4/19/2016

Jim: “Is this the first time you’ve diablerized in-game?”
Chris: “Since Carlos. Rabenholz has been carrying around those onions entirely pre-emptively—”
Me: “WHATARETHEONIONSFOR?!??!”
Chris: “What? Who said anything about onions?”
Me: “Do…do the onions have something to do with diablerie?!”
Jason: “I don’t know anything about onions.”
Jim: “What is she talking about?”
Me: “I feel like an idiot, it’s been LITERAL MONTHS and I’m apparently THE ONLY ONE WHO DOESN’T KNOW WHAT THEY DO!!”
Jason: “I don’t remember any onions in this game.”
Jim: “…Are you thinking leeks?

***

RABENHOLZ’S SUITE, SIR FRANCIS DRAKE HOTEL

Anstis climbs slowly to his feet. “…Well. That’s unsettling.”
Rabenholz eyes him and the child crouched on the floor before them. “What’s unsettling?”

Anstis relays the details of the vision: the cavern, the swarms of creatures, werewolves that could only be Spiral Dancers, and Perpenna as the center of their worship with Marcus at his feet.

After he finishes, Rabenholz and Scout are quiet a moment. “Captain how did you see this?” Rabenholz asks.

Anstis points to Noah. “Malkavian.” He digs a stone out of his pocket and casts his ritual on Marcus:

Marcus Sertorius is in a nameless place called Tartarus

(Jim: *stares* “A nameless place…called—”
Jason: “Yes, that is what you heard.”
Cameron: “Nameless, and called—?”
Jason: “Yes, you heard me.”)

Anstis frowns at the rock and puts it away. “Where have you been these past few nights, Noah?”

Noah stares up at him fearfully, but Scout steps forward. “I think I saw him a night or two ago, out in the Sunset.  Not far from Baron Esteban’s establishment.”

“Have you met Baron Esteban?” Anstis asks Noah.

The boys stares a moment. “He doesn’t always drink beer….”

(Chris: “…But when he does, he vomits it back up again.”
Me: “Yeah, well, so do we all.”
Jason: “Stay thirsty, my friends.”)

Scout squats next to the boy. “Noah, who were the people with the delivery vans?”

Noah stares up at her. “One…two…three…four…five…six…seven….”

He trails off. Scout frowns. “Seven what?”

After a moment, Noah speaks again, “Six…five…four…three—”

“No no no, stop that!” Rabenholz steps forward. “When you arrived, why did you hide from us?” he asks the boy sharply.

Noah turns his gaze slowly to Rabenholz. “She told me to,” he whispers.”

“Who’s ‘she’?” Anstis asks.

“The lady with green.”

Anstis tenses. “Where is she now?” Rabenholz asks.

Noah’s gaze turns unfocused and stares across the room. “She was here. With you.”

They follow his gaze to the patio doors of the suite, still standing open, the curtains swaying gently in the night’s wind. Rabenholz mutters under his breath and strides over to lock them closed.

“Why did she tell you to hide yourself?” Anstis asks.

Noah shakes his head. “I don’t know.”

Rabenholz storms over, cloak billowing like the curtains. “Why would you hide yourself from your lord and protector, the Dread Pirate Ansits?” he snaps. “Do you disrespect him?”

Noah shrinks back. “No!” he gasps, eyes close to tears again.

In one movement, Anstis is back on his feet, pulling Rabenholz away. “He’s five, embraced less than a year ago.”

(Jason: “…And here we see that Captain Anstis is the moral one here.”
Jim: “I know, isn’t it great!”)

Rabenholz removes his arm from Anstis’s grip. “Then see to it he becomes older than that,” he says coldly. “And more useful.”

Anstis turns back to Noah. “Would you like to go back to the ship?”

Noah shakes his head. “He’s on the ship.”

“Who is?”

“The dead man.”

Anstis clenches his fists. Slowly, his fingernails creep longer, arcing into claws. “Flowers?” he growls.

“I don’t know.” Noah gazes around the room. “I can smell him. Here.”

“Can you lead us to him?” Rabenholz asks.

In response, Noah stares up at him, then slowly lifts one small hand, levelling a finger at Scout.

Scout stands slowly as all eyes turn to her. “Why is this child pointing at me?”

“That’s what I was about to ask you,” Anstis growls, claws still half-extended.

Scout takes a careful step to the side. Noah’s hand follows her.

“Noah,” Rabenholz asks carefully, “What do you know about this woman?”

“She smells…like the sea,” Noah replies.

Scout scoffs. “Everything smells like the sea, we’re right next to it.”

“Scout,” Anstis asks, stepping forward, “is there something you’re not telling us?”

“Yes,” Noah says.

Scout glares at him. “Nothing that I think has any relevance to this situation.”

Antis grin flashes fang. “Anything could help.”

Scout eyes him and Rabenholz, then sighs and folds her arms. “What is it you wish to know?”

Anstis swaggers closer. “More about your background, why you came to the city.”

“That’s not relevant to the situation,” Scout says with a glare.

Anstis continues moving closer. “Oh, but I think it is.”

“Noah,” Rabenholz asks cautiously, “Who does this woman work for?”

“I don’t know,” the boy whispers. “Someone…bad.” He turns to stare at Rabenholz. “Very bad.”

Rabenholz paces slowly. Noah’s gaze follows him intently. Rabenholz frowns. “And who does the Dread Pirate Anstis work for?”

“Nobody,” Noah says. “He’s the captain.”

Anstis beams like the sun.

“And he’ll go down with the ship,” Noah continues. “Soon.”

Anstis’s grin falters.

Rabenholz turns back toward Scout. She returns his gaze unflinchingly. Finally, he turns away, smoothing at his cloak. “Well, before that happens, Captain perhaps you would be so good as to help this exit.” He gestures at the corpse. Sometime in the last few minutes, Anstis’s necromantic spells finally took, and the corpse has now lurched to life as a tottering zombie.

Rabenholz regards Noah another moment. “And take your ward as well.”

Anstis strokes his tentacles. “My usual safe space doesn’t appear to be so at the moment.”

“Well, Mr. Leidesdorff seemed confident in keeping Mr. Lytton,” Rabenholz says. “Perhaps you could convince him to take Noah as well.”

(Jason: “Oh, good, give a five year old to the Sabbat!”)

A grimaces flashes across Anstis face. Rabenholz shrugs and continues, “Or perhaps I could stake him and store him in a secure place—”

Anstis stoops down and takes Noah’s hand. “Let us find a place for you.” He turns to the zombie. “You, come along as well.” With that, Anstis and his unusual crew leave the suite.

Leaving Scout and Rabenholz alone.

Silence falls. They stare at each other from opposite sides of the room. A draft from the patio doors swirls around them, but it’s not as cold as their stares.

“Your next plans, Lord Rabenholz?” Scout asks finally.

Rabenholz eyes her another long moment, then nods. “Yes. Back to Candlestick Park, to resume the search for Mr. Smith.”

#

CANDLESTICK PARK

By the time they get back down to the ruins of the park, the backhoe Rabenholz ordered has arrived. Rabenholz approaches the crew and instructs them to dig in the pile of concrete and rubble blocking the entrance to the Settite dens below. A few complain about permits until Rabenholz Jedi-mind tricks Dominates them into obeying. He and Scout stand silently nearby, watching the men work.

“Tell me Scout,” Rabenholz says suddenly, “Where were you before you came to San Francisco?”

Scout watches the backhoe as it shoves at the rubble. “I travelled around.”

“Whereabouts?”

“Canada, Midwest.” She shrugs. “Down in Mexico for a time, but that didn’t last long.”

Rabenholz eyes her. “Interesting. Where do you call home?”

Scout stares silently into space a moment. “Nowhere.”

Silence falls between them, though the night air is filled with shouts and the roar of the diesel engine. After a few minutes, Rabenholz pulls something cylindrical from his cloak pocket and begins whittling at it with a small knife.

(Me: *suspicious* “…What are you carving?”
Chris: “You don’t want to know.”
Me: “Really. Is it a chunk of bone?”
Chris: “Yeah.”
Me: “Whose?”
Chris: “…No one’s…but I figure if there’s an altercation with Tom there’s all sorts of Thaumaturgy I can practice if I have a ring made out of one of his bones.”
Me: *Actual gasp*
Chris: “Well, if it makes you feel any better, Anstis has some of Tom’s bones too. As does Esteban. And pretty much everyone who was at my party.”
Me: “………………”)

“Scout, are you armed tonight?” Rabenholz asks conversationally, holding u the ring to peer at his craftsmanship.

She eyes him. “I always have my knife.”

“Only a knife?”

“That’s usually all I need.”

“No guns, no firearms?”

She stares at him flatly. “I have other abilities.”

Rabenholz finishes his work and slips the bone ring on his hand. “I admire your confidence.”

Suddenly, the backhoe grinds to a halt. One of the workers shouts they they’ve found something. Rabenholz and Scout approach.

The fresh concrete has been torn away, once again revealing the entrance to the Settite tunnels. Rabenholz orders everyone back then gathers his cloak around him and slips through the space. Scout follows.

Dark tunnels descend through the earth, though nothing else appears obviously different from the last time Rabenholz was here. He leads them through the warren, winding up in the place where Anstis made his circle. The place he told Ben Smith to wait. Nothing is there besides the faded Thaumaturgy marks on the floor.

They linger a moment, till scuttling noises echo from somewhere behind them in the tunnel. Rabenholz whirls in a fan of cloak. “Ms. Scout, do you hear that?”

She nods silently, drawing her knife.

They move cautiously toward the noise, Rabenholz in the lead. Nothing stirs in the clammy tunnel air. A few yards down, they peer around a corner—

—A thin, feral-looking figure lunges from the darkness ahead. Rabenholz grabs for his sword, but the figure rushes past him, angling toward Scout, taloned hands extended—

—And passes right through her, smashing into the rough tunnel wall right behind.

Rabenholz stares, perplexed, reflexively scanning Scout’s aura. Nothing appears at all.

Snarling draws his attention back to the figure. It’s a vampire, thin as bones, with wild eyes staring hungrily at Scout. She watches it unflinching. It swipes at her again but its hands pass right through.

Then it turns its attention to Rabenholz. And lunges.

#

THE PYRAMID

Anstis arrives at the Pyramid with Noah and his new zombie in tow, sneaking up to the Camarilla floors to make sure the permanent circle there is still working.

(Jason: “You get to the circle room. That’s when you notice something odd.”
Jim: “Okay…?”
Jason: “A stereotypical Mexican cleaning lady is trying to clean the circle off the floor.”)

Anstis stops in the doorway, staring at her. “Ma’am, what are you doing?”

She pauses in her scrubbing and looks up. “No, nooo….” she mumbles and goes back to work.

Anstis moves forward to stand in the circle in front of her. “Leave that as it is,” he commands.

She shakes her head, focusing on her sponge. “No, nooo. Mr. Justicar not here.”

(Me: *cracks up*
Chris: “Wow. I hope you enjoy writing this up later.”
Jason: “I did that just to make you laugh like hell, and put you in an awkward position when you write it.”
Me: “Oh, I’ll find YouTube clips to explain the reference.”)

Anstis grabs her head, forcing her chin up to meet his gaze. “You’ll never disturb this floor again,” he says.

(Me: “I don’t know, I’d expect Consuela to have pretty high will power.”)

Wide-eyed, she climbs to her feet, then… “…Noo, noooo. You go.” She tries to shove Anstis toward the door with her dish-gloved hands.

Anstis sighs, lets her push him a few feet, then lunges back to bite her. She gasps and passes out.

Anstis instructs the zombie to wait at the circle, then takes Noah up to Bell’s office. Bell is working at his desk and looks up as he enters. “Captain what is—Oh, I see. You found him.”

Anstis lays a hand on Noah’s shoulder proudly. “Aye.”

Bell leans back in a creak of leather and folds his arms. “And you thought you’d bring him along here to, what, show and tell?”

“There’s a matter he has witnessed that I thought I’d bring to your attention.”

Bell rolls his eyes. “Cause I don’t have enough right now. Fine, what is it?”

Anstis describes the Perpenna vision. Bell listens silently, reactionless, through the whole tale. “Well,” he says flatly as Anstis finishes. “That’s reassuring, isn’t it? What do you propose I do?”

Anstis shrugs. “I don’t know, figured I’d get your take. Any idea how to act on this knowledge if it’s accurate?”

Bell turns to stare out the window. “I’ve had a few people watching what’s been going on in Marin. Someone moving heavy equipment through. Lot of hush hush. Had thought about taking a look myself. You think this vision was of what’s going on up there?”

“That I can’t tell you for certain. But the spirits mention something about Marcus being in a nameless place called Tartarus.”

Bell turns back, glaring. “That supposed to be a joke?”

“That’s what I was told.”

(Chris: “All of Anstis’s necromancy is a practical joke.”
Jason: “It really is.”)

“Well, whoever told you that is an asshole,” Bell says.

(Me: “This is a true statement.”)

Anstis grins sheepishly. Bell sighs and turns to stare out the window again a long moment. His fingers drum against the desk. “I don’t like how this is going. I suggest you find the rest of your fellows before they dig something up they shouldn’t. I’ll see what more information I can find about Marin. Even if I have to go up there myself.”

#

CANDLESTICK PARK

The emaciated vampire lunges at Rabenholz—

(Chris: “I offer my arm to him.”
Jason: “…I’m sorry, what?”
Chris: “Yeah, I let him take a few blood points.”)

—And Rabenholz holds up his arm, watching calmly as the figure tears into it like an attacking dog.

In an instant, Scout appears to teleport across the room, as the image of her standing a few feet away disappears the same time she reappears right behind the feral vampire, jamming her knife into its back and sawing down.

Stop!” Rabenholz commands with radiating force of awe. Scout immediately steps back, knife in hand. The vampire hesitates but doesn’t release the arm. After another moment, Rabenholz tears it away with a flick of Movement of the Mind, levitating it up to pin against the cavern ceiling.

“Are you alright, Lord Rabenholz?” Scout asks.

“Yes.” Rabenholz heals the damage to his arm as he examines the vampire above them. Pallor and form are returning to its skin, revealing the shape of a man. “What is your name?” Rabenholz asks him.

The vampire snarls back, but slowly his flesh quickens and his eyes regain focus. The growling stops. He stares at Rabenholz, flexing clawed fingers.

(Chris: “So…Gangrel?”
Jason: “It’s reasonable to assume.”)

“Interloper,” the Gangrel snarls, revealing thin, jagged teeth. “You do not know the truth. You will be consumed by darkness when the Great God returns.”

“I’ve just nourished you,” Rabenholz replies. “Might not be the best strategy to taunt me.”

The man spits. “The Great God nourishes all! We will feed at his side forever.”

“Which great god is that?”

The man grins sickly. “The Great God Set!”

(Me: “Oh!!! Is this the Settite-Gangrel that was wrestling with Anstis in crocodile-form during the attack on Helgi??”
Jason: “Yep!”)

Rabenholz eyes him. “Why are you down here? Who sent you?”

“It was commanded by Set!”

“And how do you receive your orders from Set?”

The Gangrel’s head lolls against the rocks. “Through his servants. Through Anektakhen! Anektakhen the Powerful, the Mighty! He will feed on your bones!”

Rabenholz trades a glance with Scout. “Anektakhen has been dead for months. Nitocris has been dead for days.”

The Gangrel freezes. “You lie!!”

Rabenholz gestures vaguely to the shadows around them. “Given you were trapped in here I cannot imagine you failed to observe the broken canopic jars downstairs.”

The Gangrel’s eyes flash a moment, a deep green that lights the cavern. “You are a Ventrue, you speak only lies. I will know the truth.”

Scout leans closer to Rabenholz. “Do you think it’s possible the one you’re searching for has been turned into something like this? This man isn’t a Settite by blood but has obviously been swayed by their lies.”

“THEY ARE NOT LIES!!!” the Gangrel screams.

She stares up at him. “Yeah, okay.”

The Gangrel flails, eyes flashing again. “YOU ARE A FOOL! You have not seen! I have seen the darkness to come and the Great God will save his children!”

Answer my questions calmly,” Rabenholz commands.

The thrashing stops, but the fire in his eyes doesn’t. “You are a liar,” he hisses. “You are filled with deceit. Both of you. I am the guardian of truth!”

“Fantastic,” Rabenholz says coolly. “Has anyone else been down here since it was sacked two nights ago?”

The Gangrel hisses. “Yes. The abominable one. The arch-traitor. The Small One. He came, we fought. He had great power, many demons at his beck and call.”

“Anyone else?”

“Another…I do not know him. He stunk of Anarch.”

Rabenholz tenses. “What became of him?”

The Gangrel grins wide, flashing rows of crocodile teeth. “I ate his bones.”

Rabenholz stares at him a moment, then in one movement, pulls him down from the cavern ceiling and bites into his neck.

(Chris: “I suck him dry as fast as I can.”
Jason: “You gonna diablerize this sonufabitch?”
Chris: “Oh yes.”)

Scout takes a shocked step back as Rabenholz feeds.

(Jim: “Is this the first time you’ve diablerized in-game?”
Chris: “Since Carlos. He’s been carrying around those onions entirely pre-emptively—”
Me: “WHATARETHEONIONSFOR?!??!”
Chris: “What? Who said anything about onions?”
Me: “Do…do the onions have something to do with diablerie?”
Jason: “I don’t know anything about onions.”
Jim: “What is she talking about?”
Me: “I feel like an idiot, it’s been LITERAL MONTHS and I’m apparently THE ONLY ONE WHO DOESN’T KNOW WHAT THEY DO!!”
Jason: “I don’t remember any onions in this game.”
Jim: “…Are you thinking leeks?”)

For a moment, the world around Rabenholz fades away as he focuses on the pulsing waves of ecstasy, and the memories they carry:

(Jason: “He was embraced a Gangrel, some time ago, never knew his sire because the Gangrel do that sometimes. He was wild and feral, hunting and feeding as he wished, until he fell afoul of a Prince by eating her favorite childe. Fortunately, the Settites spirited him away and made him an acolyte of theirs because they could always use a good Gangrel. Grateful for his rescue, he spent ages as a servant of Nitocris, in turn of Anektahken.

“But here’s the interesting part. He didn’t quite know what they were doing here in San Francisco, but that’s only because he was not very smart. With the knowledge you have, though, you can put a few things together. The Settites were here under pretenses and circumstances few of them understood. Even Nitocris questioned it, as you know. What this guy saw and didn’t have the wit to put together is that Anektahken was meeting with people. Specifically Perpenna. The Gangrel doesn’t know what they talked about because they spoke in languages he didn’t speak, but he knows they met, and he knows Anektahken bowed before Perpenna and promised to serve him in all things. Unfortunately, this Gangrel was so dumb his reaction wasn’t, ‘Oh my god, my master has betrayed Set,’ it was, ‘Oh my god, I have betrayed Set and I must never speak of this to anyone!’ However, he did observe that the last time Anektahken and Perpenna met, when they left they left in a car. A taxi, in fact.

“And, from the memories, you now know the license plate of that taxi.”)

Rabenholz drops the desiccated body to the ground. It explodes into ash. “Benjamin Smith is dead.”

Still staring at him, Scout nods slowly. “I’m sorry.”

“An unfortunate setback. We may go.”

#

THE PYRAMID

Anstis goes back to the circle room. He calls Cheryl, asking her to come to the Pyramid, then kneels down to fix the scouring damage to the circle. He’s eventually able to get it back in functional order, though the room still smells like lemon Pledge.

(Jason: “And what are you doing with the circle?”
Jim: “I’m going after Xia again.”
Jason: “Because if at first you don’t succeed, try, try to get your ass kicked again.”)

Cheryl arrives and stares around the room nervously, especially at the unconscious maid and the zombie slouching in a corner.

Anstis stands and gently draws Noah forward. “Cheryl, this is Noah. I don’t believe ye’ve met.”

Cheryl stares at the boy with even more surprise than she did the zombie. “Yours?”

“Nay, but I’ve been looking after him. I want you to keep him safe for the next few nights.”

“Okay….” Cheryl takes Noah’s hand carefully and flashes a reassuring smile.. “I guess I’m pretty good with my sister’s kids.”

“He’s a vampire.”

Cheryl freezes. “What!?”

Noah peers up at her. “Can I eat you?”

Cheryl tries to pull away, but Noah’s grip remains firm. Anstis, though, chuckles. “Nay, you cannot eat her.” He looks up at Cheryl, ignoring her horrified expression. “Keep him in a place he’s unlikely to be found and make sure he’s protected from sunlight.”

“I can’t eat her?” Noah asks, disappointed.

Anstis chuckles again and tousles his hair. “Nay, but I’m sure she can bring you someone if you’re hungry.”

Still in shock, Cherly lets Noah lead her from the room. Once they’re gone, Anstis closes the door and goes to drain the rest of the blood from the unconscious maid.

(Jason: “You killed Consuela. You bastard.”)

Pulling out his vial, he enchants the circle to bring him to Xia, orders the zombie to join him, then activates the spell.

#

Meanwhile, just as Anstis is leaving the Pyramid, Rabenholz and Scout are arriving and heading toward Bell’s office. As they step off the elevator, a ghoul intercepts them in the hall. “I’m sorry, gentlemen, the Justicar isn’t in.”

Rabenholz frowns. “When will he return?”

“He did not leave an itinerary. He went to investigate matters in the North.”

“Damn.” Rabenholz draws a folded note from a pocket. “Can you follow a license plate number?”

The ghoul nods. “Of course.”

Rabenholz hands him the note listing the number and gives an approximate range of dates it may have gone to Candlestick Park. The ghoul heads to a computer station in the tiny ghoul offices and runs some searches while Rabenholz and Scout linger nearby.

After a few minutes of typing, the ghoul looks up. “According to our sources in the police department, the cab was discovered the morning after the date you spoke of in the Marin headlands. Abandoned.”

Rabenholz’s stare slides into the middle-distance. “All roads lead to Rome.”

The ghoul trades a glance with Scout. “Sir?”

Rabenholz’s gaze snaps back into focus. “How long has Mr. Bell been out?”

“Twenty or thirty minutes.”

Scout leans closer to him. “What are you thinking?”

“That I would rather deal with the situation there than here.” Rabenholz turns back to the ghoul. “Call me a helicopter at once.”

#

EMBARCADERO CENTER

Anstis appears in a courtyard on the roof of the Embarcadero shopping center. He scans the darkness carefully, then tells the zombie to stay while he investigates the property. At this hour, all the stores are closed and the surrounding Financial District streets are empty. He makes his way silently down through some of the open-air colonnades, then once again decides to attempt Illuminate the Trail of the Prey. This time it works and a faded green path erupts before his eyes, winding through the complex. He heads back to the courtyard roof and stops at the top of the stairs.

Xia is there, in her flowing green silk dress and orchid in her hair the color of fresh-spilled blood. The zombie lies lifeless at her feet. As Anstis steps off the stairs to approach her, she smiles.  “The Bird of Paradise,” she says calmly.

Anstis glares. “Xiang Li Weng sends his greetings.” He launches at her, claws extended—

—But they slice through empty air as suddenly she is two feet back from where she was standing before, hands still folded in her dress.

She cocks her head. “Do you revel so in your bestial side?” she asks.

“I do,” Anstis growls, stepping forward to slash again.

Instantly she blinks away again, smiling at him calmly from across the courtyard.

Anstis regards her a moment. “Ye have some skill.”

“I have something greater than skill.”

“Which is?”

Xia lifts her chin in a knowing smirk. “Allies.”

Anstis stares in confusion, just as a voice whispers in his ear, “It’s Judgement Day.”

Fire erupts in his chest as a stake shoves throughs, then everything goes black.

#

THE PYRAMID

Rabenholz and Scout are lingering in the foyer of the fortieth floor, waiting for word on the helicopter, when a commotion echoes up the elevator shaft, getting closer.

Rabenholz turns to the ghoul. “Is something wrong with your elevators?”

The ghoul listens to his earpiece a moment, then looks him with a pained expression. “No sir. The…Primogen is approaching.”

Scout freezes, then turns to Rabenholz. “Uh oh.”

Rabenholz turns to her. “To the stairs, quickly.”

(Jason: “Who do you think the Primogen is?”
Me and Chris, simultaneously: “Norton.”)

The ghoul watches enviously as Rabenholz and Scout hurry to the stairs. A moment later, the elevator dings and a reverberating shout of, “DOOOO YOOOO SEEEEE???!!?” echoes down the stairwell behind them, until the door swings shut.

As they leave the Pyramid, the Camarilla ghoul texts them to say the helicopter will meet them on the roof of the Bank of America building. They walk the few blocks downtown to the other building and head up to the roof, arriving just as the helicopter is touching.

(Jason: “As you walk out, the wash from the helicopter makes your cloak flare dramatically. The orchestra swells.”
Chris: “If he were a Toreador, he’d totally have all his helicopter pads outfitted with orchestra pits.”)

They duck through the downwash and pull open the door. The pilot turns around with a sunglassed-smile. “Where to?”

(Me: “Are you fucking serious?!!
Jason: *gleefully* “Yep!!”)

Both Rabenholz and Scout stop, eyeing Adam-the-Pilot. “Bring us over Marin,” Rabenholz says finally, climbing in. “To the headlands.”

Pilot-Adam nods. Both passengers secure themselves and the chopper takes off, roaring off the roof at a dizzying angle and out over the city. They sit in silence as they travel north, out over the bay, angling toward the red glow of the Golden Gate Bridge. Once they reach it, they bank north again, to the rolling black hills of the Marin Headlands.

Rabenholz asks Pilot-Adam to stop and they hover a moment while he casts Illuminate the Trail of the Prey on Bell. A glowing green line appears on the northern side of the bridge, weaving north through the freeway lanes with the agility of a motorcycle. On the far side of the Williams Tunnel, the trail exits the freeway and heads west, into the redwood forests of Marin.

Rabenholz orders the Adam to follow.

#

MARIN

Meanwhile, deep in those very forests, Paul is walking his way back to civilization, using the time and solitude to formulate a new plan to get into the supposed Spiral-Dancer Hive. After over an hour of walking and thinking, he calls one of the few allies he has yet to try.

Holliday.

“Paul Stewart,” Doc greets him as he answers. “How does this evening find you?”

“Well I was wondering if you could think of anyone who has a vested interest in defeating Gnaius Perpenna and a bunch of Spiral Dancers.”

Doc is quiet a moment. “I can think of a number of such individuals, but the usefulness of that information will depend on what upon you intend.”

Paul glances at the dark, silent trees around him. “I fear somethings coming to a head in Marin.”

“I fear you are correct,” Doc says grimly. “And not just there. There are…scents in the air. Bad blood, as some might say.”

“Right. Which is why I am trying to assemble a tiger team. Basically people who are interested in getting to the Spiral Dancer hive and ending things prematurely.” Paul walks in silence a moment. “But most people don’t seem to be returning my calls.”

Doc is quiet a few moments before responding. “Well. I am a man who does occasionally make house calls. And it happens that I have made one in the very recent past.”

Paul perks up. “Oh?”

“Stand by a moment. I shall see if I can rustle something up. This technology is new to me, but I do believe—”

Doc’s voice suddenly cuts out, replaced by the on-hold music of “Careless Whisper.”

#

(Me: “Lol, one of my favorite moments from DragonCon last year was coming back from the game room at two in the morning and hearing that song echoing somewhere in the distance through the empty halls of the hotel.”
Jason: “Indeed. Also, speaking of, guess who’s phone rings?”

#

SABBAT WAREHOUSE, SAN JOSE

The evening wears on, but no one else comes to visit me in my small storeroom. At some point, one of Leidesdorff’s tactical-suited guards brings me a new t-shirt and a goblet of blood. I don’t ask where the blood came from, nor do I comment on the ice cubes someone threw into it. Once the guard leaves, I sprawl out on my cot, sipping the blood in silence, listening to the muted chatter of the men outside as I slowly finish healing.

Until, some time later, the phone in my pocket—the one Doc gave me—buzzes.

I pull it out and peer at the screen. The only named contact listed in the phone is Leidesdorff and this number doesn’t look familiar.  But…whatever, fuck it, I answer anyway. “Hello?” I say, taking another sip of blood.

(Me: “New phone, who dis?”)

“….Tom?” a familiar voice says.

“Paul?!” I choke on the blood, spitting out an ice cube. “Paul, are you with Sophia?”

“No, we’re separated. She’s in the hive and I’m trapped outsid—”

I scramble halfway off the cot. “She’s IN the hive??”

“Yeah, so, about that, are you mobile?”

I check my still-healing damages. “Mostly—”

“Sure? Cause last I heard you were hung up on something.”

(Me: “ಠ_ಠ”)

My anxiety rapidly melts into irritation. “Do you WANT me to come save you?”

“I wasn’t sure you were able to, but yes, come save us!” he practically shouts.

I stand up carefully, groaning as healed flesh snaps into place. “Things aren’t great right now, Paul. I’d probably be barely able to hike at the moment, let alone go on werewolf-hellscape roller-derby.” I peer at the goblet in my hand a moment. “Plus I think I just joined a gang.”

“So, a thought I had,” Paul begins carefully, “Sophia’s been talking about the Red Talons in the East Bay, who sound like they really hate Wyrmy things. And as I understand it, the Black Spiral Dancers are pretty Wyrmy, whatever that means.”

I pace the room slowly, stretching out. “Yeah that sounds about right.”

“You have a way of…let’s just say ‘inspiring’ people, and I was wondering if you could inspire the Red Talons to follow you to Marin.”

I stop. Despite the pain, and the frustration, and the growing fear at my current situation, something deep inside me grows increasingly amused at the idea of roaring to the rescue with a battalion of werewolves behind me. “I don’t…not like that plan….” I say carefully, then sigh, “…But Leidesdorff doesn’t want to let me go, because ‘he’s invested in me,’ whatever that means.”

“Can I talk to him?” Paul asks.

I glance at the door. “He’s not here right now, he left after they finished their Sabbat bullshit, but there’s a shitton of his guards here to babysit me.”

“You’re being…unusually respectful of local law enforcement, Tom.”

Instantly, my new-found caution withers as a familiar sensation rises: fury. “I was just dragged off to the Sabbat after my so-called friends hunted me down and nailed me to a wall,” I shout, “So yeah, a lot of things aren’t feeling really normal right now!” I pace again, faster this time. “Also I haven’t talked to Boss since I woke up, have you?”

“I can’t get ahold of him,” Paul says, then groans. “I can’t reach Georgia, I can’t reach von Natsi, I cant reach Bell—”

Pain suddenly races through my left thigh. For some reason, the healing on that bone has been taking longer. I stumble to a seat on the cot until the fire subsides. “I don’t know how much help I’m going to be, Paul,” I mumble. “I feel like a walking pincushion at the moment. I think I’d be no better than a meat-shield.”

“Whether or not you do anything, I think getting the Red Talons here might be the best bet. I just don’t know how to get their attention.”

I chuckle grimly. “Well normally I would launch a bunch of guns and shit at them then run away really fast, but I don’t have a ride, or guns, or shit!”

As I say this, a swell in the chatter followed by a burst of laughter echoes from outside the room. I stare at the door a moment, thinking. “Actually…hold on…” Placing Paul on hold, I get up and stumble to the door.

(Jason: “Chris, your on-hold music of ‘Careless Whisper’ comes back on, which means I need a self-control test from the Toreador.”
Chris: “Actually, what if instead of ‘Careless Whisper’ it was this.
Jason: “…What is that?”
Me: “It’s a running joke from Community. It’s called—oh shit! ‘Daybreak’!”)

I pry the door open. Outside in the warehouse, the ritual bullshit has been cleaned up and most of the crowd has dispersed. Leidesdorff is still missing, but his cluster of guards linger nearby, talking in some sort of Slavic language and laughing.

One of them, a swarthy guy with a thick scar down his face, turns to see me and grins. “Tovarich!!” he shouts, arms outstretched.

Something about him nags me as familiar, but it takes a moment to hit me: he was one of Andre’s guys, the night of the Monomancy at the Shark Tank. I flash him a pistol-hand. “Heeeeeey, you….”

He swaggers up to me for a back-slapping hug that almost knocks me over. “You are feeling better!” he shouts. “You ready to be man!!”

I carefully untangle myself from his arms. “Yeah, speaking of that, actually, I just got a call, someone wants to hire me to hunt some werewolves up in the East Bay.”

Instantly, all the men perk up, trading excited grins. “You Tom Lytton!” another one says. “You kill werewolves!”

I force a sheepish grin. “Yeaaah, hopefully, but I need to borrow some gear—”

“Oh, you go now?” Scar-face says. They trade disappointed looks and shake their heads. “No, Archbishop say no to this.”

I feign disappointment. “Really?”

Scar-face nods. “He say you stay here. And we drink!” He claps me on the back, takes the goblet from my hand, and hands it out to another guard with a barked order that I can only assume translates as, “Beer me.” He turns back to me and grins.

(Me: “Awe.”
Jason: “Oh, good! The patented Tom Lytton Presence! Sort of like the Captain Anstis Animalism!”)

I smile sweetly and drape my arm around him, forcing authority into my words. “Don’t you think it would be so much better for you if we drank the blood of werewolves, together?”

Scar-face falls still. The other men trade unreadable looks with each other. I keep the pleasant smile on my face while inside anxiety climbs. Can he sense the manipulation? I’ve fucked this shit up before—

Finally, Scar-face throws up his arms. “TOVARICH!!!!!”

The men cheer and bury me in a noisy cascade of backslaps. “WE KILL WEREWOLVES!” some of them shout.

“Great!” I disentangle myself. “Get the car!”

“AND GUNS!!!” they yell, then make their way across the warehouse toward the doors

“Yes, many guns!” I shout after then, then get back on the line with Paul. “Yeah, so I got a bunch of Russians to help, we’re gonna figure something out.”

Paul hesitates. “Andre’s Russians?”

“Yeah I think some of them got hired on by Leidesdorff,” I reply, glancing after them.

“Well, I guess Leidesdorff knows what he’s doing—”

“Yeah, except he doesn’t know we’re doing this, so don’t tell him.”

Paul falls silent. Distant Russian singing echoes through the warehouse.  Finally, Paul sighs. “Okay, well, good luck Tom. Keep me posted.”

“I’ll try.” I start walking after the noisy mob.

“And Tom?”

“Yeah?”

“Not all your friends tried to stake you to a wall.”

Now I fall silent a few moments. “I know, Paul,” I say softly, careful not to let too much emotion leak into my tone. “Just…try to get to Sophia, alright?”

“Well, wherever she is, she is a werewolf. And hopefully by now she has the other werewolves and the dragon with her.”

I stop. “…Wait, the dragon? You mean Charles?”

Paul hesitates. “I don’t know any other dragons—”

“The dragon is there too?”

“Hopefully, yeah,” Paul says. “We’re…possibly good buddies now.”

“The dragon is in Marin?

“Yes! Why?”

Suddenly I’m fighting to keep a grin off my face. “Okay, I’m going to work on something with this. I’ll let you know.” Before Paul can question further, I hang up.

I jog across the warehouse to catch up with the Russian posse, currently cracking open crates and lifting out various weapons. Though “posse” probably isn’t really the right term. If they’re Sabbat, I guess they’d be a pack.

I stop again as the realization hits. My Sabbat pack.

Shit.

Scar-face grins up at me over his Kalashnikov. I quickly hide my shock and return the grin. “We know the Red Talons are somewhere in the East Bay,” I shout to the group. “We should probably split up to look for them. The first person to find them informs the others.”

They cheer in response, hefting their guns.

I clap my hands together. “Great! So, can I get my own ride?”

Scar-face chuckles and gestures to someone behind me. I turn to follow his arm, then stop.

A vision in smooth lines and blood-red chrome is being wheeled from the shadows, low and long like a hunting cat and rolling with curves like your best lover. I can’t help but gape as the men bring it forward into the light.

A Honda Valkyrie Rune. MY Honda Valkyrie Rune, the one Clarence gave to me as some sort of shitty attempt at sugar-daddying, then subsequently stole back when I left it outside the Shark Tank after the Monomancy. And then replaced with that goddamn pink Vespa.

“I thought Clarence took this,” I mutter, running a hand along the leather seat.

Scar-face chuckles. “No. He pay to take, to store. But he is missing very long time, and we hunt werewolves now.” He slaps my back again. “Is will do, Tovarich?”

I grin at him, then swing a leg over. “Yeah. This will work just fine.”

(Jim: “Why not the Vespa?”
Me: “Cause that was left at the Bayshore house when Slayer and I were living together. I don’t know where it is now. But the Rune was last seen in the South Bay, so it makes sense for it to be here now.”
Chris: “Maybe Clarence should come out of retirement and trade it for another Vespa.”
Me: “Oh I fully anticipate this bike is going to explode or something at some point, but for now I have it, and you know where I’m going with it?”
Jason: “Where?”
Me: “The fucking Cal Academy of Sciences.”
JasonL: “…Why?”
Me: “Because it’s currently dragon-free.”
Jason: “……Why?”
Me: “To get my goddamn gun back.”)

#

ANSTIS’S LOCATION

Anstis wakes up bound motionless for the second time this night. He opens his eyes. This time, the bindings are an antique straight-jacket, along with extra straps tying him down to what appears to be a rusting dentist’s chair.

He looks around. Rafters and wide dirty windows imply he’s in some sort of warehouse. No one is around, but a cluster of a dozen half-broken mannequins are lined up facing him, staring at him through clouded eyes and cracked—or missing—faces.

(Jim: “That’s…not a great sign….”)

Footsteps approach from somewhere behind him, then the chair is whirled around with a grinding shriek, leaving Anstis face to face…with Emperor Norton.

Anstis nods as best as his restraints will allow. “Emperor.”

Norton regards him grimly. “Captain. What have you done?”

“That is a very, very long question.” Anstis peers around again. “Are you in league with Xia?”

Norton nods seriously. “Yes. And have been.”

“Why?”

Norton leans close, the stench of seal blood rolling off his breath. “Because I have seeeeeeeen. But that is not the purpose of this night. This night…we must have a trial.”

Anstis eyes him. “Of what sort?”

OF THE IMPERIAL SORT!!!!!

Spotlights flash on from the rafters above. Buried amidst the crowd of mannequins, sitting on two wobbling chairs, are two dogs, one large and one small. Jupiter, the dachshund, and Mercury, the great dane. Both are wearing powdered barrister wigs. Mercury’s curls are tucked behind his pointed ears, while Jupiter’s wig is large enough that both sides are draped onto the chair beside him.

(Me: “Oh my god, that’s adorable.”)

Norton stands. “We must have a tribunal! You must account, Captain. You must account for your sins. And your crimes.”

Anstis glares. “What am I accused of?”

More footsteps approach from behind him. “Of murder,” says Admiral Jonathan Flowers as he walks into view, smiling.

Anstis’s glare turns into a snarl as his nemesis leers at him. “What is HE doing here?” Anstis asks.

“He has levied accusations,” Norton replies.

“And I have accusations against him,” Anstis growls.

“You have no standing to accuse!” Norton barks. “What rank do you proclaim??”

“I am a captain!”

“Then where is your ship?”

Flowers strides forward, smirking. “Aye, Thomas. Where is your ship?”

Anstis flashes a grin full of fang. “To the west.”

Flowers chuckles. “Ohh, I’m afraid you’ll find she’s not quite where you left her. And without a ship, then I’m afraid ye’re no captain at all.”

Ignoring Flower’s lingering chuckle, Anstis looks him over. “And I don’t suppose you’re actually here this time?

Flowers grins again and paces between the mannequins. The dogs watch him with soulful eyes as he passes. “Oh I’m everywhere, Thomas. I’m afraid I can’t attend in person, no. But I’m here in spirit.”

Norton clears his throat dramatically, folding his arms. “I shall conjure forth…THE TRIBUNAL!” Another spotlight comes up, revealing a judge’s stanchion with four seats. Norton climbs up it and sits in one of the chairs. At the same time, three figures materialize from nothing to occupy the other three. All three are unfamiliar to Anstis, but all three are clearly wraiths.

(Jason: “They’re not even trying to hide the fact that they’re wraiths. Which, before a Necromancer, is quite a thing.”)

Norton picks up a gavel and bangs it against the desk. “Let the Imperial Court come to order! By command of His Imperial Majesty, Norton the First! Emperor of These United States and Protector of Mexico.”

Flowers bows deeply. Anstis casts another withering glance at him, then nods respectfully to Norton.  

Norton settles his brocade cloak around his shoulders. “The honorable Emperor Joshua Norton presiding. Assisted ably by associate justices—” He stops as the three wraiths glance at him sharply. “—Who shall remain nameless for now.”

Norton leans forward. “Captain. You have most violently taken action against citizens of this city. Living. Dead. And otherwise. You have conjured forth the dead, and enslaved them to your bidding. You have slain those who live and raised those who die. Do you deny it?”

Anstis’s gaze jumps from the Norton, to the wraiths, to Flowers’ smiling face. “If this is to be a trial, then where is my lawyer?”

Jupiter suddenly gets up and hops off his chair. He waddles over to Anstis, wig trailing along the ground, then settles himself next to the dentist chair. He looks toward the tribunal council and barks once.

Norton nods seriously. “Objection sustained. We move on.”

(Jim: *laughing hysterically* “Oh my god, this courtroom, oh my god….”)

“Earlier this night,” Norton says, “you sought to destroy two denizens of this city. The Eastern Kindred, Xia. And another. A creature for whom you have no name. Why did you do this?”

Anstis shifts in the chair, subtly testing the jacket and the chains again. “I was pressured to do so under duress,” Anstis replies.

“DURESS!?” Norton roars. “What duress??”

“By Xiang Li Weng. On pain of death. or worse.”

“And yet did you not engage with him in the first place?” Norton roars. “Do you not know who Xiang Li Weng is?”

“I do now.”

“You did then.”

Anstis frowns. “Not when I was first compelled.”

“He’s lying,” Flowers drawls, leaning against one of the mannequins at the edge of Anstis’s vision.

One of the wraiths suddenly leans forward. “Were you compelled when you first took up the practice of necromancy?” he asks, voice echoing as if from a long way away.

Anstis eyes him a moment. “Nay.”

 

“Were you compelled when you raised the dead and bound them to slavery?”

“Slavery is not the right word.”

The wraith glares. “I call it slavery.”

Anstis grins. “You would.”

The wraith explodes to his feet. “How dare you speak to me in such a manner! Two-bit charmer of the dead! I’ve heard your name, Anstis. Whispered below. I’ve heard it from high authority.”

“And who is this high authority of yours?” Anstis asks, unconcerned at his fury.

Slowly, the wraith grins. “Oh I think you know.”

“I don’t know who you’re speaking of.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Well then enlighten me.”

The wraith leans forward across the desk. “Shall I? Shall I enter it into the minutes for all to see? Is that what you want? For me to speak the name of the one you wronged?”

Anstis tenses. It’s possible he’s speaking of the time he threw the wraith of Marcus’s father into Hell. It’s a bad situation for Anstis to be in already, but if word of what he’d done got out in the real world….

Anstis glances at Flowers. “Nay, that’ll be fine.”

The wraith smirks and lowers himself back to a seat. “Good. Then we shall continue.”

#

SAN JOSE

The Rune rumbles beautifully underneath me as I cruise through empty streets. The industrial wastelands of south San Jose are a sprawling maze of dead-ends, but with the maps on my new phone I’m slowly making my way back to a freeway. As I’m holding it, it buzzes with a phone call.

I answer without looking at the screen. “Hello?”

“Lytton,” Leidesdorff’s voice replies, dangerously calm.

I stop the bike. “Oh, hey sir.”

“Is there a particular reason you’re not here and neither are most of my men?”

“Oh, we’re going werewolf hunting.”

“Yeah I heard about that. Why are you going werewolf hunting?”

I sit for a moment on the shuddering motorcycle. “It’s…kind of what I do, sir.”

“You’re not in any condition to go hunting werewolves, nor did I bring you back to hunt werewolves,” Leidesdorff says, tone rising.

“I know, but there’s a possibility the werewolves are going to destroy the world in the next night or two.”

“I’ve heard that most every night that I’ve been alive.”

“Dead,” I retort automatically, then wince. Dammit, can’t even blame the squirrel for that one.

“Do not question me,” Leidesdorff hisses. “Turn whatever you’re on around and get back here this instant. Do I have to send a War Party?”

“I’m pretty sure the War Party is already with me….” I say hesitantly.

Ten full seconds of silence fill the line. I wait tensely for Leidesdorff’s response. “You’re making a very serious mistake, Lytton,” he says finally, voice almost a whisper.

“Wouldn’t be my first.” I rub at my face. “Look, I’m not trying to insult you, sir, I just got some things I need to do.”

“…This has better be good,” he says. I can hear the teeth clenched around the words.

“Honestly, I hope it’s not, cause then we can just go back to our lives,” I sigh. “…Unlives,” I append quickly.

“Fine. But as soon as I have the means to, I am bringing you back.” Leidesdorff hangs up.

(Jim: “It was at that moment Leidesdorff realized why the Camarilla had Tom staked.”)

#

MARIN

The helicopter follows the trail deep into the valleys at the base of Mount Tamalpais. Then suddenly the trail peters out. Rabenholz frowns and leans closer to the window. If Bell had reached his destination—or been killed—the trail would just end. The strange fading can only mean something interfered with it.

“What do you see?” Scout asks.

Rabenholz ignores her and pulls out his phone to call Bell.

Bell picks up after a few rings. “Rabenholz.”

“Mr. Bell. I’ve been following your progress into Marin. Is everything alright?”

Bell snorts. “So you’re the helicopter. In short, no, nothing is alright. But haven’t seen much yet. Just woods and quiet.”

“You’re not alone there. I have reason to suspect they know you’re coming.”

There’s a sound of a shotgun cocking. “Good.”

Bell hangs up. Rabenholz directs the pilot to head back to San Francisco. As they wheel away, now that he’s not focused on his ritual, he turns to Scout and watches her quietly a few moments. “Ms. Scout, when I instructed you to find the whereabouts of Mr. Ben Smith, did you descend into Candlestick Park as I requested?”

She returns his gaze calmly. “No. I ended up running around the area south of the city.”

“Following what leads?”

“Following whatever I could grab. People in bars who may have seen him. Or he may have fed on.”

Rabenholz nods slowly. “In the future, if you are unable to follow my instructions, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know and not simply report your failure. Doubtless Ben Smith was doomed the moment I left him there. Nonetheless, I am disappointed with your communications. I trust you won’t repeat that mistake.”

Scout inclines her head. “I am sorry he seems to have passed.”

Rabenholz watches her another moment, then turns away. “That will do. We will resume our work tomorrow evening.”

#

THE TRIAL OF CAPTAIN ANSTIS

Norton sits back in his chair. “You do not deny, then, Captain, what you have done?”

Anstis shrugs as much as the straight-jacket will allow. “We have all done terrible things in our nights.”

“It is not for you to judge us, Captain. An emperor outranks an officer.” Norton folds his hands in front of him. “You have come to this city for reasons not your own, but have remained and preyed upon its denizens. What have you to say in your defense?”

“What specifically am I accused of?”

Norton gestures one hand. A new wraith materializes before the bench, a female one. Anstis’s eye grows wide as he recognizes her: the spectre he conjured up by accident, the spiritual remains of Noah’s mother. Drifting half-formed in the air, she see’s Anstis and freezes. Instantly, a hideous wail erupts through the warehouse, rattling the glass, joined moments later by the howls of Mercury and Jupiter.

Then, as rapidly as she appeared, she vanishes.

Norton beams triumphantly. “What say you to that, Captain!??”

Anstis stares between Norton and the other three wraith judges. “I’ve been asleep for some time, but am I to understand that dead men have equal rights in this day and age?”

Norton smirks. “We are all dead men, Captain. But you have disturbed the justly-dead for your own gain, made common cause with necromancers, and taken contract to slay those who dwell here, and all the while you know nothing!”

“What does one such as yourself consider gainful employ in the city?”

“Something other than necromancy, I should think. Something other than betrayal.”

Anstis’s face turns stony. “I’ve had my fill of betrayal. I was betrayed.”

Norton snorts. “Betrayed? By whom”?

“By mutineers aboard me own ship.”

Norton barks a laugh. “Are you yourself not a mutineer? Whence came you by that ship? You betrayed your commander! If I called Black Bart to the stand, would be not say so??”

Anstis shifts uncomfortably. “I don’t know. It’s been awhile since we spoke.”

Norton smirks and raises a hand. “Then let us find out.”

A grandly-dressed wraith fades into existence before them, the colors of his coat and lace more washed-out than when Anstis last met him in the Shadowlands, but the cascading wig and brace of pistols are unmistakable. Black Bart bows to Norton and the wraiths of the court, nods once at Flowers, then turns to Anstis and smiles. “Thomas.”

Anstis nods back. “Bartholomew.”

“So it’s come to this at last. Finally come to pay for your crimes. Why did you leave, Thomas?”

Anstis smirks. “We’re buccaneers, men join and leave a crew all the time.”

“But they don’t betray. They knew they’d be marooned or keel-hauled. You knew that too. You signed the articles yerself. I witnessed them.” Black Bart shakes his head. “When I found ye missing, I came upon the deck vaporing and swearing and cursing your name. Maybe it had an effect. I offered libations to the devil if he’d take ye to his breast. And he did. Me as well. But that’s the price of devils.” Black Bart shakes his head sadly again, then jerks his chin toward Flowers. “You shouldn’t have left, Thomas. You shouldn’t have cut and run. That man there wouldn’t be chasing you across half the world if you had.”

Anstis glances at Flowers a moment. “It should be said, I wasn’t the captain when we left.”

“No. But you were the captain when it ended.” The wraith of Black Bart leans over the chair, translucent face close to him. “You could have stopped it, but you didn’t.”

Anstis forces a cocky smile. “We must each seek our own fortune.”

“Then good fortune to you, laddie, because you might just need it.” With that, he disappears.

“It is not only Roberts you betrayed, Anstis,” Norton says in the following silence. “Shall we seek other testimony?”

Anstis glowers. “From whom?”

Norton reaches under his desk and produces an antique rotary phone, made of brass and carved ivory. He thunks it onto the desk and lifts an earpiece.

Anstis eyes it. “What manner of contraption is that?”

“A telephone,” Norton responds and begins dialing.

(Jason: “Tom?”
Me: “Yeah?”
Jason: “Your phone rings.”
Me: “…”)

#

101 NORTHBOUND

I’m roaring up the freeway through South San Francisco when suddenly I feel the phone in my pocket buzz. I try to ignore it, but it persists for almost two full minutes without going to voicemail. Finally, I pull off the freeway onto the the open shoulder lining the bay just outside of Brisbane. I dig the phone out and answer. “Hello?”

“MR LYTTON!!!!” a voice roars, louder than passing traffic.

I sigh. “Ah, Emperor.”

“WILL YOU TESTIFY???

“Testify? Testify to what?”

“To betrayal! The judges are seated, Mr. Lytton, you must speak the truth!”

I hesitate, brain rapidly trying to free-associate what the Malkavian could possibly be talking about. “Uh, I’m not really in a good—”

“DO YOU SWEAAAAR TO TELL THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH, BY HIS HONOR THE IMPERIAL MAJESTY EMPEROR NORTON THE FIRST, RULER OF THESE UNITED STATES AND PROTECTOR OF MEXICO!?!/1>?”

Shorebirds erupt from the bushes near me at his echoing shouts and fly squawking into the night. I carefully bring the phone back to my ear. “I…don’t remember getting a summons for jury duty—”

“YOU ARE COMPELLED, SIR!!!!”

Finally, I sigh and flip down the kickstand, settling onto the bike with a slouch. “Yeah, alright.”

“The defendant…is Thomas Archibald Anstis.”

I snort. “What? The squid-faced asshole? What did he do now?”

“Vile acts,” Norton says grimly.

“Yeah, I know!

“Betrayal! Thievery! Necromancy! Piracy!!”

I hesitate. “Well, I mean, I’d assume that last one—”

“AND HE HAS uttered the abominable word of Frisco!!!”

Suddenly I hear Anstis’s voice in the background. “I most certainly have not!” he shouts.

“It will be attested!” Norton shouts back to him, then returns to the call. “You know of these things. SPEAK!!!!”

I lean back in my seat. “Uh, well, Anstis is an asshole, and he tried to kill me. I assume he probably would have tried to eat me too if Rabenholz hadn’t had worse plans in mind.”

“Lies,” Anstis says.

“Shut up,” I snap.

Even through the phone I can hear him chuckle. “I never had plans to kill ye, Lytton.”

Rage suddenly spikes through me. I throw my leg over the bike, slide off, and pace along the shoreline. “Oh so hunting me down at Costco was, what, an accident?”

“Ye’re not dead are ye?”

“No thanks to you!!!” The last birds left in the nearby shrubs take off after their fellows.

“Lawful judgement was placed on you, Lytton,” Anstis says.

“Was it?” I sneer. “I don’t remember a jury of my peers.”

“Ye know full well we operate by different laws than mortals.”

“You also know full well that I didn’t kill Karl Sutro and everything else that came down as a result of his death was completely an accident!” I kick a rock toward the water. It sails so far out into the darkness I don’t hear it splash.

“And if ye truly believe ye did not have a hand in Sutro’s death, then ye’re too far gone.”

“YOU WERE AT THE RESERVOIR TOO, ASSWAD! I was standing right there when shit exploded! Why would I blow up myself??”

“Nay, not that point. But when you took him from his haven—”

I grab at my hair. “Oh my GOD! We were GOING TO BRING HIM BACK!!” Suddenly I stop. “Wait, I’m not the one on trial here!

“Ye’ve done a great job of rationalizing, Lytton!”

“Well, I’ve had some time to think!” I snap.

Anstis chuckles. “So what are you doing now? Hanging around?

I glare into the darkness. “That would be funnier if Paul hadn’t made the same joke earlier.”

(Chris: “Nope, his was ‘hung up on something.’”)

“Anyway,” I continue, “I’m a little busy trying to save the world.”

“Oh?” Anstis says with feigned interest. “Is that what you do?”

“Apparently. Better than trying to steal it.” I pace again, more slowly this time. “Why is be being allowed to cross examine me, Emperor? Do you have any specific questions here? Non-shouty ones, please?”

“I never shout,” Norton says seriously. “I proclaim.”

Anstis comes back on the line. “In what way are ye saving the world this time, Lytton?”

“Not really your business. And I really don’t want to tell you that much about my business, or my plans, or my whereabouts ever again.”

“But it is the Emperor’s business,” Anstis says, his shit-eating grin clear through his voice.

“Aye, it is,” Norton agrees. “The fire is coming. Iron. And gold.”

“Lytton, have you spoken to Sertorius?” Anstis asks.

I sigh and lean against the bike. “No, I haven’t spoken to him since I…got back.”

“He’s in league with Perpenna.”

I burst out laughing. “In league with? If anything, Perpenna has him trapped in a blood bond again—” Slowly, the laughter dies, muted by rising dread. “—Which is also not good…where is he?”

“From what I saw, in a cavern filled with werewolves.”

I rub my face. “Ahhh fuck. Alright. Norton am I done here? Cause I gotta get back on the road.”

“We shall see,” Norton replies. “The court reserves the right to recall the witness.”

The call ends. I immediately throw my leg over my bike and kick it up to roar away.

#

THE TRIAL OF CAPTAIN ANSTIS

Norton stands in his judges stanchion, settling his cloak regally around him. “We have heard from the accusers. “Have you anything else to say in defense?”

“Aye.” Anstis jerks his chin at Flowers, still lurking amongst the mannequins. “What is this man doing here and not in chains?”

Norton peers at Flowers. “This man has done nothing.”

“This man has hunted me across the seas, murdered me crew, and tried to murder me. For months upon months! Even now he seeks his foul satisfaction.”

Flowers chuckles and swaggers closer. “Tell me Thomas, can ye read?”

Anstis glares. “Aye.”

“Then you’ll know what this is.” Flowers reaches into his coat and pulls out a stained and weathered scrap of parchment, signed with a wax seal at the bottom. He holds it up in front of Anstis. It’s a letter of mark, granting the authority to hunt down ‘the most notorious pirates,’ and the signature and seal at the bottom are that of His Majesty King George II.

Flowers watches Anstis’s expression as he reads it. “I think you’ll find that my writs are far greater than yours,” he drawls. “Are you not, Thomas Archibald Anstis? Captain of the Good Fortune, late of the command of Bartholomew Roberts, a known rogue and most notorious pirate?”

Anstis shifts in irritation. “Aye, I am Thomas Anstis. I did captain the Good Fortune.”

Flowers suddenly lunges forward, bracing himself against the arms of the chair, face inches from Anstis’s own. “And I am Admiral Jonathan Flowers of His Majesty’s Royal Navy,” he growls. “I’ve every right to hunt you, Thomas. And hunt you I shall. Till all the seas run dry.”

Anstis stares back haughtily. “And I’ve a right to defend myself.”

Flowers barks a laugh. “Defend yourself? You couldn’t defend a whorehouse from a gaggle of children! Squeeze your way out of this if you can, Thomas. It won’t matter in the end. I’m already everywhere, Thomas. And my eyes on ye. See unlike yourself, I’ve got one to spare.” He taps his face and grins arrogantly.

Until Anstis summons a ball of fire in his own lap.

The flames explode over Flowers’ torso, spreading quickly across his skin. Flowers screams, but the voice takes on a new cadence as the image of Flowers disappears, replaced by an unidentified figure that’s quickly engulfed in the flames. It falls to the ground, flailing, till finally falling still. Sparks gutter out against the thick canvas of Anstis’s straight-jacket.

No one else in room reacts.

Norton nods once, sharply. “We will consider these charges. Court is adjourned until tomorrow eve. The prisoner shall remain under care and watch of the jailers.”

Mercury and Jupiter step forward and sit themselves at the base of Anstis’s chair, staring up at him. Norton climbs down from the judges chair and disappears into the shadows of the warehouse, while the three wraith judges fade away without another word.

Anstis stares down at the dogs. The dogs stare back.

(Jason: “This would be a great time to try Animalism.”
Jim: “…Nah, I’m good.”)

#

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

By the time I reach the museum, dawn is starting to play at the edges of the horizon. I cruise the bike down into the underground parking garage, then run back up to the surface level. A cluster of janitors are talking over coffees outside the loading dock. I carefully sneak my way past them and into the museum.

The building is empty and quiet, but brightening rapidly through its massive windows and skylights. I hurry down into the aquarium level, finding my way to the door leading to the research offices. I make my way through there, down to the collections, and finally to the hidden manhole leading down to the secret cavern below.

Cold air surrounds me as I descend the ladder. At the base, I pull out my phone as a flashlight and make my way down the tunnel. The space opens up, revealing the broad cavern with Charles’s hoard of crates and museum pieces piled in the middle. Even in the near-complete darkness, I can feel sleep tugging at me, so I hurry forward, scrambling over the boxes and scything my light around, searching—

—And stop as the light glints off a stretch of long, black, 50-cal gunmetal.

Vera.

I stumble over to the gun right before I collapse. Sleep takes me then, curled up around my gun, but I slide into oblivion with a smile on my face.

END OF NIGHT

#

EPILOGUE:

(Jason: “Congratulations, Paul. You got Tom his gun back.”
Chris: *long sigh*
Me: “Which I’m going to bring to Marin!!!”
Jason: “Right, because the last time you brought guns to Marin, that went well.”)

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3 Responses to 4/19/2016

  1. MorienneMontenegro says:

    On one hand each new post brightens my day. On another I feel likethe story is coming to an end one way or another… Nevertheless never let it be said that Tom can’t use his brains (or at least presence) every now and then.

    Well I am sincerely hoping that the next game you play ends up being Beast from new world of darkness.

    • Colleen says:

      We are definitely in the third act, but I promise you there is still a LOT of story to get through before we’re done completely 😉

  2. samjackson01 says:

    Another! It’s like Christmas!

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