Jason: “Where you going?”
Me: “Across the bay to highway 24, north through the Caldecott tunnel.”
Jim: “Carrying how many weapons? On a motorcycle?”
Me: “…This is Tom’s M.O.”
Jason: “Tom…Intelligence roll, please.”
Me: *grumbles, rolls…* “…Two successes!”
Jason: “You suddenly recall, there are National Guard checkpoints all over the Bay Area.”
Jim: “And you remember what happened the last time you tried to cross a bridge while carrying a bunch of rockets?”
Chris: “I’m imagining Rabenholz’s conversation with Theo Bell: ‘I know you’re fighting Perpenna and there are werewolves all over the East Bay, but there are more pressing concerns right now. Tom Lytton is loose.’”
Jim: “Mother of god….”
CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
(We open on this scene with a bit more removed third-person than usual for Tom in order to set it up correctly:)
Tom is next to his bike on the park concourse in front of the museum, pacing slowly as he yells into his phone, a 50-cal BMG and four rockets strapped to his back. As intent as he is on his conversations with Leidesdorff and various other goons of the Sabbat, he’s completely unaware of the blue-and-gold-feathered shape circling above him.
Finally Tom hangs up and remounts his bike, starting it up with a roar.
(Jason: “Where you going?”
Me: “Across the bay to highway 24, north through the Caldecott tunnel.”
Jim: “Carrying how many weapons? On a motorcycle?”
Me: “…This is Tom’s M.O.”
Jason: “Tom…Intelligence roll, please.”
Me: *grumbles, rolls…* “…Two successes!”
Jason: “You suddenly recall, there are national guard checkpoints all over the Bay Area.”
Jim: “And you remember what happened the last time you tried to cross a bridge while carrying a bunch of rockets?”
Chris: “I’m imagining Rabenholz’s conversation with Theo Bell: ‘I know you’re fighting Perpenna and there are werewolves all over the East Bay, but there are more pressing concerns right now. Tom Lytton is loose.’”
Jim: “Mother of god….”)
Tom’s arms sag as the realization slowly settles over him. He leans back and lets the bike rumble back to silence. A long moment passes, then he pulls out his phone again and works on a backup plan to get his shit transported across the city (best summarized by the actual conversation filled with GM-assholery).
Meanwhile, Anstis flutters to perch on the Cal Academy roof. A few minutes later, he watches Tom get off the bike and approach an Uber car as it pulls up a few feet away. The two men talk tensely for awhile, till the driver finally relents and pops the trunk. Tom awkwardly fumbles with Vera and the rockets, trying to get them into the car without the driver noticing, then coils a few belts of ammo on top of them.
Tom exchanges a few more words with the driver as he closes the trunk, then remounts his bike. He starts up and pulls out onto the concourse. The car pulls out to follow him.
And Anstis takes off to follow them both.
The helicopter swings off the roof of the Bank of America building and accelerates out into the night. Rabenholz and Scout sit quietly in the rear passenger compartment, staring out opposite windows.
The Settite sits in the rear-facing seats across from them, his gaze intent on Scout. “Who is this?” he asks finally.
“This is a mysterious associate of mine,” Rabenholz replies calmly, still staring out the window. “She’s earned the Justicar’s trust as well.”
Scout turns to meet the Settite’s gaze. His eyes narrow to snake-thin sits. “Do I know you?” he asks.
She shakes her head silently.
He looks her over. “What clan do you claim?”
“I claim no clan.”
“Really,” he says, tone disbelieving.
Scout eyes him coolly. “And yourself?”
A self-satisfied smile creeps across his face. “I’m a servant of the Lord Set.” He watches her, expecting a reaction.
She continues to stare flatly. “Cool.”
The Settite blinks, then smirks. “Yes. It is.” He sits back in his seat and turns to Rabenholz. “What is it you intend to do?”
“We are going to rescue Theo Bell,” Rabenholz says, “Then I will deliver you to your airplane and your money. Once that is accomplished, you will tell me the rest of what you know.”
“Theo Bell? The Justicar?” The Settite snorts. “Why are we going to his assistance? He should be coming to ours.”
“One good turn earns another,” Rabenholz murmurs.
The helicopter crosses deep into the north bay, angling toward the black shape of Mount Tamalpais looming above the villages and coves. As they approach its forested flanks, Rabenholz pulls out his phone to call Bell.
“Talk to me,” Bell answers.
“We are near the mountain, where are you?”
“Just below you. There’s a small clearing a few dozen yards south-east of my position. I’ll pop a flare.”
Rabenholz orders the pilot to circle back around. A bright star of the flare pops from a clearing amongst the redwoods below. The pilot slows, then descends as Rabenholz hauls the door open. The unmistakable figure of Bell stands below, coat whipping in the roar and downwash of the blades, sword in one hand and a shotgun in the other. He jogs closer, leaps onto the skids before they touch down, hauls himself into the cabin, then slams the door closed behind him.
Bell settles himself as the Settite begrudgingly makes room. “Rabenholz. Scout. And who is this?”
Rabenholz nods. “Justicar. This is our new informant friend. We are taking him to Santa Rosa to see him off.”
Bell eyes the Settite as the helicopter climbs again. “And what does he have to inform us?”
“He has information about Gnaius Perpenna’s plan.” Rabenholz smiles at the Settite thinly. “Don’t you?”
The Settite scowls. “Some. Information I will not divulge under threat.”
“We are taking you to the airfield now.”
The Settite glares. “And if that airfield does not contain what you promised you will receive nothing.”
“If that airfield does not contain what I promised you should be more concerned than that,” Rabenholz says coolly.
The Settite shrinks in his seat, angry gaze darting between the other three vampires in the cabin. “You are a practiced Ventrue lord. This is a Caitiff who pretends to be a Caitiff. And that is a Justicar. I will not survive a combat with the three of you. But if I do not get what’s promised you will not get what you want.”
Rabenholz watches him a long moment, then sits back in his seat. “No, probably not. On the other hand, more flies with honey and all that.”
“Fascinating as this is,” Bell interjects sternly, “We got a real nasty situation brewing down there. Whole area is crawling with things that should not be.”
“Lupines?” Rabenholz asks.
“No, banes. Worse than Lupines, under certain circumstances. I caught fifty of them headed toward Mill Valley.” Bell digs a handful of shotgun shells from his pocket and begins to reload. “They’re all gone now.”
“What do they look like?” Rabenholz asks.
“All sorts of things. Twisted-up creatures, animals, people. Destroyed what I found but they’re all over the woods. Come sunup there’s gonna be a helluva clean-up to do.” Bell finishes loading and snaps the gun shut. “You got a plan for all this, Prince? Or is this something where I’m gonna have to call in the resources?”
Rabenholz stares out the window a moment. “I believe this one isn’t in any of the books. Resources may be called for.” He nods toward the Settite. “Depending the information this one seems to have.”
“Your Camarilla kill-teams will be too late,” the Settite hisses. “You have one night, maybe two. Then your world ends.”
A tense silence falls in the cabin. Scout speaks up, “If the world is going to end, then why do you care so much about getting away?”
The Settite sneers at her. “I didn’t say the world, I said yours. And if you must know, because I have people I report to as well and they must be warned.”
Silence falls again. This time it lingers as they continue their flight north.
After Tom hangs up on him, Paul returns to the kitchen to find the entire contents of the fridge spread along the counter. von Natsi is gently probing each bunch and bag of vegetables with a wand-like apparatus attached to some sort of proton pack on his back. Inexplicably, his face and goggles are almost completely blackened.
Paul stops. “Doctor…what happened…here?”
von Natsi looks up, then, as if noticing it for the first time, grabs a rag to rub the soot from the goggles. “Ah, yes. Ze tofu vas more energetic zan I anticipated. I can see why you employ it.”
“Uh, yeah, it’s good stuff. Organic, non-GMO.” Paul starts gently returning vegetables to the fridge. “So…getting into Marin?”
von Natsi stares a moment, then beams. “Marin! Ja!”
“And the deathrays…?”
“Ze deathrays!!!” von Natsi throws up his hands enthusiastically, then turns snaps back to serious and leans across the counter. “Vell…as I said, it vould be difficult for me to leave you ze deathrays. Zey are not simply toys to toss about!”
(Chris: “There are no open chairs in my apartment anymore, are there? They’re all covered in deathrays?”
Jason: “…Most of them, yes. Except for one.”
Chris: “What is that chair covered in?”
Paul carefully clears a pile off the kitchen stool and sits down. “Yes, definitely not toys,” he says seriously.
“So while I vould love to hand you ze deathray, because of the nature of etheric science, it is quite impossible.”
Paul sits a moment, staring thoughtfully into space. “I mean, ‘impossible,’ sure,” he begins carefully, “I understand etheric science has limits. You’re right, I should probably talk to some quantum scientists instead.”
Dr. von Natsi freezes.
Paul toys idly with a chunk of carrot on the counter. “We have a few on staff at Tesseract looking at photon optimization. Perhaps I can get one of them to rig something up.”
One of von Natsi’s eyelids twitches almost imperceptibly, magnified by the lens of the goggles. Finally, he storms around the counter toward Paul, reaching into his labcoat—
(Jason: “—He reaches into his labcoat and pulls out the most ridiculous gun you have ever seen.”
Chris: “How ridiculous?”
Jason: “…Let me put it this way, have you ever seen those internet memes about ‘Tactic-Lol’ guns?”)
The device von Natsi slams onto the counter isn’t really a gun, but it clearly shares a common ancestor with one; much like how, in theory, a falcon shares an ancestor with an ostrich. Scopes and dials sprout from every surface, along with enough knives and cheap jewelry to equip a decent pawn shop. A screen sprouts from the stock, theoretically to display trajectory readouts to the wielder, though right now it’s showing The Food Network. Paul carefully lifts it up and peer at the other side, then jumps as something springs out at him: a dashboard hula-dancer, perched on the tip of the snub-nosed barrel.
(Chris: “Is it fair to say that firing this gun has nothing to do with ‘Firearms’?”
Jason: “Yes. To fire this gun you roll Dexterity + Science. Oh no, I’m sorry, I mean ‘SCIENCE,’ in all-caps.”)
von Natsi gazes at it, his eyes under his goggles almost teary with awe. “Zis is one of my greatest creations. Zis is ze Etheric…Death Ray.”
“It’s….” Paul trails off.
von Natsi strokes a hand along the gun, carefully adjusting the position of the hula dancer. “I have never given it out to anyone. Zis deathray…defeated ze onslaught of counter-etheric terrors in ze umbral realms near ze asteroid field. Zis deathray…vas used by me to properly calibrate ze final device zat won me ze first prize at ze Paradigm Awards. Zis deathray…makes passable coffee…” von Natsi hesitates, then appends, “…On Sundays.”
Carefully, von Natsi gathers it up and holds it out to Paul. “If you vish to use a deathray, zen you should use…ze best.”
Hesitantly, but graciously, Paul accepts it.
(Jason: “It’s much lighter than it looks.”
Chris: “That’s good.”
Jason: “It’s much more ridiculous than it looks.”
Jason: “I want to stress, when you are holding this deathray, the difficulty of all social rolls that require you to be taken seriously are increased by 1.”)
von Natsi glances once around the immaculate kitchen then gestures Paul close. “Now. Pay very close attention. You are ze deadman, ja?”
Paul sighs. “I’ve been called worse….”
“You will not possess ze proper etheric training to use ze deathray.”
“Not so much.”
von Natsi points to the screen, now showing an ad for SlapChop. “Ze deathray has a battery with etheric energy. But you do not have ze capacity to restore this battery. Only a student of ze Theory of Ether can do zis. Ze battery vill be drained after five rounds. Be sure you do not miss.” He glares. “Ze etheric death ray is not a toy.”
“God I hope not,” Paul mutters. “Thank you, Dr. von Natsi. I’m sure this gun will…work,” he finishes awkwardly.
von Natsi walks back to his stool. “I am sorry I can not go with you myself, but I must continue my research on zis tofu and determine how it may be uzed for ze activation of ze golem project.”
Paul nods seriously. “I understand. Well, if you think of any ways for me to get into the tunnels that don’t involve going back in time, please let me know.”
“Ja, vell, zat greatly limits the options.” von Natsi chuckles. “I mean, ve could use ze Etheric Transporter, but zat only works on non-living matter….”
von Natsi trails off, suddenly thoughtful. By the look on Paul’s face, the same thought has occurred to him.
“…Do…you think the etheric transporter would work on…me?” Paul asks.
von Natsi strokes his chin. “…Technically, perhaps, but….” von Natsi hestiates, then throws up his hands, spraying bits of tofu across the kitchen. “VE MUST DETERMINE ZIS FOR SCIENCE!!!”
Paul stares a moment, then throws up his arms as well. “TO MY SECOND TESLA!!”
With that, they run out of the penthouse.
Hunger claws more and more urgently as I cross the city, vying with against my conscience, and time. Sophia needs me. Isabella might need me, and here I am making yet another detour, but with my contacts at the clubs even more uncertain, there’s only one place in the city I can get clean blood safely.
The great ziggurat of a building looms over me in the night sky as I pull up in front, waving the Uber driver to pull up beside me. “I gotta go park in the garage,” I tell him, “Wait here and I’ll come back to unload.”
He nods and angles over to the curb, waiting patiently as I turn the bike around and descend the ramp leading under the building.
The moment Tom is out of sight, a parrot drops out of the sky and lands on the open windowsill of the car. “Drive south to San Jose immediately,” he squawks.
The driver stares at the bird a moment. “Okay, I guess I can do that,” he mutters, then drives away.
(Me: *long stare at Jim* “Why. Why. What use does Anstis have—”
Jim: “Anstis flies away. Back up into the air.”
Jason: *explodes in laughter*
Me: “HOW IS THIS NOT META-GAMING?!”
Jason: “I’ll allow it.”
Jim: “Also, I mean, he IS the Sheriff. And chapter one of the sheriff manual is ‘Don’t Let Tom Lytton Touch Machine Guns or Rockets.'”)
I roll the Rune in an out-of-the-way spot in the garage. Vampire-owned vehicles tend to come and go from the place, but with Camarilla cameras all over the place there’s never been a problem with theft. I sometimes left my old Harley here for nights at a time and it was always there when I got back. With the Rune safely secured here, I can figure out a more concealed way to head to the east bay. I pocket the keys and jog back up the ramp to the street outside.
The Uber car is gone.
I look up and down the street. No cars, no people. Nothing.
For a moment, confusion quells my hunger. “Mother…fucker….” I mutter and pull out my phone. The ride is still active in the app, with a link to text the driver. I quickly fire off a message: Hey did you park somewhere? My stuff is still in the trunk.
After a moment, the driver replies: I had to go to San Jose.
I stare at the phone a long moment, then continue typing, Can you come back so I can get my stuff first?
A pause, then, Sorry, I must have forgot about your stuff, be right there.
I grumble as I shove my phone away. I know these ride-share services are supposed to fix the taxi industry, but sometimes I worry it’s just been a race to the bottom.
After a few minutes, headlights turn the corner and I see the car returning. I wave at him.
(Jim: “Hmm, do I let this happen or do I escalate it….”
Me: “This is your revenge for losing our bet, isn’t it?”
Jim: “Okay, I’m going to fly up to a car on an intersecting road and dominate a driver to crash into the Uber.”)
As the Uber car approaches, I hear tires squealing. Another car speeds into the road from an intersection and accelerates. I watch in disbelief as the second car smashes into the trunk of the Uber, sending it spinning and skittering to the side of the road.
But my vision focuses on the sight a few seconds before impact, when something blue and yellow launches itself off the hood of the second car.
The Beast in me swells again, but this time not in hunger. “Mother. Fucker.” I growl.
I run up to the accident. Airbags fill both cabs and the smell of gunpowder hangs in the air, but both drivers still seem conscious. I wrench open the door of the Uber. “You alright?”
“Yeah…I think….” The driver stumbles out, sees the other car, then tenses. “THE FUCK YOU DOING STUPID ASSH—” He lurches toward the other driver, who’s climbing out of his car now as well and responds with equal fury.
While they’re busy, I go to get my stuff.
(Jason: “Uh, the trunk is wedged shut. How are you opening it?
Me: “Uhhh, I have Strength of four, with a focus in ‘Powerful Arms,’ and a Potence of three, you motherfucker.”
The trunk pries open with a squeal of metal. The chassis is smashed, but fortunately Vera is unharmed. In fact, by the looks of it, she braced the trunk enough to keep it from collapsing completely. I carefully work her out, sling her onto my back, then start unloading the Panzerfaust and ammo belts, tucking them through my chest harness and draping them over my shoulders, respectively. Once everything is set, I close the remains of the trunk and turn around.
Both drivers have stopped arguing and are staring at me, open-mouthed.
I take a wad of cash from my wallet and shove it into the Uber driver’s hand. “You didn’t see anything.” After a moment, I toss a twenty to the other guy. “Neither did you.”
With that, I leave the scene of the accident and jog heavily to the Pyramid doors, keeping an eye on the skies for signs of that squid-faced motherfucker.
(Jim: “Meanwhile, I turn back into a pirate on a nearby rooftop and call 911.”)
I enter the building. The receptionist looks up as I walk into the lobby, then does a double-take. She reaches under her desk.
“Hey! Hey….” I snap warningly. “I’m going to the fortieth floor.”
She stares, then nods wordlessly and lets her hand drop.
I sweep past her and into the first elevator. I press the button, the door closes, it rises. Seconds pass. Soft music plays from hidden speakers. I shift the position of one of the ammo belts.
Then the elevator stops, only halfway up the building…
I close my eyes and exhale slowly.
…And then the lights go out.
“…Because of course they fucking do,” I mutter, before prying the doors open and storming toward the stairs.
OUTSIDE THE PYRAMID
Meanwhile, after informing every civilian and military authority in the city of events downtown, Anstis calls Rabenholz.
“Captain,” Rabenholz greets him.
“Leidesdorff has released Lytton and he’s now assaulting the Pyramid,” Anstis says without preamble.
Rabenholz is quiet a long moment. “I believe Lytton was your prize, do you mean to retake him?”
Anstis frowns. “Aye, but I thought you should know Lytton has escalated the situation.”
“Find a way to quiet it then. Keep him at the Pyramid as long as you can.” Rabenholz hangs up.
Rabenholz ends the call and turns to Bell.
“I heard,” Bell growls, shifting back in his seat. “This better not take long.”
The Settite continues staring out the window, watching for lights of the approaching airfield. Scout, though, watches Rabenholz carefully.
OUTSIDE THE PYRAMID
Cop cars begin appearing on the street below. Anstis watches them a moment, smirks, then calls someone else.
“I KNOW!!” Leidesdorff answers after only one ring.
“Did you send Lytton to the Pyramid?” Anstis asks calmly.
“OF COURSE NOT!!!”
“Because he’s here, and I doubt the Prince will much like it.”
“Do I sound like I give a tuppeny FUCK what the Prince would like at this moment?!”
“Act of war like this seems akin to a raid on your mansion.”
“Van Nuys coming down to raid my mansion?!” Leidesdorff bursts into laughter. “I thought I was the crazy one!”
Anstis frowns. “Van Nuys is not the Prince.”
Instantly, Leidesdorff’s humor vanishes. “And Rabenholz has already been shown the door. You have enough problems as it is, Captain. I didn’t let Lytton loose on your damned Pyramid, that’s on his own head.”
A smirk crawls across Anstis’s face. “So he escaped.”
Leidesdorff hesitates. “…You could say that.”
“So you can’t hold a single prisoner.”
Leidesdorff is quiet a moment. “…Way I understand it, you weren’t very good at holding one either.”
Anstis’s smirk vanishes. “…Aye. Pleasant evening.” He hangs up.
(Chris: “Hmm, was that a wasp nest? Poke. Poke….”)
RABENHOLZ’S HELICOPTER, SANTA ROSA AIRFIELD
A small private jet is waiting on the tarmac as Rabenholz’s helicopter lands. Rabenholz, Scout, and Bell get out to escort the Settite over to the plane. The small man’s gaze darts around the airfield as they cross it. He doesn’t relax until he’s fully inside the jet, strapping himself into one of the leather seats.
Rabenholz talks with the pilot a few moments, then steps back into the cabin with a briefcase. “Your bearer bonds,” he says, handing it over.
The Settite opens the briefcase, flips through the papers a moment, then nods and closes it. “I admit, I expected you to betray me.”
“It’s not good for business.” Rabenholz settles himself into a seat across from him, while Scout and Bell remain standing nearby. Rabenholz folds his hands neatly on his lap. “Now. Tell us what you know.”
The Settite closes his eyes and takes a long, slow breath. “Perpenna has played everyone. Not just the servitors of the true god. Everyone. His allies and enemies alike think this is just some powerplay. The latest move in the Jyhad. But it’s so much more than that.” He tenses, fingers drumming on the briefcase. “Perpenna means to become a god. “
None of the other vampires react outwardly, though the silence in the cabin is suddenly ringing. “How do you know this?” Rabenholz asks smoothly.
“I spoke with one who did, or thought he did.”
The Settite scowls. “It was a measure of desperation, I assure you. Under normal circumstances, I would have killed him. A Toreador named Everton.”
For a brief moment, both Scout and Rabenholz shift awkwardly.
The Settite grins. “Ah, you have known this man’s name. He is a blighted curse upon all who walk the nights, may he burn in a thousand hells. But perhaps it says something that he was so desperate he would speak to me when I sought him out. I confessed to him my suspicions about my clan here in this city and he told me they were truth. He then told me what he expected Perpenna was to do.”
Leather creaks as Rabenholz leans forward. “How does he plan to accomplish this?”
The Settite’s gaze drifts to the darkened tarmac outside the windows and the empty fields beyond. “Do you know of the werewolves and their legends?”
“Not entirely,” Rabenholz replies.
“They speak of a messiah to rise and rule the world. A perfect werewolf of some form. The dark wolves who worship demons think they have found it. They plan to imbue it with the forces of their god.” The Settite smirks meanly. “Perpenna has led them to think he is helping them do so. Helping them to rule the world. But hat is not his plan. He wishes to fulfill the promise of Cappadocius.” He shakes his head slowly. “The werewolves have no idea. Neither did we. They are his tools in this.”
The Settite turns back to them. “Perpenna intends to let the black wolves use this werewolf messiah to bring forth a god. And then he intends to diablerize it.”
Another silence falls. “How is that possible?” Scout asks. “Wouldn’t the god have to be a vampire?”
The Settite laughs. “You ask me how one may diablerize a god? If I knew these things I would work toward the resurrection of our lord Set. But I do not. However Perpenna would go about this, Everton was convinced he would try, and that he found a way.” He laughs again, darkly. “The werewolves think they are bringing forth their god to rule the world. What they are bringing forth instead is Perpenna’s meal. He will eat it and the werewolves will be cast down in fire like the rest.”
Rabenholz nods slowly, hands working thoughtfully against themselves. Scout shifts nervously. “Does Perpenna have other vampires working with him?” she asks.
“Almost certainly,” the Settite says.
“Who?” she asks, urgency under her voice.
“I don’t know. His own childer perhaps. He needs them all on hand. His blood must be whole in order to perform the diablerie.”
“What do you mean?” Rabenholz asks.
“He must devour all of his childer, and grand-childer. Destroy his own bloodline. A necessary precondition for an ascension to godhood. The infinite cannot be divided.”
Bell’s fingers tap against the shotgun slung at his hip. “When is this thing supposed to happen?”
The Settite shakes his head. “I don’t know, but soon. A day, maybe two. If the werewolves have what they are looking for, they need only await whatever ritualizations they require.”
Rabenholz eyes him a long moment. “This is very useful information. Is that all you have to tell us?”
“All that I know.” The Settite glances up at Scout. “But before you decide what must be done with this information, I must speak with your Caitiff friend here. Alone.”
Scout frowns, perplexed, as Rabenholz and Bell turn to look at her. Rabenholz eyes her a moment, face unreadable, then turns back to the Settite and smiles evenly. “She is one of my most trusted lieutenants. Anything you can say to her, you can say to me.”
The Settite glances up at her. “Is that so?”
She shifts. “It depends on what it is you wish to share.”
“I wish to talk of…other clans.”
Scout falls still. They stare at each other a long, silent moment.
“I’m afraid my offer on the plane and money has an expiration,” Rabenholz says suddenly. “Take it now, or lose it.”
The Settie tears his gaze from Scout’s and nods. “So be it. Then I take it. The Hierophants must be warned of what may come.” He hesitates, hands fidgeting on the briefcase. “If I were you, I would leave this city. Perpenna, once enthroned, will seek to punish those who transgress against him.”
Rabenholz stands. “Good luck to you, then.”
With that, Rabenholz, Scout, and Bell exit the plane. Its engines start up with a whine behind them as they walk back to the helicopter.
Scout pulls even with Rabenholz. “Why were you so hesitant to let him speak with me?” she asks.
Rabenholz strides silently a moment, eyes straight ahead. “Let’s just say I am repaying a gesture of confidence.” He nods to the pilot and climbs into the helicopter as Scout stares at him.
(Me: *flips Chris off* “This is me, not her.”)
OUTSIDE THE PYRAMID
More cop cars pull up outside the Pyramid. Late-night pedestrians begin to gather as well, drawn by the commotion. With a bit of time on his hands, Anstis decides to prepare for the coming altercation by swaggering up to some of the rubberneckers and Dominating them into being lackeys for him.
With a deep, diesel roar, National Guard vehicles begin pulling up next to the police cars. A few humvees roar down into the parking garage. Soldiers leap out of their vehicles and start running crowd control, ordering people back away from the building. One approaches Anstis, gesturing for him to move away.
Anstis grins and gestures to one of his thralls. The man—a homeless man with crazy eyes and stench enough to overwhelm Anstis’s own—pulls a boxcutter and lunges at the soldiers. The soldiers yell and jump back, calling for stun guns.
During the ensuing confusion, Anstis slips into the building.
INSIDE THE PYRAMID, CAMARILLA OFFICES
Many, many flights later, I finally haul my way up to the fortieth floor. I take a moment to compose myself then step out into the hall.
(Me: “What do you mean, it’s empty?”
Jason: “I mean there’s a distinct lack of people, ghoul or otherwise.”
Me: “It has never been empty, ever! Even when fucking Settites were attacking, it wasn’t empty!”
Jason: “That’s because the Settites attacked by surprise. This time they got warned you were coming.”
Me: “Son of a—”)
“Hello?” I call, wandering down the hall, peering into offices. No one responds. Even Bell’s office is empty. My hunger claws higher in the peace and silence. I start digging around in office cabinets. The Pyramid has blood stores somewhere. Marcus spiked them in order to bind Bell to him, after all. The staff probably purged them by now, but there’s gotta be something, maybe a fucking tap—
Finally, I find a mini-fridge under the desk in a back-hall office, with three packs of blood hanging in it. The date on the bags is at least a week or two old, but I don’t hesitate as I grab the bags and bite to suck as much of the congealed mix as I can.
INSIDE THE PYRAMID, LOBBY
Anstis swaggers through the echoing tile space. The receptionist at the desk is missing, probably evacuated out to the sidewalk. Anstis pauses at the desk, peering over.
“FREEZE!!!” a chorus of voices shouts behind him. Almost a dozen National Guard soldiers have piled into the building, pointing an entire forest of weapons directly at him.
Anstis hesitates, then steps behind the desk and sits down in the receptionist chair. “Welcome to the Transamerica Pyramid,” he says with a smile. “Can I help you, sirs?”
One of the soldiers rushes forward, gun trained on Anstis’s forehead. “Hands in the air! On your knees!” he shouts.
Hands raised, Anstis stands carefully from the chair and drops to his knees behind the desk—
—Then continues dropping, all the way down into parrot-form. He huddles in the shadows as bootsteps approach.
“What the…?” the soldier mumbles as he leans over the desk. “He’s gone!”
Taking that as his cue, Anstis bursts into the air, flying past the stunned soldier and across the lobby. The men yell as he passes overhead, hands grabbing uselessly after him. Anstis circles the room once, then lands on the shoulder of the soldier with the most bars on his shoulder. “Not intruder!” he squawks.
The soldiers stop and stare. “Uh, sarge…?” one of the other men says.
“Let the parrot talk!” the sergeant yells, then turns back to Anstis on his shoulder. “Do you know where the bad guy is?”
Anstis bobs eagerly. “Upstairs! Wearing black!”
The sergeant stares at him a long, calculating moment, then grabs a radio. “Command, we’re inside the Pyramid. Reports of multiple armed intruders somewhere in the building. Send a helicopter.”
Anstis leans down closer to the radio. “And more guns!”
INSIDE THE PYRAMID, STAIRWELL
Hunger finally sated, I make my way back down the stairwell, grumbling with each descending step. What was supposed to be a quick pit-stop has clearly turned into an all-night thing, thanks to that squid-faced fucker.
I reach the ground floor and head toward the lobby-exit door, then stop. Many shouting voices echo on the other side, including one yelling for a helicopter.
Grumbling again, I turn away from the door and continue down the stairs, all the way to the basement garage.
Softer voices murmur beyond this door. Carefully, I press the door open. A handful of soldiers and two military humvees are clustered around the exit ramp, talking to each other and glancing nervously around.
I exhale slowly, then drop a Nocturne across the whole garage.
The light falls dim for me, but the men across the way panic as they’re plunged into darkness. Muffled shouts echo back to me and I watch as one of the cars tries to bolt away, crashing into the wall.
Calmly, I enter the garage and stride toward the other one.
The two men inside the vehicle struggle blindly against the dark, one in the passenger seat and one up top, strapped to the gun turret. I open the door, grab the passenger, and toss him out onto the garage floor. The guy on the roof, though, is out of easy reach for the moment. I watch him struggling against the clips tying him down, fumbling with his night-vision goggles….
(Me: *chuckling, slowly increasing…*
Me: *intensifies to laughter…*
Me: *now gasping* “What if…what if I took the car…and didn’t take the guy off the turret!!”
Jason: “…Do it.”
Me: “No, Tom would try to get rid of him.” *hesitates* “But it’s sooo funny….”
Jason: “DO IT!”)
I stare another moment, then toss Vera and the Panzerfaust into the vacant passenger seat. “Fuck it,” I mutter soundlessly, “I’m in a rush….”
OUTSIDE THE PYRAMID
Anstis rides on the sergeant’s shoulder as the man exits the building, shouting the whole way. The sergeant yells orders to his men and to the lingering cops for better dispersion, yells demands into his radio for better support, yells general epithets out into the uncaring night—
—Then stops, open-mouthed, as a humvee tears out of the garage. The vehicle bounds over the lip of the ramp, crashing back to the pavement, carrying the screams of a man strapped helplessly to the turret. Everyone on the street stops and stares as it roars by—
—With Tom Lytton at the wheel, a smirk on his face and one arm out the open window, flipping off the parrot as he passes.
The vehicle screeches away, heading south toward Market Street. Before any of the soldiers can react, Anstis releases a piercing squawk and launches into the air after it.
Silence settles in the helicopter as they make their way back from Santa Rosa. Scout glances periodically at Rabenholz, but Rabenholz ignores her, gazing peacefully out the window. Bell sits slouched in the corner, arms folded, glowering into space.
Scout clears her throat awkwardly. “That sword of yours was very impressive, Lord Rabenholz.”
“Thank you,” he says without turning from the window. “I find the cane puts people off their guard.”
“No, not that one. The one that lit up like a light-saber.”
Rabenholz turns toward her as Bell turns toward him. “You mean Lytton’s sword?” Bell rumbles ominously.
“Yes, I thought it prudent to keep it in my care, given the destruction it can cause in the wrong hands,” Rabenholz says breezily, still looking at Scout. “Ms. Scout, what do you mean by ‘light-saber’?”
She hesitates, then gestures vaguely. “It’s…from a movie. Kinda sci-fi and fantasy at the same time. There’s these laser-beam swords that can cut through anything.”
“Hmm.” Rabenholz considers this concept a moment. “I imagine the wielders of such weapons would have to be very well-practiced indeed to avoid injury.” The lights of the city loom ahead, rising above the dark expanse of the bay. Rabenholz glances at it, then checks his pocketwatch. “If you’ll pardon me a moment, I need to make a quick call to my assistant.”
Rabenholz calls Rhona and asks if she could arrange for a dentist’s office to be opened in the vicinity of Russian Hill.
(Everyone: “A…dentist’s office?”
“Thank you, Ms. Tyler.” Rabenholz hangs up and looks to Scout and Bell. “The helicopter will take you back to the Pyramid, or anywhere nearby,” he tells them.
“Where are you going?” Scout asks.
Rabenholz carefully tucks his phone away. “I need to take a small detour a bit further up town. I will catch up.”
Bell glares. “What detour is this?”
“I must check in on some loose ends Ms. Johnson has left behind.”
Bell glares another moment, then nods. “Make it quick.”
Rabenholz nods to him, slides open the helicopter door, then steps out into the open air. His cloak flares around him and he sails off into the darkness.
With all pretenses at subtlety broken, I floor the humvee down the street. Best plan now is to just get the hell out of town and ditch the car before the National Guard can get their shit together to come after me. Cold wind streaks in through the open window, carrying the screams and curses of the guy on the turret behind me.
(Jason: “He tries to swivel the gun around, but of course the guns on a humvee are not really designed to shoot into the humvee.”)
“Hey buddy you gonna sit down back there?” I shout over my shoulder.
“WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?!” he screams.
“I’m the guy who’s borrowing this car.” I reach out to adjust the side-mirror, tilting it to show his panicked face clinging to the edge of the roof.
And also revealing the blue-and-yellow shape flapping madly after me.
Jason: “Uh, good luck to you sir.”
Jim: “You can increase the difficulty.”
Jason: “Oh I plan to.”)
Parrot-Anstis screeches at me, but if there’s words in the sound they’re lost on the wind. I look back at the road and peel sharply around a corner, whipping out onto Market Street. Behind me, the parrot climbs and wheels out over the neighboring buildings to follow.
Suddenly, there’s a click of a sidearm being cocked. Against my head. “STOP THE CAR!!! NOW!!!” the soldier shouts.
I sigh, lift my hands off the wheel, and tap the breaks. The car eases to a halt at the next stoplight.
The gun presses harder. “GET! OUT!! OF THE CAR!!!”
Slowly, hands in the air, I open the door and slide out of the car. The soldier unclips himself from the turret and climbs out after me, gun trained on me the entire time. “ON THE GROUND, NOW!!!”
I scan the surrounding building, watching for a flutter of blue and gold. The gun clicks again, now pressing into the back of my neck. Slowly, I exhale in a long sigh.
(Me: “I grab him.”)
In a breathtaking burst of speed, I whip around and grab his arm, forcing it up. The gun fires into the air. I twist it out of his grip like an overripe fruit and toss it into the car next to Vera.
He stumbles back and graba his bruised hand, more in shock than pain. “JESUS CHRIST! What the hell are you!?”
“Late,” I mutter and shove him out of the road to the sidewalk. I get back into the vehicle just as the light is turning green, then drive away.
Market Street is mostly empty at this hour, spreading before me like the floor of a vast canyon draining down to the bay. The lights of the Bay Bridge glitter in the distance. I smile, accelerating toward freedom—
Blue-and-gold catches my eye. The parrot’s in a dive-bomb, angling to cut off ahead of the vehicle. I continue at speed, one eye on the road and one eye on the bird, then at the very last moment accelerate—
Parrot-Anstis smashes spread-eagled against the windshield. His beady eyes roll, locking eyes with mine. I see his chest expand as he inhales to screech some sort of command….
I hit the windshield wipers.
(Jim: *laughing hysterically* “That is the perfect reaction!”
Jason: “That is the perfect reaction. This is about to turn into a Tom and Jerry cartoon.”
Me: “I think you mean Tom and Tom.”)
The blades bitch-slap the feathery-asshole as we roar down the street. He squawks, then his form quivers sickeningly and swells, growing into the shape of the squid-faced asshole, sprawled across the hood like last night’s calamari. “Thomas Lytton!” he shouts.
I slam on the brakes.
Anstis flies forward, crashing into the street and rolling a few feet. After a moment he gets up shakily, turning toward me with a growl.
I hit the gas.
The humvee leaps forward. Anstis tenses, then at the last moment springs into the air, legs angled to kick through the windshield into my face—
(Jim: *rolls* “…Goddammit.”
Jason: “You botch!!! You botch sir!!!”)
—But the front grill catches his leg, flipping him over. He crashes against the windshield then continues up and over, rolling across the roof of the car and crashing back onto the road behind it. I glance in the mirror. He’s disappearing rapidly into the distance, tentacle-beard writhing in fury—
Moments before he gets hit by a bus.
I turn back to the road. The base of Market Street is approaching, so I turn south through SoMa, heading toward the bridge on-ramps. I glance in the mirror, but no more flashes of blue-and-gold follow.
The fucker is probably working for Rabenholz now, I realize grimly. He probably sent him to finish the job. Lay low, Izzie’s text message said. Perhaps this is why….
Cold air whips through the open windows of the vehicle. I turn left, following signs to the bridge, then tense in a thrill of shock.
My old building is there, right next to the onramp. My windows stare at me as I approach, still streaked with the scars of cardboard and duct tape I layered over them in the years after my undeath. I stare back as I pass, every crack and shadow triggering flashes from my last decade of living-memories. I recall my gut-wrenching fury the night I realized I had lost the place and with it my last possessions connecting me to my previous existence.
Yet now, strangely, I don’t feel anything at all.
The humvee climbs up the ramp to the bridge and the building disappears behind. The roar of traffic rises. Still lost in thought, I grope vacantly at the rudimentary AM/FM radio mounted next to the CB. It clicks on, already tuned to the classic rock station.
Where AC/DC is just coming on.
I sit back, the familiar baseline evaporating the last of my tension as I fly off into the night.
Paul’s Tesla hums along the SoMa streets, taking him and von Natsi across town toward the hills. Ironically, they pass through downtown not long after all this drama happened just a few blocks away—
(Jason: “Actually, you know what? I’m going to exercise GM’s prerogative here. Paul, you pull up at a stop light to turn left onto Market Street just in time to see all of this previous scene happen, right in front of you. A humvee screeches to a halt in the intersection, throwing a pirate off the roof. The pirate crashes to the ground, gets up, then tries to execute a flying dragon kick into the humvee, but misses, flipping over the car and back onto the road, where he is promptly hit by a bus. The humvee roars away, and because you have Auspex, you see, plain as day, that Tom Lytton is behind the wheel.”)
Paul stares as the humvee roars past and continues down the street. “Yeah….” he mutters.
Next to him in the passenger seat, von Natsi frowns curiously, peering behind them. “Vas zat…Tom Lytton?”
“I thought he vas dead!”
“Well…give it awhile.”
Both men watch as the bus driver gets out and peers under the bus. They continue watching as a blue-and-yellow shape emerges from the shadows, bites the driver on the ankle, chews a bit, then waddles away, beak streaked with blood.
von Natsi gapes. “Is zat…a parrot?”
Paul shifts the car into park and reaches to open the door. “Yeah….”
Across the intersection, the parrot suddenly makes eye contact with Paul, then launches into the air toward them.
Paul freezes. “…No, Captain! Not in the car!” He closes the door again.
Anstis flutters to a perch on the open driver-side window.“Lytton is back,” he squawks.
“I noticed,” Paul mutters.
“We must stop him.”
“He’s…on an errand of mine.” Paul’s forehead sinks against the steering wheel, as if only now realizing what a poor decision that was.
Anstis cocks his head. “What errand?”
Face still buried against plastic, Paul takes a long inhale. “We’re collecting a bunch of werewolves to bring into the Spiral Dancer hive to rescue the chosen werewolf and prevent Perpenna and a bunch of monsters from ending the world.”
Anstis cocks his head the other way. “Why?”
Paul looks up and stares at him. “…To avoid ending the world! Also, what did you do to the bus driver!?
Anstis’s head pivots to check behind him. He ruffles his wings in a feathery shrug. “He’s still alive.”
von Natsi leans across the center console. “Is zere a problem here, gentlemen?”
Anstis flutters his wings again and bobs in greeting. “Doctor.”
von Natsi stares through his goggles. “Who is zis?”
“This…is a parrot,” Paul sighs.
von Natsi adjusts his goggles, then his eyes go wide. “No, zis is not a parrot, zis parrot is dead! Zis is an ex-parrot!”
“Lovely plumage, though.” Paul turns back to Anstis. “Captain, where are you headed?”
“To stop Tom Lytton!” Anstis squawks.
Paul sighs again and shakes his head. “Just…let him go. The more quietly he leaves the city, the better. Let him go with no further altercations. I don’t know what all that was, but I hope it was the only thing, just him and—” Paul stops. “—Wait a minute, why was he driving a humvee…?”
Paul stares into space a moment, hands tight against the wheel. “…That wasn’t the only thing he did tonight, was it?”
Anstis bobs. “He attacked more National Guard.”
Paul sinks his head against the steering wheel again. “Why does he do that?”
“He violated the Masquerade,” Anstis adds, excitedly.
(Me: *painful sobbing laughter* “Noo! I can’t get Blood Hunt called on me again!”
Jason: “Oh yes you can! Oh, but it gets worse.”
Jason: “Because guess who else sees you driving across the bridge?”)
A thundering roar echoes through the downtown canyons. Paul, von Natsi, and Anstis look up just in time to see a dark helicopter pass low overhead, heading toward the bridge.
AC/DC blares out the windows as I head east-bound on the lower deck of the western span, the city and the night spread behind me in dazzling backdrop. I sing along shrilly with the last of the lyrics as the song ends and the last riffs fade.
Almost immediately, my adrenaline fades with them. Suddenly the night seems less a glorious playground and more a shroud hiding vengeful dangers just waiting to pounce.
I need to do damage control. I grope for my phone and dial one of the few numbers I’ve memorized:
“…This is Bell,” his deep voice answers. Despite my anxiety, echoes of feelings stir tantalizingly at the sound of it.
“Anstis did it,” I say.
There’s a pause. “…Lytton,” he growls, deadly threat looming under his voice like an earthquake. For a moment, I can’t tell if that makes my crush-feelings better or worse….
“Lytton, where the hell are you?!” he snaps.
I shake the feelings off and focus. “I’m taking care of some business, sir, but I want you to know that business started because Anstis started shit first.”
“Lytton I know what you mean by ‘taking care of business’ and that ain’t what I asked you! Where the fuck are you, what are you doing there, and what the hell did Anstis apparently do?!”
My humvee plunges into the short tunnel through Yerba Buena island. I take a moment to gather my thoughts. “I decided to swing by the Pyramid and see if you were there to apologize and stuff and he called the National Guard down on me.”
“…So that was you,” Bell snarls. He pauses a moment, talking to someone in the background, then comes back. “What are you driving right now?”
I hesitate. “My…vespa.”
“That don’t sound like a vespa to me. You wouldnt happen to be driving a stolen humvee, would you?”
“No sir,” I say seriously, as the vehicle emerges on the open deck of the eastern span. “I learned my lesson the last time I stole one.”
“So the humvee that I’m watching cross the Bay Bridge right now, that ain’t you?”
I freeze, then feel my gaze pulled instinctively to the left. A black helicopter is hovering just beyond the cables off the north side of the bridge. “…No sir,” I say.
“I can hear my own helicopter in the background, you son of a bitch!!” Bell roars, then turns away from the line. “Take us to the eastern end of the bridge!” he shouts to what I assume is the pilot, then comes back. “How many did you kill this time, Lytton?”
“No one!” I shout back.
“Okay, so you just made a major fuckup of the Masquerade.”
I whap one hand against the wheel. “I told you, Anstis did it first!”
“Oh, and I’m supposed to believe that because you got such a good reputation in these regards?”
“Have you seen his stupid face?”
“No, I have however seen what you did to Monterrey!”
The lights of the bridge strobe past as I fall still. “This wasn’t like Monterrey,” I say softly.
“No, cause this city is still standing!”
“Yeah, so, we’ve improved.”
A ringing silence falls on the line, thick enough to outweigh the roar of my car, and traffic, and the helicopter circling down toward the toll-plaza ahead. “Pull off. The road,” Bell growls. “Do so, and this will go quietly. Do not, and things will get loud. I already got a major Masquerade breach to clean up, what’s one more.”
Any lingering sense of playfulness scatters like fish. By his tone, I have finally gone too far. Traffic around me continues at pace, an unwavering tide escorting me to doom at the end. Lights glint tantalizingly off Vera and the Panzerfaust next to me, but I turn away. I could make a run for it, but I can’t fight. Not again. No one else should die because of my stupidity—
“…That’s better,” Bell says suddenly, tone softer. “Keep pulling over to the shoulder and park just past the toll plaza, nice and easy. You make one move, do one thing wrong when I get down there, and they will be peeling pieces of you off the bridge. Do you understand me?”
I blink and look around. I’m still driving in the left lane with no signs of slowing. “Uh…yes…sir?” I say carefully. Could he be looking at a different National Guard humvee?
The toll plaza approaches…then passes. “The Camarilla thanks you for your cooperation,” Bell says dryly. “Stay put, I’ll be right there.”
Bell hangs up. I stare into space a long, perplexed moment, before remembering at the last minute to merge onto the exit for 24. No calls come back, no missile lances out of the night sky at me. I merge onto the freeways of the East Bay, free and clear.
But I make sure to slow down to the speed limit the whole way.
BAY BRIDGE TOLL PLAZA
The National Guard humvee pulls over to the shoulder just outside the toll plaza. Lights flash as CHP and other authorities immediately encircle it. Bell’s helicopter sets down nearby and Bell gets out, leather coat flaring in the downwash of the blades. Scout stays behind in the helicopter, watching. Bell jogs forward to a cluster of cops, yelling over the noise and gesturing.
While he’s distracted, Scout unclips her seatbelt and removes her headset. She climbs out of the helicopter, obfuscates, and slips away.
Rabenholz arrives at the Chantry. The front foyer is empty, but running footsteps approach down the hall not long after he enters. A few moments later, Bob appears from around the corner, gasping, and skitters to a halt.
Rabenholz eyes him coolly. “Where is Ms. Johnson?”
Bob hesitates, wringing his hands. “…I am not ordered to know that.”
“I understand.” Rabenholz gestures with his cane. “You and I are going to visit a doctor.”
Bob gapes at him, then falls to his knees, hands clasped beseechingly in front of him. “But-but I tried so hard!!” he sobs.
Rabenholz rolls his eyes. “No, it’s not…the sort of doctor you’re probably used to. It’s whats called a ‘dentist.’ They ensure proper dental hygiene.”
The sobs cease. “They…what?”
“It’s…part of Ms. Johnson’s maintenance schedule for you.”
“Oh.” Bob’s hands wing slowly again. “Okay….”
Rabenholz glances down the hall. “Before we go, do you have any blood here?”
Bob beams and scrambles to his feet. “Yes, right this way!”
(Jason: “He takes you to a storage facility.
Chris: “So, I need to fill up here.”
Jason: “How much do you need?”
Jason: “…Oh, right.”)
Bob takes Rabenholz down to the main Chantry reserve stores and looks on, stunned, as Rabenholz drains the whole thing.
(Me: “I’m texting Kara, ‘Chris just drank all your blood.’”)
DENTIST OFFICE, RUSSIAN HILL
Not long later, Rabenholz is pacing the exam room of the late-night dentist Rhona secured. Bob is in the chair, obediently motionless but sweating profusely as the dentist examines his mouth.
The dentist whistles suddenly to himself and looks up at Rabenholz. “What the hell is up with these fillings? What are they, mercury-zinc? And gold?? Who the hell did these, Russians?”
Rabenholz gestures vaguely with his cane. “Just replace them as necessary.” He eyes the man. “And please keep the old ones, put them in a baggie or something for me. Sort of a…family memento.”
The dentist looks at him oddly, but returns to his work without comment.
A few minutes later, Rabenholz’s phone rings. He checks the caller ID and answers. “Yes, Justicar?”
“Rabenholz,” Bell growls with an almost subsonic rumble. “Someone’s played a little trick.”
“Who and what?” Rabenholz asks, toying idly with a plastic model of a smiling tooth on the shelf.
“What do you know about that Caitiff of yours?”
Rabenholz considers a moment, “I know she has been listening to me when she thought I was unaware of her presence, and I know she’s been reporting to someone else.”
“Oh I think that’s likely enough,” Bell rumbles. “You know where I am right now? I am standing next to the humvee that was taken by Tom Lytton and I am looking Tom Lytton in the face.”
Rabenholz nods in approval. “Well that’s good.”
“Yes, except Tom Lytton is not here.”
Rabenholz stops. “…I…what?” He puts the model down. “Where is Tom Lytton?”
“I have no idea, but I know he’s not here because I just stuck a sword through his head like a goddamn hologram!!”
Rabenholz stares into space as understanding slowly dawns. “An illusion…. I’m familiar with that trick. I’ve suspected Scout of using it before.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve seen her use it before. I’ve also seen other people use it, and while there’s one other Kindred nearby that could have pulled that level off, he wasn’t sitting next to me in the helicopter as we chased Tom Lytton’s illusion down!”
The dentist continues working, but steals curious glances up at Rabenholz. Rabenholz sweeps out of the exam room back to the lobby. “You suspect Scout is working for Flowers?” he asks Bell as he closes the door, voice low.
“At this point I’m doing more than suspecting. But whatever the fuck is going on, it’s clear that your little Caitiff isn’t a Caitiff at all.”
Rabenholz begins pacing again, faster this time. “Flowers was instructed to keep his quarrel with Anstis off the land.”
“Which is probably why he snuck a mole into your own house.”
Rabenholz slows. “Whatever she collected wasn’t particularly good information. But she will be made an example of.”
“Well, I hope she is made a better example of than the last one!”
“Yes, I was…more merciful than perhaps was called for,” Rabenholz says grimly.
Bell rumbles under his breath but doesn’t comment. “If you see this Caitiff of yours, you let me know. She and I are going to have a heart to heart conversation on a number of subjects.”
Rabenholz’s hand falls to his hip, resting on the hilt of Glitch. “I will ensure there is enough left of her that you may do so,” he says, then hangs up.
Paul and von Natsi arrive at the tower and head down to the lab….
…Where they’re greeted by a goat.
Paul stops. “Doctor…the goat…?”
von Natsi, already half-buried in a pile of mixed Science on one of the lab tables, looks up. “Oh, yes! I have acquired him recently. After you and Ms. Johnson assisted in the removal of ze infestation of etherically-charged cabbage, I realized I must go to the utmost lengths to defend my research!”
Paul and the goat stare at each other. “Well, I am glad we could help,” Paul says. “Is it helping?”
“Ja! Since he has arrived, zere has not been a single sighting of cabbage anyvere in zis lab!” von Natsi beams, then hesitates, glancing around. “…Although, he has also unfortunately eaten two deathrays….”
“Well. It seems a small price to pay for science.”
“Ja.” von Natsi tenses as if suddenly remembering why they are here. “ZE SCIENCE!!! Quickly, to ze Etheric Transporter!” He digs out a new pair of goggles, shoves them on, and rushes across the lab. “Heinrich!!!” he shouts back over his shoulder. “Ready ze power couplings!”
The goat bleats once and wanders off.
Paul, still carrying the ridiculous death-ray, hurries after von Natsi, arriving in a small side-lab filled with a massive deathray suspended from the ceiling. Paul stops. It’s the room where Sophia had her silver removed, all those weeks ago….
Dr. von Natsi drags a stainless steel operating table from the side wall to the middle of the room with an extended grinding shriek, then produces a single oven mitt. He hands it out to Paul. “Please put zis on.”
Paul puts it on his right hand.
“NEIN!!! Ze other hand!”
Paul switches it.
“NEIN!!!!! Ze other other hand!”
Paul hesitates, then puts it back on his right hand.
von Natsi grabs his hands, examining it from all sides, then nods. “Good!”
(Chris: “It’s like a USB port.”)
von Natsi rushes to a bank of controls, twists and flips a few dials, then turns to Paul seriously. “Now. Ze etheric transporter vill transport ze unliving matter to ze location I’ve programmed but ze difficulty iz I do not have ze coordinates for ze tunnels beneath Marin.”
Paul frowns. “What kind of coordinates do you need?”
von Natsi strokes his chin with his own oven-mitted hand. “Vell, ze coordinates are etheric coordinates so zey do not coordinate specifically to planetary geography. Zey must describe the coordinates of this location within the realm of ether-space and must be selected very precisely.” He produces a small bag from inside his lab coat, reaches in, and pulls out a handful of D-10s. “Please roll zese Etheric Probability Generators!”
(*Chris cautiously accepts the handful of dice Jason is handing out*
Me: “Wow, so meta right now.”
Chris: *rolls the dice* “…Holy. Shit.”
Chris: “Let me read these to you. Ten. Ten. Ten. Ten. Nine. Nine. Six. Five. Two.”
Me: “Yeah…you’re going to the Spiral Hive.”)
Paul reads the numbers out as he settles himself on the table underneath the death ray. Dr. von Natsi types the coordinates into the control panel, then straightens. “Mr. Stewart! Are you ready?”
Paul leans back on the table, clutching the ridiculous deathray against himself and trying not to stare into the cold steel eye of the one hovering above him. “Uh, yes.”
Dr. von Natsi runs to a giant switch on the wall. “ARE YOU PREPARED TO ACTIVATE AND FURTHER ZE KNOWLEDGE OF SCIENCE!!”
“Yes!” Paul shouts back.
von Natsi lowers his goggles and grabs the switch. “DREI….ZWEI….EINS….”
Paul squeezes his eyes shut. “…Cool runnings!”
von Natsi throws the switch. A hum rises across the across the lab, vibrating the walls, and a light builds in the heart of the death ray. Slowly the light brightens, Paul feels himself lifting weightlessly from the ground, there’s a flash—
—Next thing Paul knows, the steel beneath his back has been replaced with uneven ground. He’s in one piece, the death-ray is still in his arms, but any other information is muted by the pitch-black silence around him.
Except the smell. A putrid, rotting, fermenting-meat smell hangs with suffocating thickness all around him.
(Chris: “Oh god…oh and he’s a vegan….”)
Paul shifts, trying to see anything in the darkness. As he does, the ground underneath him shifts as well. He reaches out a hand tentatively. It’s not solid ground, it’s a mound of something. Rounded objects of some sort….
(Chris: “Ooooh no…rounded objects could be skulls….ooooh no….”)
Paul hesitates, prepares himself, then gropes carefully for his phone and turns on the flashlight.
(Jason: “Oh, you wish you hadn’t done that….”)
He’s in the center of a plateau of skulls, all in various stages of decay. He freezes, suppressing a whimper, then carefully scythes the light across the plain, twisting to see behind him.
The beam lands on a quivering lump of flesh just ten feet away, puss-pale and undulating sickly. A maggot, larger than a dog. It flinches from the light, rearing a pincher-head and turning its eyeless face toward Paul.
(Chris: “Might as well take a page from Georgia’s book—”)
Paul raises a hand and waves weakly. “Hey there…” he manages to say. “What’s your name?”
The pinchers click.
“Do you know what’s down there beneath all the rotting skulls?”
The maggot quivers again, then arches down, burrowing into the skull and disappearing in a series of squelches. Skulls shift and clatter in its wake.
Paul moves carefully to the edge of the pile, trying to shine just enough light to watch his step without revealing too much of what he’s stepping on. The plateau eventually tapers toward the ground in a twenty-foot slope. He slides and stumbles his way down, trying to ignore the crunching. Eventually he gets to level ground at the bottom and steps out onto it.
It’s not rock. In fact, it’s suspiciously soft. Paul stops, steels himself, then tilts the flashlight down.
The floor is covered in bodies. Men and women, some naked and torn, some still half-dressed. Unlike the skulls, most are relatively fresh, but strange things protrude from their abdomens, glistening orbs layered with nets of red veins that burrow into the flesh. It’s not clear what they are, but it’s clear what they look like:
Paul stumbles back. The body under him moves. He looks down to see sunken eyes staring up at him. As he watches, the eyes blink.
Paul shrieks and staggers away. The body stares sightlessly up, chest heaving slowly, wetly, the egg in the abdomen large and pulsing. Suddenly the eyes flutter and the body groans. The egg heaves at the same time, then splits. A maggot flops out, two feet long and thick as a log, pincher head grasping at the air. It waves around, searching, then connects with the flesh of the body that birthed it and latches on, chewing with wet, tearing sounds.
The body continues to stare, slowly blinking.
(Jason: “Welcome to Hell.”
Chris: “Paul…may need to use Dug’s therapist.”)
Paul turns away from the slow carnage to stare across the body plain. He clears his throat nervously. “Anyone who can hear me…raise your hand if you don’t want to be here.”
(Chris: “Paul raises his hand.”)
Paul stands in the darkness, arm raised. Suddenly a tremor undulates through the bodies. The skull pile behind him is quivering, as if things underneath were burrowing toward the surface….
Paul runs. Behind him, more maggots appear from under the charnel horde, hundreds of them, grasping heads twisting in the dark. They open their pincher mouths, then, as one, release a shriek like the sound of a thousand tortured souls.
(Me: “Oh my god! Does it sound like this?!”)
Paul scrambles faster, toward the distant shadow of a cavern wall in the distance. The wet noises behind him increase. As the rock approaches steadily he spots what looks like the dark shape of a tunnel entrance, spewing a draft of air with slightly-less smell.
(Jason: “Ok, I have good news and bad news.”
Chris: “…Good news?”
Jason: “Actually the bad news works better first. It actually doesn’t smell that much better.”
Chris: “Okay. What’s the good news?”
Jason: “Actually there is no good news, just more bad news.”)
The shadows of the tunnel waver as he approaches. Something is coming through, something massive. Paul skitters to a stop. The sounds of pursuit behind him approach closer as something pale rises above him. Shakily, he points the light of the phone up….
…To reveal the opalescent scales and monumental form of a dragon, neck coiled high, wings extended like sails….
…An instant before everything turns to fire.
Rotshriek overtakes him, driving him through the legs of the dragon and into the tunnel. Reality collapses into a dark, pained, panicked blur—
Until something grabs and shoves him against the wall, knocking the fear from his head. His gaze swims, eventually focusing in the gloom on a humanoid shape before him….
(Chris: “I hug her and start crying. I have never been so happy to see someone in my entire life.”)
Thankfully, I reach the tunnel without incident, plunging into its depths with the rest of the scattered freeway traffic. The radio fades to static. I turn it off. Silence falls and I focus on the road, eyes straining to adjust to the rhythm of yellow and black from sodium lights streaking by overhead….
In one stobing instant between lights, a passenger appears in my car, staring right at me.
(Me: “Who is it?”
Jason: *takes a long, deep breath*
Me: “…Oh no, oh nonono—”)
“DOOOO YOOOOOU SEEEEEE!?!?!11?//!”
END OF NIGHT