Me: “So…URG, I got like a thousand strings pulling me in a thousand directions at the moment. I could go back in time and save my dead boyfriend, or I could track down my estranged sister, or I could go save my werewolf-BFF-sister-from-another-mister—”
Chris: “Or you could keep making Paul proud.”
Me: “What? How?”
Chris: “You’ve been solving problems with non-violence!”
Jason: “For five entire minutes!”
Chris: “Yeah! You’ve been looking at people, finding their motivations, telling them things that make them want to act on the actions you want them to act on. You have become….a Toreador.”
Jason: “And so, then it was that Tom murdered Paul.”
Me: “No, then it was that Colleen murdered Chris, let’s be clear here.”
SEAL ROCK INN
Scout wakes up in her room the next evening. The first thing she does is check her phone for messages. One waiting. Slowly she gets up, pads to the desk, slides the curtains open and sits down heavily. She’s still a moment, staring at the fading sunset colors, then opens the message and listens:
“You have been randomly selected for one free trip to the sunny Bahamas—”
Scout deletes the message and leans against the desk, relief sagging her shoulders. She sits another long moment, cycling through a few meditative breaths, then picks up the phone again to text Rabenholz.
Text sent, she stares out the window as she waits.
MARK HOPKINS HOTEL
Rabenholz is in his suite practicing with his sword when his phone buzzes against the table. He continues practicing.
There’s a light knock at the door. Rhona enters, a sheaf of papers in hand. “Sir?” she greets him, waiting politely.
Rabenholz feints a parry in the air. “The human PIs we sent to Candlestick Park. The ones who failed to find Benjamin Smith. We sent them to the chamber beneath the park, did they report it had been sealed up?”
“They didn’t report anything. At all.” Rhona shifts nervously. “I’ve been calling their agency all day. No one has heard anything from any of them.”
Rabenholz frowns and lowers the sword.
(Chris: “Searching my memories-which-are-not-my-memories, were there any other…snacks for that fellow?”
Jason: “As a matter of fact, there were.”)
“And it seems no one will,” he murmurs, grabbing a cloth from the table.
They settle into discussion of other business while Rabenholz cleans and polishes the blade. Finally, he puts it down and picks up the phone, seeing Scout’s message:
Do you require any assistance this evening?
He types in a reply:
Contact Theo Bell.
SEAL ROCK INN
Scout is still at the desk, doodling a sketch of the trees across the street, when Rabenholz’s response comes through. She reads it, then calls Bell.
“Mr. Bell,” she greets him. “Are you in need of assistance this evening?”
“Hold that thought.” There’s a sound of muffled fumbling, then a shotgun blast explodes across the line. More fumbling, then Bell comes back. “Does that answer your question?”
Scout grimaces. “Lord Rabenholz has asked me to contact you so we can identify your location and organize a rendezvous.”
“Well, I am about five hundred yards south of the peak of Mt. Tam at this moment. And the way in which I got here is rather complicated. Someone tried to kill me yesterday. Afternoon.” There’s another blast. “I don’t appreciate that much. Tell Rabenholz if he’s serious about this situation he’ll meet me in Marin. Tonight.”
Scout stares at the phone a minute after he’s hung up, then relays the information to Rabenholz. She arranges to once again meet him on the roof of the Bank of America building to board another chartered helicopter.
MARK HOPKINS HOTEL
Rabenholz is preparing to leave the suite, cane-sword and Glitch slung under his cloak, when a knock comes at the door. Rhona opens it to let in a bellhop. Rabenholz tenses, but an aura perception assures him this bellhop isn’t another zombie.
The man bows. “Sir, forgive the intrusion but I was instructed to bring you this.” He hands out an old-type flip-phone, a call already connected.
Rabenholz eyes it warily, then finally takes it. “Yes?” he answers.
An electronically-obfuscated voice undulates across the line. “Do not hang up this telephone. Is this Augustus von Rabenholz?”
“This is he,” Rabenholz replies smoothly
“We must meet.”
“I will not speak into a unsecured line as to what I am interested in.”
Rabenholz rolls his eyes. “Very well. Can you meet me in the room I’m in right now?”
“No. Security cameras. Need someplace quiet. Public, but out of view.”
Rabenholz mutes the phone and turns to Rhona. “What’s a quiet alley near the Bank of America building? Somewhere slightly public, but out of the way?”
Rhona, waiting patiently near the door, thinks a few moments. “Liedesdorff Street,” she says finally.
Rabenholz stares at her.
She shifts nervously under his gaze. “Will that be alright? It’s just a block away.”
He stares another moment, then returns to the call. “Liedesdorff Street, near the Bank of America building.”
“Ten minutes,” the voice says. “Do not come with anyone else.” The call ends.
Rabenholz closes the phone. A moment later, the screen flashes blue, the whole thing heats in his palm and all the lights shut off.
He meets Rhona’s concerned gaze. “A mere detour on my way to Marin. Nothing to worry about.” He tosses the dead phone to the bellhop. “Dispose of this.”
With that, he sweeps from the room.
THE TRIAL OF CAPTAIN ANSTIS
Anstis wakes up to find himself still in the warehouse, still locked in the straightjacket, still tied to the chair. And Norton still there, hovering inches from his face. “DO. YOU. SEEEE?” Norton proclaims, eyes wild.
Anstis leans back against the headrest and nods slowly. “Aye. At least in part.”
Norton scowls. “You may see some, but you do not see all.”
“Can you show me all?”
Norton smirks. “I can.” He grabs Anstis by the sides of the head and pulls himself close. “ARE YOU PREPAAAAAAAIRED????”
(Jason: *rolls, peers intently at the dice* “…You take one level of Brian Blessed damage.”
Jim: “Fucking Malkavians.”)
Anstis nods as best he can in Norton’s iron grip. “I am.”
“And will you atone for those transgressions you have taken?”
Anstis glances around. There’s no signs of the wraiths, or Flowers. “I will try.”
“SOOOO BEEEEE IIIT!!!!!!” Norton roars. In the next instant, Anstis’s vision goes black, then slowly fades back into reveal a very, very strange scene.
(Jason: “You see…yourself, standing on a mountain—”
Chris: “Why is he climbing a mountain?”
Jim: *laughing hysterically* “Captain Anstis is climbing a mountain, why is he climbing a mountain?”
Jason: “—And you see the following on the top of the mountain. Before you is a huge, roaring bonfire. Piled logs and telephone poles a hundred feet high are exploding into flame. It’s as if the entire crest of the mountain was on fire. Around the base of the bonfire are figures. Human, bestial, and some a mixture thereof. Naked, dancing in a circle around the bonfire. Atop the bonfire is standing a large, somewhat hunched-over twisted creature, like a werewolf in Crinos form, but deformed, twisted. Hands dripping some kind of liquid. It raises its hands and screams a cry into the sky as the smoke billows up around it. And then you hear a sort of loud, whirlwind like sound from behind you, mingled with the sounds of screaming.”
Jim: “I…continue to observe.”
Jason: “You continue to watch, and as you do, you see that some of the bestial figures are people. Dressed in strange costumes, with headdresses that look almost Central American. Feathered eagle-crests, furred cloaks like lion pelts. They continue to dance, howling gibberish words at each other.”
Jim: “…Any…interesting scents?”
Jason: “There’s an odd scent on the smoke, almost a chemical smell. But there’s something else. You smell Garou, but there’s something under that as well. A strange scent you’ve never smelled before. Give me…a Perception + Animal Ken.”
Jim: “…Two successes.”
Jason: “The scent is a mingling of bird and feline, but you can’t get much clearer than that.”
Jim: “Hmm. Okay, I look behind me.”
Jason: “You turn…and that’s when you realize where you are. The western slopes of Mount Diablo, looking out over the entirety of the bay. And from San Jose in the south, all the way to Sonoma in the north, the land surrounding the bay is on fire.”
Jason: “In the far distance, the city of San Francisco isn’t on fire, but that’s because it’s being upended before your eyes. The tectonic plates shift beneath it, rending it in two. As you watch, the entire peninsula begins to plunge into the Pacific Ocean.”
Jason: “But that’s not even the most dramatic thing, because approaching across the ocean, from horizon to horizon is a wall of water a kilometer high.”)
Anstis’s vision fades, slowly returning to reality, and the solemn face of Norton. “Do you see, Captain?” Norton asks seriously.
Anstis frowns. “When is this?”
“It is now. It is tomorrow. It is a thousand-years from now. It is the doing…of Andrea.”
“Is there a way of stopping it?”
Norton nods once. “Yes.”
Slowly, Norton leans close. He regards Anstis’s face a long, thoughtful moment before replying. “Iron. And gold.”
Anstis stares back. “How? I can acquire both of these, but to what end?”
Norton shakes his head. “No. You cannot. But there is one that may. The true son may. Find him.”
“The true son of whom?”
Norton stands, sweeping his arms wide. “Of my imperial domain!! He is here! Even now he is here.”
“And what is his name?”
“DO YOU NOT SEEEE????” Norton lunges forward and grabs Anstis’s face again. “You were there! You stood. You fought! There is hope yet.” He glances around, then drops his voice to an actual whisper. “Find him. Iron. And gold.”
Anstis stares. “Is that how to find him?”
“No. That is what he must find in turn.” Norton releases him.
“Where do I look?”
“In the dragon’s den.” Norton produces a key from somewhere and unlocks the chains strapping Anstis to the chair. He then steps back and draws himself up, regalness radiating through his moth-eaten clothes.
“Captain Thomas Anstis,” Norton announces formally. “To atone for your sins, you are tasked to stop Andrea and save my city. BUT FIRST!!! There is one more matter for which you must pay a dear penalty.”
“Do tell,” Anstis mutters, pulling himself out of the straight-jacket.
Just as he frees himself, Norton lunges forward again, grabbing his shoulders. “HAVE YOU UTTERED THE ABOMINABLE WORD????”
Anstis carefully tries to pry his hands off. “What is the abominable word?”
Norton glances around the warehouse, eyeing the mannequins suspiciously, then drops his voice to a hiss. “Frisco….”
Anstis frowns. “Nay.”
Norton glares. “I have witnesses to claim you have!”
Norton steps back and sweeps one arm to point at Mercury. The great dane barks once.
“A most vexing affair, Captain,” Norton continues seriously. “We shall get to the bottom of this.” He digs under his coat a moment and produces a weathered scroll. It unrolls to the floor as he holds it proudly aloft: “For he who has uttered the abominable word of ‘Frisco’,” he recites, “Being of neither linguistic nor cultural merit, shall pay into the Imperial Treasury the sum of twenty-five dollars. MOREOVER, he who shall be heard to utter the word a second time shall be punished by being BODILY PITCHED INTO SAN FRANCISCO BAY!!!!”
Norton lowers the scroll, watching Anstis expectantly. Anstis waits calmly, then breaks into a slow, smug smile. “…But, dear Emperor, that is the second time I have heard you speak the word.”
Norton’s jaw drops.
(Me: “Ooooh my god…. How did we never think of this before?”)
Anstis swaggers forward and claps a hand on Norton’s shoulder. “Come with me to the bay.”
Norton stares into space a long, painful moment, then composes himself and rolls the scroll with a snap. “Well…LEAD ON!!”
They exit the warehouse through an underground escape into a series of tunnels, Norton marching stoically in the lead, the dogs and Anstis behind him in an honor-guard. He takes them to an exit that puts them out below the Presidio, near Chrissy Field. The park is empty at the moment, the only sound the slow roll of waves on the narrow beach. They cross the grass in silence and stop at the edge of the sand, staring out over the dark bay water.
“Do you wish assistance removing your regalia?” Anstis asks, holding out a hand.
Norton shoves him aside. Head high, he solemnly removes his hat and places it on Mercury’s head. He then removes his sword and hangs it around Jupiter’s neck. Finally, he removes his cloak and lays it carefully on the ground.
Norton turns to Anstis then and nods. Anstis picks him up, marches down the sand, then dumps Emperor Joshua Abraham Norton the First, Ruler of These United States and Protector of Mexico, into San Francisco Bay.
Anstis and the dogs watch as Norton sputters his way back to his feet and stands in the low surf, arms extended. “BEHOLD!!” he roars. “I am cleansed in the WATERS of RIGHTEOUSNESS!!!!”
Anstis recovers the hat from Mercury and holds it out. “Now, shall I pursue your quarry?”
“OF COURSE!!!” Norton slogs his way out of the water. “You, Captain. You must find him. Remember…iron…and gold.” He takes his hat, then leans close. “BUT DO NOT, whatever you do, utter the abominable word. Nor permit it uttered by him. It will be the undoing of us all.”
Norton steps back, shoving his hat onto his soggy hair. “Now go, Captain! GOOO FORTH!”
With one final grin, Anstis turns into a parrot and takes off into the night, spiralling higher as Norton waves his hat and shouts encouragement after him, his dogs howling in harmony.
PAUL’S DOWNTOWN PENTHOUSE
At the end of the previous night, once he got out of Marin, Paul went to spend the day in his SoMa penthouse instead of going all the way back down to the Portola Valley house. He wakes up there this night, lingering a long moment in bed, sighing happily at the improvement of thousand-threadcount sheets over a drain pipe in the forest.
Until there’s a knock at the door.
Paul sighs again, this time in resignation, then pulls himself out of bed, grabs a robe, and pads to the door. Nothing is immediately visible through the peephole. After a moment, he cautiously opens it.
Something blasts into the room like a whirlwind, shoving Paul back. Paul recovers and peers at the harried figure.
It’s Dr. von Natsi.
Jason: “Uh, I wouldn’t go phew just yet. He looks—and I want to be completely clear about this—crazier than usual.”)
von Natsi stares at Paul under a tousled mess of hair, goggles half-off his face and death rays falling out of his lab coat pockets
“Dr. von Natsi!” Paul says, peering out the door into the hall. “Is Georgia with you? She was supposed to come help me like two nights ago—”
“Mr. Stewart?” von Natsi suddenly lunges forward and grabs Paul by the shoulders. “MR. STEWART!!! ZERE IS NO TIME TO WASTE!!!”
Paul stares back. “Um…okay?”
von Natsi grips tightly with gloved hands, then, “…Good!” He releases Paul and looks around the apartment. “How are you?”
Paul closes the apartment door. “Um, I’ve been better, all things considered. Can I offer you some tea, or…well I know you don’t take cabbage—”
von Natsi tenses again. “NEIN! Ze tea vill be fine”.
Paul heads into the kitchen to make tea. By the time he comes back, a massive array of contraptions and equipment have appeared on his dining room table, periodically beeping and sparking with electricity while von Natsi fusses over them.
(Me: “…Fucking mages, man.”)
Paul stops, tray of tea in his hands, and eyes the mess. “This is serious.”
von Natsi looks up. “Mr. Stewart…it vill soon be time for me to relocate mein laboratory.”
Paul eyes the mess again, this time with a slight edge of panic. “What’s wrong with Sutro Tower?”
von Natsi lifts one hand and slides the glove off. Another, different colored glove is underneath. He begins counting off fingers. “ONE!!! Zere have been multiple intrusions the past few nights. TWO!! Zere have been multiple intrusions vith use of cabbage in the past few nights. THREE!!! I do not like ze color of the ceilings. FOUR!!!!!! Ze entire city may be destroyed this month. FIVE!!!!!! The elevators might require maintenance.” He clasps his hands. “But I must have a laboratory for mein research to continue. I must ask for your assistance with this matter.”
Paul carefully sets the tea tray down next to what looks like a breadmaker with something blue is glowing inside. “What’s your time frame? I’m dealing with some stuff right now.”
“Vat stuff are you dealing vith?”
Paul sits down heavily in one of the chairs and takes a long, deep breath. “The werewolves in Marin are fighting other werewolves in Marin who abducted one of my houseguests—who is some kind of werewolf prophet—and they are in league with an ancient vampire from ancient Rome who has died at least once and come back possibly to destroy the city, and Emperor Norton—who you may or may not have made the acquaintance of—keeps screaming about someone named Andrea, who I infer to be different than aforementioned Roman vampire but both appear to be occupying the apocalyptic villain role.” Paul stares into space a long, silent moment, then looks up at von Natsi. “I can draw a chart if you want, I found it useful myself.”
von Natsi gapes at him, then slowly nods. “Ja, zis vould be helpful.”
Paul disappears into a back room and comes back wheeling a mobile whiteboard. He begins an elaborate concept network, naming supernatural people and their allegiances, crossing out people who have died, circling ones who have been particularly involved in various destructions of his house—
von Natsi, watching from the couch, slowly raises a hand. “Vait, you have two gargoyles?”
Paul pauses, pen in hand. “Yeah, I haven’t seen either of them in awhile. Georgia kept them in the Chantry and I don’t know where she is.”
von Natsi fidgets on the couch. “Ja. Ehrm…Ms. Johnson is in, vell….I do not think zat I have ze term to describe where Ms. Johnson is located at ze moment. It is an extra-dimensional space zat exists between ze layers of the Umbra.”
Paul stares a long moment, then sighs. “Of course she is.” He caps the pen and sets it down. “But I really need to deal the Marin situation, soon. So since you’re here, I know it might be something of an imposition, but…could I borrow some death rays?”
von Natsi scoffs. “Mr. Stewart, I do not simply leave death rays everywhere I go!”
Paul scans the room slowly. At this moment, he can spot six already scattered around the room. One is hanging from the ceiling fan.
von Natsi follows his gaze, then scowls and hurries around scooping them up. “Zey are professional items, not candy at Halloween!”
“Of course not,” Paul says quickly. “I understand. I would be happy to leave a deposit.” He pauses. “Or maybe you could come! It would be like the time we went to Pluto!”
von Natsi dumps the deathrays onto the table, then folds his arms and sulks. “I do not vish to remember ze time ve vent to Pluto.”
“Okay, well maybe it’ll be better. It’ll be like the time we got rid of all the cabbage in your lab!”
von Natsi scowls again, then turns suddenly thoughtful. He paces the living room. “You need to get into zese tunnels in Marin, ja? I cannot precisely access zem directly, but I do have one conceptual idea. It could vork, and if you did it, it vould advance ze course of Science.”
Paul nods eagerly. “That’s good, science is important.”
“SCIENCE IS ZE ONLY THING!!!” von Natsi shouts, then stops, smooths at his lab coat, and continues. “Ze tunnels, zey were constructed in ze Second Vorld Var, when ze United States was fighting the forces of Imperial Japan and Na—” he stumbles a moment, then smiles woodenly, “…ehrm…Germany?”
“Yes that’s right.”
“Vell, vat if I vere to transport you to ven zey were constructed? Zey vere certainly open at zat time!”
Paul stares. “And I would wait there for eighty years?”
von Natsi stares back. “Vell you are ze vampire, you are immortal?”
“Never really thought of myself that way,” Paul grumbles, “But I’m not too thrilled with the idea. For one thing, there would have to be someone there to wake me up. Also I have a media event scheduled next Tuesday.”
von Natsi rolls his eyes. “Ooh look at me! I’m too busy to deal vith Science!” He waves his hands and prances around mockingly.
Paul, though, falls suddenly thoughtful. “Wait, if we can go back in time, why not just stop all the events leading up to it? Perpenna, the werewolves, everything.”
Instantly von Natsi stops, face grim. “Because if you try to interfere with the sequence of events, then things become…unpleasant,” he says, glancing around nervously.
“Shh, sh sh!” von Natsi rushes forward and shushes him.
Paul steps away. “Wait,” he says after a moment. “I have a different idea.”
“Oh?” von Natsi says.
(Chris: “I call Tom.”)
CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
I wake up in the cold, damp dark, still curled around Vera, my head cradled against one of the last Panzerfaust. I lie still a moment, listening intently for sounds of footsteps. Or scales dragging across stone. Silence greets me. I relax.
After a few moments, my phone buzzes in my pocket and I shift to dig it out.
(Jason: “You have eighteen missed messages.”
Me: “Oh my god, they’re all going to be about fucking cruises, aren’t they?”
Jason: “No, sixteen of them are escalating angry messages from Liedesdorff.”
Me: “Ha-HA! I save those for later.”)
I don’t recognize the number but I answer anyway. “Hello?”
“Paul?” I respond, sitting up.
“Hey, so I was wondering if you have a bunch of angry werewolves from the East Bay chasing you yet?”
I climb to my feet, careful not to slip on the rolling Panzerfaust. “No but I sent some guys to try and round some of them up. I should probably check in with them.”
“Well…everyone says you’re the expert on werewolves, but…if you think these other guys are better for the job, then fantastic.”
Mentally, I untangle the message buried in his passive-aggressive corporate speak, but decide to ignore it. “Well here’s the thing, I told them to go find the werewolves, maybe rile them up, but the ultimate goal is to get the wolves to Marin, and I don’t really have any idea how to do that….” I trail off.
Paul is quiet a moment. “…Have you seen any Mad Max movie?”
I glower into the darkness. “Many times, son, why do you think I dress this way?”
“Thats kind of what thought…. Anyway, I have a great opportunity for after you get the werewolves back to Marin!”
I switch the call to speaker so I can shine its flashlight through the cavern, looking for anything else useful. All I see are stacks of unlabelled crates. “Oh?” I say to Paul, distracted.
“Dr. von Natsi is going to send you back in time many decades and we will awaken you inside the tunnels able to thwart the apocalypse from within!”
I bark a laugh. “I don’t want anything to do with that fucking teutonic menace. Why don’t you call Georgia? That magic shit is totally up her alley.”
“Well, Georgia isn’t returning my calls, and is apparently on another plane of existence.”
“See!” I shout into the phone. “That’s what happens when you fuck around with mages!”
“Tom,” Paul says seriously. “I think we’re already in the fryer on this one.”
I groan. “I’m not going back in time, Paul. Magic bullshit aside, who the hell am I going to eat that won’t immediately get infected—”
I stop and sit down heavily on a nearby crate as a thought hits me. Going back in time might not just get me into Marin; it could fix everything. Maybe I could stop Rob from dying of AIDS. Maybe I could stop myself from spreading my disease through the city. Or maybe I could go home, find my sister, take her far, far away before that monster gets ahold of her—
“Tom,” Paul says, suspicion lacing his voice, “You’re not thinking of going back and meddling with the timeline, are you?”
“…Noooo….” I say carefully.
Footsteps suddenly echo, approaching down the tunnel. I duck behind the crates. “Uhhh, Paul I may need to call you back…” I whisper, then hang up and crouch lower, shrugging into Vera’s strap and dragging the Panzerfaust close. A flashlight beam appears, bobbing down the hall, then a figure steps into view. It’s a woman in heels and a long lab coat, peering cautiously around the cavern.
I position Vera on my hip, then stand.
The woman jumps back, almost dropping the flashlight, then fumbles in her coat. “Hey!” I shout warningly just as she pulls something bright orange from the pocket. A flaregun.
She raises the gun with both hands. It’s shaking. “Put. It. Down,” she manages to say.
Goddammit, maybe I should have kept Paul on the line. I spread my hands, letting Vera fall to a neutral position. “I’m not trying to start any trouble here,” I say calmly, “Lets just take it down a notch.”
Her wide eyes grow wider as her gaze scans me. “You’re…a vampire, aren’t you?” Wonder hints underneath her fear. “Motion detectors picked up the movement, but thermal scanners don’t show any body temperature….”
“Well, I didn’t have a blanket,” I mutter, bending over to pick up the Panzerfaust.
She raises the flaregun again. “Put all that stuff down, it’s not yours!”
“It is mine, actually,” I say as I tuck the rockets through Vera’s strap and my chest-harness. “Charles took it from me and I need it back.”
She gestures with the gun again. “Put it down! I know you guys are afraid of this stuff!”
I stop, stand, then turn to look at her, exhaling slowly.
Nocturne drops over half the cavern, locking her in black silence. But I can see through it and watch as shock blooms across her face. A moment later, her finger squeezes the trigger. There’s a muted hiss, then the flare is instantly smothered by the darkness. Hefting my weapons, I step carefully around her and into the open-air of the tunnel.
(Jim: “Doesn’t Nocturne suck the life out of humans?”
Chris: “Or suffocate them?”
Jason: “Um, well the effects kind of vary depending on who’s casting it. And anyway, this one’s not big enough.”
Chris: “Haha, your Nocturne is tiny. Carlos’s were bigger. Too bad you never got to see the part where Carlos was going to exsanguinate entire Bart trains.”
Me: “…WHAT the FUCK?”
Chris: “Not exsanguinate with the Nocturne, just suffocate them and move through feeding after everyone was dead.”
I’m halfway down the tunnel when the tottering sound of running heels appears from the silence behind me. “Stop!” she shouts.
(Me: “Lol, is she running awkwardly in heels like Claire from Jurassic World?”
Me: “Yeah that’s—” *sudden strangled gasp, shoves fists against mouth* “—WAIT…maybe it really is her because of the fanfiction….”
Jason: “…You want me to ascend your fanfiction to canon?”
Me: *still talking around my fists* “I don’t know, maybe…”
I stop as she stumbles to a halt nearby. “What did you do?” she gasps.
I glare at her. “What do you mean what did I do? I just came to get my shit and get on my way.”
“It’s not yours! Nothing in this museum is yours!”
I roll my eyes and turn way, looking for the ladder. “Scales-for-brains took it from me and I’m taking it back.”
“You’re not alive, you don’t own property.”
“Tell that to corporations,” I mutter and grab at the first rung.
Suddenly the ladder retracts into the wall, snapping flush with the stone. I stare in shock, then turn to her. She’s frozen in terror, one hand hovering suspiciously over some kind of control panel I didn’t notice before.
“That’s cute,” I mutter.
Instantly her face falls. She steps back, scent of fear rolling off her, burning away the dank musk of the tunnel. Something inside me ignites, reminding me that I have much to do, no time to waste, and am hungry….
I take a stalking step forward, then another. She presses back against the wall, fear rising into terror, cloyingly sweet. I stop just inches away, smiling thinly down at her, and raise one hand….
…To reach past her and hit the button on the control panel.
“Identification please,” the panel blurts back.
The demon inside me rages but I ignore it, scowling down at her, cowering under my extended arm. “Like I said,” I say smoothly. “I will be on my way.”
She licks her lips. “No, you won’t. There’s…a hundred and fifty cops outside.”
“I’m sure.” I flick the nametag pinned to her labcoat. “Listen, Claire, your boss is currently a little busy up in Marin, dealing with untold numbers of hell-demons from multiple mythologies, human and otherwise. These things,” I pat Vera and one of the rockets, “may help me help him deal with it all.”
Claire stares up at me. The stench of fear dissipates as confusion falls across her face. “Why would you help him? You’re a vampire!”
I take my hand off the wall and glance away. “Other people are involved. People I…may care about—”
(Chris: “Oh my god! You care about Paul!”
“—And the longer I linger here, the lower the probability of any of them surviving. Including your boss.” I glare at her again. “And if he dies, how long do you think this museum is going to last without him protecting it? Or securing grant funding to pay your salary?”
Claire stares in silence a long moment. “You’re actually going to go help?”
I shift Vera’s strap on my shoulder. “I gotta get some other shit in order, but yeah, eventually.”
She continues staring a long moment, face unreadable, then reaches behind her to touch a fingerprint scanner. The ladder rungs slide back out of the wall.
“Great, thanks!” I say, slinging Vera behind me and reaching out to start climbing.
She watches me ascend in silence. Right before I reach the top, though, she suddenly shouts, “Is…Charles alright?”
I pause. “I don’t know,” I shout back down. “But if anyone is going to be able to survive this, my short money would be on him.”
She doesn’t say anything else as I climb out into the collections room.
I pause for a moment under the fluorescent lights to double-check Vera and the Panzerfaust for damages. Inside, though, my mind is racing. As much as I hate it, my Beast is right: I am hungry. With all the last subtle healings my body has been doing, it feels like ages since I had those Sabbat wine coolers. I pull out my phone to check the time. It’s been months since I’ve hit up any of my…contacts…down in the clubs. Maybe I have enough time to run down there—
The phone suddenly buzzes and a text pops up on the screen. It’s from Sophia.
Need help. Things worse.
I shove the phone away and run the rest of the way out of the museum.
LEIDESDORFF STREET, FINANCIAL DISTRICT
Rabenholz arrives at the entrance to the alley. A plaque on the wall of one of the adjoining buildings identifies the street and provides a brief summary of William Alexander Leidesdorff’s legacy in the city of San Francisco, but Rabenholz’s eye is drawn to the statue in front of it, a life-size bronze likeness of Leidesdorff himself.
Rabenholz frowns at it a long moment, then enters the alley.
He paces calmly down the street, cane tapping on the concrete, until a figure steps from the shadows a few yards away. “That’s close enough,” an unfamiliar male voice says.
Rabenholz stops. A long coat and wide-brimmed hat obscure the man’s features. By the aura, though, he’s a vampire, and very, very nervous. “You wished to meet?” Rabenholz says.
The man glances briefly around. “I wish to meet and remain uneaten, Lord Augustus. What assurances do I have that I’ll be walking out of this alley in one piece?”
“The same assurances I have that I’ll be walking out of this alley in one piece,” Rabenholz replies calmly.
“That’s not good enough. You’re the known diablerist.”
Rabenholz tilts his head. “Known diablerist? Fascinating.”
The man hisses. “I know what you did to the Gangrel in Candlestick. I was there, watching. Not very Camarillian of you.”
Rabenholz eyes him a long moment, hands resting calmly against his cane. “You have my word I will not consume your soul.”
The man laughs. “How much is that worth?”
“It’s better than nothing, isnt it?”
The man stares a moment, then removes his hat. The light in the alley is dim, but enough to reveal Middle Eastern features and tattoos across his face in Settite designs.
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow, then nods.
“What is your intention, Camarillian?” the Settite sneers.
“To restore order to this city.”
“Order.” The sneer grows fangs. “I know what the Camarilla calls order. You make a desert and call it peace.”
Rabenholz sighs slowly. “Those who do not take up arms against myself or my allies I have no quarrel with. It is tedious to wage war if done too frequently. When I say order I mean a place where people can come and do business. Where safety is not questioned.”
“I am not welcome in the Camarilla, nor the Camarillan cities,” the Settite replies. “Nor the Sabbat, nor other places. After the events of the last few nights, I also doubt I am welcome back home, in Egypt. So what am I to do with your peace?”
Rabenholz eyes him a moment. “Do you wish to remain in San Francisco?”
The Settite snarls. “I wish to remain alive. One week ago there were forty Followers of Set in this area, including several of the highest possible rank. A hierophant and his war party. Tonight there is only me.”
Rabenholz nods a moment. “I saw the damage in your den at Candlestick,” he says carefully. “It is my understanding Marcus Sertorius has something of an enmity with your people.”
The Settite laughs. “You don’t understand the half of it. Marcus Sertorius was party to a terrible crime nine centuries ago and we’ve hunted him ever since. Yes, he is part of the reason why there are so few Settites remaining, but not the only one.”
“Yes, Nitocris hinted as much when we interviewed her shade some nights ago.”
Instantly the Settite’s laughter dies. “Then Nitocris is dead as well.”
“Yes. She suspected something about Anektahken.”
“Do you know who Anektahken was?”
“I’m afraid he has somehow kept a low profile.”
The Settite snarls again and stalks a step forward. “He was a great man. A visionary man. A mighty warrior for Set. He pursued the goals of our great work across continents and centuries. None of us are fit to stand in his shadow.” The Settite hesitates a moment, anger radiating off him like desert heat, then steps back. “And he is dead, and has been dead these many nights. In his place, some other thing has worn his face and commanded us to dance like puppets.”
Rabenholz watches him a long moment. “Do you wish revenge?”
The Settite scowls. “I cannot take revenge against this thing. I am a warrior, not a god. Anektahken was close to Set himself. Whatever killed him, stole his face, must have been far greater.”
“And you’re certain it wasn’t Sertorius?”
“Marcus Sertorius could not have done such a thing.” A sly grin suddenly slides across his face. “But his sire, the one they call Perpenna, he was mighty enough.”
Rabenholz gestures vaguely to the north. “The Justicar Theo Bell is fighting Perpenna’s agents even now—”
“The Justicar has no idea what is waiting underneath that mountain!” the Settite snaps, then softens, folding his hands demurely in front of himself. “But I do. I know why Perpenna is there. That is why we must speak, that is why you must ensure I do not die. Because if I die, so do you.”
Rabenholz stands a long moment, motionless as the shadows in the alley, then nods. “You have my full attention.”
The Settite bows, then glances around the alley again. “This information came to me at very high cost. I will not share it until I have something better than the word of a diablerist.”
(Me: *mutters* “Says a Settite.”)
“What manner of assurances do you want?” Rabenholz gestures vaguely again. “Money? A plane ticket? I can give you these things.”
“I wish a private plane, fueled, with pilots, dominated to obey my commands and to take me anywhere I wish to go.” He licks his lips. “And money. Lots of money. In transportable form.”
Rabenholz considers this a moment, then nods. “That is all within my power to grant you.”
A wide grin spreads across the Settite’s face. “Then make it so. And I will tell you what Perpenna intends.”
Wordlessly, Rabenholz pulls out his phone and dials Rhona.
Scout, meanwhile, is almost to the Bank of America building when a National Guard checkpoint stops her car. She ducks out the back while they’re speaking with the driver, obfuscates, and continues the last few blocks on foot. The streets are empty past the checkpoint, no cars or foot traffic visible. She makes her way quickly down the hill, jogging lightly in the middle of the street, when a sudden movement out of the corner of her eye makes her stop.
Shadows are flowing along the sidewalk, undulating and lapping like floodwater against the neighboring buildings. As she watches, they coalesce, rising from the concrete to form a featureless humanoid shape. The dark figure steps away from the building wall and walks down the street, moving without depth or dimension but with very clear purpose.
Scout frowns. Keeping a safe distance, she follows.
Rabenholz completes his call with Rhona and hangs up. “My assistant has arranged things. Your plane and twenty million dollars in bearer bonds will be ready within the hour. We are departing for Marin and will drop you off at Santa Rosa airfield.”
The Settite eyes him coolly. “If you go to Marin County, you will die.”
Rabenholz pulls up a map on his phone to check the fight route. “Well then you may brief me in the helicopter on the way to the airfield as to why.”
“Where is your helicopter?”
Rabenholz gestures behind him. “It will meet us on the roof of the Bank of America building, just a few blocks from here.”
“Then I—” Suddenly the Settite stops, staring down the alley. His face, already pale under his tattoos, blanches. “They have found us!”
Rabenholz looks up from his phone.
An animate shadow stands at the end of the alley, a man-shaped patch of darkness like a hole in the universe. It stands completely motionless, arms and legs braced wide. As they watch, one of its clenched fists morphs and flows, forming the shape of a long pointed blade.
Rabenholz tucks his phone away and moves back to stand next to the Settite. “Perhaps another route—” But they turn to see an identical shadow-man step out of the solid wall at the other end of the alley.
The Settite gropes under his robes and withdraws a wickedly-curved dagger. “Do you have a plan for this, Camarillian?”
“Yes. Trust me.” Rabenholz turns and grabs the Settite’s shoulders.
(Chris: “MOVEMENT OF THE MIND!!”)
Scout sees the shadow-thing enter an alley. She hurries after it and turns the corner just in time to see Rabenholz grab a dark-clad man, then shoot both of them straight up into the air, cloak flapping behind him like Superman’s cape.
(Me: *facepalms* “Ohmygod, such a douchey vampire thing to do….”)
The shadow-figures watch him take off, faceless heads turned toward the sky. Then they melt, flowing shapeless across the stained concrete, and slither up the sides of the buildings enclosing the alley, climbing after him toward the sky.
Scout turns and runs to the Bank of America building.
Gripping the Settite hard, Rabenholz levitates above the level of the roof lines and arcs toward the dark monolith of the Bank of America to the south. A helicopter is already crouched waiting on the roof.
“Look!” the Settite yells suddenly. Rabenholz looks back.
The shadow creatures have reached the rooftops. They pool together a moment, twisting angrily, then slowly pull themselves free from the structures, rising up like patches of undulating dark gossamer. After a few moments, they fold into geometric shapes like wings and accelerate after him.
Rabenholz hurdles forward faster.
(Chris: “I am going to cast Path of Blood three.”
Jason: “That’s the one to lower your generation?”
Jason: “Alright, roll it.”
Chris: “…Eight successes.”
Chris: “Sooo I’m to go with fourth generation, for four hours.”)
Rabenholz drops to the roof of the Bank of America, tossing the Settite down to the gravel and whirling to brace in a defensive posture. He draws his cane-sword with one hand…
…And Glitch with the other.
The shadow demons approach, eerily silent, their shapes swallowing the lights of the city behind them. They halt in the air a few feet away from the edge of the rooftop, undulating uncertainly.
Rabenholz lifts one hand. A Movement of the Mind pressure wave blasts at one of the shadows, scattering the rooftop gravel, moving with enough force to crush a car. The shadow splits in half to dodge the wave, then reforms back into a solid shape.
Rabenholz lowers his hand and frowns.
A moment later, both shadows lunge forward.
CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
The Rune roars out of the garage up to the concourse loop circling between CalAcademy and the DeYoung Museum. The entire road is empty, but I pull over in front of the Academy, thinking. If I’m going to help Sophia and Paul, I’ll need to figure out what’s going on with Operation Sabbat Werewolf Bait. But I don’t have any way to get in contact with the pack….
(Jason: “Well, you do have Leidesdorff’s phone number.”
Me: “Yeah, but I’m not calling him, he’s just gonna yell at me.”)
My phone buzzes in my pocket, the quick buzz of a text. I dig it out, hoping for an update from Sophia.
Tommy? says the message.
The cool air and lights of the nighttime park around me disappear as my entire world shrinks to the screen in front of me. Seconds pass, then minutes. At some point, the engine under me dies. I realize the keys are in my hand. Apparently I turned it off and didn’t even notice.
There’s only one person alive who would call me that.
Or…well, sort of alive.
Hands shaking, I carefully manage a reply: Izzie?
An eternity, then:
One sharp, shuddering sob bursts from my throat. Thirty years of thoughts, questions, apologies battle in my mind. Quickly, I respond: Isabella what’s going on?
The reply is almost instantaneous: No time to explain right now. Just lay low. Please.
The roiling emotions evaporate as rapidly as they arrived. I stare sheepishly at the massive custom bike between my legs, the four hand-held rockets shoved into my clothes, and the 50-cal BMG slung across my back. “It’s like she knows me….” I mutter.
No more texts come through. I fiddle with the phone idly, trying to decide what to do.
(Me: “So…URG, I got like a thousand strings pulling me in a thousand directions at the moment. I could go back in time and save my dead boyfriend, or I could track down my estranged sister, or I could go save my werewolf-BFF-sister-from-another-mister—”
Chris: “Or you could keep making Paul proud.”
Me: “What? How?”
Chris: “You’ve been solving problems with non-violence.”
Jason: “For five entire minutes!”
Chris: “Yeah! You’ve been looking at people, finding their motivations, telling them things that make them want to act on the actions you want them to act on. You have become….a Toreador.”
Jason: “And so, then it was that Tom murdered Paul.”
Me: “No, then it was that Colleen murdered Chris, let’s be clear here.”)
Finally, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and dial Leidesdorff’s phone number.
“Lytton,” Leidesdorff answers with a growl. “Where are you?”
“I’m back in the city, sir. I’m trying to get some things taken care of—”
“Where is everyone else?!” he roars.
I fiddle with the keys. “That’s why I’m calling. I don’t know, and I kind of need their phone number. I was talking to the Russian guy. The big Russian guy, the one with the scar.”
“Lytton,” Leidesdorff replies, tone even deadlier than before, “I want you to do two very particular things right now. One, find my men and give them back here. I would give you their phone numbers if any of them were answering.”
“Well give me the ones you have and I’ll give them a try.”
Leidesdorff grumbles. “I will forward them to you. Do you know what the other thing you’re going to do for me is?”
“Um…get you a werewolf?”
“STAY AWAY FROM SAN JOSE! I have other problems to deal with right now. Is that clear?”
I wince. “Yes sir,” I mutter.
“Good. Or the Priscus will be hearing of it, whenever he gets back.” Leidesdorff hangs up.
At the mention of Marcus, unease climbs through me again. I try the numbers Leidesdorff texts me, one by one. All go to generic voicemail.
(Jason: “My god, could something bad have happened to people you sent out to kill werewolves?”
Me: “I kind of feel bad. I think that was the end of my Sabbat buddies.”)
I stare across the concourse, thinking. Lights illuminate the statues and rows of mulberry trees and the splash of fountains echo across the flagstones. No one else is around and despite the drama of my current situation, for the moment it’s nice to just sit in the park. I can’t enjoy it very often, after all. If Charles was here he would have chased me off by now—
Thinking of the dragon suddenly reminds me of one more lead I can try: Leeland. As the Baron of Berkeley, hopefully he’s got some eyes out on what’s going on in the East Bay.
I dial. After a few moments, the call connects. There’s a sound of someone fumbling with the phone, then a familiar voice whispers, “Who is this?”
I grin and lean back across my bike. “Leeland! Sup!”
There’s a pause. “Oh motherfuck—”
“Nonono!” I yell. “Don’t hang up!”
“What—How…??” Leeland sputters, then sobs. “No, NO!”
“Don’t hang up, I’m trying to help you with the werewolf issue you have right now. Tell me, have you seen any Sabbat packs running around Berkeley? They’re looking for the werewolves, a—”
“I KNOW THEY’RE LOOKING FOR THE WEREWOLVES!!” Leeland roars.
“—nd im trying to find them because they’re kind of working for me.”
Leeland falls silent a moment. “They’re what??” he hisses, then, “…YOU did this!!! YOU DID THIS!!!!”
I hesitate. “Are they causing a problem?”
Suddenly, somewhere in the background of the call, a door slams open. Leeland shrieks and drops the phone. Muffled sounds of shouting, cursing, struggle, then someone picks up the phone again. A heavy voice speaks, “‘Hello?”
I hesitate. Fountains splash in the silence. “…Tovarich?” I finally venture cautiously.
There’s a pause, then, “TOVARICH!!!” Laughing and shouting echoes echo in the background, but I recognize the voice on the phone as Scar-face.
I grin in relief. “Heeey! What’s going on?”
“We are here ready to kill WEREWOLVES!” Scar-face laughs.
“Great! Leeland isn’t a werewolf, don’t kill him please.”
Scar-face chuckles. “Noo, nono. This is girly man. We find him hiding but he is not good.” More laughter, this time with a mean edge. I can barely make out Leeland’s voice underneath it all, muffled like a hand is covering his mouth.
I roll my eyes and sigh. “Yeah his bowtie kinda sticks out.”
“We take him.”
I sit up. “Take him? Where?”
“We take him east! To find werewolves!”
I stare across the park a moment as the implications of that sink in. “Nooo—”
“Yes!” Scar-face replies proudly.
“No, he really hates that.”
“Oh yes! He does!!” More laughter in the background. “He…will be bait.” The laughter increases darkly.
Guilt gnaws at me but I shove it down. If Leeland survived being left in the clutches of a pack of werewolves, a Sabbat pack should be no problem. “Hey,” I say, “I just talked to Leidesdorff, he wants a werewolf delivered to him as well, so if we could grab one of those—”
“Oh, you come with us?” Scar-face asks.
“Yes!” I snap. “Where are you? I’m trying to find you! You turned off all your phones, idiot.”
Scar-face chuckles. “Well of course we turn off phone! We go hunting! You come to highway, north of Caldecott. We go there. We hunt werewolves.”
I run through a map in my mind. He must mean the roads just north of the Caldecott tunnel, many diving deep into the untamed oak woodlands still left there. “Okay.” Guilt spikes again. “Are you sure you need Leeland? Cause he seems like kinda dead weight.”
“We don’t need…but is funny.” More laughter. Behind it, I can just make out Leeland’s panicked squeaks.
(Jim: “This is my new favorite vampire.”)
I sigh. “Alright, fine. Tovarich, what is your name?”
“Sergei Ivanovich!” he announces proudly.
“Sergei, okay, I’m on my way, look for the motorcycle and the rockets.” I hang up the phone.
(Me: “Oh my god, I feel so bad about Leeland.”
Jason: “No you don’t.”
Me: “I kinda do!”
Chris: “I want to know how he got to wherever he got…sneaky….”
Jason: “The Sabbat are pretty good at finding people.”
Chris: “Maybe I need them to find my stuff. They’re apparently much better than PIs. And…this one.”
Me: *glares at him*”)
(Now, I know I’ve just drafted up the previous scene in text-form, but it’s one that’s appreciated on a whole different level when you hear it in audio, Jason’s voices and all.
A brief warning, you may notice some of the dialogue differs subtly from the final text version. This is an example of how I’ve been trying to condense, rephrase, and edit things from the audio recordings for better reading clarity, consistency, and flow of narrative.)
BANK OF AMERICA BUILDING
The shadows rush toward Rabenholz, spreading wide like an opening mouth. The Settite screams and scrambles away, diving for cover under the helicopter. Rabenholz holds his ground, swords at the ready. The moment one of the shadows comes within reach, he slashes with Glitch.
(Jason: “I don’t think we’ve seen it used against shadows yet.”
Me: “Wait, no, I used it against shadow-bullshit when Marcus was training me in Shadowbullshit.”
Jason: “Yeah but you were blind at the time.”)
Instantly, Glitch explodes into white-hot flame, bisecting the shadow easily as tissue. The shadow pulses once, then both halves vaporize. The other shadow immediately halts mid-air and pulls back, calculating.
Rabenholz stalks forward, Glitch brandished at his side, sputtering in the damp night air.
(Chris: “How much Celerity do I need to jump after it?”
Jason: “Not much, but you’ll be jumping off the buil—oh. Wait. You have Movement of the Mind.”
Jason: *sigh* “Do you wish to jump off the building?”
Chris: “Oh yeah.”
Me: “Scout’s still on her way up, I’m gonna get up there and be like, ‘Where did everybody go?’”
Jason: “No, no I’m going to screw with the timeline just so you can witness this….”)
Scout bursts onto the Bank of America roof from the access-stairwell. She catches her balance on the gravel, spots the dark bulk of the waiting helicopter, then stops, staring.
Rabenholz, wielding a razor-thin sword in one-hand and what can only be described as a light-saber in the other, leaps off the edge of the building, cloak flaring around him in a mass as dark and tenebrous as the shadow-creature he’s facing. Both swords whirl before him as he soars into thin air.
(Jason: “Colleen, give me a self-control test.”
Me: *sullenly counts out dice* “Jesus fucking christ, do not give me a fucking crush on Rabenholz….”)
The shadow writhes to dodge but can’t escape the light. The glowing sword slashes, vaporizing it instantly. Rabenholz continues forward on his parabolic arc, beginning to drop, then catches himself to levitate mid-air. He hovers a moment, cloak whipping around him, scanning for more patches of shadow, then rotates himself back to face the building.
Scout is standing in the middle of the roof, staring at Rabenholz open-mouthed.
(Me: “…Two successes.”
Jason: “Well, he’s still a douche, but that was pretty fucking bad-ass.”
Me: *grumbles* “Yeah, yeah….”)
Rabenholz flips himself forward, then releases the levitate. He lands on the rooftop in perfect three-point stance, Glitch held smouldering out to the side, cloak settling around him like a dust-cloud. He stands smoothly and approaches the helicopter, ignoring the stares of Scout and the Settite, now crawling out from underneath it.
The pilot of the helicopter—not Adam this time—is also staring, slack-jawed. Slowly, he raises his phone and takes a picture of Rabenholz’s tall dark form and flaring cloak perfectly silhouetted against the glowing skyline. Rabenholz stops and glares at him.
Instantly, the phone shatters in the man’s hand.
“No photographs, please,” Rabenholz mutters as he brushes past Scout and the Settite to climb inside.
END OF NIGHT
Rabenholz is an asshole of the highest order but you know…
It was pretty fucking badass.
Yeah. It was. 😐
I can respect anyone who leaps off of or out of tall buildings with murderous intent. It’s become something of a tradition for me.