Jason: “So, about a dozen armed Settites have just poured into the room. What do you do?”
Jim: “…What’s the look on Bell’s face?”
Jason: “The look on Bell’s face…is as cool as it fucking comes. It looks like you could chill beer on his forehead.”
Jim: “That’s it?”
Jason: “Well you have to understand, Bell has been dealing with a lot of bullshit in this city lately. He’s been dealing with politics, Masquerade violations, a Sabbat Priscus, werewolves, mages, you sons of bitches, all sorts of shit he doesn’t have the capacity to control. But a shitton of armed fuckers standing right in front of him? That he can do something about.”
Rabenholz, Scout, and Anstis freeze as over a dozen heavily-armed Settites flood through open doors up and down the hall to gather around the antechamber, the glint of blades winking from their hands and robes. Behind Anstis, the still-prone Nitocris shrieks in laughter, chanting again in her strange language. The warriors stop, leering at them.
In the tense silence that follows, Bell slowly raises an arm and lowers his sunglasses a fraction of an inch. He scans the crowd once, then raises them again. And relaxes.
He turns to Anstis. “Friends of yours?”
Anstis’s claws snick from his fingers. “Nay.”
Suddenly the crowd ripples and parts. A new warrior marches through the other Settites, dressed in similar dark robes but almost a foot taller than the rest, carrying a scimitar made of obsidian glass. He stops in the center of the room and grins, the light catching on gold-capped teeth.
Jason: “Oh I think so.”
Jason: “Alright, then it is your action sir. No one has yet started fighting.”
Chris: “Hmm….” *considers a long moment* “…I walk past him, say, ‘Excuse me,’ and leave the room.”)
The massive warrior reaches out a hand to stop Rabenholz as he tries to pass. His grin widens. “Stay awhile.”
Rabenholz eyes him. “I don’t think so.”
“I insist,” the man says, Presence rippling under his words.
Rabenholz stares back coolly, grip on his cane tightening….
Suddenly Scout blurs, slashing at the cluster of Settites nearest her. Blood sprays and a few stumble back. A heartbeat later, Bell turns into a similar blur. Three Settites on the other side of the room instantly fall over, split clean in half.
Which is the signal for general fuckery to ensue.
Chaos erupts and blades fly as Setittes yell and rush toward Bell and Scout. Anstis takes a step back.
(Jim: “What’s Nitocris doing?”
Jason: “Nitocris is still behind you on the ground, eyes open, shouting commands.”
Jim: “I’m going to decapitate her.”
Jason: “…I had not thought of that.”)
With one slash of his claws, Anstis rips Nitocris’s head clean off, cutting her shrieks off instantly.
(Jason: “…Well. That NPC did not get to do the things I was expecting her to do.”)
Meanwhile, neither Rabenholz nor the massive warrior has moved as the melee swirls around them. The warrior grins, his eyes still locked with Rabenholz. He raises his sword….
…Then moves in a blur himself, appearing in front of Anstis and swinging the sword up in a disemboweling curve. Anstis leaps back. The man follows, still grinning.
Rabenholz remains standing in the middle and surveys the room with a practiced eye. The main mass of warriors continue to throw themselves at Bell and Scout, but something about them seems off. Their strikes, though enthusiastic, are over-reaching and wild, exposing them to easy counter-attacks. He frowns.
(Chris: “Is anyone paying attention to me anymore?”
Chris: “Great, then I turn and leave.”)
Rabenholz carefully picks his way through the melee, enters the elevator, and stares out calmly as the doors close to take him down.
(Chris: “Sooo, Paul was headed to the Pyramid after his interview….”
Jason: “Ahh, shit. Fine. We’ll get to that in a second.”)
The large warrior continues stalking Anstis through the crowd. Antis slashes at him with one hand, but the man ducks back, lightning fast, and swings his sword in a wide arc, slicing off Anstis’s fingertips in one strike. Anstis yells and pulls back, clutching at his wrist. The warrior’s grin widens.
Scout, meanwhile, is fighting with practiced rhythm, slashing and whirling to drive the masses back. One comes too close and she grabs him to tear away a gulp of blood, then throws him back to the crowd. While distracted, another comes up behind, pinning her arms. She snarls and kicks but a third runs up to plunge a dagger through her spine, severing nerves and dropping her to the floor. A triumphant shout rises from the crowd as warriors rush forward to pile on, blades flashing.
Until, under the mass of bodies, Scout bursts into flames.
All action in the room stops. The warriors on top of her throw themselves away, back from the heat and the light. Scout stands slowly, burning like a phoenix, but untouched under the flames except for the slashing damage already healing before their eyes. The room stares back in shock as she slowly scans them, finally locking eyes with their massive leader. Of everyone in the room, he alone isn’t shocked. Instead, the smile on his face is one of admiration.
While he’s distracted, Anstis sneaks up behind, regrowing his claws and lifting them to swipe again–
The parry is instantaneous. One moment the man is smiling at Scout, the next he’s slashing in a blur that makes Bell look like he’s standing still. Each of Anstis’s claws flies off, not in one strike, but in rapid individual strikes that neatly remove each finger at the same joint, one by one. Anstis stumbles back. The man turns to him slowly, still grinning, but doesn’t follow. Instead he lowers the obsidian blade and lifts his other hand to wave.
Then he’s gone.
Silence falls in the room an endless moment. Then, a ding. The elevator doors slide open and SWAT-armed men in Camarilla uniforms pour out into the antechamber, Rabenholz striding calmly out of the elevator behind them.
Georgia stares at the ghostly apparition of Himmler, still holding onto her hand, though she feels nothing from the touch.
(Jason: *staring at the table* “Kara, what are those?”
Kara: “These? They’re beads, for my knitting.”
Jason: “Oh thank god. For a second, I looked over and thought, ‘Oh my god, she found even tinier dice….’”)
Jawahar sidles up behind her. “Who is this?
“That’s Heinrich Himmler,” she says, staring into the pale shape of his spectacles. “A fellow I…ate a while back.”
“You ate Heinrich Himmler?” Jawahar looks her over. “How old are you again?”
“No, not when he was alive, when he was a vampire.”
Jawahar looks like he’s about to question further, then shakes his head and turns toward the image. “So how is he here?”
“Maybe the machine pulled his spirit out of me?” She peers up at the bulbous contraption hanging overhead. “I wonder how I get him back….”
Jawahar eyes her. “Wouldn’t it be an improvement to not have Nazis inside you? Haven’t you ever heard that you are what you eat?”
Himmler’s figure suddenly leans forward, staring at the hand gripping his. She feels her hand rotated to the left and right as he appears to examine it. He shakes his head. “No. Too far gone,” a voice mutters. Although it’s somewhat hollow and distorted, it’s clearly not Himmler’s.
Georgia frowns. “Too far gone from what?”
“Life. Long too far gone. Not useful.”
Her frown deepens. “I’m totally useful!”
The figure shakes his head, chuckling darkly. “Not useful. Not helpful. Not qualified.”
“How could I prove otherwise?”
“Too weak. Slave.”
Georgia bristles. “I’m not a slave–”
“Ignorant,” he says sharply. “Indecisive.”
“It’s better to be cautious.”
“Not cowardly. I took on an island full of gargoyle makers. Your gargoyle makers!”
“Gargoyles. Inferior.” He shakes his head. “Deluded. Deranged.”
She braces her free hand on her hip. “I strongly disagree with that last one–”
Georgia pauses. “–That one’s probably true.” She sighs. “Aren’t there any positive qualities of mine you’d like to list?”
The image of Himmler lifts his chin assessingly. A smirk plays across his face. “Ambitious, ruthless to a point.” He glances toward Jawahar behind her. “But to what point?”
She counts out fingers on her free hand. “Loyal, curious, determined.”
“Deluded. No loyalty. No oathkeeping. No propriety. No respect.” He shakes his head, voice falling to a mutter. “Would have flushed her down to the labyrinth. In better days….”
“These are better days.”
She huffs. “You’re the one who’s illusory.”
The figure laughs, the sound echoing hollowly in the room. “What do you want?”
“You don’t want to learn,” he sneers.
“If you don’t think I want to learn, what do you think I want?”
He smirks again. “Greed. Arrogance. Power–”
“How could I want arrogance?”
“–Death, mayhem, destruction, the usual.”
Georgia frowsn. “I disagree.”
The Himmler figure laughs again. “Too far gone.” He lifts his other hand to examine it slowly, then pulls off his classes to examine them too. After a moment he nods and replaces them. “I will keep this one.”
“This one what?”
“This offering you bring me.”
“Mmm, Himmler.” He smiles decadently. “Barbarous. Committed. Deluded. Well too far gone. I will keep him. I will use him. Reforge him.”
“And what will I use?”
“Nothing. You do not understand.”
“I told you, I seek to learn.”
“You’re dead, the dead have nothing to learn. They repeat the same patterns over and over again and sometimes delude themselves into thinking they do not.”
“Well, so do the living!”
“The living may learn, the living may…awaken.” He spreads his other hand in a blooming gesture, then drops it to his side. “You are dead, you are too far gone. Your spark is cold, it has been cold for centuries.”
Georgia bristles again. “It is not! I have learned many new things about magic in the last month even–”
“Magic!” He laughs. “You don’t know magic! You know gypsy tricks! You know no magic.”
“And yet it works.”
“So does a stallion’s cock,” he spits.
“Isn’t that also its own form of magic?”
He shakes his head and gestures dismissively with his other hand. “Peripatetic. Go bother someone else with your philosophies.”
Georgia stares, then tightens her grip on his illusory hand. “No.”
His eyes harden. “Then I will make you.”
Instantly there’s a burst of light. Georgia pulls back, but when she looks up she’s no longer in the avatarium chamber.
A great, spherical room surrounds her, the walls half-obscured in gloom. She looks around. She’s standing on a narrow bridge spanning the space but through the darkness she can make out gilded etchings of stars and astrological symbols lining the walls. Although they appear to be carved into the smooth stone, as she watches they slowly seem to move. She looks around again. No one is visible except her and the stars.
“Hello?” she calls. “Did you give up on me then?”
Laughter echoes from somewhere in the darkness. “Why did you come?”
“Knowledge?” The voice laughs again, meanly. “Why should I give it to you?”
“Because you have it.”
“Knowledge earned by me, not by you.” Another sound suddenly echoes, a soft tapping. She turns to see a bent old man approaching her along the bridge, measuring his pace with a weathered wooden staff.
(Kara: “…How big are his ears?”
Jason: “…He’s not Yoda.”)
It’s the same man she saw when they first activated the avatarium apparatus, carrying the same staff with a bull’s head on the top. He stops a few feet away and eyes her. “Dead dead dead….” he tsks, the same voice that spoke through Himmler.
“Well, parts of me are, yes, but I can move–”
“So can my automatons.”
“They can’t learn.”
He smirks. “Have you ever talked to one?”
“No, actually. They don’t seem very chatty.”
He shakes his head slowly. “Ignorant.”
“I am not.” She smooths at her robes. “I’ve learned many things.”
“Knowledge, you say?” He folds his arms. “Prove it.”
(Kara: “I…recite psychological principles, then segue into basics of thaumaturgy, but I explain it in Latin–”)
He holds up a hand to stop her. “Useless. Flawed. False. Knowledge, you say you have?” He carefully lays his staff down, then reaches into his own robes and pulls out a clear glass of water. His other hand lifts in a fist. When he opens it, an ice cube is sitting on his palm. He holds it over the glass of water. “Ice, buoyant. Your knowledge says so?”
Georgia eyes the water skeptically. “Yes, ice floats in water.”
The old man drops the ice into the water. It sinks instantly to the bottom.
Georgia blinks. “Magic.”
“Magic,” he scoffs. “What is magic?”
“Magic is getting the world to do things that physics say it can’t.”
“Physics,” he scoffs again. The ice in the glass suddenly bobs to the surface. “One mad-man says it goes up, one mad-man says it goes down. Which one is right?”
Georgia considers this. “Whichever one is right at the moment?”
“Whichever one I say.” He smiles and the ice slowly sinks again, coming to rest in the exact center of the glass. He lowers the hand holding the glass, but the water remains in place, hovering in mid-air. it forms into a sphere with the ice cube rotating slowly in the middle. “Power dictates knowledge. If you have knowledge, someone dictated it to you.”
“I see…” Georgia says slowly, eyeing the demonstration in front of her. “So where does the power come from?”
He chuckles darkly. “That’s the question. But it doesn’t matter. Dead.” He picks up his staff and turns away.
Georgia takes a step after him. “But I already learned something! And I always want to learn more.”
He stops, then laughs again. “You want power? Why?”
“For many reasons.”
“Honor? Justice? Revenge?”
She cocks her head thoughtfully. “Possibly justice… To make things right, I’d say.”
He turns to her slowly, eyeing her from his weathered face. “And what is right?”
She glances at the hovering blob. “Well, as you’ve just illustrated, it is what he who has the power says it is.”
“Mm. A tyrant.”
She blinks. “Well. Not necessarily.”
He shakes his head. “Haven’t got it. Haven’t got the necessary.”
Her face falls. “Yes I have!”
“Oh?” He takes a step toward her. “Willingness?”
Another step. “Ambition?”
“Of course, you’ve already noted that–”
She hesitates. “Not…a lot of that one. How much of that one do I need?”
He grins a wide, broken-toothed grin. “All of it.”
She stares. “I’m…hesitant. Why do I need the ruthlessness?”
He lifts a hand again and opens his palm. Tiny figures are ranged across it, like carved figurines, but moving, walking around. “Power. Life. Death. Existence, non-existence. All the same.”
“Yes, but ruthlessness comes with unfeelingness, which leads to tyranny.”
He shakes his head and closes his fist over the figures. “No help, no hope.”
“Plenty of hope, look how far we’ve come already.”
He eyes her a moment. “There was another. He asked.”
“Max.” He nods slowly in recognition. “Never got near. No, another. Many years ago.” He shakes away the memory and eyes her again. “Power? Ruthlessness? Too late for you. Spark extinguished.”
“What kind of spark do I need?”
“A living one. An awakened one.”
Slowly, she starts to piece together everything he’s saying with everything Jawahar told her before about mages and avatars. She steps forward eagerly. “I can get one,” she insists.
“They’re common, aren’t they? I’ll just pick one up.”
“An awakened spark? No, not common.” Suddenly his look turns sly. “You didn’t come alone….”
She frowns, confused. “No, I brought a friend. He’s got an awakened spark, but I think he’s using it.”
“Not ruthless enough.” The old man straightens and raps his staff once. “Bring me a spark, an awakened spark. And maybe we’ll see.”
She stares at the heavens circling ominously around them. “But this is the avatarium. Can’t you just create one?”
“No. Must be here, must be in you.”
She stares. “I can’t get it into me without your help.”
His grin grows wide. “But you can.”
Instantly, there’s a flash of light and she’s back in the apparatus chamber, standing next to Jawahar facing the dais. Her hand is still extended forward, but the hologram figure is gone.
Jawahar stares between her and the device. “Where did he go? Did you do something?”
Georgia slowly lowers her arm. “Yes. How long was I gone?”
“You didn’t leave.”
“How long was I…quiet?”
“About a second…” He peers at her, face laced with worry. “Did you go somewhere?”
She finds herself avoiding his eye contact. “Oh, no. Maybe. Probably not.”
“Is everything alright? Relatively speaking?”
She stares across the dusty chamber a long moment. “Jawahar, you…remember our deal?”
“Of course, what about it?”
She takes a long breath. “How committed are you to bringing about the downfall of the Tremere?”
“It has been a goal of the Order of Hermes for quite some time. Since the creation of, well, your clan. Bringing that about would be the greatest coup in the history of the order.” He smiles. “You could say I’m quite committed.”
She continues to stare into space. “Willing to die for it?”
He takes a thoughtful breath. “Well it’s not exactly the first option, I would imagine. But we’ve already nearly been killed eight times. Why, are you getting cold feet?”
“No. I am simply rethinking the path forward.”
“In what way?”
“I am determining whether I need to make some detours. Pick up a few extra supplies.”
He shrugs. “Well, if you feel that’s wise.”
“I am considering.” She takes another breath. “I’m trying to figure out how committed you are. What you might be willing to do, or to give, or to…volunteer….”
(Jason: “Kara, I’m gonna need you to make a roll.”
Kara: *groans* “Manipulation…Friendship?”
Jason: “No, Manipulation + Empathy.”
Kara: “Oh, god….”)
Jawahar eyes her oddly. “I would need to know more specifically what you mean. Is everything alright?”
“I’m still trying to determine that. I have gained some knowledge that is actionable….”
“Well, I’m all ears.”
She turns to him. “I need something in order to proceed with the deal.”
“What do you need?” He glances around the machinery lining the room. “Something else from the store room?”
“No. An awakened spark.”
He frowns, glancing at the apparatus looming above. “My understanding that’s what the avatarium is supposed to bestow.”
“My new understanding,” she says, weighing her words carefully, “is that it does not provide one, it merely joins them. I would need to bring my own.”
“But you’re a vampire, your spark has been destroyed.”
“Right. I would need to obtain a new one.’
Georgia watches Jawahar’s face as the realization suddenly hits. She throws up her hands. “At the moment I am only asking for volunteers.”
Jawahar takes an unsteady step back, face ashen. “You…can’t be serious…. Do you know what is is you’re asking?”
“No. Not entirely.”
“Do you know what an avatar is?”
“An awakened spark.”
“It’s a euphemism.”
“In essence!” He gapes at her. “Where are you getting all of these ideas?”
Georgia points up at the apparatus. He stares, then slowly starts sliding his hand into his robes.
She holds up her hands again. “Look, nothing is happening at the moment. I was merely asking how committed you were to the goal. And I can see that is not a step you’re ready to take at this time–”
(Jason: “You can see that it’s not a step he’s willing to take, the very notion seems to be horrifying him so much. He looks like he’s trying to convince himself this is all some kind of mistake.”)
“–This is obviously all some kind of mistake,” she says, spreading her hands placatingly.
Jawahar stares a long moment, frantic heartbeat practically echoing through the room, then nods shakily. “I’m…very glad to hear it.” Slowly, his breath comes back down, but he maintains his distance. “The machine spoke to you and told you you need an avatar?”
“Yes.” She hesitates. “Well to be fair, it wasn’t really the machine. It was that mage we saw when we turned it on.”
Realization suddenly dawns across his face. “Daedelus,” he says grimly. “Is that how he did it?”
“I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure it was Daedelus.” She shrugs. “Anyway, if you’re going to hold onto your awakened spark, that means I’ll have to get one somewhere else.”
“That’s a good question. We’ll have to find someone we don’t like.”
“With an awakened spark? Who–” Jawahar suddenly stops. Surprise floods his face, followed by grim determination. “…There might be a way,” he mutters.
Georgia eyes him carefully. “To…take Warmaster Mwonge’s immortal soul?”
His glare turns icy. “No. That is not an option.”
“Ah, yes. I figured he would be difficult; he’s stronger than we are.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Oh. Then what were you thinking?”
Jawahar folds his arms. “You asked me how committed I was. How committed are you?”
“Pretty committed. Why?”
“I might know a way to find an avatar that isn’t presently being used by me, or the Warmaster, or anyone else you have made the acquaintance of directly.”
“Really? Are they in storage somewhere?”
“No.” He glances around. “It’s…something I’d rather not talk too much about until I have a better idea on if it will work.”
“Can you give me a general idea?”
Jawahar paces a moment. “When I first called for Warmaster Mwonge’s assistance, he told me I was to immediately return to the Chantry in Delhi. He specified because there were far worse things around in the city than you, or even your masters.” He takes a breath. “Have you ever heard of a Nephandi?”
He heads toward the teleportation circle, gesturing for her to follow. “Good. You will not like the tale.”
Under Rabenholz’s direction, the guards secure the room, checking the Settite body parts for survivors. The other vampires, though, are focused on Scout, still burning incandescently on the far side of the room, staring at the place the large warrior was last standing. Finally she seems to come back to her senses and the fire goes out.
“What happened?” Rabenholz asks sharply.
Bell tears a scrap of robe from one of the bodies and uses it to wipe gore from his sword, staring at Scout the whole time. “That’s a really good question,” he mutters. A guard shouts that one of the Settites is still alive. Still glaring at Scout, Bell walks over calmly and stakes it.
“Anyone know who their leader was?” Anstis asks. “The one with the obsidian blade?”
“Never seen him,” Bell replies. “Looks like you pissed him off.” He stares down at Nitocris’s mutilated form, already starting to crumble into ash. “His girlfriend?”
Anstis shrugs. “Perhaps.”
Bell turns his glare to him. “Nice move. Now we don’t have anyone to talk to. Except this asshole.” He kicks the staked body at his feet. “And how much you wanna bet this asshole knows about the same amount as all the other assholes I’ve been picking up?”
“You’re not familiar with the one with the scimitar?” Rabenholz asks.
“No,” Bell says, “Are you?”
“Is anybody?” Bell scans the room, then turns back to Scout, currently cleaning her knife and avoiding his gaze. He glares and steps forward. “You got something you want to add?”
She shakes her head. As Bell approaches, she wraps the rag around the blade, obscuring a complex symbol etched into the metal.
Bell eyes her. “Nice blade. Pick that up from Home Depot?”
“It was a gift,” she says softly.
“Whom,” Rabenholz mutters.
Bell shoots an icy glare, then turns back to her. “From whom?”
Her eyes flick briefly toward the place the large warrior was last standing. “An old friend.”
Anstis swaggers closer. “Does this old friend have a name?”
She glares at the pirate and tucks the knife away. “I don’t see how that’s relevant at the moment.”
Bell slams Scout back against the wall, his own blade instantly at her throat. “I have had just about enough of little miss fucking Caitiff over here,” he spits through clenched teeth. “When a Justicar asks you for a name, you answer with a name. And what about that little fire trick of yours?”
She tenses under his grip but meets his gaze evenly. “It’s just something I picked up.”
He shoves her again. “You are about this far from me stapling you to the roof. I’ve had enough of this mystery crap. I want to know what just happened here and what your part was in all of it, and if I don’t know those things in the next ten seconds, I’m going to cut you into pieces this size!”
“I had nothing to do with those assholes!” she shouts, anger leaking through her cool facade.
“Tell me about the fire,” Bell growls, pressing the blade closer.
She glares. “It got them away, didn’t it?”
He leans in. “…Do it again. Right now.”
Scout glances over. Anstis lurks nearby, grinning at her from just over Bell’s shoulder. Rabenholz has secured an unbroken chair to sit in and is calmly watching, hands folded. She licks her lips and looks back to Bell.
(Jim: “…Wait a minute, are Colleen and Jason secretly texting each other?”
Me: “I don’t know.” *puts phone down*)
Scout bursts back into flames. Bell leaps back, beating at his clothes. Rabenholz and Anstis jerk in surprise, then peer closer.
(Chris: “Aura perception!” *counts out dice*
Jim: “Int/Occult!” *rolls* “Three successes.”
Jason: “Jim first. Really, really powerful Thaumaturgy could cause this, also some kind of weird-ass necromancy abilities you’ve heard of….”
Chris: “Alright, my aura perception failed, again, so Int/Occult, with a specialty in Rituals…four successes.”
Jason: *nods* “Thaumaturgy of enough strength could do this, but the willpower and the skill necessary…no, there’s no way. What else can do this…Koldunic sorcery of certain types, I suppose mental-effect type stuff could do this, or illusions….”)
Rabenholz picks up a magazine from under one of the overturned tables in the hall and carefully forces himself to approach the still-burning Scout–
(Me: “Flame off!!!”)
–But the flames go out before he reaches her.
Anstis looks her over slowly. Neither she nor the carpet underneath is charred. “Is that real, or illusion?” He turns to Bell. Bell stands silently a few feet away, still rubbing at his exposed skin, eyeing her balefully.
Rabenholz stands, settling his cape around him. “Come, Captain. A magician never reveals her tricks.”
(Me: “Illusions, Lord Rabenholz!”)
A tense moment lingers, with the vampires staring at each other in a four-way standoff and the remaining guards trying to keep out of their way. Suddenly, the shadows in one corner of the room flicker and pulse, then Marcus steps out of them. All attention turns to him as he eyes the carnage. “What happened here?” he asks.
“A party with the Settites,” Anstis answers. “Nitocris is gone, permanently.” He steps back with a grand sweep to reveal her body crumbling on the floor.
Marcus walks toward her. “How did that happen?”
Anstis beams. “I killed her.”
“You beheaded the body that appeared to be Nitocris,” Rabenholz admonishes. “Don’t jump to conclusions. Clear your mind must be if you are to reveal the true villains behind this plot.”
(Jason: “Did you just quote the prequels at me? Is that what you did, you son of a bitch? fuck you!”)
Anstis stares at her body, slowly crumbling back to reveal the rock where her heart should have been, then nods. “You’re right, give me a moment.” He pulls out his own rock to conduct his own ritual–
(Jim: “–And I failed a roll on seven dice with a difficulty four.”
Jason: “And yet no one was surprised.”)
Anstis frowns in frustration.
Marcus paces the room, eyeing the other bodies, ignoring the guards moving hastily out of his way. “Who killed these men?” he asks. “I assume of course Mr. Bell had a hand in it but not all of these have been killed with a sword.” He looks up at Scout. She nods once, grimly.
“I had a hand in it as well,” Anstis adds, revealing his regrown claws.
Marcus eyes him. “Really? How many did you kill?”
“You can count the claw marks if you’d like.”
Marcus scans the bodies again. “So…none. Interesting.”
Anstis’s grin falls. “I was occupied with their leader, a large man with an obsidian sword.”
Marcus shrugs. “Sounds like a Settite. Well I’ve had an interesting evening as well. There’s a great many people around who seem to have an adverse reaction to you and yours, Captain.”
“Whom do you mean?”
Marcus spreads his hands. “All these Settites, who seem to have pursued you across the city, as well as the ones you decided to leave to me to clean up at the cave.” He glares. “They have been dealt with, but unfortunately they were not very forthcoming with the information I needed. I was rather hoping Nitocris would be, but apparently that’s not going to be an issue now, is it?”
Anstis shifts awkwardly, searching for a response, when suddenly the elevator dings and the doors open. Paul steps out then stops, staring at the gathered crowd and carnage. “I came at an odd time….”
“Ah, Paul.” Marcus walks toward him. “We’re just finishing up with some minor interlopers. What can we do for you?”
Paul eyes a chunk of arm at his feet and carefully steps over it. “Well I learned that the people who attacked my house this morning were a Nephandus and a Black Spiral Dancer, and they are going to sacrifice my sometimes-house pet and summon some sort of evil thing in some sort of labyrinth thing in Marin, and Sophia wants Tom to be woken up so he can help, which at this point makes sense to me, I don’t know how you feel about that Rabenhol–I’m sorry, I mean Lord Rabenholz–”
Marcus holds up a hand. “Hold on a minute…labyrinth? A spiral labyrinth?
“Yeah that’s the one.”
Marcus lowers his hand slowly. “Paul. You’re telling me your werewolf friend told you there’s a passageway into the Black Spiral Labyrinth in Marin?”
(Me: “I’m honestly surprised the labyrinth isn’t under Paul’s house, considering all the shit that keeps happening there.”)
“Yes,” Paul says.
“And she’s going there?”
“Yes, with her pack to track down a wolf cub.”
Marcus blinks. “Then she is dead.”
Paul sighs. “That’s what she said too. I told her to hang on.”
“So…you could join her in death?”
Paul nods grimly. “That’s what I’m afraid of. She didn’t sound optimistic.”
“Good, then she’s not as stupid as I thought she might be.” Marcus shakes his head. “I appreciate this is a concern to you Paul, but I don’t see how it matters to me. The werewolves hate me. But I assure you, if you decide to join her on this quest, you will die.”
(Kara: “If you go to Za’ha’dum….”
Chris: “What’s funny is at some point Paul stopped being patterned after Steve Jobs and started being patterned after Captain Sheridan.”)
Paul shrugs. “Well I just thought everyone should know. Especially Lord Rabenholz, since Tom’s presence was requested….”
Marcus sighs. “Now I understand. The werewolves want a vampire as insane as they are.”
Rabenholz, meanwhile, eyes Paul coolly. “Mr. Lytton is spoken for. It is not up to me what is done with him.” His gaze flicks to Anstis, then back. “Nor do I think he would be ready for such a quest anytime in the near future.”
“Nor have I made a habit of throwing my own clients into the damned labyrinth,” Marcus grumbles. “If the werewolves wish to kill themselves, they are welcome to do so on their own time.” He gestures dismissively. “Nevertheless. If this matter is concluded, I would like to know where you think we find ourselves, since we know know precisely as much as we did when we started this whole escapade.”
“Well, we are down a great deal of Settites,” Anstis adds helpfully.
“Which I will grant you always brightens the night, but does not help me to find what I need.”
“What do you need?” Anstis asks.
Marcus glares at him. For a moment, the shadows flicker. “I need a leader of theirs, alive, so I can question them! I have cornered many, many Settites over the last few nights, but none have been able to tell me anything about their plans, where they are denning, or even how many of them are in the Bay Area. Someone, or something, has been ensuring that they cannot.”
Suddenly Scout steps forward, arms folded formally behind her back. “Priscus, may we speak in private a moment?”
Marcus eyes her, then sighs and gestures toward the office. “Very well.”
(Chris: “Because that’s what Bell will want. More secrets.”)
Indeed, Bell glares at her as she follows Marcus into the office and begins to close the door. The Justicar hesitates a moment, then storms over, forcing his way in after them. The door closes all the way, and an unnatural silence falls.
A minute or two later, the door wrenches open again. Bell storms back out, slamming it behind him, and disappears down the hall without another word.
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “Well. That was something.”
“Aye,” Anstis agrees, currently crouched on the floor collecting ash from Nitocris into a vial.
Paul stares thoughtfully at the door. “Who is that woman?”
“She introduces herself as Scout,” Rabenholz replies. “She is supposedly a Caitiff, of unknown allegiance, and apparently unknown skill.”
“A Caitiff?” Paul repeats.
“Supposedly. During the fight, before you arrived, she lit herself on fire.”
“Ah. I’ll try not to invite her to my house, then.” Paul turns to Anstis. “Captain, what are you doing?”
Anstis stands, wedging a tiny sliver of cork into the neck of the vial. He grins. “Waste not.”
Rabenholz eyes him. “What possible use could you have for a jar of crumbling ash?”
Suddenly the office door flies open again and Marcus storms out. “Captain! I need a necromancer,” he announces.
Anstis grins at Rabenholz again, waggling the vial in his fingers, then bows to Marcus. “Aye, you have one.”
“I need you to question the shade of Nitocris, immediately,” Marcus barks. Scout steps hesitantly out of the office behind him.
Anstis frowns, stroking at his tentacles. “It will take a bit of preparation.”
Marcus sighs. “If it works, and you get me the information I need, I will give you…a favor.”
Instantly, Anstis’s grin blooms like the sun. He pockets the ash-vial and hurries down the hall to the teleportation circle-room to get to work.
The guards begin cleaning up the carnage and drag the staked Settite off to the Camarilla cells. Rabenholz makes some business calls to Rhona, and Paul suddenly receives a call from Leeland, sounding even more harried than usual and asking to speak with him. Paul excuses himself from the Pyramid to go meet him. After a few more minutes, Anstis swaggers back out and announces that his necromancy ritual is ready.
(Jim: “Is there like an ashtray around?”
Jason: “Yeah, you can find an ashtray. Why?”
Jim: “I’m considering binding Nitocris’s soul to an object.”
Me: “Really, to an ashtray? There’s gotta be something more ironic than that.”
Chris: “Rain. A spoon. A knife. A black fly, independent of a glass of chardonnay.”
Me: “Wait, do we have any canopic jars?”
Jason: “Not in the fucking Pyramid.”
Me: “It’s a pyramid.”
Jason: “…That’s a good point….”)
Anstis grabs an ashtray from the floor and leads Rabenholz, Scout, and Marcus to the circle. They gather in the darkness, lit only by the soft light of the runes, as Anstis clasps the ash vial in one hand and begins the incantation to summon her.
Something, however, is blocking him. Or rather, blocking her soul from coming to him. He extends his mind into the netherworld, prodding the connection. He drums fingers on the ashtray, then opens his eye and puts it down. “Her soul is encased in something.”
“So is it gone?” Marcus asks.
Anstis pockets the ash vial. “Nay, but if we wish to question her, we will have to go to her.”
Marcus stares. “…To Tartarus?”
“Aye. Have you been?”
Marcus’s stare suddenly turns distant. “I’ve been to many places, Captain.”
“I advise us to fill up on blood before we leave.”
The distant stare becomes a smirk. “Oh, I had my fill earlier.”
Anstis nods then scans the room. “Then we shall need an anchor to bring us back here. A personal item belonging to someone staying behind.”
“Is that all?” Marcus sticks his head outside and stops a passing ghoul. “Give me your shoe.”
On Anstis’s direction, Marcus, Scout, and Rabenholz all step into the circle as he adjusts the parameters of his ritual. He sprinkles a pinch of the Nitocris ash around them, then, with a final chant, activates the spell to take them to Nitocris’s location.
In the underworld.
(Jason: “Kara, switching back to you.”
Kara: “Actually I’m kind of cozy reading right now so you can stick with the other characters right now.”
Jason: “You sure? I just want to make sure I’m not short changing anyone.”
Kara: “Yeah it’s fine. Oh, Jim, can you close my container of beads?”
Jason: “…For a second I thought you said, ‘container of bees.’”
Chris and Me: “They don’t allow you to have bees in here.”
Jason: “…What did I just miss?”
Me: “Apparently all of Arrested Development.”
Chris: “Especially the parts about bees.”
Chris: “I’m just a gentleman honey farmer.”
Me: “Papa bear loved his honey….”)
Anstis, Rabenholz, and Scout all appear in the midst of a grey, shapeless void. Marcus, however, is missing. Anstis immediately pulls a stone to check Marcus’s location:
The Outer Dark.
Anstis considers this a moment, then shrugs and puts the rock away. He looks around at the swirling grey mist. “This be a different place than last time.”
Rabenholz eyes him. “Captain, you collect odd hobbies.”
Anstis pulls another rock, this one inscribed with Nitcocris’s name, and casts for her:
She’s all around you.
“It says Nitocris is all around us,” Anstis reports, “So…that way?” He points a random direction and shrugs.
“Are you sure it doesn’t mean she’s the smoke?” Rabenholz asks carefully.
Anstis blinks, then grins to himself. Using thaumaturgy, he calls up a handful of flame and steps forward, swiping it back and forth in front of him like a brand. A wailing shriek rises around them, like a thousand voices screaming at once for him to leave!
“Ms Scout, I don’t suppose you could improve on his trick?” Rabenholz asks.
She eyes him. “How so?”
“Summon more fire.”
She stares a moment, then turns away. “I’ll let the necromancer take the lead.”
Anstis, still grinning, continues to swipe his handful of fire. “Do you want me to stop? Tell us, who was that man you brought?”
“Unbeliever!” The shriek comes from every direction at once. “Unbelievers all!”
Anstis turns to Scout and shrugs. She rolls her eyes. A ring of fire suddenly erupts around them, burning back the mist. The shrieks intensify.
Rabenholz eyes her. “Impressive.” She ignores him, staring off into the gloom.
Finally the mists condense in front of them, coalescing into the form of Nitocris, just outside the ring of fire. “STOP! STOOOOP!” she wails.
“Then answer our questions,” Anstis says. Nitocris hisses and shrieks, pulling back as if to run away into oblivion. Before she can, though, the fire circle extends around her like an amoeba in endocytosis.
(Jason: “…English, please?”)
The fire circle opens up, extends, then closes around her, forcing her closer to the cluster of vampires before her. She cowers on the ground as Anstis strides forward.
He grabs her by the neck, hoisting her up and blasting with necromantic compulsion. “Tell me!” he growls.
Nitocris claws uselessly at his hand. “About what?!”
“Everything you know about the man with the obsidian blade!”
Slowly, Nitocris falls still, though her green eyes remain wild. “Anektahken. Lord of Sedge and Bee–”
“–Master of the Two Niles.” She sneers. “Your executioner, Gangrel!”
Anstis pulls her closer. “Everything you know. Tell me exactly what you were up to in the city.”
She closes her eyes. “I obey the orders of my lawful lord, in the worship and praise of Lord Set,” she murmurs. “I do as I am commanded, I am a loyal subject of Set.”
“Anektahken,” Scout repeats carefully. “What is he to you?”
Nitocris’s eyes snap open and flash with anger. “My Lord! My Sovereign! He commands us in the service of Set and his glory!”
Anstis pulls her head around to face him. “Where is Helgi Isarnbjorn Ogenherdi?”
“I will not tell you!” Nitocris hisses back.
Rabenholz finally steps forward, drawing his cane sword with a soft whisper, and carefully runs his thumb along the blade while muttering a ritual.
(Chris: “Flame on.”)
The sword erupts into flame. She scrambles back but the flames surrounding them stop her. He swings the sword down to hover an inch from her throat. “Please, tell us,” he says coolly.
Nitocris shrieks. “He’s beneath the temple of our lord! He reposes there, at the command of Anektahken himself!”
Anstis grabs her again. “WHERE IS THE TEMPLE?!”
(Jason: “SWEAR TO ME!!”)
“In the catacombs!” she sobs. “Beneath the ruined coliseum! On the point by the water.”
(Jason: “Do you know what she means?”
Me: “Well I, myself, know what she means, but I don’t think Scout has been in town long enough.”
Jim: “Would I have?”
Chris: “Rabenholz, I think, would have been studying maps of the Bay Area.”
Me: “And, I mean, it’s been on the news.”
Jason: “So tell me, what is she talking about?”)
“You’re referring to Candlestick Park, are you not?” Rabenholz asks.
Nitocris hesitates, but Anstis jolts her with necromantic pain and she shrieks. “Yes! Yes…abandoned, destroyed. We took it for our own purposes.”
(Jason: “I told you there was something at Candlestick. I told you that years ago.”
Me: “Yes you did, and I totally forgot about it because there’s been so much other shit going on.”)
Anstis releases her. She sags down. “My master bade Helgi Isarnbjorn be taken there.”
“How do we contact your lord Anektahken?” Rabenholz asks.
She stares up at him, green eyes flashing again. “He will contact you, with his blade. He will drown you in your own blood! You are all dead!”
“Yes, but you are more dead than the rest of us.” Anstis smirks.
(Jason: “Jim, Perception/Empathy.”
Jim: “Um…two successes.”
Jason: “You get the sense that she’s holding something back. You don’t quite know what, but…you know, it is kind of weird that the Settites would want Helgi alive….”)
Anstis’s face slowly turns thoughtful. “Why does Helgi need to be alive?”
Nitocris’s face twists in pain, though nothing is touching her. “I don’t know! I begged him to let us kill him, I begged my lord to let us drink the blood of the betrayer. But I was refused.” Her head hangs. “My lord consorts with others, I do not know why.”
Anstis crouches before her. “Why were you in my caves?” he asks.
She tries to turn away, but he grabs her chin and turns her head back. Her eyes flash again. “Because I suspected you, necromancer.”
“Did you frame him for the death of the mage in the tower?” Rabenholz asks.
“Do you know who did?”
“I suspect.” A mischievous smile plays across her face. “I know that you have enemies, pirate. Great enemies.”
Anstis grins back. “Aye. But which one?”
“The one who lies to the east.”
Anstis’s face falls.
Her smile widens. “The one who waits for you.”
Anstis leans closer. “He’s here? Or just extending a wide net?”
“I have not seen him.” Her emerald eyes glitter. “But his agents are here, closer than you think.”
Rabenholz removes his sword from her throat. “You wish to continue serving Set, yes?”
Nitocris peers up at him. “I serve him forever!”
“But surely you are more useful to him in the living world.” He gestures to the pirate. “Captain Anstis could bring you back.”
Her gaze flicks between them. She sneers. “You lie.”
“I do not,” Rabenholz replies.
“You are a Camarillan Ventrue, you lie with every breath you fail to take.”
“No, I am telling you the truth right now, and I will caution you, pirates are a very temperamental bunch.”
She levers herself higher. “Why should I believe you when you may well be the death of us all? How many warriors did you spill the blood of?”
“Not enough,” Anstis says, grinning.
She turns to him. “It shall be one of us that ends you. And I pray to my lord that I see it with my own eyes.”
“Well, lets see if we can do something about that.” Anstis’s hand snaps forward and tears out her eyes in one movement. He stands calmly as she falls back, screaming.
“I told you he was temperamental,” Rabenholz says smoothly.
“I suspected you, both!” Nitocris shrieks.
“Of what?” Anstis asks,
“Of corrupting my lord!”
Scout, having lingered quietly behind Rabenholz, suddenly steps forward. “When was the last time you saw your lord before this night?”
Nitocris falls silent a moment, chest heaving. “…Months. He would not allow me to enter his sanctum. He passed me his commands and I followed them, but they made no sense. He commanded us to bring low the Gangrel, and we did, but instead of drawing his heart’s blood in sacrifice, or consuming him as he deserved, my lord commanded he be left alive.” She curls in on herself. “My lord consorted with demons, or other creatures. And then he bade us attack. First the Brujah, then the rest of the Anarchs…. It made no sense, we had few warriors left and he squandered them!”
“What if he no longer serves Set?” Anstis asks.
She stares at him with bloodied, sightless eyes. “It is not my place to question the lord!” she shrieks, panic underneath her voice.
“It is if he’s a heretic,” Anstis replies.
Nitocris hangs her head. “I have no choice. He is my liege.”
Anstis strokes his tentacles a moment. “Were you responsible for the missile strike on the werewolves?”
She shakes her head. “No. I was there, the night the werewolves died. My lord bade me watch and let him know what transpired. When I told him, he bade me leave so that I would not be slain by the strike.”
“Did he send the missile?”
“No. It was one my lord spoke with. I know not who. Once he knew who was there, he acted.”
She tenses. “I don’t know. I did not ask, it was not my place.”
“Who is Anektahken’s master?” Anstis presses.
“I do not know. Set himself, perhaps. He is old and mighty.”
“How old is Anektahken?”
“I do not know.”
“How old were you?”
“Old enough.” She lifts her head haughtily. “I remember the lands of the delta before Baybars came to drive us out.”
“Yet you fell so easily at the hands of a lowly Gangrel.” Anstis examines her eyes, bloodied jewels in his palm, then drops them to the ground and steps on them. He turns away to begin drawing another circle to take them out.
Rabenholz and Scout continue to watch her. “Who else is Anektahken working against?” Rabenholz asks.
She sneers. “The false child. He is a great enemy of Set. Set will set Apophis to feast on his entrails.”
“What about the Prince? The Justicar?”
Nitocris laughs. “Nothings.”
“A man named Everton?”
She stills. “Everton? Here? You lie.”
“Everton is here,” Rabenholz replies, “I saw him earlier this evening.”
A low hiss escapes her. “Everton is a cursed thing. He will rot in darkness for all eternity.”
“Why is that?”
“He has harmed Set, and his glorious resurrection.”
Rabenholz eyes her a long moment. “Does Everton have any weaknesses you know of?”
“I have not faced him myself. But he commands our arts.”
She sneers. “He devoured our kin, and now he usurps the might of Set himself. He must be destroyed!”
“And how would you propose doing that?” Rabenholz asks carefully.
“Separate his head from his body and burn them both.” She spits.
“What about Cantor?” Scout asks suddenly.
Nitocris turns her sightless eyes toward her. “Cantor. He is an Assamite, he will burn with all the rest.”
(Jim: “…Do Assamites and Settites have a feud or something?”
Jason: “Uh, yeaaaaaaaaah….”
Me: “Yeah, it’s kinda a big thing.”
Chris: “Though based on what she said, it sounds like the Settites have a feud with everyone.”
Jason: “Actually yeah, but most precisely with the Assamites.”)
Rabenholz nods. “Thank you, Nitocris, you have been very helpful.”
He and Scout turn to join Anstis in the circle, but Nitocris thrusts herself forward, groping at the air after them. “Tell me truthfully, did you contrive to corrupt my lord?” she gasps.
Rabenholz looks down at her, face lit by the light of the surrounding flames. “No, but based on what you said, I don’t doubt someone else has already succeeded in that task. I’m sorry.”
He steps into the circle, Anstis activates it, and they disappear.
The tension in the air is palpable as Paul drives through Berkeley. Police cars cruise the streets and lurk at major corners, and despite being a college town, late-night pedestrian traffic is almost nonexistent.
Paul makes his way up into the hills, to the provost’s house above campus. The yard out front is torn up, as if multiple battles happened here over the last few weeks, and the facing has signs of recent repairs. Paul steps over some piles of lumber and walks up to knock on the door.
Movement flickers behind the peephole, followed by a cascade of opening locks, then the door creaks open to reveal Leeland’s anxious face. “Mr. Stewart, thank you for coming.” His eyes dart past Paul to scan the yard before opening the door all the way. “Please come in.”
Paul eyes him as he steps inside. “Everything okay, Mr. Leeland?”
Leeland closes and locks the door. “Very little, actually.” He turns, face serious. “I have werewolves running around all over the East Bay. I have Brujah blowing up the National Guard every so often. I have a new prince in the city who seems intent on taking over through god knows what means. I have the Sabbat running rampant in the South Bay and threatening to demolish what’s left of the Anarchs and annex the East Bay as well.” He takes a breath. “And I have an adjunct’s strike I have to avoid within the next five days. But I called you here because right now I have even bigger problems than all of that.”
(Jim: “The protesters are back in the tree again!”)
Paul watches quietly as Leeland wrings his hands and paces the room. “Mr. Stewart, I’m…hoping we can speak more plainly than I think is the custom among Kindred around here. Toreador to Toreador. Have you been following current events?”
“You heard about what went on in Sacramento?”
“I did. I heard some white supremacy domestic terrorist group decided to light some fireworks.”
Leeland stops, eying him carefully. “Do you know a certain Augustus von Rabenholz?”
“Yeah, I’ve been seeing him around the Pyramid.”
“What have you thought of him?”
Paul considers this a long moment. “An asshole.”
Leeland nods. “Reasonable. Well, he talked to me a few nights ago and admitted he was behind these attacks. Claimed they were some kind of Camarilla effort to disguise the truth of what’s been going on around here.”
“Hmm.” Paul settles himself into one of a pair of chairs in front of the fireplace. “Well, that’s unsettling, but not too surprising, considering everything that’s been going on–”
Leeland grips the back of the other chair tightly. “They hit Davis, Mr. Stewart. UC Davis.” Leeland raises a shaking hand and gestures north accusingly. “Lord August von Rabenholz sent a pack of backwoods hicks, filled with guns and rhetoric, to one of my schools and tried to burn it down!”
“I thought this was your school?”
Leeland spreads his arms. “They are all my schools! I founded the entire damn system, Mr. Stewart, with my own sweat and blood, and now Rabenholz has attacked it directly! Worse, he seems to have done so with the connivance of god-knows-what from northern California.”
“What do you mean?”
Leeland scowls and resumes pacing. “I’ve heard rumors. Reading between the lines sort of stuff. Reports of some kind of animal attacks. He brought something with him.” Leeland eyes him. “Considering the ruthlessness with which he makes his above board actions, that is very concerning. On top of that, the werewolves have been stirred up again, and not in a good way.”
“Ah, yes. I may have some information on that front.”
“I was hoping you might.” Leeland stops and takes a slow breath. “There’s someone I think you should meet. Someone I’ve been talking to about all this. He probably isn’t going to be very happy to see you.”
“Well, that would track with everyone else I’ve met recently.”
Leeland lifts a placating hand. “Just…please be polite. He’s a colleague of mine, of sorts.” With that, Leeland turns and heads down the hall to the back of the house. There’s a distant murmur of voices, followed by footsteps down the wood-floored hallway. Heavy footsteps.
Charles Steinhart steps into the room.
Paul stands. “Mr. Steinhart! Twice in one evening!”
Charles eyes him as he paces further into the room like a pale shadow. “I don’t believe in coincidence,” he grumbles.
Paul sighs. “I’m starting not to either.”
Leeland emerges from the hall as well, hovering nervously at the edge of the room. Charles glances at him, then moves to the chair across from Paul. “You have something for me?”
“Yes, you recall the werewolf Mr. Lytton and I were with when we were in your museum?”
Charles settles into the worn leather. “I think her name was Sophia.”
Paul sits as well. “That’s right. Anyway, she called me a little while ago.”
“She keeps bad company,” Charles drawls. “The werewolves around here have been making a habit of that.”
Paul hesitates. “I can’t dispute that.” He taps his fingers on the arm of his chair. “So, I’ve had a houseguest for awhile. A werewolf cub. Ms. Johnson left it with me.”
Charles’s red eyes narrow. “Where did she get it?”
“I don’t know, but they seem to have a rapport.”
Charles snorts. “No wonder the werewolves are going extinct.”
“Anyway, this cub in particular seems to figure quite strongly in their end-of-world mythology–”
Charles rolls his eyes. “What werewolf mythology doesn’t involve the end of the world.”
“–And the cub was kidnapped this morning during the attack on my house–”
“I weep for you,” Charles sneers.
“By a Nephandus and a Black Spiral Dancer.”
Charles’s eyes narrow again. He leans forward. “Yes, you mentioned these things before, and I have spent the better part of the evening doing some…research.”
“Oh? What did you learn?”
“I learned that if you had actually encountered either of those things, you would quite simply be dead. You are lying to me for some purpose I do not fathom at the moment and it is not amusing.” Charles shoots a glare at Leeland. “Why in the world am I sitting here putting up with two vampires lying to me?”
“Because you know we’re not lying to you.”
“You are either lying or in league with those things.”
“I am neither.”
“And how am I to believe that?”
“I don’t know, what evidence would you like?”
“Something better than the word of a vampire.”
Paul hesitates. “Would you like the word of a werewolf who keeps bad company?”
Charles glares. “If I had one on hand I’d consider it, but the werewolves have made themselves scarce.”
Paul gropes to pull his phone out. “Well, I’ll see if she’ll take my calls.”
Charles gestures dismissively and leans back. “By all means, phone a friend.”
Silence falls as Paul pulls up her number and waits for the call to connect. Leeland suddenly appears next to them, carrying a tray of tea. Charles shoots him a Look. The cups rattle as Leeland sets the tray carefully on the table between them.
Finally, Sophia answers, “…Paul?”
“Yes, hello. I’m trying to secure allies in your doomed quest to rescue our mutual friend. I’m here with the Mokole from the museum?”
“…You went to the dragon!?”
“Well he kind of came to me. Anyway, he thinks I’m lying to him about the events this morning, about the Nephandus and the Black Spiral Dancer. He apparently will take your word over mine.”
Paul leans forward to hand the phone to Charles. Charles takes it…and hangs up. He places it on the table next to the tea and folds his arms. “Let’s say for the sake of argument that you did meet a Nephandus and a Spiral Dancer, and they decided for some reason to burn your house down without killing you. Why?”
“I’m going to assume we escaped before they could, but they kidnapped the cub. That seemed to be their objective.”
“Do you know where they took it?”
“Supposedly Marin, to some evil labyrinth.” Paul shrugs and reaches to pour Charles a cup of tea, then another for himself. “I’m told it’s overstocked with minotaurs and the like.”
Charles eyes narrow to slits. “…That is one way to put it. So what do you intend to do with this information, entrepreneur?” Charles hisses the last word like an insult.
“Not sure yet.”
Charles leans forward again with a slow creak of leather. “I don’t like the werewolves as a rule, I don’t like how unruly they get and the messes they generate for me to clean up. I don’t like how they claim lordship over all of the shifters, but I like them disappearing a whole lot less. And not only are the ones from the park gone, but the rest seem to be disappearing as well. Somewhere. And here you are.”
Paul takes his cup and shrugs. “Well, based on my intel, they’re in Marin planning an assault on this labyrinth thing.”
Charles sits up. “The werewolves intend to enter the labyrinth? They can’t all be that insane.”
“I think they feel they’re going to lose anyway so there’s no reason not to take on a suicide mission.”
Charles rolls his eyes. “Well that does sound like werewolves. So what do you want me to do about it?”
Paul stares into the swirling steam rising from his tea. “Is their quest as hopeless as they make out?”
“If they go in there alone, absolutely.”
“But someone could change that for them?”
“No one comes out of the labyrinth. Certainly no vampire. And before you look at me, I’m not about to race off and play save the dog.”
Paul nods slowly, still staring at his tea. “Is there any truth to their belief that this cub can be used to end the world?”
Charles snorts again. “I run a museum, I don’t deal in superstitions…”
(Jim: “Says the dragon.”)
Charles scowls, then falls quiet a long moment. He glances at Leeland, lurking nervously nearby. When he continues, his tone has softened somewhat, “…But. There is a story, about some perfect werewolf that will be born and either save or end the world. The usual routine. They think this is that werewolf?”
Paul nods. “The term Perfect Metis was used several times.”
Charles frowns. “There are two groups of werewolves in the area right now. Your…associates, and the Talons. The Talons are not preparing to go running into any labyrinth, I’m fairly sure, but I don’t know what they are up to. They don’t consult with me. I’m too ‘weaver-y’ for them. Just because I don’t shit in the woods.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Paul says flatly.
Charles glares at him, then continues, “If the Spiral Dancers took that cub, they’ll be wanting it for some ritual. What would a vampire care about that?”
Paul takes a breath, inhaling the steam. “Well, that cub seemed like a nice person. Even if she wasn’t, she doesn’t deserve to be sacrificed, assuming that’s going to happen. So all things being equal I’d like to rescue her. Although I’m not as gung-ho about suicide missions as some people seem to be.”
“Well you’re welcome to go charging off with your werewolf friends, but none of you are coming back. You can’t survive the Spiral, it drives people mad, corrupts them to their core, spitting them out broken.”
“Do you know how it accomplishes that?”
“It’s the refined essence of the Wyrm. It’s its nesting ground. Every inch is permeated with sickness and despair. Nothing comes out of the Spiral except more Dancers. More depravity. You want my advice, Mr. Stewart? Use your fabulous wealth, get a megaton of TNT and seal the damn thing closed.” He sits back. “Forget the cub, it’s not coming back.”
Paul nods slowly, considering this a long moment. “I think I might give Dr. Everton a call. Everyone says he’s been to so many hells. This labyrinth sounds up his alley.”
“Another vampire.” Charles rolls his eyes, then stands. “If you think it will help, do whatever you do. In the meantime, I think I’ll pay the Talons a visit. I don’t like whatever they’re up to, hanging on the fringes of the Bay Area, howling at the moon.”
“I appreciate it if you let me know what you find out–”
“I don’t know if I have a reason to trust you enough for that,” Charles says sharply. “I don’t like dealing with vampires.” His gaze flicks briefly to Leeland, then back. “It isn’t natural, or right. You’re all Wyrm-tainted monsters, hunting other Wyrm-tainted monsters. And ill-advised as the werewolves’ actions may be, they are not of the Wyrm. Not yet. If you want to help your werewolves, convince them to stay out of the Spiral.” He shakes his head. “They’re stubborn bastards. They wouldn’t be werewolves if they weren’t, but that doesn’t mean I want them all dead.”
“They might take the words from you more strongly than a Wyrm-reeking bloodsucker like me,” Paul says evenly. “They have some measure of reverence for you.”
Charles stops. “Really.” He blinks in surprise a moment, then glares again. “Fine. Find out where they are and I’ll make sure they get the message too.”
Paul grabs the phone and calls Sophia back. “Hey, sorry about that, but where are you right now?”
“Uh, somewhere in Sonoma County, heading west.”
Paul glances up. “So, Charles has some advice for you–”
“The dragon does?!”
“–So can he rendezvous with you guys to share it?”
Sophia is silent a long moment. “…I don’t know Paul, can he?”
“Where are they?” Charles growls.
Paul tilts the phone away. “Sonoma County, heading west?”
“That’ll do.” Charles takes a step toward the door, then stops. With another glance at Leeland, he picks up his cup of tea and drinks it in one gulp. He places the cup down gently and leaves without another word.
Paul watches him leave, then tilts the phone back. “Yeah, uh…he’s on his way.”
Upon returning from the underworld, Scout, Rabenholz, and Anstis all split up to take care of various personal business. Anstis, laden with his new bounty of information, heads off to trade it for even greater riches.
He heads down to the Nosferatu warrens and is immediately intercepted and taken to Abelard. Anstis bows grandly as he enters the sewer supply room functioning as his office. “Greetings, Abelard. Or shall I call you Primogen?”
Abelard looks up from the desk, an ornate mahogany piece that clashes with the stained-concrete walls of the room. He nods. “Captain. And technically no, not without a formal ratification from a Prince.”
“The city still has a Prince.”
A smirk crosses Abelard’s twisted face. “Technically.” His rat appears from under the desk, nose twitching. Abelard lifts him up and strokes him with long, clawed fingers. “What can I do for you, Captain?”
Antis looks around for a chair to sprawl across irreverently, but finding none, makes do with slouching against the wall. “Have you heard about the Settites in the city?”
“I’ve heard there’s a lot fewer of them.”
“Nitocris is dead.”
Abelard nods, impressed. “Well. Then maybe without the head, the rest of the snakes will slither away.”
“Perhaps not. Have you heard of Anektahken?”
Abelard sits back slowly. “Oooh my. What’s he doing here?”
“He’s based out of the catacombs by Candlestick Park.”
Abelard strokes the rat. “Now that’s a juicy tidbit. Nothing we’re going near, of course. But I do know a particular Priscus has a hard-on hate for them snakes.” He winks, then shakes his head. “Settites are sneaky bastards, don’t know why they’ve been operating so openly. Kind of odd, if you ask me.”
“Nitocris didn’t understand the full extend of their plans either. But they’re holding Helgi Isarnbjorn under there as well. Alive.”
Abelard snorts. “Well I suggest you tell your Roman that.”
“As soon as he gets back from the Abyss.”
Abelard chuckles patronizingly. “Lasombra…. Well, I’m indebted to you, Captain.”
Anstis bows, then takes a step forward. “I was wondering if you’ve found information on Flowers?
Abelard nods slowly and places the rat on the desk. “I’ve found some things. You ain’t gonna like it.”
“I hear he’s got some agents in the city.”
Abelard pulls a lump of moldy cheese from a drawer in the desk and gives it to the rat. “He’s got at least one, all right. Problem is, Flowers is Ravnos. Ravnos deal in illusions. Illusion-master like that could be anybody. Hard thing to track. And I’m afraid I’m not willing to take on enmity with Jonathan Flowers for you, Captain.” He glances up at Anstis and winks again. “Not unless you buy me dinner first, if you know what I mean.”
Anstis frowns. “I could hunt him myself if I had some guidance.”
“Well, run into someone slinging illusions around might be a good sign you have your man.”
“Any ways of seeing through such illusions?”
Abelard shrugs. “Guesswork, logic, puzzling it out. Luck. Messy stuff, the Ravnos.”
Anstis’s tentacles twist in irritation. “Don’t like relying on luck.”
“Then find a new job.” Abelard eyes him assessingly. “Not many Ravnos left after the business in India. Flowers is one of the biggest. He wants you bad. Ain’t been too quiet about how.”
Anstis clenches a fist. “Do you know why?”
“Something to do with bad business back in the day. But I think he’s afraid. What went down with the Ravnos, I’m not sure I blame him.”
Abelard leaves the rat to its meal and leans back. “No one’s sure. Most of them went awol all at once, in the middle of monsoon season. Rumors about antediluvians rising, devouring their childer. Nothing good. Ninety percent of the clan went dark, almost overnight. The rest have been seen popping up here and there. Flowers wasn’t much seen until now.”
Anstis growls. “He’s been hiding on the seas.”
Abelard nods slowly. “Word is he’s running some sort of Flying Dutchman shit. Ghost ships and the like.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.” Abelard smirks a broken grin. “Don’t trust what you see, don’t trust what you don’t see.”
“Does he have any enemies I should be aware of?”
For a moment Abelard pauses thoughtfully, pursing his lips around his jagged teeth, then leans down and pulls an unblemished iPad from the desk drawer. He taps at it a few moments and reads the screen. “Seems he had a pretty bad spat with the Tremere regent of Hong Kong, back in the day. Guy by the name of Thrace. But nobody’s seen trace of him in decades either.” Abelard scrolls a few silent moments. “I got another name here, though. One of Flower’s own men. A guy goes by the name of Tuke.”
Anstis goes still.
“Supposedly someone else from back in Flower’s day,” Abelard adds, setting the tablet down carefully.
Anstis scowls. “Aye. My old boatswain. But he won’t be heard from for awhile, he’s taking a…a time out.” He smirks. “Somewhere in the hells.”
“Really. How’d you manage that?”
“I sent him there.”
Abelard’s eyes narrow suspiciously. “You sent a vampire to hell? How’d you pull that off?”
“Well, he’s dead.”
“We’re all dead, Captain.”
“Him more so than others. He’s a ghost”
Abelard regards him a moment. “You sure about that?” He picks up the tablet, taps a moment, then hands it over. “He’s looking mighty solid for a ghost, Captain.”
Anstis takes the device, then freezes. A picture is on the screen, showing a man dressed in finery to rival his own, surrounded by a cluster of other, dingier men. They’re moving away from the camera, faces obscured, except for one man turned to glance over his shoulder. The photo captures his face clearly: deeply weathered, with a patch over one eye.
“When was this taken?” Anstis asks.
Abelard watches him carefully. “Sometime within the last few months, but reports are there’s been sightings of him as recently as a few weeks ago.”
(Jason: “Perception + Intelligence.”
Jim: *rolls* “…Five successes.”
Jason: “The photo you’re looking at is of Tuke. And all of a sudden…you’re not so sure about the other guy. I mean they look similar. Short build, eyepatch, but…hang on a minute. Raw Intelligence check.”
Jim: *rolls* “…Two successes?”
Jason: “You know, come to think of it…how did you know that wraith you met was Tuke?”
Jim: “Well, I had seen Tuke before…but…it was a botch–”
Jason: “Wasn’t it. And how did I describe the wraith to you? Did I tell you he was Tuke? Or did I tell you he was a guy with one eye who kinda looked like an old crewman of yours, and then you assumed?”)
Memories of Tuke flood back now that his photo is staring him in the face. Anstis’s mind races, recalling his exchanges with the one-eyed wraith, realizing only now that his voice and demeanor were nothing like that of his old crewman….
(Jason: “Captain…who did you just send to Hell?”)
END OF NIGHT