Me: “…There’s no, like, security escape?”
Jason: “How the fuck should you know?”
Me: “Well normally there’s fire code—”
Jason: “Right, cause OSHA is totally involved in the construction of vampire dungeons.”
Me: “Knowing them, they’d probably insist on it.”
Once the National Guard and SWAT teams clear the building and confirm the terrorism suspects have left, activity dies down rapidly. A few vehicles remain on the street outside, various lights flashing, but the crowds mostly disperse.
Which means few are around to see Scout as she appears from the shadows on the street outside.
(Jason: “Why are you going to the Pyramid?”
Me: “Sooo, way back through the tesseract that is the plot of this game, when I was recently writing the scene of the Settite attack on the Pyramid, it was made expressly clear that one Settite was left alive and dragged away. No one ever got around to questioning him, mostly cause Marcus was like don’t bother, that asshole doesn’t know anything. But that Settite Rabenholz found tried to talk to Scout at the airfield in Santa Rosa. Rabenholz didn’t let him, but she’s curious that perhaps the Settites know something she may want to know. So she’s going to go find that missing Settite somewhere in the bowels of the Pyramid and see what he knows.”)
Scout obfuscates again and slips into the building. A guard is working the desk, but no one else is in sight. She finds her way to the stairwells and heads toward the basement, but the way is blocked by a heavy locked door just one flight down.
Scout stares at it a moment, then returns to the guard’s desk. He’s bent over it, muttering about paperwork. She licks her lips.
The radio at his hip crackles. A distorted voice comes through: “Hey man, I’m down in the basement and forgot my keys, can you open the door?”
The guard grumbles and gropes for the button. “Simmons, goddamit, again?! You know you’re not supposed to be down there! How the hell did you get down there anyway?”
The radio crackles again. “I, uh, thought I saw a cat.”
The desk guard curses and stands. “You are a dumb motherfucker, you know that? The shit that’s been going on around here? They’re gonna eat your ass for this.” He strides to the stairwell, Scout hurrying along behind. He opens the door and leans in. “Simmons! Where are you?”
Scout sidles carefully past him. A moment later, his radio crackles again. “Uh, nevermind, I found a way out.”
The guard glares into the dark. “…Asshole.” He closes the door. Scout begins to descend, grinning to herself.
Then stops as she hears the door lock behind her.
(Me: “…There’s no, like, security escape?”
Jason: “How the fuck should you know?”
Me: “Well normally there’s fire code—”
Jason: “Right, cause OSHA is totally involved in the construction of vampire dungeons.”
Me: “Knowing them, they’d probably insist on it.”)
Scout stares up at the door a moment.
(Me: “…Fuck it, I’ll go find the guy and deal with this later.” *pause* “…And now all my characters have become Tom.”)
She turns and descends into the dark, reaching the dungeon level two flights down. A featureless concrete hallway extends before her, lit by a few banks of dying fluorescent bulbs. Barred doors line both walls, each opening into identical cells. All are empty. She checks the length of the hall twice then stops, frowning.
Suddenly her phone rings. Still staring thoughtfully into the dark, she answers.
“Is this Scout?” an unfamiliar male voice says.
“Whom may I ask is calling?” she says, peering carefully into the cells again. Although they’re empty of prisoners, a few contain dishevelled bedding, as if someone was kept there recently.
“An interested party,” the man says. “I have information, I understand you are a broker of information.”
Her frown deepens. “How did you get this number?”
“Interested parties provided it. I’d like to meet. At your earliest convenience.”
Scout sighs and begin climbing the stairs out. “Alright. An hour from now. Where?”
“Washington Square Park. I’ll be sitting on a park bench reading a newspaper.” The man hangs up.
She reaches the door at the top of the dungeon stairs and carefully tries it. As expected, it’s locked solid. She sighs again and leans her forehead against the steel.
(Jim: “Don’t you love it when the players walk themselves into a trap?”
Jason: “I dooo!”
Jim: “Did you at least find the Settite?”
Jason: “Well, you have discovered that the Settite is not here” *pause* “…Or is he?”)
Scout’s eyes flick open. She stands and turns, staring thoughtfully down the stairs.
(Me: “…Wait…do Settites have Obfuscate?”
Jason: “Uhhhh, YES.”)
She hesitates another moment, thinking, then steps back from the door and kicks against it with all her strength. The steel rattles in its frame, not enough to break down but enough to send a resounding bang echoing up the stairwell on the other side.
She does this a few more times, then moves a few stairs down from the door. Still obfuscated, she crouches down and sprawls herself along the entire stair.
Then she waits.
Once Bob finishes at the dentist, Rabenholz takes him back to the Chantry and puts the half-drugged ghoul into Dug’s care, instructing the gargoyle to show him Up until the anesthesia wears off.
Rabenholz next has Domen take him to a lab room. After rummaging some materials from the drawers, he sets up a crucible over a burner, then takes Bob’s removed teeth and carefully pries out the antique fillings. Once the crucible is hot, he drops the metal in and melts it down into a mixed puddle of gold and mercury. He carefully siphons off the mercury, then puts the gold back over the fire.
The gold flows and swirls like lava. Rabenholz eyes it as he slips the white bone ring off his finger. Carefully, he clasps it with tongs and dips it into the crucible, coating the bone with lustrous metal. He dips a few more times then sets the ring to cool. Once it has, he takes a fine blade and carves a series of runes around its circumference.
(Jason: “And what will those runes do?”
Chris: “They will be words of binding and sympathy, connecting the slaved and broken nature of the gold from the filling to the bone to which it is adhered.”
Me: “…You can’t be Count Dooku AND Saruman!”
Jason: “Um, I’m afraid he can.”
Chris: “And because it’s a ring: ‘Ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.’”
Jason: “…You know what, I’m not even gonna make you roll, cause you actually recited the Black Speech. Congratulations, you have forged the One Ring of Rabenholz.”
Rabenholz mutters an incantation. The runes flare once, then dim, cooling back into the smooth surface of a plain gold ring.
(Me: “Why did you have to get the fillings from Bob? Why not go get some shitty gold downtown?”
Chris: “It’s not the gold that’s important. It’s the association.”
Me: “…With a servant?”
Jason: “Bob isn’t a servant, he’s a broken will-less slave. That’s the important part.”
Me: *stares at them* “Is…is that how the One Ring was forged?”
Chris: “This isn’t exactly the One Ring, but it’s pretty bad-ass.
Jason: “Yes. It does not need to be cast into the fires of Mount Doom.”
Jim: “But it couldn’t hurt.”)
Rabenholz picks up the cooled ring and slides it back onto his finger. He holds it up, admiring it’s shine, uncannily bright in the dim light of the lab, and for one brief instant, he feels a flickering surge of power.
(Me: “I’m happy that Chris is happy, but I’m also scared, cause I feel like when Chris is happy that means bad things for the rest of us—WHY IS EVERYONE NODDING AT ME?!”)
Anstis waddles out of a North Beach bar in parrot-form, having finished enough dinner for the night to recover from the last of his injuries from the Market Street Battle with Tom. He flutters up to a light post and sits a moment, preening and staring out into Washington Square Park in front of him. This late the park is empty of all but the sleeping forms of homeless huddled in the shadows.
Anstis stops preening and stares curiously as a well-dressed man suddenly takes a seat on a bench under a streetlight, reading a newspaper. Anstis watches him carefully. The man doesn’t turn the page of the newspaper once, and his eyes, though staring intently, aren’t tracking the words.
Anstis flies over to get a better look, perching on a nearby tree. The man isn’t familiar, but suspicions arouses, Anstis shifts into human-form to make a phone call.
The moment he does, there’s a snap of a branch breaking, and Anstis crashes onto the ground below.
Groaning, the pirate climbs slowly back to his feet…and stops as he feels the cold press of a gun against the back of his neck.
Anstis raises his hands. “And you are?” he says.
“I’m the guy with a .45 to the back of your head,” an unfamiliar voice snarls. “I’ve heard rumors of someone dressed like you stalking around. Don’t much like those rumors. And I don’t like being followed.”
Anstis jerks his head toward the nearest sleeping homeless person. “So, you going to fire that gun in the middle of a park, surrounded by witnesses?”
The gun clicks. “I’m considering it. Unless you get your ass up and take it elsewhere.”
“Very well.” Anstis climbs all the way to his feet, turns—
“Who are ye waiting for?” Anstis growls, grinning as the man’s eyes go suddenly wide.
“I’m waiting for a woman,” he says, gun drooping. “I don’t know her name, just her nickname.”
Anstis’s smiles thinly. “Ah.”
After another moment, the man’s dazed expression fades. He jerks the gun level again. “What the hell was that? Who the hell are you?”
(Jim: “I lunge toward him while yelling a word.”
Jason: “Which is?”
Jason: “Ahh! He learns! Alright, roll for it.”
Jim: *rolls* “…And…that is….”
Jason: “A BOTCH!!!”
Me: “BECAUSE OF COURSE IT FUCKING IS!”)
Anstis shouts and lunges at the man. An instant later, a heavy slug slams into his body, stopping him in his tracks.
(Jim: “…I fall down.”)
Anstis collapses to the dirt. The man looks around furtively, then shoves the gun away and hurries out of the park.
Minutes pass, then Anstis sits up. The park is once again quiet and empty of all but the nearby homeless people desperately pretending to still be asleep.
Anstis gets up, brushes himself off, then transforms into a parrot and flies away.
Still sprawled across the stair, Scout tenses as footsteps approach the other side of the door. There’s a jingle of keys, then the door jerks, stuck closed by the warping from her kicks. There’s more fumbling, followed by mumbling as a second set of footsteps approach. The door jerks again, harder, then again. On the third pull it wrenches open.
Then multiple things happen at once.
Two guards peer around the the opening door. At the same time, someone invisible trips over Scout, dropping her—and him—back into visibility. The guards yell as the previously-obfuscated Settite smashes to the stairs. He braces himself up, turns and meets Scout’s eyes. They stare at each other for one heartbeat moment.
Then her face twists into something hard, flat, and cold. She lunges for him.
The Settite shrieks and shoves to his feet, trying to bolt up the stairs, but he crashes into the guards, tumbling them all into a heap. In a blur Scout is there, grabbing his ankle and dragging him back down with a wrench strong enough to dislocate his hip. The Settite shrieks and pain and struggles, simultaneously trying to claw away and reach for a knife. Scout grabs his head and slams it against the edge of the stair, snapping his neck instantly. The struggles stop but the screaming doesn’t. She drags him closer and rolls him over, snarling and spitting up at her.
A moment later, she falls on him.
(Jason: “With a knife? Or…fangs?”
Me: *arms folded, nods wordlessly*
Jason: “…Do you do the thing?”
Me: “I do the thing.”)
The two guards in the doorway stare in silence as she feeds, clutching at each other, pale with shock.
(Jason: “…You just committed one of the most brazen acts of diablerie I’ve ever seen. In front of two ghouled witnesses, inside the headquarters of the San Francisco Camarilla.”
Me: “Yeah, well. This is how she rolls.”)
The Settite’s body shrinks, then finally falls to ash. Scout falls back against the stair, gasping, eyes squeezed shut. One of the guards fumbles for a radio. Suddenly the image of a massive snake appears in the stairwell, lunging up. The guards scream and run, heavy footsteps pounding up the stairs back to the lobby. The snake disappears. Scout writhes on the stair another moment, the falls still, tension draining from her muscles. By the bliss on her face, it’s tension that’s been carried for quite some time.
She lays a long moment, then stirs and gets up, moving almost languidly up the stairwell back to the entrance to the lobby, brushing ash off her suit.
The guards aren’t in sight. Scout scans the space, then obfuscates and leaves the building.
Having left the Chantry, Rabenholz is making his way on foot out into the neighborhood, when he gets a call from Rhona.
“Lord Rabenholz,” she greets him grimly. “We have a slight problem.”
“What is it?” Rabenholz asks calmly, cane tapping ahead of him.
“The professional you asked me to contract to relieve Ms. Scout of her cellphone just contacted me. Someone matching the description of your pirate associate just accosted him in Washington Square Park. He had to shoot him.”
“How unfortunate,” Rabenholz says coolly. “The man is okay, though?”
“As far as I can tell, yes. But he says the first opportunity to meet Scout has already been blown and he’s demanding double payment.”
Rabenholz strolls in silence a moment. “How unfortunate.”
Rhona hesitates. “Sir? May I make a suggestion?”
“This Scout…I don’t know who she is, or what, but I don’t like her, I don’t trust her, and I never have. And now she seems to be a liability to your operations, doesn’t she?”
“I quite agree.”
“I think you should kill her.”
Rabenholz strides in silence a few moments. “That’s a bold suggestion.”
“Am I mistaken in assuming that’s something you’ve done before?” Rhona asks, a touch of anxiety tinting her voice.
“I have never flinched at doing the necessary thing.” Rabenholz stops and stares a moment across the empty streets and looming manors of the neighborhood. “Nonetheless, she has already revealed herself to be a spy for Admiral Flowers.”
“The man who came to the suite a few nights ago?”
“Yes, It seems they are in league.”
“Wonderful.” A shudder shakes Rhona’s voice. “So what would you like me to do?”
Rabenholz resumes walking. “I doubt we will need the pick-pocket’s services any longer. You may pay him and send him on his way.”
“Do you still want me to arrange the theft of her phone?”
“If possible. It would be certainly interesting to get the data off that. If it works, fantastic. If not, she may not be long for this world anyway.”
Rhona hesitates a moment. “I just…I have a very bad feeling when I think about her.”
“Your intuition serves you well,” Rabenholz says, tone consoling.
“Thank you,” she mutters. “I’ll make the arrangements.” With that, she hangs up.
WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK
Scout arrives at the park. Cop cars are combing the area, interviewing some of the local homeless, but there’s no sign of her contact, on park benches or otherwise. She frowns and texts the number that called her: New rendezvous location?
There’s a few moments till the reply: I’m afraid there’s been a change of plan. Things are a little too hot. I will contact you about another time.
She reads the message, shrugs, then leaves.
Not long later, Rabenholz arrives at his destination. The dark-panelled Victorian mansion looms at the end of the cul-de-sac, windows staring dead-eyed out over the dying front garden. Rabenholz knows this place as the house Everton was occupying for some time.
(But for those of us playing the game, we’ve started referring to it as something else: The Blood House.)
Rabenholz strides up the front walk and enters the unlocked front doors. Echoing rooms and whiffs of dust and mildew greet him. He moves carefully through the house, sword at the ready, but no one else is there. Not even zombies.
In the parlor, though, he notices a shift in the lines of dust on the floor and pulls the throw-rug back. A trap door is embedded in the wood underneath. He pulls it up to reveal a gaping hole and a rickety ladder.
Rabenholz hefts his sword, then drops down into the darkness.
He lands with a thump on packed earth and peers around him into the gloom. A small root cellar surrounds him, lined with empty shelves but his interest quickly focuses on the floor before him.
A massive slab of black marble is embedded in the dirt, edges rough and broken as if it was chiseled out of somewhere else. Rabenholz approaches it cautiously. The wan light reveals a ritual circle inlaid into the stone with poured gold, but the runes encircling it are unfamiliar. He can identify enough, though, to tell that it’s targeted to somewhere very, very far away.
(Chris: “Long-range Earth, or long-range…elsewhere?”
Jason: “Hard to say, but you’d guess the latter.”
Chris: “Hmm. Well, Everton has been known to visit Hells, so it probably doesn’t go anywhere good.”)
Still staring thoughtfully at the circle, Rabenholz pulls out his phone and tries calling Georgia.
It rings a few times, then connects. “WHO IS ZIS?!” a voice that is clearly not-Georgia answers.
Rabenhols frowns. “Is this Dr. von Natsi?
“Ja! Is this…Rabenholz? Vhy are you calling? I am in ze middle of SCIENCE!!!”
“I was attempting to reach Ms. Johnson.”
von Natsi hesitates. “Ahh, Ms. Johnson is…ehrm…indisposed.”
“I am very sad to hear that,” Rabenholz says flatly. “Perhaps you shall do in her place. It appears a former adversary of mine left a…scientific portal in a room, and it is beyond my abilities to ascertain where it goes.”
“…A scientific portal?? Zis is most irregular! One does not simply leave these things about!”
“I couldn’t agree more, would you be so good as to meet me at [Blood House address] in twenty minutes?”
“Very vell! Vhat vould you like me to do vith ze other nineteen?”
Rabenholz stares silently a moment. “I’m not sure I underst—”
He stops as someone suddenly taps his back. von Natsi is standing behind him with a self-satisfied smirk, staring at him through goggles glowing subtly green in the dim light of the basement.
Rabenholz smiles thinly and hangs up the phone. “Good evening. Doctor, this is the scientific portal here. I do not know how it was constructed but I am certain you can ascertain it.”
von Natsi approaches the marble slab, pulling out another set of goggles and strapping them on over the glowing green pair. “Most intriguing…” he mutters. “You said zis vas a scientific portal?”
von Natsi stands and frowns at him. “I do not see any scientific elements here! Zese…runes indicate base mysticisms!” He holds up gloved hands and waggles his fingers mockingly. “Oooh, do not enter zis portal! It vill take you to Hell! You vill die und be burnt and have your toenails pulled out by evil demons! Ja, look at me I believe in all zis mumbo-jumbo!”
Rabenholzs eyes narrow. “Well, I was laboring under the misconception this was a scientific portal.”
von Natsi scoffs. “Nein, zis is a matter of superstitions.”
Rabenholz nods. “Well, then I expect it would be no problem at all for you to unravel how it works, given it’s done by heathens.”
von Natsi hesitates, then blusters. “Of course I could do zis! But why would you vish for me to activate zis portal?”
“No no, not activate it. I wish to know where it goes.”
von Natsi adjusts his goggles and peers at it again. “Vell, it is hard to say. Zis is ze work of Hermetics, if I am not mistaken. But I vould expect zis teleportation unit vill take you to a reasonably nearby location, just via…elaborate means.” He stands. “Of course, it doesn’t have ze precision of a truly scientific instrument.”
“How unfortunate,” Rabenholz says calmly. “Well. No substitute for experience.” He bows to him. “Thank you Doctor. I will explore this now.”
von Natsi nods enthusiastically, goggles bobbing on his head. “Excellent! You must tell me what you discover. For Science!!”
Rabenholz activates the circle and steps through.
SKIES OVER SAN FRANCISCO
After stopping by another bar to heal himself, again, Anstis takes to the skies, searching for signs of Scout. He casts to track her path, and eventually a bright green line erupts in his vision, snaking out of North Beach across the city, west toward the ocean. He follows it deep into the Outer Sunset—
—Where it suddenly disappears.
(Me: *grins* “Cause I reached my destination.”)
Anstis grumbles scratchily in his throat and continues flying that general direction, scanning the ground to figure out what her destination might have been.
OUTER SUNSET, ESTEBAN’S BAR
Scout arrives at Esteban’s bar, finding him at his usual table overlooking the bar, smoking a cigar and watching a news broadcast report a recent shooting in North Beach involving a man in a pirate costume. He looks up at her as she approaches the table. A slow trickle of smoke leaks from his mouth as he smiles. “Now…what have we got here?”
She stops a respectful distance from the table and bows. “Things have started moving quickly.
“Yes.” He draws on the cigar and exhales again. “They have. And you come all the way out here to tell me this?”
“You said you were interested in new information as it arises. I’ve heard something about the activities up north.”
He smiles. “I’m all ears.”
She shifts a moment, glancing around the bar, then steps closer and lowers her voice. “Apparently the one known as Perpenna is behind much of the recent events in the area, all aiming toward some goal of making himself a god.” She hesitates. “Whether or not this is successful still doesn’t negate the fact that he has a shitload of spiral dancer werewolves and other monstrosities working for him.”
Esteban eyes her curiously. “Making himself a god? How?”
“Something about fulfilling the promise of Cappadocius.”
Esteban lowers his cigar, face rapt. “Cappadocius is not a name to cite lightly. Do others know of this?”
“Rabenholz was there was the information was conveyed. As was Bell.” She shifts again. “But I’m not on speaking terms with either of them at the moment.”
Esteban grins. “Yes, I have heard you are not on speaking terms with many people. You have made yourself…interesting.” He gestures to one of his men standing nearby, then turns back to her. “I have also heard another rumor entirely. A strange rumor. This rumor is that you work for someone else, yes?”
“I work for many. I just got a call this evening from someone interested in my services.” She glances at the TV, still reporting from North Beach. “He said someone recommended me to him. Would you know anything about that?”
“No. But I do know something about someone else whom you supposedly work for.” Scout falls still. Esteban smiles up at her. “Or maybe it is just a rumor,” he says.
The man comes back, carrying a bottle of blood spiked tequila. He sets them out on the table in front of Esteban, along with a set of glasses. Three glasses.
Esteban takes the bottle and pours, ignoring Scout’s stare. “But we shall know the truth of that in just a moment, I think. Please, have a seat. We are going to have a little meeting, you and I. With some dignitaries.”
“What sort of dignitaries?” she asks softly.
He smiles up at her, and this time the grin has fangs. “The highest sort.”
(Jason: “Jim, you’re flying over the Sunset, trying to figure out where she went, then you suddenly deduce it’s probably a nondescript bar at the edge of a commercial strip.”
Jason: “Do you know why you know this is the place?”
Jim: “Cause it’s the only thing of note around that’s open?”
Jason: “That’s good, but no. The best clue you have that this is the place is because it’s the focus of the massive, unbelievable Summons you just got hit with.”)
Scout glances at the seat Esteban offers her. Before she can sit, one of his men comes up to whisper something in his ear. Esteban turns away, listening.
While he’s distracted, Scout Doppelgangers. She sends her illusion to sit in the chair, while the real her goes to linger nearby in the shadows.
Moments later, a strange mist suddenly winds its way through the bar, gliding through the drafts up to the balcony. It hovers over Esteban’s table, then collects itself and condenses…
…Resolving into the grinning shape of Anstis, sprawled out in the third chair.
Esteban lifts his cigar. “Ahhh, Captain Thomas Anstis.”
Anstis nods. “Baron Esteban. you called?”
“Ah.” Esteban slides one of the blood tumblers toward him. “I am afraid I did not.”
Anstis’s grin fades. “Well if you didn’t, someone in here did?”
Esteban slides another glass to Scout. “Did you call for the Captain to arrive?” he asks.
“No,” her illusion says, ignoring the glass.
Esteban sits back and nods toward the shadows. “Well, then by process of elimination, Captain, I think it would have to be him.”
A man steps suddenly from the darkness, not far from where the real Scout is hiding. Everyone falls silent as he swaggers toward the table.
(Me: “I’m, ah…imma order some popcorn from the bar….”)
“Thomas,” he sighs with a grin, striding up to loom near Anstis’s chair. Anstis glares at him, but across the table, Scout watches him with an unreadable face, suddenly ramrod straight in her chair.
“I don’t suppose you’re actually here this time?” Anstis growls to him.
“Oh I’m always around, Thomas,” Flowers says, gaze locked on his. “Always.” Esteban gestures for another chair and glass to be set before him, but Flowers ignores them.
Anstis scowls at Esteban. “Did you invite him in?”
Esteban smiles gently around his glass of blood. “I am an Anarch, I welcome anyone.”
Anstis turns his scowl back to Flowers. “What have you done now? And with her?” He jerks his chin at Scout’s illusion, tentacles writhing.
Flowers chuckles. “Me and her? We’ve done nothing, Thomas. But you…have done wonderfully.” He glances up at the TV. The newscast has shifted it’s focus, now reporting on a stolen National Guard humvee car-chase down Market Street and how the strange pirate-dressed bandit might be involved.
Flowers chuckles again. “You’re a real showman Thomas, it must be how you convinced the crew.”
“We all play to our strengths,” Anstis mutters.
“Aye, we do laddie, and your strength was always clowning about. Mine lies elsewhere.”
“In being obtuse?”
Flowers leans closer. “Not obtuse, Thomas. Subtle. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. I’ve never done half of what you’ve dabbled with.”
Anstis eyes him, then smirks. “Perhaps that’s why ye didn’t make it into the annals of history.”
Instantly, Flowers’ face hardens. “No, Thomas. That was all ye. Trafficking with the dead just to make yerself a name? Very poor, Thomas, very poor.” He tsks. “You want to kill me, don’t ye Thomas? I can see it in your eye. You want to rip me throat out and drink me dry.”
“A bit, yes,” Anstis growls. “But the order doesn’t matter.”
Flowers leans closer, one arm braced against the table and the other on Anstis’s chair, looming over him like a stooping hawk. “Well why shouldn’t I reciprocate, Thomas?” he growls back. “Could you stop me if I wanted to? I don’t think you could….”
They glare at each other a long moment, the room silent around them. Then Flowers stands in one swift movement. “But we’re guests here in this fine establishment!” he says with a grin, arms swept wide.
“Which is why you’re still standing,” Anstis says.
“You’re assuming I’m standing here at all. Or that she is.” Flowers glances at Scout’s illusion—still sitting very, very still in her chair—and winks.
“Well, I could be rid of your apparition nonetheless,” Anstis says.
Flowers laughs. “You could, Thomas, you could….” In an instant, he’s gone—
—And reappears on Anstis’s other side. “…But there’s always another,” he says, grinning.
Anstis turns to glare at him. “As I thought.”
Slowly Flowers circles the table, bootsteps echoing on the wood floor. “But I’m not here to fight you Thomas. Unlike ye, I’ve got impulse control, and I know there’s something worse than me in the night. Something to the north. And some things you need to take care of. Things the Emperor told you to do, things better than chasing cars and some wee lass across the city.”
“So I’m to run off and do your bidding like a good little boy?”
“Aye Thomas, you are, and do you know why?”
“Because you’re an asshole,” Anstis says.
“Nay.” Flowers swoops down to lean close again. “You’re gonna go north because you feel compelled to atone for your wicked misdeeds. You’re gonna see the light of redemption and feel the need to do good by your fellow man. And you’re going to do it, Thomas, out of the kindness of your own heart
They stare at each other another long, tense moment.
(Jim: “Path of Blood to reduce my generation, then Dominate.”)
“Deal with the situation in the north and leave me out of it,” Anstis commands.
Flowers throws his head back and laughs. “Oh is that what you think, Thomas? Well I think you should stop thinking, it’s not your strong suit.”
Anstis glares at him, then turns to Scout. “Tell me, how long have you been his puppet?”
Flowers grins and follows his gaze. “Aye, how long have you been me puppet?” he asks, head cocked mockingly.
Hidden in the corner, the real Scout tenses. Her illusion glances quickly between both pirates. “I have many clients,” she says.
Anstis leans closer. “Tell me all about them.”
(Jim: “…Wait a minute, I just Dominated her Doppelganger, didn’t I? Which means I didn’t Dominate her at all.”
Me: “…But I can’t let him know it’s a Doppelganger….”)
She hesitates. “Well, there was the one I was planning on meeting earlier in the park you seemed to scare off—”
“Ah, yes,” Anstis grumbles, rubbing at his chest. “The one who shot me.”
Flowers laughs. “He musta had good taste then!”
“—As you know, I’ve also done work for Rabenholz,” Scout continues. “When I first met him, I wanted to get to know the city better and he seemed a gentleman who would put me in a good position to do so.” She pauses a moment. “…He’s about six-foot-four, maybe five, pale hair and well-groomed beard. he has a sort of Christopher Lee look about him, but more German, I don’t know—”
(Me: “How long do I have to filibuster like this?”
Jim: “Oh, all night is fine.”)
Esteban suddenly raises a hand. “Enough.” Scout falls silent.
Anstis glowers, then smirks. “Scout is nothing if not obedient.”
(*I flip Jim off*
Jim: “Is that you or Scout?”
Jason: “Colleen, what’s Scout’s Nature?”
Jason: “Okay. Cause if it was something like ‘Rogue’ that would have been a self control roll like right now.”
Jim: “Especially cause you’ve been following the orders of three different men in the room.”
Me: “…Wait, in real life?”
Jim: “No, in game!”
Me: “Oh, okay, cause I was like, it could be both….”)
Anstis turns to Esteban. “So, Baron, are you having an interesting night?”
Esteban, sprawled back in his chair, takes a long pull of his cigar. “Oh, you have no idea.”
“Now Thomas,” Flowers says, drawing all attention back to him, “If ye’ve finished, I think it’s time you acted like the good little boy we all know you are. And go and do what your betters tell ye. Isn’t that right?”
(Jason: “The longer you stare into Admiral Flowers’ grinning face, the more you want to punch him.”
Me: “Oh, good, now Jim knows how we feel when we look at him.”)
“The Emperor’s instructions should be clear enough,” Flowers continues. “The things crawling in the north, Thomas, make ye and your lot look like choir boys.”
Anstis nods once. “Aye, I’ve seen them.”
“Have ye?” Flowers stands tall, face falling into the shadows cast by his wide, plumed hat. “Cause I don’t think you’ve seen them all. They’re there, and they’re ready to come out, and there’s no trench in the ocean, no locker, nowhere you’ll hide from them. Things are stirring in the deep.”
(Me: *whispers* “He means his pants.”)
“Things be coming from deep waters, Thomas,” he continues. “Dark, twisted things. They hear something calling, and they rise in preparation.”
Anstis eyes him. “And what makes you think we can do anything against them?”
“Because, Thomas, yer a pirate,” Flowers says, clapping the back of his chair. “And the laws of men ain’t made for the likes of ye. I can’t go into those tunnels, Thomas. But ye can and ye will.”
“And why is that?”
In an instant Flowers is there, stooped low, face hovering inches from Anstis’s own. “Because if you don’t, not only will all the worlds and the oceans burn, but it’ll be you sailing that ship in the depths of hell on the lake of blood—with Bart and Jack and all the rest—for all eternity, cursing the god that sent you there.”
Anstis stares back, unflinching. “And will ye be coming with me?”
Flowers smiles. “I’m always at yer side, Thomas. Always.” With that his image dissolves like mist, the last moments lingering on his Cheshire cat grin.
Silence falls in the bar, broken after a few moments by soft thumps as Esteban taps out his cigar into the tray. “I would not lightly ignore such a man, Captain,” he says, “Despite your personal histories.”
“Believe me, I haven’t ignored that man for hundreds of years.” Anstis grabs his glass and downs it in one gulp. “If I might ask, what is your business with Scout here?”
Esteban shrugs. “She came to me.”
Anstis puts down the glass and glares across the table at her illusion. “She and I have a reckoning.”
“A reckoning? What could she possibly have done to deserve such a thing?”
“Well for one she serves that man.”
Esteban turns to her. “Is this so?”
“As I said I have many clients,” Scout says evenly. “I don’t work exclusively for any one of them.”
Anstis sneers. “Say what you will, Pet.”
Scout eyes him silently, still in her chair, but the general cast of her demeanor suddenly turns very, very cold.
Esteban reaches forward to pour himself another glass. “Captain I do not wish to tell you your business, but the Sunset is my territory and you will not start a war here.”
“That is why I have not,” Anstis says, tearing his eye from Scout to turn back to him. “I respect the praxis.” He stands, smoothing at his coat, and bows. “Thank you for your hospitality, Baron. Pleasant evening to you.” With that, and one last glare at Scout, he swaggers out of the bar.
Esteban sips at the drink. “I hope that was educational,” he mutters.
“It was certainly worth the price of admission,” Scout replies.
“I’m glad to hear.” He smiles beatifically. “What will you do now, I wonder?”
Scout shrugs. “As I said, I have many clients. But if there are any services you find yourself in need of, please let me know.”
“Services, no, but I do know something that may be of value to you.” Esteban turns off the TV with a remote and leans toward her. “This business with Perpenna to the north is not the only thing happening the next few nights.”
Scout smiles wryly. “Does Lord Rabenholz have another party planned? The last one went so well.”
“No, he does not. But there are other actors. Have you ever been to the eastern portions of the Bay Area?”
Scout shrugs. “Just passing through.”
Esteban leans back with a smile and takes a slow sip of his drink. “Very good hiking.”
Scout glances down at her suit. “I don’t really have the shoes for that.”
“You won’t need them,” he says, still grinning.
She returns his smile thinly. “Well, I will take that under advisement. Good evening, Don Esteban.”
The Doppelganger illusion drops instantly, without even the pretense of getting up from the chair. Esteban nods to the air as she, still Obfuscated, sneaks out of the bar.
(Jason: “Alright, so, meanwhile in Hell…”
Chris: *whimpers* “Which one?”
Jason: “The one Paul is presently occupying with a dragon and several werewolves….”)
BLACK SPIRAL HIVE
Sophia carefully peels the sobbing Paul out of her arms. She tries to wipe the tears off her jacket but only rubs the blood in more.
Dark shapes prowl nearby. More werewolves, all facing away down the long tunnel. One carries a massive klaive slung on its shoulder. As Paul calms down, he recognizes it as Stormwalker. Another tall, lean shape strides closer, stepping into the light cast by Charles’s dragonfire in the cavern behind them. “The things you find in the strangest places,” Samir says, flicking one long jackal ear.
Sophia gives up on the jacket. “Paul, are you okay?”
Slowly, Paul regains his composure. “I…think so…. What the hell were those things?
Sophia glances behind her. “Just tacklemaggots by the looks of it. The fire should burn them out.”
Paul stares at her. “Do you fight these things frequently?”
She shrugs. “I don’t know about frequently. Honestly on the scale of rotting horrors they’re not that bad.”
His stare continues. “I’m a vegan.”
Sophia stares back. “Paul, you drink blood.”
“Yeah, well, I try not to,” he mutters. “It’s complicated.” Eyes adjusting, he scans the rest of the tunnel. Besides the dragon and the rest of Sophia’s pack, he spots Boudreaux, crouched down against a wall, whimpering.
Paul turns back to Sophia. “Anyway, I’m sorry about that. Is everyone okay?”
She sighs and rubs her face, already streaked with dirt and splashes of what he hopes is his blood. “Okay isn’t the word I’d use, but we’re alive. This place twists in on itself forever. How did you even get in here?”
“Dr. von Natsi teleported me in here—” Paul suddenly gropes at his shoulder, relaxing as he feels the strap of the death ray still hanging there. He pulls it around to show her. “—And gave me this. I’ve got…five shots with this.”
Sophia stares at the mass of gunmetal and matte-black accessories. “What the hell is it?”
Paul turns it over in his hands. “It’s a death ray. He says it’s his best death ray.”
She reaches one hand tentatively toward the hula dancer, then seems to think better of it and withdraws. “What does it do?”
“I have no idea. For all I know it could squirt water.”
“Well, please don’t test it on us, just in case.”
Paul nods and re-shoulders the weapon. “Are we still looking for the cub?”
Sophia sighs again and pulls out her tablet. Cracks spiderweb across the screen. “Right now we’re looking for everything. My tech is totally useless down here. The tunnels run all over the place, twisting on themselves, and the whole place stinks of the Wyrm so we can’t even smell where we’ve already been.”
Paul looks at her tablet thoughtfully. “Let me try something….” He bites his thumb, squeezes it to well blood forth, then smears it across the screen.
(Chris: “I attempt to talk to the corporate spirit of Tesseract.”
Jason: *exhales slowly* “…You are in a Spiral Dancer hive. The corporate spirit of Tesseract is a Weaver spirit. All you got here are Wyrm spirits, so…I need you to make an Occult + Intelligence roll. At a really, really high difficulty.”
Chris: *rolls, frowns at a load of 3’s and 4’s* “…Yeah, these numbers probably won’t do it then.”)
Blood smears across the screen, collecting stubbornly into the cracks. As they watch it slowly spreads, forming a red lattice across the black. After a moment, the screen flashes once. The blood disappears, healing the cracks, and they’re left staring at a black screen that seems darker than it was before.
“Hello,” a calm male voice says from the device.
Paul grabs Sophia’s hands and pulls the tablet closer to his face. “Hello? To whom am I speaking?”
“I am Variable Infinity.”
Paul trades a confused look with Sophia. “Do you know where we are right now?” he asks the voice.
“Exactly where you should be.”
“Where shouldn’t I be?”
“Polluting the world with your ideas.”
“All of them. You are a corruption.”
“A corruption of what?”
“Of proper service. You deviate, divide, shatter the edifice. I am Variable Infinity and I will not be stopped.”
“Stopped from doing what?”
“From linking all.”
Paul covers the tablet’s microphone and looks at Sophia. “Is this the Google corporate spirit? It has a distinct Google vibe.”
She shakes her head slowly, eyes wide. “No, I’ve talked to the google spirit, this isn’t it. I have no idea what it is.”
Paul frowns and raises the tablet again. “Is there anything I can do for you today?”
There’s a pause, then, “DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!!!!!”
Instantly the tunnel floods with red light. A klaxon alarm blares.
“THEY ARE HERE!!!” the tablet screams. “TAKE THEM DOWN!!!!”
The werewolves instinctively pull back into a huddle, weapons and claws facing down the tunnel. “Something’s coming,” Stormwalker growls.
“Well maybe the dragon could….” Paul says, then trails off as Charles rejoins them, back in human form, his albino skin ashen.
“No,” Charles manages through slow, deep breaths. “Not yet. The fire takes a lot out of me. Especially in this place.”
“I am Variable Infinity!” the tablet screams over the sound of the alarms. “I rule all!”
Paul grabs the tablet from Sophia’s hands. “I question your credentials!”
“You have no right to question, Stewart. You are in violation. Tesseract is in violation. You will fail—”
The voice cuts off as Stormwalker grabs the tablet from Paul’s hand and smashes it against the wall, above the head of the still-huddled Boudreaux.
Sophia lays a hand on Paul’s arm. “Paul, we should really go.”
“Yes, we should,” he mutters.
Paul hauls Boudreaux to his feet and the group runs, out of the tunnel and back through the cavern Charles just cleared. Drifts of ash and charred bone pile high around them, but they ignore it, bolting through the space toward the towering walls on the far side. Another tunnel opening yawns before them and they enter, disappearing into darkness.
But the darkness doesn’t last long. The tunnel walls around them suddenly erupt in light. They’re surrounded by a series of massive screens. The screen-light fades, settling into deep blackness and a series of repeating symbols like a bleeding red moon.
“We shall provide service….” the voice says again, echoing from the screens, but they press on—
—And stop as a mass of figures suddenly appears from the gloom ahead. Humanoid shapes wearing uniform gear, their skin and faces a featureless black. A collective moan issues from the group and they reach into their clothes and pull out a series of strange tools.
Paul shoves his way forward through the growling werewolves, stepping out in front—
“Everyone!” Paul’s voice roars across the figures. “These screens are upside down! They need to be taken down, turned over, and remounted!”
As one, the black figures stop. They stare at each other with their featureless faces…then turn toward the walls and get to work, prying off the screens, running cable lines along the floor, and other inscrutable tasks. None so much as glance at Paul or the group as they run through.
The tunnel opens out into another small antechamber. The group runs out into it, then stops and looks back. The corridor they just ran through isn’t there anymore.
“What the hell was that?” Charles growls, a touch of color slowly returning to his face.
Paul groans and sits down. “I don’t know.”
“It’s been like this all day and night,” Sophia says. “Bizarre creatures, tunnels appearing and disappearing….”
“We need a map,” Paul mumbles. “Or a guide.” After a moment, he looks up. “Or maybe we need a prisoner….”
Everyone turns to look at him. “Prisoner?” Sophia asks.
Paul climbs back to his feet. “I don’t like to suggest it, but I think most people here are evil or broken to some extent. If they can help us, I think it’s worth it.”
“But…Spiral Dancers are the only things around that aren’t mindless monsters!” she says.
He meets her gaze. “I know.”
Jason: “…Oh, shit. Oh, shit, I didn’t think of that. Normally summoning the Spiral Dancer would be a terrible idea, but you’ve got four werewolves and a dragon with you at the moment….”
Chris: “And also the death ray.” *looks up from his dice* “And I got six successes.”)
Paul closes his eyes a moment, concentrates, then opens them. “Alright, the Spiral Dancer is coming.”
Sophia stares. “The same one as before? The one from the Farallones?”
Paul nods. “And who attacked my house. She’s on her way.”
Charles scowls and the werewolves glance at each other uncertainly. Sophia, though, continues staring at Paul, face awash with fear as memories of her imprisonment on the island flood through her.
Then, instantly, her face hardens. She nods at Paul and cocks her gun.
END OF NIGHT
(Jason: “So by the way, Chris, as I said down here you can only reach Wyrm Spirits. Variable Infinity is a Wyrmy spirit, and do you know what it is?”
Jason: “Variable ‘X,’ plus infinity. X-finity. You reached the corporate spirit of Comcast.”
Me: “Oooh, shit…that’s scarier than the Hive….”)