The following is a brief scene role-played out by Chris and myself on our own initiative, which we recorded, shared with Jason, and had retconned into the overall timeline. Because apparently this is something we are doing now.
Preparations for the Humboldt trip move quickly. With Rhona’s help, Rabenholz secures a Learjet to take everyone from San Carlos airport up to Eureka. Rabenholz estimates they can all be upstate within two hours.
But first, he has an errand.
He sends Anstis and Scout down the Peninsula and has a separate car take him by the Chantry. Georgia is still at the Tower, but he “convinces” Bob to let him in. Once inside, he brushes his way past the confused ghoul and heads down to the basement, to the room Tom’s body is secured in.
Rabenholz has supervised some rearranging here over the past few nights. Aquilifer’s broken rack is still shoved up against one wall, but the metal rack–and the body bolted to it–is missing. In its place stand two large framed mirrors, leaning against the pitted rock wall. Rabenholz approaches the smaller of the two and reaches out a hand to touch the glass.
The light wavers, and suddenly he is…somewhere else.
A small space surrounds him, with pale walls that have the suggestion of solidity but are so featureless the eye slides right off them. The wall behind him, though, shimmers, showing brief glimpses of the dungeon cell he just left. In front of him stands a small plinth, borrowed from somewhere in the Chantry, with a scrap of tapestry thrown over the top to add the only color in the room.
On top of the plinth sits Glitch.
Rabenholz picks up the sword carefully, admiring it a moment in the wan light of the mirror-realm, then nods to himself, replaces the sword, and steps back out of the space.
Back in the dungeon, he approaches the other mirror. It’s larger, the frame weathered and cracked, but the glass is unclouded, reflecting Rabenholz’s stern face clearly. He touches it, and once again he is instantly elsewhere.
This realm is larger, just like the mirror encasing it, but is similarly featureless. The light is dimmer, as if struggling to fill the larger space. In the middle of this room, stretching from the floor to the shadowy ceiling, is the metal rack, with Tom’s body staked securely across it. Bolts erupt through his clothes, dried streaks of liquid dripping from each. It’s not blood though, or vitae; it’s some sort of embalming fluid. Half his pants have been cut away, revealing a two-foot gash down the thigh where Rabenholz and Georgia removed a femur. Black stitches hold the incision shut, but as long as he’s in staked-torpor, no healing has begun.
Rabenholz walks closer, staring up into Tom’s face, drooping against his chest. As requested, the eyes have been replaced with glass ones, staring sightlessly out. The taxidermist was even so thoughtful as to find a color matching the real ones. Rabenholz focuses on their glassy blue depths, concentrates….
…And falls deeper into somewhere else, using Auspex to pry open a space within Tom’s comatose mind and climbing inside.
Tom’s mind swirls with shadows, as featureless as the mirror-realm, but the mental-apparition of Tom that drifts before him in the air is unmarred. If anything, he looks a bit larger and more muscular. The eyes, though, are still missing, replaced by black pools, each venting a drifting trail of darkness into the shadows circling around them.
The projection of Rabenholz approaches this projection of Tom, hanging limply within his own mind. “Can you hear me Mr. Lytton?” Rabenholz rumbles. “Can you recognize my voice?”
Tom’s head jerks to life, staring around sightlessly. “…The fuck is this?!”
“Mr. Lytton you are staked. Physically, you have no chance of escape.” Rabenholz paces around him. “You were mounted as a warning to others. You are to serve as an example to some of the malefactors of this city.”
Tom gapes. His body twitches as he tries to move. Finally, his limbs slump in resignation. “How long have I been…out?”
“Four nights now. I will say, I was quite concerned you might escape. I have taken measures to prevent that. Which, conveniently, also allow us a chance to talk.” Rabenholz smirks briefly. “You’ve caused quite the stir. Mr. Bell even authorized your final destruction.”
Tom’s shoulders slump further. “Yeah, I heard.”
“I am arranging to make sure that does not happen to you.”
Tom snorts. “That doesn’t seem likely, considering the assholes you’re running around with.”
“You refer to the magician and the pirate.” Rabenholz pauses in his pacing to regard him. “Why do you imagine Mr. Antis and Ms. Johnson were so keen to come after you? They were your allies, were they not?”
“They were, but they’ll grab at whatever opportunities come around. All evidence to the contrary, I for one have tried to show a little restraint.”
“…As you say.” Rabenholz resumes pacing. “Mr, Lytton you will find I am a very practical man. For the moment, in exchange for protective services I expect will fail, I have offered your body to Mr. Anstis.”
Tom grimaces, squeezing more wispy darkness from his eyes. “Ah, god….”
“I’m curious, how does that sit with you?”
Tom groans. His hands twitch, as if trying to reach up to scrub at his face. “Let’s just say he’s wanted certain talents of mine for a long time, and if he had a shortcut to them he would probably take it.”
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “You refer to a short temper and a renowned inability to plan? I daresay he’s approaching them on his own just fine.” Rabenholz sighs. “Mr. Lytton, I have no desire for you to be destroyed. I have no desire for anyone to be destroyed. I merely want to maintain order. As a part of that, a certain former Prince stands in my way.”
“What, Van Nuys? Not for long, the fucker will run the first chance he gets. Or get himself stuffed into his own trunk so someone can drive for him.”
Rabenholz nods slowly. “He is brooding–”
Tom scoffs. “Of course he is.”
“–Crying about the mean Justicar and Priscus that have come to take his city away.” Rabenholz tsks disapprovingly. “Did you know I was a Prince once?”
Even eyeless, Tom manages an eye-roll. “No, but it doesn’t surprise me. You seem the type.”
“Indeed. In any case, the Justicar has forbidden an outright confrontation with the Prince.” He stops, peering close into Tom’s face. “But if the Prince should be offered a gift of the main malefactor in his city, and should in his haste to assert his dominance set him free and be killed, well…certainly I wouldn’t be involved in that now would I?”
Tom is silent a moment. “So you want me to be a Trojan horse?”
Rabenholz smiles. “Exactly. Dr. Everton would be preferable of course, but I suspect he’s more difficult to capture than you are.”
Tom barks a laugh. “More difficult than you think.”
Tom shrugs as much as his limited movement will allow. “I don’t know much about him except that everyone who has tried to interact with him has underestimated him.”
“Yes, this city holds many surprises, it seems.” Rabenholz pauses thoughtfully. “Tell me, what is your relationship with the Priscus?”
For a brief moment, Tom tenses. “There’s certain Roman terms for it, but basically he’s my boss.”
“I can’t imagine a big hulking Brujah like yourself likes being bossed around by a tiny Lasombra such as he,” Rabenholz says, looking him over.
Tom turns to the direction of Rabenholz’s voice, the darkness in his eyes suddenly twisting darker. “I don’t mind giving respect to people who are worthy of it.”
Rabenholz nods slowly, unfazed. “An idealist at heart, no less. Your reputation doesn’t entirely do you credit, Mr. Lytton.”
The threat fades from Tom’s face and his body goes still. “Have you been in contact with Marcus?”
“…What has he told you?”
Rabenholz resumes pacing. “That as long as no one diablerizes you, he is fine with the arrangement I have. So the question is, why should I take you off the wall? Why should I not exhibit you to those who would otherwise cause me trouble? Certainly my own personal generosity could be listed amongst those reasons. But like I said, I am a bit more practical than that.” Having made a complete circuit, he stops to face Tom again. “Make me an offer, Mr. Lytton. What will you give me in exchange for your freedom?”
Tom’s jaw works soundlessly a few moments. “…Well, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Van Nuys dead, but him being an incompetent asshole doesn’t seem enough for me to turn into a hitman.”
“So are you rejecting the offer of being his assassin?”
“No,” Tom protests. “Just…considering options.” He hesitates another moment. “What else is new in the city? Has Perpenna made any moves, or more Settites shown up?”
“Gnaius Perpenna has been quiet, and the Settites seem occupied skirmishing with the Anarchs. In fact, I would say the city has been running in remarkably smooth order the last few nights.”
Tom tenses. “Have there been any…health reports?”
Rabenholz blinks. “Health reports? You’re referring to the cholera epidemic?”
“No, I mean…other ones, within the city.”
“No, not to my knowledge. Is there something I should be on the watch for?”
Tom takes a slow, airless breath. “There may be a developing outbreak of a highly resilient strain of HIV. It’s quite possibly spreading through the city, and…I may be the only one able to stop it.”
“You? I’m sorry Mr. Lytton, I didn’t take you for a doctor or an epidemiologist. What qualifications do you have for this epidemic?”
Tom is silent a very long moment. “I got a plan, but it may require some…unsavory actions.” The darkness in his eyes pours faster.
Rabenholz shakes his head sadly. “Mr. Lytton let me paint a picture for you. Your body in the Chantry has been embalmed. Some of your bones have been replaced with metal and welded to a steel frame–”
“What!?” Tom’s body jerks. “Like fucking Wolverine?! What the hell!?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand that reference. My point is, I understand that unsavory actions are sometimes necessary.” Rabenholz steps closer. “You do not need to be vague about your plans with me. I may be able to help.”
The dark wisps in Tom’s eyes whirl, reaching toward Rabenholz. “…I’m gonna need that sword,” Tom mutters finally.
Rabenholz glares and takes a step back. “Yes, that was quite a sword you had, wasn’t it. I’m afraid it’s been returned to Ms. Johnson at the Chantry. Property of the Tremere and all that. What do you intend to do with the sword?”
“…I’m gonna need it. It’s basically the best chance I have to get any of this done.”
“And how do you intend to stop an epidemic with a sword?”
Tom sighs. “It’s a long story.”
Rabenholz eyes him. “You are familiar with the recent development with The Vaccine, are you not?”
Tom’s dark pools flicker in what could only be a blink. “…What vaccine?
“For smallpox, of course.”
“The…smallpox vaccine has been around for fifty years–”
“Like I said, the recent development of it.” Rabenholz paces. “Why would a tool such as a vaccine not be more appropriate than a sword?”
Tom tenses, remaining silent.
(Me: “Out of game: I do have a plan for this, I’ve had it for awhile now, but I want it to be a surprise so I’m not giving specifics.”)
After almost a full minute with no answer, Rabenholz sighs and continues. “Let’s assume you could strike down a disease with a sword. I don’t know, perhaps there is some spell to make metaphor real.” Rabenholz waves dismissively. “The process of setting you free will not be simple. You are only allowed to survive because you are anchored to a wall. You are nothing more than art for the moment, and that makes you less of a threat than the Justicar and other authorities of the city would care to deal with. The moment you leave that wall and begin moving about under your own power, you’ll return to being the victim of the Lex Talionis.”
Tom’s face stares blankly.
“The Blood Hunt,” Rabenholz clarifies.
“My point being, you will not be able to move around the city. It is conceivable that someday I could secure your freedom, but that would be many years in the future. When my power base is larger and your crimes are less fresh in our minds.”
Tom’s face twists unpleasantly. “How do I know you’re not gonna set me loose like some dog and then lock me right back up on the chain?”
“Well, Mr. Lytton, if I set you free you’ll have your full capacities available to you. I could conceivably hunt you down again but that sounds like a lot of work for myself. Frankly, if I choose to work with you, I want you to be motivated for our common goals. I don’t think slaves are properly motivated. Free people with their own ambitions they seek to quench by working with me are far more effective.” Rabenholz folds his hands. “If you are willing to be a Trojan horse, as you so eloquently put it, I will secure your freedom. Provided you leave the Bay Area for….” Rabenholz pauses thoughtfully. “…Two decades.”
Tom’s face twists again, this time in pain. “I’ve got other things to work on here, though. And being here is kind of a big part of my plan to fix the disease.”
“I’m afraid it will take at least two decades for everything you’ve stirred up around here to calm back down.” Rabenholz pauses again, this time suspiciously. “What is your relationship to this epidemic, Mr. Lytton? Why are you so invested? Surely it does not affect you.”
“In a matter of speaking, that’s true, but….” His head sags to his chest. “…It seems that I may be the source of it….”
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “Well then, having you mounted on a wall should put an end to it, should it not?”
“No, it won’t,” Tom mutters.
“I mean…you know polio, right? Did that stop when we started locking up kids in iron lungs?”
Rabenholz nods in understanding. “I take your point, Mr. Lytton. Nonetheless, I don’t see how you are qualified to fix this. The care of the city is my concern now. If you can elaborate on this matter, I would be happy to attempt to resolve it by more appropriate means.”
“No means to resolve it will be appropriate,” Tom says darkly. “But if I don’t do something, thousands of people here will die.”
“In a city of the better part of a million? That sounds like a very conventional means for people to die.”
Tom looks up. His eyes are still dark, but somehow now they also burn. “Not once the government finds out and brings in even more lockdown. Not to mention the waves of anarchy that will happen in the business sectors as people with no normal risk of exposure start coming down with it out of the blue, and people realize that the drugs we have don’t work on it.”
Rabenholz doesn’t flinch. “Humanity has survived without those remedies before, I have no doubt it will persist through this,” he admonishes. “Your claims of being the only one who can prevent this ring hollow to me, Mr. Lytton. I’m sorry if you’re being honest, but I simply don’t see how you and a sword can combat an illness.” He pauses, his words hanging heavy in the air, then sighs. “Nonetheless, I will take steps to ensure the health authorities are notified and can react earlier than they might otherwise do.”
Before Tom can respond, Rabenholz pulls out a silver pocket-watch and checks it. Only an hour till the flight to Humboldt is scheduled to leave. “I have an errand I must attend to the next few nights. We will speak again when I return. In the meantime, perhaps you can meditate on what you might want from me in exchange for what you can do for me. Bear in mind you have made the situation very awkward in regards to simply freeing you.”
Tom is quiet a long moment. “There’s something else,” he blurts finally. “A personal thing.”
Rabenholz looks up from the watch. “You have my attention.”
Tom takes a slow breath. “My sister has been missing from my life for quite some time. There are rumors that she has become a vampire on her own, and is here in the city.”
“Two in the same family? That is an odd occurrence.”
“If you could find any information about her….” Tom trails off, face twisting again, then recollects himself. “Her name is Isabella.”
“Same last name, I assume.” Rabenholz puts the watch away. “I will look into this matter for you. Is there anything in particular I should pay attention to? Is she in danger?”
“Either she is in danger or she’s dangerous herself,” Tom says darkly. “I don’t know.”
“Well if she bears a resemblance to you it’s one in the same. Is there any more information you could give me? Known associates? Favored location?”
Tom hesitates, then shrugs. Rabenholz frowns. “Mr. Lytton I can tell by your hesitation you are holding something back from me. It will make my task easier if you are simply forthright.”
Tom’s head sags a moment before he continues. “…Marcus gave me some information on her, you may want to ask him. But…there’s another person, the first one to bring her to my attention. Her name is Fatima, she’s somewhere in Daly City.” Tom shudders briefly. “Fatima’s an Assamite.”
“Indeed?” Rabenholz still eyes him suspiciously. “You know your sister is Kindred, but you don’t know the clan? Or you know the clan and aren’t telling me?”
Tom tenses again, his face clearly weighing options.
Rabenholz sighs. “Mr. Lytton, when you become very old you become fond of telling long, pointless stories. So let me bore you with one. In my life I rose from a man whose titles had been stripped from him, to one of–if not the–most powerful players in the Holy Roman Empire. My wife certainly helped, as by marriage she put me closer to another powerful man. But she herself had no talent for politics and backstabbing. A distinct disadvantage with other ladies of the court who were quite well trained in this.
“Yet she did alright, and I will tell you how. She was simply honest. With the other members of the court, and with me. No one could manipulate her because no one had any advantage over her. They could tell her something, she could repeat it exactly to me, and I would see through their games. Most of the time, at least. Likewise if I needed her to keep a secret I could simply not tell her in the first place. And this all worked because she knew she couldn’t play the game, so she did not try.”
Tom is quiet throughout the story, the only movement from him the darkness pouring from his eyes. “I’ve been trying to not play the game this whole time and look where it’s got me,” he finally replies.
“Mr. Lytton, you are trying to hold things back from me now, and while I appreciate that is a perfectly natural reaction, it’s doing nothing but taking up more of our times. Either decide now to be forthright with me or I will talk with you again when I return from my errand. You will perhaps come to a different conclusion with more time to think. If there’s anyone else you think may need extra attention, protection or otherwise, you may also let me know.”
Tom hangs in the air, statue-still. “…I think I’ve said about all I can say right now.”
“Very well.” Rabenholz checks the time again. “Perhaps on our next encounter you will let me know more. Nice to make your acquaintance in a more intimate setting.” Rabenholz concentrates, dismantling the Auspex spell–
“Rabenholz….” Tom says suddenly, “…What happened to her?”
Rabenholz hesitates. “Who?”
Rabenholz stares at the captured Brujah a long moment before answering. When he does, it’s with a sad, almost patronizing, smirk. “Why, she grew old and died, Mr. Lytton. That’s what people do.” With that, Rabenholz cuts the spell. The dark space of Tom’s mind starts to dissolve, replaced by the clinical austerity of the mirror realm.
Before it’s gone completely, Tom speaks again, a brief whisper carried to Rabenholz’s ears on the fading shadows:
“…But that’s not what we do.”
END OF SCENE