Jason: “You feel…enraptured. You feel…the love of God.”
Me: “Oh god. Ew.”
Jason: “I love your propensity to botch the really big rolls.”
Jim: “I have rolled more 1’s tonight than any other night, I swear–”
Chris: “I’m gonna be amused if you come back to the car a Mormon missionary.”
This week, Kara had a lot of work to do so we focused on the road-trip half of the party. Georgia will be back next session.
Rabenholz’s chartered plane lands in Arcata/Eureka airport a few hours after leaving the Bay Area. It’s late so there’s no one but a few runway security guards to stare at the Learjet as it taxis past the single-engine prop planes and Forest Service aircraft parked outside the terminal. A black car is already waiting, engine running. The driver side window rolls down as they exit the plane and Rabenholz leads them up to it.
“Where to?” Adam asks, grinning at them behind his sunglasses.
Rabenholz stops. “My my, you get around,” he says suspiciously.
Adam shrugs. “Well, it’s a big county.”
“No doubt.” After a tense silence, Rabenholz gestures with his cane. “There is a compound to the north, in the mountains off one of the fire roads, used by a sort of separatist group. Have you heard of it?”
Adam nods once, still smiling. “I have. Those people don’t take too kindly to visitors.”
“Indeed. Please bring us within walking distance of it.” Rabenholz gestures for everyone to enter the car. The three of them climb in and Adam drives away.
Darkness engulfs them as they pull out into Highway 1. Silence settles in the cab as they watch the trees streak past, broken only occasionally by the half-seen light of farmhouses. “What be your plan for approaching the compound?” Anstis asks finally, twisting around from the front seat.
Rabenholz nods to Scout, next to him in the back seat. “Our associate here possesses many talents that makes her an excellent–if you pardon the phrasing–scout. It was my thought to send her in ahead of us to reconnoiter.”
Anstis eyes her. “Scout, are you skilled enough hide us all?”
“No,” she says simply, still staring out the window.
Rabenholz shrugs. “It’s for the best anyway. In my experience, large parties are more a problem at gaining intelligence than an advantage. Once we find a way to approach the compound, we will find the leader, get him the rally his troops, convince them to take credit for all the assaults in San Francisco, and announce plans to make further attacks in California. Perhaps Sacramento.” Rabenholz pauses as the car turns off the coastal highway onto a narrow road plunging into the mountains. “By the end of the week, most of the cult will probably have been blown up, and those who are left will testify against the others,” he finishes.
The car lapses back into silence. They continue through the night, dark as pitch under the deeper mountain woods, till finally Adam slows and pulls off the road onto a rutted dirt drive disappearing into the trees. Hand-painted signs peppered with holes warn against trespassing, on penalty of being shot.
Rabenholz turns to Scout. “Go ahead to observe. We’ll wait here. Report back with enough time for us to find shelter for the day.”
(Jim: “Well, I can just sink into the ground.”
Me: “Can you hide all of us in the ground?”
Jim: “Well, I can, but it would take longer.”)
She nods and gets out without a word, heading up the drive, lit by the headlights. Three steps from the car she disappears.
Obfuscated, Scout walks up the road as it winds through trees, gradually increasing in elevation. After ten minutes with no sign of civilization, the sound of engines echoes from ahead of her, getting louder. She ducks to the side of the road and crouches down.
A pickup truck pulls up from the darkness, painted in primer-colored camouflage. Three men jump out, all in paramilitary fatigues and carrying assault rifles. They spread out, staring into the woods lit by their headlights. Instinctively, Scout pulls further into the shadows.
“See, what did I tell you, ain’t nothin’ out here,” one man says, kicking at a stick.
The man next to him scans the darkness, gripping his gun tightly. “He said something was here.”
The men fan out into the woods. Unnerved by their intensity–and uncanny coincidence of stopping just yards from where she’s hiding–Scout carefully moves past the truck and continues to make her way up the road. About fifty yards up, the rutted track crests a hill and plunges into open sky before descending into a small valley below. She stops at the top of the ridge.
A fortification fills the meadow, surrounded by razor-wire fences and guard towers studded with floodlights, most of them off for the moment. Structures of all sorts dot the camp, trailers and quonset huts and the occasional shipping container, all arrayed around a central one, an actual wood-slat building with white wash paint and a towering steeple. It looks identical to any of the antique country churches that still anchor the upstate farm towns, but instead of a gilded cross, the steeple is flying a deep red flag. The flag’s undulations in the low breeze reveal an emblem of what looks like lightning bolts over an 88.
Various vehicles are parked in rows throughout the compound, and armed men move slowly between them. Scout is counting them carefully, when suddenly a voice echoes from somewhere to her right, “There ain’t nothing down there!”
Once again, she crouches instinctively and turns. Another guard tower is half-hidden in the trees at the top of the road, looking out over the valley. Another fatigue-clad man is at the top, scanning the ground with binoculars. By the angle, he’s staring in her direction.
A radio strapped to his gear crackles. “Something is there. Find it,” an unfamiliar voice orders.
The soldier sighs and sweeps the ground again, then pauses, frowning, and moves slowly back toward the place Scout is hidden.
Suddenly a coyote bursts from the brush just a few feet from her and runs past the tower, toward the meadow. The soldier watches it go. While he’s looking down slope, Scout jogs past the tower and disappears down the road.
Back at the car, Rabenholz is carefully regarding Adam, who is relaxed in his seat, staring out the window and literally twiddling his thumbs. “Now…where were you a few hours ago?” Rabenholz says finally.
“In here,” Adam says, still smiling amiably.
“Funny, because someone looking very much like you drove us to the airport in San Carlos.”
Adam shrugs. “Been driving all night.”
Rabenholz’s eyes narrow. “Indeed.”
Just then, Scout reappears outside the car, approaching from up the road. Rabenholz waits patiently as she climbs back inside. “What have you discovered?”
“There’s a compound, unsurprisingly,” she says. “I saw at least two dozen men but there’s probably more. Cars, a watchtower. A collection of buildings in the middle of the compound, around what looks like a church.” She hesitates. “And they seem to be somewhat sensitive to my presence. They didn’t see me, but they were more suspicious than usual.”
Anstis peers at her from the front seat. “How about weapons?”
She turns her cool gaze to him. “They had them.”
“Anything we need to be especially concerned about?” Anstis asks.
She rolls her eyes. “Yeah, they’re a bunch of Neo-Nazi separatist skinheads in an armed compound that seem to know we’re here.” She turns back to Rabenholz. “I don’t think this is a very good idea.”
“Ms. Scout–” Rabenholz hesitates. “Do you prefer ‘Ms. Scout’ or would simply ‘Scout’ suffice?”
She bows her head concedingly. “I am comfortable with whatever familiarity you’re comfortable with, my lord.”
(Jason: “Ooooooh myyyy….”)
Rabenholz nods. “Excellent work, Scout. Tell me, would you allow Mr. Anstis to perform a small test on you?”
Scout frowns. “What manner of test?”
“I would like to measure his fluency with the discipline of Dominate.”
Suddenly Scout goes very still. “…And why can’t he test this on you?”
Rabenholz gestures vaguely. “It would be improper for him to do that with someone of my stature.”
For a brief moment, fear flickers in her blue eyes. She looks back and forth between Rabenholz and Anstis, both watching her expectantly. Adam sits quietly in the front, still twiddling his thumbs and smiling amiably at nothing.
Scout takes a breath. “I…don’t understand what it is you’re looking for….”
“I thought that perhaps Mr. Anstis could fly into the compound in his avian form and speak directly to their top commander. However, if he is unable to persuade him using his talents, he will be discovered. Considering his performances so far, I am worried things might escalate ahead of time.”
Scout nods slowly. After a moment she replies. “Unless you expect to find vampires down there, I don’t see how testing his abilities on me will be very empirical.”
Rabenholz regards her dispassionately a moment, then turns to Anstis. “Do you trust yourself to control a human? A strong-willed human?”
Anstis nods. “Aye. It depends how strong-willed, but most all of them.”
“Imagine a megalomaniac. Someone who, when confronted with reality, will not abandon his own illusions.”
Anstis shrugs concedingly, so Rabenholz continues. “Mr. Anstis, I see things proceeding in this way. You will fly into their compound, keeping under cover of darkness as long as you can. Find their leader. Approach him and attempt to coerce him into expecting us tomorrow evening.”
Anstis nods and opens the door. “I will investigate. If I can do this task safely I will. If not, I will report back.” He drops into parrot form and flies off into the night.
Parrot-Anstis circles over the compound, confirming Scout’s report, then flutters down to the buildings, a trailer near the church. He lands at an open window and peers inside. An old man is there, reading a large book balanced on a lectern, in worn flannel and denim instead of military fatigues. There’s no sign of weapons in the room. Anstis squeezes his way through the window and flutters to the floor. So long as he’s here he might as well grab a snack, so he waddles toward the man, hunger in his eyes–
The door to the trailer opens. Anstis ducks hurriedly under a chair. Two armed men come in and stand respectfully near the old man. “We didn’t find anything,” they announce.
The old man turns a page. “Then keep looking,” he says in a voice soft and worn like old leather. “They’ll come. They’ll come tonight. God has shown it to me.”
Anstis frowns and slides his sight into the spirit world. Half-formed shapes of spirits and shades move everywhere, but nothing seems more horrid than usual. After a few moments, though, Anstis notices that their supposedly-aimless driftings give the old man a wide berth. Anstis peers closer. Here, in this otherworld reflection, it seems the old man is glowing very slightly.
The soldiers glance at each other. “You sure about this? Boys are getting pretty tired out there.”
“I’m sure. They are coming. They may already be here, among us.” The man lays a hand lovingly on the page in front of him. “But that’s alright.”
The soldiers glance at each other again, shrug, then leave. Anstis waits a moment, then tries to shuffle his way back toward the window–
“You don’t have to be shy, my son,” the old man says suddenly. “They won’t return, till I tell them to.”
Anstis freezes and rolls one beady eye up at the man. He’s still staring at the book, speaking to an apparently empty room.
“Come on out, son,” the man says. “We’ll just have a talk.”
After a moment, Anstis shifts back up into human form and leans nonchalantly against the wall, as if this had been his plan the whole time.
The man half-turns to him, face obscured by the poor lighting of the trailer. “There you are. What have you come here for?”
Anstis bows.“We’d like an audience tomorrow evening.”
“We? Then it was true.” The man smiles slowly. “Three of you?”
Anstis blinks, then nods. “Aye.”
“Are you demons?”
The man smiles wider and turns fully around. His eyes, buried in the wrinkled folds of his face, stare in Anstis’s general direction but don’t focus on him. Even in the poor light, Anstis can see that they’re milky.
(Jim: “Hmm. Does Dominate work on people who are blind?”
Jason: “Yes. Dominate even works on people who have carved their own eyes out. You don’t want to know how people found that out.”
Chris: “Did they attempt Dominate on people who had carved their own eyes out, and it worked?”
Jason: *glares* “…Yes.”)
Anstis smiles and steps forward. “We are friends to be trusted.”
“Friends….” the man repeats slowly, still grinning. “Well, everyone is welcome here. Everyone…pure. But I think you got a pure soul, don’t you?”
“But you’ve done things you wish you hadn’t done?”
Anstis grins. “Haven’t we all?”
The old man nods sadly. “Oh, I think so. You’ve come to the right place.” He steps forward and lifts his arms. “Come to me. Come to me my son. I can feel the weight of your soul. You’ve fallen in with a bad crowd. What’s your name?”
Anstis eyes him, but decides to roll with it. “Thomas. Been trying to get out of my bad crowd. Have I come to the right place?”
“You have. We will make you whole again. We will make you pure again. Don’t you want that?”
Anstis smiles. “I do. How does tomorrow evening sound?”
In response, the man simply grins and lifts his hands. “Give me your hand, Thomas.” After a moment, Anstis accepts. The old man’s hand is warm, with a fluttery pulse under the thin, wrinkled skin. But something about it feels off. Something feels…tingly….
The man stares down sightlessly at Anstis’s hand. “No pulse…no warmth.” He doesn’t seem distressed by this. “You have a secret, my son. Do you wish to find redemption?”
“Eventually, yes. If it can be found.”
“Oh, it can be found, but you must commit. You must commit to it with all your body and soul. You and the ones you travel with. Are all of you prepared to commit?”
Anstis hesitates, more things than the man’s hand starting to feel suspicious. “How did you know we were coming to visit?”
“I saw a vision. Vision from God. I saw three dark birds fly from the south, each hunted and haunted. They had words. Some were lies, some were the truth. They spoke of their sins to me. They came to ask me a question. Could I be saved? And the answer is yes, my son, you can be. But you must know what your sin is.” Smiling rapturously, he reaches up a hand to touch Anstis’s forehead.
(Jason: “You are instantly blasted with an overwhelming vision, a wretched parade of tortured, accusing souls. Faces staring from the darkness, screaming in pain and anger. The faces of everyone you’ve ever burned, or killed, or robbed.”
Jim: “…Evidentially there will be a line.”)
Anstis reels with the force of the vision, the faces leering at him from the darkness behind his own eyes. After the shock something new rolls over him, something completely unexpected and not felt for a very, very long time.
Guilt washes over Anstis like a spring tide, guilt for all the crimes he’s ever committed. It pours down from on high, a torrent of emotion ignited by a judging glare as intense as the sun. As it beats down, he feels not just guilt for those he’s wronged, but guilt for the harm and grief to everyone he has ever met. His murders are many, but the greatest hatred comes from the faces of those he’s eaten, doomed to a fate worse than death. All stare at him, all hate him, and all condemn him.
Anstis falls to his knees, weeping.
The man falls down next to Anstis. “That’s it, my son, that’s it! You shall see! It shall all be well!” He lifts his arms and embraces the pirate.
Instantly, the guilt stops. The judging glare no longer burns, it warms and uplifts. Anstis lifts head, blood smeared across his face, and takes a shuddering breath.
(Jason: “You feel…enraptured. You feel…the love of God.”
Me: “Oh god. Ew.”
Jason: “I love your propensity to botch the really big rolls.”
Jim: “I have rolled more 1’s tonight than any other night, I swear–”
Chris: “I’m gonna be amused if you come back to the car a Mormon missionary.”)
Slowly, Anstis stumbles to his feet, helped by the much older man. His mission is still clear in his mind, but underneath it is a new sense of peace, of love for the man before him, and a desire to return to his presence as soon as possible. “Thank you, thank you for showing me the light,” Anstis gasps. “I shall bring my brethren back tomorrow.”
The old man embraces him once more, then releases him. “Excellent my son.” Though blind, he reaches confidently to the lectern and rings a bell next to his book. The two soldiers reappear in the doorway then hesitate, staring at Anstis. “Take this man to the road over the ridge,” the old man says. “Ask him no questions. Do not impede his passing.” The man turns his milky eyes to Anstis and smiles. “All will be revealed.”
Back in the car, Scout is staring out the window, avoiding Rabenholz’s calculating gaze. “Scout,” he says finally, breaking the silence, “It is usual for those of unknown lineage to try to seek it out. I wonder if you’ve done any research on that front?”
She turns to him, then shrugs. “That rock is a rock best left unturned.”
“Do you know how you were created?”
“I was there,” she says flatly.
“You remember it?”
She looks at him a moment, then turns back to the window.
Unperturbed, Rabenholz continues. “You see, many vampires are called Caitiff, but it applies to several different groups. Some can do amazing things, but most are unworthy of note. Save, perhaps, for the many bits of literature that suggest they are heralds of the end-times. Are you a herald of the end-times, I wonder?”
“I sometimes think the end-times will be an improvement,” she replies.
Rabenholz glances out the window at the xenophobic signs nailed up along the road. “I suspect people have thought that for thousands of years,” he mutters. “In any case, I wonder which type of Caitiff you are. Are you the kind that does incredible things, or just the kind that doesn’t know her sire? Mind you, I’m not criticizing. So far you’ve been a very effective companion. And your behaviors do you credit.”
(Jason: “You have not summoned spectres to murder people with your own body.”
Me: “Nor have I blown anything up…yet.”)
There’s a long silence in the car. Scout stares out the window, Rabenholz stares at Scout, and Adam sits quietly in the front, smiling to himself and pretending he’s not listening.
Finally, Scout sighs. “My lord Rabenholz. I have to confess, I wasn’t entirely truthful with Mr. Bell at the Pyramid. I do know something of my sire, but there is a difference between knowing him and knowing him.” She eyes him significantly. “I have found that the less I have delved into that, the better off I am for it.”
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “That is quite a thing to say. Numbering yourself amongst the clanless brings a number of burdens you would otherwise not have to deal with. Your sire must be very terrible indeed.”
“Indeed.” She turns away again.
Suddenly a parrot drops out of the sky to bounce off the hood. It shifts into Anstis, who climbs back into the front seat of the car. “I’ve met with the leader. He’s agreed to meet with us tomorrow.”
Rabenholz nods. “Excellent. Did you learn anything else?”
Anstis brushes at his coat. “Interesting man. Blind, yet sees.”
“In what capacity?”
“He knew there was a presence in the room before I made myself known and he had many insights.” A strangely rapturous smile flickers on Anstis’s face, tugging at his tentacles. “I shall look forward to what you think of him.”
Rabenholz eyes Anstis suspiciously. “…Indeed.” He turns to the Adam. “Take us to town, we must find lodgings for the day.”
Adam nods and starts up the engine.
Adam drops them off in front of the only lodgings in the nearest town, a bed and breakfast in a weathered Victorian farmhouse, manned by a man as weathered as the building itself. Fortunately, he is unperturbed by the motley group in front of him, though he does hesitate over Rabenholz’s credit card, an embossed and polished slip of what may be actual silver.
The innkeeper peers at the card after the machine beeps. “Alright, Mr–”
(Chris: “There’s no name on it.”)
“–Mr…Am-Ri-Can Espressé….” The man squints harder. “…Must be Italian,” he mutters after a moment.
Rabenholz plucks the card back. “Correct. We will likely be sleeping late, so please do not rouse us for breakfast.”
Anstis ducks outside to find a place in the ground to sleep, while Rabenholz and Scout head to the room. Apparently it’s the last one available in the place, though the innkeeper’s assurances that there would be room enough for two seem somewhat circumspect as they stare at a single lumpy double bed.
(Jim: “Before I go to sleep, I want summon an animal.”
Jason: “Oh boy….”
Jim: “I would like to summon a deer. That has less potential to go horribly awry.”
Jason: “Alright, roll it.”
Jim: *rolls* “Umm…holy shit. A quarter of all deer in the area respond.”
Jason: “…In Humboldt county? You doing this outside?”
Chris: “God, I hope so.”
Jason: “A hundred and fifty deer show up.”
Me: “Man, when you do a thing you do a thing.”)
Strange grunting echoes from outside. Rabenholz strides over and peers through the window. Shrouded a ways into the forest, Anstis is chest deep in a milling mass of deer, with more still approaching. He’s working his way through slowly, leaving carcasses behind him as he drains them dry.
Rabenholz scowls and twitches the curtain closed, then scowls again as he examines the gauzy material. “This will not be adequate for light protection. Fortunately Ms. Johnson has shared a ritual that will help protect our haven for the evening. Scout, if you would be so kind as…to….” He trails off as he turns back to the room. Scout is lying in the middle of the bed, arms folded and eyes closed, by all appearances already dead for the night.
(Jason: “Okay, Rabenholz completes the warding rituals, but Scout has claimed the bed.”
Me: *leers at Chris* “Haha, fuck you.”
Chris: *grins back* “I dispel the ritual, open the door, and leave.”
Rabenholz briefly toys with the idea, then abandons it. Once he finishes the ritual, with a muted grumble, he grabs a pillow and heads to the claw-foot bathtub in the attached bathroom.
The next night, a car picks the three vampires up at the B&B, once again driven by Adam. He takes them back into the mountains, this time driving past the warning signs and up the dirt road to the compound itself. Armed guards watch from the towers as the car approaches and enters the open gate. There the three get out, silently. The car drives back out of the encampment, the gates closing behind it with a metallic squeal.
Dozens of armed men, over twice what Scout counted last night, are arrayed around them, watching silently. Scout’s eyes dart nervously, while Rabenholz and Anstis stare back evenly. Finally, one man walks forward. “You here for Uncle Ruland?”
.“The blind priest?” Anstis asks.
Rabenholz glances at the pirate. “You didn’t inform us he was a priest.”
The man smirks. “Ruland see’s better than any of us. Or any of you.” He eyes Anstis. “Name?”
Anstis bows. “Tom. He met me last night.”
The man nods slowly. “He mentioned you. Said you had a mean set of whiskers on you.” He peers at Anstis’s beard, writhing slowly against itself, then turns to Rabenholz. “You?”
Rabenholz inclines his head. “Mr. Espressé. Amaricé Espressé.”
The soldier’s mouth twitches in a frown at the foreign-sounding name but he doesn’t comment. He turns to Scout. “And you?”
She glances at Rabenholz. “Ms…Visa.” She pronounces it Veye-za.
The man nods then jerks his head toward the church, looming over the rooftops nearby. He leads the three to it silently, opening the front door and standing back to let them in. A few guards are posted inside, but all eyes are drawn to the old man at the front of the room, leaning on a pulpit, dressed in white robes emblazoned with a yellow rose across the front. Rabenholz and Anstis eye him impassively, but Scout tenses as she sees the red-and-white cross embroidered over the rose, and the pointy white hood draped over a nearby chair.
Anstis bows. “Uncle Ruland. Good to see you again.”
Ruland approaches them, shuffling down the aisle between the pews, pale eyes staring past them. Anstis extends a hand as he approaches, Ruland accepts and kisses it. “My son. And you have brought me sinners.” He turns his stare–unfocused but intent–to Rabenholz. “Have you come to seek redemption? What are your sins?”
Rabenholz eyes him a moment. “Greed and wrath, mostly.”
Ruland nods slowly. “Yes, I see them in you. There’s something else. Such a terrible envy. A crown…a crown on a shadow.” He lifts a shaking hand toward Rabenholz. “Oh, it is terribly dark. Where have you been, my son?”
Rabenholz stares and does not take the hand. “Out of time, out of space,” he answers softly.
Ruland turns to Scout. “And you, my daughter? What have you come to tell me? What have you come to confess?”
She shifts nervously. “I’ve…come to see the way,” she ventures after a moment.
(Jason: “That is not the Waaaaaaay. …You know, the Way Dude is in Humboldt at the moment.”
Chris: “But…probably not cogent enough.”
Jim: “The Way Dude is all places at once.”
Me: “But mostly at the dispensaries.”)
“The way. The way to what?” Ruland asks, leaning toward her. “To forgiveness? To redemption? Or the way to something else? Someone else? Why have you come?” Scout stares back and doesn’t answer.
Suddenly Ruland takes a shuddering breath. He lifts a hand toward her and his lip trembles. “You have been poisoned…poisoned by lesser men. I can smell them on you. So much filth….”
Scout’s eyes go hard.
Ruland sighs. “Oh, my daughter you have sinned. But it is not all lost. You can find redemption.” Ruland extends his other hand to Rabenholz. “You both can find redemption, as your brother has. Come to me, and know peace.”
“Forgive me, Uncle Ruland,” Rabenholz says, “I’d rather discuss things a while before jumping to anything.”
“You are skeptical, my son. You have had your mind clouded by the Jews.”
Rabenholz blinks. “…Perhaps. Why dont you tell us about the organization you’ve made here?”
A grin spreads across Ruland’s face. “This? This is Paradise, my son. We are the Knights of the Yellow Rose. We are here to forge a place for the True Men. The true children of God. The Sons of Seth, not of Ham.” He extends his hands again. “Your mind is clouded, my son, my daughter. Let me free you from their nets. Let me show you God’s love for his true children.”
“Perhaps you would be kind enough to describe it first,” Rabenholz says.
“God’s love cannot be described, it can only be felt. But you must repent your sinful ways. For you are a sinner.”
“That is almost a certainty,” Rabenholz says coolly, “but I am not one to repent on a whim.”
For a moment, Ruland’s weathered face hardens. “Pride will not save you from the fires of Hell. Nor the tricks and traps of the Sons of Ham.”
(Chris: “Does that mean Jews?”
Jason: “How do I put this…it means, ‘dark-skinned people.’ He would use a different word.”)
Rabenholz stares around the room at the empty seats and the armed guards along the wall. “And do you mean this compound to be a paradise of the Sons of Seth?”
“Of course, my son.”
Rabenholz runs a hand along one of the pews. “And what about the sinful cities, like San Francisco and Sacramento?”
Ruland smiles. “They shall know god’s vengeance upon the hypocrites and the liars. They shall know the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. We pray every day that the sodomites shall know the fire.”
Rabenholz nods, then meets Ruland’s milky eyes. “Perhaps it is time to take that beyond prayer.”
Ruland gasps, reaching out to steady himself on a pew. “Have you seen a message from God? Has he sent you to portent, and to prophesize?” he asks eagerly.
“It is time,” Anstis adds, stepping forward. “Share your teachings with the sinners.”
“Yes, time at least for Sacramento,” Rabenholz says.
“Yes…yes it is time….” Ruland’s smile spreads wider and he turns to stare into the invisible distance. “It is time isn’t it, my son?”
Rabenholz follows his gaze into the whitewashed pine boards of the church wall. “Tell me, Uncle Ruland, what do you see?”
Ruland takes a step forward, hand lifted toward nothing. “I see the pesthouses being consumed in flames. I see the mongrel men writhing as they burn. I see the true children of the Lord rising up to take their birthright. I see it all. I see…glory.” He turns to Rabenholz and continues, breathless. “I see shadows…yes, shadows. I see a man with a crown. He comes, he walks in darkness. He never veers away, or turns aside. He seeks he always seeks. He is nearly here.”
Before Rabenholz can react, Ruland turns to Anstis and continues, face twisting in concentration. “I see a man…I see him on an island. He stands before the waters and he compels. He compels and they obey. He casts his net so far and wide it covers the ocean entire, sweeps the seas clean. He hunts beneath the water and above. He hunts and his eyes are ever watching and they are everywhere, they are with you now. As we stand.” Anstis frowns suspiciously at the words but doesn’t respond.
Scout tenses as Ruland turns to her. His face falls and his breath shudders. “I see…him, behind. He watches, ever watchful. He wishes, he covets, he desires, and you know his desires, don’t you my sister, my daughter?” Ruland steps toward her, and she takes a step back. “You know them, for his touch is pollution and death and you have felt it.” He turns, encompassing the others with a gesture. “You have all felt it, and it comes for you now. You must embrace the vengeance of the Lord, or you will be swallowed in the pits of eternal flame….” He takes another breath, and sighs, “…In Gehenna.”
Ruland’s last word echoes in the following silence. The vampires in the room stir nervously.
Ruland takes another breath, then brings his hands together in penance. “It is terrible, it is so terrible, but…there is always light.”
“What is your next step?” Rabenholz asks.
Ruland lifts his arms. “I shall do the Lord’s will. I shall raise up a temple. I shall make offering unto Him, of all the malefactors and all the forces of darkness. I shall do this in the name of the Lord. Come to me, and I shall cast down your enemies, in His name. The crown shall be broken, the net shall be shredded, and the shadow shall be banished. Come unto me and see the glories of the Lord.” He extends one hand toward Rabenholz.
Rabenholz stares at Ruland’s hand a moment, then–after a glance at Anstis’s encouraging face–takes it.
(Jason: “Just like Anstis, you see visions of all the horrible things you’ve had to to, justified or otherwise. The people you’ve had to slay, the betrayals you had to perform. And all of it, swirling and centering around one man.
Chris: “…omg, it’s Laertes isn’t i–”
Jason: “It’s Laertes.”
Jason: “Laertes is here, he’s everywhere, he’s watching, and everything you have ever done has been to his design.”)
Like Anstis, Rabenholz reels with pain, with fear, with a sense of powerlessness and an overwhelming weight of guilt. Slowly, Rabenholz sinks to his knees, blood trickling down his face.
Ruland leans over him, clutching Rabenholz’s hand and resting his other on his back. “Speak your sins, my son! Speak them aloud!”
Rabenholz lifts his gaze to the old priest. “When I was twenty five I found the man who beheaded my brother and father. He had a prized collection of horses.” Rabenholz pauses. “I do not know how he thought I would have forgiven him by that time. Perhaps he assumed I could not touch him. But I broke into his stable and sliced into his horses a large cavity while they yet lived. And into them I stuffed his grandson and his granddaughter, and finally I stuffed him, and sewed them all up.”
(Me: *gapes at Chris* “WHAT the FUCK!!???!!?!”)
Ruland, however, beams at this revelation. “Your wrath is tremendous, purge it my son! Purge it all!” He tilts his head back. “God! Hear now this sinner who wishes to be forgiven!”
A sense of righteous glory settles over Rabenholz, and Anstis as well. Both settle to the floor between the pews, lost in the heady sensation. Ruland stands and turns to Scout, frozen in shock a few feet away.
(Jason: “Colleen, Intelligence plus Occult roll.”
Me: “…Four successes!”
Jason: “This man is a hard-core Imbued. He’s a Hunter who’s been imbued by something. You run into this occasionally. Hunters who’ve become enhanced by some goddamn thing. This man is channeling supernatural power from something. Something really big, really potent, and you don’t know what the fuck it is.”)
Ruland smiles and lifts a hand toward her. “Give me your hand, my daughter. Be free of that which chains you.”
Scout hesitates, glancing between Ruland and the two vampires on the floor. Her hand flutters and flickers nervously, then lifts to touch Ruland’s.
The moment she does, the milky white clouds in his eyes harden like a storm. “Oh, my daughter….” He shakes his head sadly. “There is such deceit in you. If you will not have the glory of the Lord, then you will have his wrath.” He drops the hand and turns toward the guards lining the room. “Burn her.”
Scout takes a step back, then instantly she is gone, winking away as if she was never there.
The guards stir, confused. Ruland calls for them to search for her, and to bring torches. The commotion and shouts help break whatever spell has settled over Rabenholz and Anstis, at least for the moment. Both climb back to their feet. “No, she must be spared,” Rabenholz says.
Ruland whirls on him. “Why? She is a deceiver. She deceives even now!”
“And yet her deception does not change the truth. In fact it may be used to bring the truth to many who may not otherwise hear it.”
The storm in Ruland’s eyes slows, but does not dissipate. “She will bring fire. She is unclean. What would you have of her, my son?”
Rabenholz draws himself to his full height, pouring aristocratic authority into his words. “Her deception may be turned against others. She will continue to operate as an agent for us.”
The guards hesitate, waiting for Ruland’s order. After a long moment, the old man sighs and reaches out to a pew for balance. “She will bring ruin unto you. You do not see it.” Ruland waves his men down, then once again lifts his arms to Rabenholz and Anstis in glorious supplication. “Come with me, my sons. We shall light a fire that will be seen from here to God’s kingdom. And it will begin as he has directed. In the cities of sin, and inequity. We will purge the righteous and unclean and make ready for the coming of the Lord.”
END OF NIGHT
(Chris: “I…think I satisfied my objective?”
Jason: “I love crazy NPCs.”
Jim: “I think Jason makes so many religious-extremist NPCs cause he loves playing them.”
Me: *glaring at Chris* “Where the fuck did that fucking horse bullshit come from!?”
Chris: “What about it?”
Me: “It’s fucking terrifying, where did it come from?!”
Chris: “Well that’s how Rabenholz retaliated against the guy who–”
Me: “No I mean in your brain, where did it come from!?!”
Chris: “Oh I don’t know, I just invented it.”
Me: “Oooh…my god….”
Chris: “What? This was the 1620’s! That was practically civilized!”)