Chris: “I call Georgia Johnson.”
Jason: “…Oh, Christ…why do you do this to me?”
Chris: “It’s what he would do! There’s all these schemes in play that involve her!”
Jason: “Yeah, there are….”
Chris: “And Paul is going to be doing the same thing about an hour from now—”
Jason: “Alright, you know what? Ms. Johnson is off on another plane of reality right now so she isn’t taking any calls. That’s my solution for right now, we’ll work the rest out later.”
Chris: “That’s fine. I leave a voicemail. Paul will as well, eventually. ‘Georgia, this is Paul, I’m with a were-alligator, you said you’d be here forty minutes ago, please help, thanks bye!’”
MARK HOPKINS HOTEL
Anstis climbs out of the Chantry car in front of the Mark Hopkins hotel, ignoring the young black man driver watching him through the car windows, completely unaware it’s Scout under illusion.
(Me: “So, Scout knows he’s going to meet Rabenholz?”
Me: “But she doesn’t know that Rabenholz switches hotels all the time?”
Jason: “I don’t think so, no.”
Me: “Okay. Well, she’d probably assume this is his permanent location. Okay, she drops Anstis off and drives away.”)
Anstis enters the hotel and swaggers through the lobby, catching a few double-takes—first at his clothes and then at his beard. The concierge tries to stop him, but Anstis smiles and Dominates his way through and up to the presidential suite.
Rabenholz is just finishing his sword practice as Anstis arrives. “Ah, Captain,” he says, gesturing him in. “You will recall some days ago you and Marcus Sertorius left Candlestick Point on some expedition, along with a number of Anarchs.”
Anstis nods absently, scoping out the suite’s plush accommodations. “Aye.”
“Left behind was one in particular I have taken under my wing. He was supposed to wait there for you and Marcus to return, but he has not been found.”
Anstis picks up a decanter of blood from the side table and sniffs it. “Aye, I recall him. Do you know his name?”
Anstis pours himself a tumbler of blood, grins at Rabenholz, then pulls a blank consecrated stone from his pocket. He dabs his finger in the glass and scrawls Ben Smith’s name on the stone in, then casts the ritual:
You have no knowledge of this man.
Anstis stares at the rock, perplexed. In all the decades he’s used Necromancy, he’s never seen this response before. “The stones are uncertain,” he mutters, putting the rock away. “But there is a way to send you to him so long as I have an item that belongs to him.”
Rabenholz moves the decanter of blood to another table. “I’m afraid I do not.”
Anstis grins again. “But I do.” He reaches into another pocket and draws out Ben’s—aka, Bev’s—sliced-off ear. “There is a risk, however. It will take you to his location wherever he is, even if he’s in daylight at the moment.”
Rabenholz eyes him coolly. “That would be most unfortunate.”
“Perhaps you should send someone you don’t care about instead.”
After a moment, Rabenholz nods. “I know just the person.”
(Chris: “Colleen, your phone rings.”)
“Yes?” Scout answers.
“Ms. Scout,” Rabenholz greets her, “Have you attempted to locate Benjamin Smith at Candlestick Park yet?”
“Not as of yet, no, and the evening is getting rather late—”
“Time is of the essence,” he says firmly. “Would you meet me at the Presidential Suite of the Mark Hopkins as soon as possible?”
Scout hesitates. “I’ll make my way there as soon as I can.”
Something odd rings in her voice, like a strange echo in the background. Rabenholz ignores it. “Excellent. I’ll expect you shortly.” He hangs up.
(Chris: “Next, I call Georgia Johnson.”
Jason: “…Oh, Christ…why do you do this to me?”
Chris: “It’s what he would do! There’s all these schemes in play that involve her!”
Jason: “Yeah, there are….”
Chris: “And Paul is going to be doing the same thing about an hour from now—”
Jason: “Alright, you know what? Ms. Johnson is off on another plane of reality right now so she isn’t taking any calls. That’s my solution for right now, we’ll work the rest out later.”
Chris: “That’s fine. I leave a voicemail. Paul will as well, eventually. ‘Georgia, this is Paul, I’m with a were-alligator, you said you’d be here forty minutes ago, please help, thanks bye!’”)
Meanwhile, Anstis has taken the tumbler of blood into the bathroom and is crouched down preparing a teleportation circle on the tile floor. Rabenholz comes in and holds out a small plastic device. “Captain, this is called a panic button. It will summon the security forces to you tomorrow night. Simply flip it open and push the button.”
Anstis accepts it, examining it with his one eye. “How long will it take them to arrive, if needed?”
“Some will already be in the room, some stationed in the hallway. Most will likely arrive by elevator.”
Rabenholz leaves Anstis to continue making his preparations, going back to sword practice, but the moment he picks up his sword his phone rings. It’s Rhona.
“Ms. Tyler,” he answers, placing his cane-sword on his desk.
“Lord Rabenholz. I wanted to know what provisions you wanted made about this display of yours?”
“The wallmounts we looked at earlier will be adequate.”
“What about setup?”
“We will have a crew in this evening to do this.”
“Alright. Where is the item being stored?”
“My associate Ms. Johnson still claims Mr. Lytton. I will be attempting to check in with her. I was planning to bring him over tomorrow evening. If I don’t hear from her in the next hour or so I shall pay her a visit.”
“Okay. And those other items you mentioned?”
Rabenholz draws his hand along a carved wooden box sitting on the desk and another cane-sword laying carefully next to it. “I have them here. Please send a runner to collect them from the suite.”
“Okay. I just wanted to check, those are the last items on my list.”
“Very good. Still no luck in locating Ben Smith?”
“No. We haven’t found much.”
Rabenholz eyes Anstis’s progress in the bathroom. “I shall hopefully have an associate here soon to take over the search. The one you don’t trust.”
Rhona pauses a moment. “Be careful with her,” she says, voice low. “Something about her is…off. I can’t explain it, I just…don’t like the feeling I get around her.”
Rabenholz nods once. “Your intuition serves you well.”
“Is there anything else you need, my lord?”
“That is all for now. Thank you.” Rabenholz hangs up.
Just then, the room doorbell rings. Rabenholz strides over to open it.
No one is there.
Rabenholz hesitates, carefully leaning out to glance up and down the hall. It’s empty as well. Perplexed, he turns back to the room…
And finds Scout standing behind him, smirking.
He frowns at her and closes the door. “Very impressive, Ms. Scout.”
She bows. “You still need assistance seeking Ben Smith?”
“Yes.” Rabenholz nods toward the bathroom. “Mr. Anstis is preparing a method of taking one to his immediate location and I need someone good at investigation to follow the trail from there.”
She tenses, glancing at the near-complete blood circle on the floor. “And you’re not sure where this location is?”
She gapes at Rabenholz. “It’s only a few hours until sunrise! What if it’s out in the middle of nowhere, like open wilderness? Or what if he’s been captured and the whole thing is a trap?”
Rabenholz eyes her a long, cool moment, then smirks. “This is why I need someone as impressive as you.”
A glare flickers across her face, then she nods in acquiescence. Rabenholz gestures for her to step into the bathroom. Anstis moves back and she steps into the circle, arms folded in irritation.
“Good luck, Ms. Scout,” Rabenholz says and nods to Anstis. There’s a flash of violet light, and Scout disappears.
(Jason: “Jim, roll me Intelligence + Thaumaturgy, difficulty 7.”
Jim: “Eight successes!”
Jason: “Something’s wrong. The circle didn’t reset properly. It’s still open. Normally when you send someone through a circle, you effectively use the blood magic to rip open a portal. Whomever is inside goes through and the portal slams shut. This one didn’t. It’s like it’s still pending.”
“That’s odd,” Anstis mutters, peering at the circle but finding nothing wrong with the sigils.
Rabenholz watches him carefully. “Is everything alright, Mr. Anstis? That’s the second ritual you’ve been unsure about tonight.”
Anstis stands rapidly, smoothing at his coat. “Can you call her?”
Rabenholz pulls out his phone and does so. It rings two, three times…then connects. “Yes, Lord Rabenholz?” Scout answers.
“Ms. Scout. Captain Anstis has expressed some confusion about his magics. Are you alright?”
There’s a pause. “I…seem to be in a single piece, though I have no idea where I am.”
“Very good. I’m glad to hear you’re okay, keep me in the loop.” Rabenholz hangs up and turns back to the pirate. “Captain, can you identify the location of Ms. Scout?”
“Aye.” Anstis digs in his pocket for another blank rock, then stops.
(Jim: “Wait…I probably can’t use the stone thing—”
Me: *laughing hysterically* “Because you need my real name for that, asshole!! Why do you think I’ve been giving you guys a fake name this whole time?!”
Jason: “Oh my god, I totally didn’t think of that…”
Me: “It’s one of the first things I thought of when I was making the character! ‘Hmm, what sort of tricks are these assholes using and how can I get around them?’”)
Anstis turns to Rabenholz. “Do you know her name?” Anstis asks.
“Her birth name? No.”
“Do you know anyone that would?”
“I do not.” Rabenholz frowns. “There is a reason my chief of staff does not trust her,” he mutters.
“If you would like me to find her, her real name will be necessary.”
Rabenholz stares at his reflection in the bathroom mirror a long moment. “…Shit.”
(Jason: “I mean, you could try. There are people named Scout as their real names.”
Me: “Yeah, it’ll point you to Bruce Willis’s daughter.”)
Rabenholz tries calling her again, but this time there’s no answer.
Anstis watches him. “Would you like me to remain here for the moment, or go finish preparations?” he asks tentatively.
Rabenholz shoves his phone away. “What do you have left to prepare?”
“Walk through the building, make sure no new surprises have arrived.”
Rabenholz pulls out his pocketwatch. It’s almost 4 am. “Wait here another hour. If I do not return in that time, come to the Chantry.” With that, Rabenholz leaves the suite.
(Jim: *evil grin* “Soooo, Rabenholz has left me in his suite with nothing to do….”
Chris: “Yeah, if you go snooping around pretty much the only interesting thing you’ll find in here is some nice suits.”
Jim: “…Which is why you were okay leaving me alone, isn’t it.”)
Anstis grumbles and wanders back to the decanter of blood.
Rabenholz arrives, strides boldly to the Chantry door, and knocks. A few minutes pass, then a gargoyle opens the door. This time, it’s Domen.
Rabenholz nods to him. “I seek an audience with the Regent.”
Domen looms over him, spines on his back and shoulders twitching subtly with the flex of his muscles. “The Regent is not available,” he rumbles.
Rabenholz nods and moves to step forward. “In that case, I must take possession of one of my belongings in the basement.”
Domen remains firmly planted in the doorway. “I have been given no orders.”
“I order you to let me pass.”
“You are not Tremere.”
Rabenholz stares at Domen a long moment. The gargoyle stares evenly back. “It is true you do not know who I am and you do not know whom I serve,” Rabenholz says finally, breaking the silence. “But your loyalty is to your regent, whom you know to be an ally of mine.”
There’s a rasp of rough stone as Domen’s folded arms flex tighter. “My loyalty is to the Tremere. The Regent is of the Tremere, you are not. Too many have come through this Chantry.”
Jason: “Roll it.”
Chris: “It’s not Paul-level Awe, though…” *rolls* “…But that will do.”
Jason: *peers at his massive run of successes.* “Yeah, that will do. Awe hits Domen and everyone on the street. Passers by walking their dogs stop and stare.”
Me: “The dogs stop and stare!”
Jason: “Dogs aren’t affected by Awe.”
Me: “Dogs are always affected by Awe, come on.”)
Rabenholz draws himself up and pours as much command into his tone as possible. “Escort me to Storeroom B at once.”
Domen hesitates, then, with a low growl, steps back to let him in. “The Regent will hear of this.”
“As she should,” Rabenholz says, pausing to let his eyes adjust to the dim foyer. “Where is the Regent?”
“I am not ordered to know.”
“Is her head ghoul here?”
Rabenholz nods. “Bring him to me.”
Domen growls again and walks away. Rabenholz begins walking down the hall alone, heading to the stairwell to the dungeons. After a few moments Bob runs up and follows him down the hall.
“Bob,” Rabenholz says crisply. “Where is your Master?”
Bob hurries to keep up with Rabenholz’s long strides. “I…don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you….”
They arrive at the head of the stairs. Rabenholz descends without hesitation. “I will remind you she has RSVP’d for my party tomorrow evening and I do hope to see her there.”
Bob hovers at the top of the stairs a moment, wringing his hands. “I…don’t know where she is.”
“I see. She does have a tendency to do that, doesn’t she?”
Bob sighs. “Yeah, she really, really does….” Suddenly, realizing what he’s said, his eyes go wide and he rushes to catch up with Rabenholz. “I mean, no! No, it must be important, she would never just leave!”
“I’m sure,” Rabenholz says coolly, reaching the bottom and sweeping down the long dungeon hallways. “In any case, I require supplies for my party that she has been keeping in trust.”
They reach the main block of storerooms. Rabenholz heads to the one with his crates, then stops. A huge chunk of the room has been blackened by fire, charring the stacks of crates and boxes and even cracking the stone of the floor.
“What happened here?” Rabenholz snaps.
Bob cowers in the doorway. “There was an intruder—”
Rabenholz rushes to his mirror crate, pulling off the burnt remains of the sheet covering it, scattering ash and scraping sawdust aside—
But the mirror inside is untouched.
Rabenholz relaxes. “Get a truck and bring it around,” he says to Bob. “With the Regent gone, the Chantry is clearly no longer secure. I shall move my supplies to an alternate location for the day.” He turns to the ghoul. “You can drive a delivery truck, can’t you?”
Bob stares at him, then falls to his knees, bursting into tears.
(Me: “What did you do!? Kara’s been gone one day and you already made Bob cry!”)
“I-I’m sorry!” Bob sputters, “I’m s-so s-sorry, please don’t tell the Regent! I tried to study everything but I didn’t know how—”
“There there,” Rabenholz says, unenthusiastically. “None of us think the less of you for it. I have a towncar outside. Assist me in moving the mirror there instead and I shall forget the whole thing.”
Still sniffling, Bob nods, then leaves to go inform the driver. Rabenholz turns back to the crate, frowning at the char on the side. After a moment, he touches the glass of the mirror. The opacity shifts, revealing the murky mirror-dimension on the other side. And Tom Lytton in the middle, still unconscious, still bolted to the rack.
Rabenholz, though, still frowns suspiciously. He touches the glass again and wills himself inside the space. Reality fades and spins as he re-orientates and finds himself inside, staring up at Tom. He carefully checks that all the details he remembers are still there: the taxidermy, the spell-wrought stake fragments embedded in his heart, and the heavy metal pegs driven through Tom’s flesh and wrapped around his bones to bolt him to the rack.
(Chris: “I also commune with him, like that one time.”
Jason: “Alright! Colleen, guess what you get to do again?”
Rabenholz focuses, slipping his consciousness from the mirror-realm and into Tom’s mental space. In this realm, the walls and rack fade to a shadowy mist and Tom hovers suspended in the air before him, head lolled to his chest, eyes dark.
(Me: “Cause my eyes are still gouged out, right?”
Chris: “Yeah but there’s glass eyes in there.”
Me: “…Great, thanks.”
Chris: “Hey, it was a good taxidermist.”
Me: *excited* “…Oh my god, was it Chuck Testa?! Did you get Chuck Testa to do my taxidermy!??!”
“Mr. Lytton,” Rabenholz says.
The projection of Tom jerks to life, staring sightlessly around, dark wisps of shadow trailing from the sockets. “Rabenholz?” he mutters. “Everything is dark…I assume I’m still in your mirror?”
“Yes. You will come out tomorrow evening.”
“I already came out about twenty years ago, but thanks.”
“I mean you are the guest of honor at my party.”
The shadows of Tom’s eyes twist in a clear imitation of an eye-roll. “Great. Do I have some clean clothes? Cause I can’t be seen in public in the beat-up shit I was in last time—”
“Mr. Lytton, you look absolutely fabulous,” Rabenholz says smoothly. “The taxidermist was very talented.”
Tom tenses. “Wait, taxidermist!? What the hell??”
(Jason: “Yeah, you feel weird.”
Me: “I mean, I felt weird last time he talked to me.”
Jason: “Yeah but now you’re putting a few things together.”)
Tom’s body jerks in the air, like a broken puppet on invisible strings. “Rabenholz you kraut bitch, what the fuck have you done to me?!”
Rabenholz smirks. “I have made you suitable for display. I hope black leather is your color.”
Tom stops struggling and grits his teeth. “It usually is.”
“Good, the taxidermist felt you would look best in it.” Rabenholz steps forward to peer up at Tom’s face. “I must say, he did a very good job with the eyes.”
“Are they blue? Cause my eyes have always been one of my best features.”
“They are, the match is quite stunning.” Rabenholz scans the body more closely, then nods. “I’m very impressed, normally in this situation, the subject experiences a certain amount of leakage. In your case, it is much less than I am accustomed to.”
Tom glares down in the direction of Rabenholz’s voice. “Well, unless you’re talking about anal leakage I can’t really help you with that.”
“No, that is not what I meant.” Rabenholz steps back. “In any case, this was just a brief visit, I must return to my preparati—”
Tom suddenly jerks again. “Okay, okay! Rabenholz! Sir! Look…I’m sorry. I—well, I didn’t kill Karl Sutro, but I’m sorry for everything that happened after. What else do you need from me? Have you completed enough of my torture yet?”
Rabenholz cocks his head. “Torture? I had hoped it would be somewhat more calm for you.”
The shadows trailing from Tom’s eyes narrow to thin wisps. “Yeah, it’s been super zen.”
Rabenholz slowly paces through the space. “Tomorrow night you will be put on display for all the notable patrons of the city. I’m afraid I must withdraw the offer for you to handle Prince van Nuys. He and I have come to an alternative arrangement.”
Tom hangs silently a long moment. “Did you find any information on my sister?”
Rabenholz eyes him. “Some. You won’t be comforted to hear it.”
“I’ll take what I can get.”
Rabenholz takes a breath. “She has fallen in with the Assamites. Apparently a splinter cell, no less. Hers must be a very dangerous existence.” He shakes his head sadly, then frowns up at Tom. “You look as if this information doesn’t surprise you.”
Tom hangs quietly another moment. “Nothing else?”
“No. You will be comforted to know, however, that Captain Anstis has entered an arrangement with your patron. He has promised Sertorius you will not reach final death.”
Tom’s body goes very still. “Why is Anstis promising him that?” he asks slowly.
“Because I have promised you to Captain Anstis.”
The shadows of Tom’s eyes twist and the surrounding mists darken. “…Fucking why!?” Tom shouts, jerking again against invisible bonds. “What the fuck could that squid-faced asshole want with me?!”
“I did not ask, but knowing his talents I was somewhat hesitant.”
“Knowing his talents, I’d be more useful to him dead!”
“Yes, a comfort to us all, I’m sure,” Rabenholz says smoothly. “It is possible he means to treat you as an assistant.”
Tom eventually abandons his struggles. “I do look good in short-shorts and a sailor’s cap,” he mutters.
“I believe the taxidermist suggested that also, but I felt it inappropriate for the venue.” Rabenholz smiles thinly. “In any case, I merely wanted to check on you and let you know what’s going on.”
“You mean gloat,” Tom snaps. “Am I going to wake up or am I just going to be left in this limbo for the rest of my existence?”
“If you were staying with me, I would keep you as wall-art for at least twenty years. But Captain Anstis has his own best judgement to follow. I believe he intends to reanimate you.” Rabenholz hesitates. “…I’m sorry, given his talents that might sound ambiguous. I mean he intends to take you off the wall and allow you to move about.”
(Jason: “That’s not all that less ambiguous.”
Me: “Yeah, do I know he can do that zombie puppet thing?”
Jason: “You’ve seen him do some creepy-ass shit.”
Me: “So I might be able to extrapolate….”)
“In any case,” Rabenholz continues, “I believe this will be the last conversation we have here. Perhaps if we meet again, you will be on your own feet again.”
Tom snarls, jerking uselessly…then relaxes. His head droops and the shadows around him fade back to grey. “Great. Well. Enjoy your party.”
“Thank you. I am sure you will have a special place in it.” With that, Rabenholz dissolves the mental link, returning him to the mirror realm. Tom’s body hangs unconsciously on the rack once again, blue-glass taxidermy eyes staring back at him. Rabenholz smiles to himself and exits the mirror properly.
Once he’s reoriented himself back in the storeroom, Rabenholz pulls out his phone and calls Anstis. “Captain,” he greets him.
“Did you need me to come to the Chantry, or shall I go about my business?” Anstis asks.
“Thank you, but I believe I have everything here under control. Were you able to locate Ms. Scout?”
“Concerning.” Rabenholz stares at the mirror thoughtfully a moment. “Check on the venue at the Bank of America building and let me know if anything is amiss.”
Rabenholz hangs up. He examines the crate once again, making sure the fire hasn’t damaged the structural integrity of the wood. Bob returns then, reporting that the car is ready. Rabenholz instructs him to reseal the lid of the crate, then levitates it to lead it out of the room.
RABENHOLZ’S BOLTHOLE, FORT MASON
Rabenholz’s towncar drives carefully through the city, crate strapped to the roof like an IKEA flatbox. Finally, it reaches Fort Mason and winds carefully through the wharfs and warehouses to an unmarked shipping container, one of Rabenholz’s less flashy but no-less important assets.
(Chris: “Would you like a description of a Rabenholz bolt hole?”
Jason: “Go right ahead.”
Chris: “Have you seen Alias, cause they’re pretty similar to Jack Bristow boltholes.”
Jason: “I have not.”
Chris: “It’s a storage container, metal racks like you’d find in a server room, upon which are seran-wrapped fresh dollar bills, various thaumaturgical supplies, guns, and some very nice suits. Follow by a very simple mattress in the back and some drums of water and perhaps other fluids.”
Jason: “…What are you doing with water?”
Chris: “It’s useful for cleaning.”)
Once the crate is unloaded, Rabenholz dismisses the car, then opens the container and levitates the crate inside. He carefully tucks it back into a far corner and levitates the mattress on top of it.
Anstis calls then. “Everything is in order,” he announces as Rabenholz answers.
“Very good. I will meet you tomorrow at the Bank of America building. Let us say 8:30 pm.” Rabenholz hangs up and tries calling Scout again. She doesn’t answer.
Rabenholz stands at the door of the container, staring out over the water. Waves lap the docks, and dawn is just beginning to brighten the horizon over the East Bay hills. He lingers a long moment, carefully surveying the empty buildings around him. Then he drags the container door closed and locks himself in for the day.
(Jason: “Now, normally I would catch up with what Paul is doing, but I think for the moment I will leave Paul where he is and keep with this thread.”
Me: “Good, cause we got good momentum.”
Jason: “Indeed. So, the next night dawns.”
Jim: “What night is it in-game?”
Chris: “Oh crap, that’s what Kara was in charge of tracking.”
Jim: “Colleen! Keep track of the date!”
Me: “Uh, no. I am keeping track of waaaaaaay too many things already. I’ve got the game we’re playing, I’ve got the back-logged episodes I’m writing, I’ve got out of game meta-plot discussions with you guys, at any one moment in my mind I’m simultaneously jumping forward and back in time like it’s a goddamn plot-tesseract!”
Chris: “Okay, fine. Does anyone know what date it is now?”
Jim: *checks his notes* “I think we should be starting…March 29th, 2016.”
Jason: “Oh hey, that’s a week from today!”
Jim: “Oh my god, does that mean next week we’ll be playing on the actual game-date?”
Jason: “Unless we finish a single night tonight.”
RABENHOLZ BOLTHOLE, FORT MASON
Rabenholz wakes up on his cot not long after sunset. He climbs off, removes the mattress, and pries open the crate underneath. Tom’s mirror is still there. Relieved, he checks the time. Seven-thirty, an hour till he has to meet Anstis.
(Chris: “This is going to be a busy day for Rabenholz. There are a few rituals I want to perform to get things started.”
Jason: “Oh, please tell.”
Chris: “My blue silk cord to resist Presence. Blood Rush, to reduce blood frenzy based on the number of successes you get on the roll.”
Jason: “Okay, sounds good.”
Chris: “And the final one is more disturbing. I pull out my dagger…and cut off my thumb.”
Me: “What the fuck!?”
Chris: “I believe I need to make a self-control roll on this.”
Me: “Yeah, just like last tim—Hey wait, I still don’t know what the onion does!”
Chris: “Hmm, fancy that. Anyway, this is Firewalker. It basically lets you soak fire for a number of turns and reduces difficulty of frenzy rolls.”)
Rabenholz completes his rituals—and the healing necessary after some of them—then tucks his thaumaturgical implements away in their storage containers and calls Rhona for a car.
An SUV this time.
SEAL ROCK INN
Scout wakes up in her room at the motel, having barely made it back before dawn the night before. She lies there a moment, then checks the time. Seven-thirty. Not long till Rabenholz’s party. The one she wasn’t invited to. She makes a few hurried texts, waits for their replies, then gets up.
A few minutes later she jogs downstairs to the lobby, jacket over one arm, still buttoning her blouse. The teenage kid who works the evening desk stares at her, then blushes and looks away.
Scout hesitates, glancing out the front windows. No tourists are out on the streets this late on the edge of the city, and no one is in the cafe.
(Me: “Sooo, I know this kid has a crush on me, and I’ve been trying to ignore it, but…I need blood…and…I’m in a rush….”)
Scout leans on the end of the counter, smiling at the kid. “Thanks again for getting my suit laundered.”
The boy’s blush deepens. He stares more intently at his phone. “No problem,” he mutters. “Sorry they couldn’t fix it.”
Scout holds up her new suit jacket, then lays it on the counter. “That’s alright, I got a replacement. Still, you’ve been very helpful while I’ve been here. You must really care about the job.”
The kid shrugs. “My dad makes me work here. My uncle is the manager.”
“Doesn’t matter the reason. A loyal employee is a loyal employee, and your customers appreciate it.”
Scout smiles and extends her arms in an offer of a hug. The kid hesitates, then climbs off his stool to awkwardly accept.
She grabs his arm and pulls him in to bite, fast, taking as much as she dares before lowering him to the floor. He’s unconscious, breathing shallowly. Too shallowly.
Scout hovers over him a moment, then grabs the landline phone from the counter. She punches in 9-1-1 then tucks the phone into the kid’s hand.
She stands and grabs her jacket, avoids looking down at the boy as she shrugs into it, then leaves.
(So I hate to break the dramatic mood we’re building up here, but it is worth mentioning that Scout did try to do some more feeding after leaving the motel and unfortunately ran into someone she didn’t know but I should have really should have expected.)
Anstis digs himself out of the ground in Washington Square Park, shifts down into parrot-form before anyone can see, then takes off into the air.
He also has some preparations to make before Rabenholz’s party. Primarily, getting a snack. As he circles over the neighborhood, he spots a man waiting alone at a bus-stop. Anstis spirals down and lands nearby.
The man looks up in surprise. “Hey pretty parrot, you lost?”
Anstis cocks an eye up at him, waddles closer…then bites him in the ankle.
(Jason: “Ahh, fanged parrots.”
Me: “They don’t have them.”
Jason: “This one does.”
Me: “Have you met a parrot? I’m saying he doesn’t need them.”
Jason: “…Oh, that’s true….”)
The macaw chomps into the flesh with his massive beak. The man cries out once, then slumps back against the bus-stop.
(Jim: “That…actually went a lot better than when I hunt as a pirate…. Let’s try it again!”)
Anstis flutters back into the air and quickly spots another person a few blocks away, a woman walking alone. He lands nearby and squawks weakly, making himself as fluffy as possible. The woman stops, coo’s in concern, then bends down to pick him up. Anstis bites her wrist, then once again draws enough blood to pass her out.
(Jim: “I think I finally figured out how to go hunting without causing absolute chaos!”)
Anstis rouses his feathers proudly, scrapes dried blood off his beak against the sidewalk, then flies off toward the Bank of America building.
BANK OF AMERICA BUILDING
The hired crew is already setting up when Rabenholz arrives, overseen by Rhona. Her smooth exterior is looking frazzled, though, clearly exhausted from being up all day and much of the night before making preparations. Rabenholz excuses her to go home to bed and takes over, touching up a few Dominates on the supervisors and main wait-staff in the process.
(Jim: “Am I there yet?”
Jason: “No, not yet. Colleen, where is Scout headed?”
Me: “Well she went to the B-of-A, but she’s Obfuscated.”
Jason: “Okay. What is she doing?”
Me: “Nothing. Just…lurking around the party, seeing what she can see.”)
The room is high in the building, the windows looking out over the rooftops of the surrounding skyline. The night is clear, the stars overhead mirroring the scattered lights in the skyscrapers below. Rabenholz paces smoothly though the room as preparations bustle around him. The rented decor is sparse, tasteful, with simple lines and modern color palettes of mahogany and brushed steel. Rabenholz nods in approval.
At the far end of the room, sitting at the focal point of arranges tables and seating, is the dias. A heavy scaffold covered with drapery frames the back of it. Porters arrive with the mirror-crate on a cart. Rabenholz oversees them as they unload it and place it on the dias. He orders the lid pried off. The mirror is still inside. Rabenholz touches the glass, revealing just enough of the realm to make out the shadowy impression of Tom on the rack within. He nods and reverts it back to opaque.
Rabenholz turns to a nearby staff member. “An associate of mine may be arriving soon, dressed as a pirate. Please see he is let up immediately.” The woman nods and leaves. The porters remove the mirror from the crate and lean it up against the scaffolding. Rabenholz steps forward and touches the glass again, dispelling the enchantment. The glass ripples and fades away, leaving the gilded frame behind.
Nothing else comes out.
(Chris: “…But…he was just in there….”
Jason: “Yes. He was.”)
Rabenholz stares at the frame, then sticks his arm through. The enchantment is definitely gone. But there’s no rack standing on the dias. And definitely no Tom Lytton.
The porters shuffle awkwardly behind him. Rabenholz ignores them, peering closely at the frame. Subtle runes defining the mirror enchantment are inscribed around it, cut deep into the gilded rood. He traces them with his finger, then stops. Fresh cuts override some of the ancient ones, marring the runes. Changing them.
(Chris: “When did that happen???”
Jason: “You don’t know. The changes are subtle, they could have been there for awhile and you only just noticed now.”)
Rabenholz runs both hands along the wood, reading quickly with sight and touch. The portions of the spell managing the mirror realm itself weren’t touched. As far as he can tell, it activated and dispelled as it was properly intended. But something else was grafted onto the dispell. Some sort of teleport.
(Me: “Where’s your Tom, dude?”
Chris: *glares* “…Silence.”)
The supervisor woman comes up. “Sir, is everything alrigh—”
“Not now.” Rabenholz picks up the frame and carries it back across the room, to the store room near the stairwell. The secret one with the secret teleportation circle installed. A door has been added since he and Anstis first discovered it, but the circle is still there. He closes the door and props the mirror frame against the wall. Once again he reads the runes, focusing on the details of the added teleportation spell. Just by reading it, he can’t tell where it goes, but he can copy it. Biting his wrist for a flow of vitae, he squats down and adds the unfamiliar runes to the spells binding the circle at his feet.
There’s a knock at the door. “What?!” Rabenholz snaps.
“Uh, sir?” a muffled human voice calls. “Mr. Anstis is here.”
Rabenholz straightens. “Send him in.”
Anstis sidles into the room, then stops, staring at the frame and the adjusted circle. “Lord Rabenholz?”
“Someone has stolen Mr. Lytton,” Rabenholz mutters.
(Jason: “What’s your path?”
Chris: “Power of the Inner Voice.”
Jason: “What’s your nature?”
Jason: “…Yeah, self-control test.”
Chris: “…One success.”
Jason: “Yeah, you are fuming mad. Not just that someone stole Tom, but that you have to admit it to an underling.”)
Rabenholz makes a few finishing touches to the circle, then initiates it. Power thrums through instantly, pulsating and ready. “We are going to retrieve him,” he says, stepping into the middle. Anstis eyes him, then shrugs and steps in next to them. With a twist of his mind, Rabenholz activates it—
(Jason: “Okay. So…how do I put this…you both arrive in a situation you had not anticipated. Although one that for the both of you isn’t so bad.”
Jason: “Well…you appear in midair, hundreds of feet above the Bank of America building.”
Chris and Jim: “…”
Jason: “And then you fall.”)
Rabenholz and Anstis plummet down through cold night air, toward the dark rectangle of the room underneath them. Anstis rapidly shifts to parrot-form and slows to a glide, while Rabenholz slows his fall with Movement of the Mind. They slowly lower, Anstis circling around while Rabenholz scans the roof below for signs of Lytton or the rack he was bolted to.
There’s no sign of either.
(Jason: “Colleen, what are you doing, by the way?”
Me: “Well…everyone ran out, so…I guess I’m just hanging out.”)
Rabenholz lands gently on the gravel roof, cloak flaring around him. He turns, scanning all visible nearby structures. Nothing is visible but skyline.
(Chris: “I’m going to activate another ritual: Illuminate the Trail of the Prey. On Tom Lytton.”)
Rabenholz continues scanning the surrounding city for the tell-tale green glow tracing the path of his quarry. Nothing appears on the nearby rooftops or in the visible streets below. Finally, he looks up.
A hundred feet overhead, a green path appears in the night sky, falling in the same trajectory he and Anstis took. But instead of hitting the roof, it levels off after a dozen feet or so, then shoots out over the city, to the north-west. In the distance, the growing tip of it traces against the sky.
Noticing his intent stare, Anstis lands nearby and follows his gaze, but sees nothing. “Captain,” Rabenholz says firmly. “Follow me. Be alert.” Instantly, Rabenholz lifts himself back into the air and shoots after the glowing path, Anstis flapping rapidly behind.
The trail heads north-west for a mile or so, then curves, heading dead-west. Rabenholz angles to cut it off. It shoots toward Golden Gate park, then suddenly jerks north and starts to descend. Rabenholz banks in the air, cloak snapping around him, and follows.
(Jason: “You can’t cut it off from this angle, but you can see where it’s headed. The largest landmark in the immediate area: Saint Ignatius Church.”
Chris: *glowers in silence a long moment* “…Fuck. Cantor.”
Jason: “Not the first time someone has said that.”)
A massive church—which in any other city would be a cathedral by right—looms on a bluff over the darkened grounds of USF and the surrounding neighborhoods, glowing like a beacon in the heart of the northern city. The path descends into the columned tip of one of the twin bell towers and disappears inside.
(Chris: “I go there.”
Jason: “…You go there??”
Jason: “Oooo boy….”
Me: “Wait, does Rabenholz know who’s in Saint Ignatius?”
Jason: “Yeah, he’s been told, including by you.”
Jim: “Anstis follows.”
Jason: “…This may get more violent than I expected tonight….”)
ST IGNATIUS CHURCH
Rabenholz and Anstis alight on the bell tower, then follow the trail to the twisting staircase. Darkness engulfs them as they descend. Finally, they reach a doorway at the bottom, leading out to the main hall of the church. The place is empty, the only light the wan yellow glow from streetlights outside leaking through the stained-glass windows and limning the dark lines of wooden pews. The whole space rings with deathly quiet.
Rabenholz walks slowly down the center aisle, cloak flaring open to fill the width between the rows, heavy footsteps ringing like shots off the polished stone. Still in parrot-form, Anstis scurries along behind, hopping to keep up.
(Me: “…Oh my god, that’s adorable and terrifying.”
Chris: “Yes. Christopher Lee as intimidating Count-Dracula-Lord-Dooku hybrid, and…Macaw.”)
The absolute silence is deafening to Rabenholz’s Auspex-enhanced ears. He moves slowly, carefully, scanning for any hints of someone moving through the shadows around them.
(Jason: “You know Cantor is an Assamite, you know what he’s capable of. And you know he has at least one servant.”)
Rabenholz also eyes the trail leading down the center of the church and disappearing through a doorway near the altar. He approaches carefully. His senses tingle with a sense of malignancy surrounding them, rooted in the very walls of the building.
He reaches under his cloak and draws Glitch.
(Chris: “Don’t mess with Rabenholz’s toys.”)
Suddenly the church bells spring to life overhead. Rabenholz and Anstis duck instinctively, holding tense until they stop. Bone-jarring tones ring through the building, thirteen times.
As the last wave withers away, a deep voice echoes around them, as if the church itself was speaking, “This is not your domain.”
Rabenholz straightens. “I pardon the intrusion,” he calls out to the darkness.
“You pardon nothing. Leave.”
“I would be overjoyed to leave once I get back what is mine.
“You get nothing!”
Ahead of them, wooden pews in the first row blast into the air, as if vomited from the floor. Sharp cracks and shrapnel rain through the building. Anstis squawks and ducks back, but Rabenholz doesn’t flinch.
“GO!!” the voice roars, deep enough to rattle the stained glass.
“Who denies me Tom Lytton?” Rabenholz calls back.
Glitch shines in the dim light as Rabenholz turns. “Show yourself!”
“You have no power here, Ventrue!”
“Power or not, Tom Lytton is mine. Until such time as I release him.”
“I give you nothing,” the voice growls, trailing down to a hiss.
Rabenholz falls quiet a moment, thinking. “Am I speaking to Cantor?”
The stones groan. “I am the master of all houses….”
(Chris: “That…sounds like a statement someone says when they’re gearing up to continue on for awhile….”)
Rabenholz holds up a hand. “I do not seek a quarrel, but I do require Tom Lytton.”
“You shall have nothing. I will feast on your bones.”
More rows of pews explode into the air, one after the other, progressing closer and closer to Rabenholz and Anstis.
(Jason: “What do you guys do?”
Chris: “I’m…dumping blood into my stats.”
Jason: “That is a good idea.”
Jim: “I’m going…to summon ravens.”
Jason: “All the ravens?”
Jim: “All the ravens.”
Jason: “Oh good. Animalism. Cause you’re good at that.
Me: “Wait, Chris, are there refreshments at the party?”
Chris: “Oh yeah, they should be setting it up by now. Coolers and glasses of blood and stuff like that.”
Me: “Okay, I take some of that.”
Jim: *rolls, then starts laughing* “The Animalism continues!”
Jason: “That…is a botch, sir!”
Jim: *still laughing* “So, nothing! Again!”
Jason: “Actually, no…not this time….”)
Anstis croaks out a rough caw, then chokes off and flutters back as another pew explodes. The floor buckles underneath them. Rabenholz leaps back, landing gracefully, cloak flowing around him.
Then silence falls again. Groaning, shifting wood echoes through the room, but all else is still.
Rabenholz turns to Anstis. “Mr. Anstis, the trail leads down into the catacombs. Our opponent clearly aims to stop us, but I am going to push ahea—”
Just then, all the windows of the church shatter at once as ten thousand screaming birds pour into the church from all sides. Blood, feathers, and shit rain around them as birds swirl through the nave, smashing glass and stone, screaming and dying, yet still more pour in like a ceaseless wave of locusts.
Rabenholz dashes to the crypt entrance with celerity speed while Anstis lumbers into the air to follow. Colors swirl in the darkness as crows, ravens, seagulls, pigeons, even sparrows pour in, summoned from all corners of the city. They all join the swirling mass, gaining speed and rising higher, then dive into the doorway after Rabenholz.
Rabenholz clatters down the stone stairs, following the trail through winding corridors, till it shoots down a hallway and straight into a dead-end wall. The memory of Flowers’s illusions fresh in his mind, Rabenholz rushes forward without stopping—
—And crashes right into the stone.
He steps back and glares. Moments later, a rising roar like hell unleashed echos behind him and he turns to see the brightly-feathered shape of Anstis flying near-blind down the hall, ricocheting off the stone, followed by a cyclone wall of shrieking feathers and beaks.
(Chris: “As soon as I see the birds, I will begin Movement of the Mind-ing them to my mouth, where I will drink them.”
Rabenholz lifts a hand. A cluster of birds at the forefront of the tempest pull away and shoot to this outstretched hand. He grabs the largest and tears blood from them, choking it down as best he can.
(Jason: “This isn’t going to work for very long. There’s too many of them.”
Me: “Okay stop birds.”)
The cyclone whirls in the narrow hallway, now centered on Anstis, crouched on the floor. Through the fury, though, he sees what Rabenholz is doing.
(Jim: “How much room is down here?”
Jason: “Why do you ask?”
Jim: “Because octopus-form.”
Jason: “…Why, why didn’t I see that coming? …So, Chris? You can’t grab anymore birds—”
Chris: “—Because the octopus is in the way.”)
Instantly a tentacular wall of flesh erupts in the narrow space, smashing birds into the walls and ceiling and lashing out with razor-tipped arms.
(Jim: “Here’s what happens next. The entrance the birds are pouring through? Anstis puts his beak right there and just inhales them as they come through.”
Jason: “Uh, Anstis can’t really maneuver well through the confines of this hallway—”
Me: “Uh, sir. Octopi. Please.”)
Rabenholz steps back. Anstis’s misshapen form twists and writhes, smashing birds to paste around him, then turns enough to spread open his arms, expose his beak, and gnash at the onrushing torrent—
Until finally it ceases. A grim silence falls. Anstis writhes in on himself, twisting in the hallway to rotate one massive eye toward Rabenholz.
“Captain,” Rabenholz says smoothly, gesturing to the dead-end behind him. “Can you tear out this wall?”
Anstis’s flesh twists again. Massive suckered arms slither past Rabenholz and lash to the wall, then pull. Chunks of stone wrench free. Rabenholz observes silently as Anstis attaches again and pulls more, showering dust and grit into the slurry of feathers and blood on the floor of the hallway. Finally, there’s a grinding crack then a huge chunk comes out at once, revealing a hidden room beyond. Rabenholz steps forward.
Within the room, sealed from sigh, is Rabenholz’s rack, with Tom Lytton’s still-unconscious body bolted to it.
(Chris: “Great! Someone’s trap worked perfectly and now we are where they want us to be.”)
Rabenholz turns to eye the hallway, Glitch still held ready. “Captain, can you make a circle back to the Bank of America?”
Anstis rotates again to clear a space in the muck and lowers an arm toward it—
(Jason: “You cannot. Make a circle. In octopus. Form.”)
Anstis-the-octopus sags sadly a moment, then the air in the hallway cracks as his mass shrinks back into itself, forming Anstis-the-pirate. He brushes feathers from his coat and kneels to begin the circle.
Rabenholz climbs into the room to examine the rack. Groaning echoes through the stones. Perhaps it’s the building settling after tearing out a wall. Perhaps it’s something else.
His phone rings. He checks the screen, then brings it to his ear while watching the hall past Anstis. “Ms. Scout.”
“Lord Rabenholz,” she says, “Is your party set to happen this evening?”
“Yes. Everything is going splendidly.”
“Ah. Good.” Scout hesitates. “I haven’t been able to locate Mr. Ben Smith, do you wish me to return to the city?”
“Yes. That would be fine. Where did you wind up being sent to?”
“Down-peninsula, one of the open-space parks.”
Rabenholz frowns suspiciously. “Which one?”
Scout hesitates another moment. “…Sweeney Ridge.”
The stones groan again in the silence. Finally, Rabenholz nods. “Alright. I will have your fee wired to you.”
“Do you need more help this evening? Where shall I meet you?”
“I’m afraid, given your current social standing, it would be inappropriate to have you at my party,” Rabenholz says coolly.
(Me: “Meanwhile I’m already there, drinking his refreshments.”)
“Things are set to adjourn at three am,” Rabenholz continues. “Perhaps I can meet you afterwards.”
Scout is quiet a moment before responding. “That would be fine. I’ll speak with you soon.” She hangs up.
Anstis is still crouched in the hallway, finishing the circle. Suddenly there’s a loud crumbling sound and the whole floor shakes.
“Sooner is better than later,” Rabenholz mumbles.
Anstis draws faster. Pebbles suddenly clatter from the ceiling. Rabenholz levitates Tom and the rack and carefully maneuver them through the hole into the hallway. The rack catches on the edge, knocking more rocks free. A deep, grinding groan follows….
Finally, Anstis stands. “Finished.”
Another groan, this one from overhead. Rabenholz maneuvers the rack into place inside the circle. He and Anstis step in next to it, then activate the spell milliseconds before the whole ceiling comes crashing down.
Silent darkness surrounds them. Both stand silently, waiting, letting their eyes adjust…to reveal the store room back in the Bank of America building.
Rabenholz steps out of the circle. “Excellent work, Captain. I believe my policy of silence with Cantor must come to an end. But that’s for another night.”
There’s a knock at the door and a server sticks his head in. “Sir? Is everything alright?”
Rabenholz nods. “Yes.”
“We just got a call from the front desk. The guests are beginning to arrive.”
Rabenholz turns to regard the rack. He smiles. “Excellent.”
(Jason: “Out of game, that was very well done. I threw absolutely everything that scenario could possibly have at you—including Jim’s botch—and you got through it.”
Me: “…Chris, dank you for rescues Tom from Cantor.”
Chris: *stares into space, drumming his fingers against the table* “Cantor…or Isabella?”)
END OF PART ONE