Jason: “Where you headed?”
Me: “Urg, I don’t want to go to fucking Chinatown.”
Jason: “We can never go back to Chinatown!”
Me: “It’s funny, Scout doesn’t actually know why she shouldn’t go to Chinatown, but the whole gestalt of Chinatown just feels like…don’t. Cause when you’re in a parallel fantasy universe and someone creepy tells you to go to Chinatown, you do not. go. to Chinatown.”
Dark forms fill the cavern under the ruined coliseum: the undulating coils of the snake, the wet and razor-tipped mass of Anstis in octopus-form, and Marcus, sheathed the armor so dark it could have been hammered from the Abyss itself.
(Jason: “So with your immense capacity of making good decisions, Jim has selected the form which causes him to have the most enemies in this room.”
Jim: “…How much strength would it take for me to leap into the air while still in octopus form and throw myself at the giant snake?”
Me: “Well you can’t, like, jet through the air.”
Chris: “How much does the octopus weigh?”
Jason: “Colleen, we need a biologist!”
Me: *quickly pulls up Wikipedia* “…The Giant Pacific Octopus is thirty-three pounds as an adult, with an arm-span of up to fourteen feet.”
Jason: “Jim, how big are you?”
Jim: “I think we calculated twenty-six feet.”
Chris: “But wild octopuses are more ‘sea-spider-y,’ and I think Jim said he’s more robust.”
Jason: “Okay, so you’re roughly double that of the octopus, modified for your aesthetic being different, which means your weight should be–”
Me: “Oh, wait! Hold up! ‘Highly questionable records of up to 600 pounds in weight with a thirty-foot armspan have been reported. Guinness Book of World Records lists the biggest at 300 pounds with an armspan of thirty-two feet.’”
Jason: “…We’re going to assume you’re some kind of violent, horrible octopus that weighs 450 pounds.”
Roommate-Ben: “A Lovecraftian horror.”
Me: *still reading* “Oh! ‘Octopuses also have chemotaxis, or the ability to taste by touch.’ Jim, where are you at the moment? Are you sitting in a pool of disgusting?”
Jason: “He’s in a Settite lair under Candlestick Park, so…yeah, probably.”)
“Call Set himself if you wish, it will make no difference, Erebus claims his own,” Marcus shouts, then flicks his sword and rushes toward Anstis.
At the same moment, the massive snake, seizing the moment of distraction, darts forward, jaws snapping on air milliseconds after Marcus clears it. Marcus whirls, slashing back. The snake rears up, hood flared, preparing to spit–
–Then shrieks as another shadow-encrusted form dives from the darkness at the top of the cavern to slash at its eyes, beating away on broad wings before the snake can strike back.
With Aquilifer under threat, Marcus changes course, rushing back to strike at the snake, cutting deep rents through the hide like butter. The snake writhes and twists on itself, desperately trying to grab one of it miniscule enemies.
Anstis gloms his way further into the cave, the great saucers of his eyes focused on the battle before him and ignoring Rabenholz watching from the shadows of the tunnel. He extends tentacles out to the walls on either side, latching hold and tensing to swing and throw himself into the fray–
But Aquilifer’s dark shape suddenly darts from above, slashing at his eyes to drive him back.
(Jim: “We’re going to try the lovely skill of Animalism!”
Me: “Yeah, good luck with that.”
Chris: “…Does Rabenholz have a ritual for making popcorn?”
Jim: “I’m going to try to tell her to let Marcus know that Anstis is ready to assist in any way he can.”
Jason: “Roll it.”
Jim: “…Five successes! Six if you count ‘Persuasive’!”
Chris: “I am tempted to collapse the ceiling on top of us all just so that Jim will never have had a successful Animalism roll.”)
A wet screech undulates from Anstis. Aquilifer halts in the air, wings bating hard, then pulls away to swing around the main fight.
By the cant of her head, though, she’s even angrier now that she knows who the octopus is.
More rents open along the body of the snake in rapid succession as Marcus moves faster than sight. Blood and a thick, black ichor spray across the room. Rabenholz watches coolly from the shadows.
(Chris: “How does the battle look like it’s going?”
Jason: “Perception + Melee.”
Chris: “Oo! A new combination! …Five successes.”
Jason: “In your estimation this is going to end very fast. In fact…you’re aware that Marcus Sertorius is a very dangerous vampire. You’re further aware that he’s one of the most skilled swordsmen to be found on this continent. But even with that, this is an oddly pushover kind of engagement. The snake apparently isn’t capable of dealing damage to him. You would have expected someone like Anektakhen to put up a better fight than this. Moreover, Nitocris called him a hierophant, which is a very powerful sorcerer in the cult of Set. So…where’s the sorcery?”)
Rabenholz frowns and scans the cavern. behind the battle, more tunnels lead off into the darkness. Keeping to the shadows, he carefully makes his way around and enters one.
Meanwhile, Anstis finally launches himself at the snake, landing not far behind the head and latching on with razor tipped suckers to slash and tear at the hide. The snake’s head snaps away from Marcus, trying to strike back, but it can’t reach and winds up twisting itself into a furor and crashing into the ground.
(Note that we once again have a very special gif reenactment:)
Marcus leaps free of the coils and runs forward, lifting his sword to drive down through the skull. The snake spasms, then falls limp and crumbles into ash.
Octopus-Anstis uncoils from the disintegrating head and folds back into pirate-form, delicately brushing ash from his clothes.
Marcus turns. Now that he’s not moving, it’s clear that the darkness covering him isn’t entirely his armor. Dark gore splatters his skin, and whole chunks of his body look like they’ve been dipped in blood. He stares at Anstis. “Captain! You’ve learned some tricks. You should be careful, I took you for a Settite abomination.”
“I informed your bird,” Anstis replies calmly.
They both look up. Aquilifer is perched on a ledge overhead, glaring daggers down at Anstis.
(Chris: “I bet Aquilifer didn’t tell Marcus on purpose.”)
Marcus rolls his eyes. “What have you found?”
“Thus far a trail of bodies. Rabenholz is here as well. And the Anarchs might make an appearance.”
“Lovely.” Marcus sheathes his sword. “Have you found Anektaken?” He kicks the ash. “This thing was wearing his robes but was not him.”
Rabenholz suddenly appears at the mouth the tunnel deeper back in the cavern. “Perhaps in here.”
Marcus stares, glancing between Rabenholz and the entry tunnel a dozen yards away. “You’re a slippery one, Lord.”
“Merely not as flashy as some other people,” Rabenholz says.
Marcus stands a moment, blood and gore dripping off his onyx-black armor. He smirks. “Indeed.”
Rabenholz leads them down the tunnel to a room smaller than the main cavern but almost entirely filled by a massive carved stone sarcophagus.
(Jason: “It is incredibly massive, the lid alone looks like it’s almost a ton of dead weight.”
Chris: “That’s pretty heavy. I wish I had an octopus to move it.”)
Marcus walks over, staring up at the carvings. He frowns. “I’m not the most expert thaumaturgist about, do either of you have experience?”
Both Anstis and Rabenholz stare back with forced-blankness.
Marcus glares at them. “I wish to know if this sarcophagus is going to bite my hand when I rip it open.”
Rabenholz and Anstis continue to stand silently. Finally, Anstis surrenders first, rolling his eye and walking up to lay a hand on the stone.
(Jason: “It’s sealed with a warding ritual. Hieroglyphs of banishment and cursing, woe betide any who open this, the usual thing.”)
“It is warded,” Anstis reports.
Marcus surveys the carved stone. “Well then. Under normal circumstances I would call an expert, but these are not normal circumstances and I’m not waiting for the Anarchs to show up.”
“Could you convince one of the Settites in the area to open it for us?” Anstis suggests.
“I could, if there were any left alive. But perhaps there’s still one skulking about.” Marcus turns to Anstis with a thin smile. “Would you do me the favor of finding one?”
Anstis nods and heads off, ducking into one of the other tunnels leading off the main cavern. Movement rustles from somewhere ahead. Anstis pops his claws and makes his way carefully forward.
The tunnel opens into another room, roughly the same size as the sarcophagus room, but this one is filled with piles of treasure, glittering in the torchlight. A man hunches in the middle, back to Anstis, rapidly shoving handfuls of coins and jewels into a large sack. Anstis sheathes his claws, draws a stake, and slowly approaches. In one movement, he rushes up and slams the stake through the man’s back. The man shrieks and spasms, falling to the ground, as bright red blood spreads across his clothes and across the floor.
(Jason: “Congratulations, Jim, you have successfully staked a ghoul.”
Anstis falls and quickly latches on to the body to suck out as much as he can before it all spills onto the floor. Once the body is dry, he stands and scans the room again. No one else is around, nor are there further sounds of movement echoing through the halls.
Anstis shrugs, picks up the sack, and starts scooping more jewels.
After an eternity, Georgia becomes aware of her body once again, sprawled out on the floor of the avatarium. She lies still a long moment, feeling every crevice of the rock under her back, the warm bath of light washing her from the torches, the tight molecular hum of the brass in the machinery circling the room. She closes her eyes, feeling herself drifting away again into the songs of matter.
Slowly, though, she becomes aware of a presence, insistent–but not malevolent–lurking somewhere at the edge of her perception. It’s not coming from the apparatus, it’s coming from somewhere outside the island, seeking her, but unable to reach.
She sits up. The realities of the world now apparently calling her attention, Georgia gets up and takes the circle back to the office.
Bob is pacing the room as she returns. He runs to her as she appears. “Regent? Are you okay Regent?”
Georgia looks around. The gargoyles are unmoved, but Jawahar’s body is gone. “Yes, just fine. I don’t need anything from you at the moment. You may have free time.”
Bob freezes. “….What do I do with free time?”
“Whatever you want to. Eat, or sleep, or relax.”
“Yes Regent.” Bob heads back to his corner and huddles over a primer of proper ghoul etiquette.
The distant presence feels slightly stronger here, outside the avatarium. Georgia reaches out to touch it with her mind. Slowly, a pale figure resolves in front of her eyes, maintaining position no matter where she looks.
It’s Professor Victoria Lovelace.
“Ms. Johnson?” The figure stares somewhere past Georgia’s head. “Can you hear me?”
“Yes, Ms. Lovelace!”
Lovelace relaxes slightly. “I’m having an incredible amount of difficulty even projecting toward you at the moment, I can’t see you at all. Where are you?”
Georgia glances at Bob and the gargoyles. Neither appear to see the figure, nor do they seem concerned by her holding a conversation with herself. “I’m indisposed, is there something I can help you with?”
Lovelace fidgets a moment. “Well I’m not quite certain. I’ve run into something of a difficulty in attempting to locate the good doctor.”
“What kind of difficulty?”
“Well that’s just it. Something is precluding me from making my interception. I’ve gone to the location he should be and yet he’s not there.”
“That’s a little awkward to explain, something of a space between spaces, if you get my meaning.” She sighs. “I suspect something rather serious has transpired and I’m not certain how to interpret it. I am contacting you because I thought it might be easier to do if I had some better understanding of the doctor’s more recent habits.”
Georgia moves to sit down, realizes it’s the chair Jawahar was sitting in, then changes course and selects the one across from it. “Well, I am happy to help in whatever way I can.”
“I am glad to hear it.” Lovelace’s figure also sits down, seemingly in mid-air. “Do you happen to know if he was engaged in any particularly large scale projects?”
“Just the golem project, I believe.”
“Yes, the golem.” Lovelace’s gloved hands fidget again in her lap. “Had he endeavored to activate it?”
“I know he was close to getting there, but I don’t know if he had tried yet. Why, do you think it’s involved?”
Lovelace hesitates a moment. “Are you familiar with the story of the nameless mage?”
Lovelace looks down into her lap. “It’s something of a cross between a folk tale and a cautionary tale. It concerns a mage, a Hermetic mage, who endeavored to produce a magical effect to extinguish all of vampiredom across the world.”
Georgia blinks. “I see.”
“He is nameless because, well, the reaction of the forces of consensus was to erase him from existence and all of reality. As well as from the memories of everyone who ever met him. We only know he existed through general inference and investigation by some of the finest oracles to be found within Horizon.” She sighs. “The point of the story is not so much that one should not attempt to exterminate all vampires, but rather that one should take great care before engaging in operations of this sort.”
Lovelace stares at her hands another moment. “I have found myself thinking of this story often lately, and it can’t help but lead me to wonder if the good doctor might not have been a bit…hasty… in endeavoring to activate a golem that reality may have not been ready for….” She trails off, then looks up, prim and formal once again. “Obviously he has not been erased from all history because you and I recall him, but I am concerned he may have been removed from this plane of existence. Rather forcefully.”
Georgia nods. “It does seem that way, considering the evidence we found in his tower.”
“If he has, then there’s very little chance I’m going to have of locating him. I’m not familiar with his work sufficiently to triangulate where his position might be.”
Georgia thinks a moment. “I suppose we could try going over his notes.”
“We certainly could, but that would require your presence.” Lovelace frowns. “Would it be possible for us to meet in a more convivial setting?”
Georgia tenses. “This is probably the most convenient for me at the moment.”
Lovelace hesitates and nods. “I apologize. I do appreciate you have some difficulties involving House Flambeau. However, that leads us at something of an impasse. You were his collaborator in a great deal of his work, and yet you are not capable of projecting yourself into a paradox realm, which is where I fear he might be. I–who am capable–do not have the requisite personal knowledge to figure out which realm it is.”
“I see.” Georgia hesitates. “Could you teach me to do it?” she asks carefully.
Lovelace sighs. “I have every faith you have every level of occultic skill, but you lack an avatar.”
Georgia hesitates another moment. “Just, theoretically, if I had an avatar…would you be able to teach it to me?”
“Well it’s not difficult.” Lovelace gestures dismissively. “If you had an avatar, you’d be a mage, and would be able to do it rather efficiently.”
“Could you describe it?”
Lovelace purses her lips thoughtfully. “Well, if you were a mage and familiar with the sphere of Correspondence you might be able to engage in such things. If you were not familiar with that sphere, you could attempt to replicate some of Dr von Natsi’s work in the hopes that reality–which does tend to be consistent–projected you to the same location.” She sighs. “But that’s all rather academic without an avatar.”
“Indeed,” Georgia says flatly, mind racing.
Lovelace stands from her invisible seat. “If you are unable to come to the doctor’s laboratory, I can return to Horizon and consult with some of the more experienced paradox divers there. But it may be some time before we’re able to mount an expedition.”
Georgia nods. “At this point I don’t see how else I can help you. I do need to delay my return to the city a little bit. As you said, I have had some trouble with House Flambeau.
“Well, you do have the acquaintance of a Hermetic, if I recall?”
Georgia glances at the other chair. “Yes, I do.”
“Has he been able to act as an intermediary of some sort?”
“To some extent, yes.” She pauses. “He’s been very helpful.”
“I’m glad to hear. I’ve made some discreet inquiries with House Flambeau, they do not relish interference from other traditions, but I have tried to encourage them to see the forest for the trees. I’m not certain if its had any effect, I’ve had no response at all.”
“Well, I do appreciate that. I will not trouble you for any more interference.”
“That’s quite alright. One must stick to civilities in such trying times.” Lovelace curtsies. “In any event, thank you for your time. I shall do what can be done.”
Lovelace’s image fades from her view. Georgia looks around the room, thinking….
(Kara: “Soooo, if I was going to teach myself the sphere of Correspondence, would I need a book and, like, massive amounts of time?”
Jason: “You would need a book, certainly, and a fair amount of experience, and some time to study, but a thaumaturgical book would not be that helpful–”)
Georgia stares forlornly at the bookshelves.
(Jason: “–But that doesn’t mean those resources are not to be had somewhere else. Now that you’ve experienced what it is to be Awakened, you understand how limited thaumaturgy can be. Powerful as your rotes within it are, they pale in comparison to the horizons available before you. But, recall she said there are other options possible, options that may be found somewhere else.”
Kara: “Okay, well…I guess I will spend some time hanging around here practicing magic.”
Jason: “Probably a good idea. Here in an isolated mage’s workshop there probably isn’t going to be a lot of paradox lingering around.”
Kara: “So what sort of things can I do with one dot in Matter?”
As Georgia stares at the books, carefully picking out their gilded titles, she suddenly feels something sink. In the next instant, she’s still looking at the books, but she’s seeing inside them, drilling through page by page, reading the lines of text from across the room without even opening them. She gasps in surprise and her vision snaps back to the surface layer of wooden shelves and leather spines once again.
Georgia gets up slowly, scanning the room, and gathers her will repeat the effect, this time pushing her vision slightly deeper. The walls mist and fade, revealing tunnels and workrooms. She blinks and realizes that the sensation isn’t tied to her vision; as she closes her eyes, she feels the shape of the nearby caverns extending through the rock in three-dimensions.
(Jason: “It’s not so much that you can sense it, it’s that you wish to sense it, and it is sensed. In a sense.”)
She opens her eyes, willing her focus back to the immediate room, then sits down at the desk to start taking notes on the layout of the rooms nearby.
Sometime later in the night, after running other errands of her own, Scout arrives in Russian Hill, approaching the location of the Chantry under deep obfuscate, then stops in surprise a block away. For the first time since arriving in the city, the Chantry is visible. She approaches slowly, taking up her observation post in the shadows across the street, and watches for a few minutes. There’s no signs of movement, not even lights in the few windows.
She taps her fingers against the nearby wall thoughtfully–
(Me: “Do I know how to contact the Nosferatu….?”)
–Then turns to leave.
Rabenholz leaves Marcus with the sarcophagus and goes to search more of the Settite den as well. Instead of jewels, though, he finds a simple chamber, clearly normally well-armed but the thick doors have been torn off. The inside is spartan, with nothing more than a writing desk and a cot, the latter covered in a fine dusting of ash. Shards of what looks like an alabaster jar are smashed across the desk, also covered in ash. Rabenholz picks up a piece. It’s a chunk of the lid, and it’s carved into the shape of a cobra. He closes his eyes and casts a thaumaturgy ritual on the ashes, discovering that they’re the remains of a vampire of the 6th generation, one who had not fed well in two or three months before the final death.
Meanwhile, Anstis clinks his way back to the sarcophagus room, loaded sack over his shoulder. Marcus turns to eye him. “Did you uncover any information?”
“Nay,” Anstis grins. The bag clinks suspiciously.
Marcus glares. “Pity. Maybe if you had, you’d know the Settites curse their treasure.”
Anstis doesn’t respond, but he unslings the bag from his shoulder.
Marcus gestures at the sarcophagus. “Curses or no, though, if Helgi is in here, I will not hold my patience for much longer.”
“Then perhaps we should make sure that he is.” Anstis pulls out his Helgi stone and casts the ritual to specify his location:
In the pits of Malfeas, where the Shadows Lie
Anstis frowns, puzzled, and repeats this to Marcus. Marcus’s face, though, falls. “Pits of Malfeas? Enough of this then.” Marcus raises a hand. Five shadow tendrils descend from the ceiling like living stalactites. At his gesture, they latch onto the top of the sarcophagus and toss it aside like plywood. One reaches down to Marcus, he grabs on and let it haul himself up to look inside. Anstis hoists himself up too.
The sarcophagus is empty.
Marcus freezes, but the tendrils start to undulate sickeningly. Anstis drops inside. A residue coats the bottom at one end, like vitae residue leaked slowly out of someone staked. Anstis dabs a finger and tastes it. It’s from a 9th generation vampire, one who has committed diablerie in the past, and running on very little blood left.
He passes this info to Marcus as well. “Does this describe Helgi?”
Marcus stares at the stain, eyes as dark as the tendrils gripping him, and nods once.
“Then I may be able to take you there.” Anstis scrapes a small sample of the residue into a vial and stands. “Do you know what befell the previous attempt? I wouldn’t care for a repeat.”
“Settite warding of some sort,” Marcus says with strange coolness. “I was redirected to the Abyss.”
“Do you believe the same ward would thwart us again?”
There’s a slow rasp as Marcus draws his sword. “Let it try.”
Anstis climbs out of the sarcophagus and begins drawing a circle.
(Jason: “What is your intention?”
Jim: “Using the heart’s blood to take me to Helgi.”
Jason: “…To take you straight to Helgi? Even though you know he’s in Malfeas.”
Jason: “…Do you know what Malfeas is?”
Jason: “More specifically, werewolf Hell. Not a hell of punishment or eternal damnation or anything like that. It’s a baaaad place. It’s the place where bad things come from, things that scare the werewolves.”)
While Anstis working on this, Rabenholz returns to the room. “Priscus. I could not find any more living Settites, though I did discover what appears to be the remains of a vampire of high regard
Marcus blinks, slowly refocusing on the room. The tendrils calm, then slowly retract to the ceiling. “Which one?” he asks.
“I don’t know. All I found was a canopic jar with dust littered around.” Rabenholz hands a fragment of the snake-lid to Marcus. Marcus slices his palm, smears blood on the alabaster, then places his hand over it and closes his eyes. After a moment, he opens them again, in shock. “Anektakhen is dead.”
Rabenholz blinks. “That’s a surprise.”
“That is a surprise, he’s been dead for three months. Someone found his heart, brought it here and killed him.” Marcus stares around. “Someone who spirited themselves into the middle of a Settite lair without being seen and then executed their leader.”
Anstis looks up. “That explains what Nitocris was saying. She had doubts about Anektakhen.”
“Doubts are one thing, but the man has been dead for three months, so who was it that lead the attack earlier tonight?” Marcus asks.
Rabenholz frowns thoughtfully. “Whoever the person was who was imitating Anektakhen, he has some skill with a sword.”
“Great skill,” Anstis mutters, rubbing self consciously at his fingertips. “It appears there’s an imposter in our midst.”
“What do you intend to do?” Rabenholz asks Marcus..
Marcus nods toward the circle. “I intend to take the Captain here up on his offer to take me to Helgi Isarnbjorn, wherever he may be located at the moment.”
Rabenholz nods. “Well, I’m afraid I won’t be joining you. I have other appointments to keep this evening. The smooth running of the city will consume my time. Good luck gentlemen.” He nods to them and leaves the room.
Anstis stands. “Is Aquilifer joining us?”
“Aquilifer does not leave my side,” Marcus says. As if on cue, the great bird sweeps in from the hallway and lands heavily at his side.
Anstis smiles thinly at her, then nods. “In that case, as last time, I shall need an item from somebody alive here so that we may return.”
Marcus gestures dismissively. “If you need the living, there are plenty above.”
Up above, Rabenholz is just cutting his way back out of the concrete-faced tunnel when a roar of mixed vehicles echo across the ruins. A cluster of motorcycles and a single El Camino grind to a halt nearby and about a dozen men in beaten leathers unload.
Rabenholz tucks Glitch away. One man with the clear swagger of a leader spots him and walks up. “Who the fuck are you?” the Anarch snarls, flashing fangs.
“Who do you presume me to be?”
“A really stupid motherfucker who’d better answer my question before he get his jaw broke!”
Rabenholz looks the Anarch over, then sweeps his cape back and bows. “My name is Amarice Espresse. I am a servant of Captain Anstis, who bids me send you inside.”
The Anarch eyes the tunnel behind him, still open but slowly oozing shut, scowls, then nods. “Alright, lead the way.”
Rabenholz leads the cluster of Anarchs back down through the tunnels, to Anstis and Marcus, still in the sarcophagus room. “Captain! just as you predicted, your troops have come to support you in your quest.”
The Anarchs stare around the cavern and at the pirate and child in front of them. “What the fuck is this?” the leader snarls.
Rabenholz gestures to Anstis. “This is the Dread Pirate Anstis.
Anstis bows. “And Marcus Sertorius.”
Every single one of the Anarchs turn to look at Marcus, then freeze. Marcus smiles grimly back.
“And have you met Lord Augustus von Rabenholz,” Anstis continues, gesturing grandly, “Soon-to-be Prince of San Francisco?”
As one, the Anarchs turn slowly back to Rabenholz, faces washing even paler. One turns to the leader. “Fuck this, I’m out.”
Rabenholz meets eyes with the leader. “It is in your best interest to help Captain Anstis.”
The leader stops, but some of the others open their coats, revealing various sets of weapons. “None of that mind-game bullshit, Cammie asshole,” one rumbles.
“Don’t you want to find Helgi Isarnbjorn?” Anstis asks.
The leader glares. “Not with this asshole, and definitely not with him.” He gestures to Marcus.
(Chris: “Can their leader be Bev??”
Jason: “…Yeah, alright.”
Me: “Wait, the original Bev?”
Jason: “The original Bev.”)
Rabenholz eyes them coolly. “I had heard the Anarchs were fierce warriors, not frightened little girls,” he says smoothly.
The Anarch-Formerly-Known-as-Bev rushes forward, drawing a machete. “FUCK YOU, dust-fart Cammie asshole!! You want a piece of me!?!”
“Well I don’t assume your friends will have your backs, considering you’re leaving Helgi to be devoured by hellbeasts,” Rabenholz says calmly, ignoring the knife. “Want to prove me wrong, bring Helgi back.”
Bev’s expression darkens at Helgi’s name. “You know where Helgi is, you fucking go,” he snarls.
“What makes you think I want Helgi to come back?”
Bev raises the machete. “Cause if you don’t go, I’m going to shove this here fucking blade up your ass sideways.”
Rabenholz chuckles. “Are you trying to threaten me?”
The other Anarchs tense, glancing around. But Bev leans forward. “Fuck you.”
Rabenholz nods once. “Yes, fuck me indeed.
Bev swings the machete in a chopping strike, but Rabenholz ducks skillfully to the side, sliding out his cane sword and slicing off Bev’s arm and ear in one stroke. Bev pulls back, yelling in pain.
Rabenholz slides the sword away. “You’ll learn to listen better through the other one.” He turns to Anstis and the other Anarchs, the latter frozen in shock. “Now, are you prepared to help Captain Anstis?”
The other men stare at him. Anstis leans down and picks up the ear, grinning at Marcus. “This will do fine.”
Marcus rolls his eyes. “Let’s get this over with.” He moves towards the circle, Aquilifer at his side. The other Anarchs follow hesitantly behind, except Bev, who’s still rolling in the ground in pain and groping toward his dismembered arm. Anstis steps into the crowded circle, activates it, and they all disappear, leaving Rabenholz behind with Bev.
Rabenholz walks calmly toward the stricken Anarch, meeting his eyes.
“You remember being the runt of the pack,” Rabenholz says smoothly. “Your Anarch brethren never took you seriously. You were afraid they would destroy you if you didn’t agree with them. Your pack gave you strength, but would consume you. Now you don’t need them. I give you that strength. I have set you free from them and restored your dignity.”
(Me: “…Are you turning Bev into Slayer?”
Chris: “Yes. But with manners.”)
Bev stares up, enthralled, missing arm forgotten. He nods eagerly.
(Chris: “Great! I’m going to do that again!”)
Rabenholz plasters on a few layers of Dominate to bind Bev to himself, then instructs him to wait at the Coliseum for Marcus and Anstis to return, though he specifically instructs him to refer to them only as ‘Marcus Sertorius Posthumus Magnus’ and ‘The Dread Pirate Captain Thomas Anstis.’ With that, Rabenholz climbs back into his car to head across the city to the Legion of Honor for his meeting with Everton.
Not long after leaving Russian Hill, Scout arrives at a storm-drain output at the edge of the bay, near Bayshore. No one is around but she obfuscates anyway, carefully lowering herself down the berm to the sewer entrance itself. Next to the pipe, amongst the scum and the grime, pink spray-painted letters spell out: “KARL – 4 A GOOD TIME CALL,” and half a phone number. She stares at it a moment, then ducks into the sewer opening.
Still obfuscated, she makes her way deep into the sewers. More graffiti and litter dot her path, but there’s no sign of movement, human or vampire. Finally, she finds her way to the bottom of a large, dry cistern, half-lit from an open grate above. She stands in the middle of the space, drops the obfuscate, and waits. Minutes pass. Finally, there’s the light sound of someone clearing their throat politely behind her.
She turns to see a twisted man in a ratty dark business suit, watching her from the shadows a few feet away. “Now, what do we have here?” he asks.
Scout nods in a half-bow. “I am seeking information and was hoping we could negotiate a partnership with your people.”
A wheezy chuckle echoes. “Suddenly everyone is coming down here wanting to talk.” He looks her over. “Let’s see, what could you have that we want?”
She stares evenly back into his gaze. “What do you want that I could have?”
“You’re the one who came down here. Buyer’s market, Caitiff.”
She tenses. “So you know who I am?” she asks carefully.
“I’d be a pretty piss-poor Nosferatu if I didn’t.” He snorts. “You’ve been presented. Been sucking up to the new Ventrue lord in town?” He chuckles again. “Another European, great. Cause the last one went so well.”
“There certainly are a lot of new figures poking around the city. I’ve collected some information about one of the more secretive ones.”
“Which one’s that?”
“One by the name of Cantor.”
He chuckles again, darkly. “Cantor? You have been snooping around where you don’t belong.”
She smirks. “You’ve seen my skill with deception.”
“Good enough to fool a sewer rat and good enough to fool a Black Hand assassin are very different things.” He folds his arms. “What do you know about Cantor?”
“I know he is able to hide himself in ways even other Assamites cannot.”
He shrugs. “Assamites like to eat people, they often show up with unusual little tricks.”
“Yes, well something about him keeps his skin pale, and possibly other aspects of his demeanor as well.”
He blinks. “Pale? That’s not very common for them.”
“No, it’s not,” she says coolly.
“Hmm.” The Nosferatu picks at his teeth, considering this. “You know what he’s in town for?”
“No. But I know he ate a Sabbat cell to clear out space for himself.”
He clears something from his molars and spits it across the space. “We knew that already. Shame too, they were personable enough guys for Sabbat.” He shrugs, then eyes her again, more amiably this time. “So what is it you want?”
“I’m looking for a man named Thrace.”
The Nosferatu’s laughter echoes through the tunnels. “You do try to dance with the devil. Oliver Thrace? Tremere bigwig, or at least he was. Kind of lost a little bit of his position when everything went tits-up over in Hong Kong.”
“There seems to be people around town expecting him.”
“Expecting him here? Not if he knows what’s good for him, with Vannevar Hughes’ posse in town.” He smirks. “Thrace is under blood hunt. Nothing official of course, but the Tremere want him dead, really really badly. They suspect he’s been trafficking with people he really shouldn’t be.”
“People like who?”
He moves closer to her and lowers his voice conspiratorially. “Word is, Thrace got a little too friendly with the Kuei-jin. If you want to ask around Chinatown, you might find more information there. But it’s your funeral.”
Scout considers this a long moment, then nods. “Thank you, you have been…fairly helpful.”
The Nosferatu nods back. “You got some skill on you for a Caitiff. You learn anything else, I’m open to discuss.” He levels a finger at her. “But you walk into these sewers openly. Come in here again all furtive-like, you ain’t walking out.”
She bows agreeably, turns to leave, then hesitates and turns back. “The primogen who was just killed…his name was Karl?”
The Nosferatu’s smile evaporates. “Yeah. Karl Sutro.”
“There seems to be a message for him, painted outside.”
“Yeah. I know.” His voice could chill concrete. “Brujah walked in here decided to make himself a nuisance. He got his. Lesson number one of undead living, Caitiff? Nobody fucks with the Nosferatu and gets away with it.”
She eyes him a long moment. “You made sure this Brujah didn’t get away with it?”
The man smirks. “Arrangements were made.” He nods to her. “Have a good night, Ms. Scout. Watch your suit on the way out, it’s a little dirty.” With that, he disappears from sight.
Scout turns to leave the sewers, this time openly visible.
(Jason: “Where you headed?”
Me: “Urg, I don’t want to go to fucking Chinatown.”
Jason: “We can never go back to Chinatown!”
Me: “It’s funny, Scout doesn’t actually know why she shouldn’t go to Chinatown, but the whole gestalt of Chinatown just feels like…don’t. Cause when you’re in a parallel fantasy universe and someone creepy tells you to go to Chinatown, you do not. go. to Chinatown.”)
As the circle activates, Anstis braces himself for the fires and horrors of hell, but once the ritual completes and the magic dissipates, he opens his eye…
….On a sea.
He stares around. He’s standing on the weathered deck of a galleon, rocking to and fro and riding low in the water. There’s no wind, the shredded sails above him hang slack, but the sea tosses angrily, and darkly. He makes his way to the rail and looks down.
It’s not water, it’s blood. Dark, boiling blood.
“Marcus!” he calls. There’s no answer, nor is there a sign of the Anarchs. With one last glance at the sea and smoke-thick sky above, he descends into the hold.
The galleys pitch as he makes his way through, the wood rotting and crumbling under his hands. He finally reaches the captain’s cabin in the stern and finds the first sign of another presence: the cabin doors are bound shut with chains of red-hot iron.
Anstis frowns at the door, then turns as he hears something. A moaning from deeper in the hull. He climbs his way down to the lower decks, the tepid air growing hotter, and as he clears the last hatch he sees why. Half of the hull has been torn open, letting in the boiling ocean to slosh between the ribs of the ship and the cages lining its length and each cage contains a human figure, writhing against the searing blood and tearing helplessly at the bars.
(Jim: “Do I recognize any of them?”
Jason: “Yes. It’s your crew.”)
As one, the figures turn to see him. The moans turn into screams, laced with shouts of recognition.
Anstis grimaces down at them, then tenses as a rough voice says behind him, “Now then, Thomas. See what you’ve become, and brought them all to.”
Anstis turns. A man is standing behind him, in full pirate finery even grander than his own, with six-pistols stuck through cross-braced holsters, and a cascading black wig under his tricorn hat.
(Jason: “You recognize him instantly. Bartholomew Roberts. Black Bart himself.”
Black Bart smiles grimly. “See what you’ve brought us all to, Thomas.”
Anstis nods to him. “Captain. How long you been here?”
“Since ye abandoned me. Since ye turned and ran. A fine sight to see a mutineer hunting mutineers.”
“The sea was large enough for the both of us,” Anstis replies.
Black Bart gestures in a mocking bow. “And yet here we stand, Thomas.”
Anstis eyes him coolly, then jerks his chin up. “Who’s in the captain’s cabin?”
Black Bart’s grin widens. He shakes his head. “Oh, you’ll not be wanting to open that.”
“And why not?”
“Never arm the man you’ve wronged, Thomas.” With another grin, Black Bart steps back into shadows and disappears.
Ignoring the cries from below, Anstis climbs up and returns to the captain’s cabin door. Popping his claws, he slashes at the wood and the chains, trying to tear around them.
The wood regrows in front of his eyes.
“No shortcuts in Hell, Anstis,” a new voice says behind him. Anstis turns to see another pirate, this one with natural hair and a thick, wild beard. Thin tendrils of smoke curl from each.
“Edward Teach,” Anstis says flatly. “I thought you of all people might have escaped this fate.”
Captain Teach–the man better known as Blackbeard–smiles, revealing a slit throat from ear to ear. “I was born here, Anstis. You walked in with your eyes open. Never to leave again. You thought you’d run away, but there’s no escape for us.”
Anstis sheathes his claws and steps back from the door. “What do you know of these waters?”
“I’ve sailed them for hundreds of years, I know them all.”
Blackbeard grins and shrugs. “Some.”
“One Helgi Isarnbjorn?”
Blackbeard nods slowly. “Isarnbjorn, the Wolf of the Seas. You’re looking up the wrong mast. Not here but us sinners.”
Anstis scowls. “Which direction should I sail?”
“Straight to the devil’s heart. It all leads down from here.” Blackbeard fades like smoke on the breeze.
Anstis climbs back to the deck. Another ship has appeared, not far to port, but going in another direction. A gargantuan ship, like the cargo ships he’s seen on the San Francisco Bay. This ship, though, founders in the waves, looking like it’s about to crack in half. Screams echo from the pilot house, and as it passes, Anstis can read the name painted across the stern:
(Jim: “Which Anstis has no context for–”
Jason: “But you do, good old Michigander as you are.”)
Anstis watches the ship as it drifts away, much faster than any currents should allow. As it disappears into the impossibly-flat horizon, he leans on the rail, staring out into the sea.
(Jim: “I await the next visitor.”)
Sure enough, moments later there’s a tap on his shoulder. A new figure stands behind him. A young man this time, his neck listing like it’s been broken, rope burns around his throat, but that doesn’t dull his cocky grin, or the brilliant calico blue of his waistcoat.
(Jason: “If you had to guess, you’d say this was Calico Jack.”
Jim: “Wait…isn’t he a vampire in canon…?”
Jason: “Smiling Jack, you’re thinking of, and no. No one really knows who Smiling Jack was.”)
“Now, now, Thomas,” Jack says. “What could have brought you here?”
Anstis grins back. “My own will.”
Jack sneers. “Then you’re a fool.”
Anstis gestures to the wide sea. “How does one find who they’re looking for here?”
“It doesn’t much matter who you’re looking for.” Jack leans on the rail next to him, gazing to the horizon. “We roam these seas till they run dry. Not dead, not alive, not properly anything, Anstis. One foot in the locker, the other in the night. Wait around, we’ll have Barbarossa and Queen O’Malley and the rest out for you in a moment.”
“And what about Howell Davis?”
Jack nods slowly. “Aye. Davis met his not long before you.”
“Do you know how he went?”
“The way we all went. Fire and death.”
“Not all went the same way.”
“No.” He glances at Anstis. “Some lingered.”
“Morgan’s still around.”
Jack nods slowly again. “Aye, Morgan lives, and Smiling Jack. Davis for a time. And ye.”
“What about Flowers?”
Jack’s grip tightens on the rail. “Flowers…. Cursed his name. He sails still, on oceans of water. Not this hell.”
“He’ll be here eventually. I give you my word.”
“Your word’s no good here, Anstis. You’ve come to Hell, there’s no coming out. Whatever madness drove you here is no concern any longer.” Jack stands to face him. “You brought the spirit world down upon yourself. Why?”
Anstis shrugs, open-armed. “Always a greater treasure.”
“No treasure here. You had a reputation. As a risk-taker.”
“We all did.”
“Not like this.” Jack takes a step forward. The wan light from the dead sky shifts, as if a cloud had passed overhead. The marks on his neck suddenly burn purple and raw, and his eyes bloom with broken blood vessels. “Have you any idea what you’ve done?” he says, voice low.
Anstis eyes him. “I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
“You’ll see. You’ll see….” Jack fades like all the rest.
Anstis stares into the horizon a long moment after he’s gone, then gropes in his pocket to pull out his phone.
(Jim: “What does my phone do here?”
Jason: “Nothing. Your phone does not get reception in Hell.”
Jim: “Goddamit, Verizon! I thought you of all people would have coverage down here!”)
Anstis puts the phone away, then pulls out a rock, attempting to cast his location ritual on Marcus–
(Jason: “Yeaaaah, so, you just tried to perform a necromantic ritual in Hell….”)
The light suddenly darkens like the front of a storm. The deck beneath him pitches sharply, rolling on massive waves. Anstis drops the rock, scrambling for a grip on the rail, but his hand tears through the rotting wood and he plummets down to the boiling blood below–
(Jason: “–Aaaaand the next few scenes consist of incoherent, unstoppable screaming, as every nerve in your body registers the most agonizing pain imaginable.”
Jim: “…It appears that Rabenholz made the right call in staying behind.”)
Scout makes her way to the storm drain entrance to the sewers without incident, but as she exits, a figure suddenly steps from the shadows outside. A man wearing western-looking gear and a cowboy hat, which he tips to her. “Evening,” he drawls.
She stops, watching him warily, hand instantly drifting to her knife. “You don’t look like the usual public works employee.”
“I’m assuming I do not.” He looks her over. “But then, you don’t look like the sort that would normally be trawling through the sewers looking for trinkets.”
She shrugs. “Urban exploration.”
“In a designer suit. Very cosmopolitan.” He tips his hat again. “I do not know if we’ve had acquaintances made. My name is Holiday. There are those who call me Doc.
A brief flicker of recognition crosses her face. She nods back. “Most call me Scout.”
“Scout. Now that is an interesting appellation. I have known others for a time. Most used it not as a name, but as a title. I wonder which you claim.”
“Well, I do try to keep an eye out.”
“It is always wise to keep an eye out. In fact, I’d advise as many as you can.” He smirks. “And what may I ask are you keeping an eye out for in the underbelly of this city?”
She hesitates. “New ways of transporting oneself around the city unseen are always useful.”
Doc nods slowly. “True, but I have a hunch–and it is only a hunch–that transporting yourself about in an unseen manner may not be a particular worry. You have the demeanor of one who knows how to not be seen.” He smirks again. “But then, we have not made our full acquaintances. Tell me, what brings someone such as yourself, observant as you are, to a city like this?”
She glances north. The lights of downtown glitter against the overcast night. “New opportunities.” She turns back. “You’ve asked me why I’m skulking about the sewers but I could ask you the same question.”
He rocks back on his heels, thumbs looped through his belt. “Oh, I have my interests. I am a sporting man now. Retired from my previous occupations which were less than savory. But in my capacities as a sporting man, I must keep abreast of the odds on the latest game. The better to make my bets. Gambling is, afterall, an honest trade. Do you engage, Ms. Scout, in honest trades?”
“I’m afraid I’ve not been able to pursue my own interests to the degree I’d like in quite a long time.”
Doc nods sagely. “You have a dependant. Or perhaps you are one?” When she doesn’t respond, he smirks and continues. “Well, I do not wish to take up your valuable time. It is, after all, a fascinating city. One that has experienced its share of misfortunes in the recent past. But should you find yourself in a position to need company, or a quick conversation about what has been transpiring, well, I remain at your disposal.” He bows chivalrously.
She eyes him. “And why should I trust the word of a man come to me at the edge of the sewers in the middle of the night?”
“Why Ms. Scout, I’d suggest you not trust the word of anyone you encounter in the vicinity of a sewer.” He smiles, tips his hat again, then walks away, disappearing around the berm of the storm drain, the gravel crunch of his boots slowly receding into the distance.
Scout hesitates a long moment, then obfuscates from sight.
(Me: “I…try calling Georgia.”
Jason: “It goes straight to voicemail. Kara, what’s Georgia’s voicemai–”
Chris: “Believe it or not, Georgia isn’t at home, please leave a message at the beep. I must be out or I’d pick up the phone. Where could I be? Believe it or not, I’m not home. Beeeeeeeeeep!”
Me: “…I hang up.”
Jim: “That’s the best thing it could have been.”
Me: “Clearly she copied it from Dr. vonNatsi. Alright, umm…I’ll try Rabenholz next.”)
LEGION OF HONOR
Cool fog winds between the trees as Rabenholz walks the path leading up to the Palace of the Legion of Honor. The low drone of a foghorn echoes periodically from the nearby Golden Gate Channel, but besides that the park is silent. Despite the late hour, floodlights still light the building, a shining marble jewel nestled in the darkness at the edge of the city. Rabenholz surveys it as he paces slowly underneath the towering cypress trees.
Until a figure with a cane steps out from the shadows in front of him.
Rabenholz stops and bows. “Dr. Everton. Thank you so much for meeting me, I understand it’s been quite a troubling evening.”
“It has.” The dim light traces the concerned lines of Everton’s face. He approaches but stops a few feet away, cane braced in front of him. “I’ve seen better ones, but I fear we may see worse before this is over. You wished to speak to me?”
“Yes, I’m afraid the topic will be quite dull by comparison, but–” Suddenly Rabenholz’s phone rings. “Would you pardon me a moment?” He pulls it out, glances at the screen, then answers. “Ms. Scout.”
“Lord Rabenholz,” Scout says. “Were you successful in your efforts this evening?”
“Yes I would say so. What may I do for you?”
“I was calling to check on your status and see if you needed my assistance in anything.” She hesitates briefly. “There’s been a lot of talk around town about this event you have coming up. What are your plans with that, and do you need assistance there?”
“The Dread Pirate Anstis is handling security for that,” Rabenholz replies. “I believe he’s doing adequately.”
(Jason: “You say as he is literally in Hell.”)
Rabenholz glances at Everton, still waiting patiently. “If you’d like to discuss it further, perhaps you wouldn’t mind meeting me and Dr. Everton at the Legion of Honor?”
She pauses. “Legion of Honor. Certainly, that’s not far from where I’m staying.”
“Come prepared for trouble.”
“I usually do.” Scout hangs up.
“I hear she’s been assisting you with various matters of import?” Everton says as Rabenholz tucks his phone away.
“Yes, she’s been working very hard to make herself useful.”
“An admirable trait, particularly amongst the clanless.”
Rabenholz smooths his cloak around him. “Oh, you believe that, do you?”
Everton lifts an eyebrow. “I’m inclined to assume that anyone is what they say, unless there is some reason not to. Do you imagine she is not clanless?”
“It’s certainly possible. On the other hand, I would not be at all surprised to discover she is a Lasombra elder of some sort. They do seem to be congregating here.”
Everton sighs. “They do, rather.” Everton gestures invitingly and begins to pace up the path. “Now then. You wished to speak of…?”
Rabenholz matches pace. “I am curious about the nature of your feud with Prince van Nuys?”
Everton eyes him. “You have ambitions, Lord Rabenholz, of replacing the good prince?”
“I imagined. You are a Ventrue, it would do you well.” Everton chuckles grimly. “My difficulty with the good prince is that he lacked foresight. For the past few months, I have been detecting a certain convergence of forces circulating around this area, ones which I think have now come to a head. I solicited the assistance of a number of local Kindred to determine precisely what was going on here. Prince van Nuys could not see past the fact that I have something of a reputation. Rather than extending his hand in assistance, he chose to invoke various sundry blood rites where I was to be drawn and quartered and exsanguinated, roughly in that order.”
“Quite so. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to deal with van Nuys directly, so I simply decided to make a point. I contracted with one of his primogens to supply me with the information I required, and when the primogen tried to go back on his word, I dissuaded him from ever doing that again.” A smirk flickers briefly across Everton’s face. “Thereafter, as it became evident that there were certain potent forces circulating around the area, I decided it was time to alert authorities who were capable of handling the matter. And since I’m not on great speaking terms with major Camarillian figures, I decided the best way to acquire their assistance was to cause a ruckus. Fortunately I did succeed in attracting the interest of a Justicar, but unfortunately I severely underestimated the severity of what was arriving. I’d thought we’d be seeing the rising of certain ancients, or perhaps a growing werewolf conclave, but I was not expecting anything approximating Gnaius Perpenna Vento.” Everton falls into grim silence a moment. “A mistake, but an understandable one, I should think.”
“Quite.” Rabenholz paces in silence a few moments, his cane clicking on the asphalt path. “It goes without saying you’ve given some thought on how to overcome this confluence of parties?”
Everton eyes him, then stops. “Lord Rabenholz, before I answer that, I must know precisely what it is you intend.”
Rabenholz gazes across the shadowy park a long moment. “Well as is obvious to you, I intend to supplant van Nuys. It is my preference if he simply walked away quietly. But then, reality and preference seldom meet.”
“Van Nuys is a short-sighted fool,” Everton says firmly. “I have no concern whatsoever whether he lives forever or dies tomorrow. I’m slightly more concerned with what you intend to do in a more general sense. Both within the city and with the dark circumstances that seem to be surrounding it.”
Rabenholz resumes walking. “I have been assisting in maintaining order, as is the duty of any Camarillian,” Rabenholz says firmly. “Have you heard of our expedition to Humboldt?”
Everton frowns and follows. “I have.”
“Then you heard of the Abomination.”
“I’ve heard rumors. You’re here, of course, to tell me these rumors are anything but.”
“They are true. We tracked it for two nights. It was perhaps taken prisoner.” Rabenholz meets his gaze. “By my guess…Fae.”
Everton takes a long sigh. “Not Fae, sir. Not Fae.” He meets his gaze. “Kiasyd.”
(Jason: “Kiasyd are a minor bloodline related to the Lasombra somehow. No one knows anything about them. They’re weird. Tall, extremely pale, strangely shaped, elven looking assholes. They look like vampire elves. The rumor is they’re either what happens when you embrace a fairy, or fuck around with Changeling blood in certain strange ways.”)
“Indeed….” Rabenholz says thoughtfully. “That is more unusual.”
“Quite so. The Abomination you encountered, I believe I know what it is. Or rather, whose.”
“Are you inclined to share that information with me?”
“It depends on what your intention is.” Everton’s gaze flickers over Rabenholz’s cloaked form. “…Or the bevy of weapons you have brought.”
“Well, I do seem to be collecting them this evening,” Rabenholz says smoothly, without breaking stride.
“As have I,” Everton says grimly.
Silence falls. Both men continue walking the path, now pulling up in a great arc to circle the museum. “I appreciate the degree to which you esteem me,” Rabenholz says finally.
“It’s not simply you I esteem, sir. I’ve heard most disquieting rumors about your intentions for this gathering taking place soon.”
“Indeed. Well I was trying to ascertain your degree of feud with the prince, as there is a simple way to get rid of him.”
Everton is silent a moment. “You’re proposing I assassinate Prince van Nuys.”
“Not quite, though it may come to that. I’ve negotiated with the Prince on what he would find a suitable price to find it more to his liking to start over in some other city.”
Everton sneers. “Would it be my head, fangs, or staked corpse?”
“Something like that, yes. The Prince wishes an example made of those who threaten the security of this city. As it turns out, I have Mr. Lytton mounted to a frame to be displayed at the gathering.”
Everton eyes him grimly. “Mr. Lytton made a certain degree of unwise choices.”
“He did, but you still dominate a large part of the Prince’s mind these days.” Rabenholz stops and turns to him. “I shall level with you. I had hoped that you and I might find enough common ground that you would agree to be displayed in a similar fashion to Mr. Lytton.”
Everton stares. “Displayed? As a trophy?” When Rabenholz makes no move to correct him, Everton shakes his head slowly. “I won’t even begin to ask what guarantees I might have in such a case,” he says in disbelief. “I’d be entirely in your power.”
“Indeed, and that would of course be the subject of some negotiation. I would present you to the Prince as a gift in my esteem for him, so that behind the scenes he might quietly leave. And if he happened to, well, manage his new prize incorrectly, then it’s only understandable that you would kill him.”
Everton stares in silence a long moment, “Prince van Nuys is many things, but he’s not a complete fool. If he has the opportunity to acquire me, his first act will be to decapitate me.”
Rabenholz sighs and turns to the darkness. “Yes, that thought had occurred to me as well.”
Another silence. “You understand how I might be concerned,” Everton says.
“Of course. I imagine you would not be defenseless on this platform. Indeed I imagine the appearance of hanging as wall-art will be entirely deception, rather than being similarly affixed as Mr. Lytton.” Rabenholz turns back, cane braced firmly in front of him. “This is merely the beginning of a negotiation, doctor. If there’s anything I can do to earn your trust and confidence, or perhaps pique your interest, I am of course eager to hear it.”
“It takes quite a degree of doing to earn my trust, I’m afraid. But these are trying circumstances.” Everton’s gaze flicks to the cane in Rabenholz’s hands. “Am I to assume that if I were to say no, you’d be employing one of the many weapons you have at your disposal?”
“A wonderful question. Truthfully I’d rather not.”
“I know quite well your reputation for swordcraft, it handily exceeds my own, I’d suspect.”
Rabenholz looks Everton over, lingering on Everton’s own cane. “I’d expect you to arrive with rather a few tricks up your own sleeve, which is why I’d rather not test my luck.”
“You would be correct.” Everton smooths at his tweed jacket, hand lingering a moment over the right front pocket. “Wonderful country, America,” he says calmly. “Flammables available everywhere.”
Rabenholz smiles thinly. “In any case, does any of that sound reasonable or interesting to you?”
“Reasonable, no. Interesting, perhaps.” Everton turns away, staring toward the distant foghorn echoing from the north. “Lord Rabenholz, there is a very strong possibility that even if we accomplish this little scheme, within a week’s time you will not have a city to run. I have reason to believe that Gnaius Perpenna Vento is attempting to do nothing short than end the world. On his own terms, no doubt, but ending them nonetheless. And I have reason to believe he is very close to succeeding. He has amassed a murderous row of loyal servants–some Kindred, most not–through means I do not entirely understand. But they include werewolves, Kindred, disgraced and degraded mages, and other horrific monsters. To say nothing of what power he personally possesses.” Everton shakes his head slowly. “And I have learned this evening that he may have just acquired the last piece he needs. He now resides somewhere in Marin.”
Rabenholz follows his gaze into the fog. “Is he forming a base of operations there?”
“One could say that. Perpenna has collected his forces around a Spiral Dancer hive. A place you could not storm, even if you had an army.”
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “Nor would I try.”
“And yet someone must.” Everton sighs. “And I am afraid that ‘someone’ must involve me.”
The foghorn groans again in the lingering silence. Finally, Rabenholz turns to him. “Well Doctor let me simplify things for you. I have no personal interest in running a city that is in ruins, or running one where nothing exists. So I shall put this to you. You shall have my assistance in ending this tonight or tomorrow, and if we succeed I hope you will think better of me and perhaps be inclined to partake in whatever political tomfoolery it takes to eliminate van Nuys as peacefully as possible.”
Everton continues to stare into the distance.“What if I told you that his elimination is not my goal?”
“I would not be surprised.”
“No. My goal is rather complicated, as it turns out. You understand I am suspicious of Camarillian authority in general. I’ve not found it terrible conducive to my work. I’m not an Anarch, merely someone who appreciates being given their head when it comes to what must be done.” Everton takes a long breath. “See, the Camarilla was an admiral concept. Order must be maintained amongst the Kindred afterall. If not, you have chaos of the Sabbat and no one wants that. Least of all, I think, most of the present Sabbat.” Everton shrugs, then continues. “But the Camarilla ossified rather early on in its history and has continued to do so. Transitions of prince to prince are really not changing anything in that regard. The Anarchs believe they can unmake the wheel, so to speak. They’re deluding themselves, of course. Wherever there is organization there is power, and where there is power people shall arise to take it. Whether they call themselves ‘baron’ or ‘prince’ is rather irrelevant. But the Camarilla, in its endeavour to ossify further, has declared heretical certain core beliefs that I have found useful in my researches.”
Everton gestures with his cane. “For example, to the Camarilla, the elder vampires who sired us all–the Antediluvians and the like–do not exist. They existed at some point, obviously, but they do not exist now.”
“And you believe they do?” Rabenholz asks.
“There is strong circumstantial evidence toward that end. In my field, circumstantial evidence is the best you’ll ever do. I’ve seen too much to discount the value of the folklore and rumor that circulates regarding the Antediluvians. But it’s not the Antediluvians in particular I’m pursuing at the moment….”
Everton trails off, then turns to Rabenholz. “There are undercurrents in this city that are not to the Camarilla’s liking and not to mine either. And while our interests may coincide momentarily, I do not wish to reinforce some new prince’s conclave in an effort to convince all who would question your abilities. Even if I did, after I eliminate the Prince, what exactly is to become of me?”
“Well I’m sure after some amount of time people will forget van Nuys ever existed.”
“They likely will, but they will not forget I existed,” Everton says firmly. “I’ve made a name for myself, sir, I intend to carry on doing so. Not for any particular love of fame, but because it is warranted. And I’ve always prided myself on doing what is warranted.”
Everton falls silent and turns back toward the open park. After a moment, he continues. “If I were to agree with this plan, and serve as your Trojan horse, what becomes of Lytton, may I ask?”
“Captain Anstis has laid an interest in him,” Rabenholz replies.
Everton grimaces. “For devouring, I’d suspect. The man has engaged before.”
(Jim: “Do-do-dee-do…. But I have Hidden Diablerie, so how does everybody know about this?”
*table stares at him*
Jason: “Gee. A Gangrel with Necromancy.”
Me: “And Thaumaturgy.”
Jason: “However did this happen?”)
“I offered him Lytton on the condition that he not diablerize him,” Rabenholz says. “I have his word and oddly enough I’ve come to trust it. He parts with it stingily enough.” He hesitates. “…But you may be right. In any event, Lytton’s situation should not have any bearing on our agreement.”
“The difficulty, sir, is I’m not entirely sure what assistance you can render. Even if you had at your disposal a force of men under arms, you could not storm the spiral hive. Nor, for all your martial skill, are you likely to survive an attempt to unseat the Devil.” Everton shakes his head. “I have been wracking my brain trying to find a way out of this predicament myself. There are some things you cannot shoot your way out of.”
“I agree completely.”
More silence as the fog tugs their clothes and the distant horn groans. “The thing I still don’t understand is what Perpenna has to gain by all this,” Everton says distantly. “If he succeeds, he will use his forces to bring forth a hideous abomination not seen on this planet since the works of HP Lovecraft. But that monster won’t be loyal to Perpenna, or anything else but raw destruction and death. What could he possibly hope for? He could simply wish to unmake the world, but he has given every appearance of a man with deliberate purpose.”
Rabenholz nods. “It also remains to be seen how Marcus Sertorius fits into all this.”
“It does, but I will assure you of this.” Everton eyes him. “Whatever he may assure you, and whatever feats you may have seen him perform, Marcus Sertorius Posthumus is not capable of taking on his sire. Not in a martial sense, not in any other. You will not succeed in convincing him of this, nor will I. But he suspects he will overcome Gnaius Perpenna Vento through some combination of Roman fortitude and swordplay, and he is quite mistaken. He has no conception of what Perpenna has become, and unfortunately I do.”
“I don’t doubt you.” Rabenholz turns to scan the empty park with his cool gaze. “It seems to be we have precious few options.”
“There are several options, as a matter of fact, but I dislike them mostly,” Everton grumbles. I could venture into Marin, you could come with me. In all likelihood, neither of us would emerge.”
“Do we have anything slightly less dramatic in mind?”
“I have several, but I doubt they would work. The difficulty is, if the werewolves have what they think they have, then it will take a great deal of luck and power to unmake what is certain to be a grotesque disaster inflicted upon this portion of the world. And if they do not have what they think they have, then their ritual will fail and we will have a very large, very angry, and very frustrated group of Black Spiral Dancers with nowhere to vent their anger except upon the city we are currently standing in.”
“For the moment, let’s assume the ritual will work and we will need to prevent it.”
Everton nods and taps his cane thoughtfully against the ground. “If the cub is being held within the hive, then there is little hope of overwhelming and destroying it. The hive connects to other hives, and other hives as well, and on from there into the bowels of Malfeas.” Everton raises a finger. “However. Spiral Dancers are like any other werewolf, ultimately. Vainglorious, shortsighted, and temperamental. They are not thinkers, they are actors. If the spiral dancer that abducted this cub wishes to attain standing and power amongst her kin, then she will keep that cub as long as she can until the ritual is performed, and likely close to home, rather than transporting it deeper into Malfeas where something far worse than may take it from her. If she has done that, then theoretically, without attempting something so foolish as to assault the Black Spiral itself, one might be able to mount a minor incursion into the local hive, isolate it temporarily from the rest of the spiral network, and retrieve the cub.”
Everton takes a breath. “Now, the instant one attempted to do this, a vile nest of horrors, the likes of which you have never seen–and even I likely have not–would come boiling up through any connection this hive had with the others to try to devour us all. But in theory, if you move quick enough, you could exfiltrate the area before they could do so. Because horrors that terrible cannot exist upon the surface world.”
“I have seen my share of horrors, Doctor,” Rabenholz replies coolly.
“I don’t doubt it, but this?” Everton waits for Rabenholz to meet his gaze. “You and I are, by some measures, damned, sir. We are the walking dead. We fashion and fancy ourselves to be evil incarnate, or at least some of us do. Monsters that lurk in the dark and prey upon the living. But I have seen the actual monsters that lurk in the dark. To them we are nothing but children, play-acting at the jobs of their betters. I have seen what the spiral dancers call gods. It’s not a sight to be undertaken lightly.”
Rabenholz smiles grimly. He scans the park again. “What do we need to stage this incursion?”
“Far more martial force than either of us are capable of. In short, sir, you need someone mightier than you. And while I do have a high opinion of myself, I don’t believe that I am that man. You need to find-like minded people. Preferably ones with firepower to spare.”
“How much firepower do you envision? Would the National Guard be adequate?”
Everton pauses, then shakes his head. “No. The National Guard could not possibly survive in the environs of a spiral hive. They would be torn to pieces, if they didn’t go mad first. You’re entering a realm of Lovecraftian horror, sir. I have long harbored suspicions that Herbert himself may have had interactions with a spiral hive.”
Rabenholz fusses a moment with his cloak. “What about another pack of werewolves?”
“If the pack was large enough it might suffice.”
“Stewart has some relation with the werewolves,” Rabenholz says thoughtfully.
“Then Stewart would be the man to contact. I had converse with him earlier tonight, though I do not know what he intends, but he did inform me there are werewolves preparing to assault the hive at this very moment, albeit a paltry number.” Everton shakes his head sadly. “They have no chance by themselves, and they are too stubborn to ask for help.”
“If we assault the hive, will you be able to serve as a guide?”
“I may, to a point, but no one knows all the secrets of the hive, including any who live there.” Everton snorts. “In all likelihood, anything that I might predict will prove entirely wrong.”
Everton sighs and shifts his grip on his cane. “It reminds of something that occurred when I first arrived in the Bay. I met with Baron Leeland, who kindly agreed to take me to the university archives–”
(Chris: “I attack Everton!!”
Jason: “With what?”
Chris: “With my enchanted stake. Not the one I used on Tom, the level-above, which actively seeks the heart.”)
Rabenholz whips out his stake and drives it through Everton’s chest before he can react. Everton staggers a moment, open-mouthed, then collapses face-first to the ground.
Rabenholz picks up Everton’s dropped cane, then turns. Scout has suddenly appeared a few feet away, staring at Everton’s body in shock.
“Good evening,” Rabenholz says, tucking Everton’s cane under his cloak.
Scout jumps lightly, clearly unaware she had slipped back into visibility, then composes herself. “Do…you need a hand with anything?” she asks finally.
“I may.” Rabenholz scans the park once more. “Your timing is perfect. See to it we are not disturbed.”
“What is it you intend to do?”
Rabenholz eyes the tweed-clad body at his feet. “Everton is a very dangerous man. But I have a pre-existing arrangement with the Prince.”
“Are you bringing him to him?”
“After a fashion. He’s not out permanently. I must take measures to make sure he cannot escape.” Rabenholz draws his cane sword. “This will go easier if there are no witnesses.”
Understanding dawns on Scout’s face, quickly replaced by cool impassivity. She nods and moves to patrol the area, slipping back into invisibility after a few yards. Rabenholz kneels next to Everton’s body, sword in hand.
Everton’s body twitches.
Rabenholz tenses, staring. After a moment, the body twitches again. He frowns, watching Everton a long, thoughtful moment.
(Chris: “…I drink him.”
Chris: “Yep. I feel guilty but, damn, he’s dangerous.”)
Rabenholz grabs the body, leaning over to bite. Suddenly, though, Everton twitches and rolls, one hand snaking into his coat and pulling something out.
A flare gun.
Rabenholz thrusts the hand away, pinning it to the ground, then dives in to bite. Everton tenses and yells, trying to pull away. “Release me!” he shouts–
(Jason: “–And it’s Majesty.”)
Rabenholz pauses, struggling to resist. The awe washes over him, then passes. He bites harder, pulling more blood as fast as he can–
Until he’s tackled by Scout.
(Jason: “–Because Majesty hits everyone in the area.”
Me: “I really don’t want to get in the middle of this shit, this is terrifying.”
Jason: “Yeah, well, you shouldn’t have double-botched your resist.”)
Rabenholz ducks under the force of the impact, fangs still embedded in Everton. Scout rolls off, but as she comes around for another attack, Rabenholz meets her eyes.
(Chris: “…Movement of the Mind.”)
Jason: “Roll it.”
Chris: “…Six successes.”
Jason: “Woooow.” *thinks* “You’ll forgive me if I do a little dramatic thing with this?”
Chris: “Go for it.”
Jason: “As Rabenholz is biting Dr. Everton, he looks up at you, and you are lifted into the air bodily, with just his eyes. You hear the tones of the Imperial March momentarily. There’s long enough of you suspended in the air for you to lock eyes momentarily and see the dead ambition and power surging within Rabenholz, and then, like a flea, he flicks his eyes and you are hurled off into the darkness.”
Me: *long sigh* “Where do I land?”
Jason: “At six successes? Somewhere offshore, in the channel, near Mile Rock.”
Me: “MOTHER FU–”)
Rabenholz bears down harder, the siren call of diablerie rising higher as Everton’s blood–and strength–ebbs.
(Jason: “This was well-done. Everton had four defenses, you overcame three of them. But…he has one more card to play. And desperate times call for desperate measures.”)
Everton’s hand with the flare gun is still pinned to the ground, but the other worms its way under his coat. Before Rabenholz can react, Everton pulls something out.
An incendiary grenade.
And triggers it.
White flame erupts from underneath them. Fear of the fire quickly overwhelms the thrill of the kill. Rabenholz tears his jaws from Everton’s flesh and bolts into the darkness. A few yards away he finally regains control and turns back. The figure of Everton writhes on the ground, struggling to rise through the flames, finally forcing himself up to hands and knees–
The fire roars higher, enveloping Everton’s body.
(Chris: “Oh, the fucker!”)
Rabenholz watches as the flames spread across the dry landscaping, up to the wall of the museum. His own skin is dotted with burns, his cloak smouldering in places, but he ignores it, watching the fire burn the body down to ash, leaving behind nothing but a dark, charred skeleton.
The line of fire moves on, licking up the marble walls. Rabenholz approaches the body and carefully pries Everton’s fangs from his skull. He pockets them, then Movement of the Mind hurls the blackened remains far out to sea.
Fire engines shriek in the distance, coming closer. Rabenholz brushes off his cloak and sweeps into the darkness.
(Jason: “So, there’s no reason for you to know this, but I will tell you out of game. The reason Everton was able to move while staked is because he knows Serpentis.”
Chris: “…So he had no heart. Great.”
Jason: “I will also tell you this, sir. You just did what the entire party in the original Everton game could not. You officially sent Dr. Corwin Everton to final death.”)
END OF NIGHT