Me: “I mean, I am kinda curious, but Thrace is in Chinatown, and he knows I tried to kill him, so….”
Jason: “So you’re not going to follow them to Chinatown?”
Me: “WE CAN NEVER GO BACK TO CHINATOWN!”
This was a short night for us, so fyi this is a shorter writeup than usual!
Rabenholz activates Everton’s basement circle, bracing himself with the expectation of materializing in some sort of hell—
—And steps out into a wood-panelled study.
Rabenholz stares around. The room is rich with the scent of wood-polish and leather, lined with bookshelves, with a few tastefully-worn chairs set on a rug in front of a crackling fireplace. No one else is present. Rabenholz circles the room slowly, eyeing the books and the artifacts on the shelves. There’s no obvious means of exit.
A crystal bottle—filled with red fluid—and matching tumbler are set on a side table next to the more worn-looking chair, and a tweed jacket is tossed over its back. Rabenholz approaches and runs his hand along the leather.
(Chris: “Wait, is any of the furniture made of human flesh?”
Chris: “Phew. Once burned, twice shy.”)
Rabenholz goes back to examining the bookshelves. Gold-leafed titles in a myriad languages stare back at them, many recognizably classics. He hesitates at one leather-bound set displayed prominently near the armchair and draws one down. By the cover, they’re all a set in some series titled Lord of the Rings. He flips through one a moment then puts it back. Nearby, a slightly displaced book catches his eye, a genealogy of the Holy Roman Empire. A velvet bookmark is tucked into it and Rabenholz opens it to find a section relating to the Palatinate of the late 15th century.
(Chris: “What a surprise!”
Jason: “Quite. Well, I bet it’s nothing, I’m sure he was looking for someone else.”)
A journal sits flat on the shelf nearby. He picks it up and flips through. The inscription inside the cover identifies it as Everton’s but the handwritten text on the pages are ciphered in some strange code. Scattered throughout, though, are sketches and notations on a variety of subjects: ritual circles, sketches of ancient cities, diagrams of werewolves. Towards the back of the journal Rabenholz finds a sketch of himself, next to a taped-in photo of someone identified as “Christopher Lee.”
Rabenholz peers appraisingly at the sketch, then sets the journal down and wanders to the armchair, sniffing the bottle next to it. Brandy, mixed with blood. He pours himself a small draught, sips carefully, then pours a little more. He sits in the chair, staring into space as he sips his drink. A sense of zen settles over him, helped by the warm crackling of the fire and the agreeable comfort of the surroundings.
Till his gaze falls on something embedded in the wall by the fireplace. A lightswitch. He looks around the room again. There are no electric light sources in sight.
Rabenholz sets the drink down and goes to investigate. It’s a plain plastic switch, painted brown to match the mahogany walls. After a moment he flips it.
The fire next to him turns green. Flames lick and crackle same as before, but the room falls noticeably darker under their wan, flickering light. Antique statues on the shelves loom and twist sickeningly in the dancing shadows. Rabenholz turns to scan the room again, then stops.
A ritual circle is inscribed on the ceiling, lines and runes glowing faintly under the green light. Rabenholz stands underneath it, peering up to decipher its meaning.
It’s not a teleportation circle. It’s a summoning circle.
ESTEBAN’S BAR, THE SUNSET
Once she’s left the bar, Scout de-obfuscates, pulling out her phone to summon a car. She glances around her as she walks to the street, scanning the skies.
But she doesn’t spot Anstis, carefully following her down the street by fluttering between patches of shadow on nearby rooftops and trees.
Suddenly her phone rings. She looks down at the screen and stops, face blanching.
Jason: “You’re gonna want to come with me.”
*we both stand to leave the room*
*Jason and I freeze, then slowly sit back down*
Jason: “Alright, give me a Perception + Alertness.”
Jim: *rolls* “Uh…three successes, if difficulty six.”
Jason: “Hmm. Okay, that’s enough that you can hear her side of it, but not the other side.”
Jim: “Oh, interesting…”
Jason: “So..how are we going to do this?”
Me: “Why don’t you type at me and I’ll read over your shoulder.”)
Scout stares at the phone a moment, glances around, then answers. “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you,” she says, voice low. “I thought you were otherwise occupied.” She listens a moment then nods. “I do,” she says, then suddenly winces as if chastised. “I do know that you are always with me,” she says hurriedly. “Watching.”
A moment as she listens. She glances around. “The ones around me are filled with even more lies than I have. I’ve come to distrust many obvious signs. So how can I trust you now? How do I know this is you and not another gifted with illusion?”
She listens, then turns to glance back at the bar. “I have met him. He seems content to see what happens. I should expect so, given his type.” Another moment. “I do my best to serve your honor,” she says flatly.
She’s quiet a moment, shifting uncertainly, as if debating something. “…Are you involved with the happenings in Marin?” she finally asks. She listens to the response, then frowns in confusion. “What happened the last time we spoke, before you were cut off?”
Silence falls as she listens to the response. Her shoulders slowly tense. “Another agent of yours in the city?” she asks finally, then shudders at the response.
Slowly, she takes a breath. “What do you desire of me at the moment?” She listens, then hangs her head. “No,” she says. Another moment, then, “I am your only childe,” she mutters.
The voice on the other side says something sharp in reply. Her body clenches as if struck. She ducks her head, hiding her face from the darkness. “I understand,” she mumbles. A moment later, she tucks the phone away.
(Jason: “So, Jim, what did you make of all that?”
Jim: “Kinda seems like the most interesting part of the conversation was on the other side.”
Me: “Hmm, yes. It’s kinda like I was very careful about what I said.”
Jim: “Indeed…. Which, isn’t actually very meta-game-y, now that I think about it.”
Jason: “Exactly, cause Scout’s always very cautious and secretive.”
Jim: “And she knows Anstis is around. Dammit.”)
Scout stares off into the night, face tense and haunted, as if staring back through decades of memories—
—Until something taps her leg. She jumps and looks down.
Noah stares up at her, hand clenched against her pants, dressed in his pirate outfit.
From the shadows of the trees nearby, Anstis suddenly tenses, scrambling closer along his perch.
“Kid, what do you want from me?” Scout mutters.
“Not as much as he does,” Noah says, eyes wide.
She eyes the boy cagily. “Which he?”
“The only he.”
She grimaces and looks away. “Look, I’m not the babysitting type.”
“No. You’re the lying type.”
She glares at him. “Coming from a five-year old, that’s a little rich.”
Noah continues to stare at her, unblinking. “You’re not a Caitiff.”
“And you’re not a kid,” she snaps.
He shakes his head slowly. “You’re not what you want to be.”
Her face suddenly softens. Scout stares at him a long, long moment, until her summoned car finally pulls up at the curb. She disentangles her leg from Noah’s grip and gets in without another word, glancing once more at him before closing the door. A moment later, the car pulls away.
Noah watches as the car pulls away. A moment later, Anstis flutters down before him. He cocks his head at Noah, winking—
(Jim: “Wait, can parrots wink?”
Me: “Yeah, but it’s hard to tell, cause you can only see one eye at a time.”)
—winking once, then takes off to follow Scout’s car.
Noah stares off after him in the dark. “I smell burning feathers,” he mutters to himself. “Soon.”
BLACK SPIRAL HIVE
After summoning the Black Spiral Dancer, Paul waits tensely with the werewolves and Charles. And Boudreaux. Everyone stands in silence as they face down the tunnel, guns and claws—and death rays—at the ready. Tense minutes pass with no sounds of approach.
Suddenly Sophia frowns thoughtfully, lowers her machine gun, and turns to Paul. “Wait, how are you getting the Spiral Dancer to come here?”
Still sighting down the length of the death ray, Paul wags his head vaguely. “This…like, vampire power I have.”
She stares at him. “But…what does it do?”
Paul frowns and lowers his gun. “That’s a good question. I think it just makes people want to meet me.”
“And they know where you are?”
“Something like that.”
Sophia glances out into the dark. “Does she have to come alone?”
Paul’s face falls as the implications of this hits him. “Not…technically….”
A deep rumble echoes through the tunnel like the rending of the earth. Everyone freezes. The rumble comes again, followed a strange, pulsing susurration.
Samir’s long ears flick forward. “That isn’t a Spiral Dancer….” he mutters.
The distant murmur increases, resolving into a new sound as it approaches: chittering. The werewolves glance at each other nervously, but Charles closes his eyes, frowning in concentration, as if searching a memory….
His eyes flick back open, staring into the dark with red, reptilian focus. “You should leave,” he growls.
The group backs up, turning to make a retreat, then stops. The tunnel behind them has suddenly sealed into a wall of solid rock. The chittering rises like a tide, then breaks.
A wave of seething horrors pours into the tunnel, skittering insect-like things on scythe legs, with myriad eyes over gnashing mandibles slathering a sick green saliva as they go. They flow along the floor, walls, and ceiling in an almost solid mass, accelerating as they spot the group.
Charles steps forward, an inhuman growl rumbling in his throat, but Paul steps puts out a hand to stop him and hefts the death ray. “Wait! Save your strength, I’ll handle this one.”
The things swarm close then stop, just at the edge of vision, chittering in the dark. Paul raises the massive gun, sights along it, pulls the trigger—
Nothing fires. After a moment, the screen bolted to the side of the stock suddenly lights up and a recorded image of Dr. von Natsi appears, smiling at the camera. “Velcome to Dr. von Natsi’s Prime Deathray!” it says cheerfully. “Anyone who attempts to pirate zis design vill face ze full extent of the law. Zis vill not be tolerated. ZIS MEANS YOU, SNODGRASS!!!”
Charles and the werewolves turn to stare. Paul keeps pulling the trigger but the recording continues.
“If you vish to dispose of wayward cabbages, please press ze trigger now.”
The trigger keeps clicking.
“If you vish to dispose of wayward cabbage-consuming devices, please press ze trigger now.”
Paul clicks faster.
“…Ve are sorry, ve do not understand what it is you vish from ze Prime Deathray. Please attempt again.” Dr. von Natsi’s image waves and the screen goes black, plunging them all back into gloom.
Everyone looks at Paul, then back to the myriad eyes staring at them in the darkness.
A moment later, one razor-thin leg snaps out of the dark, impaling Paul clean through the solar plexus.
Chaos erupts. The werewolves howl and snarl as the first wave of creatures surge forward. Meanwhile Paul struggles to dis-impale himself but the thing lifts him into the air, sliding him deeper along the leg and closer to the snapping jaws. Paul grabs the barrel of the deathray and starts whacking at the creature, ignoring as the attachments and hula dancer fly off into the dark.
Suddenly the screen flickers to life again, Dr. von Natsi’s face obliviously cheerful as the gun tomahawks through the air. “Zank you for selecting Dr. von Natsi’s Prime Deathray. If you vish to destroy unspeakable abominations who have just impaled you on their own blade-like carapace, please press ze trigger now.”
Paul stops whacking, groping quickly to turn the gun around and reach for the trigger—
(Chris: *rolls, long sigh* “…Double botch.”)
“Since you did not press the trigger,” the recording continues cheerily, “Ve must assume at the evil creatures impaling you and waving you through the air are doing so in a consensual manner. Zank you for using Dr von Natsi’s Prime Deathray.”
Once again, the screen shuts off, plunging Paul into darkness as he slides deeper onto the spine and the roars around him increase….
(Jason: “…Aaaand we’ll get back to you.”)
Scout’s car arrives at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, while Anstis follows unnoticed overhead. She gets out of the car, obfuscates as it drives away, then heads into the hotel. Anstis, seeing her disappear and assuming she went inside, decides to wait until she exits again. He passes the time by searching nearby for a snack.
He lands in the alley next to the hotel, transforming back into pirate, and stalks through the shadows, looking for homeless people. After a few moments, though, he gets the sense he’s being watched. Smirking to himself, he turns, a snarky greeting to Scout already on his lips—
Xia is standing at the end of the alley, green dress and red orchid immaculately posed, watching Anstis with a smirk to match his own.
Anstis frowns, then nods curtly. “The Giovanni want you dead. But I respect Norton.”
“You respect nothing,” she says softly.
“What do you want?”
She lifts her chin. “The mandate of heaven.”
“What do you mean?”
She continues smiling at him silently.
Anstis grumbles. “You’re a long way from home.”
“So are you.” She nods at him. “This city lies beneath a curse. You are here to enact that curse.”
“The one Norton saw, or a different one?” Anstis asks.
“They are all the same. Spokes of a wheel.”
Anstis frowns. “What do you think of the Kindred of the city?”
She cocks her head a moment, thinking. “Kin-jin. They are blind. Scared. Bestial.”
“Norton as well?”
“He sees, but not all.” She smiles. “And you see even less than him.”
“Do enlighten me,” Anstis says.
“You haven’t the strength for enlightenment.”
Anstis grins thinly and spreads his arms in a mocking bow. “Try me.”
Xia raises an eyebrow appraisingly. After a moment, she reaches into the folds of her gown and draws out a small vial and places it delicately on the ground. She stands, smiles at Anstis, then turns around to walk away, disappearing around the corner of the alley.
Anstis watches her leave, perplexed, then approaches the vial to pick it up. A small draught of blood oozes at the bottom, slowly congealing. He unstoppers the vial and sniffs it. It’s human blood, but there’s something else in it, something with an herbal character.
He eyes the vial, then shrugs and drinks the whole thing.
(Jason: “So. Captain. You’ve sailed the seven seas.”
Jason: “In your travels, when you were alive, you became familiar with the uses of various narcotics. Not the modern narcotics we have today, but opium you definitely knew. You haven’t had opium since you died of course.”
Jason: “But you get it now.”)
The world melts around him, the alley fading into a melange of color, swirling like a living painting. He tries to steady himself but his body isn’t there, just his mind, drifting like foam in the currents of emotion, and he relaxes into it, letting himself rise away….
MARK HOPKINS HOTEL
Inside the hotel, Scout is in the hall on the floor of Rabenholz’s penthouse suite, obfuscated at the far end where she can watch both his door and the elevator. She settles herself in for a wait, glancing idly out the window next to her.
Then she glances again.
A woman in a green dress is holding Anstis by the hand leading him down the street. They pass under a streetlight and Scout identifies her as Xia, the woman who was with Thrace in Chinatown. She also catches a clear view of Anstis’s face, seeing his vacant expression as he follows obediently.
(Me: “That…seems like a whole pile of not my problem.”)
They move past the streetlight and continue heading downhill, toward Chinatown. Scout frowns.
(Me: “…I mean, I am kinda curious, but Thrace is in Chinatown, and he knows I tried to kill him, so….”
Jason: “So you’re not going to follow them to Chinatown?”
Me: “WE CAN NEVER GO BACK TO CHINATOWN!”)
Scout turns away from the window and returns to her vigil, waiting for Rabenholz.
EVERTON’S SECRET STUDY
Rabenholz levitates himself up to examine the circle on the ceiling. The spell is clearly for a summoning circle, but the specific runes binding it are unclear. Curious, Rabenholz dabs some blood from the decanter onto the runes, then lands, steps away, and activates it.
The spellwork glows green, matching the sickly firelight in the room, then someone falls through, crashing to the wood floor in front of him. It’s a woman he doesn’t recognize, with a stake through her back.
(Chris: “So she’s a vampire.”
Chris: “…Oh god….”)
Rabenholz examines her sallow face a moment, then nips a small amount of blood from her wrist. She is a vampire, but he can’t tell much more about her besides the fact that she had been starving for months before being staked.
He rolls her body to the side then activates the circle again. This time, a bronze statue falls out. A werewolf in Crinos form, surrounded by misshapen creatures. He examines it, then places it to the side, next to the woman.
(Chris: “Man, Everton has a weird man-cave.”)
Rabenholz kneels next to the body and pulls out his bag of ritual supplies, digging out a small coin. With a few short words and gestures, he preps a ritual to commune with her torpored spirit. Once it’s prepared, he murmurs the words to activate it and sits back.
An apparition of the woman appears over her staked body, drifting ghostlike in the green light of the room, face and limbs slack.
“Who did this to you?” Rabenholz asks her.
She stares at him with flat eyes, then slowly lifts an arm to point at him.
(Chris: “…At me, or behind me…?”)
Rabenholz turns around. Someone is standing behind him.
END OF NIGHT