4/05/16

Jason: “So. Tom wakes up and finds that someone has been doing…something interesting with him.”
Chris: “Like sewing someone else’s arms and legs onto him.”
Jason: “…Yes, yes they have. What’s even more helpful is the fact the limbs are fresh. But the damage was more extensive than they initially realized. Several times they poured blood down his throat to heal his chest cavity, onto to find out that no, they still needed to do work in there.”
Me: “O…kay…?”
Jason: “You still got only one lung. They gave up on the other and carved it out. Various internal organs are missing. Your pelvis feels…odd-sized, like it’s from someone else, but it’s rapidly adjusting to your proportions. They basically replaced everything. And more than just blood was involved. There was some fleshcrafting, there was some ritual shit….”
Me: “Wow. Dat Sabbat healthcare tho….”


***

(Jason: “So when we last left off, you two had just finished a fun evening at the Winchester Mystery House. What do you do next?”
Chris: “Well, I assume Rabenholz goes back to one of his beautiful suites, but he also wants to make a phone call to Paul Stewart.”
Jason: “Better call Paul!”
Chris: “Yes, but I believe Paul is still a night behind…?”
Jason: “Oh that’s right, okay then let’s catch him up.)

#

MILL VALLEY

Around when Rabenholz’s Elysium 2.0 is beginning, Paul wakes up on the far side of the bay in a boutique hotel near the sleepy hamlet of Mill Valley. He gets out of bed, steps over Balasar—still sleeping, curled up on the floor—and instinctively stumbles toward the bathroom. On the way, he trips over another lump: one of the guards from the car, tied up and gagged.

Not the other guard, though. Despite Paul’s insistence, Balasar ate him anyway.

The guard stares up at him and thrashes against his bonds with muffled whimpers.

“Calm down,” Paul says.

The man chews at his gag as the whimpers turn to muted screams.

Paul kneels down. “I will take that out of your mouth if you calm down. Do you understand?”

The man falls still and nods. Paul unties the rag and the guard gasps for breath. “It wasn’t me! It wasn’t my idea!” he yells.

“Who was it?”

“It was orders from the guy in charge!”

Paul stares down at him coolly. “Why would you follow an order to kill lost tourists?”

“Nobody comes in, nobody finds out! That’s the instructions! We were paid extra!”

“And you were okay with that order?”

The guard’s eyes dart around the room, lingering on Balasar sprawled nearby, now slowly stirring himself awake. “I’m okay with anything, they pay me enough.”

“They’re not going to pay you now.”

The man squirms. Paul waits until he meets his gaze again. “Why is no one supposed to find out?” Paul asks.

The man licks his lips nervously. “Cause they’re moving product through.”

Paul frowns. “What kind of product?”

“I don’t know, I don’t ask! Big product, though. Shipping containers.”

Paul leans back and considers him a moment. “If I let you go, how do I know you’re not going to go around killing anyone else?”

The guard grimaces. “I just want to leave the state, man.”

“And when you leave the state what are you going to do?”

The man hesitates. “…Get drunk?”

Paul leans close. “Gonna take money to kill people again?” he asks, voice low.

The guard pulls as far away as his bonds will allow. “Man, I just shot you in the head and you didn’t die, I ain’t going near that shit again!”

Paul leans closer, staring into his eyes. “I’m going to keep tabs on you. You kill someone, you wrong someone….”

(Chris: “…Dreadgaze.”)

Instantly the man screams, thrashing against the ropes. Paul watches calmly. “…We have an understanding?” he asks.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” the man yells, squeezing his eyes shut and turning away from Paul’s stare.

Paul nods, then unties the ropes. “When you feel better, you can go about leaving the state. Remember what I said.” Paul stands, turning to the Malkavian finally climbing upright. “Balasar, could you take this man out and help him find a taxi?”

Balasar babbles something in Cajun and leads the wide-eyed guard from the room. Paul, meanwhile, pulls out his phone to call Sophia.

“Paul?” she answers.

“Sophia, we’re at the…” He peers at a notepad on the desk. “…Cozy Clam Motel in Mill Valley.”

(Jim: “That sounds like a sleazy motel you rent for an hour at a time.”
Chris: “I thought that was the Speedy Clam Motel?”)

“Alright, we’re still in the area,” she replies. “They’ve been moving trucks into the tunnel all day.”

Paul frowns, watching out the window as a cab pulls up in front of the motel and Balasar helps the guard into it with a toothy grin. “One of the guards said they were moving product, didn’t say what it was. Got a feeling it was a drug thing, but…just a feeling.”

“Drugs?” Sophia barks a laugh. “They’ve been bringing in entire semi-trailers. This amount would blast the entire state of New York!”

“Where are the trucks coming from?”

“Don’t know, the plates are all covered. But they’ve had twelve go through already. All different, carrying unmarked shipping containers.”

Paul hesitates a moment at the window, watching the cab drive off, Balasar waving cheerily after it, then gathers up his stuff and leaves the room. “How would you feel about breaking into one?” he asks Sophia.

She sighs. “We tried that already. There was a snag. The truck self-destructed. That’s why they’ve stopped bringing them in.” The sound of typing echoes momentarily in the background. “Got some info on the guards, though. Some kind of black-ops PMC that operates out of Panama. I’ve got spirits working on tracking down more but it’ll be awhile.”

Paul closes the door behind him and walks over to join Balasar. “Spooky.”

“Yeah. What are these guys all doing in Marin, at a tunnel that supposedly leads to a hive?”

Paul switches the call to speaker for a moment as he tabs between apps to summon a car. “Presumably the hive needs raw materials,” he says. “Or refined materials.”

“But what could need with this much stuff? Usually Spiral Dancers aren’t big on imports.”

The phone’s screen announces a car is on its way. Paul stares up the street expectantly. “Well, like at the Farallones, maybe it’s not just Spiral Dancers.”

An unexplained chill suddenly slides down Paul’s back. He glances at the neighborhood around them, small houses and cottages nestled in amongst the trees, but the streets are empty, and every window is dark. “Sophia, are you alone at the moment?” he asks nervously.

“Sees-Faces and Alexander showed up, but they’re checking for other entrances. It looks like this is the only one open at the moment, though none of us can get deeper into it to get more information.”

Paul falls quiet a moment, thinking. His gaze falls on Balasar, slouching next to him, idly picking something out of his teeth. “Maybe our Cajun friend could do some sneaking for us….” Paul says slowly.

Balasar looks up and babbles something in guttural pidgin.

Paul stares at him. “Was that a yes?”

“My tablet translator says it can’t figure out what he’s saying,” Sophia chimes in.

Paul sighs. “Is it Siri? I’ve never been too fond of what Apple did with her.”

“No, it’s my own design. I call it L-CARS.”

Paul falls silent a long moment. “…You called it L-CARS.”

“It’s an acronym. Lycanthrope-Compatible Augmented Ritual Storage.”

Paul stares into space another long moment. “…Ah. Here I thought you were going to say ‘Library Computer-Access’-something.”

Sophia scoffs. “This isn’t science fiction, Paul.”

(Me: “It’s urban fantasy, Paul!!”)

The car finally pulls up. Paul peers carefully in through the passenger window, then relaxes when he sees the driver isn’t Adam. “We just got a car, we’re on our way back.”

“Alright. Be careful Paul. We had to pull back from the tunnel, they’re running armed patrols along the roads.”

“Gotcha.” Paul and Balasar climb into the back seat. The car drives off. Staring at the Cajun next to him, though, suddenly reminds Paul of something else that’s been nagging at him. “Is Mr. Steinhart still there?” he asks Sophia.

“Yeah, around here somewhere,” Sophia answers.

“So, when I first met him, he flew over Golden Gate park, but…no one reported it….”

Sophia falls silent a moment. “Yeah. He had the Delirium. “

“Like…he was tripping?”

“No. When we changers turn into our war forms, it kind of freaks everyone out. Taps into the lizard-brain or something, people go mental. Brain can’t deal with it, rationalize it as something else, or forget what they saw entirely. When people saw him they prolly saw a low-flying jet-liner.”

“But we saw a dragon. And we’ve always seen you as a werewolf.”

Another tense silence falls. “Well, partly that’s ‘cause it doesn’t work on you guys cause you’re, well, dead. And partly…” she takes a breath, “…that’s ‘cause I don’t have it.

“What do you mean?”

Sophia hesitates, then continues, lowering her voice. “It’s part of being Metis. Something about you is born…wrong. Sometimes it’s obvious, something physical. Sometimes it’s mental. For me, I dont have the Delerium, so when I shift, people see me as I really am. It’s why I don’t like to use it that often.”

Paul’s mind races, slotting this in with other werewolf information he’s collected. “But this cub we’re chasing. She’s supposedly…perfect?”

“Yeah.”

The car falls silent as Paul considers this. “…Alright. we’re on our way, we’ll let you know when we’re close.”

Sophia chuckles. “Don’t worry, I’ll be keeping an eye out.”

#

MARIN FOREST

The car drops Paul and Balasar off at the base of the fireroad leading deep into the forest back toward the tunnel. They make their way slowly on foot, remaining quiet and sticking to the shadows at the edge of the trees, but after an hour or so of walking a distant roar of a diesel engine approaches through the trees ahead. They duck into the ditch lining the road just as a military-grade humvee carrying eight heavily-armed guards roars past. Soldiers peer out into the trees, most wearing heavy night-vision goggles, though the one manning the gun turret up top also carries a big flashlight-looking device attached to a thick cable. The car passes without slowing—

—Then suddenly screeches to a halt.

Paul and Balasar fall down limp into the ditch. Yells echo from the road, followed by a couple gunshots. Silence, then a muffled whine and crash as something hits the dirt nearby. Paul creeps to the edge of the ditch and risks a peek over the edge.

Guards are jumping out of the car, guns drawn, approaching what looks like a quad-copter drone. They prod it a few times, then grab and throw it off the road. Shouts echo through the trees as they load up into the vehicle again. The driver roars it around in a three point turn and heads back the way they came.

As Paul watches their taillights get swallowed by the darkness, the phone in his pocket buzzes. He answers. “Hello?”

“Paul,” Sophia says, “Are you alright?”

“Yeah we’re fine.”

“Thank god. Assholes shot down my drone!”

“They did, but they didn’t see us.”

A low growl echoes across the line. “They shouldn’t have been able to see the drone either. That wasn’t some kit, I built it myself!”

Moments pass without sign of the humvee coming back, so Paul and Balasar climb out of the ditch. “Well, we’re on foot but were on our way.”

“Good. Um…can I ask you for a weird favor? Could you collect the wreckage? There’s some pieces in there I’d like back. And a stealth-spirit I really have to apologize to.”

Paul smiles. “Sure.” He hangs up, finds the battered drone, and they continue.

They walk for another hour without interruption. Finally, at a turn in the road, a soft whir descends from the sky. A drone matching the one in Paul’s hand apparates from the darkness, lights blinking, then zips off the road between the trees. They follow, eventually coming out into a small clearing. A small, cold firepit lies in the middle, with stacks of electronics equipment scattered around and propped up on logs.

Sophia stands in the middle of the hoard, typing simultaneously on her tablet and a keyboard, peering back and forth between the screens. Paul and Balasar make their way across the clearing toward her.

Then stop as Stormwalker suddenly materializes from the shadows, massive silver sword bared, nearly glowing with anger.

(Chris: “Wait, he or the sword is glowing with anger?”
Jason: “The sword is, though frankly he ain’t far away.”)

Balasar freezes, squeaking in terror. Paul stares up at Stormwalker, then carefully picks his way around him and approaches Sophia, eying her equipment with a professional’s eye. “We tried something like this for a Tesseract offsite once,” he says conversationally. “But it turns out a bunch of software engineers in the woods with alcohol is a bad idea.”

Sophia doesn’t look up from her screen, but she smirks. The tablet in her hand is unlike any design Paul’s ever seen, though its folding cover is layered with a mosaic of tech-stickers from familiar companies. In the very middle of the mess, unobstructed by any of the others, is a sticker of the Tesseract Logo.

Paul smiles and carefully sets the broken drone down nearby. “So, Balasar thinks he can sneak in unnoticed—”

There’s a muffled crash as Balasar scrambles around Stormwalker, tripping over one of the piles of electronics in the process. Cajun yells echo across the clearing.

“—And as you can see, he’s confident in this,” Paul finishes flatly. “But maybe we should equip him with some listening or recording devices of our own.”

Sophia puts her tablet down. “I can prolly hook him up with something. You think he can really get in?”

Paul shrugs. “I don’t see why not.”

“What if he runs off?”

They turn to Balasar, untangling himself from the electronics, still gaping in horror at Stormwalker looming above him. Stormwalker’s lupine face cracks into a long, sharp grin. “He won’t,” he growls.

Sophia digs out a tiny mic and remote-broadcast camera from her supplies and pins them to Balasar’s swamp-stained clothing. Paul instructs him to return to the tunnel, sneak in as far as he can, then report back on what he can see. Balasar nods wordlessly and scrambles away, winking from sight before he reaches the edge of the clearing.

(Chris: “Ooooh right, Malkavians do have Obfuscate, don’t they….”)

Sophia, Paul, and Stormwalker gather around a monitor to watch his progress. The feed is dark and blurry, then suddenly light flares across it as he reaches the clearing in front of the tunnel. A heavy steel portcullis has been half-lowered over the entrance and sandbag fortifications are piled across the clearing. Many more guards are milling around, carrying guns and more of the giant flashlight things. The camera bobs as Balasar creeps carefully across the space, but none of the men glance at him as he passes.

“He’s good,” Sophia mumbles, watching the monitor with one eye while tapping at her tablet. “Whatever he is. Can all you guys do this?”

“Pretty sure not,” Paul replies. “I definitely can’t.”

“Well, you’re not really a typical vampire Paul.”

“Thank you.” Paul frowns. “…I think.”

Sophia flashes a grin at him. “I mean it that way.”

On the screen, Balasar clears the last line of guards and ducks under the portcullis. The space inside the tunnel entrance is broad, wide enough for the multiple shipping containers lined up next to each other on the floor. Balasar moves past, pausing to peer inside their open doors. All are empty of anything but a layer of dark muck caked on the floor.

Sophia leans closer to the monitor. “Is that dirt? Why would they be shipping that in? There’s plenty of dirt underground already.”

Paul shrugs. “Some kind of significant dirt?”

“Some of you  leeches need your own soil to sleep in,” Stormwalker rumbles from behind them.

“Some,” Paul agrees. “But that’s a lot of soil.”

Balasar continues deeper into the tunnel, entering what looks like a garage. Big-rig cabs are lined up along the walls and a group of men cluster around one still attached to its trailer in the middle of the space. Balasar stops and gibbers in rough-whispered Cajun into his mic.

Paul looks at Sophia. She taps at her tablet a moment and holds it next to the speakers of the monitor. “Vocal analysis unclear,” the tablet announces. “Subject likely choking. Perform heimlich immediately.

Paul grabs a microphone. “Balasar, I don’t know if you can hear me, but we can’t understan—”

Paul stops as Balasar babbles again and physically jerks his camera around, focusing it on the door of the semi-truck cab. Most of the trucks in the garage are clearly from generic shipping companies, but this one has a unique logo painted on the side. A numeral seven, inscribed in a near-complete circle.

Sophia drops her tablet.

“What?” Paul stares. “What does that symbol mean?”

Stormwalker growls, deep enough to vibrate the soil beneath their feet. Sophia takes a shaking breath. “Paul…that’s the Seventh Generation.”

Paul stares. “Like…the Sioux saying about revenge?”

“No.” She carefully picks up her tablet and clutches it close to her chest. “They’re like…an abuse cult. Wyrm worshippers. They kidnap people. Women, kids, illegal aliens, whatever. They abuse them till their minds break then train them to be abusers themselves. All to feed some kind of depraved Wyrm-spirit. You’ve never heard of them?”

“No…should I?”

Sophia exchanges a look with Stormwalker. “Your…boss helped set them up.”

Paul stares blankly. “The…Tesseract company board?”

“No. The…Little One.”

Paul’s face turns stony. “Oh.”

“I don’t know all the details, but the stories all say he worked with Settites sometime in the Middle Ages. That’s how he got his name.” She shudders. “The Devourer of Innocence.”

Still stone-faced, Paul digs out his phone. “Well. Maybe it’s worth giving him a call.”

He dials Marcus’s number. The phone rings a long time, not directing to voicemail. Finally, there’s a click, followed by silence, but there’s a ringing sense that someone is on the other end of the call.

“Marcus Sertorius?” Paul says.

“Well,” a voice not Marcus’s responds. “Listen to who it is.”

(Chris: “Do I recognize it?”
Jason: “You do. It’s Perpenna.”)

Paul is silent a moment. “…You.”

Perpenna laughs. “Such a wonderful, wonderful thing to hear your voice again. I haven’t forgotten the last time we met, Paul Stewart. That sword was sharper than your infamous wit.”

“Well, maybe next time we can leave the swords and the creepy shadow monsters and sit down maturely, like men.”

Perpenna chuckles. “I do so hope so. Soon, perhaps. But for now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m having an old friend for dinner.” He hangs up.

Sophia watches Paul carefully. “What just happened?”

Paul stares off into the woods. “That was…Perpenna.”

Sophia’s face blanches. “Oh, shit.”

Suddenly the phone buzzes in Paul’s hand. He looks down. The screen has lit up on its own.

(Chris: “Is it another call?”
Jason: “No, it’s something else:”)

Thank you for using In Case of Vampires Break Glass—”

(Me: “THROW IT AWAY!!!!”)

Paul realizes what’s happening a millisecond before the phone screen erupts in a full-spectrum burst of sunlight, aimed directly at his face.

#

(Jason: “And we’ll leave him there while we move on to other characters. So, where did we leave Anstis and Rabenholz…?”
Jim: “They were in a car heading back from the South Bay.”
Chris: “And Rabenholz’s first action was going to be to call Paul, so….”
Jason: “OH GODDAMMIT! Fine! Back to Paul!”)

#

MARIN

The next thing Paul knows, he’s flat on his back, staring up at the night sky through trees overhead. He grabs at his face, but the damage isn’t more than a light scalding.

Paul sits up. He’s somewhere deep in the forest, no sign of the clearing or the werewolves. He gropes for his phone. By the time on the clock, at least three hours have passed since he was last conscious. He tries calling Sophia but there’s no answer.

Just then, the phone rings with an incoming call. He answers hesitantly. “Hello?”

“Mr. Stewart,” a deep voice greets him.

Paul’s head swims a moment as he identifies it. “…Rabenholz? Lord Rabenholz?”

“Yes. Have I caught you at an inconvenient time?”

Paul stares out at the trees. “No, no, not at all….”

“Splendid. I just thought you should know about the whereabouts of Mr. Lytton.”

Paul climbs to his feet with a groan. “What do you mean, the whereabouts of Mr. Lytton? I thought he was…being stored with you.”

“He was, yes, and if you had attended my party this evening, you would know he was abducted.”

“Abducted? Why would someo—never mind.” Paul shakes his head. “Why are you telling me this?”

“I merely thought it would be in your interest, given your prior friendship with him. He was abducted by Archbishop Leidesdorff. A man I believe you are associated with.”

Paul sighs. “Yes, I’ve met him before.”

The phone in his hand buzzes with another incoming call. Coincidentally, it’s Archbishop Leidesdorff.

“Well, thank you very much for the information,” Paul says hurriedly to Rabenholz. “I apologize I missed your party. I hope it went well otherwise.”

“Yes, it was a grand affair. Hopefully you can make the next one,” Rabenholz replies.

Paul hangs up and accepts the call from Leidesdorff.

“Mr. Stewart,” Leidesdorff greets him. “How’s the evening find you?”

Paul stares through the trees. “Worried, but intact.”

“Then I assume you’ve heard news of the recent events?”

“…Possibly,” Paul replies carefully. “Which specific events would these be?”

“The ones that involved a would-be Ventrue prince who came down to my neck of the woods and issued threats.”

Paul takes a slow, deep draught of the cool forest air. “I’m maybe not as filled in as I thought I was.”

“I have possession of something,” Leidesdorff says. “Something a certain Augustus von Rabenholz wants.

“Tom Lytton,” Paul says grimly.

“You have heard then. I’m letting you know this out of courtesy, on two counts. One is, I believe Lytton and you were friendly?”

“As friendly as he can be with anyone. He did have a way about him.”

“He is Brujah. I happen to know the type. The other reason is Rabenholz departed on a note that was not entirely charming. I think it was understood by all parties that the honeymoon may be over.” Leidesdorff pauses a moment to let the implications of that sink in. “Given as your company is located between our respective domains, and you are still a member in good standing of an organization I am oath-bound to destroy, we may have some issues arise.”

Paul leans back against a tree. “Oh great. Well, if it makes you feel any better, the world may end in the next few nights, that probably simplifies things.”

“In my experience, Mr. Stewart, the world is always about to end,” Leidesdorff replies grimly. “As I said, I am letting you know as a courtesy. Right now my plan is to ensure that overbred German bastard up in San Francisco doesn’t get any bright ideas and march down here with an army or his own self. Cause he does that, things are liable to get a mite unpleasant in your neck of the woods as well.”

“I see.” Paul stares around at the trees for a long moment. “…Can I ask you something? Do you know anything about an Andrea?”

“…Andrea?” Leidesdorff repeats, suspicion laced under his voice. “Who’s been telling you about Andrea?”

“Norton. It’s all he rants about these days. She’s coming, we’re all going to see things when it’s too late, end of the world type stuff. “

Leidesdorff is quiet a moment. “I haven’t heard anything specific, but…I have a couple of pack priests in my employ and they’ve been getting mighty…vociferous on the subject of an Andrea over the last couple of weeks. Nothing I could pin anything on. I’m not that kind of Malk.”

“Well that’s unsettling….” Paul peers off through the trees. Now that his eyes have adapted, he can just make out a strip of moonlight illuminating a road a few yards away. “One other question, you heard of something called the Seventh Generation?”

Leidesdorff pauses thoughtfully. “You don’t mean the blood generation?”

“No, some sort of cult it looks like?”

(Jim: “And apparently not the soap company.”)

“I’ve heard rumors,” Leidesdorff says. “Something about some kind of mystery cult. Hundreds of those in the Sabbat.”

“Someone is working with them in some old tunnels in Marin. I’m pretty sure it’s Reinhardt Heydrich. And Perpenna.” Paul takes a breath. “And I think they may have Marcus.”

Leidesdorff pauses. “Perpenna took down a Sabbat Priscus!?

“Possibly. He might have just found his phone and is just messing with us, but there was a specific threat he was going to diablerize Marcus.”

Leidesdorff mutters to himself a moment. “So I have a question for you then. I had a conversation with that Priscus of yours the last time he was down here chasing snakes. I wanted to call the Inquisition, get some heavy hitters up here to handle the matter directly, maybe even annex San Francisco. But he vetoed it. And when that kind of a Priscus vetoes things, it stays vetoed.”

Paul grimaces. “That may be for the best. Our Justicar in town may escalate things.”

“Oh he certainly would, but I’m at the point where I don’t care. See as I was saying, the Priscus didn’t want me to call the Inquisition, but if he’s out of the picture, I don’t see a reason not to.”

The forest cold settles deep into Paul’s flesh. “…Well,” he says after a moment, “here are my reasons for why I think you shouldn’t do that—”

“I’ve already got dissention in the ranks,” Leidesdorff snaps. “I’ve got people ready to load up in cars and drive north, and with the Settites and the Anarchs tearing each other apart there’d be no one left to stop them. I’ve had to keep a lid on it and have only succeeded so far because things are so unsettled and I’ve made examples. But I can’t hold this down forever.”

“I don’t see how taking down San Francisco is going to fix these other problems, with Andrea and Perpenna and whatnot.”

“I don’t either, that’s what worries me. When a bunch of Sabbat Warleaders get scared, they start doing things. And that scares other people. People like Orlando.”

Paul rubs at his face a long moment. “Just…keep things quiet as long as you can. And if you hear anything more about Andrea, let me know.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Leidesdorff says grimly, then hangs up.

Paul checks the time, then checks his location on the map. Dawn is still almost two hours away, but he’s far deeper into the woods than where he started, too deep to make it back to civilization in time. He makes his way to the fire road and follows it. About a quarter mile down, it twists through the head of a narrow ravine and crosses a stormflow drainpipe buried in the hillside.

Paul grabs a few leafy branches then crouches down to climb into the pipe. He works his way in as deep as he can, piles the branches behind him for extra security, then lays back and waits for the dawn to take him.

#

RABENHOLZ’S CAR, NORTHBOUND 101

Rabenholz and Anstis, meanwhile, are still making their way back to the city. The car is silent after Rabenholz’s call to Paul, but the silence is finally broken by Anstis’s phone ringing with an unknown number.

Anstis answers and turns to stare out the window. “What is it, Flowers?”

Flowers’ deep chuckle echoes across the line. “Oooh, now it’s about what I want, is it? I see you’ve become more reasonable in the last few nights. Or is it all an act, Thomas?”

“I was always reasonable,” Anstis growls. “You’re the one who couldn’t leave well enough alone.”

“Says the man who sent a submarine to kill me.”

“The submarine hasn’t fired a shot at you.”

“Not yet, nor will it ever. Afterall, I’m already closer than you think.” Flowers hangs up.

Anstis stares at the phone a moment, a deep suspicion creeping over him. Slowly, he cranes around to peer out the back window of the car. For a split second a figure appears braced on the trunk, lit by the red glow of taillights around them.

Flowers.

An instant later, he’s gone.

Anstis sighs, rolls his eye, then turns back around to face the front.

“Everything alright, Captain?” Rabenholz asks.

“Flowers again,” Anstis grumbles. “Nothing to worry about.”

They lapse back into silence. The car re-enters the city, eventually pulling up outside the Mark Hopkins hotel. A bellhop hurries to open the door on Anstis’s side. Before he gets out, though, Anstis turns to Rabenholz with a grin. “If you excuse me, there is a matter I must attend to before daybreak.”

Rabenholz nods. “Of course.”

Anstis drops instantly into parrot-form and launches himself from the car, past the shocked bellhop and into the night. Rabenholz waits patiently for the bellhop to come open his door.

#

A neighborhood or two away, Antis spirals back out of the sky to land on a quiet street next to a mailbox. He transforms back into human form then removes a stained sheet of parchment from his coat. Bracing it against the mailbox, he carefully scripts a letter. Once complete, he folds and seals it in wax, addresses it, then deposits it into the box. Grinning, he tucks away his pen and wax and saunters off to find a snack and a place to sink into the ground for the night.

#

(Alright, so to explain what’s happening, things have to get all plot-tesseract-meta for a moment.

During this time, out of game, Jim and Chris were still irritated by Tom’s escape. Even though I only knew a little bit more about what happened that night than they did, I still leapt upon the opportunity to lord it over them, Jim especially. Eventually Jim got tired of this and declared over dinner one night that he could have Tom back in his clutches within three game sessions, tops. I gladly accepted the bet and shook on it, betting $100 that Tom would be able to avoid being recaptured by either Anstis or Rabenholz for at least that long.

What I didn’t know was that Jim was already planning on having Anstis send this letter. He had been thinking about it for so long he even went so far as to construct another game-prop version of it. Once we ran this session I knew he sent a letter, but it wasn’t until almost five months later—while drafting up this very writeup—that Jim let me see what it said.

You, however, dear reader, can see the contents of the letter now:)

#

THE NEXT NIGHT, TOM’S LOCATION

(Jason: “So. Tom wakes up and finds that someone has been doing…something interesting with him.”
Chris: “Like sewing someone else’s arms and legs onto him.”
Jason: “…Yes, yes they have. What’s even more helpful is the fact the limbs are fresh. But the damage was more extensive than they initially realized. Several times they poured blood down his throat to heal his chest cavity, onto to find out that no, they still needed to do work in there.”
Me: “O…kay…?”
Jason: “You still got only one lung. They gave up on the other and carved it out. Various internal organs are missing. Your pelvis feels…odd-sized, like it’s from someone else, but it’s rapidly adjusting to your proportions. They basically replaced everything. And more than just blood was involved. There was some fleshcrafting, there was some ritual shit….”
Me: “Wow. Dat Sabbat healthcare tho….”)

Memories chase each other through my mind. Fleeting sensations of people working over me, breaking bone and moulding flesh. They could be some sort of feverish delusions, but their reality is drilled into me by the lingering echoes of pain.

And the thirst. A thirst that won’t end. The memories morph to visions, me on an altar, staked out under a torrent of blood, mouth and flesh pinned open to consume gallons and gallons of it, yet still writhing, unsated….

Something else flickers through the chaos like a butterfly in a storm. The sensation of a lingering presence, a soft grip of my hand, and a voice I haven’t heard in a long, long time.

In my mind I grip back, hard. Slowly, the hunger fades and I claw my way back up to reality.

Cold darkness surrounds me, heavy with the scent of rust and old blood and licking across my exposed skin in drfts. Voices mutter from somewhere nearby. I stir carefully. A steel tabletop presses against my back, but I’m not tied down. I blink, trying to adjust my vision, then realize why it’s dark: my eyes are still missing.

A chemical surge suddenly swells in my throat. Formaldehyde. Coughing, I roll to the side to spit it up.

The voices stop and footsteps approach. Someone touches my shoulder. “…The hell…?” a man mutters. “…Ah shit, get the stakes!” he suddenly yells, voice echoing.

I spit again. “W-wait, wait! I want to speak to Leidesdorff!”

A silence, then the same man shouts, “Call the Archbishop!”

Minutes pass. More voices mutter in the distance. By the echoes, I get the sense I’m laid out in some sort of cavernous space, maybe a warehouse. Finally, footsteps approach across the floor. “Mr. Lytton,” Archbishop Leidesdorff says. “Feeling any better?”

I spit again. “Uh…no.”

“Well you’re not frenzying this time so that’s an improvement at least. And pain is a part of existence, so consider yourself blessed to still be among it.”

“Thank you…?”

Leidesdorff chuckles. “I have a strong doubt you’re going to be thanking me when this is all over.”

I tense. “Why do you say that?”

“Well, much as I appreciate everything you’ve done for me—and believe me I do appreciate it—I didn’t put my neck on the line in front of Augustus von Rabenholz just to make a point.”

My broken hands clench against the table, sending needles of pain shooting up my arm. “Rabenholz…” I growl.

Leidesdorff’s voice moves as he paces around my table. “After you were brought to me, Rabenholz followed you down. Marched into my study and issued threats in front of all my men. Now what kind of a reputable person does such a thing, I ask you?”

“A douche,” I mutter.

“Yes. A douche. I do like that word. So to the point. But I didn’t help you because of you, charming as you are. I helped you because I was asked. By those in a position to make their gratitude known. As well as their displeasure.”

My anger suddenly evaporates. A sick feeling that has nothing to do with chemicals grips my gut. “And…when will I have an opportunity to thank them?”

“Soon as they arrive, which may be tonight, or it may be in fifty years. I don’t know.” Leidesdorff continues to pace slowly around the table. “Things have gotten…interesting in your absence, Mr. Lytton. Much as I assumed everything would get quieter with you out of the scene, that appears to not be the case. Your little friend’s gone missing.”

Once again, my gut runs cold. “…Does that mean what I think it means?”

“Unless you have a predilection I don’t know about, I think it might. The Roman, your boss and my nominal superior. He’s taken an unexpected leave of absence. Could be off hunting more Settites, but word has it he may have fallen in with some of his old, old crowd.”

I stir, ignoring the pain the movement stokes. “How long do you think I’ll be down?”

“Under normal circumstances you’d be out for weeks, if not longer.” The table shifts as Leidesdorff leans against it. He chuckles, slapping my leg affectionately. “But fortunately we have the tools and we have the talent. Fleshcrafting does wonders, but for most of the work I’ve had an associate who took an interest in your case and volunteered his time.”

“Orlando?”

Leidesdorff tenses. “Orlando? My my, you have a high opinion of yourself. No, the one who took an interest in your case was a very qualified individual. He is, after all, a doctor.”

I stare sightlessly. “…Doc?!”

“Yes, I believe he goes by that.”

Carefully, I lift a hand to rub at my face. “I’m running up quite the tab with him.”

“I imagine he feels the same way, but you’d have to take that up with him.” Leidesdorff falls silent a moment. “You mentioned Orlando before when you were raving. There some particular connection I should know about? Having a face-lift done?”

I freeze. For a moment I think he’s mocking me, setting up for some joke about how Orlando wanting to take my face. But then I remember something else, something from before the pain. An idea that sprouted in my head during the brief periods of consciousness while I was staked to Rabenholz’s wall….

“No,” I mutter. “I’m doing some modelling work for him.”

“Well you best be careful,” Leidesdorff says, “I know what happens to his models. In what I’m assuming was a blood-starved rambling, you suggested we take you to Orlando. I assumed you had perhaps suffered the aftermath of a Malkavian-induced fit. Am I wrong?”

I fall silent a moment. “Orlando has something I need.”

“Orlando has something a great many people think they need. They tend to think that a lot less when it turns them into furniture.”

My mind races another few moments, then I shove the thoughts aside. “Well, at the moment I can’t visit him—it anyway cause I don’t have the proper hostess gift.”

“Well thank god for small blessings.” The table shifts again as Leidesdorff stands. “Is there anything else I can do for you while you stay at our humble abode?”

Ignoring the pain, I turn my head in his general direction. “Can I get some clean towels? Maybe a couple mints for my pillow.”

Leidesdorff is quiet a moment, then chuckles. “Oh I’m sure we’ve got something around here. Never say the south bay is inhospitable. Even to the Camarilla.”

His footsteps echo away across the floor.

#

COMMUNITY PARK, NOB HILL

Anstis digs himself out of the ground to greet the night. He takes a few moments to brush off his clothes and properly align his hat, this pulls out his phone to call Cheryl, his on-shore ghoul. As soon as she answers, he asks her to meet him across the city at Gough and McAllister.

(Jason: “What’s Gough and McAllister?”
Jim: “It’s an intersection.”
Jason: *glares* “Well I know that. Is it just a random intersection you picked?”
Jim: “No, I chose it specifically.”
Jason: “So what’s there?”
Jim: “You’ll find out as soon as she arrives.”
Jason: *mutters* “Gough and McAllister…what could possibly be—OH MY GOD I KNOW WHAT’S THERE.”)

Half an hour later, Cheryl shows up at the location, finding Anstis leaning in the shadows against a building front covered in blackened glass windows, tucked behind a decaying liquor store. Pedestrians hurry past, leering more at Cheryl’s short skirt than Anstis’s outlandish outfit.

Cheryl pulls her coat tight around her. “Why are we here?”

Anstis grins from under the shadows of his hat. “I be needing a safe harbor in the city.” He leans over to open the dark door next to him and gestures grandly inside. Cheryl hesitates, then steps in.

(Me: “OH MY GOD, THIS IS THE PLAN YOU WERE TELLING ME ABOUT!!!”
Jim: *laughing hysterically*
Chris: “What?? What is it?!?
Jason: “…It’s the tiki bar. Smuggler’s Cove.”)

They step out of the damp night and into warm, tropical air filled with the chatter of a crowd, the bubbling of fountains, and the heady perfume of expensive rum. Lush plants and nautical paraphernalia climb three stories before them, lit by pools of technicolor lighting selected with theme-park precision.

Cheryl gapes in awe as Anstis leads them toward the bar, the crowd parting inexplicably around him. “I asked for locations befitting a pirate. I’m told this be the perfect place.”

“Yeah,” Cheryl mumbles, staring up at the netted ceiling dripping with carved idols and taxidermied fish. “Yeah it is.”

Anstis offers an arm. “If you’ll accompany me to the manager’s office, we’ll be acquiring it.”

Cheryl stares at him. “Are you sure?”

Anstis grins, rainbow light glistening off his writhing tentacles. “I can be very persuasive.”

#

Not long after, Cheryl is handling transfer-of-ownership paperwork in the office with a very dazed manager and Anstis is up on the third level, sprawling across a massive wickerwork chair like it’s the throne of his court.

Which, actually, now it is.

He sits a long moment, surveying his domain, then pulls out his phone and places a call. To Fatima.

“…Captain,” the Assamite answers.

“Fatima.” Anstis shifts his leg to hook over the other arm of the Wicker Throne. “Have you considered our previous discussion to hunt the Eastern Kindred?”

“I have considered the risk, which is formidable. The Kuei-jin are respected by many but feared by even more.”

“But not by me.”

Fatima hisses something in Arabic. “Your arrogance and greed has put you on the wrong side of one and now you seek to have another fight your battles for you?”

Anstis’s grin widens. “Why else would one contact an Assamite?”

The call is silent a long moment. Laughter and the clink of glasses echo up from the bar below. Finally, “…I will assist.”

“Excellent,” Anstis replies, still grinning.

“I expect prompt payment.”

“Of what sort, and what quantity?”

“Payment to the Children of Haqim is made in blood. But I do not know if the blood of the East can be devoured. If it cannot, I will demand another.”

Anstis nods. “When shall we meet, and where?”

“Soon. I have no time to waste. Come to the prison island. If you betray me, Ccaptain, the vengeance of myself and the masters I serve will descend upon you. And all those you sire or harbor.”

“I am bound to my word.”

“As well you should be. The Children of Haqim do not abide liars, or trickery.” The call ends.

Anstis tucks his phone away then hauls himself out of his chair. With the crowd occupied as it is with the establishment’s libations, no one notices as he transforms back down into a parrot. They do notice, though, when he starts fluttering around the bar, cooing and tempting him over to let them take selfies.

And the few people he bites hard enough to draw blood simply assume it’s just a parrot being a parrot.

#

TOM’S LOCATION, SABBAT TERRITORY

I drift in and out of consciousness over the rest of the night, jerking awake occasionally as something new pops back into place with an explosion of pain. Eventually I’m moved from the steel metal table to a cot in what feels like a small side room off the main warehouse floor. There I’m left alone, dozing and twitching as I heal.

I come awake again at the metallic squeal of the door opening, followed by slow, heavy bootsteps on concrete. Boots wearing spurs.

I peer sightlessly toward the noise. “Doc?”

“Mr. Lytton.” The door creaks closed behind him. “I had not thought to see you again in any form other than that of an art piece.”

“I would say I wasn’t expecting to see you again either, but right now I can’t see anything.”

“There is a limit to even my art, Mr. Lytton, but I have every faith you can overcome this temporary deficiency.” Doc’s footsteps approach the cot. Rough hands tilt my chin back and forth, examining me. “Unlike the rest of your body, all our attempts to replace your eyes more directly have failed.”

“Well, they are a unique color,” I mutter.

“They are.” He releases me. “It’s an interesting fate you should fall into this position, Mr. Lytton. I do not know whether to congratulate you or offer you my condolences.

I lean back on the canvas with a groan. “I’ll accept either.”

“You were retrieved and are being held here under the protection of the Archbishop of San Jose. That is not protection that is bought lightly. Someone else has been encouraged to take an interest in you. And I would gather we both suspect who that someone else is.”

I tense. “…Perpenna?”

“Perpenna has no pull with this crowd,” Doc replies. “You may think ill of the Sabbat, but they have no wish to see the world end. They exist to combat things like him. No, I am referring to a member of the Hand.”

A chill settles over me. For a moment, I wish it was Perpenna. Perpenna would be a lot simpler.

I shift on the table. “Well,” I say with forced calmness, “I certainly have heard a lot about him. If he is involved in all this, when will I get to meet him?”

“I don’t know. The intentions of one such as Cantor are alien to my own thinking. And I imagine to yours. Do you know what Cantor is?”

“…An asshole?”

I expect a chuckle, or at least a sigh, but instead Doc stands in silence a long moment. “If you will permit, Mr. Lytton, that is a term I have heard you use before. Given those whom you’ve used it against, I do not believe it has sufficient strength in this case.” Spurs clink as Doc shifts his weight. “Cantor is not an asshole. An asshole is a natural part of the body. Its functions may be distasteful, but they are comprehensible. Cantor…is a creature from another world. His intentions, his sense of morality are so alien to your own that they may as well not exist. You might as well appeal against the thunderstorm as appeal against his better nature. And if he has a purpose in mind sufficient to cause him to apply this level of pressure to a Sabbat archbishop, then I shudder to imagine what he has in store for the brother of his slave.”

I lay still a moment. “So…you’ve just come to cheer me up then, have you?”

“No. I’ve come to tell you something. Something I am in a position to know and few others are. You have friends who are not present because there is a situation that has arisen in Marin. Your…associate, the child who is not one, disappeared some nights ago. Destination unknown, purpose unknown. And now your werewolf friends have followed him into the abyss.”

A brief moment of hope lifts the unease churning in my gut. “The werewolves…including Sophia?”

“Yes, it would seem she is once more among us.  Whatever it was you did was efficacious.”

I close my ravaged eyes. “Hooray.”

“You don’t seem pleased.”

“Well, apparently I saved her just to send her right back to Hell.”

“Werewolves are a stubborn lot. But wherever she has gone, a great many people have gone with her.” Doc is quiet a moment. “When we brought you here,” he says carefully, “You suggested that you wanted to speak with Orlando. Now that was a request that was so odd I do not imagine it was the product of madness, or a chance comment. What exactly do you intend?”

I lick my lips, trying to decide how best to explain, ignoring the sweet taste of dried blood flaking from my skin. “Orlando…may be the best way for me to save the city from myself.”

“You must be desperate indeed. How in the world could Orlando save the city? I confess its abilities are quite impressive, but not nearly to such extent.”

“He—its,” I force out the awkward pronoun, “abilities may be more than the big funky stuff. It claims it can also work on the very, very small.”

“It has evidenced such before. Why?”

I take a steadying breath. “I’m…I’m sick, Doc. For decades now. And I found out just before Costco that apparently it’s spreading. Through humans and vampires alike.”

A long, ringing silence falls. “…So it was you,” Doc says softly.

A chill shudders through me.

“Well now,” Doc continues, voice low. “I have obviously made a mistake.”

The chill becomes a knife. Ignoring the pain, I struggle half-upright. “I didn’t mean to! I tried to manage it for the last twenty years, but…there were some loopholes I didn’t understand. And they’ve apparently caught up with me.” Just like everything else.

Even blind, I can sense Doc staring at me intently. “And you wish to approach Orlando to fix your disease?”

All at once, my half-cocked plan snaps into place in my mind. “I think,” I say slowly, “if I explain to Orlando how this virus works—I’ve been reading about it for years, after all—I can get it to change the virus into something that will attack the original virus itself. Like…a retro-retro-virus. Transform it into some sort of counter-plague to spread through the city.”

“And why would you do this?” he drawls. “You’ve already contracted the plague, it’s nothing to you.”

Firecrackers of pain dance down my half-healed arms. “Because I watched the city rot from it once before. And this one may be even worse. It might not be treatable by current drugs….” I let myself collapse back to the cot. “…Cause it’s vampire-AIDS,” I mutter.

Silence lingers. “And that’s reason enough?”

I blink empty sockets. “Well, yeah.”

Spurs clink again. I sense Doc leaning over me. “I don’t know if Orlando can do what you’re saying. And I don’t know if it would even if it could.”

I nod once. “I need to trade it something of higher value.”

“Do you have something in mind?”

“I had something. My sword.”

“Your sword is no longer in your possession. I believe Rabenholz claimed it as part of his spoils.”

I wince and roll my eye-sockets. “Of course he did. Well, maybe I can figure out something else useful. Something more than a lotion basket. Cause Orlando didn’t like the last one.”

Doc is silent another long moment. When he speaks again, his tone is back to its usual semi-amused drawl.“Well. It seems you have your work cut out. However, if I were you, before you make a difficult decision as to where your resources are best spent, I would consider placing a call.”

I scoff. “To who? I don’t have a phone. And even if I did, everyone I know either hates me, is missing, or is dead.”

Something square and cool is tucked into my hand. “That is not dead, which can eternal lie,” Doc mutters.

(Jason: “You don’t get the reference, do you?”
Me: “No….”
Jason: “That is not dead, which can eternal lie, and with strange eons, even death may die.”
Me: “What…what is that from?”
Jason: “H.P. Lovecraft.”
Me: “Oooooh. …Oh SHIT, are we playing Call of Cthulhu now?”
Jason: “Surprise!”
Me: “DAMMIT! Every RPG game eventually turns into Call of Cthulhu!”)

I grope the object. Feels like a phone. Doc’s footsteps move away, clinking softly. I hear the door open then close and silence falls once again.

(Me: “Well, I can’t see the phone, so…”
Jason: “But you hear it.”)

Or maybe not so silent. Strange, wet, gurgling sounds are coming from the phone. I lift it to my ear. The sounds echo louder, but underneath them I hear a voice, whispering to itself in a language I don’t speak. Even so, I recognize it anyway.

“Girl?” I say.

The whispering stops.  “…The hell? Tom!? How…how are you coming through? I’m half a mile underground!”

“What? Where are you?”

“Nevermind, where are you?

I hesitate. “I…am with the Sabbat. Somebody broke me out of Rabenholz’s clutches and I’ve been slowly healing.”

“Somebo—” She hesitates. “Oh. Shit.”

I tense. “Wait, girl, do you know something?”

“I…it’s gonna take time to explain, but—”

Suddenly a piercing shrieking echoes across the call. Sophia yells and there’s the sounds of running.

I struggle upright. “Girl!! Girl, what’s going on!? I heard you’re in some sort of hell dimension? I just got you out of a hell dimension!”

“Hold on!” she shouts. There’s more running, then a few bursts of gunfire, followed by silence.  “Tom can you hear me?” Sophia finally says.

“Yes, I’m here!”

“Tom, things are kind of crazy right now. I’m in Marin, or under Marin, or somewhere.”

“You mean like Boss’s old place in Cascade Canyon?”

“No, deeper in. Some of the old World War 2 tunnels. I kinda lost track, we got separated. I’m not sure where I am right now, none of my tools are working and the spirits are getting interference.” She takes a shuddering breath. “But…I think I’m in a Hive.”

I hesitate. “Of…bees?”

Spiral Hive, Tom! Like the Dancers.”

Pieces of memories slither into my mind and click together. “Oh…shit….” I move to swing off the cot but a weariness suddenly slams into me. It takes a moment to realize why: outside the walls of Leidesdorff warehouse, dawn is approaching.

“Tom,” Sophia says, suddenly whispering. “I’m not alone in here.”

I gather my will to pull my focus back together. “In a bad way or a good way?

“There’s no good way in a Hive. We were scouting the place, there was an attack, we got driven in here. We didn’t have a choice. The Seventh Generation is here and who knows what else is going on. They’re prepping for something.”

“Oh god, Boss told me about them.” My mind swims, struggling to hold onto consciousness. “Okay, just…hang tight. I’m gonna figure something out.”

“Where are you?”

“A warehouse, I think in San Jose. But don’t worry about me, are you alright?”

“Yeah, for now,” she says with a sigh. “But there’s a lot of really bad things down here. banes and nexus-crawlers and spirits know what else. It’s quiet right now but I don’t know where the others a—”

There’s a burst of static, then the call ends. I paw at the phone. “Girl? Girl?? Sophia!!” But there’s no response.

The hand holding the phone finally grows too heavy and drops to the table. Moments later, I’m pulled down after it, into oblivion.

END OF NIGHT

 

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6 Responses to 4/05/16

  1. pulseofnight says:

    I find Scout intruging yet I have to admit.

    Tom has a charm of his own.

    • Corvidae says:

      😀

      Someone was saying–stop me if it was you–that they picked up reading after the point Tom got taken out so they only knew him from what people said about him after the fact. Ive been keeping that in mind with the new writeups, that we kinda need to re-establish who he is 😉

  2. akaAelius says:

    I’m still a ways back in the story but holy cow is this awesome. Is this an in person game or do you play over Skype, cause holy hell do I want to guest star in this fantastic game!
    Well done!

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