Jason: “Give me an Intelligence + Investigation roll.”
Kara: “Okay. Do either ‘Analytical’ or ‘Malkavian’ apply to this?”
Jason: “…Where do you have a specialty in ‘Malkavian’?”
Kara: “Investigation! I’m pretty sure you gave me that.”
Jason: *pauses* “…Oh my god, I did give you that, cause you extracted science from Malkavianness….”
Jim: “Your specialties are amazing. Look at this. Science is ‘SCIENCE!’ Crafts is ‘Cooking’–”
Kara: “Oh yeah, I got that from Slayer.”
Jim: “–Academics is ‘Elements’–”
Kara: “Occult is also ‘Elements’! Oh, and in backgrounds, I have five dots in Snakes.”
Choking darkness drops over the cave. Anstis pops his Eyes of the Beast to peer as best as he can through the gloom. Muffled noises echo distantly, like gunfire from many miles away, felt more than heard.
Suddenly a shape with glowing green eyes rears up in front of him. Nitocris. She sneers and shouts, but her voice comes through barely a whisper, “You would ally with the Despoiler?”
Anstis grins and spreads his hands. “These are my caves.”
“Dead men possess nothing.” She pulls a dagger at the same moment claws slide from his fingertip. Snarling, she lunges at him, he dodges to the side and slices back.
(Jim: “…Six agg.”
Jason: “Jesus! Don’t get in the way of an angry Gangrel.”)
Deep, bloody rents bloom across her dark skin. She screams and stumbles back.
(Jason: “This is where you say a witty comment.”
Jim: “I…don’t have one prepared….”
Jason: “Jim you had three weeks!”)
Anstis follows, lunging toward her throat. She snarls and opens her mouth, slashing him across the face with a whip-thin tongue. Anstis stops in surprise.
Through the Nocturne, there’s a soft plop as a single beard tentacle falls to the ground.
Anstis snarls and lunges again, claws forward. Nitocris ducks out of the way. “You think you can challenge me, Gangrel? I who serve God?” She whirls, whipping him across the arm with the dagger. Pain erupts along his arm, followed by a spreading burn as toxin seeps through his veins.
Anstis crumples, cradling his arm. Nitocris grins and moves closer–
(Jim: “I…slash back again.”
Jason: “Roll it.”
Jim: “…SEVEN successes!”)
–Which puts her in perfect reach of his claws. He bursts up, arms extended, and slashes across her with both hands in a cris-cross strike. Vitae and viscera spatter to the floor, tangling her. She stops, green eyes wide with shock, then stumbles away and collapses to the ground.
Anstis grins and, in one motion, pulls a stake from his coat and drives it into her. She falls limp and he falls upon her, tearing at her throat. Instead of vitae, dark ichor wells into his mouth, oily and bitter. He sputters and releases her, then growls and tears open her chest. The stake is wedged deep through, piercing the intercostals and coming to rest against her spine, but there’s no heart impaled on it. Instead, some sort of carved stone sits in the cavity, bound by fibrous tissue and nestled against the stake.
(Me: “Oo, maybe she left her heart in–Oh wait no, we’re in San Francisco….”)
Anstis growls deeper and pulls out his own stone to cast for Nitocris:
Nitocris lies in the Coliseum named for Jews, in the grasp of her Master. Beside the Iron Bear.
He pockets his rock and stands. “Marcus!” he shouts. The Nocturne is slowly dissolving around him, but there’s no response, or sign of the rest of the Settites. Anstis waits a long moment, then hefts Nitocris’s torn and staked body to his shoulder and heads back to the circle to return to the Pyramid.
Georgia leads Jawahar, Bob, and the space whale through the dark, twisting tunnels toward Max’s secret office. Jawahar is grim, but Bob looks around nervously. “Regent, where are we?”
“This is now our Chantry,” she says, lifting her robes to step carefully over some rubble.
Bob stops, horrified. “…Do I have to clean it?”
“Oh god, no.” She brushes at her robes. “Not yet, anyway.”
(Jason: “That does not reassure him. This is a man who lives forever and knows he’s going to be spending all of it cleaning up this place.”)
They get down to the office without encountering any HITMarks. It appears undisturbed since they were last there, Max’s books and her notes on them still sitting on the desk. Georgia tells everyone to make themselves comfortable and sits down to continue her research on how to get through the workshop full of HITMarks and into the avatarium.
(Jason: “Give me an Intelligence + Investigation roll.”
Kara: “Okay. Do either ‘Analytical’ or ‘Malkavian’ apply to this?”
Jason: “…Where do you have a specialty in ‘Malkavian’?”
Kara: “Investigation! I’m pretty sure you gave me that.”
Jason: *pauses* “…Oh my god, I did give you that, cause you extracted science from Malkavianness….”
Jim: “Your specialties are amazing. Look at this. Science is ‘SCIENCE!” Crafts is ‘Cooking’–”
Kara: “Oh yeah, I got that from Slayer.”
Jim: “–Academics is ‘Elements’–”
Kara: “Occult is also ‘Elements’! Oh, and in backgrounds, I have five dots in Snakes.”)
She finally finds some useful info on the HITmarks. Designed as they are for hunting living mages, they’re not good with dealing with dead things. Max figured out that when he was moving they spotted him, but when he stopped they reverted to assuming he was dead. His solution was to fall over whenever he was shot.
(Kara: “Which…I’ve already been practicing….”)
It took Max days to make his way across the workshop floor to the avatarium portal in this way, but he did finally reach it. Unfortunately, once in the avatarium, he wasn’t able to make much more progress. He never figured out specifically how it worked since he never got it turned on, but based on his previous research he assumed it requires some sort of sacrifice.
Georgia turns the journal page and finds a sketch of a piece of complicated, bulbous equipment. Max’s notes refer to it as the “apparatus” and say he tried to insert blood into it, but nothing happened. In a followup comment, he muses that he probably didn’t have the right blood.
She turns to the next page, but the rest of the entries from this time devolve into ranting on how no one appreciates his obvious genius.
(Kara: “Sounds like Kylo Ren.”)
She closes the journal and looks up. “It seems like Max reached the avatarium but never figured out how it works.”
Jawahar, reading through a book a few feet away, nods absently. “Yes, well, he didn’t have a mage with him, did he?”
She sighs. “I think I have a way to get to the avatarium, but I don’t think I can take you with me.”
Jawahar frowns, but nods. “Because of the three dozen HITMarks that will be in the way….” Suddenly he stops and looks up. “I have an idea. If you can get to the avatarium, can you draw a thaumaturgical circle within it?”
Seeing his line of thought, she sits up. “Maybe, if there are no wards.”
“Wards usually protect against intrusion from outside, not from within the structure itself.” He gestures at the book he’s holding. “Your circles are similar enough to hermetic principles that I think if you set up one inside the avatarium, I can activate one out here.”
Their eyes meet. Slowly, they both break into a grin. “Then let’s try,” Georgia says.
Scout meets Rabenholz at the entrance to the stairwell as he finally reaches the fortieth floor. “Are you alright?” she asks, holding open the door.
He steps out, smoothing absently at his cloak. “Yes. It was a very odd encounter. I wonder what Ms. Johnson has caused for us.”
Scout cocks her head. “Why do you think Ms. Johnson has something to do with this?”
“I can’t otherwise imagine why Vannevar Hughes would try to attack me. Unless he was trying to attack Everton.” He trails off thoughtfully, then turns to her. “Anyway, you wished to speak with me?”
She nods. “I originally came to the Pyramid to share information regarding one of the people of interest you gave me.”
“Excellent.” He gestures for her to continue, slowly pacing down the hallway.
She follows silently a moment, takes a breath, then speaks, “It’s about the one called Cantor.”
Rabenholz eyes her as they walk. “Have you determined his plans in the city?”
“No, but I have learned some new information.” She’s silent another moment before continuing. “He’s known by another name, in some circles. Cantor the White.”
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “Is this some sort of metaphor?”
“Sort of. It’s not so much about his race, although he is some sort of Caucasian. It’s more about an unusual feature of his. Apparently, he doesn’t have the same affliction affecting the others of his clan.”
“You mean he’s not a blood-addled diablerie addict?”
Scout smiles grimly, still staring at the floor. “All evidence indicates he is, but his skin doesn’t darken the way other Assamites do. This seems to be a main factor in his success in the Black Hand. He can move openly unobserved in a way many others of his clan cannot.”
Rabenholz considers this. “A most useful talent. What else were you able to discover?”
She nods and continues. “As your earlier information indicated, he is based in St. Ignatius Church, near the park. Before he arrived in the city, there was a small Sabbat cell setting itself up secretly at the university associated with the church.” She hesitates. “When Cantor arrived, he claimed their…resources…for himself.”
They stop in the main antechamber outside Bell’s office. “This is good information Scout,” Rabenholz says. “Is that all?”
Her gaze darts to the office door. “That’s all I’ve been able to collect at this time.”
“Very good. I note your efforts and appreciate them.”
The door next to them suddenly opens. A ghoul sticks her head out and jumps briefly in surprise as she sees them right there. “Lord Rabenholz, sir? The Justicar would like to see you.” Her eyes dart to Scout. “Both.”
Rabenholz nods and steps into the office, Scout close behind. Bell is back at his desk, scowling as they enter, just closing down a video phone.
(Me: “A video ph–you mean SKYPE?!”
Jason: “No. I mean an old 90’s era video-phone.”
Me *pitying* “…Oh, son…. Does he still use a Telex too?”)
Bell’s gaze narrows as it slides across Scout, but he turns to Rabenholz first. “Rabenholz. Care to tell me what happened?”
Rabenholz adjusts his cloak. “I was on my way up when apparently the elevator stopped on the 33rd floor.”
“And what was on the 33rd floor?”
Bell folds his arms. “And do you have his head?”
“I do not,” Rabenholz says coolly. “He was as surprised to see me as I was him. But what followed was very odd. A number of gargoyles appeared from the walls.”
“Gargoyles. Tremere gargoyles, you mean.” Bell sinks back into his chair with a creak of leather. “Where’s Everton?”
“I don’t know. A fire broke out and I fled. I did see someone I recognized in the lobby, though.”
Bell’s chair creaks again as he leans forward. “Who?”
“Vannevar Hughes,” Rabenholz says smoothly.
Bell glares a long moment, then taps the video phone next to him. “It’s interesting you should mention that, ‘cause I just got off the phone with him. He’s in Florida.”
Rabenholz doesn’t blink. “How very convenient for him.”
“He tried to explain to me that he’s been in Florida for the better part of two days.” Bell sits back. “He was lying. I tend to know when someone is lying to me about these sorts of things. Something scared the shit out of him. And I don’t know if it was you.”
“Do Hughes’s people still control the Chantry?” Scout asks tentatively.
Bell glances at her, eyes hardening again. “I have no idea. But I intend to find out.” He turns back to Rabenholz. “The Chantry has been the focus of a lot of bad business the last few nights. A lot of bad business.”
“Is Ms. Johnson still in the city?” Rabenholz asks.
“I don’t know. She isn’t answering her phone. Again.” Bell grumbles and stands. “I’m going to go over to the Chantry and see what’s going on, whether Johnson or Hughes or whoever is there likes it or not. So if you can’t reach me, that’s where I will be.”
Rabenholz nods once. “So noted. Is there anything I can help with?”
“In this case, I think it’s best I do this myself, and I know you have other business matters to attend to. But…before I go, I’d like a word with her. Alone.”
Both men turn to stare at Scout. She tenses, then nods tersely. She remains standing in the middle of the room, arms folded behind her, as Rabenholz sweeps out and closes the door behind him.
(And yep, you guessed it. Another secret scene. Stay tuned.)
KPIX TELEVISION STUDIO
Gates finally appears at the studio to rescue Paul, going into full executive assistant mode as she negotiates with the producers to finally get him on the air.
(Chris: “This has been the longest five-minute wait ever.”)
Finally, they’re set to go. The tech leads them out to the studio floor, a standard local-news broadcast setup with a desk and landscape backdrop showing the city skyline. There’s no audience, but various crewmembers lurk in the shadows outside the lights.
Lurking amongst them, like a pale shadow, is Charles. Paul nods to him. Charles does not nod back.
The news host introduces the segment and the tech shoves Paul toward the desk. Still staring at Charles, he stumbles forward, then composes himself and reaches out to shake the host’s hand.
“Mr. Stewart, thank you for agreeing to come on the show in such short notice.”
“Thank you for having me.”
They sit. The host smiles in a practiced way. “Now, our viewers would like to know a great many things. But firstly, we were wondering if you had any comment on the recent events in Portola Valley?”
Paul glances over to Gates. She’s watching intently from the shadows, phone clenched tightly in her hand. Charles notices Paul’s gaze, smirks, then slowly paces over to loom behind her. Paul turns quickly back to the host. “Ah, well, as I understand it, according to the sheriff’s report, it was a gas leak of some sort.”
The host smiles a smile not unlike Charles’s. “Yes, but I was wondering if you wanted to comment on the pattern that seems to be emerging here. Gas leak, industrial espionage, terrorist attacks. A lot of things seem to be surrounding your company in recent days.”
Paul resettles himself in the chair. “Well that’s true, but it’s also true they’ve been surrounding companies in the valley. Tesseract is not alone in experiencing these signs of the times, if you will. I think we would be fooling ourselves to believe there’s anything really new happening here. We’re better informed and get the information faster, and I probably participate in that, but I dont think theres anything really out of the ordinary with this.” He gestures vaguely. “Certainly these events are not unusual, it’s just I have more publicity than other people.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Gates nodding approvingly. Behind her, Charles glowers.
The host affects an expression of concern. “So you’re saying in essence there’s no reason to panic at all? Even with the well-publicized destruction of your house?”
“Well, honestly I’m a little surprised, but I don’t know about panic. Thankfully no one was injured, which is always comforting to hear. A house is afterall just a building. It’s the people that are important.”
The host smiles thinly and glances at his notes. “On that note, I’d like to ask if you had any further comments on the abductions that took place at your company not long ago?
Paul clasps his hands seriously. “I have nothing to add to that other than what I said before. We find it horrifying and absolutely unacceptable. And I know we’re not alone, everyone I’ve ever spoken with agrees on that.”
“What of the continued rumors about your competitors? Anonymous internet posters have been implicating Oracle in these events.”
For a moment, Paul’s eye twitches at the mention of Ellison’s name. “It’s true Larry Ellison and I have something of a rivalry, but there is absolutely no weight behind any claims that any company had anything to do with it. That was a bunch of independent wackos lashing out, unfortunately at my company, for their own reasons.”
The host leans forward. “And the rumors about strange events transpiring at SAP Center in San Jose?”
Paul gestures dismissively. “There’s lots of rumors these days, I don’t have anything to add to that. I’m certainly not the juciest gossip blog.”
The host watches him quietly a moment, then suddenly breaks out in an amiable smile. “Well those of us not following rumors have been very interested in what it is you intend to announce in a few days.”
Paul glances over. Both Gates and Charles are watching him with equal intensity. He shifts again in his chair. “Well it’s something I’m very excited about. We’re going to be broadcasting the announcement live over our networks. I don’t want to reveal anything more until the actual announcement though.”
“You’re aware that Vegas has begun taking odds on what it is you’re going to announce.”
Paul blinks. “I wasn’t, actually.”
“Yes I believe the highest bet is you’re going into mobile technology to compete with the iPhone.”
“That’s interesting. Well as you know, Tesseract Messenger is available on the iPhone, and Apple has, on several occasions, licensed key bits of our portfolio to enhance the iPhone, as has Google with Android.”
The host gestures leadingly. “And yet you must admit there are certain challenges your company has faced from Apple in these regards. Patent lawsuits and such.”
“To an extent.” Paul picks up a mug of water from the desk. “The reality of the industry we work in is that patents are the best defensive tool we have. Apple and Tesseract have never competed over patents without things eventually being dropped. That’s going to be true of most companies in the Valley, as well as Microsoft, and really all around the US. There’s just too much damage anyone can inflict on anyone else if they fight too hard over patents.” Paul takes a fake sip at the water and glances over. Gates is nodding enthusiastically, while the rest of the studio crew–and Charles–frown and glance at each other in confusion.
The host frowns too and shuffles his notes. “Let’s talk for a minute about your sabbatical you took recently, the one where you were apparently attending an ashram in India, I believe it was?”
Paul’s hands tense on the mug. “…Yes, that’s right.”
The host’s shark grin returns. “Tell us more about what lead you to leave your company at such a pivotal moment without informing anyone.”
“Well the rumors have been blown out of proportion. It’s certainly true I was out of contact, but the company was in good hands, and it was timed with our release schedule so I didn’t miss anything important, but the retreat itself allowed me some time to focus and gather some clarity on a number of things coming up. Where they fit in for me personally, as well as us as a people.”
(Kara: “…You are frighteningly good at this.”
Jason: “You are pretty damn good at this, I’m not gonna lie.”)
Behind the cameras, an intern carrying coffee suddenly bustles by, shoving steaming cups into Gates and Charles’s hands. Both accept automatically, their focus locked on Paul as the interviewer presses on. “So in recent days, there has been talk on Wall Street in particular, that Tesseract may need a change of management at the top. You have to admit, that even if you do find your excursions and vacations personally rejuvenating, they had lead to a great deal of instability in Tesseract’s share price. Do you have anything you’d like to say to the shareholders who may be concerned at the volatility in their investments?”
Paul takes a slow breath. “I think any of the shareholders who are pleased to be shareholders are going to be with us a long time. Volatility in the short term really isn’t going to impact our profitability in the long term.”
“Well your disappearance did occasion a nearly 20% drop in the valuation of your company.”
Paul nods slowly. “That’s true, but over the last three years we’ve seen 15-20% changes in the S&P 500 over a year’s timespan. I don’t think it’s unprecedented, we’re not drastically out of line with the market.”
The host leans forward again. “That may be true, but surely mutual fund holders are not terribly pleased on the notion that at any time you could simply disappear again and lose them a very great sum of money. There have been calls for these sorts of things in the past.”
“Yes, but, no company is immune to these problems. Certainly any company with very important key figures suffers the risk of them being lost to any number of accidents. It’s a terrible thing, but it’s the cost of doing business. We don’t avoid investing in each other because we might disappear one day, just as we don’t avoid investing in society because someday we will die.” Paul meets Gate’s eyes as he continues. “While there may be concerns I may disappear out of choice, I don’t think anyone who really knows me could ever doubt my commitment to this company.”
Gates smiles back softly, blowing gently on her coffee. Charles glares, his coffee untouched.
“But you must admit,” the host says, drawing Paul’s attention back, “You wouldn’t be the first company to have their founder pushed out by an overzealous board. Afterall, look what happened to Steve Jobs. There are those who call you a second Steve Jobs in this regard.”
Paul blinks, considering this. “Well, that’s either a very flattering or insulting remark, but I’m not worried. I think in general most shareholders prefer me at Tesseract even if I am eccentric.” Paul smiles amiably. “Other people’s words, not mine.”
A low chuckle rolls through the studio. The host smiles thinly and reaches for a new piece of paper from the desk. “Speaking of eccentricities, I was wondering if you would be interested in commenting on some of the more esoteric reports we’ve had concerning your behavior in the last few years?” He holds the paper up. “I have here a report compiled by a student from Berkeley which indicates that over the last few years, you’ve never been seen out in daylight.”
Paul blinks, then smiles. “Well, that would have made it very difficult to inspect my house this afternoon.”
Another chuckle, louder than before, passes across the crew. Paul smiles and continues. “You know, I saw this really great rumor about me at one point, from before my retreat. According to this, I bake forty dozen muffins every day, and at the end of the week, I would donate them to local charities.”
The host stares. “And is it true?”
“I don’t eat gluten,” Paul says flatly.
Now laughter breaks out. Even the host smirks in a real smile. “Well, we have heard other rumors, less whimsical ones. Rumors that you’re a drug addict, that you’re a cultist, that…you’re a vampire, even!”
Paul chuckles. “A vampire? Really!” He chuckles again, then makes a fake lunge forward, hands curved into Bela Lugosi claws. “Rawr!” he laughs.
The host makes a fake dodge back, laughing himself. “Oh no, don’t bite!”
Paul glances toward the crew as laughter continues through the studio. Gates has frozen, smiling woodenly as she glances around. Charles, though, is still staring at Paul. Without breaking eye contact, he lifts his steaming coffee and downs it in one long gulp.
Finally, the laughs die out and the host smiles at Paul, warmly this time. “But you must admit, you have developed a few eccentric habits. And you do host all of your press conferences at night.”
“Well, if you look at some companies in the valley, a lot of them are very happy to host press conferences frequently.” Paul puts his water back on the desk and folds his hands. “At Tesseract, we take our public unveilings very seriously. If we’re going to call people’s attention to it, we want to do it when it’s worth it. We plan it for when people are at home and can follow along instead of when they’re on someone else’s schedule.”
“So no credence to the rumors that you have a sunlight allergy?”
Paul snorts. “That’d be awkward. I’m afraid I’m too much a fan of big windows for that to really work.”
(Me: “Haaa, irony cause it’s true.”)
The humor suddenly fades from the host’s face. “So, one last question if I may. There has been talk in recent days, given the instability and fear that’s been going around the Bay Area, that some Silicon Valley companies have been engaging in some…less than mission statement approved activities. Do you have any comment to the rumors that link your company with that of Myrmidon International, a well-known private military contractor with considerably less-than-above board dealings?”
Gates suddenly tenses. Charles notes her reaction and turns back toward Paul with predatory interest.
Paul considers a moment before replying. “Hypothetically, if we employed Myrmidon in the past, we wouldn’t have been aware of those associations. Naturally you understand I can’t comment on that, but hypothetically.”
The host leans forward. “Hypothetically, you are aware, of course, that Myrmidon has been implicated in various scandals, including known connections to blood diamond scandals in the 90’s?”
Paul frowns. “Hypothetically, if we had hired them at some point, we wouldn’t have been aware of that at the time. Tesseract would not choose to do business with someone who violates our ethical codes.”
“Does Tesseract commonly make a habit of doing business with companies they’re not familiar with the background of?”
“No, we certainly don’t make a habit of that. Tesseract is a large company and we contract with a large number of other companies. Sometimes things have to happen very quickly and don’t go to the standards we’d like. But whether its with our business relationships or our software or hardware, when we see a problem with it we act quickly to fix it.”
“So to be clear then, Tesseract is not currently working with Myrmidon International?”
Paul meets Gates’ eyes as he replies. “No.”
The host stares a long moment, then nods and sits up. “…Very good. Thank you Mr. Stewart for coming in.” He shakes his hand and turns toward the camera. “And we’ll be back after the commercials with the head curator of the California Academy of Sciences, here to tell us about their newest exhibit.”
The moment the cameras go off, Gates rushes forward, helping Paul unclip his microphone. “Paul?” she mutters.
“Not now,” he replies, glancing at Charles. His pale shape is sliding through the crowd, looking like he’s about to move to intercept them, but then a tech appears to outfit his microphone. Trapped, all he can do is glare as Paul and Gates leave the studio rapidly.
(I have edited this scene slightly for readability and drama, but yes, Chris really did come up with all those responses, on the fly and without pause. For proof, you can listen to the original segment of the recording.)
The plan to reach the avatarium now in place, Georgia clears a space on the floor of the office to draw a circle, Bob watching nervously from the corner of the room, the space whale watching calmly from the desk.
Jawahar stands behind her with arms folded. “You sure about this?” he asks nervously.
“Nope.” Georgia grins and holds out her hand. Jawahar sighs and hands her one of the thermoses.
The thermoses full of werewolf blood.
Georgia grins wider, then unscrews the lid and takes a long swig. Instantly she stumbles, reeling from the intoxicating rush, like something a shade short of diablerie but streets ahead of awesome.
(Kara: “Awesome! I’m going to make a circle!!”
Me: “You’re going to make the fuck out of a circle!”
Kara: “It’s going to be bad-ass!!!”)
She bites her hand and falls to her knees, frenetically drawing out the complex circle across the stone with the speed of a spirograph.
(Jason: “That is one fucking circle right there, look at this fucking circle!”
Jim: “Are you going to use more of the blood to make it more elaborate?”
Kara: “…No. I gotta save the blood and I gotta make the most of the minutes I’m on this blood, I have to do awesome things, which means it is time to go–”)
“–Jawahar, you’re watching Bob, Bob, you’re watching the space whale, Space Whale, you’re watching Jawahar, be good, take care of yourselves, I’ll see you guys later!” she says in a rush as she scrambles to her feet.
The three of them stare at each other. “Mew,” says the space whale.
But Georgia is on Celerity 3 and is already fucking gone.
(Note, I have tried to do this scene justice in text but it’s hard to beat Kara’s original deadpanning of it.)
Cold air washes over her as she rushes through the tunnels, winding deeper and deeper into the complex, till finally she bursts out into a cavernous space. A wide hall stretches before her, dotted by towering columns. Marching among them in glittering, clanking throngs, belching smoke and steam toward the ceiling, are HITMarks.
(Jason: “They really should be out of fuel by now, but, magic.”)
Georgia hesitates at the doorway a fraction of a moment, then plunges into the crowd. The moment her feet touch the polished floor, every machine in the room swivels toward her simultaneously, swivels crossbow attachments, and fires. Primium bolts ricochet off the walls, columns, and other HITMarks as she dodges through the crowd. One HITMark looms directly in front of her, too close to dodge, but a bolt impales its headpiece, sending it clattering. She leaps over its body and continues forward.
(Kara: “Tiny dice, don’t fail me now!”)
The far side of the room approaches steadily. She finally clears the main maelstrom and accelerates. As the second volley begins, one bolt clips her shoulder, sending her spinning toward the floor. Having planned for this, she goes limp, letting herself fall, willing the other machines to view her as dead and ignore her–
(Jason: “…Eight more bolts hit you in the back.”
Jason: “They were shooting at you as you fell!”
Kara: “You’re a jerk.”
Jason: “Yeah, well.”)
She falls to the ground, ignoring the pain as she focuses on being dead. The floor trembles as one of the machines stomps closer. She scans the room with half-lidded eyes. The far wall is only a few meters away and directly in front of her, an arched entryway leads back into the gloom, it’s wooden door long since rotted away.
The footsteps stop behind her. Gears click and the boiler groans. She waits, but the thing doesn’t turn away. After a few moment, she hears the now familiar click of a crossbow bolt being loaded.
Instantly, she throws herself to her feet and sprints toward the door. The HITMark squeals as it swings its arm around…
…Followed by a heavy, grinding clank as its mechanisms jam.
(Jason: *glaring at his dice* “…Goddammit, this is why the fucking Technocrats keep losing….”)
Georgia dives through the doorway and falls limp on the other side of the threshold. Trembling footsteps approach. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the HITMark stop on the other side of the door, glowing eyes staring down at her, crossbow reloaded and angled toward her head….
Then the thing twists at the waist and stomps away, disappearing into the mindless crowd once again patrolling the cavern. Georgia waits an extra long moment, then pushes back to her feet, grinning.
(Jim: “It took Max three days to make it this far?”
Jason: “Max didn’t have Celerity.”
Me: “And wasn’t on fucking cocaine.”)
She pulls out the remaining bolts and examines the tunnel ahead of her, descending further into the dark. Slowly she makes her way down, brandishing one of the bolts just in case, then the tunnel turns and enters a new room. Barely any ambient light leaks down the tunnel from the cavern behind, so she conjures a handful of flame and holds it aloft.
This room is low, but wide and round, like a great disk was cut from the stone all at once. Complex-looking equipment encircles the walls, like the offspring of a pipe organ merged with a mainframe computer, welded out of polished bronze. But her eye is drawn to the center of the room, where an elaborate, bulbous construction hangs from the ceiling. The scale isn’t what she was expecting, but it’s clearly the apparatus from Max’s notes. Under the apparatus is a wide, stone table. She moves closer to examine it.
The surface of the table is stained red.
She lifts the flame into an empty brazier, bringing it roaring to life, then kneels to draw a new circle on the floor using a measure of blood from the thermos.
(Kara: “Not near the fire, a safe distance away.”
Jason: “Well, Jawahar has a lot less to fear about fire than you.”
Chris: “Also, Jawahar has a lot less to fear from that fire than from you.”
Jason: “Actually, under your current conditions, possibly. Werewolf blood put you on fucking cocaine. Mage blood might be even tastier.”
Kara: “I’ve had mage blood, it’s sparkly!”
Jason: “It’s effervescent. Zesty, even.”)
Georgia smiles to herself as she works, remembering the taste of mage blood, then suddenly stops.
(Kara: “…If I could fill my thermoses with only werewolf and mage blood, I could be this awesome all the time….”
Jason: “Yes…you should find and eat all the werewolves and mages!”
Kara: “No no, I need to put them in rooms and slowly drain their blood, the way Vannevar Hughes was–wait…there’s something wrong with this, but I can’t quite figure it out….”)
Georgia pauses and frowns, staring down at the blood smeared before her, then shakes the confusion from her head and continues the work.
Rabenholz is waiting in the antechamber as Bell and Scout emerge from the office. Bell turns to Rabenholz and levels a finger. “Alright, as I said, I’m going to the Chantry to figure this out. I don’t need your help, but I do need you to let me know if anything new suddenly drops in–”
Suddenly, a door kicks open from further down the hall. Anstis strolls out, saunters up to them, and dumps Nitocris’s mutilated body at Bell’s feet with a wet thump.
Silence falls. Bell stares a long moment, then lowers his finger to point down. “–What the fuck is that?”
Anstis smooths at his coat. “Nitocris. Leader of the Settites in the city.”
Rabenholz stares at the body. “I see she didn’t agree to do security for us.”
Bell steps over the black lump at his feet to approach Anstis. “Where did you get that?” he rumbles, inches from the pirate’s face.
Anstis just smiles. “The caves in Fort Funston.”
“What was she doing there? And speaking of people in places they shouldn’t be, what were you doing there?”
Anstis gestures grandly at the body. “Dealing with this.”
“And how many others did you have to deal with?”
“Sertorius took care of the rest. Or at least, the ones we know of. Although, it would appear….” Anstis kneels down and peels open the chest cavity, showing the stake and the stone in place of a heart. “…What’s the modern phrase? ‘Our princess is in another castle.’”
Bell and Rabenholz stare at him blankly. Scout, though, lurking behind them, slowly facepalms.
(Jason: “Chris, Colleen, roll me Perception + Occult, difficulty six.”
Me: “…One success.”
Jason: “…’Wow. She’s got no fucking heart. That’s weird.’”
Chris: “Five successes. Let me guess, the information for Rabenholz is, ‘Her heart’s been replaced with a stone!’”
Jason: “No, the information for Rabenholz is much simpler. Her heart has been replaced with a stone, so it begs the question….how is she staked?”)
As Anstis beams triumphantly, the rest of them stare again into the open chest cavity, eyeing the stake wedged between the ribs but piercing nothing.
The moment hangs. Then, slowly, Scout takes a step back.
(Jason: “…Everybody gets to roll initiative.”)
Georgia finishes the second circle and stands back. Moments later it glows dimly, there’s a hum of rising thaumaturgical energy, then Jawahar appears in the center, carrying her bag.
Georgia drags him out. “Good, you’re here! Can you cast some light? We need more light, like in the corners and such, we need to be able to see everything so we’re going to need light–”
Jawahar casts his glowing orb, levitating it out toward the areas the brazier light doesn’t reach. He eyes her carefully. “Are you feeling alright?
“Great! Never better!” She pulls her bag from his hands and digs through for Max’s journal. “We need to start inventory on this place, I need to look through the different machines and compare them to what Max wrote down–”
“How would you like to get started?”
“Immediately.” Pulling out the journal, she turns and walks off.
Her werewolf rush starts to come down as she carefully examines Max’s notes against the machines in the room. Pipes and ducts weave through like metal veins. Carefully, she opens a valve and peers inside. It smells like blood. Recent blood.
“Looks like Max was experimenting with this….” She dips a finger inside and tastes some of the dried flecks around the edges. It’s vitae, from a Tremere.
Jawahar wanders over. “What do you suppose he meant by the wrong blood?”
“Well, maybe it needs human blood, or…mage…blood….” She tenses and trails off.
Jawahar glares at her. “Excuse me? Why would it need mage blood, mages already have avatars.”
“To help spread the avatars? Maybe people who don’t have avatars need a little help from people who do.” A tense silence falls. “I’m not asking for your blood!” she adds hurriedly.
“Good!” Jawahar turns away. “Let’s see what else there is.”
They approach the apparatus in the center of the room, staring up in silence at it a long moment. Georgia opens the journal and flips through to the sketch and accompanying notes. “Max said he thinks it’s an…essence collector,” she reads.
Jawahar eyes the stained dais nervously. “What manner of essence?”
Georgia squints at the notes, comparing them to the machine. “Well, some of the basic principles look similar to our exsanguintory chambers. But there’s no pipes for blood here.”
On a hunch, Georgia tucks the journal away and takes out the dragon, placing it on the stone dais. Its head swivels around, eyes glowing faintly. She leans down to view it at eye-level. “Do you know how anything in here works?”
The dragon sniffs at the bloodstained rock below it, nipping at it a few times. Then it looks up, cocks its head at her, and leaps toward her in a smooth arc. She catches it in her arms, where it immediately proceeds to nom on her.
(Jason: “Kara…gain a blood point.”)
Georgia stares at it. As before, there’s no broken skin, no bruising, but she definitely feels the influx of new blood. “Little dragon, you are more useful than you appear,” she murmurs. “I like you.”
Jawahar, examining the device, doesn’t notice this. “It looks like some of these pieces are missing, but I think I saw similar-looking pieces back in that storeroom.”
“Wouldn’t Max have tried that?”
“Maybe he didn’t find them. He didn’t find the dragon, afterall, did he?”
Georgia looks down at the dragon, then tucks it carefully back into her bag. “Good point. Let’s check it out!”
The two of them teleport back to the office, pause a moment to reassure Bob, then go to the storeroom to dig around for pieces. They haul a few loads back to the avatarium and, over the course of an hour, eventually match up all the missing components.
Once the last piece slots in, the whole machine shudders and groans. Dust falls from the ceiling, a nozzle-contraption descends, then suddenly blue heatless light shoots down to the stone dais. The light shivers, then suddenly splits, radiating across the stone. An image forms in the beam, a figure of a man Georgia doesn’t recognize. Old, Mediterranean-looking, with a long tunic and holding a scepter with a bull’s head mounted on top. The image stares around the room, then stops as it sees them. His mouth moves silently.
Georgia and Jawahar trade a glance. Jawahar shrugs.
The man glares, then reaches out a hand, a stern look on his face. Georgia hesitates, then, with another bemused glance at Jawahar, reaches her hand out to touch the image.
Pain rips through her, from her toes all the way up her extended arm, as if her skeleton was being ripped out through the connection. She shouts and almost falls to her knees, but the man locks onto her with a strange tangibility. Finally, the pain ends and the image ripples.
Suddenly, she’s not staring at the robed man anymore. She’s staring at Himmler.
(Kara: “But…I ate Himmler….”
Jason: “Yeah, about that…. You know how when you ate Himmler you got all his memories? Well suddenly you can’t remember them anymore.”
Kara: “He took Himmler out of me?”
Jason: “It appears so. The ghostly image of Himmler stands before you on the dias. And I gotta tell you, the image of the other guy looked stern, but Himmler’s face? Looks really, really angry.”)
Nitocris’s eyes suddenly snap open. The gathered four jerk back in surprise. Her gaze flashes as it darts around the room, instantly taking in her surroundings, then she lifts her hands, sending bold bangles rattling down her dark-skinned arm.
(Chris: “I would like to remove them.”
Jason: “Her jewelry?”
Chris: “Her arms.”)
Rabenholz draws his cane sword to slice at her, but the blade catches on her bracelets and glances off. She starts to sit up, shrieking something in an unknown language–
(Jason: “–And the lights go out.”
Jason: “Ha, actually no, they don’t, because….”)
Across the antechamber, and up and down the hall, doors suddenly open at once as no less than fifteen armed Settites rush into the room.
(Me: “…Everywhere snakes?”
Jason: “Everywhere snakes.”)
END OF NIGHT