Jason: “Colleen. What do you do next?”
Me: *flipping back through notes* “I think…I need to actually find Thrace, but where…? Did I talk to the Nosferatu about him already?”
Jason: “I don’t recall, but I think so.”
Me: “What did they sa–” *reads another page, stops* “–Oh. My god.”
Me: “…I have to go to fucking Chinatown.”
(Author’s note: Yes, I’m alive! Just a very, very busy summer. Also, this episode we hosted a special guest: Raleigh, a friend of Chris and a fan of the game, was visiting from his homeland of the American South. He asked if he could do sort of a guest-NPC bit, with a character of his own creation, and the minute we heard the concept we immediately agreed. So enjoy.)
Realization of what Flowers is saying slowly registers on Anstis’s face. His grip on the phone tightens.
“What’s the matter, Thomas?” Flowers’ voice mocks. “Snake got your tongue?”
Anstis lowers the phone and turns to the rest of the group, still milling in the antechamber. “Five million or a favor to anyone who helps me defeat Flowers!” he shouts.
Scout and Georgia look up. Rabenholz, standing at the elevator door, turns back around.
“Oooh, desperation, Thomas?” Flowers sneers. Anstis hangs up.
“Who?” Georgia says finally.
The tentacles of Anstis’s beard twist. “Admiral Sir Jonathan Flowers. I want him alive.”
The silence lingers. Georgia blinks at him. Scout eyes him flatly, while Rabenholz eyes him appraisingly.
(Jason: “You don’t seem to be getting a lot of takers, Captain.”)
“Mr. Anstis,” Rabenholz says, “I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific if you wish us to join you on your jyhad.”
Anstis glowers. “Flowers is a Ravnos. We’ve had a feud since the 1700’s.”
“If you haven’t resolved it since then, what makes you think you’ll resolve it anytime soon?” Rabenholz asks coolly.
“Well that’s obviously why he’s asking us for help,” Georgia adds.
“I suppose that’s one theory.” Rabenholz continues to eye the pirate. “Where is he?”
“If he’s not lying, he’s on my boat. But he operates out of the East Indies.”
Rabenholz considers this. “Your boat is a modern vessel, is it not?”
Anstis nods. “Aye.”
“Can you not simply scuttle it with him aboard?”
Anstis winces. “I’d rather not. but if it comes to that….”
Suddenly the elevator dings and opens its doors. Georgia looks between everyone. “Alright. Well, have a nice evening.” She sweeps past Rabenholz and into the elevator.
“If you change your mind–” Anstis responds, but the door is already closing on her. Anstis frowns and turns to Scout.
Scout’s gaze darts between him and Rabenholz. “I apologize, but I have other engagements which I need to…engage in.”
Now avoiding everyone’s gaze, Anstis smooths at his coat and pivots away. “Suit yourself.” He strides down the hall, heading toward the room with the Pyramid’s teleport circle.
After a moment, Rabenholz falls into step beside him. “Mr. Anstis, I will lend you my support.”
Anstis nods to him. “Thank you, Lord Rabenholz.” He leads them to the circle room, then bites his hand and squats down to add the changes necessary to take them to the Twilight’s Fortune.
Rabenholz watches his work closely. After a few minutes, Anstis stands and gestures Rabenholz to enter the circle. “Mr. Anstis,” Rabenholz says as he steps over the blood-soaked glyphs, “What manner of vessel did you say this was?”
Anstis steps in next to him. His tentacles writhe again as he grins. “A submarine.”
With that, Anstis activates the spell.
Back in the antechamber, Scout watches Rabenholz and Anstis disappear down the hall, then summons another elevator and enters. The doors close behind her, shutting the space into silence. She checks the space for cameras, then pulls out her phone to make a call. To Leeland.
“This is the Provost,” Leeland answers grimly.
“Baron Leeland,” she greets him.
“Ah. You would be Ms. Scout. I’m glad you called, I was wondering if I was going to be hearing from you or not.”
“If I recall correctly, the last time we spoke, you asked for information about Rabenholz, as it may come up.”
“That was one thing I wanted, yes. Do you have something for me?”
“Earlier this evening, I watched him execute Dr. Corwin Everton.”
There’s a smash and clatter over the line as Leeland drops his phone, followed by muffled fumbling as he picks it back up. “Wh-what did you say?” he asks.
“Rabenholz and Everton were having a conversation and Rabenholz staked him. He made an attempt on him, but apparently Everton had a contingency plan and was able to immolate himself.”
“I would like you to define what an ‘attempt on him’ means.”
“I think you know what I mean,” she says sharply.
A silence lingers. “…I see,” Leeland says. “Thank you for that information. Where is Lord Rabenholz now?”
“He disappeared with the pirate, apparently they’re going on a cruise.” The elevator dings to the bottom floor but she presses the button to keep the doors closed. “I don’t know what you’ll be able to do with this information but I thought it was too interesting to pass up, considering how interested you were in his actions.”
Leeland mutters a moment. “You are absolutely certain Dr. Everton is dead?”
“Rabenholz brought his fangs to the Pyramid.”
“He brought Tom Lytton’s fangs to the Pyramid too! And he’s still alive!”
“From what I’ve heard, this Lytton everyone speaks of barely counts as alive at the moment,” Scout says coolly.
Leeland mutters again. “Thank you, Ms. Scout. I will take this information under advisement. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a phone call of my own to make.” He hangs up.
(Kara: “Leeland and Everton were friends right?”
Jason: “I don’t know if I’d use that term, but they definitely knew one another.
Kara: (to Raleigh) “Our very first quest in this game when we started playing two and a half years ago was to kill Everton. We failed to kill him, and in fact most of us made friends with him. He’s been a pretty good ally for the last two and a half years. Until the last few weeks.”
Jason: “Because this man killed him. For profit.”
Raleigh: “That would totally fit with Chris’s character as I understand him.”
Jim: “In the previous week, Kara’s character killed another friend.”
Jason: “You guys are great at killing NPCs who are allied with you.”
Kara: “Jawahar was committed to the cause!”
Jim: “Uh huh.”
Kara: “He made the ultimate donation.”
Me: “Five dollars a month to the Wikimedia Foundation?”)
Anstis and Rabenholz arrive in the bowels of his ship. Condensation drips from the pipes around them, as expected, but instead of the ever-present chill of the abyssal ocean, the air is stale, foul, and jungle-thick.
Anstis scowls. “The filters are off. Luke should have taken care of this.”
Rabenholz brushes a hand lightly against his face but is too polite to hold it there. “By the smell, Captain, I’d say they’ve been off for some time.”
The lights overhead flicker ominously. The two trade glances, then climb out of the bilges.
A strange silence greets them as they climb to the lower decks. No rumble of machinery, no voices echoing through the corridors. Just the still air and wan emergency lighting.
“You run a light crew, Mr. Anstis,” Rabenholz says, peering through a bulkhead.
Suddenly there’s a crackle and the P.A. kicks on. “Hallo, Thomas,” a voice leers. “How are ye doing?”
Anstis freezes. His claws snick out of his fingers.
“Tis a fine ship you got here. A pity you left it alone for so long. Tell me, are you sneaking up now, even as we speak? Knife in yer teeth? A crew of cut-throats at yer back?”
(Jim: “Witness of Death!”
Jason: “Okay, so…you’ve learned that Witness of Death on this submarine gets a little confusing.”
Me: “Cause everything is death?”
Jason: “Yeah, let me describe the brief history of this submarine for a moment. The USS Thresher was a nuclear sub that sank in a terrible accident of some sort, no one’s quite sure what, in which everyone drowned and died horribly. Somehow this ship was retrieved by god knows who and ended up in Accio’s hands, whereupon you boarded it and killed everyone horribly.”
Jim: “I didn’t kill everyone horribly!”
Jason: “And then you crewed it with a crew comprised of the lost and the damned, whom you lured onto the ship to butcher, turning the cabins and corridors into an abattoir. So when I tell you that Witness of Death is a little confusing, I want you do understand what I mean. There’s been so much death on this ship that when you turn on Witness of Death, it looks like blood is running out the gunnels and seeping from the wall.”
Jim: “Fine. The next thing I do–”
Chris: “–Is turn off Witness of Death.”
Jim: “No. I summon Carlos.”
Chris: *Happy gasp*
Jason: “…Oh. Good. A stabilizing element.”)
The shade of Carlos suddenly appears in the dim light of the corridor, hands clasped plaintively in front of him and peering around through his lank, greasy hair. “Captain,” he rasps, “I like what you’ve done with the place.”
“There’s an intruder aboard,” Anstis says firmly. “Sir Jonathan Flowers. Can you tell me where he is?”
The PA crackles again. “What’s keeping you Thomas? And here I thought we’d have a chat, discuss old times.”
Carlos nods to himself a moment, then raises one skinny arm to point down the corridor. “That way. The large room, with the controls.”
Anstis growls. “We shall need to be rid of him. If worse comes to worse, it will set our plans back.”
“I see.” Carlos clasps his hands again. “That would make me very upset, Captain.”
“And me,” Anstis agrees.
Rabenholz, unable to see the shade but assuming something like this is going on, waits patiently, then follows as Anstis heads off in the direction Carlos indicated. They make their way silently through the ship. Except Carlos, who whistles to himself on the ethereal plane the whole way.
They reach the conn. The lights are dim and a thin smoke fills the room, but besides that there is no sign of damage. Most of the sonar screen are on, beeping softly to themselves.
(Jim: “I examine the instruments, as best I’m able to tell.”
Jason: “Are you a sonar officer?”
Jason: “Then the best you can tell, they’re green.”)
A thud suddenly echoes through the ship. Not like an explosion, or something damaging, more like something bouncing off the hull. A moment later, the PA crackles again, “Now, now, Thomas, did you think it would be that easy?”
Anstis peers into the dark corners of the room. “You going to come out and play?”
“Oh, I’m already playing.” More thumps echo outside. “Don’t mind the disturbances, Laddie. We had to dump some ballast.”
Anstis turns to Carlos, who nods sagely. “It’s the crew.”
Anstis stares in shocks as Flowers laughing voice echoes around them. “A fine vessel, Thomas. But I can’t have it plying the waters forever.”
Carlos’s dead eyes scan slowly and piercingly across the walls of the ship. “He’s moved.”
“Can you tell where?” Anstis asks.
(Jason: “It’s like some form of obfuscation is involved.”
Me: “Almost like Ravnos have some abilities that can do that.”
Jason: “Almost like!”)
“What will you do now, Thomas? Hunt me down through your own ship?”
Anstis paces through the room, examining more screens. “I don’t suppose you’re aboard.”
“Oh, I might be. Only one way for you to find out.” Flowers chuckles. “I must say, ‘tis a fascinating engine on this thing.”
“No sails, no paddle-wheel. Some new scientific devilry. But what should happen if someone were to…oh, I don’t know….”
(Jim: “I RUN down to the reactor!”)
Anstis flies through the ship, scrambling through bulkheads and down ladders, Rabenholz following not far behind. In just a few minutes, they reach the reactor room. A blue spinning alarm light is lit above the reactor core. Neither is sure what it’s for, but it probably has something to do with the fact that the door into the reactor chamber is wide open.
(Jim: “I charge in.”
Jason: “…You charge inside.”
Jason: “…The reactor chamber.”
Jim: “Yes. I don’t have a lot to worry about.”
Jason: “…Do you?”
Chris: “Yeah, I feel like reactor chambers are still kind of a big deal. I’ll go read the instructions on the walls.”)
Anstis ducks to climb inside the chamber. Below him the reactor is exposed, the rods glowing dimly in their bath of coolant. Beyond that, the room is empty. Anstis grumbles and turns to leave–
–Right before the door slams shut.
Rabenholz is reading the shutdown procedure instructions on the wall when he hears the bang and turns and sees the reactor door shut.
“Now, now, Thomas. Always too quick to run in. And who is this, I wonder, that you’ve brought along? A friend? A compatriot? An ally? What do you think you’re doing sticking your nose in these businesses? Do you know who I am, Laddie?”
“I do not.
“Admiral Jonathan Flowers. His Majesty’s Royal Navy.”
(Chris: “Does that name mean anything to me?”
Jason: “Not a goddamn thing.”)
“This isn’t your fight, boy. I suggest you best be taking my offer and leaving by the way you came.”
Rabenholz gestures to the reactor. “I’m afraid he was my ride.”
“There are always ways. How quickly would you find them, I wonder, if I offered you gold to leave? Ten million dollars, let’s say.”
Rabenholz taps his cane. “The captain has assisted me in a number of operations. I thought I would return the favor. And gold means nothing to me.” He eyes the chamber door carefully. “But favors, perhaps. Connections, or information. Those are another matter.”
Flowers chuckles darkly. “I have information to spare.”
(Chris: “Jason, if Rabenholz believed all of this was an illusion, what could he do to dispell it?”
Jason: “Not much.”)
Suddenly the reactor door starts banging against its hinges, as if kicked from the inside.
“I think we’ve got a bit of a time limit on our negotiations,” Flowers says.
“Are you aboard? Perhaps we could sit down face to face and discuss the matter.”
“Perhaps we could, but perhaps we couldn’t. I’m afraid I can’t wait forever.”
“Of course not.” Rabenholz wanders closer to investigate the door. Despite the banging, the door is still stuck shut. “Captain, the door is locked!” he shouts to the metal.
“I’m aware,” Anstis’s muffled voice calls back. “Can you unlock it?”
“I’m trying.” Rabenholz peers closely at the door, scans the room again suspiciously, then turns back. “Captain, I don’t believe the door is real. Just walk through it.”
There’s a pause, then a single heavy bang from inside, followed by groaning.
(Me: “Welcome to Chimeristry.”)
Rabenholz tucks his cane away, closes his eyes, then reaches through the space where the door should be. Groping through the air, his hand suddenly brushes the embroidered velvet of Anstis’s coat. He grabs it and pulls Anstis through.
In the next instant, the door, the reactor, and the entire submarine around them suddenly fade away.
They’re now standing in the cavernous hold of a cargo ship, the walls almost three stories high and the ceiling open to the night sky high above. There’s no cargo, but fifty or sixty men surround them on the deck of the hold, all armed with blades, rifles, and more esoteric weaponry. Standing directly in front them, slightly separate from the guards, are two men. One is a man in a tailored blue uniform stands apart from the rest, and though he’s unarmed, the look he casts at Anstis has more than enough daggers to compensate.
A tense silence lingers, until Flowers spreads his arms and swaggers forward. “Thomas! Welcome aboard my vessel! I told you to meet me in Makkasar. What kept ye?”
“You’re not the only one I had an appointment with.”
“Oh but I am.”
Rabenholz peers carefully at the men and the rusted metal around them. “Admiral I must applaud you, your reactor scramble instructions were top notch. I found them highly believable.”
Flowers makes an exaggerated bow. “Why thank ye, sir. I took them from me own submarine.” He turns back to Anstis and chuckles. “You didn’t think you were the only one, Thomas?”
Anstis eyes him, his writhing beard betraying his irritation. “Which one do you have?”
“Perhaps one day I’ll show ye.”
Rabenholz, meanwhile, walks up to one of the guards. “Bring me a chair,” he says smoothly. The guard stares at him, glances at Flowers….
…Then leaves to go find a chair.
(Chris: “Is Carlos still here?”
Jason: “No, he got dispelled back to the spirit world.”
Chris: “I’m imagining him alone in the reactor room. ‘Hello? Is anybody there…?’”)
“Thomas,” Flowers swaggers forward and claps Anstis on both shoulders. “I thought this would be harder.”
(Me: “Yeah, I think it’s pretty hard, though, heh heh heh–”)
Anatis tenses. Flowers tsks and grips his shoulders harder. “Tell me, why shouldn’t I have you ripped to pieces and thrown overboard?” he asks with an amiable grin.
Anstis shrugs his hands off. “If you were going to do that, you would have done it already.”
“Ah, but it’d be denying me my revenge.”
Anstis leans closer to Flowers’s face, beard-tentacles twisting on themselves in a strangling grip. “You do like to take your time.”
“I do.” Flowers smirks without flinching. “But there’s more to it than me. I made a promise, you see. To a good friend.” He gestures to his men. The crowd shifts, then a one-eyed man steps forward. Boatswain Tuke, very much not a wraith.
Anstis snarls at his ex-crewman. “That man is nobody’s friend.”
Flowers chuckles. “Well, not to a mutineer.”
“He is a mutineer.”
“Mutiny against a mutiny is no mutiny at all.” Flowers tsks again. “You never had the stones for captaincy, Thomas. You’re nothing but a bilge rat.”
Suddenly, Anstis’s tentacles fall still and he smirks. “Tell me, Admiral, did you get kicked out of the navy?”
Instantly, Flowers’ face is inches from Anstis’s. “I AM the navy!” he roars, blood-tinged spittle flying from his mouth, his words reverberating like a concussive wave through the cavernous chamber.
As the echoes die, Rabenholz–now seated in a folding chair–gently clears his throat. “Admiral, may I ask where we are?”
Flowers turns his glare to him. “Who might ye be?”
Rabenholz nods. “I am Lord Augustus von Rabenholz.”
Recognition flickers briefly across Flowers’s face. “Aye, tis a name I’ve heard of late. And what be your business here, Lord Augustus von Rabenholz?”
“The captain has pledged his services to me.”
“Then you keep poor company, Lord.”
“Perhaps. May I ask your relation to him?”
Flowers claps Anstis on the shoulder again. “Oh, Thomas and I are old friends.”
“Aye,” Anstis mutters, using the moment of Flowers’s distraction to carefully trace a sigil against his palm.
(Jim: “Blood of Potency.”
Jason: “What does that do?”
Jim: “Lowers my effective generation for an hour.”
Jason: “Okay, roll it.”
Jim: *rolls* “…Six successes!”
Jason: “Which lowers you to what?”
Jim: *grins* “Two.”)
By the time Georgia gets back to the Chantry, it’s empty. For once. She uses the momentary quiet to shuttle Bob, the gargoyles, and the space whale back from Thera. Once that’s done, she sits down in her office and calls Paul.
“Georgia!” he blurts before she can speak. “Are you coming to the north bay?”
She blinks. “I don’t know.”
“We need to help Sophia rescue the werewolf cub!”
She sighs. “I know, but the Chantry has no wards and things are confusing here. Also Bell might kill me if I try to go up there to help you.”
“You do realize Sophia has saved your life a few times,” Paul says grimly. “Also, technically, if they succeed in sacrificing this cub, the world could end. I mean, I don’t know how true that is, but if it’s even a little bit true, the probability is not…great….”
Georgia sighs again. “Alright, text me your address.” She hangs up, then goes down to the basement to refill her blood thermoses with werewolf blood.
(Chris: “Good, cause I’m sure the werewolves will like that.”
Kara: “I also fill up my own blood pool.”
Jason: “On werewolf blood?”
Jason: “Oh, goodie. Well, you know what that means–”)
Euphoria floods her. Paul’s plea for help shifts to the back of her mind as a new idea, far more urgent, rushes to the front: use her new mage powers to track down Dr. von Natsi. Now. She runs upstairs, yells to Bob that she’s going out, and pulls out her phone to call a car.
Outside the Chantry, a car pulls up. Georgia rushes out the door, dives inside, and it pulls away off into the night. A few silent moments pass, nothing but fog drifting through the street, until another car suddenly appears and pulls up in front of the front doors.
And Scout gets out.
She stares up the stone wall of the Chantry before her. Clutching something firmly in her hand, she walks up to the doors and, after a moment, shoves them.
They swing open with a groan. Scout glances at the warding carvings surrounding the entryway. Nothing flares, nothing incinerates.
Scout smiles to herself, obfuscates, and heads inside.
Georgia arrives at the tower and rushes down into the lab. Fluorescent lights flicker to life overhead as she exits the elevator, revealing the usual rows of benches loaded with baroque equipment, but thin sheens of dust are gathering on the surfaces, and even with the clutter, somehow the room seems empty.
(Jason: “Once there was Science, but now there was not.”)
She settles herself onto a lab stool, closes her eyes, and tries to perceive the tower the same way she perceived the layout of the Thera caves.
(Jason: “It doesn’t take you long to figure out there is some weird fucking shit in this tower. All over the place, even up in the tower itself. How long has Dr. vonNatsi been up to this shit? The tower and lab is festooned with crazy fucking bullshit. Stuff you don’t know how to describe. Stuff that doesn’t exist. Transparent aluminum!”
Jim: “That actually does exist.”
Jason: “…Shut up!”)
Though she senses many details–including whole structures she had never noticed with her sighted vision–there is no sign of Dr. vonNatsi himself.
She gets up and walks aimlessly through the lab. A few rows in, she accidentally kicks against something metallic on the floor. She looks down. It’s the colander. She picks it up reverently, gazes at it a moment, then places it carefully on her head.
She eventually finds her way to a corner of the lab operating as a library, in that many of the things on the shelves are actually books. Brightening slightly, she pokes through them.
(Kara: “I look for books on magic.”
Jason: “There’s no books on magic because magic isn’t real. There’s a lot of books on Science, though.”
Kara: “…Ah. Then I take the Science books.”)
She pulls down many books on the theory and practice of magic, including one written by Dr. Lovelace, the inside cover inscribed to Dr. vonNatsi in ink that shimmers gently in the dim light. Seeing this, Georgia is suddenly reminded of her last conversation with the other mage, how she proposed looking into the Sphere of Correspondence to find Dr. vonNatsi. Georgia tucks the book into her bag and looks for anything relating to acquiring new spheres, extending her mind to search through the books faster.
As she does so, she notices something, somehow missed in her initial assessment of the tower Another room is hidden behind the library wall, sealed off from the main lab, and somehow warded to prevent her from sensing whatever’s inside.
Georgia pries the bookshelves away from the wall and finds a thick sheet of alloyed metal welded to the concrete. The hidden room lies directly behind it. She runs her hands across the metal and concentrates. Thin lines trace up from the floor, sketching out the shape of a door in a strip an inch wide. They glow brightly, then fade just as rapidly. Georgia frowns.
(Kara: “Wait, do I still have those jars of quintessence in my bag?”
Kara: “What would happen if I drank one of those?”
Jason: “I don’t know, what would happen?”)
Georgia pulls out one of the vials and takes a tiny sip. Nothing happens for a few moments–
–Until a lightning bolt shoots through her brain.
(Jason: “You feel like the Way Dude just baked you.”)
The feeling gradually subsides, but something new courses through her. New strength, new confidence. She looks at the metal panel and concentrates again.
(Kara: “Six successes this time.”
Jason: “Okay. I have good news and bad news. The good news is you are successfully able to transmute that strip of metal into nitrogen gas, effectively slicing a door from the rest of the plate.”
Jason: “The bad news is, the room beyond was under heavy pressure.”)
The explosion of air blasts the colander off her head. Georgia watches as the removed section of wall flies past her, smashing through the bookshelves and two lines of lab tables and equipment. It finally clatters to a halt amidst a breeze swirling the dust and papers of the lab.
(Kara: “Ooooh…the Science got squished….”)
Unperturbed, Georgia hurries forward to investigate the hidden room. Surprisingly, it’s not a room, it’s a chamber, not much larger than a phone booth and panelled with wood and control panels dotted with buttons and dials. German instructions are plastered on every surface, some of them handwritten, and none making any sense.
(Kara: “But Georgia speaks German.”
Jason: “I know. Even with that, they make no sense.”)
Despite the bright, blinking colors of the buttons, Georgia’s eye is drawn to what appears to be a ships-wheel bolted to the wall. A note is hanging on it, this one in English:
“Do NOT under any circumstances turn to the right!”
Georgia stares at it.
(Kara: “Wait, I’m down two self-control dice because of the werewolf blood, right?”
Kara: “…Oh god….”
Jason: “I knew this would work!!”)
Georgia steps into the chamber and hovers her hand over the wheel. Grabbing the wheel, she turns it to the left. A few clicks echo from within the walls, but nothing else happens. She returns it to the starting position.
(Jason: “Self control test!”
Kara: *sadly* “…No successes.”)
Georgia turns the wheel one click to the right. A door suddenly materializes in the empty space behind her, sealing her in. She tries turning the wheel back to the left, but the door remains firmly in place. She eyes the door, then the wheel, reading the sign once again….
(Kara: “…I turn it all the way to the right!”)
Gripping now with both hands, Georgia wrenches it–
Still obfuscated, Scout moves quietly through the dim, stone halls of the Chantry, moving cautiously at first, then with more confidence as no traps or alerts trigger to her presence. She passes what looks like a grand office door, flanked by two gargoyle guards–one stern and spiked, the other smoother-skinned, stealing glances at his compatriot and trying surreptitiously to match his posture. In a dusty kitchen, she finds a middle-aged man in simple Tremere-ghoul robes rummaging nervously through the cabinets while a fat yellow cat eyes him impatiently from the counter. Besides these strange figures, though, the rest of the building is empty.
Having completed her circuit of the upper floors, she eventually reaches the top of a set of stairs heading down. She hesitates a moment, then descends.
The dank chill of the building intensifies as she drops down into its depths. Dungeons and storerooms spread through the earth like a warren, many of them locked, most of them bloodstained. She passes rooms filled with baroque equipment–much of it spiked in some way–then eventually reaches a room with nothing but a few wooden crates, two of them larger than the rest and covered in greying sheets. She enters the room carefully and drags a sheet off.
The lid to the crate below is missing, revealing sawdust and other packing material nestled around a large, gold-framed mirror engraved with arcane symbols. She eyes it curiously, reaching a hand slowly toward the glass….
Heavy footsteps echo down the hallway, approaching. Still obfuscated, she withdraws toward the walls of the room. Moments later, a shadow passes across the dim light in the hall and an enormous figure steps into view. It’s another gargoyle, much larger than the ones she saw above, the weathering in his stony skin much older, and his entire color a deep, slate blue.
The gargoyle looms in the doorway a long moment, red gaze sweeping the room and passing right over her. He growls, then turns to continue down the hall.
Scout waits a long moment until the sound of his footsteps fade, then ducks out of the storeroom and heads rapidly back toward the stairs.
Paul’s motorcycle roars down the winding valley of the Marin Headlands, heading toward the rendezvous point with Sophia. The road rounds a lagoon and ends at a parking lot overlooking the oceans, where a solitary car is parked. A small figure leans against the hood, staring out at the moonlit waves, but looks up as Paul approaches. It’s Sophia, for once not tapping at her ever-present tablet.
Paul pulls up next to her and takes off his helmet. “Whats going on?
“You’re not going to believe this but we’ve got a problem.” She gestures to the hills behind them. In the distance a few boxy shapes of rotting WW2 fortifications jut from the scrub. “They’ve sealed the tunnels behind them somehow. Or at least the ones we’ve found so far.”
Paul climbs off the bike. “We?”
“See’s-faces and Alexander are here. They’re out checking for more.”
Paul scans the hillside. “I spoke with Dr. Everton last night. He seemed to think the Spiral Dancer would keep the cub with them personally, for as long as possible, rather than taking it right to the Labyrinth, and in that window a quick snatch and grab operation might succeed.”
Sophia scowls, but nods. “Yeah, that might work. I guess. But we can’t get in.”
“This is some supernatural access connection we need, isn’t it?”
“I guess. I don’t know how hives work.”
“Great. Well, Georgia should be on her way to meet me, and I hope Dr. Everton too.”
Her scowl deepens. “At this point I’m willing to consider anybody.”
Paul stares off a moment, listening to the sounds of the waves. “What about the Red Talons? Would it be possible to arrange for them to run a frontal assault while a smaller team takes back the cub?”
“I tried. We tried.” She tightens her arms around herself. “They won’t speak to me at all. I’m Weaver spawn, I’m only one small step up from you. But See’s-Faces tried to talk sense into them and they wouldn’t listen. They got some business of their own they’re working on. They say they know what they’re doing.”
She snorts and rolls her eyes. “They’re Red Talons, Paul, they don’t even know how to put on pants!”
Paul’s gaze falls on his motorcycle and he frowns thoughtfully. “So if they can’t be convinced nicely, could maybe they…chase after someone to come to us? I mean, I know they don’t like me, maybe if I got enough of a head start–”
“You’d need a hell of a head start, there’s like half a dozen of them. Left. But it’s moot if we can’t find a way into the hive through the tunnels.”
“There aren’t any special ways you could…?”
She shakes her head. “We tried everything. Sidestepping, moonbridges, it’s all blocked.”
Paul pulls out his phone and tries calling Everton, but the call goes directly to voicemail. He tries Rabenholz next, but it similarly isn’t answered. Concern rising, he tries calling Leeland.
“Mr. Stewart,” Leeland greets him gruffly. “How are you?”
“Well I’m in Marin with the werewolves.”
There’s a long pause. “…Of COURSE you’re in Marin with the werewolves!” Leeland shouts, mania tinging his voice. “Why wouldn’t you be?!”
“Yes, well it sounded last night like Dr. Everton would be interested in joining us but I can’t seem to reach him and was hoping–”
“Everton is dead.”
Paul stops. “What? I just spoke with him yesterday evening!”
“Yeah, there’s been a change. Rabenholz killed him.”
“What?! I just got a call from him last night, it sounded like they were working together.”
“I’m sure it did. I know you’re new to this, but congratulations, this is the last time you’ll ever trust a Ventrue.”
Paul sits down heavily against the car, next to Sophia. “Jesus. That’s not reassuring.”
“No, it’s not, is it?” Leeland sighs. “I’m afraid there’s not much more I’m going to be able to do for you. I have a school to look to.” He hesitates a moment. “But there’s someone else you might want to talk to who might be able to help. A newcomer in town. Caitiff. Goes by the name of Scout.”
Paul racks his memory. “Oh, yes, I think i’ve seen her around the Pyramid….”
“I’ll text you her number. Good luck, Mr. Stewart, you’ll need it. I think we all will.” Leeland hangs up.
Paul turns to pass this info on to Sophia, but before he can, a crashing erupts from the trees lining a marshy area at the base of the hillside. They exchange a glance, then Sophia gets up to pull a machine gun out of the car.
Paul watches her. “Expecting trouble?”
She gives him a Look as she loads a drum onto the gun.
Paul peers into the dark. “Who else knows were here?”
“Alexander, See’s-Faces, maybe park rangers by now–”
“Was Steinhart able to get in touch with you last night?”
More crunches and crashes foliage echoes across the parking lot, then two people suddenly walk out of the grove, one so pale it can only be Charles Steinhart himself, dragging an unfamiliar man behind him. Charles spots them and approaches rapidly, ignoring the kicks and flails of the second man.
He stops a few feet away, red eyes narrowing. “Stewart,” he says.
“Mr. Steinhart.” Paul nods. “You seem to have a friend.”
“A friend? No, Mr. Stewart, this is one of yours.” Charles throws the man forward across the blacktop. He’s wearing a faded flannel shirt over mud-stained pants and boots. Dirt and bits of sage scrub are stuck all over his clothes and hair.
The man sits up, reeling slightly. “Man, dat’n ‘as bigger dan I ‘as expectin.”
Paul and Sophia trade a glance. “What?” Paul says.
The man points at Charles. “Dat were’algator o’dere. ‘Eard he ‘as trooping ‘roun San Francisco. ‘Een tracking his ass since Louisiana.”
Paul a long bewildered moment, but at the mention of Louisiana, the accent finally sinks in: Cajun. “How long ago was that?” he asks carefully.
The man leans back, stroking his dirty chin with even dirtier hands. “Nay ha, I don’ know, let me tink now…Wha’, seven, eight decades? I lose track of time dese days.”
(Right, okay, sooo, I’m not going to be able to keep up with deep dialecting this Cajun dialog. For one thing, that’s a real writing faux paus. Two, it’s even worse to do than Dr. von Natsi and takes forever. I’ll add a little, but to get a sense of the cadence, watch clips of Farmer Fran from the Waterboy.)
“I see….” Paul peers at the man’s aura, but all he can tell is that he’s definitely a vampire, and definitely very, very confused.
Steinhart walks 0ver to Paul. “I’d say you have some explaining to do,” he hisses.
Paul glances down at the man again, who’s staring bewildered at the hills around them. “I’d say the same of you….”
“You think I hired this to come find myself?”
“Probably not for a lot.” Paul turns to the man. “Is he paying you?”
The man gapes up at Paul. “Why the ‘ell would he be paying me?!”
Paul glances at Sophia. The muzzle of her gun is drooping toward the ground as she stares at the scene before her with teenage befuddlement.
Suddenly the man hauls to his feet and lunges at Charles. “Dat algator gon ge–
He never finishes the statement, because in the next moment there’s no sign of a man standing there, or an alligator, as a wall of white, scaled flesh suddenly erupts in the middle of the parking lot. The Cajun man stumbles back, staring in awe as wings unfurl above them, followed by a roar like an avalanche and carrying a single message, “DOWN.”
Paul and Sophia step back instinctively, but the man falls slowly to his knees. “Woooow….” moment later he’s shoved all the way back down to the asphalt as a massive, taloned foot pins him down.
Charles’s draconic head, longer than Paul’s motorcycle, ducks low to meet Paul’s eye. “Is. this. yours?” he growls, flame licking at the back of his throat.
“I don’t know” Paul crouches down to peer at the Canjun through the Charle’s claws. “Who are you?”
The man coughs, spitting gravel. “Balasar Boudreaux.”
“Who do you work for?”
Balasar eyes him. “Work for? Man, I work fo’ my’self! I’m from the bayou, down Lou’sana!”
“I could have told you that,” Sophia mumbles.
“So you don’t mind if I kill him,” Charle’s voice rumbles from above.
“I’d rather you didn’t, all things being the same,” Paul says.
Charles’s eyes, just as red as before but now larger than dinner plates, narrow. “He’s a shifter hunter. Pursued me here from the bayou, was it?” He grinds his foot into the ground as Balasar yelps apologies.
At the term “shifter-hunter,” Sophia fidgets with her gun. “Paul, did you really call this guy?”
“No, never met him before, Suppose he could be useful, though. Maybe he could find a way into the tunnels.” Paul turns back to Balasar. “Why are you tracking him?”
“Cause ‘es a were’algator, what more reason you need den dat?”
“I think that’d be a good reason not to track him.”
Balasar snarls. “Dere kind don’t belong–” He’s cut off as he’s smashed deeper into the asphalt.
“My sentiments exactly, leech,” Charles growls, then pries the man from the ground and holds him up between pinched foreclaws. “You want to hunt gators, boy?”
Balasar stares up, eyes wide. “Nooo….”
Paul steps forward. “Under what circumstances will you let him live?”
Charles sits back on his haunches, examining the man from all sides as one might a curious hor’dourve. “I shouldn’t at all. Has he a use to you?”
Charles glares, then throws the man down at Paul’s feet. “Find. Out.” A moment later, Charles shrinks back down into his human form, smoothing back his white hair.
Balasar stares in awe. “Man, I din’ know dey could do dat.”
Sophia’s gun clicks above him. “There’s a lot you don’t know.” Balasar looks up the barrel at her, then nods wordlessly.
Paul crouches down to meet his eye. “Do you know why we’re here?”
Balasar looks around the empty coastal habitat. “Uhhh…a’no.”
“Do you know what’s under the hill?”
Balasar glances at Charles. “Uhhh…ho’fully not mor’ him.”
“Can you find out?”
Balasar’s overgrown hair flaps as he nods enthusiastically. “If it gets me awa’ from him, yeah!”
“You won’t just run away?”
Balasar glares. “Man, no! Wha kin’a honor you think I got?”
“Can you figure out a way into the tunnels and see where they go?” Paul asks the Cajun.
Balasar stares up thoughtfully at the hills, stroking his chin again. “Man, I don’ know, tunnels are little different ‘n what I’m used to, but da bayous, dey twist around, and I’ pretty good knowing my way….” Finally he nods. “I tink I can manage dat.”
Paul turns to Sophia. “Any reason to believe he’ll have better success than you guys?”
She shrugs. “Can’t hurt. Who knows, maybe there’s something in there that only responds to the Wyrm.”
“Alright.” Paul helps Balasar to his feet. “We’re going to investigate the tunnels and you’re going to help out. In exchange, this gentleman here is going to spare your life.”
“That remains to be seen,” Charles rumbles. “But I’ll consider it.”
Balasar stares nervously at Charles. “Are you gonna be coming with us?”
Arms folded, Charles leans forward. “Why don’t you assume I’m everywhere.”
Balasar stares open-mouthed, revealing a handful of missing teeth around his weathered fangs, then slowly closes it and nods.
(Jason: “Colleen. What do you do next?”
Me: *flipping back through notes* “I think…I need to actually find Thrace, but where…? Did I talk to the Nosferatu about him already?”
Jason: “I don’t recall, but I think so.”
Me: “What did they sa–” *reads another page, stops* “–Oh. My god.”
Me: “…I have to go to fucking Chinatown.”)
Scout stands outside the Dragon Gate at the base of Grant street, staring up at the stonework and green tile, then takes a breath and steps into Chinatown. The shops have closed by this hour and most of the restaurants are shutting down as well, so there’s few people out to crowd the narrow sidewalks. Even so, she feels out of place, and not just because she’s walking without her familiar cloak of Obfuscate.
Scout takes her time, reading signs and peering into windows, but she’s deep into the heart of the neighborhood by the time she spots anyone following her. She stops to look at a tea display and glances back. A young Asian man in a suit is strolling along the sidewalk a few yards behind. She meets his eyes, then ducks around the corner, off the main street into one of the narrow alleys, and lingers there.
Footsteps approach, then the man enters the mouth of the alley. At the same time, more footsteps echo at the other end and she turns to see two more men approaching from the other side. Scout waits with forced composure as they approach, forming a loose triangle around her.
At some unspoken signal, a fourth man enters the alley, an older Asian gentleman in a far more expensive suit. He approaches, eying her coolly. “Who are you?
She bows respectfully. “My name is Scout.”
“That’s not a name.”
“It’s the one I’m using for the moment. I’m looking to speak with Oliver Thrace.”
He looks her over and sneers. “This domain is not welcoming to outsiders. If you were anyone worth my time, you would know that.”
The three men with him suddenly take a step forward. Scout tenses, drawing her knife in one movement. The men chuckle, trading glances as they draw long daggers of their own….
Suddenly, the elderly man holds up a hand, freezing them in their tracks. His expression is still flat, but he stares at the knife in Scout’s hand. She follows his gaze, finds it fixed on the symbol etched along her blade, glinting visibly in the wan light of the alley.
“What interest does one such as you have with Oliver Thrace?” the man asks cautiously.
“It’s personal,” she says flatly.
“Is it.” Now staring at her appraisingly, he lowers his hand slowly. His men trade confused glances but step obediently back. After a long, tense moment, the older man nods. “I will speak with one more senior. Perhaps an arrangement can be made.”
Scout nods, keeping her expression flat. “If I need to contact you…?”
The man bows lightly. “I am Xiang Li Wong.”
(Me: “Oh, SHIT, that means he’s not going to talk to Xiang Li Wong, he IS Xiang Li Wong and he’s going to talk to someone worse!?!”
Me: *groans, buries face* “Goddammit why am I talking to the Giovanni? This is bad. This is super bad. Everything is terrible.”)
“You should go now,” Wong continues. “This place is not safe after dark.”
Scout nods again, then instantly disappears.
(Jason: “Where do you go?”
Me: “I get the fuck out of fucking Chinatown! Jesus Christ! Chinatown is the wors–Wait, why are you rolling dice?!”
Jason: *finishes rolling, looks up* “Because Chinatown is now the worst.”)
She returns to Grant Street and makes her way back out of the neighborhood, toward the distant skyscrapers and lights of Union Square. Sometime over the last few minutes, the last of the foot traffic cleared out, so the sidewalks are empty as she hurries down the street, accelerating with each block. The final hill before the gate appears before her and she breaks into a jog–
Suddenly a beggar stumbles out of an alley before her, layers of rags obscuring its gender. She stops to avoid hitting it. It babbles in slurred Cantonese and stares right at her.
Even though she’s still obfuscated.
She tries to step around, moving quickly, when suddenly another one appears from nowhere, also babbling in Cantonese and thrusting a piece of paper at her. She turns to find her way blocked by a third come up behind her.
(Me: “Oh my god, am I being accosted by those people who hand out coupons for lunches?”)
Scout glimpses a scrawled character and a lotus printed on the wrinkled papers clutched in their hands before shoving through their outstretched arms. More have appeared, clustering closer, waving more flyers. She tries to force her way through but only gets absorbed deeper into the crowd, a living, chattering quicksand that stinks of rotting clothes.
(Jim: “Why did you go to Chinatown? Didn’t anyone tell you not to go there?”
Me: “I’m still invisible?”
Jason: “Yes, but the crowd is zeroed in on you anyway.”
Me: “Are there other people around?”
Jason: “Not on the streets, but there are apartments around.”
Me: “So I probably can’t cut my way out, or pull my fire trick again…hmm….”)
The staccato rip of firecrackers suddenly erupts from somewhere within the grasping crowd. The figures cry out, pulling back in surprise. Scout uses the break to force her way through.
She dashes the nearest direction that will take her downhill, finding herself in another narrow alley, but one that appears to lead down and out of Chinatown. She slows to a jog, glancing back to see if the crowd is following, then turns back.
The end of the alley has transformed into a solid brick wall. She runs up and beats it with the flat of her hand. It’s solid, and not illusory-so.
She hesitates a moment, then moves toward the fire escapes lining the walls of the alley, leaping to grab one. The metal twists and withdraws from her reach, leaving her hands to close on empty air. She tries again but it pulls back farther. Metal groans up and down the alley as all the ladders shrink up their buildings like withering vines.
Scout draws her knife, scanning rapidly for other escape options, and on the third glance across the alley she realizes she isn’t alone. A woman is standing a few yards behind, blocking her escape. Her dark-haired Asian features contrast smoothly with the red orchid in her hair and green silk-brocade of her long-sleeved gown, and despite the fact that Scout is still obfuscated, she stares directly at her with a subtle smirk.
Scout lets herself reappear. The woman smiles wider. “Kin-jin,” she mutters, then tilts her head. “…Scout,” she says slowly, as if tasting the word.
Scout’s hand fidgets on her knife. “And your name?”
“Xia,” the woman responds, like a breath of laughter. A stirring echoes from above. The fire escapes have pulled from their moorings and twisted together, forming a rusted-iron lattice across the top of the alley.
Eyeing this, Scout shifts. “And what is it you want with me?”
“That is not the question,” a new voice barks from somewhere in the dark, male, with a sharp British accent. A man with greying hair and formal evening wear suddenly steps of of a darkened alcove on the side of the alley, one not nearly deep enough to have hid him before. He strides forward to stand next to the woman, watching Scout with a piercing gaze. “The question is, what it is you want with us,” he snaps.
Scout looks him over, then nods. “Mr. Thrace, I presume.”
He sneers. “And who are you?”
“As your colleague identified, my name is Scout. I am looking to contract your assistance.”
His sneer deepens. “You haven’t the means to contract with me, girl. You know nothing of what you’re doing, meddling with power far beyond your ken.”
Her gaze narrows. “I’ve been pulled into situations with powers far beyond my ken–”
Thrace barks a laugh. “You don’t know what it is to be pulled into anything.”
Her hand fidgets on her knife. “Don’t I?”
Thrace’s sneer flashes with rising anger. “You dare speak back to me? I shall leave you to be devoured, as is your warrant.”
Scout tenses at this, then recomposes herself. “You’re Tremere. Are you associated with the Chantry here?”
Thrace scoffs. “The Chantry here is nothing. The Regents are nothing. The Council is nothing. What do you know?”
“I know how to get in.”
Thrace laughs mockingly. “Of course you can. The wards are down, you need only walk. Anyone can walk in now. You think that some coup? You are unworthy of me, and of us. You will die with all the rest, in short order. Caitiff.”
Scout eyes him, then, in one movement, throws her knife point-first into the cracked asphalt at his feet.
Xia lifts an eyebrow, but Thrace looks down at the weapon and scowls. “What is this? Some thieved trinket to impress me? I who have walked the stars?” Thrace picks it up, turns it over once, then lets it clatter to the ground. He turns to Xia. “Do with her what you would. I have no use for this one. No one does.”
With a grinding squeal, the jagged iron hanging above begins to descend.
ADMIRAL FLOWER’S SHIP
Anstis’s ritual slowly collects power, then erupts, flowing like a torrent, lifting his potential to godlike heights. As Flowers turns back toward him, Anstis meets his gaze. “Dismiss your men.”
Instantly, Flowers stumbles back a pace, eyes wide. “No…that can’t be….” With muscle clenching effort, he shakes his head. “No, I’ll do no such thing!” Around him, his men glance at each other twitchily.
Flowers raises an accusatory finger toward Anstis’s grinning face. “Ye’ve got tricks up your sleeve, Thomas. It’ll do you no good! Bring him down!”
(Jim: “Alright, we’re going octopus form–”
Jason: “Oh, good, the octopus is in the way!”)
Instantly, Anstis’s flesh erupts across the deck as he unfolds unto octopus form, throwing himself at Flowers–
–Whose image instantly evaporates into nothing, leaving Antis to crash heavily on the metal. He hesitates a moment, then recovers, slashing at two nearby guards with razor-tipped tentacles. The other men see this, then immediately turn to dismiss themselves at high velocity.
(Jim: “Except the ones I can grab on the way out. And eat.”)
Screams echo through the massive hold as fleshy tentacles grab men in rapid succession, dragging them back into Anstis’s waiting maw….
(Jim: “How many men?”
Jason: “Like, eight to ten.”
Jim: “So…how much blood is that?”
Jason: “You fill your blood pool. –OH SHIT, at second-gen you have infinite blood pool!”
Chris: *laughing* “Run, guards run!”
Jason: “………You have a hundred blood.”
Kara: “Oooh, my god….”
Jason: “You think that’s bad? Jim, so…the physical cap on physical stats is fifteen. Which you can currently buff to.”
Jim: “Then…that’s what’s going to happen!!!”
Jason: “Alright. I shall call the night there, and we will resume next week with Jim laying waste to everything on this ship.”
Jim: *still laughing* “Guess what? The Kraken is in the way!”)
END OF NIGHT
SPECIAL EPILOGUE: Balasar Boudreaux the Unwitting Mokole Hunter will continue to make appearances as an NPC, unfortunately, Raleigh is unable to join us even as an off-site guest-star. But as a consolation gift, we do have for your listening pleasure a monologue of Balasar sharing his backstory in his own words.