Jason: *coming back from a secret scene with me* “Alright, so, Jim dies spontaneously, for no reason he can ever discern.”
Jim: “Son of a bitch. Fine, rolling a new character.”
Jason: “You are now Slayer! Oh, wait….”
Kara: “He lives on inside Georgia!”
Jason: “No. He doesn’t.”
Jim: “Just like everyone else.”
Jason: “It’s okay, everyone Georgia touches turns to dead.”
(Jason: “When last we left off, various tasks were arranged by you guys. You all had various things you wanted to do, some of which we did, some of which we have not yet done. I believe each of you except Kara has at least one task you have not yet completed, which I wanted to do in-game. But there is, on top of that, one other issue, and that is the question of…therapy.”)
(Yes, Dug and Bob were sent to a preliminary round of therapy, and no, I am not transcribing it at this time. I have included the full audio of the scene here for your mental health enjoyment. Perhaps one of our other players will make a stab at writing it, but at 40 minutes of dialogue, and with my time so limited and me already being so far behind I just…I just can’t right now. It’s so much Paul.)
THE DE YOUNG MUSEUM
A few hours after nightfall in Golden Gate Park, and Scout is standing outside in front of the De Young Museum. Light and music drift out of the entry courtyard, and the shadows of people carrying drinks move in the first floor windows.
Scout glances down at a wrinkled flyer in her hand. It’s advertising a special evening event at the museum, a soft launch for some local start-up featuring some local bands and even more local food. At the bottom of the page, in stencil-blocked letters, is a footnote saying, “FREE.”
Scout takes a breath, tucks the flyer away, then heads inside.
The living pulse of humanity washes over her as she steps in the doors. Music, laughter, a heady steam of spilled alcohol and warm bodies. She moves through the crowd, a shark among reef fish in her dark designer business clothes. A few people glance at her but she ignores them, moving toward the entrance to the galleries at the back of the foyer.
Velvet ropes block it off, and a printed sign says that the main galleries are closed for the event. Scout hesitates, glancing back at the crowd. Across the way, someone is up on a stage to make an announcement, everyone turning to face him.
In that instant, Scout melts from sight.
Now deeply Obfuscated, Scout steps easily over the velvet rope and heads deeper into the museum. The party fades behind her as she moves through the abandoned galleries, slowly relaxing as she walks the softly-lit space. A guard, an elderly Asian man, passes her at one point, but she easily side-steps out of his way and keeps moving.
At the western end of the building, on the second floor, she finally steps into a large gallery lined with massive landscape paintings, rich with color even in the low light. She sighs in awe and slows, lingering in front of each, as if she could absorb the light captured in oils on canvas. Minutes pass this way, and she shows no intention of leaving.
Footsteps suddenly echo over the hardwood floors. They’re heavier than the guard’s were, much heavier, and steadily approach the gallery. Scout turns.
An apparition of a man steps into the room. Pale skin, pale wiry hair, and a matching pale linen suit. He stops at the threshold, scanning the room with strangely red eyes, then enters, moving with the purposeful grace of a hunting cat. More footsteps, and the guard suddenly appears, sticking his head through the doorway. Still pacing, the pale man meets his eyes. The guard nods once, respectfully, then leaves.
Scout steps back toward the wall. The pale man is skipping all the other paintings and heading straight for the one she’s currently in front of, a stark landscape of snowy crags. He stops where she was standing just a moment ago and appears to admire it, smiling softly to himself.
Suddenly the temperature in the room plummets. Frost patterns limn the windows and the wood floors groan. Scout stifles a gasp. The man, though, doesn’t react, still smiling blissfully. He exhales slowly in a long sigh, his breath coiling around him like smoke. Carefully, Scout starts to move away, giving him a wide berth and heading toward the door.
The man follows, arms folded casually behind him. He stops in front of the next painting, one of a sunset over a field. Or perhaps a sunrise. He smiles again and slowly the temperature in the room starts to rise.
And keeps rising. The halogen lights spotlighting the paintings come up to full strength, and somehow become brighter. Scout freezes in shock, lifting a hand to shade herself, and gasps as she realizes her skin is starting to itch….
“I can smell you, you know,” the pale man says suddenly to the empty room. Scout stares, then continues moving toward the door, quickly this time. “Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” he continues, still looking at the painting. “You don’t want to know what’s out there.” He turns, eyeing the ceiling. “I can make every light in this building channel the sunlight of a hundred years ago. You won’t make it to the front door. Unless you’re that…stripling in the Pyramid.” He scans the room, eyes narrowed. “Are you that stripling in the Pyramid?”
Scout tenses, glancing at the door. The man steps away from the painting, into the room. “Are we to play a game?” His footsteps echo with unnatural weight. “Must I flush you out?” The lights pulse once, brighter.
Scout winces, steels herself, then winks back into visibility.
The man stops and blinks, surprised. “Well…this isn’t what I expected.” The lights dim back to a normal strength. He walks slowly toward her. “Now…who might you be, and what might you be doing here? So many of your kind have been skulking around recently, I start to lose track. I must be getting old.”
Scout stands her ground, staring into his red gaze. “I…saw the invitation to this event, open to the city, and it’s been quite some time since I have been able to visit a museum.”
“Oh you came to visit the museum, not devour the guests?”
She looks around. “I don’t see any guests here.”
He sneers. “Here, perhaps, but if I go back to the party will I have to check my guests for sudden losses of consciousness? Anemia, perhaps?”
She stares back, frozen. Behind her, the elderly guard suddenly appears and sticks his head into the room. “Sir, you’re needed downstairs,” he says, then disappears around the corner.
The pale man’s eyes narrow. He turns back to her. “What have you done?” he asks, voice low. “Coordinated matter, maybe? Funny, I didn’t smell anyone else. But then they do hide, don’t they? Should I just dispose of you and go see what your friend is up to?” He steps closer. “What is it I’m needed for downstairs?”
Her eyes dart nervously. “I don’t know, I came here alone–”
“Oh, two vampires coincidentally decided to walk into my museum tonight, on a weeknight, for no reason other than to stare at the paintings? What could I possibly be needed for downstairs?” He grabs her forearm in one striking movement. “Why don’t you come with me and we’ll see what’s going on.” Scout tenses, but she lets him drag her from the room.
They hurry through the empty second floor galleries, heading toward the main stairs. “I don’t know what you think this is,” the man hisses. “A hunting ground perhaps, open territory now that the wolves have left. Who sent you here?”
“No one,” she sputters. “I just came. I’m new in the city–”
“Oh you’re new, and you think the city is what, open season? A number of leeches have died here recently, you must think it’s the wild west all over again!”
“I don’t intend to infringe on other people’s territories, if I had known this had a claim, I wouldn’t have come–”
“No one told you? Well they must not like you very much.” He stops suddenly, whirling her into an alcove and looming in front to block her escape, pinning her wrist against the wall. “My name is Charles Steinhardt. These are my museums, this is my park, and this is my city. The more that you leeches forget that, the more I’m made angry and have to remind you all. I thought I had, but apparently word didn’t get around. Now who should pay for that? Whose door should I kick down?”
She gapes, frozen by an instinctive terror she has no words for. He sees the fear on her face and smirks. Slowly, he leans forward and inhales deeply, eyes closing in mock pleasure. “Corpse. Carrion. You know, alligators are scavengers.” She turns away. He tightens his grip. “Speak, or I’ll forget that you have any use to me other than food.”
A shudder passes through her, but after a moment she meets his eyes, her gaze hard. “Better you than him.”
Charles stares a moment, then sneers and takes a step back. “Maybe I’ll send your fangs to the Pyramid, see what they have to say about–”
Suddenly Charles stops, staring down the hall. Another man is standing there watching the two of them, his features obscured in the low light. Charles tenses, then turns to her, glares…and releases her arm.
Without another word, Charles walks away, down the hall to join the other man. Scout watches blankly, rubbing her wrist. Charles doesn’t greet the man, just walks past him to open a nearby door. The man enters, Charles steps in behind him, then closes the door with a soft click.
Scout remains frozen a long moment. Slowly, the drifting sounds of the party bring her back to the present. She takes a breath, then melts from visibility again, not even checking to see if the guard is around.
Muffled now from sight and sound, she rushes toward the stairs to head down and get the hell out of the museum.
Anstis paces though the clammy gloom in the back of the caves, muttering ritual preparations around his anchor. He’s going to use is as a focal point to summon Tuke, since it belongs to the ship they both served on. Once everything is prepared, he releases the spell and steps back, expecting the bathroom-bound wraith to appear before him at any moment
Minutes pass. Anstis grumbles and checks over the wards he sketched for the spell. Everything looks correct. For all intents and purposes, it should have worked.
Irritated, Anstis decides not to let the spell go to waste and summons someone else from his old ship instead.
(Which lead to a short tangent as we tried to come up with names for Anstis’s crew.)
He settles on one of the crewmen who was with him the longest, an old sailor named Richard Bronson. He releases the spell again. This time, the cave crackles with magical energy and the ghostly figure of an old, weathered man appears; skin sallow, eyes jaundiced, and his clothes rotten and drowned.
Anstis grins and spreads his arms in greeting. “Bronson! Ye remember me?”
The old man stares at him. “Captain…” he mutters, voice gravelly and wet. “What are ye doing here? I thought Davy Jones had us all.”
Anstis’s grin widens. “I’m still around, unlike you.”
Bronson’s rheumy eyes blink and dart around, though whether he sees the cave walls around him is unclear. “How’d you get me? What do you want?”
Anstis’s grin falls. He steps forward. “I want to know what happened the night I was murdered.”
Bronson shakes his head slowly. “You don’t want to know that.”
The old man’s eyes widen and his voice wavers. “No, you don’t….”
Anstis glares, fingers twitching at his side. “I can make ye tell me, boy.”
“They can make me do worse!” Bronson wrings his hands, glancing around again. “It’s too late, Captain. It’s been too long. You don’t know…it’s worse than all of it. Davy Jones took them all.”
(Chris: “I feel like there should be some sort of sea chanty song for this conversation.”)
“So tell me what happened,” Anstis urges. “What do ye know?”
“I know better than to mess with them.” Bronson turns toward the wall, eyes locked in a thousand-yard stare that pierces the cracked concrete and wet black mold. “You can hear it…can you hear it? Whispering at the margin? Calling to us all like sirens? Mermaids of the black water. One by one they listen to the spell, and they came and went. And when they came back…the devil’s work it was….”
Water drips distantly in the silence. Frustrated, Anstis tries a different tact. “How did ye die?”
Slowly, Bronson’s gaze clears. He shakes his head slowly. “Storm. Terrible storm. The masts split like matchwood, and the ship went down like lead.”
“Which ship were you serving aboard?”
“Your ship, Captain. The Good Fortune.” Bronson coughs a laugh and spits at the irony.
“Who captained it?”
Bronson’s jaundiced eyes focus on him. “That’s just it, Captain. The man who captained it weren’t captain. It was a crew of wicked souls. We all be, but not like this. Gaul, and Luther, and Teech. All of them. I saw them all. As we went down, I saw them all. Black magic it was. Devil’s magic.” He shakes his head again, as if trying to clear the memory. “I warned you, Captain. You don’t remember but I warned you. I told you we’d all end in tears. When you left Black Bart I told you. But you didn’t listen.”
A cold breeze rises, slithering through the caves, but the dead pirates ignore it. “They came in the night,” Bronson continues. “Don’t know how many. Don’t know who was in. They showed us yer head and nailed it to the mast and we sailed out to make war on all the world.” He looks down, still wringing his hands, calloused and fat like overcooked sausages. “Killed the crew, bled them dry, threw them overboard for the fish. Burned our prizes, didn’t steal, just killed. Destroyed. Seven nights it lasted. Mad frenzy. Riots.”
Anstis strokes his tentacles. “And who was responsible?”
Bronson lifts his eyes slowly. For a moment, his gaze is razor-clear. “…It was Pritchard.”
(Jason: “Pritchard was your clergyman. Your priest. Because even the pirates had priests.”)
“Pritchard went mad,” Bronson says. “Calling on the Devil. Holding his services in the night.”
Anstis glowers and nods, processing this. “Was Tuke involved?”
“Aye, Tuke was involved. Half a dozen others. But it was Pritchard…he was the only one I never saw…after.”
Anstis starts to pace, circling the ghost. Bronson’s form swivels to follow him. “And what did ye think while this was happening?” Anstis muses.
“Didn’t think. Pritchard lead us on, and when we spotted the sail of the warship he had us attack. Fire and lightnings and God would smite them. And we all went to Hell together.” Bronson chuckles darkly, wetly. “The lightning struck the main mast, the fire reached the magazine. Both ships gone in an instant.”
“What was the other ship?”
Bronson shakes his head. “Seventy-four gun warship. It was madness to assault her. Had a broadside like the mouth of Hell. HMS Dauntless. Now she sails the underworld forever, and the Flying Dutchman is her consort.”
Anstis stops, eyeing the man closely, tracing the scars and broken blood vessels of his face for signs of treachery. “And you had nothing to do with my murder?”
Bronson shakes his head. “Too drunk, too many women. Couldn’t even raise a saber.” He chuckles again. “Well, I could raise a saber in me day, but it weren’t the sort to kill ya.”
Anstis smirks. “Aye. Well then. May ye find peace in the underworld.”
The cold breeze rises again. This time, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from the mouth of the cave. “No peace for us, Captain,” Bronson says darkly. “No peace at all.”
The breeze rises higher, something like whispers licking at the edges of it. Anstis nods, and, with a gesture, dismisses Bronson. The apparition melts away like sand under a wave. Instantly, the breeze and the whispers stop. Leaving Anstis alone in the darkness.
SAN FRANCISCO OPERA
Across the city, Rabenholz has checked Prince Van Nuys out from his (mostly self-imposed) house arrest to bring him to the opera.
(Jason: “What do you see?”
Chris: “I need something specific. What’s an opera about the fall of a king, and then the fall of another king, and then the rise of the first king?”
Jason: *gapes* “…WHY DO YOU ASK ME THESE THINGS!?!”
Chris: “Because you’re cultured!!! See, I can tell by the look on your face that you know one.”
Jason: “…I believe there’s an opera version of the Count of Monte Cristo.”
Chris: “Ooh! I haven’t read the book, though, just seen the movie adaptations.”
Jason: “Well it’s pretty much about that sort of thing, and I’m pretty sure it exists.”
Me: “Yeah. I mean, if fucking Nixon in China is an opera, then Monte Cristo is definitely an opera.”)
(Note: Actually, we were partly right. It appears that the only operatic adaptation of Monte Cristo was done in 2010 by a playwright named Pete Sneddon and is a motherfucking rock opera.
Author’s fiat, I declare that this is the version they are going to see.)
The production–the first major-venue backing of it since it was Kickstarted a year before–is clearly a transparent bid on part of the San Francisco Opera’s bid to attract a younger audience, but it seems to be working. Leather jackets and designer jeans far outnumber gowns and suits in the crowd. Neither Rabenholz nor Van Nuys comment on the incongruity–continuing the silence that has loomed between them the entire trip over–and make their way into the theater to settle into a private box like the refined men they clearly are.
(Jason: “Like Statler and Waldorf.”)
A few more moments of silence pass. Rabenholz flips through the program and Van Nuys stares down at the stage sulkingly. Finally, Van Nuys speaks. “Can I ask why I’ve been asked here?”
“I thought you might enjoy a change of pace from the Pyramid,” Rabenholz replies without looking up.
Van Nuys sneers. “You looking to seduce me?”
Rabenholz raises an eyebrow and turns a page. “I see no reason our mutual presence in this city can’t be enjoyable for the two of us.”
“Other than the fact that you’re attempting to supplant my exposition.”
“Other than that.” Rabenholz gestures to the program. “This style of music is not to my normal taste, but I thought the topic tonight was somewhat fortuitous.”
“Really,” Van Nuys says flatly. “Frenchman plotting to murder each other?”
“Something like that. A man unjustly brought low, fighting his way back against those who wronged him. But which of us, I wonder, does he represent?”
Van Nuys scoffs and scans the above and below them. “Well given that neither of us are exactly reigning at the moment, due to the presence of an extremely powerful Sabbat Priscus, I would imagine neither of us. We, my good Rabenholz, are the stagehands cleaning up the sweat on the stage when the curtain has fallen.”
A smile tugs Rabenholz’s mouth. “You do your clan credit. Most people don’t recognize the hard work involved in governing.”
“Most people have never tried to govern.”
“If they did, I should doubt they should try again,” Van Nuys grumbles. “There are times I envy the other clans. It would be nice to be a Toreador, to worry about nothing except which shade of red to apply.”
Rabenholz sighs and looks at the balconies, slowly filling with the motley crowd. “It certainly seems simpler at times. But then if not duty, then what do we…unlive for?”
Van Nuys shrugs, twisting his program in his hands. “Revenge. Pettiness. I’m sure power, for some. I did while I had it. I no longer have it. And if you think you do, you’re kidding yourself.”
“Indeed, all of the balls are up in the air, as they say.”
“Yes, because they’re being fired by cannons.” Van Nuys glances at him. “You’re going to have to deal with that Priscus if you want to rule this city, you know.”
Rabenholz is quiet a moment before replying, “I may not have all the information quite correct, but I seem to recall you were out of the picture before he raised himself here.”
Despite his careful tone, Van Nuys glowers. “There were some difficulties, associated with him and his…extended family.”
Rabenholz nods. “I understand Lytton was his servant, of some sort.”
“Yes, in some form. What the Priscus saw in him I’ll never understand. Probably just a stick to beat me with.” Van Nuys drums the rolled program against his knee. “They all were. The Tremere, the Gangrel pirate, the tech entrepreneur. They all listened to him. And I couldn’t do anything. Not since the Justicar arrived and decided to stick his nose in everything and become embroiled with this Priscus.” Van Nuys eyes Rabenholz sidelong. “Theo bell killed the Prince of Washington, had you heard about that?”
Rabenholz inclines his head. “I had not.”
“It’s not official. The official news is there was some minor disturbance and orderly succession and all that. Prince of Washington. Marcus Vitel. I knew him, briefly. Horrible man, arrogant beyond belief. Ventrue, of course. Who else would we trust to rule Washington.”
Rabenholz nods slowly. “Quite.”
“Bell uncovered some sort of horrifying conspiracy having to do with the Sabbat and had him put down. Personally.” Van Nuys eyes him significantly. “A two-thousand year-old vampire, chopped to quivering jelly. And if Marcus Vitel couldn’t stop him, you can bet that when Bell showed up here I stood very little chance.”
Rabenholz gestures concedingly. “And yet you’ve outlasted Vitel.”
“Because I didn’t do anything stupid,” Van Nuys snaps. “Rumors about Vitel were that he was planning some sort of nuclear war. But now, not only do we have another two-thousand year old vampire on our hands, but we have a Justicar quite capable of destroying him. Who won’t.” Van Nuys slumps back in his chair, twitching one knee nervously.
Van Nuys shakes his head, staring into the soaring space of the theater. “Sertorius has something over Bell, I don’t know what. Something longstanding. Plots within plots. So what the hell do you want from me?”
Rabenholz smooths the program on his lap and folds his hands. “Mostly I want to know what you plan to do with this situation.”
“Survive it. Sertorius is bad enough, he still has his…dear old father out there. And there’s werewolves roaming about out there where they shouldn’t be.” Van Nuy’s knee twitches faster. “Sabbat are going crazy in the South Bay with the transfer of power, war packs have been filtering north. That maniac Voivode in Hearst Castle has been making all manner of noise. And I hear Stewart has some announcement he wants to make to the world’s press, no less. And this is a vampire whose conception of the masquerade is approximately as strong as his conception of proprietary. So I expect he’ll stand up there and probably announce to the entire world that he’s an undead creature that’s been secretly controlling the world for the last thousand years, and then then demonstrate by plunging a dagger into his chest!”
Rabenholz blinks slowly, unfazed. “My, that would be quite theatrical, wouldn’t it. Toreador, you said?”
“Who else would be that dramatic,” Van Nuys laughs darkly. “The Nosferatu have been decimated, the Malkavians have switched primogens three times in the last year. The Anarchs have gone crazy, waging war against Settites in Oakland.” Van Nuys takes a slow breath. “And I’m here, watching an opera.”
The murmur of the crowd in the theater has increased. Distantly, they hear a soft chime warning people to head toward their seats. Rabenholz waits patiently as Van Nuys’s knee slowly relaxes. Finally, he turns to the older man. “You want this city?”
Rabenholz nods once. “Yes, I do.”
Van Nuys glowers, turning back to the rail. “What do I get in return?
“What do you want?”
Van Nuys is silent a moment before answering. “I’d start with the heads of everyone who did this. This was a quiet city. And then Lytton, and Everton, and Sertorius, and Norton, and all the rest of them came to town. I want them to pay.”
Rabenholz nods slowly. “I hope you received my invitation for my gathering, in a week’s time. I think you will enjoy…a piece of art I am displaying.”
Van Nuys barks a laugh. “And if Sertorius decides to crash it? Or Everton? Or a werewolf? You ready for that?”
“I have plans for Everton. You’ll like those too.”
Van Nuys laughs again, darkly. “Do you know who Everton is? Do you know what he is?”
“Well, given his ability to ramble, he’s either Ventrue or Toreador.”
“Oh he’s a Toreador. There’s another name for Everton. A nickname some of the younger Toreadors gave him.” Van Nuys flashes a cruel smile. “They called him Tore Söze.”
Rabenholz blinks. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
Van Nuys gestures dismissively. “It’s from a movie, you’d have to see it. But the man’s been to six separate hells. Six. More importantly, he’s come back from them. Every single time. He’s been involved in every major incursion of supernatural nonsense since the end of World War 2, as far as I’d know.” Van Nuys shifts in his chair, glowering down at the stage. “He’s insane. He’s an adventurous Indiana Jones wannabe. And he’s remarkably difficult to kill. Several different versions of Satan have tried.”
“Who said anything about killing him,” Rabenholz says smoothly, reaching for his cane to twist it against the carpet beside him. “It is interesting, though, that of all places he came here and made things difficult for you.”
Van Nuys whirls “Difficult? He murdered one of my Primogens, in the most public manner possible, because he wanted to attract attention! He wanted a Justicar sent after him. What kind of lunatic asks for a Justicar’s attention?”
Rabenholz stares coolly at the head of his cane. “Apparently the kind who asks for a Justicar’s attention and then, when he has it, ignores him entirely.”
Van Nuys slumps back in the chair. “That’s Everton. Appears and disappears as he wishes. He’s as bad as Beckett. In fact, he’s a good deal worse.” Van Nuys glances around a moment then leans closer. “If you want to know more about him, there’s a Kindred you could speak to. Off the record. He’s a persona non grata among the Camarilla these days.”
“I hear that’s going around,” Rabenholz mutters.
“He made a few changes of allegiance. His name is Thrace. Oliver Thrace. He’s Tremere. I wouldn’t ask the Chantry about him, though. He’s made a few enemies on that side too. He was the regent of Hong Kong prior to the changeover.”
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “That is quite a distance to fall.”
“It is.” Van Nuys eyes him significantly and sits back in his seat. “Not sure what he’s up to now, but him and Everton have a history. Not a very pleasant one. You find yourself in a position to ask, he’ll tell you whatever it is you want to know, if it means getting one over on Everton. But of course that still leaves you with the problem of Sertorius and Bell. What are you going to do with them?”
Just then, the house lights start to dim and the orchestra starts up the overture with a rousing electric guitar riff. Rabenholz applauds politely with the rest of the crowd and leans toward Van Nuys. “Not all in one night, Mr. Van Nuys. I must say you’ve endeared yourself to me, but I’m not giving away all my secrets that quickly.”
Van Nuys smiles grimly, arms folded, staring at Rabenholz through the dying light. “Good. Then you may even survive to your little Elysium.”
Georgia is at her desk, MewMew in her lap, reading the spellbook she got from Cantor, taking notes to try and make some sense of it, when she gets a phonecall from an unknown number. After a moment of hesitation, she answers. “Hello?”
“Well, well, Regent. Shalom,” answers a voice, and it takes her a moment to place it: Maimonides.
She sits up. “Why hello! I wasn’t expecting to hear from you anytime soon. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Oh, just a courtesy call. I hear a little bird tell me that you’re still hunting for one of our good mutual friend’s associates?”
“Yes, I am in fact. Heydrich, first name Reinhardt.”
“Reinhardt Heydrich,” Maimonides repeats darkly. “I wasn’t aware he’s still around. What clan does he claim now?”
“Well, he’s been running around with Tremere.”
“Hmm. I haven’t seen him on any of the rollsheets, even the ones associated with Himmler and his cronies.”
Georgia shrugs. “My intel suggests he may have been off the radar.”
“It’s possible. But Reinhardt isn’t why I was calling. I thought as professional courtesy, I should give you a bit of warning.”
Georgia puts her pen down. “Okay…about what?”
“You ever heard of a man named Vannevar Hughes?”
“Well you wouldn’t have. He’s the regent of the oldest Tremere Chantry in North America. The one in Annapolis. Or at least he was, until about a year ago. Some sort of fallout after the whole drama in DC. Bell would know more than I would. But Vannevar has been out of a job for the last year, and you do know how little the Chantry thinks of people who are sponging off of them. Vannevar was a very senior Regent for a very long time. Second only to the New York outfit. He’s been looking for a position to restake his claim. And it just so happens there’s a Chantry up for grabs.”
Georgia blinks. “Oh? Where?”
There’s a long moment of silence. “I really hope that’s a joke,” Maimonides says.
Georgia sighs and sits back in the chair. “It was. Are you suggesting he’s on his way here at the moment?”
“I’m not suggesting, I’m telling you. He has a meeting tomorrow with Meerlinda herself. And when she approves it–and I don’t see why she won’t–he’ll be setting up shop in your Chantry with probably a dozen of his acolytes and countless ghouls and gargoyles.”
Georgia strokes MewMew. “I see.”
“You should expect him within, oh, two or three days. I think he probably knows you’re there. Not sure what his game plan is. He may want to just eat you. Or maybe he’ll allow you to retain some kind of ceremonial position.”
Georgia is quiet, still petting the spacewhale in her lap. “Maybe I should just call Meerlinda….” she muses.
“I’d really recommend against that,” Maimonides says sternly. “She’s a founding member of the Council of Seven.” He hesitates a moment. “There’s something else. The reason Vannevar got run out of Annapolis? There were rumors it had something to do with gargoyle production.”
Slowly, Georgia sits up again. “You mean he was involved with it, or…?”
“Well, they’re just rumors.” Maimonides barks a mocking laugh. “Besides, what would a fine, upstanding Tremere Regent like Vannevar Hughes be doing with gargoyle production? Perish the thought!”
Georgia’s mouth twitches in what, on anyone else, might be interpreted as the ghost of a scowl. “I see.”
“How you deal with this is up to you. I wouldn’t want to tell you how to run your Chantry afterall.” Maimonides pauses. “But…if you were to feel like calling Bell and enacting some sort of insane plot to destroy Vannevar Hughes and devour all his childer, well…I might know some people who would regard that as a perfectly useful expenditure of time.”
“And…might you know anyone who might want to be involved, for sufficient compensation?”
“Of course not! Who would agree to be involved in the murder of a Tremere Regent? I mean that would just be ridiculous! What do you take us for?”
The not-a-scowl flickers again. “Pardon my brashness for suggesting it. “
“Of course,” Maimonides says, a smirk heavy in his voice. “But I might be willing to look into Heydrich for you, if you’re willing to undertake something like that.”
“I see.” Georgia picks up her pen and jots a few note in the margin of her parchment. “Well, I think this has been a very helpful conversation for me, and I appreciate you making it.”
“Why thank you. You have such a good evening.”
Maimonides hangs up. Georgia immediately calls Bell.
“Hey there, I have a question for you,” she says as soon as he answers. “This is Georgia, by the way. Did you know it was Georgia? I bet your phone tells you it’s Georgia.”
There’s a pause. “…Goodie,” Bell grumbles.
“What do you know of an ex Tremere Regent named Vannevar Hughes and his involvement with gargoyle production?”
Another long pause. “I’m not sure how that’s your business, what I do and do not know about Vannevar Hughes,” Bell says.
As usual, Georgia ignores his dangerous tone. “We could get together to talk about it. I can bring drinks.”
“Why do we need to talk about Vannevar Hughes?
“Because it has become relevant.”
Georgia sighs patronizingly. “Must you have answers to your own questions before you answer any of mine?”
“…Justicar,” Bell growls.
“…Tremere,” Georgia counters, still cheery.
“I have the authority to walk into your Chanty and burn it to the ground,” Bell says.
“Well, Vannevar might be in it when you do–”
“Vannevar’s coming here?!” Bell roars.
Georgia nods sagely. “Yes. And I need to know whether I should kill him, and then I need to determine whether I can.”
Another silence. “…I need to make a phone call. Come to the Pyramid if you want to know more. It’s complicated.”
Georgia beams. “Great! See you soon!”
“…Goodie.” Bell hangs up.
SAN FRANCISCO ZOO
Anstis soars low over the zoo, peering into the enclosures in the darkness. He’s looking for a mountain lion, but the closest he can get out of any of the animals seems to be a snow leopard. He lands in front of the cage, but before he can try to ask the leopard if there’s any mountain lions around, the great grey cat freaks out, running to the back of the cage and yowling. Anstis tries to calm it using his oh-so-fabulous skills of Animalism, but her panic only increases.
Suddenly a shadow crosses the moonlight. Anstis looks up. An enormous bird is circling overhead. He glowers, then realizes it’s not Aquilifer. The wings are almost square, for instance, and against all expectations, it is actually much bigger than she is. The bird circles low, flapping like the snap of sails, and lands nearby. Anstis has just enough time to identify it as a condor before it shifts up into the dun-colored clothes and weathered, bearded face of John, Baron of the Skyline.
Anstis sweeps his hat in a bow. “John, pleased to see you.”
John glares at him, then glances to the cage. The leopard’s yowling stops instantly. She stills, eyes flashing moonlight, then slinks away into the shadows. “Harassing my cats?” John growls.
“Nay. Sorry if I upset it, I was looking for you.” Anstis straightens and replaces his hat. “I’m here at the behest of the new Prince. You are invited to Elysium next week.”
John eyes him. “The new Prince?
“Lord Augustus von Rabenholz.”
John snorts. “What happened to Van Nuys? Did the Justicar appoint him?”
“I believe he appointed himself.”
John laughs. The sound has a strange timbre to it. “Another fool. An Elysium, you say, in the middle of all this?” He spreads his arms, taking in the night. “I didn’t go to Elysiums back when they were safe, why should I go now?”
Anstis grins in his approximation of charmingly. “He wants all the Kindred of the city.”
John snorts again and paces, eyeing the pirate as he moves. “How come you delivered this invitation? You his new errand boy?”
Anstis smooths at his coat proudly. “Because I’m the new Sheriff.”
John laughs again, meanly. “You, the new Sheriff? The new hall monitor, more like.” The laughter dies and the old man’s eyes flash like the leopard’s. “I am the Baron of the Skyline, I am an independent force in this region, I do not answer to the summons of any Sheriff, or any Prince, Justicar-appointed or not. But….” He eyes Anstis again, narrows his eyes, and nods once. “…I’ll think about it.” Silence falls. “That all you had to say?”
Anstis nods, pleased. “That is all.”
“So maybe you can tell me something else.” John paces closer. “The birds whisper and call, saying things. The bats too. They’ve been saying very strange things about the caves beneath Funston.”
Anstis’s smile flickers. “Aye. You know about the caves.”
“I know everything about the caves,” he growls. “I know what the Tremere used to do down there. But the Tremere are gone. So what’s going on there now, Captain?”
Anstis shrugs. “The things we agreed to. In and out.”
“And what else?” John paces close and stops. “You go in and out, and the caves smell strange in your wake.”
Anstis stares unflinchingly into the older man’s bright eyes. “I have shown you them before. There is nothing else of interest.”
“Then I am sure you won’t mind if I take a look myself, one of these nights.” John grins a smile with fangs, and nods. “Have a good night, Captain.” With that, he drops back into a condor and launches laboriously back into the air, wings stirring dust as he rises.
Anstis watches until the black shape disappears into the night sky, then drops into macaw-form and flies off as well.
Georgia arrives at the Pyramid, but the only one there to meet her in the foyer of the 40th floor is Aquilifer, perched on a leatherback chair. Georgia curtsies to her. “Hello, Aquilifer. Have you seen Mr. Bell?”
The bird blinks at her regally.
“Perhaps I should wait then,” Georgia says. “Do you need anything?”
“You could start by feeding her,” comes Marcus’s voice from behind Georgia. “That is, if you’re interested in losing all four of your limbs.”
Georgia turns and curtsies to the boy as well. “Hello, Marcus. I’d rather not. I kind of need them for locomotion.”
Marcus eyes her over folded arms. “What are you doing here?”
“I have a meeting with Bell. What are you doing here?”
His glare deepens. “I’m a Sabbat Priscus, I go wherever I want. What do you think I’m doing here?”
“I think you have a meeting with Bell.”
The shadows flicker. “I don’t take meetings with Bell,” Marcus says, voice low.
Georgia nods and considers this. “…Perhaps Bell has a meeting with you?”
Marcus paces towards Aquilifer. “Bell does have a meeting with me, where and when I decide it. I don’t think you understand how this Priscus thing works. See, to you he’s a Justicar, but to me he’s just some damn Camarillian. A slave, with a slave’s mentality.” A mean smirk crosses Marcus’s face a moment, then he turns back to her. “What is it you’re meeting with him about?”
Georgia sighs and settles into a chair not occupied by an eagle. “The Tremere, actually. I was going to ask him what he knows about an ex-Regent named Vannevar Hughes. Do you know anything about him?”
Marcus frowns, but it’s a perplexed, rather than irritated, look, like he’s searching for something at the edge of his mind. “I’ve heard the name…where is he from?
Marcus’s face clears, and the mean smile returns. “Ooooh, yes….”
“Would you like to tell me what happened in Annapolis? Cause that’s what I’m here to see Bell about.”
Marcus sits himself in Aquilifer’s chair. Perhaps it’s coincidence, but above him, the eagle subtly mantles her wings dramatically. “I’m nearly certain that the rest of the Camarilla does not want you to know what happened in Annapolis.” Marcus says.
Georgia beams. “Oh, does that mean you’ll tell me?”
Marcus’s face doesn’t react, but he stares at her a long moment over folded hands. “Have you ever heard of a man named Marcus Vitel?”
Beaming again, Georgia smooths her skirts and settles back for a story. “No.”
Marcus draws his sword with a soft whisper of leather and admires it as he talks. “Well, that wasn’t his real name. His real name was Lucius Aelius Sejanus. He was my vintage. In more ways than one.” He eyes her significantly, then turns back to the sword. “Ruled Washington, not sure for how long. Masqueraded as a Ventrue. Turned out that wasn’t what he was. See, Sejanus was Sabbat. Or something like it. Kindred my age don’t really belong to a sect, we are simply whatever we claim to be. After all, who’s going to tell us otherwise.”
Marcus smirks at her, then lays the sword flat on his lap. “Sejanus was something else. Lasombra maybe. He had some maniac plot to prevent the apocalypse from happening by triggering his own, but Theo Bell and a small army of Camarilla legbreakers kicked his door in and chopped him to pieces. I understand it was an unpleasant affair. Bell’s reminded me of it several times, as some kind of warning to me. He doesn’t realize what I know, which is that Sejanus was a fool and it’s a miracle he lived as long as he did.”
Marcus gestures dismissively, as if absolving himself of the rogue Lasombra, then continues. “Vannevar Hughes was one of his…confidantes, let’s say. One of his associates. Close associates. It’s rumored he was involved in whatever his schemes were and they may have involved gargoyles. Nothing was ever proven, though, because apparently Hughes knew people. Important people. Last I heard he had been run out of Annapolis and the Tremere were going to reassign him. Usually that means being sent to Vienna to be turned into an easy-chair. But who knows? Maybe he talked his way out of that. Maybe he joined the Sabbat. I have no idea.” Marcus shrugs. “Why do you mention him?”
“…Oh, because it sounds like they decided to reassign him here.”
Marcus’s tenses and his eyes narrow. “Really. And whose idea was that?”
“I believe it’s coming from the Council of Seven.”
“And where did you hear that?”
Georgia hesitates. “A…source.”
“My source,” she says cheerily.
Marcus stares at her. Slowly, subtly, the shadows under Aquilifer’s wings seem to deepen. “Please don’t make me,” he chastises.
Georgia grins haughtily. “Marcus…a girl has to have secrets. I am a woman of mystery and intrigue. Of complexity, of layers!”
(Me: “Like an onion!”
Julian: “And she may be about to get peeled.”)
The shadows ripple. Marcus leans forward, meeting her gaze. “Tell me.”
Her coyness evaporates and she sinks back in her chair with a sigh. “His name is Maimonides.”
Marcus blinks. The shadows stop. “…You know Maimonides?”
“Oh yes, we’re quite good friends. Sort of.” She shrugs. “He’s a lovely fellow, quite glad to work with him.”
Marcus blinks, shaking his head in disbelief. “I thought he was dead…I thought he died in the Anarch revolt.” Suddenly he curses in Latin. “That rotten bastard Jew, he owes me seventeen florins!”
“I believe he’s not currently residing on this plane–”
“Of course he’s not,” Marcus grumbles. “So what is he doing with you?”
“Feeding me information, mostly. About Tremere business,” she says, tone dropping just half a degree as she emphasizes Tremere.
“Hmm.” Marcus eyes her, then shrugs. “Well, glad to hear it. If Vannevar Hughes is coming here, he’s coming with a posse. If you’re not prepared for him, he’s simply going to diablerize you, and then I’m going to have a very thorny problem on my hand wherein I’m gonna have to burst the wards on the Chantry open, blow the building to pieces, and tear Vannevar apart limb from limb.”
Georgia sighs. “Yes, well, if it does come to that and I do get eaten, don’t just burn it down, go get Dr. vonNatsi, and have him help you break the wards.”
“Oh good, a crazed Etherite, that is exactly the sort of stable element I wish to introduce to the situation.” Marcus rolls his eyes. “I’m not going to blow the place apart for my own purposes. There is a symbol to these things. I need to send a message to the Tremere clan of what the consequences are of sending a party of wizards and bodyguards into a city that I am trying to conduct business in.”
Georgia sighs again. “Well, before you blow it up, make sure you get all the artifacts out.”
“And what artifacts would those be?” he grumbles.
She beams and sits up. “Well first of all, all the books. I have quite a collection in my office, and there’s the special selection up in Max’s old bedroom. There’s this one new mysterious book I picked up recently, still haven’t figured it out, but I’m very close. I’ve also been meaning to investigate the warding spell that sent Anstis to the torture chambers when he tried to…read….one….”
Georgia trails off as she sees Marcus’s glare. “I will do what I can,” he grumbles.
(Jason: So if I’m correct, everyone has accomplished everything on the list of things they wanted to do over the next few days?
Jim: “Actually, I need to do something else.”
Jason: “Really, what a shock.”
Jim: “I need to do another necromancy ritual–”
Me: “Do you? Do you?”
Jason: “What ritual?”
Chris: “It’s called ‘Make Life Worse for Other People’”)
Anstis returns to the caves. The night is getting early and he has one more pressing thing on his list: continue the search for Noah. Without Noah’s real, full name there’s not much Necromancy he can do to locate him. But, as Anstis collects himself in the back of the caves where he has prepped all the necromantic reagents he needs, he considers one of the real full name he has.
Jim: “Noah’s mother.”
Jason: “Oh, riiiight….”
Me: “Oh, shit–”
Chris: “You should summon the monster that killed Noah’s mother.”
Jason: “No, we’re not getting that meta.”)
Anstis releases the spell to summon the spirit back from the underworld, and steps back. Moments pass, then a vague shape coalesces from the dark, so faint it seems even an eyeblink could banish it away: the slight trace of an arm, a shimmer of hair, and the lines of a face young but very, very sad.
Anstis eyes the ethereal shape. “Are you Nancy Finch?”
The shade fades a moment at the noise of his voice, then slowly drifts back into being. “Who are you?” a woman’s voice echoes from no particular direction.
Anstis nods to himself, pleased. “I have been looking after your boy for some time now. I found him, lost and alone, a few nights back. He’s been with me since, but recently he’s gone missing.”
The shade pulses again, fading to the edge of reality then back. The eyes–white and pupilless–stare through Anstis. He hesitates, opens his mouth to repeat himself–
And then the ghost screams.
The shriek tears up the octaves, climbing higher through the fabric of reality itself. The shade swells and darkens, fingers and hair elongating like strangling kelp. It reaches for Anstis. He lifts a hand to unleash a necromantic spell–
And then his eyeballs explode.
Both of them, even the dead one under its eyepatch. Dark, thick ichor pours from the sockets and down Anstis’s face, pouring into his mouth and dripping down his tentacled beard. He tries to heal but the attempt sends pain exploding through his skull and leaves him in blackness.
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!???” the ghost screams, shrieking even higher. Anstis staggers instinctively back, groping at his face. The fluid isn’t just thick, it’s sticky, and reeks of a smell all too familiar. It’s pitch, hot enough to flow freely. His crew used to use it to caulk the ship. And also to make torches.
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?” the ghost shrieks again, the sound beating from all sides like a storm.
Anstis lifts a hand. “I’m trying to find him–”
Skeletal hands, long and cold, grab his shoulders. Anstis doesn’t flinch. “Do you know who killed you–” he shouts.
Blinded as he is, he can feel the spirit pull close, staring into him, through him…. “YOU DID!!!!!!!” it shrieks.
(Me: “Well, she’s not wrong.”
Jason: “You suddenly realize what happened, what this is. You didn’t summon a wraith. You summoned a specter.”
Jim: “What’s the difference again?”
Jason: “A specter, essentially, is a wraith that’s been possessed by its own dark side. And considering what happened to her, you found one of the worst ones you could find. the Underworld is the place where the psychic detritus of mankind goes when it’s not needed anymore, what exactly do you think you just called up?”)
Soul-sucking cold washes over him as the specter lunges at his face. Anstis grapples, drawing on his necromancy to control it, but he can feel his willpower draining away. His struggles ease as, slowly, he blacks out.
END OF NIGHT