Jason: “Something is approaching. It’s either another one of the HIT Marks or it’s a T-rex. Or it’s Indominous rex.”
Kara: “That’s not a thing.”
Jason: “Indominous rex is definitely a thing. In fact, it’s a thing in canon.”
Me: “What? Our canon!? No, that was fanfiction!”
Jason: *grins* “I have the power to canonize it.”
Me: “Don’t you dare canonize Indominous rex!”
Jason: “I’m gonna canonize Indominous rex and the Ingen-Pentex Conglomerate.”
Jason: “No, I’m not gonna do that. Okay, so, something is approaching, and it’s probably Indominous rex….”
Sorry for the title-gore, but for the moment we do seem to be back on an episode-aligned schedule
Georgia stares up at the enormous statue inquisitively. Jawahar, though, glances nervously back to the stairwell. “We really should be going….”
Georgia eyes the multiple hallways leading off this main cavern. Some are closed in by rockfalls, but many seem to dive deeper into the island. “We can try to get to the town if you want. But isn’t this place interesting? Don’t you want to see what’s here?”
“It’s interesting, yes, but…look, you’re a vampire, correct? You’ve lived for presumably a long time? Would you believe that before six months ago, I spent most of my time in a Chantry practicing non-linear mathematics?”
She beams at him. “So isn’t it nice to finally get out and do things?”
Jawahar sighs. “Getting out and doing things and getting chased across half the galaxy by hideous abominations from the Technocracy are not the same thing.”
“That’s true, that was pretty scary.” She nods seriously. “Good job not getting murdered by them.”
“Thank you,” Jawahar mutters. “But you understand my concern.”
“What would you propose?”
His frown deepens. “You’re not going to like what I propose.”
“Well, so long as it’s not marriage.”
He eyes her, then continues, “I propose that we find our way back to San Francisco and contact the Warmaster. If this is actually Thera, he is the only person I know actually equipped to deal with something like this. There’s no telling what could be here.”
Georgia considers this a moment. “Yes, but if he sees me, won’t he kill me?”
“This is why I said you weren’t going to like it. But you do not have to be there when he arrives.”
“Yes, but even if you went back to San Francisco alone and told him how to come back here, he would find me here.” She stares thoughtfully into space another moment, then shakes her head. “No, Jawahar, you’ve convinced me, I cannot let you go back to San Francisco.”
Jawahar glares, then slowly folds his arms. “Not to sound too terribly threatening, but could you stop me?”
Georgia sighs and clasps her hands in front of her. “I’m going to ask you very firmly and politely. Jawahar. I implore you. For my well-being, as your friend, please. Do not leave me.”
He glares a long moment, then his shoulders slump. “They never said vampires would do things like this…” he mutters. “Very well, I will not return to the Chantry to call Warmaster Mwonge.”
Instantly, Georgia’s smile returns. “Good, then let’s check out this doorway!” She strides briskly down the nearest corridor.
Jawahar hesitates, staring after her in shock. “I really wish you wouldn’t do that!” he yells, then hurries after.
(Kara: “She does have the impatience virtue.”
Jason: *laughing* It’s a flaw!”
Kara: “Uh, it gave me an extra point, I get to wander off in the middle of conversations to do something interesting…how is this a bad thing?”
Me: “Damn it feels good to be a Georgia.”)
Rabenholz’s chartered helicopter finally reaches the Bay Area and lands directly in a helipad downtown by the ballpark. Unsurprisingly, a car is already waiting.
Rabenholz beckons to Anstis as they exit the landing pad. “Mr. Anstis, we should discuss arrangements for the celebration later this week.”
Anstis grins slyly and nods. “As ye wish.”
The two start heading toward the car. Scout, lurking just behind them, hurries to catch up. “Mist–Lord Rabenholz?”
Rabenholz stops and turns to her. “Yes, Ms. Scout?”
She clasps her hands in front of her and inclines her head. “I feel I wasn’t particularly useful this evening in our adventure, I apologize for that, but if you need any more assistance in the near future, I am happy to oblige.”
He eyes her a moment. “Ms. Scout, I must say, whomever you learned your manners from deserves credit. As do you.”
She smiles thin-lipped.
He nods at her. “This evening was trying for all of us. I will be in touch.”
Next to him, Anstis grins at her. “Subtlety is always valuable,” he says, apparently unaware of the irony coming from a man in stained, travel-worn pirate clothes with a beard writhing actively against his face.
Rabenholz and Scout stare at him a moment, then Scout bows to Rabenholz and walks off without another word, winking from sight before she reaches the end of the block.
Rabenholz turns back toward the car. “Mr. Anstis, I should like to show you the venue I have in mind for my event, but would you believe your face is somewhat…conspicuous?”
Anstis stares. “Is it?”
(Jim: “I don’t know if I’ve seen it!”)
Rabenholz takes a slow breath. He gestures for the driver to hand him a phone, takes a picture, then shows Anstis the screen.
Anstis peers at it, then jerks back, grabbing at his face. “Aye! That explains a wee bit!”
Rabenholz gives the driver his phone back. “Thank you sir, and would you be so kind as to open the trunk?” The driver hesitates, then leans into the front seat to do so.
Rabenholz gestures with his cane. “A precaution, Mr. Anstis, until we can address your face.”
(Chris: “You TRUST me!”)
Anstis glowers, then climbs into the trunk of the car.
Georgia trots eagerly down the passage, Jawahar following reluctantly, lighting their way with his glowing orb. After a few minutes of nothing but dark, rough-cut stone, they reach a doorway, half buried in rubble. Together they clear it and shove it open. A cold breeze washes over them from beyond. Peering through, they find a magma tube bisecting the tunnel, plunging into the earth with no bottom in sight.
Jawahar examines the doorway, carved with an arabesque of complex geometric symbols. “Daedalus was rumored to practice magical geometry,” he murmurs. “But I don’t know all the details.”
“Well, I suppose we can add that to the list of things to look up when we get back.” Georgia gently blows at Jawahar’s orb, floating it out into the space beyond. The tunnel continues on the far side of the tube, almost twenty meters away. “It doesn’t look like we can get across this without difficulty.”
Jawahar raises a hand to summon the orb back. “There are ways, but it would not be simple even for me. A Hermetic master could levitate across, and theoretically I could do it, but not in a hurry, and if there is anything beyond antagonistic to us, we could not return very quickly.”
Georgia nods. “Let’s try a different hallway.”
They return to the statue hall and pick another tunnel. This one is much shorter, leading to a small chamber, half collapsed, covered in mosaic frescoes. All feature various scenes starring a figure similar to the statue of Daedalus outside, with a similar sense of grandeur. In some, he gestures over fields of crops, causing rain to fall. In others, winds snake out from his extended hands, whipping up storms to smash ships and engulf them in waves. On the far wall, the largest image of him rises above the rubble in turquoise and gold leaf, arms outstretched, the sun and moon rising from his palms.
“It’s a bit much, isn’t it?” Jawahar mumbles as they approach this scene. Georgia squats down to clear some of the rubble. More figures appear gathered around his feet, smaller ones, many holding up bowls in clear signs of offering. Others appear to be holding up sacrifices of livestock. Georgia brushes away the dirt and peers closer.
It’s not livestock. It’s people.
“This is beginning to look rather dark,” Georgia says cheerfully, clearing rubble to expose more of the fresco. “But I guess they could be volunteers.”
Jawahar watches the work distastefully. “Volunteers the same way your blood donors are?”
“No, volunteers like the people in our experiments.” After revealing the fourth image of bloody sacrifice, Georgia sighs and sits back. “This chamber isn’t getting us anywhere, let’s go back.”
She gathers her robes to stand, then stops. A noise is echoing through the rock, felt more than heard. A deep, rhythmic pounding, like a hammer on stone.
She cocks her head. “Do you hear that? It sounds like someone is making something at a forge.”
Jawahar stares around. “I don’t hear anything.”
She scrambles to her feet. “We should find it. It sounds deeper, so we need to find a tunnel that goes down.”
Ignoring Jawahar’s protests, Georgia searches the tunnels till she finds another spiral stairwell. Heading down, they find another tunnel, and at the head of that, they find a HIT Mark.
Georgia stops suddenly, Jawahar bumping into her. She’s about to fall over and play dead, but then she looks closer. The machine is slumped over, the eyes behind its scowling mask dark. A layer of frost is encrusted across the boiler, slowly melting.
“I think it’s dead,” she whispers.
“How?” Jawahar asks.
They carefully approach. One of the legs is tilted at a strange angle, something wedged underneath it. Georgia squats to pull it out, but instead slips on the condensation dripping onto the floor. She falls, crashing into the HIT Mark. The machine wobbles, then, in a groan of metal, tips over and crashes to the rock on top of her.
Jawahar hurries over. “Are you alright!?”
The machine twitches stiffly as she shoves against it, then resettles. “Jawahar…” she says, voice muffled, “Can you help get me out of here?”
He squats down to peer under. “How would you like me to do that?”
“Can you levitate the thing off me?”
Jawahar shoves at it. It barely shifts. “I think it’s far too heavy.” He taps the metal. “Moreover, it’s made of primium!”
“Can you turn it into a mouse?”
“No, I cannot.”
“Can you turn me into a mouse?”
There’s a brief hesitation. “…No, I cannot,” he replies, slightly more disappointed.
(Jason: “What would you like to do about this predicament?”
Kara: “Well…I imagine I can’t reach my inventory….”
Jason: *glares* “You mean your bag? No.”
Chris: “Why don’t you chains of water restrain it?”
Kara: “It’s already restraining me, how would that help?”
Chris: “Well, they are chains, so can’t you ‘restrain’ it in a particular direction?”)
“Jawahar, I need you to puncture the water tank,” she instructs calmly.
Jawahar frowns, but casts around till he finds a large, loose rock. He pounds at the tank, sending ringing echoing through the tunnel. After some minutes of this, he finally cracks a seam. Cold water gushes forth, pooling on the tunnel floor. Georgia extends her will to collect it into thin chains, winding around the machine and snaking to wrap around outcroppings in the rock. Now fulcrumed, Jawahar heaves his weight against the chains, shifting the HIT Mark far enough to the side for her to slide out.
Georgia scrambles to her feat, beaming. “Excellent, we defeated it!” She examines the machine, and finally sees what it was standing on.
It’s a smartphone. The screen is shattered, the case cracked almost in half.
“Hey, Jawahar, this thing was standing on a phone.” She bends to pick it up. The screen won’t turn on, but something is inscribed on the back of the case, just visible through the scuffing. It’s some sort of insect, maybe a scarab, or a cockroach–
“Ahhh,” Georgia grins and holds it up. “This is a werewolf phone.”
Jawahar–massaging feeling back into his hands–stops to stare at her. “How do you know that?”
She taps at the image on the case. “Because this is the symbol Sophia had on her phone.”
Georgia rolls her eyes. “The werewolf. Keep up.”
“Werewolf?!” Jawahar steps back, staring around the tunnel. “You didn’t say anything about a werewolf in here!”
“Not here, back in the city.”
“Then why is her phone here?”
Georgia looks at it. “No this isn’t her phone, her phone is with her.”
“Why is any werewolf’s phone in this place?!”
“Good question, I don’t know.” She peers down the corridor. “We should probably keep moving.”
“If there are werewolves here, don’t you think that changes things?” Jawahar hisses, glancing behind them.
“Oh yeah, it probably means I can contact Sophia without an internet connection.” Georgia takes her own phone out of her bag, opens up a text window, and types, “Heeeeeeeeeey Sophia!”
There’s a moment, then her phone buzzes back: WHERE ARE YOU?
Georgia mutters the words as she types a reply, “Lost in a cavern…Found a phone that might belong to one of yours.”
Georgia pauses. “On Thera…?” she sends.
“Island. Got here through a mystical portal…?”
Jawahar peers over her shoulder. “Are you talking to someone?”
“Yes.” Georgia angles her body away. “My friend Sophia.”
“You mean the werewolf,” Jawahar says flatly. “Why are you talking to a werewolf? Don’t werewolves hate vampires?
“Yes, but I helped save her life. More than once, actually.”
Jawahar stares at her. “You make a habit of doing this to people who wish to kill you?”
She smiles at the mage. “Yes, it’s terribly useful!”
After a long moment, Jawahar sighs. “What does she have to say, then?”
Georgia glances at the phone. No reply yet. “Nothing, so far–”
Heavy footfalls suddenly echo through the tunnel, descending the stairs. Georgia and Jawahar look at each other. “Do you hear that?” she asks.
Jawahar dims his orb. “Yes, this time I do.”
The two climb over the HIT Mark and hurry deeper into the darkness.
On their way across the city, Rabenholz tells the driver to take them to a costume shop, or a reputable haberdashery. Unfortunately none seem open at this hour, but they are able to find a Mexican market open late.
Which is why, when they show up at the Bank of America building, Anstis steps out of the car with his face and beard shoved into a luchadore mask. His eye peers through one eye-hole, his eyepatch covers the other, and his tentacles squirm under the shiny mylar lycra, trying to escape out the bottom.
(Jim: “This is so much worse than just having his face as his face is.”
Chris: “What color is it?”
Jason: “Pink. I say this, because in your time pink was a manly color.”
Chris: “Can it say something like ‘PUSSY’ in rhinestones across the top of it?”
Jason: “Yes! So, for the record, we now have Captain Anstis wearing a luchadore mask that is pink, with ‘pussy’ written in rhinestones across the forehead, the lips and eye-holes are yellow, and he’s wearing it under his pirate hat.”
Jim: “I really hate all of you.”)
Anstis follows Rabenholz as he sweeps into the lobby of the building. Janitors and security guards stop to stare, and none of them are looking at the old man in a cape.
(Chris: “But there’s a difference between disturbing-eccentric and masquerade violation!”)
Despite the hour, an event planner is there to meet them to show the venue space. She shakes Rabenholz’s hand, eyes Anstis oddly, then leads them up to an open ballroom high in the building. After walking them through the floorspace and discussing the services her team can provide, she leaves them to alone to discuss.
Rabenholz paces through the wide, empty room. Large windows line one wall, facing north across the city. “Captain, what do you think you need to make this secure?”
Anstis, scratching at his mask, pauses. “Against what?”
“Other rabble. Tom Lytton had a following amongst the Anarchs, I believe, and Corwin Everton is known to be around and has dropped in on these things before. And of course, there’s the ever popular name of Gnaius Perpenna that Mr. Bell enjoys throwing around. To say nothing of his childe.”
Anstis glowers, considering this. “Keeping some of this rabble out may be easier socially than forcefully.”
(Jason: “Keeping Perpenna out socially might be a bit of a challenge.”)
“I don’t doubt,” Rabenholz agrees smoothly, “And I am very glad to hear you are able to understand the distinction. You’ll have as much personnelle as you need, but bear in mind I hope you’ll not go through them too quickly.” He eyes Anstis. “You alluded to some disappearances earlier at Fort Funston. That is not to be repeated.”
Anstis glowers deeper and swaggers towards the windows, then stops in surprise. Three ghostly figures line the roofline of the building across the street, staring right at him. He spreads his hands, ready to pop his claws, then hesitates, peering closer. The figures are statues, twelve feet high. Trailing fiberglass shrouds evoke the shape of women, but instead of a face, the hoods hide only shadows.
He eyes them suspiciously a moment, then turns back to Rabenholz. “How strongly do you favor security against appearances?”
Rabenholz’s cane taps against the polished wood floor as he circles the space. “I am trying to project the image that everything is normal and people can relax, going about their business properly again.”
Anstis stares again at the statues. “Then barricading the windows with steel would not do.”
Rabenholz levels a look at him. “No, it would not.”
Anstis moves from the windows and walks the perimeter of the room, mentally marking the locations of the elevator banks and exits to stairwells and closets. At the end of his circuit, though, he hesitates and backs up. Based on the room’s mirrored layout, there should be three doors on each side of the elevator banks, but this side of the room only has two, and a large blank wall where the third should be.
Anstis taps on the wall. It echoes hollowly on the other side.
Rabenholz approaches. “Well, that is interesting.”
Anstis’s masked face grins like a jack-0-lantern. “Would ye care for some redecorating?”
Rabenholz nods. “Better now than later.”
Anstis pops his claws and plunge them through the drywall. They slide through easily, sawing up and around to cut a hole. Once large enough, he removes his hands and kicks the chunk in. A supply closet sits beyond, lined with shelves, but their eyes are drawn toward a very prominent teleportation circle inscribed in the floor, glowing faintly purple in the darkness.
Anstis climbs in and examines it. The blood is fairly fresh. He looks up at Rabenholz, watching through the hole. “This hall was only rented 5 days ago,” Rabenholz says. “I’m impressed someone got this in so quickly. Would you surmise this is to get someone in, or someone out?”
Anstis peers at the sigils lining the circumference. “Potentially both.”
Rabenholz’s cane taps thoughtfully. “Why would someone expect to leave so quickly. Certainly fears of security are not unwarranted, but if that were the case, why show up at all? I am not quite so well known that it would be a great insult to have other things to do that night.” He scans the room a moment before turning back to Anstis. “Could you remove the circle?”
“Aye, but the question is who put it here, and how.”
“And what they were intending to move with it. I would hate to think someone was planning to steal Mr. Lytton.”
“Or worse,” Anstis mutters.
Rabenholz glances toward the elevators. The event planner still hasn’t returned. “Perhaps we should simply step on it and activate it. I doubt they expected someone to arrive so early.”
Anstis nods. “If ye wish.”
Rabenholz gestures with his cane. A large chunk flies out of the wall, allowing him to step through easily. They both position themselves in the circle, then, at Rabenholz’s nod, Anstis activates it.
A flash, a moment of disorientation, then they’re standing in an empty alley, near a loading dock. By the dark stone and beveled windows of the building looming above, they’re right outside the Bank of America building they just left.
Rabenholz stares up the building. “Perhaps they wanted to steal Mr. Lytton, or something else of value, and load it into a vehicle here?”
“Or simply escape,” Anstis observes.
Rabenholz taps his cane softly against the asphalt. “…Would you be able to redirect that circle without them knowing?”
“Possibly, though I’d appreciate if Ms. Johnson would check the work.”
Just then, Rabenholz’s phone rings. He pulls it from his suit and checks the screen. It’s Marcus. “Yes?” he answers.
“Pzalzgraf,” Marcus says. “I hear you’re back in the city. I trust your excursion to the north wasn’t too…overwhelming?”
“No, not at all.”
“I hear the most interesting stories about what you found up there,” Marcus says with artificial pleasantry. “Would you mind stopping by the pyramid to tell me about them?”
Rabenholz pulls out his pocketwatch to check the time. His appointment with the event planner is ending soon anyway. “…Not at all.”
“Excellent. Bring the pirate, I have need for a plumber.”
Rabenholz glances at Anstis. He’s grinning at a homeless man who’s just appeared at the end of the alley. The man stops, then immediately turns and rattles his cart off in the other direction. “No doubt,” Rabenholz agrees flatly. “We will arrive shortly.”
Georgia and Jawahar hurry down the tunnel. Crashing and thudding footsteps echo behind them, steadily louder.
(Jason: “It’s either another one of the HIT Marks or it’s a T-rex. …Or it’s Indominous rex.”
Kara: “That’s not a thing.”
Jason: “Indominous rex is definitely a thing. In fact, it’s a thing in canon.”
Me: “What? Our canon!? No, that was fanfiction!”
Jason: *grins* “I have the power to canonize it.”
Me: “Don’t you dare canonize Indominous rex!”
Jason: “I’m gonna canonize Indominous rex and the Ingen-Pentex Conglomerate.”
Jason: “No, I’m not gonna do that. Okay, so, something is approaching, and it’s probably Indominous rex….”)
“I hope you have a better idea than simply running blindly through this place!” Jawahar shouts.
“Oh, I don’t!” Georgia responds cheerily.
They turn a corner and suddenly the tunnel ends, barred by a portcullis embedded deeply in the surrounding rock. A lintel above is carved with more geometric symbols, and Greek theater masks adorn the metal, their empty eyes staring mockingly.
Georgia shoves at the gate. Not only is it embedded in the rock, but extra weldings brace it to the floor. “Well, can’t go this way. Turn around and go back?”
Jawahar stares down the tunnel behind them. Vibrations from the footsteps now shudder the rock. “That does not sound prudent!”
“Well, either we can go back and face it, or I try to break through this with brute strength, which will probably mean I’ll frenzy and eat you, which I don’t want to do,” Georgia observes calmly.
Jawahar turns his stare to her. “You have a knack for developing bad solutions to worse problems.”
“Oh, indeed, this is definitely lose-lose. Which should we do?”
Jawahar continues to stare a long moment, then gestures weakly back down the hall. “Lead the way….”
Georgia rushes past. Jawahar groans and follows. They turn a corner and the light from his orb catches on metal. Another HIT Mark is stomping down the hall, clearly alive, but also clearly different from any they’ve seen yet. Instead of tubes feeding into bladders containing Greek fire, a large, bronze, circular mirror is mounted above its back. As they enter its line of sight it stops. A glowing light source, similar to Jawahar’s orb, suddenly pops up from the head, mounted on an arm directly in front of the mirror. The mirror adjusts, then a focused beam of light erupts, passing along the far wall, trailing hissing smoke in its wake.
(Jason: “An archimedean death-laser.”
Kara: “Oh. Great.”)
Georgia and Jawahar dive in separate directions as the beam swings toward them. The light dims, the laser dies out, and the HIT Mark stomps forward again.
“Ah-ha! Not today, mister!” Georgia lunges toward the machine, sliding between its legs. Just like the one in the Chantry, its upper body swivels to follow her, but also just like before, she jogs in a circle to stay out of its line of fire.
(Kara: “I try to puncture the water tank again.”
“Jawahar, do you still have that stake with you? The primium one!” She shouts as she jogs.
Jawahar peers from behind a sheltering rock. “No! I left them at the Chantry!”
(Jim: “Do you still have that primium dagger?”
Kara: “It’s somewhere in my bag, so I’m going to have to dig through it while running…so I do that!”)
She slings her back around and digs through it as she runs. After a moment though the machine stops, then in a whir of gears, swivels rapidly the other way, lining up to target her again. The light on its head brightens.
Georgia dives through the legs again just as the laser activates, leaving a scorch mark across the floor as it tries to track her.
Now facing the boiler on the other side, she scrabbles through her purse, feeling for the dagger–
(Me: “Wait wait wait…do you have the primium dagger? Or did you leave it at Orlando’s?”
Kara: “I have at least one primium dagger.”
Jason: “There are a couple of them floating around.”
Kara: “I have a blank one, not the one with Marcus’s bone or whatever in it.”
Me: “Ah, okay so not the Time-Out Dagger. Okay.”)
–finds it, pulls it out, then slams it into the boiler. The blade misses the seam and bounces off with a clang. Instantly, the machine swivels toward her and fires.
(Jason: “You have just been shot by an archimedean death-laser.”
Kara: “Okay…well that sounds painful.”
Me: “It’s like a deathray but not as fun.”
Jason: It is very much like a deathray. The experience is quite scientific.” *rolls, stops”
Jason: “Come here and look at these dice.”
Kara: “How much damage have I taken?”
Jason: “Come here and look a these dice. Do you see these dice? Do you see what these dice have done to me?!”
Kara: “I see…four ones….”)
The light hits her…and she feels nothing but warm.
“I’m immune to the laser!” she shouts excitedly.
“I’m not!” Jawahar shouts back, still behind his rock. “Get around here and hit it again!!”
While the laser recharges, she ducks around the machine and stabs at the boiler again. Once again she misses the seam, but this time, a heavy weight seems to thrust her dagger forward. It pierces the solid metal of the boiler, spewing hot pressurized water into her face. She stumbles back, staring at her dagger, perplexed.
(Jason: “Jawahar is a Hermetic. Hermetics specialize in forces. Kinetic energy is a force.”)
The water level plummets quickly but the HIT Mark remains active. Once again, gears whir as it swivels toward her. The light on the head begins to glow again.
A clicking echoes suddenly through the tunnel. Not the brass whir of gears, something else, coming from behind the HIT Mark. A humanoid figure moves through the shadows just beyond. Georgia catches a glimpse of something long and narrow at its hip. The clicking comes again as it raises the shape.
Georgia puts two and two together and hits the floor.
Gunfire roars through the tunnel. The machine shudders as holes explode across its metal frame. More holes pierce the boiler, dumping the water faster. Finally, the entire machine shudders and droops, shutting down with a hiss.
Georgia looks up from the floor while Jawahar peers around his rock. The figure levels the gun–a narrow thing with a circular drum bolted to the front–and steps hesitantly into the light of Jawahar’s orb.
Before leaving the Bank of America building, Rabenholz and Anstis make a quick stop back upstairs. Rabenholz calls Rhona and tells her to arrange someone to replace the drywall, while Anstis reprograms the circle to lead to a spot directly in front of where Rabenholz plans to have his dias during his Not-Elysium. Thus, if anyone tries to leave via the circle, they will be teleported right back to him.
When they finally arrive at the Pyramid, Marcus asks for an account of what happened up in Humboldt, and pointedly suggests that certain “other people” do “something” about the “haunting” in the bathroom down the hall.
“And while we’re at it,” Marcus says, looking the pirate up and down, “Captain…what on Earth are you wearing?”
Anstis adjusts his hat to show off the mask. “Rabenholz told me to wear it.”
Rabenholz nods sagely. “I needed to convert his face into something slightly less–”
“No, no….” Marcus holds up a hand. “I understand. Rabenholz suggested you wear that? Then wear it…you should….” He chews his lip, face scrunching in an obvious way.
(Jason: “Let’s put it this way. Physically, Marcus is a nine-year-old kid, so he’s really, really bad at hiding his laughter.”)
Anstis hesitates, glancing between Marcus’s painfully-amused expression and Rabenholz’s suspiciously-stony one. “…Aye,” he agrees. He bows, leaves the room, but the moment he’s outside the door his grin disappears. He tears the mask off his face and drops it to the floor.
He stalks down the hall into the bathroom, blinking once and opening his eye slowly to the Underworld. For the moment, the murky space is empty of spirits, but by the necromantic residue, he can tell a wraith has been spending time in the area trying to rip the building down.
Mood improving, Anstis moseys around the room slowly. After a few circuits, the wraith suddenly appears. The mists partially obscure his features, but his scarred, one-eyed face glowers at Anstis.
Anstis nods at him. “Tuke.”
The wraith stares back silently.
Anstis lunges forward, hands outstretched. The wraith ducks aside. Anstis smirks. “Come back Tuke, don’t ye want to dance?”
The wraith’s glower deepens. “You don’t understand….” he says in a voice that twists through the mist, then steps back and opens his mouth. A banshee wail rips from his throat, blasting through the dimensions of the Underworld and spearing straight into Anstis’s soul.
(Jason: “Courage test.”
Jim: “…BOTCH!” *laughs uncontrollably*
Chris: “Why do you even roll those things!?”)
Rabenholz and Marcus are quietly debriefing about the Humboldt trip when suddenly a scream erupts from the bathroom. They stop, look at each other, then glance toward the hall.
The office door flies open. Anstis runs in, crashes blindly over the furniture, then dives behind Marcus’s desk to cower underneath, still screaming.
(Jason: “I want to be absolutely clear on this. The scream you hear from him is as girlish as the mask was pink.”)
Marcus stares. Rabenholz steps outside the room and picks the discarded mask up off the floor. He holds it aloft with one finger. “Mr. Anstis, I believe you will feel better if you put this back on.”
Slowly, the screams die out. Anstis emerges from behind the desk, smoothing at his clothes. Ignoring Rabenholz’s outstretched offer, he straightens his hat and stomps back out of the room.
Rabenholz sighs. “I was sure the mask would help.”
Marcus shakes his head sadly. “The low clans.”
Anstis storms back into the bathroom, slamming the door closed behind him. Sliding back into his othersight reveals the wraith once more, smirking at him. Anstis growls and lunges forward to grab his chest.
Jason: “What does that do?”
Jim: “Each success inflicts a level of lethal damage on the wraith. Should they lose all health levels, they immediately vanish into a hell dimension.”
Jason: “How many successes did you get?”
Suddenly the wraith screams, twisting in pain. Anstis pulls him close and grabs him by the throat.
(Jim: “More Torment!!!”)
The wraith writhes in his grip, hands clenched into claws grasping uselessly at the air. The screams echo through the underworld, climbing into the ultrasonic–
Then he’s gone.
(Jason: “…Disappeared into a hell-dimension.”)
Rabenholz and Marcus exchange another look as vengeful, triumphant laughter suddenly echoes down the hall. “Well, that can’t be good,” Rabenholz mutters.
“Think I preferred the previous,” Marcus says.
Anstis marches back in, arms spread in triumph. “I’ve dealt with Tuke!”
Marcus eyes him. “Do I want to know how?”
Anstis sprawls himself across a chair next to Rabenholz. “He’s where he belongs. In Hell, at least for a while.”
“How long is awhile?” Rabenholz asks.
Anstis smirks. “Until he’s finished there.”
Marcus stands slowly. “Glad to hear, Captain. Glad to hear. I won’t be having any more difficulties with Bell complaining about the plumbing, then?”
“Good. See to it I don’t.” Marcus gestures. A tendril emerges from the shadows to right the toppled furniture and close the office door. “And how’s your little ship, by the way, what was the name again?”
Anstis’s grin widens. “The Twilight’s Fortune. I need be checking on her, but she should be fine.”
Marcus eyes him coolly. “I think I’d like to see your ship one of these nights, Captain. I assume you can arrange that.”
Anstis’s smile falters briefly. “…I could.”
“Good. Then please do so. Not tonight, of course, it’s getting early. But I am so interested to see what you’ve been doing down there.” Marcus’s gaze lingers on Anstis a long moment before turning back to Rabenholz. “And as for our conversation, Pfalzgraf, I’m afraid I don’t have a lot to tell you on the subject of Abominations. They’re rare enough to be regarded as mythical.”
Rabenholz nods over folded hands. “Indeed, but considering its effect on the sky in its vicinity, I am wondering if its sire was perhaps Lasombra. I would also place a good deal of money that it had the heart’s blood of a number of other elder vampires in its time.”
Marcus glowers. “An Abomination old enough to have done that is a disquieting thought.”
“Indeed, though it did not seem terribly interested in harming anyone in our party.”
Marcus paces the room slowly. “That may be even worse. Abominations are supposed to be mindless killers. They rampage destroying everything in sight until the sun or something else puts them down.”
Rabenholz nods slowly, examining the carved head of his cane. “I got the same impression from Bell, but that is not my reading of the creature. It already survived one night in the wild. It seemed very aware of us, and what we were doing.” He lowers the cane. “I know the cultists were drinking its blood, but I do not know where the power lies. If it were in charge of them, why allow itself to be used against them and then run off? On the other hand, they were all blood-bound to it.”
Marcus smiles grimly. “Fanatics and maniacs can often work in strange ways.”
“Yes, and speaking of strange ways, when we stalked it the second night, we were thwarted. If I had to guess, I’d say by fairy influence.”
Marcus stops. “Fairy? That doesn’t make sense, what would Fae have to do with an Abomination? The term ‘Abomination’ is fairly universal for a reason.”
“We came very close to it, before someone knocked Mr. Anstis out, and whoever that was was able to redirect the magic in the area in ways I didn’t think possible. Additionally, some manner of weather control was employed to keep us off the trail.”
Anstis, still sprawled on his chair, snorts. “Some manner? I haven’t seen a squall like that in ages.”
Marcus paces slowly to the window. “I don’t like any of this. The city has become a nexus of forces that should not working together, yet many seem to be simultaneously in existence here, and none seem to be attempting to destroy one another. Settites, Nephandi, Spiral Dancers, an Abomination, and now Fae magic? None of this makes any sense!”
(Jim: “…Wait, did he say Nephandi?”
Chris: “Do I know that term…?”
Jason: “Roll for it.”
Me: “Do you mean do you yourself know it, or your character?”
Chris: “Well, both. I know it’s some sort of mage thing….”
Me: “Oh. Well. Sit down.”
Jason: “Nephandi are mages who have gone off the deep end. Not just gone crazy, but have actually become forces of destruction and despair. Let me put it this way. There is a long rich list for the question of who is the most evil motherfucker in the World of Darkness. The Nephandi have a very strong case for being at the top of the list. They have perverted their own avatars to descension rather than ascension. They literally want to watch the world burn, and they have mage power to do it with.”
Chris: “That’s…kind of scary. Does Paradox apply to them?”
Jason: “Yes, which is probably the only reason there exists a world at all.”)
Anstis tilts his head. “Nephandi?”
Marcus peers across the darkened city. “Nephandi, as I understand it, are mages who wish the entire world to burn in the service of some lower devils or demons or creatures from the great beyond.”
“And you have found one of these?”
Marcus is quiet a moment. “Don’t worry yourselves about the Nephandi. If you find them, you won’t be able to do anything about it, and if they find you, you won’t even know.” He turns from the window, a strange smirk on his face. “Besides, they won’t be back anytime soon. They have become…occupied.”
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. Anstis gestures encouragingly. “…By?”
The smirk widens. “…Arrangements.”
(Jim: “Marcus is cute when he’s evasive.”
Me: “Say that to his face.”)
Marcus turns to Rabenholz. “You still intend to hold this Elysium of yours?”
Rabenholz gestures dismissively. “I wouldn’t presume to hold an Elysium, only the Prince may call one of those. I’m merely having a small gathering for friends I have made in my time here.”
Marcus gives him a tired look. “Pfalzgraf. I know I look like I could be your grandchild, but I helped found the Sabbat. Please don’t assume I’m that stupid. But I certainly won’t stop you in doing whatever you feel the Camarilla needs to do to restore some faith in these trying times. What do you plan to do when Dr. Everton or someone else kicks the door in?”
Rabenholz exchanges a look with Anstis. “We’ve taken a number of measures and plan to take some more.”
“Do those measures involve blowing up the building?” Marcus asks.
“They should fall short of that”
Marcus sighs. “I really hope so.”
“Honestly, I am mostly concerned about your sire,” Rabenholz says.
Marcus stills. Slowly, the shadows in the room loom larger. “That I cannot speak to. He has been awfully quiet lately, hasn’t he?”
“Is he even still in the city?” Anstis asks.
Marcus turns to the window again. “I do not know,” he says quietly.
“I once tried to track your sire, with interesting results,” Anstis says. “He seemed aware I sought him and…disapproved.”
Marcus turns to him sharply. The shadows around him start to waver. “Captain, my…embracer…is without question the most lethal creature you have ever met, counting the Abomination and any Nephandi that may or may not be in this city. How he is alive, I do not understand. What he can do, I do not have full comprehension of. But he has vastly more power than anyone else you’ve met. Including me. And since you’re well aware of what I can do, think on that.”
Rabenholz clears his throat delicately. “I don’t mean to pry, I hope you’ll forgive the question, but my understanding is at some point you defeated him.”
Marcus turns his gaze to him. “I didn’t defeat him, I killed him,” he snaps, reaching up to draw his gladius from the scabbard on his back. “I cut his heart out with this very sword. I cornered him in Florence and we fought. I won.”
“Are you sure it was him?” Anstis asks.
Marcus holds up his sword, gazing up the length. “I am absolutely certain.”
“But was it his heart?”
Marcus is quiet a moment, then slowly lowers the sword. “…I believe so. I’m not blind to the implications of him still being alive, Captain, but I don’t think it was my mistake. He died in full view of witnesses.” The shadows flicker again. “Helgi Isarnbjorn was one of them,” he says grimly.
“And it is your feeling your sire returned via…other powers? Or his good luck?” Rabenholz asks.
Silence settles in the room a long moment. “No,” Marcus finally says, quietly. “Fortune abandoned him the day he embraced me.”
Marcus flips the sword and resheathes it in one motion. The shadows in the room slowly recede as he returns to pacing. “I need to find him and figure out why he is here. He has the power to kick this door in and take out all three of us, but he has not. Why? He is a fifth generation Lasombra. Fifth. His power is indescribably terrifying, to say nothing of whatever he’s brought back with him.”
Marcus stops in front of Rabenholz’s chair. “But as for your concern, Pfalzgraf, if Gnaius Perpenna Vento decides to crash your little party, run. As fast as you can.”
Rabenholz regards him silently in response. After a moment, Marcus’s expression shifts, eyes narrowing dangerously. “…I presume, Pfalzgraf, there is to be some discussion of the late Mr. Lytton?”
Rabenholz stares back evenly. “Indeed. Why, he is the guest of honor, in a sense.”
Marcus tilts his head. “Is he still alive?”
“He is, as our kind can be.”
“Still staked, I presume, to be put on display?”
“And what am I to make of this?”
“That Mr. Lytton has become a symbol of the defiance of the rightful authority of the Camarilla in this city,” Rabenholz replies smoothly.
Marcus smiles grimly. “See, that’s where we run into difficulty, Mr Rabenholz, because I don’t really give a damn about the authority of the Camarilla in this city, and I never really have. My concern is you’re taking a client of mine and displaying him publicly as some sort of trophy. It would not be that difficulty to extend that…discourtesy…to me. At least symbolically. Are we making the claim that Marcus Sertorius is a patron who can’t defend his clients?”
Rabenholz considers this a moment. “I would say perhaps Marcus Sertorius is a wise patron who knows when his clients have…gone off the reservation, I think they put it.”
Silence lingers a moment. “Am I to attend this little gathering?” Marcus asks slowly.
“I had considered you to be among the first invited, but as a Camarilla city…” Rabenholz gestures vaguely. “You understand the problem.”
“The problem is there’s a decent price on my head, so the instant I walk in there, every single one of you is guilty of treason against the Camarilla for not trying to kill me.”
Rabenholz nods. “You will understand why you did not receive an invite, then.”
“You could publicly dissociate yourself from Mr. Lytton,” Anstis offers.
Marcus glances at him. “And how would you propose I do that, Captain?”
“I do not know the full extent of the client-patron relationship, but could you not…remove a client?”
“I could. But it does not do to be a patron who abandons his clients in the midst of need. Mr. Lytton would have to have acted rather discretely against my interests. In reality, he simply performed an act of supreme foolishness.” Marcus smirks. “After all, I don’t particularly care if a primogen lives or dies.”
“Priscus,” Rabenholz says carefully, shifting in his chair and folding his hands again, “You have no doubt determined my interest in this city, but part of my intent is ensuring this city remains ordered. Mr. Lytton has become a symbol of anarchy in this city and acts against it. I admit his association with you has become very unfortunate, so if we could come to an amicable agreement regarding what is to be done, without allowing it to appear he has escaped justice, or whatever definition may be appropriate, I would be very interested.”
Marcus eyes him. “What do you propose?”
“Perhaps if he were not the only malfeasant on display.”
Marcus considers this a moment. “You have some other?”
“Dr. Everton has made himself rather person-non-grata, and I think you have mentioned some other Sabbat elder in the city?”
Anstis grins. “Ah, yes. Cantor.”
Marcus’s face darkens. “Cantor would be quite a difficult acquisition.”
“Nonetheless,” Rabenholz continues, “If either of them were to join Mr. Lytton on display, would you feel your involvement adequately deemphasized?”
Marcus takes a slow breath. “I might. How do you propose to acquire either of them? Cantor is an ex-member of the Black Hand.”
“Ex-member?” Anstis asks.
“Well, no one truly leaves the Black Hand, they make sure of that,” Marcus concedes, then smirks. “But as to what his current standing is with the group, you’ll have to ask them yourself.”
“Everton is perhaps the more suitable candidate,” Rabenholz admits. “Cantor, though perhaps flouting Camarilla law, has remained quiet, and frankly I prefer quiet former enemies to rowdy friends.”
“Even if Everton will do, the question is, how to acquire him? Everton may be a Toreador but he’s a damned slippery one. He’s acquired a bit of a reputation and something of a name.”
“Well, I do have his number,” Rabenholz says.
Marcus snorts. “Are you going to ask him to volunteer?”
Rabenholz inclines his head. “Everyone has a price.”
Marcus exhales slowly. “That would be a hell of a price to convince him to stand on a dias and let you declare him a public enemy.”
“I actually think he may get some sort of perverse satisfaction from the act,” Rabenholz says.
“I think he gets some perverse satisfaction from committing the crimes that result in this. I know very few people who get satisfaction out of being punished.”
(Me: *sputters and takes an awkwardly long sip of her drink*)
“Nonetheless,” Rabenholz continues, “Ignoring the details of acquiring Mr. Everton, you would find his presence there in such capacity adequate satisfaction that I’m not trying to levy accusations against you?”
“It would certainly help, but it does beg another question.” Marcus folds his arms. “What happens after? Is Mr. Lytton to adorn your palace?”
Rabenholz glances at Anstis. Anstis grins back. “I had actually thought to gift him to the Captain. A sign of the rewards of maintaining order.”
Marcus frowns, turning to the pirate. “And what use, Captain, do you have for a Brujah? The ones I can think of?”
Anstis smiles at him. “What can ye think of?”
“Many, many things.” Marcus glares. “I’m a Sabbat Priscus, and I have performed the Amaranth before.”
Anstis shrugs. “That isn’t what I had in mind.”
“Really. You’ll forgive me if I tell you I don’t believe you for an instant.”
Anstis shrugs again, smoothing at frayed bits of brocade on his coat. “Believe as you will.”
Marcus stills. “Is that a note of defiance? I’m sorry, Captain, I think you’ve misunderstood this arrangement. I will believe as I will and will take actions accordingly.” Shadows crawl out from under Anstis’s chair. “Shall I?”
Anstis eyes the shadows, then lifts a hand. “Nay, nay, I respect you.”
“It’s not respect I’m looking for,” Marcus says sharply. “Respect I assume at my age. Those who disrespect me live short lives. What I wish to know, Captain, is why I should believe what you say in regards to what you do or do not wish to do with a Brujah destined for a Blood Hunt suddenly gifted to you.”
Anstis folds his hands in a loose mimicry of Rabenholz in the chair next to him. “Would you like my word that I will not diablerize him?”
“I would like to know what you plan to do instead,” Marcus says coolly.
Anstis smiles. “I’ve come up with a fitting punishment in tune with his crimes.”
The shadows form into a tendril, dragging over another chair to face Anstis. Marcus sits, still watching him intently. “Well. I’m all ears.”
(…And that’s when those three assholes left the room and shut off the recording. Assholes.)
Anstis finishes describing his plan for Tom (whatever it is). Marcus eyes him a long moment, then nods slowly. “…Very well, Captain. I will consider this. We will make what arrangements we must.” He turns to Rabenholz. “But of course, you must first make the arrangements to have this affair take place. Without undue destruction.”
END OF NIGHT