This one doesn’t have any good pull-quotes that work out of context so let’s just get right to it!
BANK OF AMERICA BUILDING
Rabenholz’s guests begin to file in. It’s been weeks since any sort of formal Elysium in town, and even though Rabenholz has been suspiciously-adamant that this is not an Elysium, conveniently most of the guests have dressed as if it was. Formal suits and elegant dresses abound as vampires mingle slowly with each other or quietly observe the room from within a cluster of ghoul retainers. Couches and tables dot the space and a live string quartet plays quietly in the corner, but as the court of San Francisco slowly falls back into old routines, all eyes keep glancing at the dias located at the far end of the room, and the large structure set up on it, covered by a velvet curtain.
Not long after the guests have begin to settle, sipping from the cordial glasses of blood carried by waiters circulating the room, Anstis swaggers in. The adventure to St. Ignatius unfortunately did more than a small number on his clothes, but fortunately he had already brought a brand new bespoke ensemble to change into. Gazes linger on him as he moves through the crowd in an aubergine-velvet waistcoat, soft suede pants, silk ruffles and cravat at his neck, lace at his sleeves, new feathers in his hat, a cascading wig underneath it, and a jeweled cutlass sparkling at his hip.
(Jim: “As is proper.”)
“CAPTAIN!!!” a familiar voice roars through the crowd. Many—vampires and ghouls alike—wince, but Anstis turns with a grin to welcome Emperor Norton, as peacock-grand as himself in his greatest imperial finery, all navy and gold brocade under his trademark half-squashed hat.
(Jim: “Which one of us wears their finery best?”)
Norton strides up and clasps Anstis’s proffered hand. “Captain Anstis!! How fare you sir?”
“Emperor! I am well this evening. And you?”
“I AM CAPITOL!!!” Norton grabs a glass from a passing tray and holds it aloft. “Let us TOAST to my fair city’s continued EXISTENCE!!”
(Chris: “Hold up, we’re not serving the alcoholic blood until after the ceremony.”
Jason: “Good, cause you don’t want to see him drunk.”)
Anstis mirrors his toast. As they sip, though, Norton frowns at him. “You have…feathers in your beard, sir.”
Anstis lifts his beard-tentacles up to his eye, then carefully begins picking feathers out from under the suckers. “Tell me, how fares the city?” he asks.
Norton glowers, glancing around. “Quiet. Too quiet. Much mischief is afoot. They come. Do you see, sir?!” Suddenly he grabs Anstis’s arm and marches him to the eastern-facing windows at the far end of the room. “DO YOU SEE?!11/!”
Anstis frowns out at the skyline and the dark bay beyond. “What am I looking for?”
“She comes,” Norton says, voice almost a growl. “Andrea. She comes…from hell. Bearing fire and ruin, to burn all the world at the behest of the corrupt.”
“Not just the city then?”
“Nay. All will burn in her sight. She will lay us all waste.”
“How do we stop her?”
Norton turns to him, mad eyes strangely lucid. “Iron. And gold.” Still staring, he slowly backs away. “Iron…and gold….” A moment later, he disappears from sight.
(Jim: “…Oh, yeah. Everyone forgets that Malkavians have Obfuscate.”)
Also under Obfuscate in the room is Scout, lurking near the walls and surveying the crowd, sipping slowly from a stolen drink in her hand.
(Me: “Party craaashing!”
Chris: “You’re quite pleased with yourself, aren’t you?”
Me: “Yes I am!”)
Prince van Nuys and Theo Bell arrive at the same time, awkwardly trying to ignore each other as they step out of the same elevator. By the looks on their faces, it’s arguable which is less happy to be there. Most of the crowd is Camarilla, but a few unexpected faces are there as well. Marcus is absent, but quite a few Anarchs linger in the crowd, including Baron Leeland, Don Esteban, Doc, and John, the self-proclaimed Baron of the Skyline. Unusual Camarilla guests also appear, including Abelard with a small contingent of Nosferatu, and Adriana, Prince of Oakland.
(Me: “Probably looking for Paul, cause he never made their meeting.”)
Unlike the rest of the guests, Adriana looks haggard, and despite being a prince she has no retinue with her. But she clutches her glass firmly as she scans the crowd, avoiding the gaze of Leeland, who also pretends not to see her.
After making a few greetings, Bell moves to the wall to watch the room silently through his sunglasses, arms folded. Anstis approaches him with a smile. “Justicar, may we speak?”
“What did you do now?” Bell grumbles, still staring at the crowd.
“Cantor has made his first strike.”
Bell’s face hardens. “On whom?”
“On Lytton, of all people. And he’s an expert at Thaumaturgy, it would seem.”
“Cantor? Wouldn’t surprise me. Assamites tend to pick stuff up. He more so than most. What happened?”
“Stole Lytton right out from under Rabenholz.”
Bell turns slowly to look at him. Slowly, the first real smile anyone has seen on him in a long time breaks across his face. “Really?”
“We remedied the situation.”
“Now, how’d you do that?”
Bell snorts. “On Cantor? Bullshit. You wouldn’t be standing here.”
“Well here we are and there he is.”
“If you had fought a battle with Cantor by brute force I would know it.”
“He didn’t show himself. Merely puffed up his chest a bit.”
“Doesn’t seem the puffing type.” Bell shakes his head and his face hardens again. “Speaking of Sabbat, is our little friend expected here today?”
Now Anstis grins. “Nay. I sent him to Hell.”
Bell turns to stare at him, but before he can say anything the music in the room shifts, increasing in volume. All attention turns to the dias as a ghoul moves to place two boxes at the foot of the curtain. Once they’re settled, he steps on the dias to address the crowd. “Presenting his lordship, Pfalzgraf Augustus von Rabenholz.”
The ghoul gestures and all eyes turn to see Rabenholz appear from a side room. At first glance his clothes appear to be his usual ensemble of suit and cloak, but there are just enough subtle touches to indicate it cost a lot, lot more. The lines are more sharply tailored, the collar is higher, and the wool is a smoother drape that swallows the light rather than reflecting it.
Rabenholz moves through the crowd, a space opening before him like minnows around a shark. He steps up onto the dias. The crowd and music hush to full silence.
He lifts one hand in a gesture of welcome. “Good evening friends, new and old,” he says, voice rumbling smoothly over the crowd. “Many of you have never met me before—”
“I HAVE!!!!!1!1!” Norton’s voice shouts from the back of the crowd. People turn to glance at him. He blinks back, surprised at their surprise. “…Well, I have!”
A pained expression flickers across Rabenholz’s face, then he continues, “—And some of you have relationships with me dating back centuries. Your friendship, as always, is appreciated. I have come to San Francisco now for opportunity. The hope of peace and productive relationships. And to that end, it is important we all meet from time to time and learn to trust one another, and get along.”
(Jason: “Through a staggering act of self control, not one person laughs.”)
Rabenholz clasps his hands in front of him. “To that end, it is important we be vigilant against disorder, both within and without. Some time ago, a malfeasant by the name of Tom Lytton decided to rear his head and violate our sacred traditions. Fortunately, Captain Anstis and the Regent Georgia Johnson were instrumental in bringing this foe down and restoring order to this city.”
Rabenholz steps aside. At a mental nudge from him, the velvet curtain behind him falls, revealing Tom bolted to his rack, black clothes barely covering the bolts impaled through his skin, glass-blue eyes staring out sightlessly.
Gasps and murmurs roll through the crowd. Leeland looks especially pale. Even Doc raises an eyebrow. Unseen, Scout stares up at figure above them and puts down her glass.
Norton presses forward slowly, staring at Tom, jaw open. “…Wherever did he get that hat?” he mumbles.
The crowd hushes again as Rabenholz steps forward. “Mr. Lytton forgot his sacred obligations to his kindred. Found himself lost. He remains with us for a time to learn the error of his ways. As a token of my appreciation, I present him as a gift to my friend, the Dread Pirate Ansitis.”
The crowd remains silent as Anstis steps forward and takes an elaborate bow, sweeping the floor with his hat.
“But it’s not enough to preserve ourselves,” Rabenholz continues. “We must keep each other in check too.” He holds out a hand. The ghoul from before steps forward and hands him the smaller of the two boxes from the dias. Rabenholz lifts it up. “This is a cedar box presented to my father by the ambassador of [Country that Existed at that Time]. It has been in my family for more than four hundred years. Within it are the fangs of Dr. Corwin Everton, who sought to tear this city down. I present them now in friendship to Prince van Nuys.”
A murmur rolls through the crowd. The Prince steps forward and takes the box silently, giving a stiff half-bow.
The ghoul hands Rabenholz the second box, long and thin. Rabenholz opens it and removes a cane, holding it aloft. “This, however, is the final possession of Dr. Corwin Everton. This I claim for myself, as a reminder of the lengths necessary in protecting our fair city.” He braces the cane in front of him and scans the crowd. Most avoid his gaze or stare back flatly. Leeland, though, glares daggers at him. Rabenholz ignores him and continues. “I hope my relationship with each of you grows in the coming years. Tonight you are my friends, and my guests. Please make yourselves at home.”
The waitstaff suddenly reappears, bearing larger trays of glasses of Rabenholz’s special vintage: blood freshly-siphoned from intoxicated people. The guests take them and murmur in pleasant surprise at the taste.
The music starts up again. A few people approach Rabenholz on his dias to pay their respects. Not far away, Scout leans against the wall, still obfuscated, watching.
“Doesn’t he speak pretty?” someone next to her says.
She turns. Although she was alone a moment ago, someone has appeared right next to her. An old man, watching Rabenholz with a self-satisfied smile, with withered skin, white hair, and bent with age, bracing a cane of his own in front of him with both hands. A musty smell rolls off his antique suit. “Lovely words,” he mutters. “Master of the tongue. Silver. The most aristocratic, you know.” He turns to look at Scout. Directly.
She freezes under his gaze. Slowly, her hand drops toward her dagger.
The old man chuckles. “Do you imagine yourself hidden? Not all eyes are blind. Some see far.” He nods up at Rabenholz. “Can you speak as he does? Rare that any do. None I ever saw who spoke as such.”
Scout watches him silently, tensely.
He smiles at her again. “Are you nothing?”
She nods wordlessly.
“Good. In difficult times, it is better to be nothing.” He steps away from the wall, gliding forward through the crowd. No one even glances at him.
On the dias, Rabenholz is still greeting people, shaking hands….
(Jason: “…When suddenly you hear a voice.”
Chris: “Is it…from anywhere in particular?”
Jason: “Just from within the crowd. But if you mean in the wider sense of from anywhere in particular, oh yes. It’s from the depths of every nightmare you’ve ever had.”)
“My son,” the voice calls across the crowd. “You have not forgotten how to sway the rabble.”
Rabenholz freezes. In front of him, the crowd ripples, parting as people notice someone who was not there a moment ago.
(Jason: “Standing in front of you dressed differently, but looking the same as he ever was…is a horror beyond imagining. Stooped, old man, with bright crazed eyes and a shock of white hair, every inch of him comprised of malice. You know who it is instantly, standing before you with his spidery hands clutched around the orb of that walking stick he always carried. Your throat seizes as you behold…the Mad King Laertes.”)
Rabenholz stares back into his rheumy eyes.
(Jason: “Self control.”
Jason: “…That would be a botch.”)
In an instant, Rabenholz bolts across the room, crashes into the stairwell, and disappears.
The crowd stands stunned. Laertes chuckles and turns to Anstis, lurking nearby. “The Captain of the Damned,” he nods.
Anstis eyes him, beard twisting on itself. “And who are you, good sir?”
Leaning heavily on his cane, the old man taps his way up the riser stairs and onto the dias. “I…am the uncrowned king. I am Laertes.”
(Jim: “Rabenholz hasn’t told anyone about Laertes yet, has he?”
Chris: “Not in character, no.”
Jason: “Yeah, you do not know this name. You don’t even know the Shakespeare version of this name.”)
Anstis eyes him. “You know Lord Rabenholz?”
“Greatly. He is my prodigal son. Who flees now in the dark and wonders when I shall grasp for him. And for all who stand with him.” Laertes stares at the stairwell, then sighs happily. “Ahh. I have missed you, my dear Augustus.” In the next instant, he’s gone.
Deathly silence falls in the room. Everyone—vampire, ghoul, and waitstaff—stands frozen. Then, everyone jumps as a single loud clap echoes like a shot. All turns to see Norton standing in the middle of the crowd, pointing a finger up at Tom triumphantly.
“Bashfords Haberdashery!!! Of COURSE!! THAT IS WHERE HE GOT IT!!!11!”
Some eternity later, Rabenholz comes back to his senses to find himself on some unknown floor in the building, locked in an office room, Glitch and Everton’s cane sword drawn, one in each hand pointed at the door. He scans the shadows under the grey furniture and single potted plant in the room. Slowly, he lowers the blades.
“Where are you going, my son?”
Instantly he whirls, slicing off the top of the plant. Leaves plop to the floor but there’s no other movement in the room.
“You can run, but you can’t hide,” the voice hisses again. “No castles to bury me in this time.”
Rabenholz takes a breath to calm himself and carefully scans across the room…
…Turning to reveal a manic skeletal face grinning at him from inches away.
Rabenholz yells and slashes crosswise with both swords. The illusion—or delusion—of Laertes laughs and disappears.
Swords still unsheathed, Rabenholz makes his way carefully from the room and back toward the elevators.
Back upstairs, the party guests mill around uncertainly. A few glance up at Tom Lytton’s undead effigy, but most try to ignore that it’s there, moving into small groups to talk in low tones.
Bell, though, moves rapidly through the crowd, toward the elevator. Anstis moves to intercept him. “Justicar, are you aware of—”
Bell pushes past him. “Excuse me, Captain.” Digging out his phone, Bell steps into the elevator and the doors close behind him.
Anstis stares, then grabs a passing glass of blood and swaggers up to Doc, still leaning against the wall, hand tucked not-so-surreptitiously under his coat and eyeing Tom intently.
Anstis bows. “Mr Holiday.”
“Captain,” Doc says, still staring up at Tom. “Please, call me Doc.”
Anstis jerks his head toward the place where Laertes last stood. “Did you know that man?”
“I do not. But I have a feeling I shall make his acquaintance. I have a feeling we all shall.” Doc glances around the room. “For now, everyone maintains the fiction that this is part of the plan, but that fiction will crack. I hope you are ready for when it does.”
“Aye. Anything you can tell me to prepare?”
“For this?” Doc finally looks at him, face shadowed under his hat. “Gird yourself, Captain. I do not know this Laertes man, but I fear he does not bode well. I believe our illustrious host knows him. I believe that fact has not escaped the others in this room.” He nods to the crowd. “Half of them are right now trying to imagine how they can turn this to their advantage. The other half are looking for exits.”
Doc turns back to Tom. Anstis nods gravely and downs the drink in his hands. He makes his way back to the blood table. Glancing around to make sure no one is watching, he pounds a few more.
(Chris: “I suspect that blood table might be helping keep people around.”)
Suddenly the elevator doors open and Rabenholz steps out. Silence falls as he makes his way back through the crowd toward the dias. He gestures impatiently and the string quartet starts up again.
Prince van Nuys wanders up to him. “What is going on?” he hisses under his voice.
“An unexpected visit,” Rabenholz says cooly. “From an old foe.”
van Nuys glares suspiciously. “He called you son.”
“And Norton calls his dogs knights of the realm.” Rabenholz meets his eyes. “My sire was John of Bohemia. Laertes is a madman. Nothing more.”
“This wasn’t part of the deal,” van Nuys hisses. “Who is this Laertes?”
“The devil made manifest.”
van Nuys scoffs. “Oh, good, cause we need more of those around here.”
“Yes, the thought crossed my mind. He is no doubt here to hunt me down. As he did before.”
van Nuys sneers. “Lucky you.”
Anstis appears then at Rabenholz’s shoulder. “A demonstration of confidence would not go amiss right now,” he mutters.
“No, I imagine not.” Plastering a cool expression on his face, Rabenholz steps out to circulate through the crowd.
The first guest he approaches is Leeland, who tenses as he draws near. “Pfalzgraf,” he nods. “Or is it Prince now?”
“That depends on the plans of everyone else, I suppose.”
“Interesting party. Interesting guest list.” Leeland glances up at Tom, then at Everton’s cane in Rabenholz’s hand.
Rabenholz smiles evenly. “I wished to speak to you regarding your werewolf concerns. An associate of mine is looking into options involving silver. Hopefully it will make your problem…slightly more anemic.”
Leeland nods and turns away. “It’s good to hear that. I can only cover up so many ‘wild animal attacks’ at the edges of town.” He scans the crowd a moment. “I’m surprised Sertorius isn’t here.”
“Well, he has a face to keep low.”
Leeland smirks. “I haven’t noticed him stopping on that account recently.”
“He and I are on good terms. He appreciates the need to restore order to the city.”
“He’s Sabbat. I hadn’t noticed their predilection for order.”
Rabenholz shifts his grip on the cane. “At a certain point, Sabbat and Camarilla are merely proxies to fight with. I suppose Sertorius is on the cusp of that level.”
Leeland eyes him, smirking again. “Careful, Pfalzgraf, we’ll make an Anarch of you yet.”
“Well, I look forward to your attempts. If you excuse me, I have to greet some others.” Rabenholz nods to Leeland, then sweeps away.
He doesn’t get more than a few steps, though, before be bumps into Norton, who whips around to grab his arm while steading a drink in his other hand. “PFALZGRAF!! When did you arrive? I had not thought to see you here!!!”
“Emperor,” Rabenholz nods at him graciously. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
“I am sir!!!” Norton tosses the blood back. “Fine fortification! Restores the vigor to the limbs!!” He then literally tosses the glass over his shoulder and grabs Rabenholz with both hands. “Sir,” he mutters. “There is a foulness about this eve.”
Rabenholz nods seriously. “I had noticed.”
“A darkness descends on us all. Do you see it? Do you feel it?”
Rabenholz stills. “What is it?”
Norton pulls him close, exhaling seal-tainted breath over his face. “…Andrea.”
Rabenholz droops. “Ah.”
“She comes…” Norton grins. “…But I know the secret.”
Rabenholz extracts himself from Norton’s surprisingly-strong grip. “Have you shared it with the Dread Pirate Anstis?” He lifts a hand to wave the pirate over.
“I have.” Norton grins at Anstis as he approaches. “Iron. And Gold.”
Anstis tenses but Rabenholz shoves him closer to Norton. “I must attend to my guests but please continue discussing this ‘Andrea’ with the Dread Pirate Anstis.” With that, Rabenholz leaves them, ignoring Anstis’s irritated glare.
(Jason: “Norton begins describing random madness to you at a hundred-and-thirty-three decibels.”)
Nearby, watching intently from a corner of the room, Baron John watches Rabenholz with golden eyes. The man is old, with well-weathered skin and a long white beard, but the strength radiating off him is palpable. Rabenholz makes his way over. “So,” John says flatly as he arrives, “You are Rabenholz.”
Rabenholz nods. “I am.”
“I am John of the Skyline.”
Rabenholz extends a hand. “It is an honor to make your acquaintance.”
John eyes him. “Is it?”
After a moment, Rabenholz lowers the hand. “It is. You are not known for favoring many with your company.”
“I don’t. But the city is ripe. Something bleeds in the air. And your compatriot has been visiting ruin upon my domain.” He turns his piercing glare toward Anstis, who—sensing the malice—looks up. “Thats right, I’m speaking about you!” John calls to him. “Eighteen dead in Funston and you thought I wouldn’t notice? What gives you the leave, this one? I warned you, Anstis!”
Anstis extricates himself from Norton and comes over. “Baron John. Have you seen the Settites around there?”
John sneers. “Nothing goes through my tunnels without me seeing it. I have seen Settites and their ilk.”
Anstis smirks. “And we drove them out.”
John laughs a sharp, hissing laugh, fangs visible. “You did no such thing! I watched them die and you had no hand in it. It was the Assamite. And another.”
Anstis and Rabenholz exchange a brief glance. “Which Assamite?” Anstis asks.
“Fatima. She and her compatriot drove them out, not you.” John turns back to Rabenholz. “And you. Prince. Pfalzgraf. Lord. Who was that man who drove you out of this room?”
Rabenholz smiles thinly. “An old practical joker I’ve known for some time.”
John laughs again. “He was mad as a march hare.”
“Yes. Some of his practical jokes go a little far.”
“Do they.” John folds his arms. “Laertes, that’s not a name I’ve heard before.”
“He usually keeps a low profile, until he wishes to share some laughs,” Rabenholz replies.
“No one here keeps a low profile. No one except me.” John shoots a glare at Esteban, lingering with a cluster of his men not far away. “I claim the Skyline as my independent barony. I answer to no prince. Is it your intent to challenge that?”
“No, I recognize the Skyline as your territory.” Rabenholz bows lightly. “And I ask pardon for Anstis’s trespass.”
John eyes him a long moment, then nods. “I will not wage war,” he says, some of the fire in his tone extinguished. “But you do not hunt in my territory. You do not set foot in it without my leave, and by god I will know.”
“Absolutely,” Rabenholz agrees.
“I have abided by my contract and will continue to do so,” Anstis adds.
John eyes him. For a brief moment, his gold eyes shrink to cats-eye slits. “We will see.” He continues to stare at them. Finally, Rabenholz and Anstis take the hint and move away.
A few feet away, Esteban smiles at Rabenholz as he passes, lifting a cigar in salute. “Pfalzgraf.” His men—dressed awkwardly in plain suits that don’t completely hide their gang tattoos—step back.
Rabenholz stops, nodding to him politely. “Don Esteban. I hope you are enjoying yourself this evening.”
“Oh very much.” Esteban lifts his other hand, clutched around one of Rabenholz’s wine glasses. “This is a fine vintage.”
Rabenholz nods. “I’m glad you enjoy it.”
Esteban sniffs the glass deeply, swirls the thick, rich liquid around, then takes a small sip. “Thirty-five, I should think. And brandy. Something special for this special occasion. We are witnessing an inauguration, are we not?”
“Of many sorts.”
“Ahh, I thought so.” Esteban grins, then lifts his cigar. “Though, what do you intend to do with that?” he asks, gesturing at Tom.
Rabenholz stares up at the rack a moment. “The Dread Pirate Anstis has requested him.”
As if Summoned, Anstis appears then, smiling at Esteban. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Esteban puffs his cigar slowly. “The Dread Pirate Anstis. Now what in the world would make you so dreadful?”
Anstis smiles at him, fangs flashing over his tentacle beard.
Esteban chuckles, then nods. “I am Don Esteban de la Vega, Baron of the Sunset District of this city. I hold praxis, such as it is, over everything from the eastern end of the park to the ocean, and from the southern end of the park to Sloat boulevard.” He glances over at John, who glares back.
“And we are glad to have you there,” Rabenholz stresses.
“Oh, I am so certain of this. I acknowledge of course the overlordship of the prince of the city, but I run my own affairs.” He turns back to Anstis. “I understand you are a man interested in the sea?”
Anstis grins again, stroking his beard. “Aye. Not just interested.”
“But of course. But I ask, what do you want with a Brujah?” Esteban hands the stub of his cigar to one of his men and spreads his palm against his chest. “It touches upon me of course for I am a Brujah. So many see us as nothing more than brutes to be thrown away at the first convenience. Is that what you will do with him?”
Anstis merely grins. “One should never throw away something of value.”
“Oh, of course not.” Esteban scans the room slowly. “And who was that fascinating man who visited earlier?”
Rabenholz’s face darkens. “Ah. You’re referring to my old associate Laertes. He’s been…a thorn in my ass for some time. Something of a practical joker.”
“Oh, I imagine he must be. None of us saw him enter the room and he didn’t look like a Nosferatu.”
“Converse with him for awhile,” Rabenholz mutters, “The resemblance will reveal itself.”
“Mm. I shall see. Good luck dealing with such a thing.” Esteban takes another sip of the blood. “Thirty-seven, actually, I think. You can tell. Like…rings in an oak tree.”
Rabenholz nods to him again and moves away.
(Jason: “Anyone else?”
Chris: “Who is left…Oh! Abelard!”)
Though they’re near the center of the room, Abelard and his retinue have a wide berth from the rest of the crowd. A few have made the effort to match the dress code, but most of them appear to be in whatever passes for their regular street clothes. Abelard, though, has a brand-new suit, cut almost as well as Rabenholz’s, with his ever-present rat still perched on the shoulder.
Abelard flashes a jagged smile as Rabenholz approaches. He finishes his drink and takes another from a passing tray. “Lord Rabenholz. Well well. Not often we get invited to these hoity-toity occasions.”
“Shame,” Rabenholz replies. “Your presence is most welcome.”
“Mm.” Another waiter appears suddenly, holding out a single small square of cheese on a toothpick. Abelard takes it gently and holds it up to the rat. “Most people think we’ll sour the blood.”
“Most people are fools,” Rabenholz says.
“Yes.” Abelard waits as the rat prys the cheese off the pick, then tucks the wood between his massive teeth. “Speaking of fools, that was an interesting display.”
Rabenholz nods grimly. “My old prankster friend, Laertes.”
Abelard eyes him. “Should we be expecting something similar to what happened with that pint-sized Lasombra? You know, the road flare, dramatic speeches, all the lights going out?”
“Oh no, nothing like that. More likely whoopie cushions and buzzers where you least expect them. He’s harmless, ultimately.”
Abelard nods, toothpick flicking idly back and forth in his mouth. He nods up at the dias. “I like what you’ve done with the Brujah. If we still had a Brujah primogen I’d expect objections, but fortunately that resolved itself.” He sips his drink as he stares up at Tom. The rat, finished with his cheese, also sniffs up in Tom’s direction.
“Mr. Lytton made his own path, as it were.”
“He did that. We won’t be sad to see him gone. What exactly do you have in mind?”
“Interesting things,” says Anstis with a grin as he appears suddenly next to them.
Abelard eyes him. “Well as long as I don’t have to see him again.
Anstis’s grin widens. “You won’t.”
“Be sure, Captain. I see a long way.” Abelard turns away from the dias. The rat on his shoulder scrabbles to rotate itself back around, still sniffing toward Tom’s rack. “Well I’m glad the city is quiet enough that you can hold these sorts of things. The sewers get tiring, even for us. We have business concerns of our own.”
“No doubt,” Rabenholz says. “I hope they are profitable this time of year.”
“We’ll see.” Abelard shrugs. “Tech prospers as always. Speaking of, where is Stewart at?”
Rabenholz makes a cursory glance over the crowd. “He was busy this evening, or something. He’s a very odd fellow.”
“Well. There’s no one but odd fellows around here.” Abelard grins around his toothpick. “I’ll let you get back to your better guests.”
Rabenholz nods at him. “Thank you for attending.”
Rabenholz moves off into the crowd, chatting politely with more people. Most seem to be loosening up with the alcohol-spiked blood and occasional laughter echoes across the room.
Anstis glances around, then leans close to Abelard. “If you know of means of piercing the illusions of Ravnos,” he mutters, “I am willing to pay dearly for the information.”
Abelard chuckles. “Oh Captain, what have you been up to?”
For a moment, anger twists Anstis’s face into something as ugly as Abelard’s. “…Flowers.”
Abelard chuckles again. “Ah, Flowers. You know, rumor has it Flowers isn’t in his usual haunt anymore.” He sips his drink. “Ravnos illusions don’t go away easily. Not many people are ready to deal with them, since there aren’t many Ravnos left around. But I don’t mess with someone like Flowers lightly, Captain. He tends to hold grudges.”
“Aye. I noticed.”
Abeard shrugs nonchalantly, finishes his drink, and looks around for a waiter to take the glass. “I can make an inquiry or two, but—” Suddenly he tenses, staring past Anstis, toothpick dangling limp in his mouth. “—Oooh…wow…. Captain, I think you might have bigger problems than Flowers right about now….”
At the same time, gasps start to echo around the room. Embedded in the crowd, Rabenholz turns to follow everyone’s gaze. Toward the dias.
The rack is empty. Jagged, bent nails and wires stick from the metal, some sliced, many bent forcibly out of shape. Vitae and gore streak the metal and larger chunks of flesh and bone are still impaled on the thicker spikes. Embalming fluid drips down, forming a growing chemical puddle on the floor.
The crowd murmurs. Staring, Rabenholz forces himself through, barely believing what he’s seeing.
For the second time tonight, Tom Lytton is gone.
END OF NIGHT
(Chris: “How…how could that happen without someone noticing!?!”
Jason: “You have no idea. An operation like this would not only be extremely visible, but extremely loud. Parts of the rack have been beaten out of shape.”
Chris: “And…he was never unattended….”
Jason: “Fifty people are in this room, surely someone would see!”
Chris: “…How much of him has been left behind?”
Jason: “Chunks of flesh, bits of bone. Clearly some bones were broken to release them. Even you kind of hope he was still unconscious for that.”
Jim: “Lytton is clearly a popular guy tonight.”
Me: “Yes. After months of everyone happy I was gone, suddenly everyone seems to want me all at once.”)