Jim: “Scout’s going to end the Settite problem.”
Me: “There I fixed it!”
So far this evening, Anstis has been wandering the downtown streets while taking and making phonecalls, but believe it or not his ambling has had a very specific destination in mind.
Once his last call is finished, Anstis steps up his speed, slipping into the narrow alleys that define the district and making his way to the Temple of Eternal Brotherhood at its very heart. The shops are closing, lights winking out one by one, but the temple is still lit, its painted colors and baroque carvings shining tourist-perfect amongst the weathered buildings surrounding it.
Foot traffic is thinning, so Anstis is even more obvious than usual as he swaggers to the front door. A suited doorman watches him approach, hands folded calmly in front of him. His suit is simple, but the deep inks of tattoos peek above his collar.
Anstis bows. “I am here to speak with Xiang Li Weng.”
The man eyes him over his sunglasses. Slowly, he reaches up to brush at his own chin. “You really should get some cream for that.”
Anstis just grins.
The doorman whispers to another man inside the doorway, then turns back. “Xiang Li Weng is in a meeting. What is this concerning?”
“A topic of some concern, to him and to me.”
The man frowns. “That’s not very specific.”
Anstis grins widens. “Mr. Weng will understand.”
The doorman glowers, then speaks with the other man a moment, sending him disappearing up the stairs. Moments later, he comes back and mutters something to the doorman. The doorman scowls, then nods to Anstis. “Mr. Weng will see you. Please leave your weapons here.”
(Jim: “I just walk in. I’m not carrying any weapons.”
Jason: “Oh, good point.”)
Anstis squeezes past him and climbs to the penthouse level, stepping out into Weng’s wide, dim office. This time, he doesn’t spare a glance for the art lining the walls, instead striding straight toward the desk. Xiang Li Weng looks up as he approaches and stands, an even smile on his face that doesn’t reach his eyes. “Captain. I would say it is good to see you again, but you seem to have had work done.”
Anstis strokes his beard and grins. “Ah, well. Gangrel.”
“Of course.” Weng gestures to a chair. “I hope you have come with good news concerning my difficulties.”
“I’ve not completed the task, but I do have good news.” Anstis pulls out a small jar, placing it on the desk as he sinks into a chair.
Weng eyes it. “What, may I ask, is that?”
“A piece of your enemy. Xia.”
Weng lifts an eyebrow. “Have you destroyed her?”
“Not yet. But with this, I can find her any time, any where.”
“Then might I inquire as to why you have not already done so, and disposed of her?” Weng asks coolly.
“I thought it prudent to come with backup. I am trying to acquire some.”
Weng glares. “I am not a fighting man, Captain. If I was, I would not have hired one.”
Antis grins. “Aye, but this is not the reason I have come today.” He picks up the jar and tucks it back into his coat. “I have a question about your craft.”
“Many have questions, most of them about my craft,” Weng says smoothly, still standing behind his desk.
Anstis nods, folding his hands in front of him. “I encountered a spectre the other night, the first I have encountered.”
Weng nods once, unimpressed. “Dabble in our arts, Captain, and it will not be the last. Spectres are mindless abominations, drawn and devoured wholly by entropy and destruction.” He smirks. “Something I think you have some experience in.”
“The spectre entered me and took control,” Anstis continues, ignoring or missing the insult. “Is there any way to tell if it has left completely?”
“There are many ways. None of them are foolproof. You ask me to do this?”
“I come seeking advice.”
Weng’s lips thin. “My advice, Captain, is to leave spectres where they lie, and to play with wraiths only when you have to. They are…not pleased at being forced into the realm of the living. That thing you encountered could have been far worse.”
“Aye. That spectre was not old, perhaps less than a year. I knew her son.”
Actual surprise flickers on Weng’s face. “…There is a tale here, Captain.”
“Aye. A young Malkavian boy. Sired only a year ago, at the same time his mother was killed.”
“What depraved creature would do such a thing.” Weng shakes his head in an imitation of pity. “But then…you did say Malkavian.”
Weng regards Anstis silently, then strides from behind the desk. “Captain. I do not have much advice to offer you into the world of spectres. I do not engage with them customarily for I am not insane. I think, if you wish for advice in that regard, you will need more than simply a word or a fortune cookie. You will require training, and for that you must accomplish what I have asked you to do. Find what resources you require and destroy Xia once and for all.” He smiles. “And then I will give you all that you have merited.”
Anstis eyes him a long, assessing moment, then nods. “Aye.”
Weng gestures toward the door. “Then go in peace, Captain.”
“You as well.” Anstis stands, bows, and leaves.
Jason: “I believe you were in a cave. Wait, no, let me rephrase: You were IN a CAAAAVE!”
Me: “WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS!”
Jason: “Tony Stark may or may not be there, but you are with somebody–whom you were talking to offscene–and then a bunch of other people showed up.”
Scout and the hooded figure watch from the shadows as a cluster of armed Settites move down the tunnel corridors toward them.
“How many?” Scout whispers.
“Nine,” the figure crouched next to her–a woman–says. “But not all are visible.” She spits. “Snakes do not crawl in the light.”
“Then perhaps we should remove the light for them,” Scout mutters. The woman looks up at Scout quizzically. Scout smirks.
Instantly, darkness erupts down the corridor, engulfing the Settites. A fraction of a second later, their surprised shouts muffle.
The woman stares. “Impressive. For a parlor trick.” She draws a long dagger. “But that sorcery is no match for the true art.” She stands and instantly disappears.
Scout hesitates a moment, then disappears as well. She draws her knife and jogs swiftly down the hall.
Silence engulfs her as she steps into the dark. She moves carefully through the gloom, gripping her knife loosely, scanning the air for movement. Suddenly a figure looms in front of her. A man wielding a scimitar as long as his arm, eyes glowing green as he stares through the darkness. Carefully, Scout steps around to come up behind him.
With lightning speed, she slashes the tendons in his legs, sending him crumpling, then grabs his head to slash his throat before he has a chance to cry out. Thick, dark vitae gushes forth. She forces the head back and drinks deeply, tightening her grip as the loss of blood slides him toward a frenzy. Finally she stops, eyeing the writhing, gurgling body dispassionately a long moment.
(Me: “…Self control test?”
Jason: “Oh I think you do.”)
Reaching a decision, she slashes hard and fast with the knife, severing the rest of the neck. The body falls to the floor. She drops the head next to it, turning to scan the darkness.
A gout of flame erupts from a few yards away, sweeping the tunnel in a wide arc. She leaps back just in time, but panic takes control and she bolts in terror, disappearing deeper into the tunnels.
“Georgia,” Paul says as he and Rabenholz reenter the room, “Is there any way to make peace with this new Regent? A way to blackmail him, perhaps?”
She tilts her head, considering this a moment. “…No.”
“I have a mutual associate looking into the new Regent,” Rabenholz mutters, flipping through the journal. “But I do not anticipate that will bear fruit this evening.” He closes the journal with a snap and hands it back to Georgia. “Ms. Johnson,” he says sternly, “You either need to react tonight or go to ground, and if this location is owned by known allies then it will undoubtedly not be safe enough.”
“I agree, but we need to develop a plan first.” Georgia takes the journal to a chair and, seating herself in an approximation of comfort, begins to read.
Rabenholz watches her impatiently, tapping his cane.
Paul goes up to check on Sophia and finds her stirring. He sits next to the bed to wait. She blinks awake, sees him, then starts to sit up. “Paul….? What..where are we?” She looks around the sparse room. “Are we in your house?”
“Yes, I rescued you from the Tremere Chantry.”
She rubs her face. “What happened?”
“It seems you were ambushed by Georgia’s successor.”
She tenses. “Did he…do anything?”
“Well, he took Georgia’s hand and eye, but as far as we can see, you’re still intact. Though it looked like he was siphoning blood from you and Jawahar.”
She falls back onto the bed, tossing an arm over her eyes. “Great….”
He frowns. “How do you feel?”
“Like a vampire just siphoned my blood out,” she groans. “How’d you get us out?”
“Georgia took us out by teleportation circle.” Paul looks around. “Can I offer you some water, or food–”
She peers out from under the arm. “You have food?”
“Yeah. Well, it’s vegetarian….”
She levers herself up. “A guy who lives by drinking blood also has vegetarian food?”
“I don’t eat the food. But it seemed wrong to not keep the fridge stocked.”
Sophia stares up at him a long moment. “I think you may be the weirdest vampire ever, Paul.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he mutters.
“I might mean it as one.”
He gestures toward the door. “Do you want to come down to the kitchen?”
Sophia hesitates. “Are there other vampires downstairs?”
She sinks back onto the bed. “I think I’ll stay here.”
Paul nods, then goes back down to the kitchen to fix up a veggie and hummus plate, sidling past Dug and Domen to enter. Dug watches Paul curiously as he digs through a pile of cabbages in the fridge to pull out a bag of carrots. Domen looms against the wall, arms folded.
Drawn by the sound of chopping, Georgia comes in, the journal tucked under her arm. “How’s she doing?”
“She’s a bit weak, but she’s coming out of it,” Paul replies.
“May I kill her, master?” Dug asks earnestly.
“No Dug, she’s a friend.”
“She is a werewolf; she must be destroyed,” Domen rumbles.
Paul stops chopping and stares at the larger gargoyle. “She is a person, and she must be protected.”
“She’s useful,” Georgia adds.
Domen’s gaze flicks between Paul and Georgia. He nods. “As you say, Master. It is not right to keep werewolves about. When will she no longer be useful, Master?”
“Oh, I’ll let you know,” Georgia says breezily.
Paul continues to chop, eyeing her oddly.
Rabenholz suddenly sweeps into the kitchen. “May I borrow Domen a moment?” he asks brusquely.
Georgia frowns at him. “Why?”
“I wish to ask him about the nature of the Chantry.”
Georgia rests her hands on her hips. “Is there a reason you can’t talk in front of me?”
Rabenholz eyes the ragtag occupants of the kitchen. “I would find it easier to have this discussion without outside interference.”
“I see….” Georgia says slowly.
Domen stands up, flaring his wings. “If he plots against you, I shall kill him, Master,” he rumbles.
Georgia stares between the Ventrue and the gargoyle, then shrugs. “Alright. That seems fair.”
Rabenholz nods, then leads Domen upstairs into an empty room across the hall from Sophia’s. He closes the door behind them and turns, staring into Domen’s eyes.
(Chris: “Dominate 3.”
Jason: “What are you trying to do?”
Chris: “I’m trying to add memories that I am a loyal servant of the true master.”
Jason: “Wait, who is the true master?”
Paul is carefully arranging a plate of carrots and celery when a heavy slam like a meteor hitting the roof suddenly echoes through the house. Everyone in the kitchen jumps, then rushes for the stairs, Paul in the lead, carrying the plate.
Upstairs, Sophia is standing in the doorway to her room in full Crinos form, head brushing the ceiling and shoulders barely clearing the frame, but she’s staring down the hall at the real focus of attention. Domen has torn his way through the door of the other room, after apparently missing Rabenholz in a lunge. As the crowd gathers at the top of the stairs, he turns, skin hardening, toward Rabenholz.
Georgia rushes forward. “Everyone! Easy!”
“He attempted to plot against you, Master!” Domen roars. “He sought to break my mind!”
Georgia gestures placatingly. “Well, now, it’s alright, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.”
Slowly the tension shifts as everyone turns to stare at her.
(Jim: “This scene needs more chaos. I think now’s a good time for a parrot to arrive. ”)
A sudden thwack hits the closed window at the end of the hall, followed by a flurry of blue and gold as Anstis scrambles to perch on the ledge outside. No one notices.
Domen raises a long claw toward Rabenholz, stepping through the remains of the door. “He plots to slay you, Master!”
“Is that what he said?” Georgia asks.
Domen’s red eyes blink. “No…but…he sought to break my mind!”
“In what way?” Georgia asks gently.
“…In his way, Master!”
Dug’s head suddenly appears near Paul’s feet, the gargoyle having crawled up the stairs in his approximation of sneaky. “May I slay your enemies, Master?” he whispers.
Paul, still staring at Domen, waves him back. “Not yet, but I’m coming around to the idea….”
Rabenholz steps toward the crowd. “Ms. Johnson, I was merely trying to secure the gargoyle’s cooperation by assuring it that I was your loyal servant. Mr. Stewart, I apologize for your door; I will make full recompense for it.”
“I think this sounds like a misunderstanding,” Georgia sighs. “I think everyone just needs to calm down a bit.”
Dug taps Paul’s leg. “Shall I show them the movie with the balloons, Master?”
“That…sounds like an excellent idea; this is definitely a teaching moment. Go get the DVD ready.” Paul finally notices the macaw trying to peer through the window. “Captain, maybe you could fly down to the back door and enter like people do.”
The parrot flutters off. Slowly, eyeing each other tensely, vampires and gargoyles start descending the stairs. As they leave, Sophia’s werewolf body clenches, then flows down into her human form. She steps forward and grabs Paul’s arm, glancing back at the window. “Paul…that parrot, he’s a vampire?”
She peers down the stairs, then lowers her voice. “I’ve smelled him before. The reservoir. He was there.”
Paul frowns. “The reservoir…where everything went to hell? With Tom?”
She nods. “He shot the missile at us.”
He glances down the stairs. “Interesting….”
(Jim: “Do I overhear this conversation?”
Jason: “Do you have Auspex?”
Jason: “Then yes.”
Kara: “Does Georgia overhear this conversation?:
Chris: “Does Rabenholz overhear this conversation?”
“I’m going to suggest that jumping to a violent reaction right now isn’t going to work well for anyone,” Paul continues.
She tugs her jacket higher around her shoulders. “I’m a werewolf, Paul, violent reactions are kind of what we do.”
“As I understand it, that’s kinda how Tom liked to solve things too. And it only got him in more trouble.”
“That’s also kind of what we do,” she mutters.
“Just…play it cool.” He holds out the plate. “Also, I got your snacks.”
She takes it awkwardly. Paul heads downstairs toward the front door to let Anstis in. The pirate swaggers in with a pleased smirk. “Mr. Stewart,” he greets him with a bow. “The missile was not me.”
Paul closes the door slowly behind him. “Oh, you heard that…that’s good to know.”
“Bullshit!” Sophia suddenly storms into the foyer, shoves the snack plate on a side table, and stalks toward Anstis, hand raised accusingly. “I smelled you there!”
Silence falls. Paul freezes. Slowly, the other inhabitants of the house approach the space, staring at the tableau of bemused pirate and quivering teenage werewolf.
“I was there to retrieve Sutro,” Anstis says smoothly, smiling down at Sophia.
She sneers and lowers her arm, flexing her fingers like claws. “You were there with half a dozen other vampires with guns and silver!”
“Only to retrieve Sutro, who was murdered,” Anstis replies.
“Who the hell was Sutro?!”
“The Nosferatu you kidnapped with Lytton.”
Sophia sneers. “Yeah? Well, good riddance.”
“Hey!” Georgia cries. “He was a good man.”
Sophia turns to her, noticing the audience for the first time. “Well, we didn’t kill him!”
Georgia shrugs. “Tom said he did.”
(Me: “NO!! GODDAMMIT!!!”)
“Tom’s an idiot!” Sophia snaps.
(Me: “…Thanks, girl.”)
Sophia stares at the gathered crowd. Her fingers flex again and she points at Anstis. “Tom didn’t kill Sutro and neither did I, this asshole did!”
“There was a third party,” Anstis says.
She whirls back to him. “Oh? And who was that, your friends? The ones rolling barrels of silver gas at us?” She stalks toward him, slight frame suddenly swelling larger in her oversized coat. “Give me a reason I shouldn’t rip you apart.”
Anstis stares back, unmoved. “You’re in a house surrounded by four vampires and two gargoyles.”
She stops, glances at the crowd, then back. “Even if they can stop me, they won’t stop me before you’re dead,” she growls in a voice rich with deepening timbre.
“Okay, okay!” Paul rushes between them. “Everyone just calm down! You are all guests in my house. Please, for my sake, no violence in here. We’ve already lost a door this evening, let’s limit the damage to that.”
Silence falls. “It has been very nice for you to invite us, by the way,” Georgia says.
Paul nods once, eyes still on Sophia. “Thank you, Georgia.”
Sophia stares at Anstis, chest heaving, but slowly takes a step back. “This guy tried to kill me and Tom, and I think actually did kill Tom.”
“Mr. Lytton is alive and well,” Rabenholz says suddenly.
(Me: “…Really? Am I?”)
Sophia turns to her glare to him, staring up into his elderly face. “Really? Then where is he?”
“He is in storage in the Chantry,” Rabenholz replies.
“And if you hadn’t kidnapped the leader of the Nosferatu this situation never would have arisen,” Anstis adds. “We do our best to stay away from your type.”
Sophia glowers at him, this time petulantly. “Well, you do a shit job of it,” she snaps, tugging her coat around her again. She storms to the side table, grabs the plate of veggies, then slips through the group to return to the room upstairs.
“If I may suggest,” Rabenholz says smoothly, stepping forward to address those left, “Mr. Stewart is right. Let us remain calm, this is all water under the bridge. We cannot change what has happened. The topic tonight is how to restore Ms. Johnson to her position as head of the San Francisco Chantry.”
“Yes, who is this Vannevar Hughes?” Paul asks.
(Jim: “Do I know anything about Vannevar Hughes? From me, or from my…Tremere friend?”
Jason: “You have heard about Vannevar! In fact he met with Heinrich Himmler a few times. Or at least that was the rumor. It’s odd Georgia doesn’t know that, considering she ate Himmler herself.”)
“An associate of Himmler’s,” Anstis says.
Georgia cocks her head, combing through her stolen memories. “I…don’t believe that’s true…. But if we do this seance thing, perhaps we can get more information from Max.”
Rabenholz nods. “Then let us begin.”
Georgia hesitates. “I’d prefer it was just me and Captain Anstis. A private thing, maybe down in the basement….”
Anstis bows. “As you wish.”
The two head toward the basement stairs, Rabenholz eyeing them suspiciously until they disappear.
Scout wakes up from the Rotshriek frenzy flat on her back, in more prosaic darkness. She climbs to her feet, brushing uselessly at the mud on her suit, and looks around. Tunnels branch off in multiple directions, each as featureless as the other in the gloom. She turns slowly, listening for signs of movement. Eventually she feels a breeze wafting down one of the tunnels, its scent fresher than the stale damp around her. She obfuscates and makes her way toward it.
The tunnel opens out into a large chamber, much like the first she found when she entered the cave, but empty and dark. Glimpses of starry night sky shine through holes in the ceiling, but all are too high to climb through. She stares up in frustration, then paces the cave in search of another exit. There’s no other doors, but halfway through the cavern she stumbles over something and squats down to see.
It’s a skeleton, half-emerged from the broken soil filling the cavern. She frowns and gropes through the dirt. Clothing wraps the bones, but despite the skeleton’s apparent age, the cloth is relatively new. As she touches it, a piece of metal catches at her finger. She pulls it off the clothes and holds it up to examine in the starlight.
It’s a pin. Of a swastika.
Scout brushes the dirt off and peers closer. The pin is strangely warm to the touch, and as she turns it, the weight shifts strangely, as if liquid was inside. The back post of the pin shifts in her fingers. Realizing it’s actually attached to a tiny lid, she unscrews it. Instantly, the heady scent of potent blood whiffs out from inside the pin. She sniffs it carefully, then replaces the lid.
She moves deeper into the cavern, eventually discovering another circle, this one inscribed into a patch of concrete in the floor instead of drawn in fresh blood. As she approaches, the pin in her hand gets strangely warm to the touch. She stops, staring at the circle while fiddling with the metal, then pockets the pin and turns to leave the room.
Voices, and the distant glow of lights, echo down the tunnel, getting closer. She hesitates, then draws her knife and creeps forward.
A cluster of people fill the tunnel a few yards down. Four men, similarly-armed and -garbed as the man she killed, and a woman, black and bald with gold jewelry draped over her dark robes. She’s shouting at the men in an unknown language. They all bow their heads to her, muttering apologies Scout doesn’t understand, but one word comes up so often she assumes it’s a name:
Scout crouches, watching and waiting for a chance to slip past them.
Finally, Nitocris gestures commandingly and the men bow and disappear down the tunnel. Scout grips her knife and moves forward carefully, keeping to the wall.
(Jim: “Scout’s going to end the Settite problem.”
Me: “There I fixed it!”)
Nitorcris mutters to herself, then suddenly tenses and turns, eyes flashing green in the dark. “Come out, fledgeling….” she whispers after a moment, stalking down the tunnel toward Scout. “Come out, or I’ll cut you out.” She reaches into her sleeve and pulls out a long, wickedly-curved dagger. “You think I can’t see you?”
Scout shifts slowly sideways to the other wall of the tunnel. Nitocris’s green eyes follow her. “Come out or I’ll call them back,” she hisses.
Gripping her knife tightly, Scout moves to the center of the tunnel and reappears. Nitocris blinks, then smiles. “Now…this is interesting…I go hunting for a rabbit and catch a fox.” She flips her dagger in a tight whirl. “Always wanted to try Caitiff….” she sneers the word mockingly. “Let’s see what he taught you.”
Scout glares. Shouts and screams suddenly echo from further down the corridor, from the direction the other Settites disappeared. Nitorcris stops, but doesn’t shift her predatory gaze. “Brought a friend, have we? No matter, there’ll be time enough for that.” She reverses the grip on her dagger and lunges forward.
Scout ducks to the side, easily avoiding the strike, and counter-slashes with equal speed, opening a long gash down Nitocris’s arm. The Settite staggers back, snarling at Scout, then suddenly her face twists in pain and she shrieks, her voice joining the cacophony echoing around the corridor. She grabs at her arm and staggers into the wall. Scout watches coldly, then lunges again.
(Jim: “…What did you stab her with?”
Me: “No one’s been asking me where I got my knife, have they?”
Jim: “You have a knife?”
Jason: “Nitocris is going to endeavor to avoid you…but no successes, what the hell? And…ZERO on the soak check!?”)
The knife plunges into Nitrocris’s chest, burying to the hilt. Scout presses forward, pinning her to the wall. Nitocris stares at the dagger in shock, then up at Scout. Her pupils snap to razor-thin slits, then widen in fear.
(Jim: “Jason, wasn’t this supposed to be a boss fight?”
Jason: “Would you shut up!?”)
Scout leans in, fangs bared, but Nitocris opens her mouth and lashes a whip-thin tongue. Scout jerks her head away, then grabs her knife with both hands and forces it up. The blade slides through flesh and bone, peeling Nitocris’s throat open, but slows as her skin starts to darken and thicken. In the wan light of the tunnel, Scout can just make out the glinting shape of scales.
(Me: “That’s not a good sign.”)
Scout pulls her knife out in a quick jerk, spraying dark vitae across the wall. Nitocris stumbles away and falls. The moment she hits the floor, her body dissolves into a mass of snakes, writhing and scattering every direction into the darkness….
(Me: “Well, everywhere snakes.”)
…An instant later, they’re gone.
The distant screams have stopped. Scout stands in the silence, listening for movement, gore dripping down the blade in her hand.
(Jason: “…Congratulations, Colleen, you just beat the shit out of a very powerful Settite.”)
Finally, her tension eases. She pulls a handkerchief from an inner pocket of her suit jacket, wipes the blade clean, and tucks it away.
A new breeze is wafting down one of the tunnels, this one carrying the unmistakable tang of fresh ocean air. Scout turns down it and disappears from sight.
Down in Paul’s basement, Anstis and Georgia find a clear space amongst the wine racks to set up their sort-of seance. “So, I want you to contact Max,” Georgia says. “Do you remember Max?”
Anstis nods. “Maximilian von Strauss.”
“Excellent. I have this journal of his; will this help you?” Anstis steps foward to take it from her but she pulls it back at the last moment. “Uh, I’d rather you not look too closely at it. There are some passages about me in here that are…less than flattering.”
Anstis eyes her. “I see.” He takes the journal but keeps it closed. “Is Maximilian von Strauss his real name?”
She shrugs. “As far as I know.”
“What do you wish to know from him?”
“Uh…ways to break into my own Chantry? Ways to defeat an usurper? That kind of thing.”
Anstis nods. Gripping the book, he shifts his focus, sliding into his necromantic sight, and muttering the incantations he needs to summon the shade of Maximilian von Strauss. Grey fog rises around him, fading the wine racks and basement walls into oblivion and washing Georgia’s features into a shadow of herself. Gripping the book tightly, he focuses on Max’s name, slowly feeling a reflexive pull from deep within the underworld….
Then Max appears before him. Jagged lines like the edges of a jigsaw puzzle spiderweb his body, and as the shade shifts small chunks fall out, only to reappear before they hit the floor. His face, though, carries the same disdainful glare it had in life.
Max looks Anstis over. “Who are you?”
Anstis smooths at his coat. “You know who I am.”
Max blinks. His image wavers and fades a moment. “I…don’t remember….”
“Captain Thomas Anstis.”
Slowly, Max nods and his shade shifts back to opaque. “Thomas Anstis…yes, the necromancer….”
“Aye. Georgia Johnson is here.”
Instantly, the shade solidifies. “Johnson….” he snarls. “Where is she?”
Anstis smirks. “Nearby.”
Max lurches forward. “Where is she!??”
Anstis lifts a hand. Max’s shade jerks to a halt. Surprise flickers across his face, followed by belligerent anger flicker across his face. “You will answer my questions,” Anstis says, smirk widening, hand tightening into a fist as he forces necromantic compulsion onto the shade.
Georgia follows Anstis’s gaze across the basement, seeing nothing but dusty wine racks and old ski equipment. She eyes the pirate dubiously. “Is he there? I don’t see anything.”
Still smiling darkly, Anstis turns to her and nods once, eyes focused on nothing.
“Ask him about the Chantry,” Georgia insists.
Anstis nods again, turning back to the shade.
Max’s shade quivers as the compulsion settles over him. “Why?” he snaps. “Why tell you anything?”
“Because there are things you know that we must know.” Anstis swaggers forward. “About the Chantry. And….” he grins, “…An island. Which some have been speaking of lately.” He winks his one eye in Georgia’s direction.
Max eyes him cagily, then nods. “Thera…the dwelling place of Daedelus.”
“Daedelus,” Anstis repeats aloud. The shadowy figure of Georgia next to him freezes, clearly eyeing Anstis appraisingly. Anstis ignores her and continues. “How did you get there?”
Max chuckles. The vibration sends more pieces cascading off of him. “He didn’t think of everything. I found a way no one thought of.”
“The werewolves. The werewolves were there before him. They could come and go from their places of power. I found a way.” He smirks. “That’s why I had the Chantry built.”
Anstis strokes at his beard. “How did you learn about it?”
“Research. Years worth. Every deal, every trade lead to this. Why do you think I was in this city, in that rotting building? Even the werewolves didn’t know about the cairn in the basement.”
“What did you find on the island?”
A manic grin spreads across Max’s gashed face. “It’s real. It’s real. The avatarium is real, and I found it.”
“What is an avatarium?” Anstis asks.
Georgia’s grey figure tenses, opening her mouth to speak, but Anstis raises a hand and waits for the shade to continue.
“The holy grail,” Max sighs. “Daedalus’s master stroke. The greatest trick he ever pulled.”
Max spreads his arms slowly, ignoring the dripping gore that trails in their wake. “Transcendence. Pure, unadulterated power. The sort they wielded. The sort we wielded, before….”
Anstis’s eye widens. He strokes his beard thoughtfully. “What did you do with it?”
“Couldn’t. Couldn’t make it past the HITMarks. Too many, too powerful. I was working on ways…but then she came! Ruined everything, distracted me, forced me into politics and terrestrial games and then called me out…to that castle.” The image of his shade twists, as if struggling against Anstis’s hold. “It’s mine, my right! Four hundred years of searching and plotting and killing and it was almost mine. And she took it away! Took it all away!” Blood, thick and black, seeps through the seams crisscrossing his body.
Anstis paces slowly, ignoring the shade’s torment. “If I searched for the treasure, how would I know if I found it?”
Max’s struggles cease. Slowly, the smile returns. “In Hoc Signo Vinces. You’ll know.”
(Jim: “Is that…Latin?”
Jason: “…Am I the only non-Philistine here–Okay. In the year 315 AD, the emperor Constantine was fighting one of his rivals to see who would rule the Roman Empire. Before the battle of Milvian Bridge, he looked up into the sky and saw a flaming cross and heard a booming voice of god saying, In Hoc Signo Vinces, ‘By this sign, conquer.’ It is a Christian motto that refers to the martial aspect of Christianity and the like.”)
Max shake his head slowly, still grinning. “You’ll never get it. You can’t. You’ll never, ever get it.”
Anstis glares. “Why not?”
“Because you’re a Gangrel,” Max spits. “You’re a rabbling, scraping, useless hunk of undead meat. It doesn’t belong to you.”
(Jim: “I punch him. With Torment.”)
More chunks fly off Max’s body and he jerks back in pain, then laughs. “All you know how to do, Gangrel. Scream, and cry, and beat your fists on the walls. You’ll never have it and you’ll always be a skulking thing in the dark.”
“And what made you worthy?” Anstis growls.
Max’s shade stills. For a moment, the bleeding lines crossing his body fade. “I am Maximillian von Strauss. Regent of the Tremere Pyramid, Acolyte of the fourth Degree. I am the Eye and the Sceptre. I have every right!”
“You may have the right, but what gives you the ability?” Anstis smirks. “We’re not that unalike, you know.”
“You are nothing like me,” Max sneers. “You don’t even know what you lack. You don’t even see what’s circling you right now.” He laughs, the sound echoing hollowly through the undead realm. “How long before he finds out, I wonder? How long before he knows what you’ve done.”
Anstis frowns. “How long before who finds out?”
“The only one that matters.”
Anstis growls, fists clenching tight around the journal. “Flowers….”
Max bursts out laughing. “Flowers?! You still don’t see. You won’t ever see until it’s too late.” He moves forward, slowly. “And I want to be there, watching, as it sinks into your eye, what you’ve done and who’s coming to make…you…pay….” He grins, dislodging a chunk from his face, exposing bone underneath. “Beware, beware the one-eyed man.”
Anstis gestures dismissively. “Ah, him. He’s weak.”
Max laughs again. “Weak?! Oh, you truly don’t understand. But you will. Very…soon….” With that, Max’s shade fades from sight.
Anstis frowns. For a moment, he debates summoning the shade back, but he decides to let it go. Georgia’s face–anxious and full of questions–fades back into view.
“What did he say?” Georgia asks.
Anstis brushes at his coat. “He spoke of an island, supposedly the once dwelling-place of a man called Daedelus.”
She bristles. “Did he tell you anything about the Chantry? How I can get it back?”
Anstis smiles. “Not particularly.”
Georgia eyes him a long moment. “You mentioned the word avatarium….”
“Aye. He said there is a great treasure within, for those able to claim it.” He hands the journal back to her.
She takes it automatically. “What kind of treasure? Did he say how to get to the avatarium?”
“Nay. He said it was too heavily guarded for him to find a way through.”
Georgia scrunches her face, frustrated. “By the HITMarks? He didn’t have a method for getting past them?”
Anstis grins and shrugs nonchalantly.“If that be all, Ms. Johnson…?”
Georgia frowns at the journal, then nods slowly. Anstis bows and swaggers back upstairs, leaving her lingering in the silence of the basement, clutching the book to her chest, wondering if she should bring it up with Jawahar….
Until Jawahar suddenly steps out from thin air next to her.
She jumps. “Jawahar! Have you been here the whole–”
He waves her to silence, glancing toward the stairs. “Yes, I snuck down,” his voice whispers in her mind. “I’m glad he left when he did, I can’t maintain that spell very long. How much of what he said did you understand?”
“Well, it sounds like there is some kind of treasure within the avatarium that we have to get to–”
He raises a hand to cut her off. “I have a question for you. What are your intentions?”
She clutches the journal to her chest proudly. “Noble.”
He eyes her. “Every vampire who has ever lived would say that and every one of them would be lying.”
She considers this, then nods concedingly. “Well, I would like to take my Chantry back.”
“Yes, I know that, I meant afterwards.”
She shrugs. “Find the people who were making illegal gargoyles and stop them?”
“And if you had the power to stop them, the power to do anything you wanted to, what would you do?”
“Make them not exist anymore.”
Jawahar steps forward, eyeing her intently. “And if those people happened to be major members of the Tremere clan?”
She blinks. “Then…I suppose there’d be some vacancies on the Council.”
He stares at her a long moment, then glances again toward the stairs. “I should not be helping you at all, no matter what you did for me. Not in this sort of thing. You know that?”
“But it involves killing Kindred!”
“It does involve killing vampires, but killing vampires doesn’t concern me. What concerns me is the Tremere clan.”
“This involves killing Tremere. Some Tremere. Specific Tremere.”
“And if there were more than that? The Tremere clan is rotten from the head to the tail, you know this.”
She sighs and nods. “Well, gotta start somewhere.”
“And where do you end?”
“That I don’t know yet. You have to figure that out along the line.” She pauses thoughtfully. “Though sometimes you cross the line before then.”
“What if I told you that you would need to destroy the entire Tremere clan?”
She frowns. “Well, then what’s the point of having a clan?”
“There isn’t one. Not when it’s a fake clan, of fake mages.”
“Hey!” she blurts, then returns to telepathy, “–We do very real magic and very real research, thank you!”
He eyes her. “You do sorcery, which only a sub-form of magic, and yes I am aware you do research, I have seen the exsanguinated bodies.”
She glowers. “What’s your point?”
Jawahar pauses, resting a hand on a nearby rack. “I know what Max was looking for, I know what the avatarium is. If it’s true, if the avatarium does what it’s rumored to be capable of doing, if Max’s rambling was accurate then my telling you would be the second greatest betrayal in the history of the entire Order of Hermes.”
She blinks. “Wow. That’s some scope there.”
“Yes. But.” He raises a trembling finger. “The reason we are still talking is because I wish to make you a deal.”
Georgia eyes him, folding her arms around the journal. “What’s the deal?”
“I tell you what Max was looking for. Perhaps I even assist you in getting it. And in return, you wipe the rest of the Tremere clan off the Earth. All of it.”
She stares. “Including me?”
Jawahar hesitates, chewing at his lip. “If I’m right…you won’t be part of the Tremere clan when we’re done.”
“Will I be my own clan?”
“No. You’ll be a mage.”
Georgia stares. Slowly, still clutching the book, she sinks to the floor.
Jawahar paces in front of her. “The way I understand it, Tremere rendered himself into a vampire attempting to achieve immortality. He got it, in his own way. But it backfired. Turning himself into a vampire destroyed his avatar, ruining his ability to work proper magic. In desperation, he inflicted the same curse on his kindred, destroying the rest of his house and turning it into what you now call the Tremere clan. For hundreds of years he and his fellows tried to find a way to undo it. They were not successful. If they had been, we would know.”
Still staring, she nods vacantly. “Yes, I’ve read about that.”
“But what you don’t know is Tremere wasn’t the first to experiment with immortality. He wasn’t even the first one to turn himself into a vampire. The others were destroyed once they were discovered. Tremere’s success was in not being discovered until it was too late. But…” He glances at her. “…There were rumors that others were even more successful than he was. They hid their nature from the others and found a way to reconcile what they became with their old avatars. Or graft new ones into themselves.”
“And that’s related to the avatarium somehow?”
Jawahar nods slowly. “An avatar is a spark of God given to people to allow them to do what they would. An avatarium captures avatars for use, but what if this one isn’t designed to just use avatars….”
Georgia’s eyes go wide. “…But to reattach them?”
Jawahar nods again. “Exactly. If Daedelus found a way…it would be the single greatest secret in the history of my clan. It would also explain why there’s HITmarks roaming all over the place. Anyone who discovered that Daedalus had this secret, they would have to destroy it. Destroy him. Perhaps that’s why they attempted to destroy Thera in the first place.” He falls silent, glancing again to the stairs. “I don’t know if that’s what the avatarium will actually do. But, if it can….” His voice trails off.
Georgia stares at the leather-bound book clutched in her arms. “I think I should spend some time this evening looking through the rest of this journal.”
“That might be wise.” He stares down at her a moment, then takes a breath. “I owe you a great deal, and I understand that you have requirement and responsibilities. But if I ever discover that you have breathed a word of this to anyone else, especially another member of the Tremere clan, my last act on this earth will be to ensure the warmages destroy every vestige of you that could remain on any world ever. They will burn your soul into steam, then hunt it down in the afterlife to cast off into oblivion.”
She considers this a moment, then nods. “Okay.”
Jawahar extends a hand to help her back to her feet. “Think carefully. But if it does work…” A strange, eager glitter lights his eyes, ”...I highly doubt Vannevar Hughes, or anyone else, is prepared to deal with an undead mage.”
(Kara: “…Very interesting, Jason.”
Jason: “I’ve been planning this for two years. See, I’ve always kind of felt bad we couldn’t play Mage. I know you guys were interested, but it’s practically an unplayable game and I’m not good enough to GM it. I’ve seen people who are, but even the best GMs can only do so much with it because the mechanics are so klunky. As soon as you have, like, three mages in a room, the entire session becomes prep work. But, I’ve figured out…the only way you can really get away with playing Mage is if only one player is a mage. So…we’ll see.”)
Upstairs, Rabenholz is slowly pacing the house, cane clicking solidly against the floor. He pulls out his stopwatch, frowns, then goes to find the paper and pen that Georgia never ended up acquiring.
He finds what he needs in a deep drawer in Paul’s office and sits down at the desk. In the center of the paper, in elegant script, he writes:
Fisherman’s Wharf, 8pm
Then places the pen down. He begins a ritual–Encrypt Missive–locking the information on the paper so that only the eyes of an intended recipient can see it. “Paul Stewart,” he mutters at the end. Instantly, the words on the page fade from view.
Rabenholz folds the paper, tucks it into a pocket, then strides through the house till he finds Paul in the living room talking with Dug and fiddling with a DVD remove. “Mr. Stewart?” Rabenholz announces as he enters the room.
Paul looks up. “Yes?”
Rabenholz nods formally. “Please let Ms. Johnson know I’ve gone to reclaim her Chantry for her. If I am not back in contact by tomorrow night, then you may have Tom Lytton in exchange for rescuing me.”
Before Paul can respond, Rabenholz turns sharply and strides out the front door.
END OF NIGHT