8/20/15

Jason: “Kara, let me see your sheet….”
Jim: “…Are you giving her a free dot of Investigation!?”
Jason: “Yuuup.”
Jim: “How!?”
Kara: “Because Georgia extracted Science from Malkavian-ness!”

***

In case you missed the temporary addendum update, I decided to add the beginning of this session to the end of last session, since it worked much better with the time-breaks. It’s just a short scene with Anstis, but it’s integral to what happens next so if you haven’t seen it yet, please go back and check it out!

#

THE PYRAMID

A few nights pass as everyone settles down to their own business, for once. Georgia tries to find out more about this Vannevar Hughes who is supposedly coming, Rabenholz works on his business interests and plans for his Not-an-Elysium, and Scout… scouts, seemingly content to wander the city alone, watching, and undertaking in secret actions of her own.

After the third night, though, everyone independently receives a notice from Bell to see him at the Pyramid. Immediately.

Rabenholz and Georgia arrive first, chatting idly in the hallway outside Bell’s office. They stop as the elevator dings and Scout steps out to join them. Scout also hesitates upon seeing them.

Rabenholz nods to her, but before he can introduce himself formally, Georgia steps forward and curtsies. “Well hello! It’s nice to met you. I’m Georgia Johnson, Regent of the San Francisco Chantry.”

Scout pushes her sunglasses higher up on her face and nods to her. “Scout.”

“Scout,” Rabenholz rumbles, trying the name. “What are you in town for?”

She glances at him. “A short period of time.”

Rabenholz waits, but no other response is forthcoming. Just then, Bell steps out and gestures them inside. “I don’t have a lot of time this evening, so I’ll get right to the point. Who are you?” he snaps as he closes the door behind them, staring right at Scout.

She hesitates, fidgeting with her sunglasses again. “My name is Scout, I received a message to come–”

“Yes you did, I sent it. I mean who are you?”

“I’m…new in the city.”

Bell folds his arms, looking her over. “What clan, what sire?”

“No clan which claims me, and…” she takes a breath. “…I don’t know.”

“Caitiff. Good, we need a stable situation around here,” he grumbles. It’s unclear whether he’s being sarcastic or not.

“Like with horses?” Georgia asks cheerily as she settles herself in one of the leather chairs. “I don’t know if horses would help but I do know that Doc has one that’s very well-behaved–”

Bell’s glare cuts her off. He stalks back behind his desk, gesturing Rabenholz and Scout to a seat. Rabenholz takes his graciously, but Scout remains standing, lingering in the shadows near the door. “I’m expecting you three are going to help me resolve a sticky situation that has come up,” Bell says, casting a glare at Scout for not joining the rest of the class.

Georgia nods agreeably. “Mr. Bell, I am always happy to help you resolve sticky situations–”

(Me: “So was Tom.”)

“–I find that a little bit of vinegar can often dissolve them–”

Rabenholz lays a hand on Georgia’s arm, quieting her.

Bell gives a sharp nod of thanks to Rabenholz. “Any of ya’ll seen the pirate the last couple of nights?”

The three of them trade blank glances. Bell scowls and pulls a remote from the desk, pointing it at a flatscreen on the wall, calling up a pre-recorded clip from a daytime news broadcast. The screen shows a side-by-side of an anxious reporter next to overhead shots of cops combing  coastal dunes. The reporter and the tagline at the bottom identify the dunes as Fort Funston, and announce that eighteen bodies have been removed from the caves, all apparently ritually murdered.

Georgia leans toward Rabenholz as the newsclip plays. “Tom’s still in the basement, right?”

“He’s more secure than that,” Rabenholz mutters.

“I am glad we’re all thinking the same thing,” Bell interrupts them loudly. “How secure is more secure?”

Rabenholz eyes him coolly. “Incredibly.”

Bell leans forward. “Mr. Rabenholz, you have absolute certainty that Tom Lytton did not do this?”

Rabenholz nods. “Positively.”

“That’s unfortunate.” Bell tosses the remote onto the desk. “Cause now we got somebody else doing this shit.” He jabs at the screen. “Thirteen hang-gliders, four dogwalkers, and one poor homeless bastard, all carved up like some Satanic Sunday dinner and scattered across Fort Funston.”

“Sounds Malkavian,” Georgia suggests.

“It does, but I already called our…resident,” Bell says.

Georgia sits up. “What did Norton say?”

Bell rolls his eyes. “He yelled something about snakes and hung up.”

Georgia turns to Rabenholz and nods sagely. “He’s doing well, then.”

Bell’s glare deepens. “I called almost everyone left in town and the only one I can’t get in touch with is your damn pirate.”

Georgia blinks. “My pirate?”

“Yes, your pirate, the one your people dredged up from the ocean and brought to this damn city! I need to know where he is and if he just decided to enact a Satanic ritual in full view of the public where he killed eighteen civilians.” Bell leans across the desk. “I need to know that really, really badly.”

Georgia considers this a moment, then nods. “Okay!” With that, she gets up and sweeps from the room.

(Jason: “…I should have expected that.”)

Everyone stares as the door slowly creaks back to closed. Rabenholz breaks the silence first, clearing his throat and turning back toward the desk. “Mr. Bell, if I could tell you a story.”

Bell glares. “Please…”

“When I was Prince of Köln, a spate of bloodless bodies began appearing early in the morning. I suspected it was a Sabbat attempt on the territory, sowing seeds of discontent in advance of an invasion. I set my Sherriff on the task. He came up with nothing.” Rabenholz shifts in the chair and folds his hands. “But then I used my contacts in the police department. A simple human investigator followed the crimes. It was no vampire, no Sabbat, just a madman, murdering people, draining the victims of blood, and throwing the bodies out in the street the next morning.” He gestures at the TV. “While I certainly would have appreciated it if Mr. Anstis remained more accessible, there are many causes besides his absences which may relate to this. Most of which are not even supernatural.”

“Which is why I wish to rule him out,” Bell says sharply. “There are two factors here that I think are different than your little story. One, Cologne was not at that moment playing host to enough elder vampires to kickstart Gehenna. Two, Cologne was not in a position where its police force had been federalized by the department of Homeland security and every media camera in the country was pointed at it due to a spate of terrorist attacks in the area in the last eight months. We still don’t have a fall-man for everything that’s been going on here, because with all the chaos no one’s been able to go up to Humboldt to take care of it like we discussed.” He glares at the screen. “And now this. If it wasn’t Anstis then it was someone else and we will find him, through normal means or otherwise. But if it was, I need to know this. I need to know the details, and I need to make this right. Quickly.

“I’m not suggesting you don’t pursue this,” Rabenholz says. “Merely that it can be hazardous to limit your options early on. I’m happy to help you however I am able. I merely suggest there will be other people following other lines of reasoning.”

“There are. But see what you can find with this damned pirate.” Bell stands, jabbing a finger at the screen. “This wasn’t some bestial frenzy, those bodies were carved up with necromantic sigils. That makes people scared, and scared people make things worse.” He turns to Scout, still lurking in the shadows. “I’m told you’re good at finding things,” he says, then adds in a grumble, “I’m told this by people I’m required to work with.”

With Bell’s and Rabenholz’s eyes now on her, she slowly steps forward. “I…can find most things–”

“Can you find a psychotic Gangrel dressed like a pirate who still thinks he’s in the age of sail?”

(Me: “Well, it is San Francisco, so….”)

She shrugs. “I’ve met him before, I can’t imagine there’s anybody else fitting that description.”

Bell lifts his finger warningly. “Caitiff aren’t generally welcomed terribly much into a city. You wanna avoid that? Find me the pirate, and I’ll make all the obstacles disappear. And if the pirate didn’t do this, find me the one who did.”

Scout hesitates, glancing at Rabenholz. “So it definitely wasn’t this…Lytton everyone is speaking of?”

“This Lytton everyone is speaking of, I have it on good authority, could not have done this at this time.” Bell transfers his glare to Rabenholz. “Quiet this down, and then we can get back to dealing with Humboldt.”

Rabenholz nods and stands. “Very good. I’ll speak with you later.”

#

ALCATRAZ

Georgia steps out of the teleportation circle into the remains of the gargoyle factory in the subcomplex of Alcatraz. Since Anstis apparently took his anchor from the Chantry via circle, and the native spell of the Chantry circle is programmed to lead here, this seems the logical place for it to be, but  as she scours the vats and moldy, bloodstained rooms she finds no sign of it.

She eventually makes her way to the surface, stepping off a rusted stairway to the fog-soaked wind of the open sky. The lights of the city glitter across the water, but the ruins of the island–some of the ruins more recently ruined than others–are dark. She makes her way through the debris and scattered pieces of construction equipment, then stops as she sees a large shape picking its way through the rubble. It turns toward her.

It’s Emperor Norton.

She sighs with relief. “Emperor!”

He stumbles closer, as if not believing what he’s seeing, eyes wide and face paler than usual. “Georgia Johnson…?” After a moment, he lunges forward, grabbing her shoulders and thrusting his face close. “DO YOU SEEEEE!??!”

She grins. “Snakes!”

His panicked expression falters. “…Snakes? Where are the snakes?!”

She waves breezily. “Oh they’re all around us.”

“…Everywhere?”

“Everywhere,” she nods sagely.

(Me: “…Like Pitbull?”
Jason: “…Fuck you.”)

Georgia looks around, ignoring the manic face hovering inches away from hers. “Have you seen an anchor?”

Norton’s eyes narrow and he nods. “Yes…yes I have seeeeeen the anchor…but it is a false anchor.”

“Really? Does it float?”

“It sinks in the mire of corruption,” he spits. “The false anchor holds them… They think they are safe. Protected in the harbor…BUT THEY DO NOT SEE!!!” he roars, then releases her. He steps back, smoothing at his moth-eaten coat. “The anchor is false, the ship is adrift, and the rocks are coming.”

“Huh. That doesn’t sound good–”

Norton whirls toward the west. “HE has replaced the anchor! He has come to do this!”

“Anstis?” Georgia asks, perplexed.

“No….” Norton casts a look at her over his shoulder. “…The dark one.”

“Oh.” Georgia blinks. “Who’s the dark one?”

“DO NOT SPEAK HIS NAME!!!”

“…Oh, is it That Guy?” She smiles. “We have to get That Guy.”

Norton grumbles, pulling his head low against the collar of his heavy coat. “No, you mustn’t. It is not time. Not yet.”

“Then we should get Anstis.”

“Anstis…the pirate.” He casts another hooded look at her. “He walks a dark path but he knows nothing! He knows not what stands before him. It stares at him…with one eye, it stares….” Norton shuffles toward her, lifting a finger. “It has but one eye, but it sees with great clarity.”

“Oh, creepy. Where does it see him?”

Norton leans close. “Everywhere….”

“It sees him everywhere….” Georgia frowns, staring around them. “…Is Anstis dissipated?”

Noton nods dreamily. “Dissipated yes…it will reconstitute, but not in time….”

As Norton falls into muttering, Georgia pulls out her phone and calls Bell. “Anstis has been dissolved,” she says as soon as he picks up.

“…What!?” Bell barks. “I said find him, not kill him!”

“I didn’t do it, but I have it on good authority he is going to recover from it, but at the moment he may not be detectable.”

“…Where the hell did you get this!?”

“I think it’s possible he has, perhaps, some sort of discipline that lets him turn into mist, and I can only assume he is using that to hide from you,” Georgia says confidently.

(Kara: “Jason is trying so hard not to laugh!”
Jason: “…You don’t understand. Out of game: that wasn’t what Norton was talking about, obviously you know that–”
Kara: *laughing* “I know!”
Jason: “–That wasn’t even close to what Norton was talking about–”
Kara: *still laughing* “I know!
Jason: “–But that’s exactly what did happen.”
*Moment of silence, then everyone bursts out laughing”
Jason: “Anstis became mist-form and hasn’t resolidified yet.”
Me: “Wooow. Georgia being Georgia, bound to be right every once in awhile.”
Jason: “Kara, let me see your sheet….”
Jim: “…Are you giving her a free dot of Investigation!?”
Jason: “Yuuup.”
Jim: “How!?”
Kara: “Because Georgia extracted Science from Malkavian-ness!”)

“Do you know where he will be reincorporating?” Bell asks through what sounds like gritted-teeth.

Georgia lowers the phone. “Emperor, do you know where his mist-form is?”

Norton whirls and grabs her shoulders again. “DO YOU SEE!??!?”

“…Wait, who are you talking to!?” Bell yells, though by his tone it sounds like he knows the answer.

Georgia carefully squeezes her arm under Norton’s to speak into the phone again. “You know what, I’m going to try calling Anstis directly. I’ll call you back.” With that, Georgia hangs up.

#

THE PYRAMID

After taking his polite leave of Bell, Rabenholz heads toward the elevators. Scout hurries after to catch up. “Herr Rabenholz,” she says.

Lord Rabenholz,” he corrects smoothly, turning to face her.

She hesitates, then bows respectfully. “Lord Rabenholz, my apologies. Umm….”

(Me: “…Ah shit, I gotta be polite and shit, how do I do this?”)

Scout clasps her hands in front of her. “I’m new in this city but it doesn’t take much experience to understand the direction that things are flowing. You seem to be a man at the apex of such a current.”

He gestures with his cane. “Your flattery is appreciated. You may skip to the point.”

She nods. “Mr. Bell is correct that I have some skill with tracking, and other services. If there is anything I can do to be of service to you and your interests in this city I would be glad to make myself available.”

“Indeed.” Rabenholz eyes her. “Well, so refreshing to meet someone as helpful as yourself. I’m glad our city has assets such as you. Do you mean to pursue the Dread Pirate Anstis, as the Justicar has requested?”

“I mean to make the attempt, yes. Although he is someone so imminently obvious that if he hasn’t turned up yet then I cannot imagine where he could be,” Scout says.

Rabenholz eyes her another moment, then turns and presses the elevator call button. “I am heading to one of my hotels. I spoke with Anstis on the roof there a few nights ago. Perhaps there we may find clues as to his whereabouts. If you are so inclined, you may accompany me.”

Scout bows again. “I would be glad to.”

#

DOWNTOWN

Rabenholz and Scout reach the roof-garden of one of Rabenholz’s hotels. (By “his” hotel, what that means is it’s one of the hotels he has contracted suites in, rather than a hotel he owns outright. But give it time, I’m sure that will change.)

The garden is empty, but they find a large piece of twisted metal sprawled across some of the landscaped pots. The ceramic is cracked and the plants underneath squished, as if the metal was dropped from a great height. The metal itself is shorn off cleanly at both ends, but Scout identifies it as part of some sort of antenna array. They look around. There’s no antennas on this roof, or any of the ones nearby.

A small square of white catches Scout’s eye, though, tucked in a tuft of decorative grass. It’s a business card, partly torn and bloodstained, but there’s just enough information visible to identify it as belonging to a broadcast engineer working for KTVU. The name at the top isn’t familiar, but the address listed beneath it is.

Sutro Tower.

#

ALCATRAZ

Anstis’s phone, unsurprisingly, goes to voicemail. Georgia leaves a message, telling him to call her back once he’s stopped being a cloud, then hangs up and turns back to Norton.

Norton nods intently, eyes staring through her. “They will go…they will find terrible things, but they are false. The snakes are everywhere, but they too are yoked to the false anchor. You must see….” He leans in, dropping his voice to a whisper. “…She is coming.”

Georgia looks around the windswept rock around them. “Who’s coming?”

Andrea…she comes….”

Georgia tilts her head. “What will she be wearing?”

“Fire…fire and wrath…. She will overturn the works of men.” His eyes trace back to the city skyline. “They do not see. They must see, but they cannot. You must make them see.”

“Okay, what do I use to make them see?” She digs through her bag. “Glasses, or maybe a mirror…?”

“They cannot see with any artifice. They have been blinded, blinded by the dark one. You must find a way to unblind them….” He shake his head slowly. “They go now, and if they do not see tonight all is lost.”

“Tonight?”

“TONIGHT!” Norton whirls to her. “They go to slay what must not die! You go to slay what must not die, you do it as we speak! WHY CAN’T YOU SEE????”

Georgia stares a moment, then lifts her phone. “Don’t kill anything tonight,” she texts to Bell.

Norton watches her, shaking his head sadly. “You do not know. He blindfolds you, he will leave it upon you. You must see.” He turns back to the city, eyes suddenly sharply focused. She follows his gaze. It’s riveted on Sutro Tower, slowly blinking red above the skyline.

“The Tower,” she says. “Should I not kill something at Sutro Tower?” Norton doesn’t respond, staring west as the wind whips his heavy coat. Georgia sighs and puts her phone away. “Alright, well, I’m on my way.” She heads back toward the stairs.

You must see….” Norton’s voice drifts behind her. As she reaches the top of the stairs, she glances back. He’s gone.

#

SUTRO TOWER

Scout is silent on the ride up to the tower. Rabenholz eyes her periodically, but doesn’t say anything until the car drops them off and they’re walking up the drive to the tower complex. “You seem to have an eye for things to come, or have enough sense to flatter me into thinking you do,” he says as they stroll, cane clicking against the asphalt. “You apparently have an idea why I am here, but I put the question to you. Why do you come to San Francisco? How do you hope to profit by being here?”

Scout paces in silence a moment, staring out into the ivy-coated trees. “I am someone who tends to find herself in places of confusion and unrest, whether I intend to or not, but I’ve found it’s worked to my favor in the past.” She shrugs. “Word of this city’s situation preceded it.”

“Opportunity does collect people that way, doesn’t it? I suspect more than just you or I will arrive in this city before things calm down.” They reach the guard shack. Rabenholz turns to face her. “Be more specific, though. What opportunity do you seek in the chaos here?”

Scout cranes her neck at the tower overhead, then turns to him. Her small sunglasses have slipped down her nose, revealing cool blue eyes. “Like I said, I’m pretty new. I’m simply keeping my eyes out.”

Rabenholz twists his cane in his hands, then nods. “Very well, your secrets are your own. For now.” He lets those words hang in the air a moment before continuing. “Mr. Bell seemed to think you were good at finding people. What, or perhaps who, has given him that impression?”

She shrugs. “I assume that, as the official figurehead of the city, he has many contacts still in his purview.”

“Contacts who know you.” Rabenholz tilts his head, eyeing her closely.

(Chris: *gleefully* “…Aura perception….”
Jason: “Alright, with three successes, you can tell that she is a vampire, she has…not committed diablerie?”
Me: “No….”
Jason: “Right, just checking. And her emotional state is…?”
Me: “Wary….”
Jason: “Wary, somewhat deceitful, but not outright lying. Caitiff are often like that.”
Chris: “Well, there’s Caitiff and then there’s Caitiff.”
Jason: “There’s Caitiff and there’s Caitiff and then there’s 5th generation elders pretending to be Caitiff.”
Chris: “Hmm, yes. Vampiric lineage isn’t as simple as one might think….”)

If Scout suspects what he’s doing, she doesn’t flinch. Rabenholz frowns thoughtfully. “Where did you say you came from?”

“I didn’t,” she says smoothly. “But…it’s been so long it doesn’t really matter.”

“Humor me, then.”

She holds his gaze. “It doesn’t really matter.”

Rabenholz’s eyes narrow. “…Quite.”

Just then, footsteps jog rapidly up the drive and Georgia appears from the shadows of the trees, having just been dropped off by her own car. “Hello!” She waves cheerfully. “Fancy seeing you here!”

Rabenholz steps back from Scout and nods at the Tremere. “Ms. Johnson. Are you still on the trail of the Dread Pirate Anstis?”

“I am. Are you as well?”

“Yes.” Rabenholz peers up at the tower.  “Although we had not expected to find anything of importance here.”

Georgia shrugs. “Well, maybe so. Where’s the guard?”

Rabenholz and Scout turn to look at the shack. They were so intent on their conversation neither of them noticed the little room is empty. They step inside, looking for signs of struggle, and Georgia uses the moment to call Dr. von Natsi. There’s no answer.

Georgia hangs up as the other two step out of the shack. “I think we should be prepared for a trap.”

Rabenholz looks up at the tower again then nods. “Ms. Scout, perhaps then you would be so good to take the lead.”

There’s a brief flicker of something in Scout’s expression, perhaps an eye roll, but then her face smooths rapidly. She nods graciously to Rabenholz in a half-bow.

(Me: “…Obfuscate.”
Jason: “Chris, what’s your Auspex?”
Chris: “Two.”
Jason: “Colleen, what’s your Obfuscate?”
Me: *grins* “Four.
Jason: “Boom. She is gone, you don’t see shit.”)

Instantly, Scout winks from sight. Rabenholz blinks and looks around, carefully eyeing the shadows under the eucalyptus trees. But it’s as if she was never there.

Georgia settles into the chair in the guard shack, cheerfully telling Rabenholz about her evening so far and thoughts for the Chantry now that the wards are reinforced. Rabenholz watches the tower, listening just enough to notice that, despite her continuous banter, Georgia isn’t revealing any specific information at all.

After about ten minutes, Scout reappears, almost exactly where she disappeared from. “The pirate is there, down the lab. Unconscious, next to another man.”

Rabenholz twists his cane. “Not an ambush, then?”

“I checked the whole room; I didn’t see anyone.”

Rabenholz gestures her forward, following her and Georgia into the building. They step into the elevator, ride it the short trip down to the lab in silence, then step out as the doors slide open.

Anstis is sprawled in front of the elevator doors, unconscious, clothes torn and stained with blood, dirt, and worse. Next to him is a figure that, by the lab coat and myriad goggles, Georgia and Rabenholz immediately recognize as Dr. von Natsi.

Dr. von Natsi is dead. Unquestionably.

His arms and legs have been dismembered and staked to the ground with pieces of lab equipment and shorn metal. His chest is carved open, split like a clam, the innards ripped out and splayed around him in a macabre mandala of gore. Georgia and Rabenholz stare in shocked silence, until a soft drip, drip catches their attention. von Natsi’s heart is nailed to the ceiling directly overhead, impaled by a pencil.

Rabenholz is the first to move. Smoothly, he draws a stake from under his cloak and approaches the unconscious Anstis. Next to him, Georgia kneels down quietly and removes the metal pinning Dr. von Natsi’s limbs, carefully collecting the pieces next to the body.

Cloak flaring around him, Rabenholz moves to impale Anstis, but the stake bounces off iron-hard flesh. Rabenholz grunts and lifts for another strike, but the pirate’s eyes fly open. He scrambles away from Rabenholz and to his feet. “What is this!? Where are we!?” he roars.

“Mr. Anstis.” Rabenholz tucks the stake away and rests his hand lightly on the head of his cane. “It’s too much to explain now, but I think things will go better for you if you submit to the Justicar’s judgement.”

Anstis looks from him to the body at their feet, jerking in surprise as he recognizes von Natsi. He freezes, though, as he sees Georgia kneeling next to him. She’s staring up at the pirate, face consumed with raw hatred.

(Kara: “She would be doing a lot more, but Norton did just say not to kill anything tonight.”)

“Captain, please come quietly. I believe it will be safer this way for all of us.” Rabenholz leans in, meeting Anstis’s gaze.

(Chris: “…Dominate. What’s your current willpower?”
Jim: “Two.”
Chris: “Ok, so at difficulty 2 that’s…twelve successes!”)

Trust me,” Rabenholz says evenly. “Do not attempt to flee.”

(Jason: “This man is trustworthy. Fleeing is a terrible idea.”)

Anstis blinks. “I…need to know what’s happened since the last time we spo–”

(Jason: “No you don’t, you trust him.”
Jim: “But I still need to know!”
Jason: “No you don’t, you trust him. He got twelve successes, you would trust him to put a gun to your head!”)

Georgia digs around the remains of von Natsi’s labcoat, pulling out his phone. She’s decided she should inform Gunther of his ex-mentor’s death. But strangely, there’s no numbers saved in the contacts list. She pages through the recent call list, but it’s empty as well, even though she just had a missed call at his number five minutes ago.

Frowning, she calls his phone from her phone. She hears it ring on her end, then click over to voicemail, but the phone in her hand doesn’t ring once.

“Doctor, please call me back,” she says automatically to the voicemail, then hangs up. She stares at the body, standing slowly, sadly….

(Kara: “I…look around to find the Etheric Life Put-Back’er ray.”
Jason: “You do not find the Etheric Life Put-Back’er ray.”
Kara: “I…put the colander on his head.”
Jason: “You put the colander on his head. Nothing happens.”
Kara: “I…drag him into the room where we removed the silver from Sophia.”
Jason: *winces* “You’ll have to make several trips.”)

“Ms. Johnson, leave him alone,” Rabenholz says as she places the organs back in and starts hefting the torso. “There is nothing you can do for him.”

“I can’t just leave him, I have to save him,” she says, ignoring the blood smearing across her robes.

“Ms. Johnson, this man is beyond your ability to save.”

“No.” She disappears deeper into the lab with her gristly cargo, heading toward a sub-chamber in the far wall. Scout quietly watches her leave, then drags over a stool to reach the heart on the ceiling.

“Rabenholz,” Anstis growls, his one eye boring a hole through the Ventrue. “What. Happened?

Rabenholz takes a breath. “The mutilated remains of eighteen bodies were found at Fort Funston. Dismembered, various sigils etched into their bodies. Probably not unlike this man.”

Georgia comes back for another trip, carefully gathering the limbs. “If you leave, it’s very important you don’t kill anything tonight,” she says as she walks away.

“That would be acting hastily, Ms. Johnson,” Rabenholz replies, still eyeing the pirate. “My plan is to bring you before the Justicar for judgement. It’s my hope you are uninvolved in these happenings.”

Anstis rubs at his beard. Nervously. “…Of course. How long was I missing?”

“When we last spoke, it was Sunday evening. It is now Wednesday,” Rabenholz says sharply. “Mr. Anstis, did you have any bodies at Fort Funston?

(Chris: “Remember! You trust me!”)

Anstis shifts uncomfortably. “Occasionally, but not eighteen of them.”

Rabenholz regards him a long moment, then nods. “Ms. Scout, would you please get in touch with the Justicar and have him send a clean-up crew here? Possibly forces to quarantine this tower.”

Balanced on the stool, Scout has carefully unpinned the heart from the ceiling and is holding it in her hand, frowning thoughtfully. “Who was this man?”

“A very powerful mage,” Rabenholz says, still staring at Anstis. “Please head outside and wait for the Justicar. Make sure no one else comes. Or leaves.”

Scout nods and climbs down as Georgia returns. Scout hands the heart to her silently, then strides to the elevator, grabbing a rag from a workbench to wipe the blood from her hands on the way out.

Cradling the heart in her hands, Georgia returns to the chamber. She’s arranged the pieces of Dr. von Natsi on the table where the torn-open Sophia once lay, positioned under the massive etheric deathray mounted overhead. This time, though, the ray, and all the machinery lining the room are dark. Carefully, Georgia places the heart into the chest cavity, then sits next to the body, holding its hand.

As she sits, she realizes something. Something doesn’t feel right. A strangely…off sense is trickling through her, radiating from her hands. The hands now covered in heart’s blood, soaking into her skin. She lifts one hand and tastes it.

(Jason: “Here’s the thing. There’s two things you notice about this blood. One is it’s human blood, and very dull tasting.”
Kara: “Not…sparkly?”
Jason: “Not tremendously, no. Now it could be just because he’s been dead for several hours. But here’s the other thing. It makes you nauseous. You didn’t taste enough of it to actually throw up, but it makes you feel uncomfortable to taste it. Now, your prey restriction is people who are helpless, right?”
Kara: “Powerless.”
Jason: “Okay, well the dead are technically powerless I suppose, but that’s not how this works. Even if the person you were drinking from was dead, normally the powerless wouldn’t have much of an effect, because they’re dead. But this tastes like you just drank the blood of a slave. Even though the person is dead, and there are no slaves in death.”)

Rabenholz comes into the room as she’s staring at her palms. She holds one blood-soaked hand out to him. “I think you should taste this.”

(Me: “Lol, does this taste weird to you?”)

Rabenholz eyes her, but carefully draws a finger along her palm and tastes it.

(Jason: “This is a dead man, it doesn’t tell you a hell of a lot, but like with her, it lacks effervescence, which you’ve always been told mage blood tends to have.”)

“I don’t think Dr. von Natsi is here,” Georgia says slowly, staring at the body pieces on the table. “This body tastes enslaved, and that’s not a taste Dr. von Natsi should have.”

(Jim: “I overhear them from outside the room, so Magic Rock: Find My Friends.”
Jason: “Do you have Dr. von Natsi’s full name?”
Jim: “Umm…no.”
Jason: “Then you can’t!”)

Anstis appears in the doorway, fingering something in his pocket. “Ms. Johnson, do you know the doctor’s full name?”

She looks up. “Uh, yes….”

“If I have it, I might be able to locate him,” Anstis insists.

(Jason: “You’re going to tell the necromancer the dead mage’s full name?! A necromancer who may have just murdered him, along with eighteen other people!?”)

Georgia’s eyes narrow suspiciously. “I would need your word that if I give it to you, you will do nothing else with it but try to locate him.

“Aye, you have my word.” Anstis extends his hand.

(Jason: “Aaaand you’ve just given your word to a Tremere, so be careful.”)

Georgia nods and grips his hand with her own bloody one. “Dr. Siegfried von Natsi,” she says. Anstis pulls out a stone, inscribes the name in blood, then closes his eye and casts the spell.

None of Your Concern, the spirit world whispers back.

Anstis opens his eye. “Huh….”

Georgia leans forward. “What happened?”

“It said, ‘None of your concern.’” Anstis peers at the rock, perplexed.

Georgia’s face darkens. “I knew it…something bad has happened to him….” She digs out her phone and calls Professor Lovelace. There’s no response. Running out of options for help, she next tries Doc. Thankfully, this time her call is answered. “Doc!” she cries as soon as she hears his voice. “I’m terribly sorry to bother you, I find myself in need of a doctor.”

“A doctor?” Doc repeats in his smooth drawl. “And what could you require a doctor’s services for?”

She looks at the body. “You remember my mage friend?”

“I do.”

“He’s been murdered in his own tower. I’m not entirely sure if his spirit has also been murdered or perhaps simply removed from his body, but if you could come look at it I would appreciate it.”

There’s a pause before Doc continues. “That is most disquieting. I have been known to practice medicine from time to time but I am also exceptionally skilled in other matters. Relating to murder, that is. Who, may I ask, is responsible for the departure of your wizard?”

She stares up at Anstis a long moment, then sighs. “I do not know,” she admits. “I suspect someone is attempting to frame the pirate Anstis, but I don’t think he’s responsible in this case.”

“Do you have reasons for this?”

“Yes. The Malkavian Primogen, Emperor Norton, told me not to kill anyone tonight, even though it was likely I was going to want to.”

Another pause. “And so you stand, with a friend dead and a possible murderer in front of you?”

“Correct.”

“…Ms. Johnson, there may be hope for you yet. Unfortunately, I am not within the boundaries of the fair city at the moment. I have been paying my respects to a friend. But I will make my way there with as much haste as I can muster.”

She sighs in relief. “Thank you.”

Rabenholz, meanwhile, has stepped out of the room and cast a ritual, Illuminate the Trail of the Prey, specifically targeting von Natsi. The sprawling lab lights up with faint ghostly trails circling the lab benches and clustering around the baroque equipment lining the room. Rabenholz paces the room slowly, examining them. Though the trails overlap in places, they are all faded, as if they haven’t been walked in some time. Most importantly, none of the trails lead to where they found the body.

As he peers at the crime scene, the elevator dings open and Scout steps out into the lab. “I contacted Bell, he’s sending a team, but he has strongly advised us to keep the pirate under strict guard and bring him back to the Pyramid.”

“Very good.” Rabenholz turns to the Anstis as he rejoins them. “Mr. Anstis, please come with us.” His fingers drum on his cane. “Quietly.

Anstis nods, and, after another look around the room, follows them out.

#

Georgia remains in the lab, waiting for Bell’s men. She sits next to the body in her own private wake, no longer holding the body’s hand but still staring at it sadly.

After some time, there’s a soft knock at the open door to the chamber. She turns, expecting to see one of Bell’s ghouls. But it’s Doc.

“Doc!” She rises to her feet. “Thank you so much for coming.”

He nods at her as he comes in, eyeing the body. “I am highly disconcerted to see the situation here. What has transpired?”

She walks him through the details of discovering Anstis and the body. Doc listens quietly till she finishes. “The death of a mage is no small thing, particularly not a fixture such as Dr. von Natsi.”

Her face goes slightly paler. “Are you certain he’s dead?”

“I am certain of nothing. I am confused as to why you called for me,” Doc says, striding slowly around the table.

“You are a doctor, sir, and your services have come in handy in places in the past, often in ways I would not have anticipated.” She clutches at her bag, twisting the fabric in her grip. “I had hoped…maybe something in your expertise….”

“Not all doctors are created equal. I was a dentist, ma’am. And the good Dr. von Natsi was supposedly a doctor as well.” He stops and looks up, face shaded by his hat. “What are your interests are in this matter?”

Georgia’s mouth works silently a moment. “…He was my friend.”

“That is not a subject I find the Tremere clan speak of terribly often.”

Bruised pride momentarily eclipses the sadness on her face. “In Tremere terms, he was a great resource. He was a scientist, he had ample knowledge, and was willing to share it with me.”

“And is that how you define friendship?”

She looks at the body. “…No.”

“Then I will ask again as to your interests in this matter. The good doctor was a mage, he was Awakened. Neither you nor myself are, or are capable of being.”

She continues to stare at the body. “He was a friend,” she says softly. “He was a colleague of scientific pursuits. He shared a love of information and creativity and discovery. And he was there for me when I needed help. Always willing to lend a death ray, or reinforce my wards, or help me bring back a space whale. He was a good man….” She takes a slow breath, and for a brief moment it shudders. “…And he hadn’t finished his golem….”

Bootsteps echo across the concrete floor as Doc approaches her. “Ms. Johnson. I do not lightly engage in matters such as this. The affairs of either wizards or the Tremere.”

She meets his eyes. “I would be greatly in your debt,” she whispers.

Doc is silent a long moment, the weathered lines of his face emotionless. Finally, he glances at the body and takes a breath. “This man here…is not Dr. von Natsi.”

Georgia sinks to the floor in relief.

“I do not know how it is he appears to be so,” Doc continues. “But this is not him. We are, however, meant to infer that it is. Which in turn implies that whoever arranged it knew that Dr. von Natsi himself would not be present to disabuse us of this notion.”

Georgia nods, staring at the drying blood on her hands. “And we were meant to jump to the conclusion that Anstis had done the killing.”

“And therefore we were meant to dispense what I would assume to be summary justice upon him.” Doc approaches the body again, poking at the open rents of the chest cavity. “You see, we were not meant to find Dr. von Natsi in this state. I suspect you were. This leads, of course, to a number of questions. Who has murdered this man? Why has be been left here for you to find? Why does this person wish you to murder Captain Anstis, and where is Dr. von Natsi himself?”

Georgia nods slowly, the thrill of mystery evaporating the last remains of feels. “And why can’t he answer his phone…?”

“When it comes to mages, there are a great many reasons why they may or may not be able to do anything. He could have become a victim of Paradox, or overcome by a rival. He could have taken a sojourn to the Magellanic Cloud. He could simply be drunk in an alleyway. Or he could be dead.” Doc stares at the body a moment, then draws out the remains of the labcoat to cover it. “I do not know the state of Dr. von Natsi, but I know this man is not him and someone has gone to great length to ensure others are not able to determine this.” He turns to her and smirks. “But they have not reckoned with my particular skills.”

Georgia nods, still folded among her skirts on the floor. “As I said, I am greatly in your debt.”

Doc tilts his head, casting his face into shadow. “You may find that is a more onerous situation than you expect.”

“I am willing to shoulder it. You also have been a good friend.”

“I appreciate the sentiment Ms. Johnson, but you do not know me all that well.” He reaches a hand to help her to her feet. “How is it you came to suspect this was not Dr. von Natsi?”

“Well, the phone was one clue, the one from the body isn’t really his, but the real clue was that this blood doesn’t taste right. It doesn’t taste sparkly and it doesn’t taste free.”

Doc nods thoughtfully. “A mage is always free.”

Georgia nods in agreement. “And is always sparkly.”

“Now this I cannot say, I do not have your talents for the discernment of blood.” He gestures to the body. “This man was not a mage. I suspect he was no one in particular. But he appears to be Dr. von Natsi to all eyes, including mine.”

“Which implies Vicissitude.”

“Or illusion.” Doc eyes her. “I cannot at this moment determine which, but if it is an illusion, it is a powerful one. One which retains its shape and scale even when we know it to be there. You have made the enmity of mages. Is this not the case? I have heard talk of warmages.”

Georgia sighs. “Oh yes, it’s certainly true.”

“Would they dare do something like this?”

“No, this isn’t their style. If they wanted to kill me, they would just kill me.” She hesitates. “I’m actually a little confused as to why they haven’t yet. I assume they are busy with something more pressing. But in the meantime, framing another vampire for murder so I would kill that vampire to punish me…? It’s much more convoluted than necessary.” She gestures dismissively. “They think I’m an ant, so they would just step on me.”

“So then who is of the opinion that you are not an ant but someone who must be made to slay Captain Anstis?”

Georgia tilts her head. “The werewolves maybe, but that also doesn’t seem right.”

“This strikes me as a bit over-involved for a werewolf. They would no doubt simply kill you, him, and everyone else in their path.”

“Indeed. Well, possibly other Tremere.” She sighs. “I am a vampire; the list of my enemies is longer than my arm.”

“Is it possible the enemy in question is not yours? The good captain has a few.”

Georgia nods in agreement, then frowns in frustration. “That does make it more challenging, doesn’t it?”

“I’m afraid there is little I may be able to provide of assistance beyond this point. I do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, but you do know those who do.” He offers his arm to lead her from the room.

She accepts it gratefully. “Thank you very much for your assistance, Doc.”

Their footsteps echo across the empty lab. “I am glad I could be of some relief,” Doc says. “And when you do find the good Dr. von Natsi, give him my regards.” He releases her arm and tips his hat.

“I will,” she curtsies.

Doc walks back toward the elevator, but before he reaches it he disappears completely. Georgia stares at the gristly smears of the crime scene a moment, then pulls out her phone,

(Kara: “I call Chris.”
Chris: “Which me?”
Kara: “Rabenholz.”
Chris: “Oh, I gave the phone to Rhona.”)

Georgia leaves a message with Rhona, insisting she remind Rabenholz not to kill anyone tonight. Bell’s cleaning crew arrives not long after. Once she’s appraised them of what they need to do, she leaves the tower to return to the Chantry.

#

THE PYRAMID

Scout and Rabenholz escort Anstis across the city in silence, all the way till they reach the Pyramid and Bell’s office. Bell is waiting outside the elevators as they arrive at the fortieth floor, arms folded, sunglasses barely muting his glare.

Rabenholz nods to Bell, then turns to Scout. “Ms. Scout, could you watch the Captain a moment? I would like to speak to the Justicar alone.”

Scout nods agreement. Bell eyes Rabenholz, then jabs a finger at Anstis. “Watch him,” he snaps at Scout, then lets Rabenholz into the office, slamming the door behind them.

“Something very unusual is afoot,” Rabenholz says coolly, standing patiently in the middle of the room.

“You don’t say,” Bell growls. “What the hell is going on here?”

Rabenholz gives him a summary of the discovery at the tower, including Georgia’s insistence that the body’s blood didn’t seem right for a mage.

Bell paces as he listens. “Ms. Johnson is certain of this how? Does she eat mages customarily?”

“I couldn’t say, but perhaps. Furthermore, thaumaturgical evidence indicates the doctor has not been in his lab for some time.”

“She thinks he was killed somewhere else?”

“I believe she thinks he is not dead. That perhaps the body is some sort of simaculachrome.”

(Jason: “Simulacrum.”
Chris: “Simulacrum? No, that’s what spiders make.”
Kara: “SIMulacrum.”
Jason: “SimuLAcrum.”
Jim: “Simula-chrome, it’s fake chrome.”
Chris: *exasperated* “Simon-la-chrome-ay!”
Me: “That’s macrame.”
Chris: “Oh. Wait, that’s the thing that goes on the TV?”
Jim: “No, you’re thinking of the musician that does the Thrift Store song.”
Kara: “No, that’s Bob Ross.”
Jason: “…What is going on–!?”)

“Georgia thinks the evidence has been fabricated,” Rabenholz clarifies, “And Dr. von Natsi is not actually the victim here.”

Bell sinks into his chair with a creak of leather. “See here’s the difficulty. She’s right that Dr. von Natsi isn’t the victim here, because Dr. von Natsi was killed in private, and he’s not one of us, and I don’t particularly care who killed him right now. I’m gonna care a hell of a lot in a minute, but right now I care more about who killed the eighteen people in Funston. And they’re not fake.”

“For what it’s worth, under heavy pressure Mr. Anstis admitted he did not have that many bodies accumulated.”

The chair creaks again as Bell leans forward. “You’re gonna have to explain to me how that makes things better,” he says, voice low.

(Julian: “That was a smooooth rolling under the bus.)

“I’ll leave that to you. Although I must admit that someone sloppy enough to have some lesser number of bodies accumulated doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.” Rabenholz gestures dismissively. “There’s one more thing. I don’t know the significance, but Ms. Johnson has been insisting not to kill anyone tonight.”

“Oh, the Tremere Regent insists not to kill anyone tonight. Why?”

“I don’t know, but it’s arbitrary enough I’m inclined to trust it,” Rabenholz says smoothly.

“I’m inclined to trust the Tremere not at all. I’m surprised you aren’t as well.”

“I don’t think the information comes from her. It…has a certain signature to it, doesn’t it?

Bell glowers. “…Norton.”

“My guess. In any event, if he must be put to final death, it would not hurt to wait till tomorrow. I say that mostly because of Ms. Johnson and Mr. Norton’s warning, but nonetheless, prudence wouldn’t have us act hastily.”

“I may have a better idea, but we’ll see how things shake out.” Bell leans back, folding his hands. “Speaking of plans, what’s this I hear about an Elysium?”

Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “Elysium? I wasn’t aware of any.”

“Really, cause I hear different.” Bell reaches forward and lifts up a hand-calligraphed card on embossed paper.

“That is simply a gathering to celebrate the imprisonment of Mr. Lytton.”

“A gathering you’ve invited every Ventrue in the Bay Area to, and you want me to make an appearance at, and which is happening in a location that makes it look an awful lot like you’re in charge.” Bell drops it to the desk. “I may be Brujah, but I ain’t dumb.”

Rabenholz eyes him emotionlessly. “No, Mr. Bell, you are not.”

Bell levels a finger. “I don’t care who runs this city as long as they keep it under wraps. You want to run Elysium and make a claim on praxis, fine. But if you run a civil war with Van Nuys in the middle of all this, I’ll put both of you down and find someone else to sit on the throne.”

Rabenholz nods. “Of course. I can assure you, Mr. Van Nuys and I are establishing very good terms–”

“Mr. Van Nuys is a slimy bastard. He took over this city under circumstances that weren’t very nice. I’m not telling you your business, you wanna make a play for this city after it gets cleaned up, fine. Hell, I’ll give you my recommendation. But no power-plays that spill into violence. And you know that once you start moving like this it ain’t always going to be up to you.”

Rabenholz nods tersely. “Understood.”

“And make sure you mind your security. You’ve heard what happened the last few times Elysium was held in this city. Who knows what the hell might try to walk into yours.” Bell stands up and gestures to the door. “Send the pirate in. The other one too.” Before Rabenholz can move, though, Bell hesitates and holds up a hand. “Wait, before you do, that Scout…you have any impression on her?”

Rabenholz gestures vaguely with his cane. “She is hiding almost everything.”

Bell drums his fingers on the desk. “Could be a Caitiff then. Could be something else. I don’t like more kindred popping up that I don’t know anything about. I want to know more.”

“I wouldn’t mind it myself. I will keep you in the loop.” Rabenholz nods at him and goes to open the door.

Anstis and Scout come in. Scout goes to stand in a corner, arms folded. Anstis strides to the desk and bows gracefully to Bell, carrying himself as if he weren’t covered in blood and gore.

“Captain.” Bell doesn’t invite him to sit. “You’re gonna wanna start talking right now.”

Anstis grins smoothly. “Where would you like me to begin?”

“Why don’t you start with the part where you killed nineteen people and left eighteen of them in the open?”

Anstis’s gaze doesn’t waver. “I didn’t.”

“Really.” Bell jerks his chin to the other inhabitants of the room. “Did she? Did he? Did I?”

“I don’t know. The last thing I remember was two nights ago.”

“You went on a two-day bender? You got some endurance to you.”

Anstis shrugs. “It’s never happened before–”

“I imagine that’s something you say a lot,” Bell growls.

Anstis sighs and continues. “–Furthermore, I doubt it was me.”

“You doubt it was you,” Bell repeats flatly. “So some other Gangrel came waltzing in here, popped his claws out, carved eighteen people up around your hideout, left them stretched out for the morning joggers to find, then dragged your ass halfway across the city to a mage tower, where he surprised an Etherite, overpowered him, killed him, sliced him up, and laid him out next to you?”

“Whoever killed von Natsi wasn’t in a bestial rage.”

“I didn’t say you were in a bestial rage.” Anstis doesn’t respond. Bell leans across the desk slowly, bracing his hands on the wood. “You’re gonna wanna start talking, Captain.”

Anstis meets his gaze evenly. “I didn’t kill von Natsi.”

“How do you know?” Bell gestures at him angrily. “You missed two days, you got his blood all over you! You were found next to his body!”

“I’m not entirely convinced he’s dead.”

“Oh well that’s convenient, produce the man, then!”

Anstis falls quiet, thinking, fiddling impulsively with the von Natsi rock in his pocket. Bell’s eyes narrow. “I’m pretty sure he ain’t hiding in your pocket.”

“I tried to find him and I was advised to mind my own business,” Anstis says.

“By whom?”

Anstis takes a breath. “The spirits.”

Bell walks slowly around the desk. Anstis doesn’t flinch as he stops in front of him. “And how in the world are you talking to spirits?” Bell growls.

Anstis meets his gaze. “I think you know the answer.”

“I think I might.”

“I think you’ve known for awhile.”

“I have,” Bell sneers. “So maybe you wanna stop pretending to me that you had nothing to do with this. Those eighteen bodies were stretched out for necromancy. And you missed two days and don’t remember anything from before you went under?”

“I do remember the moment I went under.”

“And what was the moment you went under?”

Anstis takes another slow breath. His eye darts to Rabenholz and Scout, watching dispassionately, then back to Bell. “I was speaking to a woman named Nancy Finch. She is the mother of a child who was murdered last year and embraced.”

“Oh, your little sidekick. Yes, I’ve heard of him. The one who disappeared.” Bell folds his arms. “I heard about that from another child who was murdered, who was very unhappy.”

“Aye. That other child has compelled me to take certain actions which carry risks–”

“Oh, so it’s Sertorius’s fault? I’m supposed to go to him and tell him he just murdered eighteen others?”

“He compelled me to take action to find the missing child–”

“He compelled you to murder them!?” Bell shouts.

“He forced me to take risks–”

“What risks!?

Anstis eyes Bell evenly. “The woman I spoke with is a specter.”

Bell’s face turns wooden. “…A specter. You called a specter.”

“Unknowingly, at the time.”

Briefly, something mars Bell’s angry veneer. It looks distressingly like fear. “Do you have any idea what you may have done?” he hisses. “You unleashed a specter that could have done this? A specter killed those people?”

“The specter may have worn me as a puppet,” Anstis insists.

“The specter may still,” Bell says darkly.

Anstis shifts nervously in the silence that follows. “I am…uncertain of the full extent of its capabilities. If you’d like to speak with an expert, I know one.”

“You mean the Giovanni in Chinatown,” Bell says with a distasteful sneer. “How do I know this just ain’t you talking to live?”

Anstis spreads his arms in mock welcome. “You have ways of compelling me.”

“I have ways of dropping you where you’re standing.” Bell turns to Scout. “You believe what this man is saying?”

(Me: “…I’m sorry, I was thinking about my lesson plan for tomorrow, what are we talking about?”)

Bell takes a slow step toward her. “Do you…believe…that this man is saying whatever he can to survive the next five minutes?”

Scout glances between the men of the room. “I do have some experience in working for those one would not rather work for,” she says carefully, “And having one’s actions not be one’s own choice.”

“That’s a helluva roundabout way of saying nothing,” Bell says.

“It’s a helluva roundabout way of saying I think I do believe him,” she replies.

Bell glares and turns to Rabenholz. “What about you, Pfalzgraf?”

Rabenholz, though, addresses Anstis directly. “Captain, if you don’t tell the truth here there is nothing we can do to help you.”

Anstis straightens, meeting the gaze of the other vampires in the room one by one. “I have told the truth to the best of my knowledge,” he says firmly.

“The best of your knowledge is you conjured up a specter that may have done this,” Bell says. “You realize even if that’s the case, it’s on your head.”

Anstis bows at Bell concedingly. “What would you have me do to make this right?”

Silence settles in the room as Bell stares at the pirate, everyone else’s eyes on him. Finally, Bell exhales and lowers himself to the edge of his desk, folding his arms. “I have an operation in mind,” he mutters. “You probably don’t know about it yet, but I think it’s time you get in on the loop. We need to get ahead of this entire situation in the city where people seem to think it’s ok to run around killing and blowing things up. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re down a stable prince and a whole bunch of primogens, and I don’t have time to run around cleaning up your messes. I’d rather just kill you.” He leans forward. “But I’m not gonna do that right now. Because you’re going to help me solve this problem and be instrumental in returning this city to order. Do you understand me?”

Anstis nods, face emotionless. “Of course.”

“There’s a group north of here, near Humboldt. They call themselves the Knights of the Yellow Rose. They’re bad people. Standard conspiracy nutjobs, think the president was put in place by lizard people and the Jews. They’ve been around for years. Literature, marches, pointy white hoods.” Bell eyes Anstis significantly.

Anstis, though, stares back blankly.

Bell rolls his eyes and continues. “Recently, they’ve decided to step things up a notch. You three are going to go up there and convince them by any means necessary that it’s time for them to admit to having taken their campaign on the road. We’re gonna have ourselves a show trial, you see, cause these fine upstanding gentlemen are the terrorists that have been making this city dysfunctional in the last six months, from blowing up Alcatraz to carving people up along the coast. Do you get my meaning?”

Everyone nods.

“Good,” Bell growls. “I need them to go out in a blaze of glory, screaming that the cops are all pigs working for the Zionist occupation government. I need them to admit freely to the media that they were responsible for purging the sodomites from San Francisco. Because I need every person in this country, Kindred or otherwise, to think that they and they alone are the reason I am here.” Bell scans the three of them slowly. “And I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t invent new crimes that I’d have to have them blamed for while you’re doing it.”

“How would you like us to accomplish all this without making the situation worse?” Anstis asks.

Bell’s gaze settles on Rabenholz. “Convince them.”

Rabenholz nods. “I will arrange for an airplane to take us to Humboldt this evening.”

“Thank you.” Bell stands and moves back to his chair. “Do what you need to do to get this done as quickly as possible. If you need to convince them to make a suicide attack on a National Guard depot, fine. I don’t need them to come through this alive, in fact it’s probably best if they don’t. Just get it done.” He settles behind his desk and jerks his chin toward Anstis. “And don’t let that one out of your sight.”

END OF NIGHT

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