully with his cane. “This is fascinating. It emitted what appears to be sunlight.”
Georgia blinks. “Really…huh….”
(Jason: “Are you about to get the completely wrong impression from this and assume this has something to do with Paul?”
Before she can say something, Rabenholz continues. “Do you know who Sophia is?”
She nods. “Yes.”
There’s a very long, expectant silence as Rabenholz stares at her and she simply smiles patiently.
He sighs. “Ms. Johnson, if you wish to continue cultivating my trust I would appreciate it if you were a little more forthcoming.”
“Oh, you wish to know about Sophia!” Georgia tilts her head thoughtfully a moment before answering. “She’s…a bit of an interesting story. She’s a curious person, not normally the sort one would associate with. But she’s been quite valuable as an ally in various enterprises over the last couple of weeks. I believe she and Tom were quite close, but I would count her as a decent person, despite her association with him.”
Rabenholz eyes her suspiciously, something telling him that Georgia is leaving out a key element in this story. Georgia, though, just grins and backs slowly from the room. “I’ll just go check on Anstis now…” she says and hurries down the hall.
But Anstis is gone. And so is the anchor. Georgia follows scrapes in the floor from the storage room down the hall, into one of the teleportation circle rooms. Neither Anstis nor the anchor are there either, but the room reeks of recently-activated blood magic.
Rabenholz comes in as she’s staring at the gouges in the floor, leading into the circle and not back out again. “Mr. Rabenholz, I think the Gangrel has used my basement circle….”
(Jason: “Funnily enough, that isn’t a euphemism.”)
Rabenholz frowns. “Strange. I didn’t think he was…so inclined.”
Georgia shakes her head slowly in disbelief. “Neither did I.”
Meanwhile, Anstis us dragging his anchor out of the teleportation circle in the caves at Fort Funston. They’re a good place to stash his anchor temporarily, but they also happen to be the meeting point he told Noah to get to if they ever were separated. But Noah isn’t there.
A point which becomes even worse a few moments later, as Marcus calls Anstis to remind him he has an appointment to bring Noah around for a chat with the Methusula, quote, “at his earliest convenience.”
Anstis grumbles and smooths at his coat. “We…became separated.”
“Separated,” Marcus repeats flatly. “And how did that happen?”
“I instructed him to hide in case violence broke out. He’s a Malkavian, they are quite adept at hiding.”
“So you lost him,” Marcus says, flatter than before. “A five year old–as in, actually five years old–Malkavian.”
“Aye. As soon as I find him I will let you know.”
There’s a long silence. When Marcus speaks again, his voice is as cold as the black surf outside. “Make your way to the Pyramid, Captain. If you do not have your ward, then perhaps we can discuss what happened in the bathroom the last time you were here.”
Despite the threat lurking underneath the surface of his words, Anstis suddenly stands a little straighter, and smirks. “Aye. I will handle that problem when I arrive.”
Once they get out orders for the requested craftspeople, Rabenholz and Georgia have a long discussion of her management of the Chantry. Both feel she needs more staff, but Georgia will not allow any new ghouls unless they are volunteers. Rabenholz tries to point out to her that anyone willing to volunteer for such a position would inevitably stab her in the back. Leading to a catch-22 in that the last people she’d want to work for her as Tremere employees are the ones who would make the best Tremere employees.
Somewhere during this stalemate, the taxidermist arrives. Rabenholz dominates him to order him to forget anything he’s about to do. Georgia and Rabenholz lead the man down to the rack room, walking him through what Rabenholz wants out of the job. The man nods vacantly and pulls out a set of very fine knives, spreading them out on a table next to the body spread on the rack. Rabenholz excuses himself to go wait for the mortician and the metallurgist, but Georgia stays and sits down to watch, eagerly.
Anstis heads to the 40th floor of the Pyramid, this time without shredding the elevator with his claws. The door to the main office is open, Marcus inside at the desk, talking to an unknown woman with half-blue hair. Anstis, though, doesn’t hesitate, striding right past the office door and down the hall into the bathroom.
Anstis steps over the caution tape warding the place and looks around, activating Witness of Death to peer into the spirit world. The tile and lingering bloodstains of the room fade to grey and the walls start to dissolve in mist, but nothing else is visible.
Anstis whirls impatiently. “TUKE!! Get over here!” There’s no response. Anstis growls and tries to summon the spirit, but without a personal item from the man’s human life he can’t.
Anstis strides deeper into the room, bootsteps echoing on tile. “Are ye afraid, Tuke? Afraid I’ll take out yer other eye?”
The mists twist dispassionately, but suddenly a sourceless whisper coils from the gloom: “Eye for an eye…for an eye….”
Anstis grumbles and summons a spirit he does have control over, one of his new wraith thralls from the people he executed at his pirate party. A confused-looking young man with a popped-collar polo shirt and spray-on tan–only marginally faded by time in the Shadowlands–appears, staring at Anstis.
“I need you to find a ghost nearby, name of Tuke,” Anstis orders.
The wraith blinks at him slowly. “Dude…how the hell do I do that?”
Anstis gestures to the mists obscuring the walls of the bathroom. “He’s bound to this place, he should be nearby. Bring him to me.”
The ghost looks around vacantly, then starts sneaking around, walking right through the stall barriers. Once the room is clear, he continues deeper, disappearing behind a door in the back of the bathroom. Anstis leans against the sink to wait.
A hideous shriek suddenly splits the dimensions, echoing from behind the closed door, then cuts off. Anstis strides forward, heaves the door open–snapping the lock instantly–and peers into the room beyond.
In our world it’s a cleaning closet, filled with solvents and extra toilet paper, but in his othersight, he clearly sees the ghost he just summoned. The man is stapled to the wall by three-inch spikes impaling his arms and legs in a spread-eagle. His chest has been peeled open, viscera dug out and cascading to the floor. His head twists back and forth, mouth gaping, and if his throat wasn’t torn out it’s clear he would be screaming.
Anstis stares in shock a long moment, till Marcus’s voice drifts down the hall. “Captain? Am I keeping you from something?”
“Aye, I’m trying to find Tuke!” Anstis shuts the closet door without another glance and leaves the bathroom.
Anstis enters the office and immediately settles himself in a chair. Marcus is still at the desk, but the woman he was talking to is gone. Marcus eyes the pirate a long moment, as usual his gaze strangely intent for a nine-year old. “Tuke is your crewman?” he asks finally.
Anstis shrugs. “Former.”
“The one you decided for some reason belonged in the bathroom?
“Aye.” Anstis turns to glance out of the office, then tenses. The woman from before is behind him, leaning against the doorway, watching him coolly. He stares back, frowning, sure he didn’t pass her in the hall.
(Jim: “What does she look like?”
Jason: “What do you look like?”
Me: “What do I look like….)
She’s caucasian, in her mid-20s or so, of decent height for a woman. As he noticed before, her hair is long and black, the bottom half died in a blue hombre–
(Chris: “Wait, what’s hombre?”
Jason: “This is what I asked.”
Me: “It’s like a faded–”
Jim: “It’s kind of like a Costco-monster.”
Kara: “No, that’s Andre.”
–currently pulled back in a pony tail. Her hair may be edgy but the rest of her look says business, with tailored slacks and matching jacket over light-silk shirt. Ironically, perhaps, she’s also wearing a pair of small-framed sunglasses, barely large enough to cover her striking blue eyes.
“New friend?” Anstis asks, still staring at her.
“New arrival,” Marcus answers.
“Aye.” Anstis stands and sweeps his hat in a bow. “Captain Thomas Anstis.”
Her gaze flicks across his ostentatious clothes, coiffed wig, and lingers on the tentacles sprouting from him chin. She nods once. “Scout.”
After an awkward silence, waiting for her to continue, Anstis settles the hat back on his head. “And what clan do ye hail from, Scout?”
Her blue eyes narrow and her smile turns thin-lipped.
“Scout here is a fresh arrival,” Marcus says, drawing attention back to him. “Captain. If you are done with your ghosts I would like to know where you misplaced your Malkavian. You know, the one who is five years old and insane and you relied upon to follow instructions?”
Anstis flops back into the chair. “Down at the cost-co, I think it’s called.”
Marcus leans forward, hands folded on the desk. “You brought a five year old child, embraced into a tribe of madmen, to an engagement where you were expecting to battle Tom Lytton?”
Anstis shrugs. “The idea was to not have to battle Tom Lytton.”
“And how well did that idea go? I have reports, Captain, that it didn’t go terribly well.”
He shrugs again. “It was successful.”
“Yes, it was, except that you are standing here and the Malkavian is not.” The shadows behind Marcus start to flicker.
Anstis grumbles. “I will find him.”
“Yes, I imagine you will. On this side of the shroud or the other, do I make myself clear?”
Anstis glowers, but nods. “I will.”
The shadows settle. Marcus sits back in his chair. “Scout has volunteered to be of some assistance to the Kindred in the city, to help calm things down. Would you be so kind as to give her your consideration? So long as you try not to lose her too.”
Anstis’s eyes darken almost as much as the Lasombra’s he’s glaring at. After a long moment, he twists around in his chair. Scout is still in the doorway, watching Anstis with a stony expression on her face. “What be yer skills?” Anstis asks.
She blinks at him slowly. “Staying quiet.”
“Aye, ye’ve made that clear. What be yer clan?”
Something flickers behind her eyes, then she raises her chin. “No clan claims me,” she announces.
Anstis raises an eyebrow, eyeing her a long moment, then turns back to Marcus. “Do you trust her?”
Marcus sighs. “Captain at my age I don’t trust much of anyone. But I have reason to suspect that she is something approximating what she claims to be.”
“Which be nothing at all.”
Marcus’s gaze sharpens instantly and the shadows rise again. “Not all of us are something. And having had experience with that very thing, let’s say it doesn’t matter much.”
Ignoring the shadows, Anstis turns back to Scout. “How be yer skills as a tracker?”
She shrugs. “Pretty good.”
Anstis nods and hoists himself from the chair. “Then we shall start there. Once I complete my business here.”
(Jim: “So…I have a theory…that dogs and cats are able to see ghosts.”
Jason: “…Oh no….”
Jim: “I summon Boopsie!”)
Anstis strides to the elevators without a word of explanation. Scout follows, perplexed. Anstis returns to the ground floor, strides through the empty lobby, steps out onto the sidewalk outside, then throws his head back and yips into the night.
(Jim: “Ummm…failed the roll.”
Jason: “Really? Oh no.”
Chris: “…May I?”
Chris: “A homeless man curled up in a urine-soaked cardboard hut barks back at you.”
Jason: “That exact thing happens.”)
Anstis glowers at the homeless man. Scout lingers behind him. “I guess I don’t have to ask you your clan, Captain,” she mutters.
(Jason: “With everything you’ve seen, you’re not sure if he’s Malkavian or really, really convincing.”)
Halfway through the taxidermist’s…work…Georgia’s phone rings. It’s Dr. vonNatsi. She greets him with a cheery, “Science!”
“Ms. Johnson!!!” von Natsi replies. “How are things? Have you been murdered by ze warmages?”
“Not yet!” she says brightly.
“Zis is excellent! You cannot perform Science once you have been murdered!”
“I am aware of that! Neither can you!”
von Natsi pauses. “…I have not empirically tested zis….” he murmurs.
Georgia quickly interrupts that chain of thought. “Best to hold off until our other experiments are concluded.”
“…Ja, ja it is best to vait. I am calling to see if you have made progress in acquiring ze items I need for ze Science?”
For nights now, von Natsi has been asking her to find him a werewolf bone. Or, failing that, a human bone that has been thoroughly soaked in vitae. She sighs. “Yes, yes I know. We are progressing on this quest. It’s not easy to acquire these items.”
“Ja, if it were, I vould acquire zem myself. But you are not most people! You are Georgia Johnson! Regent of the Tremere Clan of San Francisco! And of SCIENCE!!!! Do you require assistance?”
Rabenholz returns to the room then, leading the blank-faced mortician and metallurgist. As usual, von Natsi is loud enough that he doesn’t have to ask who Georgia is talking to. She waves at Rabenholz and continues talking, “If you still need a werewolf bone, perhaps, but you said human bone would do, so long as it was soaked in vitae, correct?”
“Ja! But it must be large enough to compensate for the size difference of ze human und ze verewolf.”
Rabenholz eyes her. “The mage merely requires a femur?”
Georgia pauses and lowers the phone. “Uh, yes.”
“Who is speaking!?” von Natsi’s muted voice shouts from the phone.
Rabenholz takes it from her hand. “Your pardon, Doctor, this is Augustus von Rabenholz. I don’t think it would be any trouble to get you that femur. However, in exchange, I wonder if you might be able to help Ms. Johnson improve the wards at her Chantry? Something to help protect against the warmages. We think your understanding of mag–of science would be a most valuable tool in enhancing them.”
They can practically hear the smile spread across von Natsi’s face. “Ahh, you vish to have Scientifically-enhanced defenses? As I have installed around ze tower?”
Georgia beams. “Could you do that?!” she shouts at the phone.
“Possibly…but I vould need complete access to ze Chantry in order to perform zis Science.”
For once, she does not hesitate at this request. “Of course!”
“Zen perhaps something could be done…. Do you require ze services of a death ray?”
“At all times, Doctor,” Georgia says seriously.
“Zen I shall investigate zis at once! SCIENCE!!!” von Natsi hangs up.
Georgia takes her phone back from Rabenholz. “So, the femur…? Do you have one?”
“Yes.” Rabenholz turns, eyeing the gristly rack at the end of the room, and the craftsmen clustered in front of it. “As a matter of fact, Mr. Lytton here has two femurs.”
(*Silence in the room*
Jason: “That’s…absolutely brilliant, actually.”
Chris: “Waste not, want not.”
Me: “…Well. The dismemberments will continue until morale improves.”)
It’s a quiet night at Paul’s Portola Valley house. The werewolf cub is occupied with its fifth viewing of Wall-E while Paul is tutoring the gargoyle in the finer points of The Republic. In the middle of this, Paul’s phone rings. He tells Dug to continue reading and pulls it out to check the call ID.
Paul scrambles to answer. “Sophia!? Are you okay?”
A familiar girl’s voice sighs on the other end, though the sound is strangely modulated at the edges. “That’s…kinda a complicated question right now.”
“You’re sounding better than when I last saw you. Where are you?”
“I’m…not exactly here right now. It’s…really complex.” Another sigh. There’s a burst of pixelated static. When she speaks again, her voice is clearer. “Paul, are you alright?”
Paul eyes his charges, spread comfortably across his living room. “Yeah, I think so. I don’t know of any immediate threats. Nothing new anyway. Doesn’t mean they’re not out there.”
“No, they’re probably out there.” She hesitates. “Have you talked to Tom?”
“No. the last time I saw him was when we left you on Mt Diablo.”
“Paul,” her voice shudders, but this time it has nothing to do with static. “I…I think Tom’s dead.”
Paul sits up. “What?”
“There was a fight near Colma….”
“Why did Tom go to Colma?!” Paul leaps from his chair and starts pacing. “Marcus told him point-blank he was being hunted, why didn’t he leave the city!?”
“Cause Tom wouldn’t leave anything! I begged him to go myself, it didn’t help!”
Paul rubs his face. “What happened?”
“I don’t know, I only have footage from a few cameras. I think…a bunch of vampires took him out.”
“Shit.” Paul glances out the window. The woods here are dark and quiet, but that’s never been a sign of safety before.
“I shouldn’t even be calling you, but I just wanted you to know what’s going on. I still don’t even know what happened, last thing I remember we were in San Leandro talking….” She trails off painfully, then collects herself. “Do you know where the others are? Stormwalker and the rest.”
“No, I haven’t heard anything. “
“Neither have I,” she murmurs. “I haven’t heard anything, and I can’t leave….”
Paul keeps pacing. “Sophia, where are you right now?”
“I’m…kinda in a couple of places. I’m in Diablo, and…also in the Web.”
“And you’re stuck in both? At the same time?”
“Kind of. For now. Things got kind of bad back there.” She pauses. “Really, really, really bad.”
“Are you okay? Is this a situation you can handle?”
“I have no idea, Paul, and there’s no way for you to get to me even if it wasn’t”.
Paul nods reassuringly, though the only one who can see is himself. “Okay, well maybe I can conference in Georgia, she might have some ideas, if you can just stay on the line–”
“Paul…” He stops at the tone in her voice. “…Georgia was on the footage. From Colma. She…ate somebody.”
The room temperature is warm, but suddenly Paul’s dead flesh feels cold. “What…?”
“She…ate someone, I don’t know what you guys call it. I don’t know if it was Tom or not, I couldn’t get a good angle. She looked all crazy and she pulled a barrel open with her bare hands, pulled someone out, and…ate them. I watched him disintegrate.”
Paul stares at nothing. “I…just got a phone call from her earlier tonight, she didn’t tell me any of this….” After a long moment, he resumes pacing. “Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised…. I’ll make some calls and see what I can find out. About all of this. Are there any associates of your associates who hopefully won’t kill me if I call them?”
“They’re all werewolves,” she sighs. “Most aren’t like me, they don’t talk to vampires. Normally I’d say the Gaians, but they’re all dead, and the Talons…you don’t want to talk to them.” Sophia pauses. “…Plus they don’t have phones,” she mutters. “Paul, the worst thing is, they know the Devourer is in town.”
“Yeah. I don’t know if they know about your connection, but they know he’s around and if they go up after him…Paul, I don’t want them to get hurt, and if they go after him they’re gonna get hurt.”
Paul nods. “You’re probably right.”
“But that’s the scary part.” She takes a shuddering breath. “The scary part is they might be able to take him, and…I don’t think I want them to.” She’s quiet a moment, as if shocked at what she just said. “I mean, he’s still the Devourer, but he’s hunting something worse, and I don’t know what’s going on, and I can’t…get…OUT…of here, to find out!”
More static erupts over the line. Paul holds up a hand uselessly. “Okay, it’s okay. We’ll figure something out. Keep in touch with me, however you can. I will try to get back to you when I find something out. Do you…have email where you are?”
“Just leave messages on your desktop, I can check your harddrive.” A smirk appears in her voice. “You know, you should stop using Symantec.”
(Chris: “Oh god, no. No no no.”
Jason: “What are you using?”
Chris: “Paul is sophisticated, he’s not using any antivirus.”
Jason: “How’s that sophisticated?”
Chris: “Because he’s not running crappy Windows systems.”)
“You don’t have any anti-virus, Paul,” she amends, still smug. “It’s fairly easy.”
He relaxes in a smile. “Something tells me Symantec’s latest wouldn’t protect me from you.”
“Yeah. I used to break it for fun when I was grounded as a kid.” The smile in her voice fades. “There’s…one other thing, actually. It sounds kinda weird, and there’s no reason for you to see this, probably, but…if you run into any werewolf cubs running around, can you let me know?”
Paul glances at the cub, still curled up in front of his flatscreen. “Sure. I actually have one in my house at the moment.”
There’s a pause. “…You have a werewolf cub in your house?”
“Yes, the same one from San Simeon.”
“You HAVE–!?” More static, shrill this time. “In your house? Is…is it ok?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. He doesn’t talk, but, you know…he seems happy.” Paul shrugs. “He naps, he eats. Or maybe ‘she,’ we’re still not exactly sure.”
“It’s a she,” Sophia says softly.
Paul nods, glad that mystery is solved. “Ah, well, ‘she’ then. She has plenty of food, water. All the Pixar movies she can watch.”
“Paul…this werewolf cub is really, really important. If the other werewolves know you have it, they’ll burn your building down just to get it.”
Paul quickly cups the phone and turns away before Dug hears about the new possible enemies. “Well, giving her away doesn’t seem like a reasonable option at the moment. So should I just favor the hope-they-don’t-find-us-option?”
Sophia groans. “I don’t know. This is such a mess. There’s supposed to be a whole cairn here, with at least a dozen werewolves, to monitor and deal with this sort of situation.”
“Well, right now she has me, and a gargoyle who’s slowly learning Plato.”
There’s a long pause. “…You’re not joking are you?”
“I am not.”
She sighs. “Look, if you find Stormwalker, and if he’s willing to talk, tell him you got the werewolf. But don’t tell anyone else. Especially not other vampires, or the Talons.” She hesitates, then lowers her voice. “And really, really don’t let that English vampire know. I don’t trust him at all.”
Paul raises an eyebrow at this last part, but nods. “I can be discreet. If anyone finds out about the cub it wont be through me.”
Another burst of static, then the call stabilizes again. “Just…be really careful.”
Paul watches the odd, yet tranquil, scene in front of him, then nods. “I will. I hope I see you again.”
“I hope so too.” More static, then the call ends.
Anstis and the homeless man trade barked insults for awhile, until Boopsie eventually appears from the darkness. Anstis scoops up the shih tzu, announces to Scout that the dog is to help find a former crewmate, then sweeps back into the building. Scout stares after him, bewildered, then follows him back inside.
Upstairs, Anstis steps out of the elevator and places the dog on the floor in the hallway. “Run around,” he commands. “If you see a ghost, bark.”
The office door is still open and Marcus looks up from his desk. He watches Anstis talking to the dog a moment, then gestures once. A shadow tendril erupts from the wall and slams the door shut.
Boopsie, meanwhile, waddles down the hall into the bathroom, sniffs the tile in a search pattern, then sits down in front of one of the stalls, yipping. Anstis grins, slides into his necromantic sight, and kicks the stall door down.
It’s just a toilet.
(Jim: “I am debating tearing out the toilet in frustration.”
Jason: “Cause that’s what this building needs is more plumbing damage.”
Me: “Especially this bathroom. I’ve seen Taco Bell bathrooms that weren’t as destroyed as this one has been.”)
As he stares, frustrated, Anstis senses a presence, lurking in the mists at the edge of perception. He stares through the gloom. “I know you’re in here.”
The same whispering voice from before responds. “We’re all in here…here…here….”
Anstis paces the room slowly, smirking. “And I suppose yer where you belong, Tuke, in the latrine?”
“Where they throw everything away…and every ONE!”
Something suddenly grabs his shoulder in steel grip. Anstis whirls and casts Torment, a spell designed to erupt a wraith in unbearable anguish.
But it’s not a wraith. A rotting figure stands there, eyes gouged away, face flayed and sagging from his skull, draped in tattered red robes. Despite the decay, though, Anstis recognizes him. It’s a man Anstis knew very, very well. Because he ate him.
The Tremere from Fort Funston.
Anstis scowls and tries to jerk his shoulder from under the grip. “What are ye doing here?”
The apparition’s jaw works loosely in his skull. “You can’t flush us all away….”
Anstis leans closer to the gristly figure. “Ye will tell me everything you know about how you came to be at this place.”
“Because of you, Captain, because of you….” The shape suddenly warps, the tattered robes turning into equally-rotted archaic finery. It’s the necromancer, the one Anstis captured on his ship and ate, all those years ago. His jaw chatters at Anstis in a laugh, his grip on the pirate’s shoulder tightening.
Anstis growls, then ducks forward to bite the corpse. His mouth fills with ichor, dark and rotting. The grip breaks and he stumbles away, vomiting the fluid back onto the floor.
“You can’t eat your way out of this one, Captain….” The figure glides forward, wrapping skeletal arms around the pirate in a macabre embrace. Anstis struggles to escape, popping his claws to lunge at it–
(Jim: “…Fucking botch!”)
–And misses. Anstis’s boots slip out from under him on the slick tile floor, sending him careening into the open stall, claws first. Boopsie barks at him as he slides past. The claws plunge into the drywall, instantly severing wires and pipes underneath. Sparks erupt and water fountains out.
The shock of impact knocks Anstis’s vision back into the real world. By the time he scrambles up and slides into necromantic sight again, the gristly apparition is gone.
Anstis stares a long moment, ignoring the dog’s barks and the water pooling at his feet, then turns toward the doorway. Scout is standing there, gaping openly. Marcus is behind her in the hall, watching Anstis with arms folded.
“Captain.” Marcus says flatly. “If I asked what you just did, will I like the answer?”
Anstis takes in the room with a grand sweep of his arm. “I’m trying to deal with the situation in the bathroom.”
Marcus stares at the stall door hanging off its hinges, the water gushing from the gouges in the wall, and the small dog barking its head off in the middle of it all. He takes a slow breath. “Captain,” he says flatly. “Get. Out.”
Anstis hesitates, then sweeps off his hat in a bow. He scoops up Boopsie and leaves, squeezing through the doorway past Scout. She lingers, staring at the room, then meets Marcus’s eye.
The boy is smirking up at her. “I hope you were paying attention.”
She doesn’t respond, but with that she slips away, following the pirate down the hall.
The metallurgist, taxidermist, and mortician continue to follow Rabenholz’s orders with professional skill and Dominated-neutrality, right down to the unusual order to remove a femur from one of the legs. With everything under control for the moment, Rabenholz retires to a quiet library room to take care of his next major task.
He pulls out Glitch, setting it gently on the table in front of him. Something about the sword has perplexed him since he first saw it on Tom’s hip, nights ago. Now that he has a quiet moment to concentrate, he lays his hands carefully across the blade and casts Awakening of the Steel.
(Jim: “Wait, how do you know Assamite Sorcery?!”
Chris: “How indeed?”)
The spell is successful, very successful. The information that floods into his mind is as rich as the furnishings around him:
Jason: “This sword is very, very old. Doesn’t look it, but it is incredibly old. I would say you have no idea how it wound up in this Chantry, but at seven successes you have every idea about every damn thing that has ever happened with this sword. Including the shit I haven’t made up for it yet, so….
“But effectively, the sword was forged in Alamut. It’s an Assamite sword. Even with that, this sword has a hell of a pedigree to it. A lot of very senior people have had it over the course of time. Generally they have acquired it by disposing of the previous wielder. It fell into the Tremere hands during a series of fairly unpleasant actions in the 1300’s wherein the entirety of basically everybody decided the Assamites had gotten a little too big for their britches and went to war with them. The conflict that lead to the Assamite blood curse. The sword was acquired over the corpse of an Assamite attempting to assassinate one of the members of the Council of Seven themselves. This Assamite failed, and the Tremere have claimed the sword ever since.
“How it got to this Chantry is…complicated. Effectively a great deal of politics happened and it got shunted from here to there. What’s most pertinent about it is that Max specifically wanted to get this sword to his Chantry. Now you don’t know why, because of course the sword wouldn’t know why. But Max spent a great deal of effort to disguise what this sword was from certain people so that he could then arrange for those people to acquire it. He did this at a great deal of personal risk.
“Yet, once the sword got here, Max never really used it for any particular thing. He just had it in the Chantry. Again, you’re not sure why. All you know is that Tom Lytton stole the sword from inside the Chantry on the night a bunch of extremely bad things happened here. The sword has proceeded with Tom for some time, he used it to kill and destroy a whole lot of things–”
Chris: “Including an old computer.”
Jason: “–Including an old computer, you get full details of the computer incident. And, you know…fascinatingly, there appears to have been a werewolf involved with that incident too. Named Sophia.”
Jason: “Anyway, Tom had the sword more or less throughout a series of horrifyingly violent adventures, including down in San Simeon, offshore on a flotilla of boats, up in Marin, and most recently, San Pablo reservoir. Until it was taken from Tom by you.”
Chris: “Do I know the rituals used to construct it?”
Jason: “With that level of success? Yes, you do. The requirements for the creation of an orichalcum sword are ridiculously elaborate. They require materials of not just the finest quality but the finest thaumaturgical enhancement.”
Chris: “But these are materials of the finest quality thousands of years ago. Modern metallurgy is pretty good….”
Jason: “Modern metallurgy is pretty good, yes, but you don’t have ready access to the Weeping Stone anymore.”
Jason: “You now know blade was quenched in the blood of the Weeping Stone. And you thought it was just a myth.”
Chris: “…This is the best sword ever.”
Me: *arms crossed, glaring across the table* “Yeah. It is.”
Jason: “The sword is orichalcum. Like most orichalcum blades, or at least what you know from legend, it adopts the form of whatever it needs to adopt in order to destroy whatever you swing it at. The blade literally transmutes into that substance. The sorceries on this thing are berzerkeley powerful. Particularly for Thaumaturgy, which generally doesn’t do stuff like this. But it was a Thaumaturgically-forged blade, forged by some bad-ass guys. In fact it looks like it wasn’t just the Assamites that forged it, they brought in weapons-smiths from other clans to assist in the forging of this and other blades.”
Jim: “How many were made?”
Jason: “At the time? Seven. What happened to the other six, you don’t know. But let’s put it this way, one of the other blades forged at the same time was named Zulfiqar.
Chris: “That doesn’t mean anything to me, does it mean anything to Rabenholz?”
Jason: “It not only means something to Rabenholz, it means something to over a billion people in the world. Zulfiqar was one of the swords of Muhammad, given to Ali in the Battle of Uhud.
“Here’s something else that will mean something to Rabenholz. One of the other swordsmiths they brought in was a Gangrel named Wayland. He was a legendary blacksmith of Germanic lore, said to have forged Excalibur.”
Jim: “Was one of the other swords Excalibur?”
Chris: “What was Glitch’s original name? How many has it had? Does it prefer one over the others?”
Jason: “It’s had dozens, but it’s not sentient, so no.
“This sword is really ancient, really powerful, and what it’s doing in San Francisco is a really big question. Max had to arrange to get the sword out of the hands of people who didn’t know what it was, into the hands of people who didn’t appreciate it, and then down a chain of people who each knew less and less about it, until it got to somebody he could manipulate into sending it to him. It took him a century to this. But again, once he got his hands on it, he didn’t fucking do anything with it.
“Now, there is one other element to the sword, and this is the weird part….
“Like I said, the sword fell into the hands of the Tremere around the 1300’s. After that time it wasn’t used all that often so the record gets a little spotty. But…there is a period from about 1700 and 1930 which is blank. Nothing. And that’s weird, because with seven successes you should know every single thing that has ever happened with this sword.
“This is a unique blade. It’s been used to kill humans, Kindred, werewolves, Fey, demons, ghosts, even things that have no real name. Everything.
“And now you have it.”
Rabenholz breaks from his trance as Georgia enters the room. She beams. “Oh good, you got that sword back for the Chantry.”
“Yes….” Rabenholz stares at the blade, slowly running his hands along it. “With your permission, I would like to hang onto this for awhile.”
Her smile turns suspicious. “Why?”
Rabenholz carefully lifts the sword, sighting along the length. “This is not a normal blade. It is…made very artfully. I would like to study it.”
Georgia sighs. “Very well, I will allow it, as long as you keep in mind that it is property of the Chantry.”
Rabenholz eyes it a long moment before meeting her gaze. “…Of course,” he says flatly.
Scout catches up with Anstis just before he enters the elevators. “Did you need assistance finding a plumber?” she asks.
Anstis punches the button and shifts Boopsie in his grip. “Not a plumber, a small boy. Goes by the name of Noah. We could go to where I last saw him. A building named Costco. I lost him during the battle.”
She hesitates, staring straight ahead. “The battle you engaged in recently? With this…Tom Lytton?”
She turns to eye him expressionlessly a moment, until the elevator dings open before them. “Sure,” she says. “Let’s go.”
They head back outside. Anstis releases Boopsie back into the night and they hail a cab. The driver turns to smile at them as they slide into the back seat. “Where to?” Adam says with his usual smooth grin.
(Jim: “Wait, have I been driven around by Adam before?”
Me: “No, cause you usually fly!”)
“Costco, Daly City,” Anstis announces.
Adam nods and pulls from the curb. “Heard something happened there. Place got shut down. Heard there was a fight. Things got real in the parking lot.” He meets Anstis’s gaze in the mirror. “Having a good night?”
Anstis shrugs. “There’ve been better.”
“There’ve been worse,” Scout mutters, staring out the window.
“But ye still alive, that’s all that matters,” Anstis says to her, then turns back to Adam. “And who might ye be?”
Adam smiles, easily maneuvering the car through the early morning traffic. “Name’s Adam. Drive a cab.”
Anstis takes in Adam’s simple clothes and ever-present sunglasses. “Ye grow up in the city?”
Adam chuckles. “No, no I’m from somewhere else.”
He shrugs and meets the pirate’s gaze again. “Here and there. No one place, really.”
Anstis’s eye narrows. “Everyone be from a place.”
“That we do. That we do.” Adam lifts a finger to brush his chin. “You got something on your face, there.”
Anstis glares, then tries to view Adam necromantically. Nothing horrid pops into view, but something about Adam is off. Some vague association, very faint, that Anstis can’t identify but tugs at his brain….
Adam’s eyes shift to Scout’s in the mirror. “Seen you before?”
She shrugs. “Don’t think so. I usually drive myself.”
He nods slowly. “Maybe. I remember faces pretty good.”
She stares back a moment, then turns away.
The rest of the ride passes in silence. They arrive at the Costco to find the drive cordoned off with police tape and cones, but there’s no cops in sight so Adam drives right through. He cruises through the lot and pulls up near the burnt-out shell of a food truck on the far side. Scout gets out first, scanning the scene slowly. Anstis asks Adam to wait and joins her.
“What happened here?” she asks, walking toward the truck.
Anstis is scanning the lot too. “We came with two vehicles. Myself, Georgia, and Rabenholz. Lytton was already here, entrenched on the roof. He tried to blow up a truck as a distraction, but we tracked and cornered him. I had Noah with me, until Slayer attacked….” He trails off, watching the shadows of the lot for signs of a small figure lurking about.
“…And Lytton?” Scout prompts after a moment, peering carefully into the wreck of the cab.
Anstis shrugs. “He blew a hole in the roof to try to escape, but we captured him there. Knocked him unconscious and drained him of blood.”
Scout hesitates, then turns to him, eyebrow raised. “Did you do this?”
“Nay. Rabenholz shot him with a crossbow. He took Lytton back to the Chantry.”
“Is that all there was to it?” a smooth voice says suddenly. An older man in glasses and tweed steps suddenly from the shadows behind the truck, carrying a cane.
Anstis grins and straightens proudly. “Ah, Dr. Everton.”
“Captain.” Everton nods at the pirate, then turns to Scout, taking in her dyed hair and expensive clothes. “And who might you be?”
She watches him tensely, hovering next to the burnt out truck. “…Scout.”
Everton tilts his head. “Scout? A scout for who?”
She shrugs. “Depends on who’s hiring.”
“Hmm.” Everton scans her again. “A scout for hiring? Fascinating.”
Anstis is watching her now too. “Did Marcus offer to pay you?”
She tenses and her eyes flick nervously between the stares of the two men. “My deal with Marcus is my own,” she mutters.
Everton chuckles and turns back to the pirate. “Well, I see why you two are together. What brings you back to a scene such as this, Captain?”
“A bit of a mystery. A young boy ran off and we’re trying to find him. Have you heard anything?”
Everton’s gaze scans the charred metal of the truck. He walks toward it. “I’ve heard a great many things about children of sorts running about. Most of them involve your little friend.”
“Ah, this is a different one.”
Everton lifts an eyebrow. “How many vampire children do you seem to have, Captain?”
“I know of two of them.”
“That’s rather two too many, if you ask me,” Everton says darkly.
Anstis shrugs. “You can take that up with Marcus.”
“I’d rather not, if you don’t mind.” Everton paces around the truck. “You’re looking for the other one?”
“Aye, a Malkavian boy.”
Everton stops, then slowly turns to Anstis. “A what? Malkavian?”
Anstis nods. “Turned recently.”
“A woman in the north of the city. I don’t know her name. Neither does Noah. I found him in the city, abandoned. I decided to invite him to me crew.”
“Your crew.” Everton repeats flatly. “Your crew comprised of the walking dead?”
Anstis grins. “We all be walking dead.”
“Yes we are, but not in the manner that I mean and I think you know that.” Everton shifts his cane in his grip. “See I had a rather interesting conversation with someone who claims their daughter disappeared without a trace after being invited to a party of some sort. A party thrown by someone who fancied themselves a pirate. Aboard a ship. There were rumors it might even have been a submarine.”
Anstis meets his gaze evenly. “Mysteries indeed.”
“Yes, speaking of which, Captain, where is that wondrous conveyance of yours?”
“The submarine,” Everton says darkly.
“Ah.” Anstis nods once. “In the ocean.”
A tense silence lingers. “Quite….” Everton says finally. “How did you come to depart from the company of this Malkavian child, if I might ask?”
“I instructed him to hide if violence broke out. Hiding comes as second nature to the boy.”
“Yes, which would rather indicate why you have not found him.” Everton resumes examining the truck. “Captain, you brought him to your crew? For what purpose?”
“I am no stranger to bringing on the lost and unwanted.”
“The lost and the damned, perhaps. How many does your crew purport?”
“Around eighty,” Anstis answers after a moment’s consideration.
“And amongst those eighty, how many of those retain their will?”
Anstis shrugs. “Not many, but that was not my doing.”
Everton eyes him. “Truly. So all these people who disappeared, they must be on a cruise ship in Ensenada, or something?”
Anstis smirks. “People disappear all the time.”
Everton stops. His grip on his cane clenches tight. “Yes. They do.”
Scout is still lurking near the front of the truck, watching them nervously. Anstis continues to ignore her, meeting Everton’s glare and smoothing at his coat. “Is this your concern? The well-being of a few mortals from the city?”
“And if it is? You see Captain, I don’t know if you know who I am in any reasonable sense. I made my introductions in this city by butchering a Primogen and destroying his domicile. Something which, at the time, I assumed would make me a rather unique figure.” Everton glances at the truck. “Turns out it would not. My point is not to brag, but to indicate that I tend to make up my own mind as to what is and isn’t my business. And my business at the moment is to ask what exactly you were thinking to bring such a child into your crew of mindless wretches?”
“Lacking any guardian, I thought it best to take him off the streets and give him some manner of education in our kind.”
“How charitable of you.” He suddenly turns to Scout. “I’m sorry, I’m being terribly rude. My name is Dr. Corwin Everton. Oxford. And I believe you mentioned your name was Scout, was it? What brings you to this wondrous location? The low, low prices, perhaps?”
She blinks. “I’ve…been instructed to assist the captain here.”
“And what elder monster did you make so angry as to get that assignment?” Everton asks, ignoring Anstis’s scowls.
Scout hesitates a moment before answering. “A…very small one.”
Everton stares a moment, then relaxes in a chuckle. “Oh dear, he does have a vengeful streak to him, doesn’t he? Well, don’t let me intrude, of course. I’m merely making my inquiries as to what transpired here myself.” Everton raps the truck with his cane. “You see I knew the participants. Quite an unpleasant tale, really.”
Scout frowns, but before she can question further, Anstis steps forward. “Would you like to join us in finding him?”
Everton eyes the pirate a moment. “…The Malkavian?”
Everton watches him, glances at Scout, then shrugs. “Well I suppose I can make the attempt, though I’m not sure what assistance I can be, I didn’t know the child. But I do admit to some professional curiosity.”
“Of what sort?”
“Of the academic sort, of course. Afterall, one doesn’t get the opportunity to speak to children who are also vampires. The majority of them haven’t been children in quite some time. And I do profess a certain interest in your pedagogical methods. You do hail from another time, it would be an apt opportunity to uncover something of a historical culture. “
Anstis grins and bows. “Well then, shall we?”
Everton shifts his cane again and gestures invitingly. “Please, let us search for the poor wayward child. As all we have is his best interests at heart, of course.”
Anstis and Everton fan out from the truck, searching the shadows of the lot. Scout joins in as well, choosing her own course away from Everton’s curious glances at her. Anstis easily covers the most ground, winding up at the back of the lot along a bank of planters.
Movement in the shadows catches his eye, deep under one of the bushes. “Noah?” he says, crouching down to peer closer. A breeze gusts, shifting the shadows again. He reaches in, feels fabric, and pulls it out.
Clutched in his hand is a small, crumpled pirate hat. And there’s blood on it.
END OF NIGHT