Me: “Oh my god, I’m gonna start calling you Lord Gussie now.”
Chris: “…I will remove your lungs.”
Author’s note: When we started the game, the year was ambiguous, but eventually someone had to look up phases of the moon on certain dates so the game year was declared to be 2016. At that point 2016 was still in the future, but with game-time lagging we caught up fast. I mention this because I wanted to point out that this one night, March 29th, was the one perfect alignment of in-game date with real-life date.
BANK OF AMERICA BUILDING
As the crowd murmurs around him, Rabenholz leaps up onto the dias to examine the rack more closely, striding unhesitantly through the spreading chemical puddle on the floor. The metal of the rack and the bolts once holding Tom’s flesh have been bent in places, sheared through in others, but the damage is extensive enough that it must have taken someone a while to accomplish. Someone with a clear amount of strength and apparent disregard for the physical integrity of the body, as evident by the chunks of flesh still lingering behind.
(Chris: “In hindsight, I wish I had had an remote-activated explosive device installed in his head.”
Me: “…Thanks, sweetie.”
Jason: “It’s clear whoever did this had specific tools, or massive strength, or both. And even with that, this would not be a quiet thing to do. Hammering metal, bones breaking, and the like. The frame itself has been warped!”
Jim: “…Wait, the Assamites have an ability to make things quiet, right?”
Jason: “Yes, actually, they do.” )
Rabenholz digs out his own panic button trigger and activates it. Moments later, armed guards rush into the room, stationing themselves around the elevators and stairs and moving to patrol the windows. The crowd watches them, nervous, and suspicious.
The head of the guards comes up to Rabenholz and fires off a quick salute. “Sir?”
Rabenholz scans the room coolly. “The main decoration has been stolen. I assume the building is sealed.”
“We are sealing it now, sir.”
Rabenholz nods. “No one leaves until he is found.”
Anstis, meanwhile, still buried in the crowd, stares thoughtfully up at the rack and pulls out a stone to cast his ritual on Tom Lytton:
(Jason: “Give me a second, it takes a minute to work up the proper Accurate-And-Yet-Useless phrase….”)
Tom Lytton Flies like a Stake toward the Banker’s Heart.
Anstis frowns and puts the stone away.
Up on the dias, the head guard whispers something in his radio, nods, then turns to Rabenholz. “Sealing the building now, sir. We have men at the exits on the ground floor.”
“Good.” Rabenholz steps forward, raising his voice to be heard over the murmuring crowd. “If anyone witnessed what happened, you would make me very happy to share your account of the events!”
There’s a scuffle, then Norton appears through the crowd, both arms extended dramatically. “TOM LYTTOOON HAS LEEEEEFT!!!” he roars with theatrical flourish.
Silence falls. “…Thank you, Mr. Norton,” Rabenholz says.
(Me: “…Is Leeland there?”
Me: “So, I imagine he looks pretty shocked about this whole thing, cause he’s not a fan of Rabenholz.
Jason: “He’s not a fan of Tom either.”
Me: “I know, but in general, he probably looks even more perturbed about this whole thing than the rest of them. I’m going to text him saying, ‘If you wish to discuss Rabenholz, meet me downstairs.’”)
In the crowd, Leeland suddenly tenses, gropes at his pocket to pull out his phone out and glances at the screen. He glowers and scans the room. Scout, however, is still not visible.
Noticing Leeland’s sudden shift in mood, Rabenholz steps off the dias and approaches him. “Mr. Leeland.”
Leeland jumps and lowers his phone. “Y-yes?”
“I don’t suppose you witnessed what happened to Tom Lytton?”
Leeland glares. “He was there and then he wasn’t. Is this part of your plan?”
“No. This is the…improvised section of the evening.”
Leeland’s glare deepens. For a moment, it looks like he’s about to open up on Rabenholz, but then his gaze falls on Everton’s cane clutched in Rabenholz’s hand. He closes his mouth and falls into sullen quiet.
Rabenholz eyes him coolly. “Quite right.”
Anstis appears then, whispering in Rabenholz’s ear, “The Banker’s Heart. That mean anything to you?”
Rabenholz frowns. “No. In what context?”
“It’s where Tom Lytton has been taken.”
Rabenholz turns to stare at him. “The Banker’s Heart,” he repeats flatly.
“Aye.” Anstis hesitates. “…The spirits are not always direct.”
(Jason: “Heh heh heh.”)
Rabenholz eyes the room. “This is the Bank of America building. Perhaps they mean the center of the building?”
“Possibly.” Anstis’s fingers drum against the jeweled sword on his hip. “Are there any major banks in the city?”
Rabenholz turns to him with a long, exasperated look. “Yes. Yes there are.” He gestures curtly to the far wall. “Check the elevator shafts. See if someone dropped him down it. I dare say they beat us to it.”
Rabenholz turns back to address Leeland but he’s moving away, toward the elevators.
(Chris: “There are armed guards.”
Jason: “Yes, but the guards are to keep people from leaving the building, not the room.”)
Rabenholz sweeps after him and lays a hand on his arm. “Can I direct you somewhere Mr. Leeland?”
Leeland tenses, glaring at the hand on his arm, then at Rabenholz himself. “I have to make a phone call and it’s far too crowded in here at the moment.”
The segments of the crowd nearest them fall silent, watching. The two men eye each other a long tense moment. Finally, Rabenholz releases his arm. “Of course.” Leeland nods curtly and enters the elevator. The doors close behind him.
Rabenholz scans the room again, pacing suspiciously in front of the elevators, then calls Bell.
“Rabenholz,” Bell answers grimly.
“Justicar. Mr. Lytton has been stolen again.”
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “Word spreads quickly, doesn’t it?”
“It does. Seems you got a mole in your organization. I don’t know who, I don’t much care who, but I need to know if something else is going on.” Bell pauses. “You seemed to get quite a scare earlier.”
Rabenholz stops his pacing. “You’re referring to Laertes. A Malkavian. You should also know he is a very powerful thaumaturgist.”
Bell grumbles. “Good, cause we need more of those around. And you’re missing Lytton?”
“I am.” Rabenholz eyes the dias. “Cut right off the wall, right in front of fifty guests.”
“Imagine those things might be connected?”
“The thought had crossed my mind. On the other hand, that’s an unusually direct action for Laertes. Unusually….cogent, perhaps.”
“That kind of Malkavian.” Bell grumbles again. “Well if not Laertes, got any other ideas who’s responsible? You’ve got a few unbridled individuals in your guest list. Anarchs, autarchs….”
Rabenholz turns to eye the elevators. By the numbers above, the one Leeland entered reached the ground floor, but has still not returned. “The only one who’s tipped their hand at all this evening is Mr. Leeland.”
“That’d be a bold move for Leeland.”
“Yes, I didn’t think he had it in him. Nevertheless, no stone unturned. It has also crossed my mind that it could be Cantor, or someone pretending to be him. The presence we interacted with at the church seemed hesitant to declare itself as Cantor, perhaps because it was someone afraid of him.”
Bell snorts. “The number of people in this city ain’t afraid of Cantor can be counted on one hand.”
“Nonetheless,” Rabenholz continues, “I wouldn’t put it past Cantor to be involved somehow, if not directly.”
“You might be right. Unfortunately I can’t stand around to find out. Things are moving and not just in the Bay.”
Rabenholz frowns. “What’s going on?”
“Strange folk out tonight. Gargoyles and such. Gonna have to make some inquiries. I’ll let you know if anything is relevant.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it.” Rabenholz hangs up and strides back to the dias, waving the head of the guards over to him. “Find Baron Leeland,” he says, voice heavy with command.
Anstis, meanwhile, in search of the “banker’s heart,” examines the elevators more closely. As Rabenholz draws the crowd’s attention away, Anstis pries open one set of elevator doors and peers down the shaft. A cold wind washes over him from the dark pit, but nothing about it seems particularly unusual….
(Jason: “Jim, give me a Dex + Athletics.”
Jim: “But I said I checked to make sure an elevator wasn’t coming.”
Jason: “This isn’t for an elevator, this is for the guy who just shoved you in the back.”)
Anstis stumbles, tips over into empty air and falls. He twists midair, trying to grab at whatever pushed him, trying to pull it in too. But the figure is ten feet away, smiling and waving at Anstis from the other side of the elevator lobby. As Anstis plunges into darkness, he gets one good glimpse of his face.
(Jason: “Rabenholz isn’t the only one with Movement of the Mind.”)
Rabenholz moves through the crowd, talking in low, confident tones with the guests, trying to assuage concerns, when the head of the guards comes up to him. “Lord Rabenholz?” he murmurs. “Mr. Leeland has left the building.”
Rabenholz freezes. “How?”
The man shifts nervously. “Apparently, my men…let him out. I gave them explicit instructions and they defied them, with no explanation beyond, ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time.’”
Rabenholz glares at him a long moment. “…They have been deceived.”
Relief sags the man’s shoulders. “Yes sir.”
Rabenholz pulls his phone out and calls Scout. “Yes?” she answers after a few rings.
“Ms. Scout, I have a job for you. Baron Leeland has left the Bank of America building prematurely. I need you to find him, follow him. Let me know where he is.”
She pauses. “…Alright. It will take me awhile to get to the area but I will try.”
Rabenholz hangs up. Next to him, the guard listens to something in his radio, then leans over. “Sir, I have the make and description of Mr. Leeland’s car. A black limo, heading to the East Bay.”
Rabenholz glares thoughtfully into space a moment, then heads to an antechambers off the main ballroom, out of sight of the guests. There, he casts the ritual for Illuminate the Trail of the Prey.
(Chris: “For the same person, second time tonight!”)
Stepping back into the ballroom, he instantly spots the glowing green path, springing from the dias, lingering around its base, then dashing away, toward the stairwell.
Rabenholz thinks for a long moment, then summons some of the servants. He orders them to take down the remains of the rack and scrape off the bits of Tom still remaining.
(Chris: “I then ask them to bring me as many bags as there are guests.”
Me: “What. The hell. Are you doing?”
Chris: “I have them cut up the bits of Tom, I have them put the bits in the bags, I have them set up the bags by the door—”
Me: “This is some Krieger bullshit, man!”
Chris: “And then I go back to the main party—”)
Rabenholz raises his hands for everyone’s attention. “—Everyone, thank you for attending this evening! I hope our mutual futures are profitable. I have created gifts for all of you to remember Mr. Lytton by, so that we may all act in defiance of his poor example. They are by the door. Please pick one up on your way out, but stay as long as you like and continue to enjoy the refreshments!”
The guests trade glances with each other. A few approach to take a bag, blinking in surprise at the contents. A few others come up to Rabenholz to thank him for the evening. He receives them all politely, but excuses himself the first chance he gets, following the Trail path to the stairs. As he opens the door of the stairwell, Anstis steps out of it, his new clothes rumpled and his jeweled costume-sword bent almost in half.
“Ah, Captain.” Rabenholz hands him a baggie. “Mr. Lytton was taken down the stairs, I don’t know where to. Baron Leeland was sighted leaving around the same time, heading east toward Oakland. Contained here is a piece of Mr. Lytton. You may have time to catch him, find out what he knows and why he is leaving so early.”
Anstis stares blankly into the bag, then, understanding dawning, he grabs it and heads to the closet with the teleportation circle.
As Anstis begins to prepare the circle, binding it to the piece of Tom and enchanting it to take the traveller to Tom’s current location, Rabenholz climbs the stairs to the top of the building. From there, he can observe the Trail exiting the building, winding south through the city streets, then suddenly looping east, climbing up onto I-80 and heading toward the Bay Bridge.
Where it suddenly stops, sliced through the moment it arcs out over the water.
(Jason: “Because, if you recall, Illuminate the Trail of the Prey comes to a grinding halt the moment it crosses moving water.”)
Rabenholz frowns, then returns down to the ballroom. Most of the guests have left by this point, and the ones left are watching him surreptitiously over their glasses of blood. Rabenholz ignores them, heading back to Anstis and the circle room. Anstis’s preparations are now finished, so—clutching the piece of Tom firmly in hand—they step into the circle and Anstis activates it.
Rabenholz and Anstis appear in the middle of a lot stacked high with cargo shipping containers, the lights of the nearby Oakland docks almost eclipsing the San Francisco skyline on the far side of the bay. The wind rustles empty through the space, skittering leaves over gravel, but there’s no sign of movement, or anyone nearby.
Rabenholz casts the Trail ritual again. The green path erupts instantly in his sight, running right past them and disappearing between the stacks of cargo containers. Rabenholz levitates himself up to the top of one of the stacks for a better look. Anstis, shifted down into parrot, flutters up a moment later.
From here, Rabenholz can see the Trail originating from an off-ramp off the freeway, heading down into the shipping yard. It passes their location and stops in a larger open area a few yards away. The path lingers, twisting on itself aimlessly, then suddenly leaves the shipping yard, heading back to the freeway. In the distance, Rabenholz can see the front of the Trail cutting through the toll plaza, then accelerating as it approaches the west-bound causeway of the Bay Bridge. As he watches, the trail rises with the lifting roadway, then stops dead as it crosses back over the water.
Rabenholz glowers. “If I am reading things right, he was in a car that came here, idled a while, then returned to the bridge.”
Anstis cocks his head, peering toward the magic he cannot see. “Something interfered with the trail?”
(Jason: “You know of ways to twist the Trail of the Prey using some advanced hypermagic rituals, but that’s really unlikely. It seems more reasonable to that this is actually what he did.”)
“I doubt it,” Rabenholz replies. “But he couldn’t have left that long ago.”
Suddenly Rabenholz’s phone rings. He answers.
“Lord Rabenholz,” Leeleand’s voice greets him, whispering so low even Rabenholz’s Auspex-enhanced senses can barely pick it up. “Please speak very quietly.”
“You have my attention,” Rabenholz murmurs.
“Something very unfortunate has happened. I’ve been…abducted. I require your assistance.”
“Do you know where you are?”
“I’m in the trunk of a car.”
Rabenholz scans the distant span of the bridge. “Is Tom Lytton with you?”
Leeland groans. “I don’t know, but I think he might be. I don’t think Tom Lytton did the abducting. We’re on a road, I don’t know where we’re going.”
“Mr. Leeland,” Rabenholz says sharply, “What happened?”
Leeland hesitates. “I left your party to make a call. But…something…got me. I felt this…compulsion to leave the building. The guards let me out without questioning. I got in my car, then the next thing I know I’m in the trunk and we’re on the highway. Eventually we slowed, then stopped. There was talk in a language I don’t recognize, then we were moving again.” He pauses, lowering his voice again. “They don’t know I have this phone.”
Rabenholz nods once. “Clever.”
“I…need your assistance. You’re the only person I can call right now.”
“You will have it. Can you send me your location with the phone?”
“Not with ease, but I can try.”
Rabenholz pauses a moment, thinking. “Do you have faith in Ms. Scout?”
“I don’t know, but I have faith in anyone who can get me the hell out of here. I…have suspicions as to who’s done this.”
“I am very interested in hearing them. We can come after you now.”
“No, I’ve seen those movies before! If I wait to tell you I won’t survive!” Leeland takes a shuddering breath. “I think it’s Cantor the White.”
Rabenholz’s eyes narrow. “Really.”
“I don’t know for certain, but I think so.”
“Did you know someone attempted to abduct Mr. Lytton earlier this evening, before the party?” Rabenholz says conversationally. “They lead us to St. Ignatius Church.”
Leeland gasps. “That’s Cantor’s headquarters,” he hisses.
“It is, but they did not claim to be Cantor when I asked.”
“He doesn’t have to claim to be Cantor, people know him….” Leeland hesitates again. “There was…blood in my mouth after I blacked out. I think…I think I may have been forced to do something….”
(Me: “Do Assamites have Dominate?”
Jason: “Not usually, but they can certainly get it. They are Assamites.”
Me: “That’s true! That’s…kinda their thing….”)
Rabenholz mutes the phone and turns to Anstis, now transformed back into pirate. “Step a few paces away and call Ms. Scout,” Rabenholz says. “I sent her to track Mr. Leeland as soon as he left the building. See if she’s made any progress.” Rabenholz returns to the call with Leeland. “Do you sense anything that might give us a hint where you are?”
Leeland pauses. “It sounds like the highway, but…I can smell oil, in the air. Not gasoline, oil….” He pauses a moment. “…The Richmond refinery,” he suddenly announces.
“Alright. Stand by, Mr. Leeland.” Rabenholz puts Leeland on hold and calls Rhona, waking her up from her nap.
“Y-yes, sir?” she mutters, clearly forcing herself awake.
“Ms. Tyler, something has happened at my party. I will need a car sent to me at the Oakland docks, and a helicopter standing by at the Oakland airport just in case.”
There’s a pause. “What?! What happ—”
“Time is of the essence, Ms. Tyler.” He hangs up.
Meanwhile, Anstis calls Scout, who answers right away. “Ms. Scout, have you had any fortune following the vehicle?” he asks.
(Me: “Okay, wait, I gotta straighten this out here: so when I finished talking to Leeland he left the building, and I didn’t notice anything else after that?”
Jason: “No, not directly. ”)
“Leeland left the building not long after he left the party,” Scout says carefully. “That is all I’ve been able to track so far.”
Anstis nods. “Rabenholz and I are in Oakland tracking him.”
“Which direction are you headed? Perhaps I can meet you there—”
Suddenly Rabenholz, listening in on Auspex, gestures for Anstis to mute the call. Anstis does so and looks up. “How would she know when Leeland left the party or the building?” Rabenholz asks grimly. “She told me she was some minutes away.”
Anstis frowns. “Well, she claims she didn’t see him get in the vehicle. But they may have been in congress before.”
“How do you mean?”
(Jim: “Well, Scout and Leeland left right after—”
Chris: “No, Scout was obfuscated the whole time.”
Jim: “…Oh right!”
Chris: “Yeah, so we know she was there, but as far as Anstis and Rabenholz knows, she hasn’t been in the building.”
Me: “Yeah, sorry, this is kinda a mess.”
Jim: “Ok, so forget I said that just now.”)
Anstis scowls and folds his arms. “Do we bring her in? Do we trust her?”
Rabenholz stares across the dark waters of the bay. “Not anymore.”
Anstis nods and unmutes Scout. “It’ll be just a moment, we’re deciding on a course of action to take.”
Scout hesitates. “Okay, well, I have business of my own to attend t—” She’s cut off as Anstis mutes her again.
A moment later, Rabenholz unmutes Leeland. “Mr. Leeland, did you see Ms. Scout this evening?”
Leeland hesitates. “Scout? Yeah, yeah I think so. At the party. Why?”
Rabenholz frowns. “No reason. Just curious. I have instructed her to follow you, I wanted to make sure she’s nearby.”
Rabenholz mutes Leeland’s call again and turns to Anstis. “Instruct Ms. Scout to surveil the Richmond Bridge and look for Mr. Leeland’s limousine.”
Anstis nods and returns to the call with Scout. “Ms. Scout, we need you to watch the Richmond Bridge. How long would it take you to get there?”
“Well, I’m downtown, and don’t have a car, so…awhile,” she says.
“If I can get a car? Thirty minutes.”
“Excellent.” Anstis hangs up.
Rabenholz nods grimly. “Yes, we shall keep her running about and see where she actually shows up. She has been hiding things from us. More than is perhaps good for her.”
There’s a crunch of gravel below as Rabenholz’s car arrives. Rabenholz returns to Leeland’s call, assures him they are doing the best they can to help him and instructs him to call if he learns anything else. Rabenholz and Anstis descend from the stack of containers and enter the car, telling the driver to take them to the Oakland airport.
Rabenholz stares at the green Trail path as they pull out of the shipping yard, heading south along I-880 in the opposite direction. “Captain,” he says thoughtfully, “you did not find my offer to teach you advanced vision compelling. What would you say if I were to offer to teach you my ability to track people?”
Anstis eyes him appraisingly. “That is something of value.”
(Me: “You can already track people!”
Chris: “Yeah, but his way is a little…vague.”
Jim: “If by that you mean useless.”
Jason: “Yeah, speaking of which, something about the last one you will never figure out even if I gave you fifty years to do it, so I’m just going to tell you. The Banker’s Heart is the common name of a polished black-granite structure in the center of the plaza in front of the Bank of America building.”
Jim: “Wow. That fits beautifully with your arcane-obnoxious stone-ritual bullshit.”
Jason: “And yet completely true. This is what happens when you have a GM intimately familiar with the city you are playing in.”)
Rabenholz nods. “When we get to the helicopter I will instruct you how to do this. You will never breathe a word to anyone.”
Anstis grins. “Of course.”
Rabenholz and Anstis head north toward Richmond in the chartered helicopter. On the way, Rabenholz explains to Anstis how to cast Illuminate the Trail of the Prey and has him practice with it by casting for Leeland. Anstis pours concentration into the effort, but familiar as he is with Necromantic tracking, he has trouble adjusting to this new method.
(Jim: “Does it require blood?”
Chris: “No, it involves burning a piece of white ribbon, which I am handing to you in very small pieces.”)
Anstis makes another attempt, feeling for the sense of the path in his mind, and almost has it—
—When an explosion suddenly blooms in the distance, in the marshy fields north of Richmond.
Rabenholz instructs the pilot to head that way. They arrive, circling low, and observe an empty field with a single black limousine in the middle, on fire. Rabenholz watches a moment, then, still hovering overhead, uses Movement of the Mind to rip the top of the car open. There’s no sign of anyone inside, but the fire is large enough that any vampire inside would have long turned to ash.
“Try the ritual again, Captain,” Rabenholz says. “Perhaps a little more ribbon this time.”
Anstis clutches the ribbon, lights it with a match, focuses…and this time connects. A green trail erupts across his vision, leading from the car down the shore and straight into the water. Anstis reports this to Rabenholz, who tries the ritual himself and observes the same thing.
Rabenholz considers this a moment, then casts for Lytton. From here, there is no sign of his Trail at all.
“I do not think Lytton was with him,” he reports to Anstis
Anstis frowns and goes to his standby, pulling out a rock for his stone ritual:
Lytton Races to the House of Mystery.
He reports this to Rabenholz. Rabenholz frowns. “With the number of mysteries around tonight that does not narrow things down.”
(Jim: “What’s obnoxious here is Jim knows where this is, but Anstis does not.”
Jason: “And where is it?”
Jim: “The Winchester Mystery House.”
Jason: “Ah yes, very good.”
Chris: “Yeah, Rabenholz doesn’t know that either.”
Jason: “Once again, I am helpful without being helpful.”)
Rabenholz tells the pilot to leave. They climb, circling high over the North Bay and drifting steadily south. Rabenholz casts for Tom again. From this vantage point, he sees a thin pale glow reappear, originating from the west side of the Bay Bridge and weaving along the freeways to plunge south. Rabenholz directs the pilot to follow.
They follow the Trail south, down the peninsula, through San Francisco suburbs into Silicon Valley neighborhoods. Finally, though, the trail ends, and as they circle lower, they can see its destination even from the air. The Winchester Mystery House.
They circle once, then Rabenholz orders the pilot to land at the San Jose airport to the east. As they bank away, he calls Bell. “Mr. Bell, the trail of Mr Lytton appears to end at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.”
Bell grumbles. “That figures, doesn’t it.”
“Yes. I know the area is Sabbat controlled but I don’t know if anyone in particular resides here.”
“Yeah, someone does,” Bell snaps. “The Archbishop.”
Rabenholz hesitates. “Ah. Mr. Liedesdorff, if I recall.”
“As of recently, yes.”
“Do I have your blessing to pay him a visit?” Rabenholz asks politely. “No violence, of course. Just negotiation if possible.”
Bell takes a slow breath. “Sure. Fine. Whatever.” Clearly with no more fucks to give, Bell hangs up.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the cabin, Anstis is also making a call. “THIS IS EMPEROR NORTON!!” erupts a voice from his phone, loud enough to be heard over the wail of the turbine.
“Emperor!” Anstis shouts back. “This is Captain Anst—”
“Aye!” Anstis grins at Rabenholz and continues. “I have a question, Emperor. What do you know of the Mystery House?”
“I know a great deal about the Mystery House!” Norton’s voice replies. “But…to discover its secrets, you must call me when I am at my phone, for this…is a voice message!” Norton’s voice cuts out and a loud beeeeep echoes from the speaker.
(Me: “…That was some Archer-level trolling, there.”)
Unperturbed, Anstis leaves a voice message asking the same question while Rabenholz stares at him with a pained expression on his face.
WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE
A hired car takes them from the San Jose airport back to the house, pulling up in the small lot out front. Rabenholz and Anstis get out, looking around. The landscape lights of the formal garden out front are on, illuminating the front of the house facing the main avenue, but the rest of the grounds are dark. The odd geometry of groomed shrubs and topiaries loom in the shadows and victorian gables lining the roof gnaw up at the sky.
They regard the house a moment. “Have you met Liedesdorff?” Anstis asks.
“This will be my first time,” Rabenholz replies.
Anstis nods. “He is Malkavian as well.”
Still staring at the house, Rabenholz exhales in a very, very long sigh.
Anstis drops into parrot form and flutters up to perch on Rabenholz’s shoulder as Rabenholz approaches. The gate in front of the house is already open so Rabenholz walks inside. Rounding the corner, they find an old lady in a navy woolen dress, with spectacles on a chain and white hair pulled back in a bun, standing in the garden outside the gift shop, smiling amiably.
Rabenholz bows. “Good evening. My name is—”
“Oh, what a lovely parrot!” the woman exclaims, approaching with her hand out. “Does he have a name?”
Rabenholz hesitates. “Ah, yes. Thomas.”
“Thomas! My, what a clever name for a parrot. Does he want a cracker?”
Rabenholz exchanges a look with the Gangrel on his shoulder. “I’m sure he does,” Rabenholz says.
The old woman produces a beaded clutch from somewhere and digs around inside. “Well, I’m sure I have one in my purse somewhere….”
Rabenholz clears his throat. “As I was saying, my name is Augustus von Rabenholz.”
“Well of course you are, dear,” she mutters distractedly, digging underneath packs of gum.
“I am here to see Archbishop Liedesdor—”
“Ah! Here you are, Thomas!” The woman holds up a cracker triumphantly. Anstis takes it delicately in his beak, then proceeds to mash it into a mess all over Rabenholz’s cloak.
The woman chides him. “Such a messy eater!” She tucks her purse away and turns to peer up at Rabenholz. “Now, dear, who were you here to see?”
Stonefaced, Rabenholz brushes away the crumbs. “Archbishop. Liedesdorff.”
The old woman frowns thoughtfully, then brightens. “Oh, you must mean William! Of course, Lord Gussie, right this way.”
(Me: “Oh my god, I’m gonna start calling you Lord Gussie now.”
Chris: “…I will remove your lungs.”)
The old woman leads them through the giftshop then into the house proper, passing through winding corridors of painted wood. They catch glimpses of storerooms, an unfinished parlor, and redundant sets of kitchens, till finally the woman opens a grand wooden door and gestures them in. Rabenholz steps through into a small ballroom, lined with polished oak walls and dominated by a burlwood mantle around the fire. The light is glaring after the darkness of the house, radiating from a crystal chandelier overhead, but it clearly reveals the swarthy men dressed in fatigues and holding Russian assault rifles along the walls of the room and the large wooden desk at the far end in front of the windows.
A portly middle-aged black man sits at the desk, with a trimmed, greying beard and well-tailored suit. He nods at them but remains seated. “Lord Augustus von Rabenholz, I presume?”
Rabenholz bows. “At your service.” Anstis copies the gesture, spreading his wings for balance and bobbing his tail up into the air.
Liedesdorff stands. “My name is Archbishop William Liedesdorff. Lord of San Jose and the Southern Bay.”
“Your reputation precedes you sir,” Rabenholz says.
“Not as much as yours. Have a seat.” Liedesdorff glares at the parrot. “You too, Captain.”
Liedesdorff walks them over to a cluster of wingback chairs arranged in front of the mantle. Rabenholz sits, then—at Liedesdorff’s continued glare—Anstis hops off, shifts back to human, and sits as well.
Liedesdorff takes a chair opposite them, settling into the leather with a sigh. “Now, what may I inquire is the reason a prospective Camarilla prince would come all the way down here to pay a visit to a Sabbat Archbisop?” He smiles a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.
Rabenholz glances coolly at the guards lining the room, then settles back in his chair as well. “An art installation was vandalized in San Francisco this evening. A key piece of it seems to have made it’s way here.”
“Here? Why, I assure you I don’t employ too many art critics on my staff.”
“No doubt. But naturally you could say we are curious.” Rabenholz gestures smoothly. “We are only here in a role as investigators and negotiators. We do not intend you any harm.”
“I’m gratified to hear that,” Liedesdorff says. “Especially since you come down here in the company of someone who is wanted for the murder of a Sabbat Archbishop.”
Rabenholz follows his glare to Anstis, who peers around the room in mock confusion, as if expecting someone else.
“That said,” Liedesdorff continues, turning back to Rabenholz, “Our respective organizations are at war.”
“Yes. Quite an impediment to business, wouldn’t you say? I should have you know I favor productive relationships with all my neighbors.”
Liedesdorff lifts an eyebrow. “Including ones you officially can’t speak to without drawing a sword?”
“Especially ones I can’t speak to without drawing a sword.”
Liedesdorff nods slowly, hands folded politely in front of him. “Is that what you told Tom Lytton before plunging a stake through his heart, up there at Costco?”
Rabenholz doesn’t flinch. “I gave Mr. Lytton my promise he would not meet final death.”
“But little else.”
Rabenholz gestures vaguely. “We are a long-lived people. He will have brighter days. Or darker nights, whatever metaphor you prefer. However, I feel remiss in my responsibilities in preventing that final death if he is not within my custody.”
“Well then let me put you at ease. Tom Lytton is here. In this very building. He was brought to me earlier tonight by…” Liedesdorff grins. “…Well, that’s not so important.”
“Seems like it may be,” Anstis chimes in.
Liedesdorff’s gaze flicks to him. “You a Camarillian, Captain?”
Anstis grins, hitching a leg over the arm of his chair. “When I’m in San Francisco, I am.”
“But you are not within San Francisco, are you? And since I know you’re not Sabbat, I’m going to give you a little bit of education, free of charge. Something I rarely do.” Liedesdorff leans forward with a slow creak of leather. “When the Archbishop of the city you are sitting in tells you that something is not important, it ain’t.”
Anstis stares back at him, but slowly returns his leg to the floor. “I see.”
“I’m glad you do.” Liedesdorff turns back to Rabenholz. “Tom Lytton is here. And I have to confess I’m having difficulty determining why I should give him to you.”
“Well, I would claim he is still mine,” Rabenholz says. “But I am curious, why do you want him? Or is his stature as a breaker of the peace of interest to you?”
Liedesdorff eyes him a moment, unblinking. “He’s an oddity. Not necessarily for the fact that he breaks everything he touches, that’s a Brujah quality. Makes them so charming. But I am not a Brujah. I think you heard, perhaps, which clan I claim?”
“Then you may notice we are a clan of eccentrics and have moods that take us at times. You might say I have developed a mood to take Tom Lytton. It may simply be the fact that Camarillian agents have walked into my house and asked for him. It may be the fact that Tom Lytton has done me favors in the past and I don’t foresee how it helps me to hand him over to be turned into an art installation.” Liedesdorff grins. “And it may even have something to do with the fact that the man I’m staring in the face has a bit of a reputation of his own.”
Rabenholz nods slowly. “Indeed”.
“Oh I don’t know if you take my meaning. Tell me, Herr Rabenholz, you recognize this?” Liedesdorff snaps his fingers. One of the guards comes forward and drops a tangled mass of charred metal onto the table next to them with a clang.
Rabenholz eyes it. “I see you’re assembling an art instillation of your own.”
“Sort of, but I’m missing my most important piece, and that’s because someone decided to burn it down.” Liedesdorff picks the mass up a moment, turning it over in his hand. Soot and mud marr the details, but a few shapes are visible. The remains of a belt. Reading spectacles. A small dagger.
Liedesdroff drops it again. “This melted mess belonged to Dr. Corwin Everton. And he’s dead. Now, how did that come to be?”
Rabenholz shifts in his chair, still maintaining his cool expression. “He and I had different interpretations of how the city should be managed.”
“Is this similar to the promises you made to Thomas Lytton?”
“Not at all. Dr. Everton and I had no promises to each other one way or another. Was Everton a friend of yours?”
Liedesdorff smiles. “Oh I wouldn’t say that, I don’t think I said more than five words to the man at various times.” The smile falls. “But he wasn’t Camarillian, no matter what your people want to claim. And he is dead. And I think you killed him, because he was a ‘threat to the peace and good order of the Camarilla.’” Liedesdorff lifts his fingers in exaggerated air-quotes as he completes the statement, then leans forward. “You have a mind to rule San Francisco, don’t you?”
Rabenholz nods tersely. “Very much so.”
“Then let me give you an ounce of advice from someone who does rule a major city. A city, I might add, that is larger than yours.” He shoves the lump of Everton’s effects toward Rabenholz. “Know where your borders lie, and keep to them.”
Rabenholz eyes the mass a silent moment, then looks up. “I find advice carries more weight with me when it comes from people who aren’t hypocrites.”
Silence falls in the room. Metallic rustling echoes around them as the guards heft their guns. Liedesdorff holds Rabenholz’s gaze, unblinking. “I don’t know that a Camarillan wants to come down and start using that word,” he says softly.
“Perhaps not.” Rabenholz makes an exaggerated shrug. “Nonetheless, I seem to recall Mr. Lytton started in San Francisco this evening, and he certainly didn’t move himself here.”
“Are you accusing me of invading your city and taking your things?”
Liedesdorff eyes him silently a long moment. Slowly, he leans forward in his chair, hands clasped firmly in front of him. “I had nothing to do with this. But let’s say that you don’t believe me for an instant.”
“Of course, a hypothetical.”
Liedesdorff stands, pacing slowly forward to lean against the mantle. He traces a finger along the twisting curls of the wood, then turns to Rabenholz. “Let me posit for you a notion. Right now in your so-called Camarillian city—the one you presume I invaded—your Camarillian primogens are outnumbered by Anarchs, some of whom actually own vast portions of your city. There is an elder Black Hand assassin inhabiting one of your major churches which no one seems able to or interested in doing anything about. And the most powerful Camarillian vampire in your area—a Justicar sent by New York itself—has been enthralled by a Sabbat Priscus older than the discovery of this continent.” Liedesdorff pauses a long moment, still staring at Rabenholz. “And knowing all this, you want to walk down here to a Sabbat headquarters and make accusations?”
Anstis sits frozen, gaze flicking back and forth between Rabenholz and Liedesdorff as they eye each other silently. Finally, Rabenholz smiles. “Have I made any accusations this evening? I believe I merely stated that Mr. Lytton started in San Francisco and did not walk here on his own. I think we can both agree to those statements.”
Liedesdorff smiles and nods graciously. “My apologies then. I must have mis-understood. I am, after all, Malkavian, it is so easy to do. My purpose in stating these things is not to make a threat, but just to suggest, if Thomas Lytton did start in your city and make his way down here, he hardly needed my help.”
Rabenholz nods slowly. “Perhaps. But I’m not here to start a fight with you.”
Liedesdorff’s grin widens. “That’s wise.”
“I do, however, want to know why Tom Lytton is here, who brought him here, or failing that, what you want in exchange for him back.”
Liedesdorff takes a breath. “Tom Lytton is here because the person who brought him here thought he would make a nice addition to this locale. As to who it was who brought him down, I don’t feel like telling you.” He smiles again, running his hand along the mantle. “And what I want for him back, well I haven’t really considered that. He didn’t arrive all that long ago and I haven’t considered what you might have to offer me.”
Rabenholz turns to Anstis. “Well Captain, I promised him to you. How much is he worth to you?”
Anstis strokes his tentacles. “The question remains, Mr. Liedesdorff, what he’s worth to you?”
Liedesdorff glares back. “The problem, Captain, is he may be worth precisely what I’ve already been offered.”
“And I don’t suppose you’re willing to share that?”
Liedesdorff grins thinly. “It would be imprudent. Sabbat business, you understand.”
Anstis glances at the guards. “Aye.”
(Jim: “How many people are in this room?”
Jason: “Not counting you and Liedesdorff? Eleven.”)
Anstis’s gaze scans the men lining the walls, thoughtfully, calculating….
Liedesdorff steps away from the mantle. “Now. You fellows could take this past simple discussion, but I think eleven trained men outnumber your eight arms, Captain. And you, Herr Rabenholz, could always try some fancy Ventrue mindtricks on me….” He grins. “…But I’m crazy.”
Rabenholz’s face remains impassive. “Ironically the sanest thing anyone has ever told me.”
“Being insane does have its own form of sanity,” Liedesdorff replies.
(Chris: “Can I tell if the guards are vampires or not?”
Jason: “Well, a few of the ones standing closest to Liedesdorff seem to be breathing, though that could simply be an affect. However, the two obfuscated figures standing right behind you with drawn swords are most likely vampires.”
Liedesdorff clasps his hands in front of him. “Lord Rabenholz. In the future, I am willing to entertain offers for Mr. Lytton. Off the record, of course, cause officially I can’t be dealing with you at all. The Inquisition might stop by. But for now, I think I will be keeping what was offered to me.”
Rabenholz nods slowly, fingers tented in front of him. “What if I offer you the Camarillian holdings in the East Bay?”
Liedesdorff barks a laugh. “You don’t have that authority. That territory belongs to Adriana. You’d dispossess your would-be subordinate?”
“Adriana has already proven herself unable to deal with the Anarchs.”
Liedesdorff chuckles. “You don’t know the half of it. I heard a strange rumor recently. You know the settites that have been running about, making so much trouble? Guess who brought them in.”
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Well when you are having trouble with Helgi Isarnbjorn Ogenherdi, there are a certain number of people you’d want to go to. Especially if the Prince is weak and the Justicar has his own problems.” Liedesdorff shakes his head sadly. “And now the Anarchs are shattered, Helgi Isarnbjorn is dead—”
“Allegedly,” Anstis says.
(Cameron: “Heh heh heh….”)
Liedesdorff stops, glares at Anstis, then continues, “So now, Lord Rabenholz, I do apologize for my horrible remiss but I do have many other matters to attend to tonight. If you’ll excuse me. My associates can show you out.” He gestures and a handful of the guards step forward. “Do give my regards to your Justicar.”
Rabenholz stands. “Absolutely. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to hear them.”
“Oh I have every faith.” Liesedorff peers into the mirror over the mantle and strokes at his beard, stark white against his dark skin. “Interesting that Mr. Bell would be involved with someone named Tom,” he says nonchalantly. “Mention the coincidence to him, would you?”
(Me: “Oooooooooooh, fuuuuuuuuuuuu—”
Me: “Don’t mention it to him.”
Jim: “What? Why?”
Me: “Uncle. Tom…?”)
Rabenholz, missing the insult, smiles agreeably. “One more thing, have you spoken recently with Baron Leeland?”
Liedesdorff turns from the mirror. “Can’t say that I have, not in the last week or so. Why?”
“Would it interest you to know that the party who stole Tom Lytton also kidnapped him tonight?”
Liedesdorff sighs and drops his head a moment. “That boy is just not right. I’m sorry if you inherit the problems of Baron Leeland. I don’t envy them. He’s never been cut out for this line of work.”
“Yes the tree problem does seem to keep coming back to him.”
(Me: “One tree! He can’t even manage one tree!”)
“I swear, I don’t know how that man wound up embraced.” Liedesdorff sighs again. “I knew his father. Not well. He couldn’t be seen with one such as myself, but we chanced to meet on occasion. Leeland was never cut out for this sort of thing. Still, he’s made the best of it.”
“Indeed. I don’t believe he’s met final death tonight, but I would like to bring him back if I could.”
Liedesdorff nods. “I will keep an eye out for him, should he chance upon the Southern Bay.”
Rabenholz draws a card from his pocket and hands it out. “If you need to reach me, you may have your staff contact me at this number. As I said, I favor productive relationships with my neighbors.”
Liedesdorff takes the card with a smile. “Well I appreciate that. But I do have my own orders, and my own reputation to maintain.”
Anstis gets up too. Rabenholz turns to lead them out, then hesitates and turns back. “As we are leaving empty handed, I don’t suppose you’d grant us a few minutes with Mr. Lytton? I give you my word I won’t attempt to steal him back.”
Liedesdorff eyes him, turning Rabenholz’s card slowly in his hands. “May I ask why?”
“I feel it is only appropriate I inform him of his new circumstances. I did give him my word I would protect him from final death.”
“Well, unfortunately I’m afraid that can’t be arranged right now. There’s complications. But I’ll pass the message.”
“I hope you don’t mean to tell me Mr Lytton has already died?” Rabenholz asks innocently.
Liesdesdorff glares. “I wouldn’t bring him all this way just to kill him.”
“I will only be a few minutes. You may keep Captain Anstis as collateral, I suppose,” Rabenholz says, ignoring Anstis’s sudden glare as well.
Liedesdorff turns the card in his hand a few more moments. “I’m afraid I can’t let you touch him, but I will let you have words.”
Rabenholz bows. “That will do. Thank you.”
Liedesdorff nods to one of his guards, who leaves the room hurriedly. Meanwhile, the rest of the guards rank up around Rabenholz and Anstis, guns held loosely but openly. Liedesdorff gestures for them to leave the room and follows.
The entourage works its way through the house in a winding path, passing through more parlors, kitchens, and a couple narrow stairwells with strangely-shallow steps. Finally, they reach a cellar converted to a meat locker. Guards at the door wrench it open as they approach. More guards lurk inside, including one Slavic looking man with a large scar down his face who watches the enter with a wry smirk. Rabenholz and Anstis ignore the men, though, as their attention is drawn immediately to the center of the room.
Tom Lytton hangs unconscious from a meat-hook hitched underneath his trademark leather chest harness. It’s fortunate he has it, because there’s not much left of the rest of him to grip onto. Deep rents slice Tom’s flesh, down to the bone in most cases, and parts of his limbs are so jagged they’d be better described as perforated. Embalming fluid, stained lightly pink from the last traces of vitae, drip to the floor. His face is as unforgettable as always, but parts of his skull are misshapen, and a few chunks are missing.
(Chris: “This is gross.”
Me: “YOU STARTED THIS!”
Chris: “Hey! I had you in mint-condition. You never looked as good as you did on my wall.”
Me: “Except for the missing femur and nails plunged through me, thanks!”
Chris: “I replaced the femur!”
Me: “With metal! And my eyes, my beautiful blue eyes!”
Chris: “Yes, they were replaced with beautiful blue eyes that won’t dry up!”)
Rabenholz paces slowly into the room, footsteps heavy on the metal floor, but as he approaches Tom the guards in the room lift their guns. He stops. In the lingering silence, he once again senses the very subtle presence of Obfuscated guards moving just next to his shoulder. Rabenholz ignores them, staring at Lytton.
(Chris: “Is there a way for me to communicate with him without the others noticing?”
Me: “Well you can do the mental-projection thing…?”
Jason: “Well, we never hammered that out, but I actually assumed it was part of the enchantments of the mirror, so no.”)
“I’m afraid we haven’t found a way to wake him up yet,” Liedesdorff says, stepping forward to join Rabenholz. “It looks like something’s implanted in him. Probably in his heart.”
Rabenholz keeps his face carefully neutral. “Probably for the best.”
“As I said, I’m happy to pass him a message.”
Rabenholz eyes Tom a few silent moments. “Just give him my apologies I was not able to keep him safe personally and that I trust that Archbishop Liedesdorff will take on my obligation.”
Liedesdorff smiles thinly. “Well. I’m not a gentleman of such esteemed vintage as yourself, but I’ll be sure to pass it to him. And I do not intend to see him dead.” He nods toward the guards. “Afterall, if I wanted him dead, surely you can tell, he’d be dead already.”
“Yes, though he’s not exactly far from that state.”
Liedesdroff chuckles. “You certainly did a number on him. If I might ask, what was your intention with him when the show was over?”
“Well I was going to give him a few decades to cool off. Then, sometime around 2050, wake him up. I believe by then he would have paid his debt to society.”
Liedesdorff nods slowly. “Not a terrible idea. But then this isn’t entirely up to me. See there’s a Sabbat Priscus regards him as a client. And I tend to be rather cagey about violating the wishes of Sabbat Prisci. Still. I won’t be killing him. Not yet.” A smirk plays across his face and he gestures grandly to the door. “Now then, if you’ll excuse us, I do have other business to attend to. I hope the traffic isn’t bad on the way back north.”
(Me: “Speaking of, have I reached the Richmond Bridge yet?”
Jason: “Oh yes, you have. We’ll deal with that in just a moment.”)
Anstis bows grandly. “Have a pleasant day, Archbishop.” He steps out of the locker, a handful of the guards following behind.
Rabenholz, though, continues to eye Tom.
(Chris: *taps fingers against table* “…How many people are in the room?”
Jason: “That you know of? Including the obfuscated assholes, not counting you two, not counting Lytton…thirteen.”
Chris: *pause* “I’m contemplating using Movement of the Mind to sever what remains of Tom’s head from his body. I am wondering how subtly I can do that.”
*silence in the room*
Jason: *long exhale* “That would be hard to do subtly. It would be difficult to do in general—”
Chris: “Yes, but he’s no longer on the supportive rack that was mostly holding him intact.”
Jason: “That’s true, but that said, his neck was not damaged in all of this. The question is what would rip loose first. Would you just throw him around by the head, or would you actually rip it off? Cause Movement of the Mind can push but can’t really pry. There’s a lot of variables involved and doing it subtly is almost impossible. He would swing on the hook, for one thing, before you actually broke his head off.”
*Another long, tense pause*
Chris: “…Could I pull his brain out through the back of his skull?”
Me: “Oh my god, Chris, LET IT GO!!!”
Chris: “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Me: “Why do you think!?”
Chris: “But Tom is no longer in my possession, so he’s a liability. And imagine what sort of face Liedesdorff would lose if Tom died in his possession. Tom, a client of Marcus Sertorius.”
Jason: “That is a good point. But with Movement of the Mind it’s hard to predict if that would work. You cant see the brain very well and you might end up spinning him around like a pinata.”
Chris: “Urg. Fine. I guess I’ll leave him hanging.”)
Rabenholz finally turns to leave, most of the guards sticking close to him. Liedesdorff, though, and the man with the scar on his face, stay in the locker, watching him until he’s out of sight. Rabenholz joins up with Anstis down the hall and they exit the cellar.
(Jim: “I…observe the building as we leave. Does this house have a lot of windows?”
Jason: “Oh yes.”
Me: “And…fucking hidden rooms, and stairways to nowhere! It’s the Winchester Mystery House, son, it’s not an easy place to siege!”)
The contingent of Sabbat guards follow Rabenholz and Anstis out of the house and to the front gate. The old woman from before is in the garden, talking to a few workmen with the look of ghouls about them. The workmen stop to watch them pass, but the old woman waves. “Goodbye, Lord Gussie!”
Rabenholz stops and nods to her. “Goodbye. I didn’t catch your name…?”
“Oh, my name is Sarah.” The old woman continues smiling, but the ghouls rank up behind her, glaring at Rabenholz and holding their tools threateningly. Rabenholz nods to them as well and rejoins Anstis to exit the grounds. His car is still waiting out front. They climb in in silence.
“Driver, hold here a moment,” Rabenholz says as he closes the door, then turns to regard the house. One of the curtains in the large windows facing them twitches. “Captain, we must salvage what we can of this evening.”
Anstis also stares back at the house, stroking his tentacles and grinning. “How late do you think you can stay up?”
Rabenholz eyes him suspiciously. “Sunrise and then some. Why?”
Anstis grins wider, jerking his chin toward the house. “We know exactly where our quarry is. Fancy an early morning visit?”
“I think I follow your meaning….” Rabenholz eyes the workers in the garden. “And yet I suspect Liedesdorff will have several dozen ghouls who are quite perky in the morning. While I might be able to push myself, I do not think I could take all of them. Additionally, I do not think we should leave any evidence.”
Anstis nods slowly. “Do you know anyone exceedingly good at Obfuscate?”
Rabenholz watches the house a thoughtful moment. The curtains in the window twitch again. “None that I trust,” he says finally.
“We could muster up alternate agents but I’m afraid not with the time left to us in this evening,” Rabenholz says. “No…I have another idea—”
Suddenly his phone rings. He checks the ID and answers. “Ms. Scout! What information have you discovered?”
“I’m at the Richmond bridge but traffic is light for—”
(Me: “—Wait, what day of the week is it?”
Jason: “I’m not sure….”
Me: “Oh well it’s probably—OH WAIT!! IT’S TODAY!!!!”)
“—Traffic is light for a Tuesday night, and morning rush hour hasn’t started yet.”
“You’re unable to locate Leeland’s towncar?
“Unfortunate.” Rabenholz stares at the house a moment. “Tell me, do you know Mr. Lytton well?”
Scout hesitates. “This is the person you’ve been talking about, the one from the attack at Costco?”
“No, I’ve just heard rumors, and what you’ve said about him.”
“Ah. Someone unfortunately made off with him. It appears they did so at the same time Leeland escaped. I suspect these events are one in the same. It seems quite obvious to me that Baron Leeland has stolen Tom Lytton and has fled with him.”
Scout pauses thoughtfully. “Do you have any leads on where they could have gone?”
“They were followed as far as the Richmond Bridge. I do not know where they went after that.” Rabenholz falls silent, thinking. “Did you know Mr. Leeland well?”
“I’ve met him once or twice since being in the city, but no more so than any of the other leaders around here.”
“I see.” Rabenholz takes a slow breath. “I’m grievously wounded this evening. I had counted him very near my dear friends. It’s a shame be betrayed me thus.”
On the other side of the seat, Anstis lifts an eyebrow at him. Rabenholz ignores it. “You’re also certain you had no luck locating Benjamin Smith?” he continues.
Scout is silent a moment. “…No. I can check the ridge again tomorrow night, but the trail there seemed cold. I don’t seem to have the tracking ability you utilized when we were in Humboldt.”
(Chris: “What? I didn’t—”
Me: “Uh, yeah, you did. I didn’t see the Trail of the Prey, but when we were in the helicopter, it was clear you were directing the pilot based on a path only you could see, but it was the path the Abomination.”)
“Hmm.” Rabenholz’s eyes narrow. “Yes, well, with Ms. Johnson not answering her phone calls, I worry such abilities are gone for all of us.”
(Me: “What? Georgia wasn’t there.”
Chris: “Yes, but I made a lie specifically at the time that Georgia told me how to do this. Gotta keep your lies straight!”)
“…Quite,” Scout says flatly.
“Thank you for checking in. If you find out anything more about Mr. Leeland, let me know.” Rabenholz hangs up.
“You know, for a Scout she doesn’t seem able to scout much at all,” Anstis grumbles.
“Perhaps….” Rabenholz eyes the house again, then turns away. “Captain I admire your ambition, but I don’t think we will have much luck assaulting the house in search of Lytton tonight. We must find what we can about Baron Leeland.”
Anstis nods. “Very well.”
Rabenholz passes a word to the driver and the car drives away.
(Jason: “We are now going to do something we have not done in quite awhile.”
Jason: “Tom? You wake up.”
Me “Wha—? But I’m in, like, a thousand pieces! On a hook!”
Jason: “Oh, you’ll wish you hadn’t, but you do.”
Me: “Okay, so…what do I perceive?”
Jason: “You feel…bad. Really, really bad.”
Me: “Like…I’ve been to professionals who probably couldn’t make me feel this bad?”
Jason: “Yep, noooo….”)
(Author’s note: Now that Tom is back as an active player-character, I’m going to continue with the pattern of writing Tom in first-person, even though I am now a full year out of practice with it. We’ll see how it goes….)
The darkness is eternal. Formless, massless, just like myself within it. Then, after untold eons, the darkness takes a shape:
Agony rolls across me, its waves highlighting the structure of my being. A structure near collapse. Wisps of consciousness scatter as the demon inside me surges forth, drawing on instinct to thrash its way to freedom. A new pain pierces my chest like a bolt of lightning.
Then the eternal black falls again.
Time passes. Then, with another lightning shock to the chest, I’m pulled back to reality. The pain is still there, binding me, but receded. Sightless, my mind struggles to grab any sensory input it can, finally building a picture of the situation:
Shit is fuuuuuuuuuuuuuucked.
“Mr. Lytton?” a male voice mutters through the darkness.
I grunt back.
“Can you hear me, Mr. Lytton?” the voice says again, louder. Something about it is strangely familiar. As I swim back up through consciousness, memories suddenly knit together and lock into place.
“You can hear me then.” Archbishop Liedesdorff chuckles. “What have they done to you?”
“Dnn. Knnw,” I manage.
Someone suddenly grabs my jaw, levering it open and palpating my throat. “His tongue is still half missing, and his voicebox is severely damaged,” a female voice reports in a strange accent.
“Good enough for now.” Liedesdorff chuckles again. “Mr. Lytton, I’ve known Brujah who’ve pissed people off but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like you.”
“Oh don’t thank me. There’s someone else you should be thanking.”
The pain sings again as my body tenses. “…Bss?”
“Actually I’m afraid your little friend the Priscus is nowhere to be found. Last I heard he’d gone to Hell.” Before I can process that, Liedesdorff continues. “No, the person you should be thanking is someone else entirely.”
I sense Liedesdorff pulling away from me, then hear footsteps approaching across concrete….
(Jason: “And I will tell you who that person is…elsewhere.”)
(*After a secret Tom-scene, we come back*
Jason: “Alright, so, you know who’s been offscreen for long enough? Paul Stewart.”
Chris: “I like Paul Stewart, he’s a nice guy. Eh fights aliens and doesn’t afraid of anything.”)
Balasar leads Paul, Sophia, and Charles north, past the Headland’s hill and into the redwood forests on the lower slopes of Mt. Tamalpais. Their trek moves faster once they hit a fireroad, but they move cautiously once they notice the crushed grass and tire tracks of recent use. Balasar moves cagily in the lead, then suddenly stops and gestures them off the road. They cut through the deep shadows under the trees and come to a rocky outcropping overlooking a small clearing.
Another WW2 ammunition bunker is embedded in the hill here, concrete stained and rotting like the main complexes back in the headlands, but the huge plate-metal doors welded over the entrance have been pried open, exposing the historical fortification to the night’s air. A large cluster of armed fatigue-clad men lurk at the entrance, talking calmly to each other and into their radios.
“What—” Paul starts to say, then Baladar shushes him, pointing toward the road at their right. A diesel growl approaches through the trees, then light bursts onto the clearing as a semi truck appears and eases its way down. The men stand back, gesturing it forward. After a few shouts of instructions, the truck continues forward, swallowed by the darkness of the tunnel.
“This looks suspicious,” Paul mutters.
Next to him, Sophia shoots him a Look, then sniffs the air. “They all smell really wrymish, but they’re all human.” She frowns. “What are they doing here?”
A few of the guards follow the truck into the tunnel while the rest linger outside. Paul watches as one pulls out his phone and starts typing at it. “Looks like they’re guarding it. Poorly.”
“Guarding what?” Sophia replies. “This is the entrance to a hive, a hive has its own guard.”
Paul scans the hillside surrounding the tunnel. “Is there a safe way in?”
Sophia frowns, glancing up at the sky. “Isn’t sunrise soon?”
Paul pulls out his phone. 5:30 am. “Yes, that is a concern,” he mutters.
(Chris: “How far are we from my bike?”
Jason: “Pretty far, you hiked a long way from the Headlands. And even if you get back to the bike, there won’t be enough time to make it back to the city.”
Chris: “So holing up inside is probably easier….”
Jason: “Inside the possible entrance to a Black Spiral hive? I mean, yeah…?”)
Paul turns to Balasar. “Balasar, lets try and make friendly with these guys. If not, we’re gonna have to run and find shelter pretty fast.”
Balasar gapes back at Paul in horror.
(Jason: “He responds with Cajun gibberish.”
Chris: “Does it sound like a yes?”
“Great, glad you agree with me.” Paul gets up to move forward. Balasar ducks away and tries to run back into the trees, but stops as he almost crashes into Charles, watching him unblinkingly through narrowed eyes. Balasar slowly backs up from him and rejoins Paul.
Paul grabs Balasar’s arm in a grip just a shade tighter than “friendly” and walks down into the clearing. All the guards stop what they’re doing and stare at them.
The one with the phone lowers it and steps forward, adjusting the sling of his gun at his hip. “Can I help you?”
Paul pops Awe and grins broadly. “Hey, I am so glad to see you! I was hiking earlier this evening and got lost looking for the road to Stinson Beach.” He pulls Balasar forward. “This is my friend, he’s with me. I don’t know who you are or what’s going on, but can you help us out?”
The guard eyes him. “Sir, this area is restricted.”
“Oh I’m so sorry, but is there any chance one of you could give us a ride to the road, or a hotel? We’ve been going all night and it’s so cold….” Paul pretends to shiver. Balasar takes the cue and tries to as well, through on him it comes out more like a shimmy.
The guard stares at them with a bemused expression. “Uh…yeah, I think we can do that. Hold on a sec.” He pulls out a walkie talkie and reports a couple of lost tourists just stumbled into the area. He listens a moment, then nods and clips the radio back to his gear. “Wait here, sir, we’ll get a jeep out.”
Paul beams and shakes the guard’s hand. “Oh, thank you!” The guard stares, then carefully removes it from Paul’s grip.
A jeep roars out of the tunnel a few minutes later. The guard gestures for them to get into the car, then climbs in as well, in the backseat with Paul. Paul avoids glancing at Sophia and Charles’s hiding spot as they climb out of the clearing and back up to the fire road.
(Jason: “What do you do?”
Chris: “Well I assume the were-beasts are all shrewd enough to hide.”
Jason: “Oh yes. So what do you do?”
Chris: “Oh, well, we let them take us to a hotel.”
Jason: “…Oh, just like that?”
Jason: “Yeah…okay here’s the problem—”)
About a quarter of a mile down the road, once they’ve twisted out of sight of the tunnel, the guard in the backseat with Paul suddenly whips out a handgun, puts it to Paul’s temple, and fires. Moments later, the driver does the same thing to Balasar in the passenger seat.
(Chris: “…Man, what a dick.”
Jason: “Yeah, they don’t know you’re vampires. So, for those who wish to understand, what you have just witnessed is a Poor Life Decision.”)
The shot blasts the side of Paul’s head off. He smashes against the car door, then, head ringing, sits back up again. The guard stares in shock as Paul’s face knits back together before his eyes.
Paul groans and rubs his jaw. “Balasar?”
“Ey?” A muffled voice comes from the front seat, followed by wet sounds of healing.
The car still bounces forward along the road as the guards stare at them, frozen. Paul meets the gaze of the guard next to him.
“Balasar…don’t kill them.”
(Chris: “Then I’m going to bite him.”)
END OF NIGHT