10/30/15

Jason: “Our intrepid band of adventurers…are not appearing in this game. Instead, we have douchebags. Who have returned from their excursion in Northern California to arrive back in the city where nothing bad will ever happen to them ever again.”
Everyone: “Yaaaaaaay.”
Jason: “But we’re not gonna start with the people who returned to the city, cause we have other people to have fun with–”
Chris: “Dug and Bob at the therapist!”
Jason: “NO!”
Chris: “No I think it’s therapy Monday again!”
Kara: “It is therapy Monday!”
Me: “Is it really?”
Kara: “…I don’t know.”
Me: “But it’s your job to track the days of the week!”
Kara: “Yeah, well…I’ve had some shit going on.”
Jason: “Speaking of shit going on, you are on the island of Thera. Or what was once the island of Thera–”
Jim: “You should put down a slave revolt!”
Kara: “Okay! That worked out well last time!”
Jason: “…Did it end with you joining the slaves?”
Kara: “Yes. And then I had to reroll.”
Jason: “Why?”
Kara: “Because I was thrown in prison and enslaved.”
Me: “…Oh my god, is your character still there?”
Kara: “…I think so?”
Me: *stage whisper* “You should rescue her in our world–
Jason: “Our world is not fucking Earthdawn!!”
Kara: “Am I going to be able to rescue a Windling that was enslaved ten thousand years ago in a different game?
Me: “If you hang around with mages, hell yeah you can!”

#

THERA

Sophia steps further into the light, the machine gun at her side still smoking slightly. Not just a machine gun, actually, a tommy gun, like something out of a 1930’s Chicago mob flick. She stares at Jawahar–still sprawled on the ground in shock–and Georgia–climbing to her feet.

(Kara: “I greet her.”
Jason: “How?”
Kara: “In the way that people greet one another, because I am relatable, and fun.”)

“Sophia!” Georgia cries, throwing her arms up excitedly. “You got my text!”

Sophia stares between her, Jawahar, and the corpse of the slowly cooling machine. “What are you doing here?” she asks.

“Well, being attacked by HIT Marks. Or well actually right now I’m talking to you.” Georgia shrugs. “A little of column A, column B….”

Sophia’s grip tightens on her gun. “Are you actually here or is this some other trick?”

“As far as I know I’m actually here. Are you? I guess we should check.” Georgia sidles forward and pinches Sophia’s arm under her heavy army coat.

Sophia just stares at Georgia’s hand. “How did you get here?” she asks.

“Oh! There was an exciting blinding white portal in the basement of my Chantry that I stood too close to.”

Sophia blinks once in recognition, then her face darkens with suspicion. She takes a step closer. “What are you doing here?” she asks, voice low.

“Do you know something about this? How did the portal get into my basement?” Georgia asks, then finally notices Sophia’s shift in tone. “…Look, we both know I’m not going to eat you. For one thing I couldn’t, and for another, I like you–”

“I don’t know why the portal opened up in your Chantry,” Sophia says, then hesitates. “Or…I don’t know for sure at least….” She shifts nervously, gesturing her gun toward Jawahar, still on the ground. “Who’s this?”

Jawahar leans away from the gun, but Georgia just shrugs.“Oh, he’s a friend, he’s been staying with me. I rescued him and then it got complicated.”

“Is he another vampire?”

Georgia laughs. “Oh, no, absolutely not. Goodness…look at the way he’s dressed.”

(Chris: “What are you wearing?”
Jason: “Do you still have the umbrella dress?”
Kara: “No! I’m in some sort of robes–”
Jason: “In Tremere-red?”
Kara: “–And I imagine Jawahar is also wearing robes. I’ve actually been imagining we’re dressed very similarly, which is why that comment is funny.”)

Jawahar glances between Georgia’s robes and his own, then scowls.

“But he’s a good friend…” Georgia trails off, then continues, “…He’s a medium-friend.”

Sophia watches her with narrowed eyes. “Do you know where we are?”

“Uh…Thera?”

“What’s Thera?”

“Greece, but a long time ago.”

Sophia jerks back. She stares again at the dead HIT Mark. “Greece!? How’d we get to Greece??”

“The portal. So will you please tell me who cast the portal and why?”

“Arrgh!” Sophia groans, releasing the gun to grab at her hair. “There wasn’t supposed to be a portal!”

“What was there supposed to be?”

Sophia rubs her face. “A moonbridge.”

Georgia blinks. “…A moonbridge!” she exclaims.

(Jason: “…You said that in the style of talking to a four year old who’s telling you about his invisible friend.”)

“Does it go to the moon?” Georgia continues.

“No it’s…kind of like a portal,” Sophia admits with a grumble. “From one cairn to another.”

“Okay.” Georgia looks around. “So are we in a cairn now?”

“I have no idea! I wasn’t supposed to go here!”

“How did you get here? Did you get my text?”

“No, I don’t have any reception.” Sophia pulls out her tablet and jabs at it. “Otherwise I’d contact the net-spirits to find out what’s going on, but something’s keeping them out.”

“Or…maybe the net-spirits sent you here to help me,” Georgia says, grinning.

Sophia stops mid-jab. “…God, I really hope not.”

“So why are you here?”

Sophia tenses, then carefully tucks the tablet away. “I was trying to bridge two cairns, and it…didn’t really do what I was hoping it would do….”

“…Which two cairns?” Georgia asks suspiciously.

Sophia glances around, shifting her gun on her hip. “Look, I’m supposed to be killing you people….”

“Right, but we’ve been not-killing each other for the last couple of weeks. It’s been working well for both of us.”

Suddenly Sophia stills. She looks up at Georgia with a hard gaze.“How well did it work for Tom?”

Georgia sighs. “Werewolves didn’t kill Tom.”

“No. Someone else did.”

Silence lingers. Georgia shifts nervously under Sophia’s intent stare. “Well, he’s actually kind of still alive–”

“I know he’s still alive,” Sophia says cooly. One hand drops toward her gun. “What are you doing with him?”

“At the moment, storing him in my basement.”

“Why are you storing him in your basement?”

“Because releasing him into the city seems like a bad idea, given as he murdered one of our Primogens.” Georgia shrugs. “I mean, I know everybody is always trying to kill everybody else, but this was a little bit beyond–”

“He didn’t murder the Primogen,” Sophia says.

Georgia blinks. “He told me he did.”

(Me: “WHAT!? I did not! In fact I very specifically said, over and over again, I DID NOT KILL KARL SUTRO!!!”
Kara: “You told me you did it ‘for the lulz.’”
Me: “I kidnapped him for the lulz! I didn’t kill him for the lulz!”
Jason: “She asked you why you killed him and you said for the lulz.”
Me: “No, you asked me why I kidnapped hi–Do I need to look this up!?”
Jim: “You deny it in the way that Garak denies his involvement in Cardassian special-forces.”
Me: “NO!!! Tom GENUINELY believes that he did not kill Karl Sutro BECAUSE HE DIDN’T!!!!”
Jason: “Of course he believes that, he’s not as smart as Garak.”)

At this, Sophia groans and rubs her head again. “I was there, he didn’t kill your Primogen.”

“Well, he wasn’t my Primogen, but that’s interesting information.” Georgia hesitates. “Did you kill the Primogen?” she asks cheerily.

Sophia sighs. “No. We were having a conversation with him and someone called in an airstrike.”

“Not Tom?”

Sophia stares. “…Where would Tom get an airstrike?!”

“Have you met Tom!?”

“Tom’s…not very together, and yeah he kills people really well, but he’s not an F-22!”

(Chris: “He’s not an F-22…yet.”
Me: “They told me I could be anything, so I became an F-22.”)

Georgia falls into thoughtful silence. “…So you’re saying Tom didn’t kill the Primogen?”

“No!”

“…Then why did he tell me he did?”

Sophia throws her arms out. “Why does Tom do anything!??”

(Me: “…For the lulz.”)

Sophia’s gaze hardens again. “Look, I know you have him. I saw the footage. You chased him down in the Costco parking lot, ran a stake through his heart, and ate his buddy. I think he and Tom were, like…together.”

(Me: “WHAT? Hey! Whoa! I miss Slayer, but not that much!”
Jason: “Sophie doesn’t know how it works!”
Me: “I told her–”
Jason: “Tom says a lot of things.”
Jim: “Yeah, there’s a lot of subtext there.”)

Georgia cocks her head a moment as she combs through Slayer’s memories. “They…no, they definitely weren’t together.” She shrugs. “Anyway, Tom murdered a bunch of people so there was a blood hunt. It’s kinda the point.”

“What’s a blood hunt?”

“It’s basically when a bounty is placed on an enemy of the Camarilla.”

“And on this blood hunt, you rammed a stake through his heart and locked him up in the basement,” Sophia recites cooly.

“Well, yes, but see, he hasn’t murdered anybody since we locked him up.”

“Most of the people he murdered needed it,” Sophia mutters, then pauses. “…I hope.”

“Well, the blood hunt is still active, so by locking him up in my basement, it could be said I’m protecting him.”

“Yeah? Then what happens to him now?”

“Well, I think he’ll be given to the Prince, then after that it’s up to what the Justicar decides, but he’s been pretty even-keeled, so it’s possible that after he’s had a couple nights to think about it, he won’t eat Tom. So things could work out okay. I’m really interested in hearing Tom’s version of the events.”

“If you have him in your basement, why can’t you just ask him?”

“Because I’m on Thera,” Georgia says reasonably. “How did you get here?”

Sophia tenses again, then sighs. “Okay, look, I was trying to do a short-range moonbridge to get Tom, and something went kinda…pear-shaped–”

“Well, the portal was actually circular-shaped, but that does explain why it ended up in the Chantry.”

Sophia glares, then continues. “I was gonna grab Tom and be gone, but somehow I wound up here.”

Georgia considers this a moment. “How did you get a moonbridge past the wards?” she asks carefully.

Sophia falls silent. She stares at the ground a long moment before taking a breath and continuing. “Moonbridges connect cairns. Your Chantry isn’t just a Chantry, it’s a cairn. An old werewolf cairn, older than the building.”

Georgia blinks. Nothing in her extensive reading of the Chantry’s libraries has even hinted at this. She turns to Jawahar, still sitting on the ground, chin in his hands, watching them morosely. He glares back. “What are you looking at me for?”

“Weren’t you saying the Chantry belonged to your people before mine?”

He nods once. “Yes, it was a Hermetic Chantry before it was captured or whatever by the Tremere.”

“And what was it before it was a Hermetic Chantry?”

“How in the world would I know? I’ve never even been to this city before!” He groans and climbs to his feet. “But…it’s not uncommon for Hermetic Chantries to be built on what the werewolves would call cairns. Places of power are fairly universal. Effectively, what they call a cairn we call a node. It’s possible some Hermetic scholar discovered the cairn and decided it would make a suitable location.”

Georgia turns to Sophia, who looks just as surprised by this as she is.

“But none of this explains why we are on an island in Greece!” Jawahar continues.

Georgia looks around. “Is this a cairn? Or a node?”

Jawahar peers at the dead HIT Mark and frowns. “If this is actually Daedalus’s workshop, it’s possible. But Daedalus’s workshop has been lost for thousands of years, why would it be linked to a cairn in San Francisco? No one even knew the Americas existed when this place was constructed!”

“Maybe they’re both very powerful,” Georgia suggests.

Jawahar snorts. “A node that powerful we would know about. Thera was one of the most powerful nodes in the ancient world, we would know if there was another one in San Francisco, of all places.” He carefully reaches out to touch the HIT Mark’s concave mirror, swiveling it back forth a few times, then looks up. “But all this speculation is not helping us get off this island.” He turns to Sophia. “Have you found anything that might be useful?”

Sophia gestures back down the tunnel. “There’s some sort of lab, or workshop, deeper in the complex. There’s a lot of equipment and stuff, but also a lot more of those things.” She scowls at the HIT Mark. “Active ones.”

“Did you disable them?”

“I shot a few of them down, but there were dozens. They were guarding something.”

Georgia gasps excitedly. “What was it?”

Sophia glares. “How would I know? I can show you where the workshop is if you want, but those things aren’t too friendly to you two and they also don’t seem to like me.” She glances at Jawahar, eying his robes again. “If you’re a real mage, can’t you just magic us out?”

Jawahar stares back belaboredly. “I don’t have sufficient time to explain to either of you how dumb of an idea that is. We are quite possibly standing inside the workshop of one of the greatest mages who ever lived, who warded the island so thoroughly it makes the wards around your Chantry look like a Keep Out sign!”

(Me: “…No boys allowed.”)

“Then I see two options.” Georgia dramatically rolls a sleeve back and holds up a hand. “One, if we can figure out how the moonbridge got us here, perhaps we can reverse it to get out.”

She and Jawahar turn to Sophia, but she looks away. “I can’t make a moonbridge by myself,” she mutters. “I had help.”

“Ok,” Georgia continues, undeterred, “Then that leaves Option Two, which is I try to make a circle, but to do that, I need a lot of blood.”

Silence falls. Sophia and Jawahar turn slowly to stare at her. After a moment, Sophia hefts her gun and Jawahar lifts his hands ominously.

Georgia steps back, hands raised placatingly. “Okay, I was just bringing that up as an option! If you have another suggestion, I’m happy to listen to it!”

“Why do you need blood?” Sophia asks suspiciously.

“To make a transportation circle.”

Sophia lowers her gun. “Wait, do you mean those circles of blood with weird drawings? That’s what those are?”

“Well usually. Sometimes they do other stuff. Why?”

She jerks her thumb down the tunnel. “Cause there’s one in the workshop. I mean, it’s dried, but it’s definitely there.”

Georgia stares. “Under the HIT Marks?”

“No, drawn on one of the walls.”

Georgia considers this. “Well, if it’s on the wall that’s not so great. Generally you have to stand on these things to go through them, so teleportation circles are on the ground. If it’s on the wall that means it’s not a go-through circle.”

“Then what is it?” Jawahar asks.

“A not-go-through circle.”

Sophia and Jawahar close their eyes, the exact same pained expression on both their faces. “Can you tell what it does?” Jawahar asks.

“If I could look at it, maybe.” Georgia shrugs. “But if it’s not going to get us off the island, then there’s kinda no point.”

Sophia shifts her gun, glancing nervously down the tunnel. “So what do you want to do?”

Georgia follows her gaze. For the moment, it’s clear that all signs lead to her going to check out the workshop….

“Let’s explore the rest of the cavern!” she announces brightly, then turns and strides in the other direction.

#

SIR FRANCIS DRAKE HOTEL

Rabenholz wakes up in one of his hotel penthouses not long after sundown. Rhona is already in his sitting room, waiting patiently with a stack of papers for him to sign and other business from the day to go over.

(Chris: “So in the nights since I’ve been around, has Rhona successfully found for me wood harvested from a tree that has been nourished on the bodies of the dead?”
Everyone: “…”
Chris: “Bandname, calling it.”
Jason: “…Yes. She has found the wood and had it delivered to your penthouse.”
Me: “She’s like evil Gates.”
Jim: “Why are you calling her evil? Is it because she’s black?”
Me: “What? No! It’s cause she’d actually make a really good vampire, she’s on board with all this shit while Gates was always freaking out.”
Jim: “No I know, I just felt like accusing you of racism.”)

After the most pressing issues are addressed and the wood is stashed away, Rabenholz asks Rhona to place a call to Dr. Everton for him, using the phone contacts harvested from Tom’s phone. He stands at the door to the balcony, staring out over the nighttime skyline, till Rhona comes back and hands him the phone, already ringing.

After a few rings, Everton answers. “Pfalzgraf,” his smooth British voice greets warmly. “I’m rather surprised to be hearing from you. Might I inquire as to what this happy occasion is?”

“Dr. Everton. I had hoped to arrange a meeting with you in the near future to discuss an idea you may find to be to our mutual benefit. I’d like to run it by you.”

“Intriguing. I had no idea our interests coincided.”

“I believe in this instance they might. Would you perhaps be available to meet in person two nights hence?”

Everton is quiet a moment. “…Are you certain this won’t conflict with your preparations for this little gathering of yours?”

Rabenholz hesitates. As far as he knows, Everton wasn’t sent an invitation. “…No, I am confident I can make the time for it.”

“And where would you care to have this conversation?” Everton asks carefully.

“I’m still becoming acquainted with the city, is there anywhere to your liking?

“Oh, well there are a number of locations that are rather amenable. Do you fancy yourself something of a classicist, Pfalzgraf?”

“Doesn’t everyone?” Rabenholz replies smoothly.

“Well not in these decrepit nights, I’m afraid. Educational standards have slipped, and we are in the Colonies afterall. But there’s a rather interesting museum, out at the edge of the city. Palace of the Legion of Honor, I think they call it.”

(Me: “…Or you could go to the DeYoung!”
Chris: “No.”)

“Excellent.” Rabenholz meets Rhona’s eye across the room. “The Legion of Honor, Sunday evening. Let’s say nine o’clock.” Rhona nods silently and makes a note of that in her planner.

“Excellent, excellent,” Everton agrees amiably, then pauses a moment. “Could I possibly inquire as to the agenda for the meeting? That I might adequately prepare, of course.”

Rabenholz falls silent a moment. “You’ll forgive me, I still find these new devices somewhat untrustworthy. I’d rather prefer to discuss it in person.”

Another pause. “…Of course. I’ll look forward to speaking with you then.”

“Of course.” Rabenholz nods. “Good evening, Dr. Everton.” He hangs up.

(Chris: “So civilized.”
Jason: “Not bad for two people more or less trying to figure out if the other is about to eat them.”)

Rabenholz paces the room silently a few minutes, then picks up his phone again. This time, he calls Anstis. “Captain,” he greets the moment he answers, “I had a thought for my event. You will of course have access to the best human men-at-arms, but I had thought that maybe you would have an in with some of our more…anarchist colleagues across the bay. Ones happy to sell their services for the evening.”

There’s a low grumble as Anstis considers this. “Kindred?” he asks.

“Indeed. If someone is going to make a move I think it would be helpful to diversify the people they must move against.”

“Very well. I also had plans to visit the Nosferatu this evening and invite them to the gathering.”

“Anyone worthy of note has already been invited, this includes the Nosferatu,” Rabenholz says sharply. “But if you have your own business with them, feel free to do so. As for the Anarchs, set your budget at $500,000 for the evening. Negotiate from there.”

“…As ye wish.” Anstis hangs up.

Moments later, Rabenholz’s phone buzzes with an incoming call. It’s Scout.

“Lord Rabenholz,” she greets him.

He resumes pacing the room. “Ms. Scout, what may I do for you?”

“I seem to have found myself without other engagements this evening and was wondering if you have endeavors you needed assistance with?”

Rabenholz paces a moment, thinking. “…I do in fact. Would you meet me at the Sir Francis Drake in thirty minutes?”

A brief pause. “…Yes, although I may need to stop along the way.”

“Then a little later perhaps. An hour let’s say.”

“Very well.” She hangs up.

Rabenholz hands the phone back to Rhona. He settles himself in a chair and gestures to her. She nods and begins to report on their financial holdings.

#

THE SUNSET

A few miles to the west, Anstis is in the Sunset District and decides that the sleepy suburb streets are an ideal place for him to grab a snack. He soars over the streets, eventually spotting and stalking an older couple out for an evening stroll. He sneaks up on them in human form, leaping from the bushes to grab the man while Dominating the woman to be quiet.

(Naturally, Jim botches.)

The woman screams and beats him with her purse while he tries to pull some blood from the man. As the man falls unconscious, Anstis drops him and grabs the woman too, taking just enough blood to knock her out. He lays her down next to her partner on the sidewalk and turns to leave–

Then freezes as a spotlight falls on him, followed by the roar of a diesel engine. A National Guard Humvee screeches to a halt next to the curb. Two soldiers stare at him through the window, a third standing though the gap in the roof to man the M2 50-cal mounted up top.

(Me: *mutters around a mouthful of pie* “Have fun with that.”
Jason: “I love the sympathy in your voice.”
Me: “He is the new Tom, so.”)

The soldiers stare at Anstis’s face–smeared with tentacles and blood–then shout and reach for their guns. The M2 swings around, the gunner’s face serious as he locks eyes with Anstis–

Anstis lifts an arm, spreads his hand, and rips the man’s soul out.

(Jason: “…You were right, he is the new Tom.”)

The soldier jerks once in pain, then falls limp across the roof. The men inside stare up at the thump, then level their handguns out the window and fire. Heavy rounds slam into Anstis, knocking him over, but he slowly rises to his feet. The driver struggles to reload as the other soldier starts yelling into the radio.

Anstis picks up the unconscious man from the sidewalk, holding him in front of him as he approaches the vehicle. “This man requires a doctor,” he shouts. “Would ye please take him to one?”

(Jim: “I’m holding him in front of my face.”
Jason: “They already saw you in the spotlight.”
Chris: “Bet you wish you had your pussy mask.”)

The second soldier grabs the driver’s arm. “Get the fuck out of here, man!” Instantly, the engine roars as the humvee backs up, whips around, and tears off, the catatonic gunner still sprawled across the roof.

Anstis grumbles and unceremoniously drops the man he’s carrying. He shifts down into parrot-form, launches into the air, and flies away.

#

SIR FRANCIS DRAKE HOTEL

Rabenholz and Rhona are almost to the end of their meeting when the room phone rings. Rhona gets up to answer. It’s the front desk, calling to inform them a Mr. Leeland is here to see Lord Rabenholz. She relays this to him. He nods and says to let him up.

A few minutes later, there’s a knock at the door and Rhona escorts Leeland into the suite. “Mr. Rabenholz,” he says, glancing quickly around the room. “Thank you for seeing me.”

Rabenholz nods and gestures to a chair. “Of course. I had not expected a visit from you. You are well, I hope?”

As Leeland sits down, though, it’s clear he is not. His skin is paler than usual, his eyes sunken, and even after sitting his gaze continues to dart around the room. Rabenholz nods to Rhona, who retrieves a decanter of blood from the fridge and pours a glass. Leeland accepts it wordlessly and downs it in one throw.

Rhona hesitates, exchanging a glance with Rabenholz, then pours Leeland another.

“Mr. Leeland, is everything alright?” Rabenholz asks.

Leeland sips at his second glass more slowly. “I don’t know. I’m not sure who else to ask about this. It’s kind of an awkward situation.”

“Then I am honored you would trust me into your confidence.” Rabenholz sits back and gestures. “Please go on.”

“I don’t think you’re gonna think of it that way.” Leeland fidgets, twisting the glass back and forth. “I need Tom Lytton.”

Rabenholz blinks. “Oh?”

(Me: “Jesus, if Leeland is asking for me, I can’t even imagine how bad shit must be.”)

Leeland’s gaze darts around again. “Trust me, this is not something I normally would want, but I kind of need Tom Lytton. Fast.”

“I see.” Rabenholz regards him silently a moment. “I’ve already made some commitments regarding Tom Lytton, but if you can elaborate on your needs, perhaps we can arrive at a compromise.”

Leeland takes a breath. “There’s something of a werewolf situation going on in the East Bay. They’re all around my university and they’re killing my people. And whenever I ask someone to help me with this, the result seems to be more dead people.”

“You are a man of impressive constitution to remain so close to the lupines.”

Leeland glares. “I don’t have much of a choice, it’s my school! I can’t up and move it!”

“What do you expect to do with Mr. Lytton? Are the werewolves requesting him in exchange for peace?”

“No, no….” Leeland groans and shakes his head. “That crazy Brujah deals with werewolves. I need him to kill them.”

Rabenholz watches Leeland silently a long moment before answering. “It is by my grace alone that Mr. Lytton remains in this world. He is in no shape to fight werewolves at this time. Nonetheless, I feel for your situation.”

Leeland stares, then slowly puts down his glass and leans forward. “I know you know something about the school, I know we’ve met there before–” He pauses. “–I don’t know how you got everyone out of the tree, but thank you–But this werewolf thing is getting to the point where I can’t hide it anymore. There’s been enough chaos going on already, and I have a very bad feeling from a very large number of sources that this is going to get worse.”

“It’s my understanding that the werewolves have various clans of their own…?”

Leeland nods. “Tribes, yes. They argue with each other about the best way to kill us.”

“Are you aware if this is a tribal dispute?”

“I have no idea, but there’s all kinds of werewolves out there. Some that Lytton was working with, others he wasn’t, then some others he was killing when he was in the North Bay….” Leeland groans and stands up to pace the room. “I don’t know what’s going on! But the lupines and Myrmidon ended up throwing down right outside my school and the next thing I know I’m writing eight condolence letters to next of kin! Lord knows what will happen if these guys decide to come down and fight a major war on the quad!”

Rabenholz watches Leeland pace. “Have they displayed any coordinated efforts extending into the school?”

“I caught one of them on campus disguised as a student! Twice! Dealing with some lunatic religious nut swinging bibles around!”

Rabenholz tenses slightly. Leeland, still pacing, doesn’t notice, but across the room Rhona sees his reaction and stands slightly more at attention. “…Indeed,” Rabenholz says slowly. “You wouldn’t happen to know that religious nuts name, would you?”

“I didn’t have time to ask, I had to kill him with an axe!” Leeland snaps.

“Could you describe him?” Rabenholz asks carefully.

Leeland gestures dismissively. “Tall, long dark coat and hat, sunglasses–”

Rabenholz’s gaze darkens. “I have seen the same man.”

Leeland scoffs. “That’s impossible, he’s dead.”

“No, he rises again.”

Leeland suddenly stops, then throws up his hands. “…OF COURSE! Of course he rises again! Why wouldn’t he!?!

“How long until the situation is untenable?” Rabenholz continues smoothly.

“For all I know they’re rampaging down the fucking hills right now!” Leeland sighs. “I just need someone who knows what they’re doing when it comes to werewolves. Lytton knew some of these werewolves, I don’t know how. He knew how to talk to them, he knew how to get them to do their fighting somewhere else.”

Rabenholz nods once. “I ask the nature of the situation because I want to know how much time we have to arrange a counter-offensive.”

Leeland stares. “I don’t want counter offensives, this isn’t a warzone, it’s a university!

Rabenholz raises a hand. “Mr. Leeland, please lower your voice. I am not able to give you Mr. Lytton, but I will make an investment in you, and in our future relationship. I will find a way to make the werewolf problem go away quietly.”

Leeland sags briefly in relief, then tenses again. “And what do you want in return?”

“The information you provided me tonight has been a helpful start, but I require eyes and ears in the East Bay.”

Leeland grumbles. “I’m not really in tune with everyone going on in the East Bay, I prefer to stick to Berkeley.”

“That is a start.” Rabenholz nods, then pauses thoughtfully. “Are you familiar with what an Abomination is?” he asks.

Instantly, Leeland’s face bleaches whiter than before.

“You are, then,” Rabenholz continues smoothly. “The man Flagg, struck down on your campus, was struck down again in Northern California while cavorting with a group of cultists who have one.”

Leelad gapes. “Abominations are a MYTH! A ghost story to scare neonates! You can’t embrace a lupine!”

“Such is the conventional wisdom. The attacks on Sacramento were the work of this cult after I paid them a visit two nights ago.”

Leeland slowly closes his mouth. “…You made them attack Sacramento, didn’t you?” he asks softly.

“They merely required a nudge. But when the Abomination came out they required a little bit more than that to keep it from taking part in these attacks. But why, I wonder, was Mr. Flagg–who appears unable to take permanent damage–aligned with a group of cultists–the leader of which was imbued–who in turn have access to an Abomination?”

Leeland stares at him. The tension in his body is still clear, but rather than agitated, it’s suddenly wary. “…You’re sure it was an Abomination?” he asks.

Rabenholz nods. “Entirely sure. We pursued it over the following night, but were were deterred by another power.”

“What other power?”

“If I had to guess…fairies.”

Leeland takes a step back. “Fai–? I mean, there’s Fae all over Northern California, but why would they be involved with an Abomination?”

Rabenholz smiles grimly. “Indeed. Things are aligning in a way they have not aligned in a very long time, if ever before. What’s going on in your campus is likely only a small part of it.”

Leeland stares at Rabenholz a long moment. He even glances at Rhona, still standing at attention near the wall. “So what are you planning to do, then?” he asks finally.

Rabenholz takes a breath, then folds his hands in his lap. “I cannot lend you Mr. Lytton. He is in no condition to go about. But I will speak with him later and get his advice on the matter. And as for the matter of repayment, you may at some point invest in our future relationship also.”

Leeland’s gaze narrows. “You’re looking to set up residence here permanently, aren’t you?”

“You are perceptive.”

Leeland laughs grimly. “You don’t send out that many invitations to an Elysium unless you want to start running things.”

“An Elysium? No of course not, only the Prince may call an Elysium.”

Leeland glares. “Just because I’m an Anarch doesn’t mean I’m dumb. I’ve been here a long time, longer than I think most people. I’m not going anywhere.”

Rabenholz nods and stands, settling his cloak around him. “Then if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Leeland, I’ll begin to see what I can do to take care of this situation. May I offer you more refreshment before you leave?”

Rhona picks up the decanter and steps forward, but Leeland waves her back. “No, that’s quite alright. Thank you for taking this so seriously.”

Rabenholz inclines his head. “Of course. Thank you for bringing the matter to my attention.”

Rhona steps forward and gestures invitingly toward the door. Leeland hesitates, glancing back at Rabenholz, but finally lets her escort him from the room.

Rabenholz checks the time. It’s been almost an hour and there’s no sign of Scout. When Rhona comes back, he asks her for the phone to make a call.

#

UNION SQUARE

Scout is making her way through the scattered crowds still moving around Union Square at this hour when her phone rings. “Yes, Lord Rabenholz?” she answers.

“Ms. Scout, how far away are you?”

She looks up. The Sir Francis Drake stands above the surrounding buildings just a few blocks away. “Not far, I’m in Union Square.”

“I must run an errand shortly. I await you at your earliest convenience.”

“I’ll be there presently.” She hangs up and walks faster.

A creeping sensation suddenly crawls down her neck. She slows, sensing someone is watching her. At the next intersection, she stops at the light and idly turns to scan the square behind her. A hooded figure in dark clothes is there, moving through the crowd in her general direction.

Scout tenses and checks the street around her, but when she looks back the figure is gone.

The light changes and the people around her surge forward to cross. Scout hesitates, then hurries to the hotel.

#

SIR FRANCIS DRAKE

Rhona is carefully going over the specifics of one of Rabenholz’s orders for ritual items when the room phone rings again. She answers, then looks up. “My lord, your guest has arrived.”

Rabenholz, standing at the window again, nods. “Excellent, let her up. And if you would be so kind as to give us some privacy.”

Rhona nods and goes to receive Scout at the door. As she lets her in, though, Rhona tenses, eyeing the other woman curiously as she passes.

“Thank you, Ms. Tyler,” Rabenholz says firmly.

Rhona blinks, then bows, walking out of the sitting room into the office of the suite and closing the double-doors behind her.

“Ms. Scout,” Rabenholz says, settling himself in his chair again. “What may I do for you this evening?”

Still standing, Scout inclines her head. “It seems the question is what I may do for you.”

Rabenholz nods and gestures to the chair opposite him and the decanter of blood on the table between them. “I thought you might be here on such an errand. As it turns out I have a number of projects I could use assistance with. You have proven yourself a master of certain skillsets and I wonder if you might prove yourself suited to others. Do you have any experience with lupines?”

Scout hesitates as she settles in the chair. “No, and even if I did, I doubt I’d want more.”

“Indeed. Well then I have some names I need checking up on. You are familiar with a Dr. Corwin Everton?”

Scout nods, pouring herself a small glass of blood. “I am familiar with that name, yes.”

“I will be meeting with him two nights hence. That is of course information given to you in confidence. Would you be up to the task of discovering his whereabouts? Find out what he does the next two nights.”

“I can certainly try, but what I’ve heard of the man, he is one who appreciates privacy.”

“No doubt. I have a few more names that are perhaps even more elusive, but would appreciate any information you can dig up. Is the name Oliver Thrace familiar to you?” Scout shakes her head and he continues, “He was a Tremere regent in Hong Kong. He’s no longer, but allegedly he’s in San Francisco.” He eyes her significantly. “There are few ‘former’ regents in the Tremere. Either you move up or you die. He appears to be an aberration in that regard. If you can discretely discover his whereabouts, I’d be very curious to know what he’s up to these days. The same applies to Dr. Everton. You do not need to speak directly with either of them. In fact, it is better if neither of them knows you even exist.”

Scout nods slowly. “I understand.”

“Of course there is also the matter of payment….” Rabenholz falls silent, waiting.

She inclines her head with a soft smile. “Lord Rabenholz. Simply having a place and a purpose is frequently payment in and of itself.”

Rabenholz nods, but his gaze darts briefly over her clothes. Once again she is in a dark designer suit, but this one is different from the one she wore to Humboldt. By the immaculate lines, it looks almost brand new.

He folds his hands. “Then let’s say an even $100,000.”

Scout considers this, then smiles. She nods graciously and lifts her glass to sip at her blood.

Rabenholz nods back and reaches for a glass himself. Suddenly he hesitates, then lifts a hand. “Oh, there is one other name. Are you familiar with Cantor?”

Scout slowly finishes her sip then places the glass carefully down on table. “I believe I have heard the name, although the context escapes me at the moment.”

“Captain Anstis has mentioned him before. He’s an Assamite elder of sorts, taking residence at St. Ignatius Church. Cantor seems content to keep a low profile, and I’m entirely fine with that. But if you could quietly observe and confirm that is the case, I would appreciate it.”

Scout twists the glass on the table, watching the light refract through the cut crystal. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Rabenholz nods. “Excellent. So. The whereabouts of Corwin Everton, what he has been up to, what actions he is taking. The whereabouts of Oliver Thrace, who should be somewhere in San Francisco. And of course confirmation that Cantor appears to be up to nothing apart from his own interests, and that those interests do not involve trouble for others, namely myself.”

Scout sits back and nods. “Are any of these men whom I should be worried about for my own safety?”

(Jason: “YES.”)

“Well, Dr. Everton has already proven himself quite quick on the draw, though none of us seem particularly aware of his skills. I would say you should consider him extremely dangerous. Oliver Thrace, a former Tremere Regent, likewise is more dwimmer-crafty than anyone else we’ve met–”

(Jason: “Nice word.
Chris: “Thank you!”)

“–and likely also extremely dangerous. Cantor is an Assamite elder. A clan known for devouring the souls of others to enrich their own vitae. And also a member of the Sabbat Black Hand.” Rabenholz nods. “He is, of course, exceptionally dangerous as well.”

Scout stares back a long moment. “…Anyone of a lower profile you’re looking for?”

“Ironically, the least threatening thing you might do is visit Berkeley and try to identify the werewolves coming and going from campus.”

(Jason: “So ‘no,’ is the answer.”)

Scout falls silent, clearly weighing all this. Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “Are you still content with your payment?”

Finally, she smirks. “Will there be a per-diem?”

He eyes her seriously. “Ms. Scout, I am a man of many means–”

(Kara: “Wait, memes? Like cats?”
Jason: “You’re not there! You’re in Thera!”)

“–and I can make many things happen for you if I so desire. Bring me useful information and I’m inclined to reward you. Bring me nothing, and you’ll find I’m less inclined to offer you token payment. Now…do any of these tasks seem like something you are able to do?”

She stares out the window a moment, then sighs. “Well, of the lone Tremere Regent, the Black Hand agent, and the pack of werewolves…it seems the historian is the best option for a quiet evening.”

Rabenholz nods, pleased. “The last time I saw Everton he was at that terrifying house that smells like blood and has zombies under the floor. Hopefully his lodgings have improved, but if not, that would be a good place to start.”

(Chris: “I give her the address.”
Jason: “555 Blood Zombie Lane.”)

“Report again tomorrow evening,” Rabenholz says firmly after giving her the address.

Taking that for the dismissal it is, Scout stands, bows, and sees herself from the room.

#

THERA

Georgia, Jawahar, and Sophia continue exploring the caverns, Georgia pointedly leading them everywhere but in the direction of the workshop. Most of what they find are empty tunnels and barren rooms, but after almost an hour of searching they come out into a wide storage room. Pieces of metallic works pile stone shelves, covered with dust and cobwebs. More piles lay scattered across the floor, tangled in the remains of wooden shelves that collapsed long ago. Georgia hurries forward eagerly, poking at bits of clockwork tarnished with age.

Something catches her eye, a smooth edge half-hidden in the piles of baroque metalwork. Carefully, she digs it out. It’s a metal case, roughly lunch-box sized, with an elaborate combination lock across the top twenty-four characters long. She tries to pry it open without adjusting any of the tumblers, but it’s locked shut.

(Kara: “I point my wand at it and shout Alohomora!”
Jason: “…No.”)

Sophia leans over her shoulder. “What is that?”

“A box.”

Sophia stares, waiting for more, but Georgia just turns the case over slowly in her hands. Across the room, Jawahar shrugs. “She does that.”

“I’m going to look for the combination.” Georgia hands the case to Sophia and starts digging through the rubble, looking for a notebook or something similar nearby. After exchanging a glance, Jawahar and Sophia help too.

Georgia doesn’t find a combination, but she does find something odd, not far from where the case was sitting. A set of six small bronze cylinders, each about two inches long, and bound together in a small rack. Faint traces of paint in rainbow colors flake from the bronze. Georgia turns them over in her hands and hears liquid sloshing inside.

Georgia holds them up. “What do you think these are?”

Sophia, who has been fiddling with the case, pauses and looks up. “Contact lens cases?” she suggests sheepishly.

Georgia gives her a Look. “Probably not.”

Sophia shrugs, then holds up the case. “If there’s a spirit left in the machinery of the lock, I might be able to open this. I’ll need some time though.”

“Okay, I’ll try to open these tubes.” Georgia sets the set of tubes down and carefully pries open the first canister, flecked with red paint. Dark ink-like liquid sloshes inside and a rich smoky scent rolls over her. Georgia peers at the liquid, then finds a metal pin nearby and carefully dips it in. Nothing happens, but when she removes the pin it’s perfectly clean, with no liquid adhesion at all.

She replaces the lid and opens the others one by one. Each are filled with a similar liquid, though each with different scents. The orange canister smells of wet earth, the yellow has a faint flowery bouquet, the green one is like a whiff of seashore breeze, the blue one smells like blood so rich she has to force herself not to drink it, and the purple one doesn’t smell like anything at all.

“I think I’ve got it,” Sophia suddenly announces. “It’s not really a machine spirit in this, it’s crazy analog, but….” There’s a click, Sophia smiles, and the case swings open. Georgia and Jawahar hurry over to see.

Inside, nestled in a bed of softly-worn linen, is a bronze figurine of a dragon. Georgia makes a soft noise and carefully lifts it out. It’s heavy, but not one solid piece. Jawahar’s orblight reveals fine etching and articulation, with tightly-packed gears and clockwork visible through gaps in the plates of the skin. Scales and other fine details are plated over the bronze in electrum, the eyes are a clear faceted crystal, and fine diamonds are worked into its claws.

Jawahar opens his mouth, perhaps to ask what it is, but realizing the answer he’ll probably receive, he closes it again.

Georgia turns it over in her hands. Just one small detail mars the smooth lines of its limbs and wings: a tiny valve sticking out of the back at the base of the neck. Georgia pries at it but it’s too small, even for her fingers.

“It looks like it might be steam powered,” she says, pointing out the valve. “This looks like it takes liquid. We shall need a tiny wrench, and possibly a tiny funnel.”

“We don’t have a tiny wrench,” Sophia says.

“Well, then, we should find one.” Georgia looks up. “Oh! I bet the workshop would have one!”

Sophia sighs and gestures down the tunnel. “I can show you to the workshop.”

Georgia thinks a moment. “We should probably finish exploring this hallway first.” She puts the dragon back in the case, then puts the case and the rack of cylinders into her bag.

(Jason: “The bag is getting kinda full.”
Kara: “Really? It’s a pretty big bag.”
Jason: “It’s a pretty big box.”)

The bag’s seams groan as she shoves at it, but eventually she gets it all in. They continue on from the storeroom, eventually reaching a fork in the tunnel. Sophia steps ahead, gun raised, and carefully sniffs a few times. “I think the left one here goes down to the workshop.”

“How can you tell?” Georgia asks.

Sophia scowls. “I can smell the oil those machines use.”

“Well, so if we go down there, how do you want to deal with them?”

“I don’t. If you want to reach that blood circle, we should try to slip past them somehow.”

Georgia thinks. “We can try that I guess, but we should have a backup plan in case that doesn’t work.

“I vote for running like hell,” Jawahar chimes in.

“They will chase us,” Georgia says matter-of-factly, then turns toward the right fork. “Let’s explore the other direction first.”

The tunnel immediately narrows as they head down, the walls far more uneven and unfinished than the rest of the complex. The dust on the floor is thick, but after a moment, Georgia realizes it’s been disturbed, swept to almost bare stone in a path down the middle. She stops and points it out. “Did you come this way, Sophia?” she asks.

They stop. Jawahar floats the orb a few feet ahead, revealing more of the cleared path down its length. Sophia scowls and hefts her gun. “No….”

They continue forward, hesitantly, but after a few dozen yards, the tunnel comes to a dead-end.

Georgia stops…then runs forward. “I bet there’s a secret panel here!” she announces excitedly, running her hands along the uneven rock. Something about the wall does feel strange, though it takes her brain a few moments to process it:

The wall is an illusion. A strong one, enough to give her hands a tactile response, but the harder she shoves the more her hand sinks through.

She grins at Jawahar and Sophia, then turns and walks through the wall.

Silence falls in the tunnel as Sophia and Jawahar stare. After a moment, Sophia shrugs one shoulder and scoffs. “I can do that.”

Jawahar glares at her. “I don’t understand why everyone–”

Suddenly Georgia’s arm reaches back out through the rock, grabs his hand, and pulls him through. Sophia blinks, then grumbles and steps through as well.

The three of the gather on the other side, hesitating as their eyes adjust to the brighter light here, then slowly stare around. A stone room surrounds them, but unlike the tunnels, the walls here are finished with razor-smooth modern masonry. Rich tapestries drape the stone and dark wood bookshelves lining most of the walls. Heavy carved furniture–a desk, some chairs–match the bookshelves, clustered in the center of the room around a thick, large carpet. The tapestries, carpet, and paddings on the chairs are all an identical velvet-red.

Tremere-red.

“This doesn’t look Greek,” Jawahar mutters, staring around.

Georgia stares at the room, then back at the solid wall they just walked through. Recognition slowly dawns. “Because it’s not….” She turns to them and smiles. “This is Max’s secret bolt-hole.”

END OF NIGHT

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