Jason: “So. We ended last session with Paul still in the Spiral Hive and Tom undergoing some fresh hell in the Underworld, but we’re going to put that on hold for a moment because tonight I want to focus on what’s going on in the real world. As the previous night ends, all the rest of your characters head to their various usual locations in the city for the day.”
Jason: “Then, some time later, they all awaken. Simultaneously, independent of Road or Path score.”
Jason: “Rabenholz. As the oldest, you have the most experience with this sort of thing before and you instantly know something is wrong….”
SIR FRANCIS DRAKE
Rabenholz wakes up in his suite and stares at the ceiling a few long moments. Everything is dark and quiet as usual, but something nags at him, a sense of deep, instinctive unease. He reaches for his phone on the nightstand and checks the time.
It’s ten o’clock. In the morning.
Rabenholz sits up, staring at the screen, then dials Rhona. The call goes to voicemail and after a moment’s confusion he realizes she may still be asleep this early in the day. He puts down the cell and grabs the room phone to call the front desk.
“Lord Rabenholz, sir?” a nervous voice answers.
“Is something amiss?” he asks.
“Um…you may want to look outside, sir….”
(Me: *snorts* “Fuck that.”)
Rabenholz tenses, glancing at the curtains. “Are you sure?”
“I really don’t know how else to describe it….”
Rabenholz hangs up and approaches the windows. The heavy brocade curtains hang low, draping almost to the floor. He positions himself far to one side then, steeling himself, reaches out to carefully flick a corner of them back…
Rabenholz frowns, then pulls them open all the way.
A few miles south of the city, Gavril is awoken in his bed by a cloud of vodka breath. He opens his eyes to see Ivan leaning over him. “Sir, is problem,” the ghoul says in his thick Slavic accent.
Gavril rises slowly. “What time is it?
“Then why have you woken me?”
“Because is not morning.” Ivan takes a pull from the vodka bottle in his hand and looks to the window. “Is devil’s work.”
Drawing his dressing gown around him, Gavril carefully approaches the windows, peeks around the curtains, then frowns and opens them all the way.
The sky outside is pitch-black. No stars, no moon, no reflection of light off low clouds. Everything ab0ve, from the rolling hills to the far horizon over the ocean, is a solid wall of featureless black.
“When did this start?” Gavril asks as Ivan moves closer to stare out as well.
“This morning. Sun did not come up.”
“Have you spoken to anyone?”
“Only to Vladimir.” Ivan holds up his vodka bottle, pointing to a picture of Lenin on the label. “And to Jesus Christ. Is black day. Is end of world. I drink.” He takes another pull. “More than usual.”
Gavril stares out another long moment, then turns away. “Find the telephone. Call the Archbishop.”
SEAL ROCK INN
To the north, at the very edge of the sea, Scout wakes up to the sound of someone shouting. She gets up and pads to the window to peer outside. A small crowd has gathered at the entrance to Sutro Heights Park across the street, watching a man standing on a milk crate and broadcasting through a handheld loudspeaker. She watches a moment, then notices the strange pallor of the sky overhead. Then does a double-take as she sees the time displayed on the room’s alarm clock.
She dresses quickly and hurries downstairs.
The man’s angry words ring across the neighborhood as she steps outside, shouting about monsters and how they must find and purge them before the world freezes in eternal winter. Frowning, she crosses the street to approach the crowd.
“BEHOLD!!!” the man screams, loudspeaker shoved against his mouth, eyes wild. “The end times! See the creatures that walk among you!” Suddenly he stops, then raises a hand directly at her. “Vile beast!! This is your doing!!!”
The crowd turns to look at her. Scout tenses, then makes a show of turning to look behind her.
“See her standing there!” the man continues. “She is a creature of the night. No pulse, no breath, just a walking corpse! I can see it! I can smell it! The monsters must be cleansed!” At these words, he drops the loudspeaker and reaches into his coat, pulling out a gun.
Instantly the crowd screams and scatters. Scout obfuscates and loses herself in the chaos as gunshots ring out overhead.
SIR FRANCIS DRAKE
Rabenholz paces silently in his suite. The ex-Sheriff—cleaned and dressed in new clothes—stands meekly in a corner, watching him.
Finally, his phone rings with Rhona’s number. “Report,” he greets her crisply.
“There isn’t much to report, sir,” she says, anxiety lacing her normally-cool tones. “It started this morning. The sun didn’t rise. Instead the stars went out, something rolled across the sky…I don’t know how to describe it. It’s darker than midnight out there, but there aren’t even any clouds.”
He strides to the window to peer out again. The skyline shines garishly bright against the matte-black sky. “What has the weather service been saying?”
“Other than, ‘the end is near’? Not much.”
Rabenholz stares another long moment, then turns away. “Last night I requested you secure the services of a science tutor. Would it be possible to bump up my appointment?”
Rhona hesitates briefly at this change in topic. “Maybe, though I may have to offer him more money.”
“Do what you need.”
There’s a pause. “…Sir? May I be frank a moment?” Rhona asks.
“Is this tutor going to survive the night?”
Rabenholz slows in his pacing, glancing at the Sheriff, but the woman stares meekly at the floor. “Not likely, no,” he says.
Another long pause. Rhona takes a slow breath. “…Then I shall offer him considerable money,” she says coolly.
Having returned from the Twilight’s Fortune late the night before, Anstis wakes up this morning in the ground within the tunnels. He digs his way out, brushing dirt from him, then stops as he sees a figure poking about in the darkness. A portly man, middle-aged, dressed in archaic salt-stained clothes, staring into the shadows and grumbling to himself.
“You!” Anstis barks. The man jumps and yelps, dropping a glass bottle to the ground. The smell of weak rum drifts through the tunnel. “What are ye doing here?” Anstis asks.
The man stares blearily at Anstis, then his eyes go wide. “Oy, it’s you!” He hurries closer, “Gods above, I’ve been looking for ye!”
“Who sent ye?”
“No one sent me!” He suddenly grabs at Anstis’s coat, staring up at him with a half-drunk gaze. “I saw you, I did. saw you on the ocean. On the sea. The night it all went wrong.”
Anstis eyes him, beard writhing slowly in confusion. “Who are ye?”
“Wayland. Captain Wayland, I was, of the Dolphin.” Wayland produces a flask from his jacket and takes a pull from it. “You’re Anstis. Anstis the terrible, sailed with Black Bart!”
Anstis eyes him closer. Living heat radiates from the man’s skin and a nervous breath wheezes through his nose. “It’s been some time, how do ye know all this?”
“I was there, on the Spanish Main,” Wayland says. “I sailed with the Admiral, on Panama to the Pacific.”
“The only admiral, the admiral of rogues.” Wayland grins, revealing stained teeth with no sign of fang. “Morgan. I’ve sailed with him three hundred years and more, every ocean and sea on this Earth.”
Anstis relaxes. A large crew of ghouls are needed to sail the Revenge, so it’s not surprising he may have missed some of Morgan’s men the last time he was there. But something about Wayland still seems off. A little too twitchy, overly anxious to please. It takes Anstis a few moments to realize where he’s seen it before: this is a ghoul who hasn’t had his fix in a long time.
“Have ye fallen out of favor with Morgan?” Anstis asks suspiciously.
“Nay! Came to you, I did, came looking for you, Anstis!” Wayland rubs at his arms, glancing nervously around the tunnel. “Couldn’t stop them. They came in the day.”
“Tell me what happened.”
Wayland takes a long, shuddering breath. “They took the ship. A horde of nightmares, operating in plain daylight. We threw fire and iron but it was water off their backs. Huge, misshapen horrors twelve-feet tall, roaring like a hurricane. Took the ship, tore the crew to pieces. I went overboard. Came to find ye.” Wayland grins up at him. “Found you, I did. The others caught tail and run like the curs they were but I knew I could find ye. A proper rogue.”
Anstis eyes him a moment then bites open his own wrist and offers it out. Wayland grabs it greedily, licking and sucking at the welling vitae till Anstis pulls the arm away. Wayland falls to his knees, gasping heavily, tension visibly draining from his muscles.
Anstis waits impassively till the man’s breathing slows and he comes back to his senses. “Tell me more about these creatures.”
Wayland nods, climbing back to his feet. “Horrible things. Great monsters with claws as long as a yard-arm and teeth sharp as a cutlass. Fire did nothing, bullets did nothing. We harmed a few but they sealed back up.”
“Can you sketch one?”
Anstis pulls some parchment and a cracked ballpoint pen from his coat and hands it over. Wayland braces it against the wall and sketches a moment. The shape that emerges is rough, scrimshaw-stylized, but it’s enough to show the form of what is clearly a Crinos werewolf.
Ansits’s lips thin. “…Ah.”
“They tore through the crew,” Wayland continues, “Ripping and gutting as they would. Then when they ran out of men, they gutted the ship.”
“Did Morgan escape?”
Wayland looks down. “I don’t know. I’ve heard neither hair nor hide. Three days I was at sea before I washed up, then I came to look for ye.”
Anstis frowns and pulls out a blank consecrated stone. He scrawls Morgan’s name in blood and mutters the necromantic ritual to locate him:
Captain Henry Morgan is in the Eye of the Great Hurricane, awaiting the judgement of Satan.
Anstis considers this a moment, then puts the rock away. “We shall find him or avenge him.”
Wayland grins and wags a finger at Anstis. “Aye! Morgan was right about you. He said ye were a proper rogue, held to the Code! I be sworn to him, though bounty and blood and owe him a debt of a dozen lifetimes. Let it be known that Horatio Wayland keeps his word!”
Wayland takes a swig from his flask and swaggers toward the entrance of the tunnel, belting out the chorus of a shanty tune. Anstis follows. They turn a corner, then stop as they exit the tunnel and step out onto the concrete platform under the open sky. Thick, flat darkness surrounds them, stretching from horizon to horizon, and far darker than any normal night. Anstis pulls out his phone to check the time. 11:30 am.
“Well,” he says. “This is a wee bit odd….”
SUTRO HEIGHTS PARK
Scout runs from the crowd and the gunshots, deeper into the park. Streetlight fades as she jogs across the grass and under the dark street. Shouts echo behind her, but no one seems to follow.
She slows as she reaches the ruins of Sutro Castle, climbing the weathered stone stairs and stepping out under open, matte-black sky once again. The ruins are empty, so she drops her obfuscate as she walks to the edge and looks out over the entire sprawling western half of the city.
Darkness hangs low in the sky, horizon to horizon, swallowing any light reflected on it. Sirens echo around the city from all directions and ocean birds cry as they wheel about the heights, flying erratically in the starless gloom. Under these sounds, though, is a strange, alien-like chorus, echoing from below. Carefully, she moves closer to the edge and looks down over the three-mile stretch of Ocean Beach below.
Whales. Dozens of beached whales and dolphins of all sizes are up the beach, thrashing in the black surf, crying and spouting as they die. Many are already still, rocked slowly back and forth by the the thin waves. People are gathered along the road nearby, watching nervously, but clearly unsure of how to help.
Far down the beach, a roar approaches, growing steadily louder. A coast guard helicopter is flying along the shore, observing the whales and warning people back via loudspeaker. The helicopter rises as it approaches Sutro Heights, climbing to clear the rocky cliffs and circle back around for another pass. Then it suddenly rises too high and disappears into the featureless black overhead.
Silence falls instantly. Scout stares at the spot is disappeared. A few moments pass, then the helicopter reappears.
Falling from the sky, on fire.
Within seconds, it crashes into the ocean not far offshore. Screams echo from the people along the road below, and a few distant shouts to call 911. But by the sound of the siren cacophony still echoing across the city, every single first responder is already occupied.
After endless moments staring at this scene, trying to comprehend, Scout digs out her phone. She scrolls through her contacts list until reaching a number listed only as “Him.” With a shaking hand, she texts it: What’s going on?
A message pings back with surprising speed: APOTHEOSIS.
Scout stares out again at the dying whales, the burning wreckage sinking into the sea, and the endless black overhead. Is this you? she texts.
This time, minutes pass before she receives a response. When she reads it, she shudders again:
Gavril is dressed by the time Ivan returns with an elaborate rotary phone, trailing the phone cord behind him. He thumps the phone down on a table and, without being asked, dials. Gavril watches, slowly buttoning his coat, as Ivan holds the receiver to his ear and stares vacantly into space as the call connects.
“This is Ivan,” he rumbles finally. “I speak for Margrave Tsaratsovoshki.” A pause as he listens to someone, then, “Da.” Another pause. “Da.” Ivan continues listening. “Da.” Another pause. “Nyet.” Another pause, then a sharp nod. “Da.” Ivan hands the phone out.
Gavril accepts it from him. “Da?” he answers.
“I SAID PUT HIM ON!” Leidesdorff voice shouts.
“This is Gavril.”
A pause, then Leidesdorff groans. “God, you Slavs sound alike.”
“That is intent,” Gavriel says. “What is happening?”
“How in fucks name do you think I know? All of our contacts beyond a fifty mile radius have been cut off. No phones, satellite, internet connection, nothing.”
Gavril frowns and stares out the window. “How do we proceed?”
“I have no idea—” Leidesdorff suddenly pauses, voice distant as he turns away from his phone. “Will someone shut up those damn dogs!”
“Do the Lasombra have anything to say about this?” Gavril asks.
“What Lasombra?” Leidesdorff shouts, back into the line. “Sergei’s shovelhead douchebags who ran off after Tom Lytton, or the missing Priscus? In case you haven’t noticed, the Lasombra have all disappeared because the Lasombra ARE FUCKING USELESS!!”
Gavril doesn’t respond. Thumps echo across the line as Leidesdorff stomps back and forth across a wooden floor. In the distance, dog barks and howls are joined by human shouts. After a few moments of cacophony, both quiet.
Leidesdorff takes a long, slow breath, then continues, “I’m running almost completely blind. Phones are down, the internet is spotty. According to my technicians, the only things we can access are things hosted on servers here in San Jose, which means we’re cut off from Mexico City. For the moment, I am focusing on maintaining some control over the immediate local situation, which means at the very least, I need to know what’s happening up there.”
Gavril considers this a moment. “You wish me to speak with the Camarilla?”
“I wish you to speak with anyone who will listen! Have you looked outside!!?”
“Yes. Is dark.”
Silence falls again, followed by new thumps, sounding very much like a forehead banging against a desk.
“Very well,” Gavril says finally. “I will gather what information I can from San Francisco.”
“Do what you can,” Leidesdorff grumbles. “Otherwise we all may be in for it.”
“Da.” Gavril hangs up.
Ivan eyes him. “Is end of world?”
Gavril doesn’t answer. Instead he picks up the phone again, dialing a new number. The one for Orlando.
The call rings and rings, way beyond the threshold for an answering machine or voicemail. Gavril waits patiently, receiver held to his ear. Ivan watches in silence, pulling periodically from his vodka bottle, then suddenly tenses and lowers the bottle.
“What is—” Gavril says, moments before a long, elegant hand lays itself lightly on his shoulder. He turns to see the pale, sculpted face and angelic smile of Orlando, standing right behind him.
“Gavril, my childe,” Orlando says. “How nice of you to call.”
Gavril hangs up. “How nice of you to come.”
“Fortunately, I was already on my way before all this began. I have missed you so.” Orlando lifts a hand lightly, rings glittering in the light.
Gavril accepts the hand and kisses it. “Would you care for sustenance? Bread, salt?”
“My, how wonderfully polite of you. It is good to see the young properly respecting the old ways.”
Ivan suddenly appears at their side holding blood in two fine crystal glasses. Orlando takes one, sips, then dips a finger in and pulls it out to examine with a professional’s eye. “Why do you seek me, my childe?” it says to Gavril.
Gavril gestures to the darkened windows around them. “It is noon.”
“Yes, high noon.”
“Do you know how? Why?”
“No. But I can guess.” Orlando licks the blood delicately off its finger as it strolls to the windows. “This is powerful, powerful magic. Old magic. Old as I am old, perhaps more.”
“Is there anything that can be done?”
Orlando smiles. “Done? It’s dark in midday, why should we wish to do anything?”
Gavril frowns. “I don’t like chaos. I like order.”
Orlando sighs and strolls over to him. It sets down the glass of blood and takes Gavril’s arm lightly. “If you like order, Gavril, then why did you leave my tutelage? I could have shown you wonderous things.” Its grip remains light, but under its fingers, Gavril’s flesh ripples with the familiar tingle of fleshcrafting, before settling once again.
Gavril politely extracts his arm from its grip. “I wished to find my own way. Is how we learn.”
Orlando chuckles. “Yes, they always flee the nest, don’t they. Lest they be devoured by an errant predator.” It turns back to the windows. “But this, this is not chaos. But it is not order either. it is death. Stillness. entropy. Oblivion. And there is no art in oblivion. No learning, no order, nothing. Can’t you smell it?” It strides forward and opens the french doors leading out to the balcony. Distant sounds of sirens and wailing dogs drift in on the wind.
Orlando steps out to the balcony and takes a deep draught of air. “Can you hear them crying?”
Gavril steps out next to him. “The dogs?”
“No, the whales. They know it is ending, for all of us.”
Gavril stares a moment out over the darkened landscape, the erratic breeze tugging at his clothes. “Even you?”
Orlando turns to him with a sad smile. “All things must end, Gavril.” He gestures to the beach far below. “The Leviathans are creatures of the abyss, yet even they fear the coming dark. What choice do I have but to wait, and watch.”
Orlando turns its smile back toward the view. Gavril stands a moment, thoughtful, then glowers at the sky. “This is Perpenna’s work.”
Orlando shakes its head. “No. Perpenna is not the architect of this. He hasn’t the strength. This is something else. Something dark, and twisted.” It turns to him. “Perpenna is an amusement. A petty thing, for all his age and ancestry. Both of them are, he and his childe. They will kill one another and burn the world in the aftermath. But this is something else entirely. Only two or three in all of the history of their clan have had art strong enough to accomplish something like this. But I do not think those are the ones responsible either.” Orlando smirks. “I think someone has opened a box he should not have unlatched.”
“How do we find this man?”
“Follow the chaos, and find the center of the storm.” Orlando reaches out to stroke one long elegant finger along Gavril’s cheek. “Once you do, come back to me, Gavril. Come back to order. We could perform such wonders together.” It smiles, the flesh of its body rippling like the surface of a pool, then its whole form disappears in front of his eyes.
Gavril stands on the balcony another long moment, listening to the throes of a dying world, then goes back inside, closing the doors behind him. Ivan is waiting, watching him in silence.
“Prepare Neshka,” Gavril announces.
“She is unsettled,” Ivan says. “Perhaps should take car.”
Gavril eyes him sharply. “She should fear nothing from the dark.”
Ivan nods once, then hesitates. “What should I do this…day?”
“Stay. Wait for more word from the Archbishop. I will go see what is happening in San Francisco. And continue search for Thomas Lytton.”
SIR FRANCIS DRAKE
Rabenholz practices with his sword while waiting for the tutor to arrive, alone in the living room of his suite. His movements are unusually sharp and focused, as he pours his attention into the routine to keep from thinking of the darkness outside….
“Interesting choice of action,” a smooth British voice says suddenly.
Rabenholz whirls, sword braced to strike. An elderly man with white hair and a sharp suit is sitting in one of the armchairs, watching him calmly over folded hands.
“I practice every evening,” Rabenholz says.
“It’s not evening.”
“I missed last night.” Rabenholz spares a glance at the front door. It’s still bolted shut. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of making your acquaintance.”
The man nods. “My name is Oliver Thrace.”
A fraction of the tension eases from Rabenholz’s stance, though he continues to watch Thrace carefully. “Your reputation proceeds you,” he says.
“I should imagine it might. Yours does as well, Augustus von Rabenholz. I hear interesting stories about Italy.
Rabenholz eyes him a moment, then slips his sword back into its sheathe. “How may I help you, Mr. Thrace?”
“Shall I speak to you plainly, sir?”
“You devoured Dr. Corwin Everton some nights ago.”
Rabenholz places his sword carefully in a rack on a side table. Everton’s cane sword sits cradled in a separate one nearby. “Slain, I’m afraid, not devoured. Though not for lack of trying.”
Thrace smiles thinly. “Well if circumstances were different I’d shake you by the hand for removing such a problem, but problems now appear to have far outstripped it. You may have noticed we are operating under some sort of shroud.”
“You have an understanding of what it is, or were you hoping Everton did?”
“I have a general understanding and was hoping Everton had a much more specific one.” Thrace eyes him seriously. “But if he’s dead and his knowledge is lost to the ages, this complicates things considerably. Dr Everton was under the impression that events surrounding the city were coming to a head and when that head erupted it would take with it the rest of the world. I have yet to see evidence he was incorrect.”
Rabenholz paces the room. “I may not have Everton’s knowledge but I have acquired some of my own. My latest information comes from a Settite, who claims their leader Anektahken was under the thrall of someone, probably Perpenna, and that Perpenna means to help the Spiral Dancer werewolves unleash their god.”
Thrace frowns. “Why does he intend this?”
“To diablerize it, of course.” An apologetic smile twitches Rabenholz’s lips. “It seems far-fetched.”
“So does the sun not appearing at noon.” Thrace stands and strolls to the window, peeking past the heavy curtains. “Still, I don’t think this is entirely Perpenna’s doing. If the Spiral Dancers are close to bringing the Wyrm forth, this is the sort of event that would herald it. But unfortunately the man who would know more is quite dead, thanks to you.”
“Strangely,” Rabenholz says smoothly, “We were discussing this the very night he died, and according to him he didn’t know. Conjecture and speculate, yes, but when it came to concrete actions he was as in the dark as the rest of us.”
Thrace turns from the window to regard Rabenholz. “You’re quite certain he’s dead?”
“I saw his body burnt to a skeleton.”
Thrace paces the room a moment, eyeing Everton’s cane as he passes, then turns to Rabenholz. “If Everton’s knowledge isn’t available to us, then perhaps another course of action will be necessary.”
“Do you have something in mind?”
Thrace nods once. “The tunnels underneath Marin, the ones the Spiral Dancers seem to have occupied, date back to the last great war. Once the army abandoned them, the Nosferatu laid a claim, though they were driven out when the werewolves arrived. Many were killed, but a few escaped. One of those lucky survivors lives down the coast aways. His name is Albert Smythe. He may have information on the recent dealings in Marin, and if so I suggest you find him. He operates between many locations up and down the coast, ranging from Pacifica to Santa Barbara, but word has it he was recently seen around Half-Moon Bay.”
Rabenholz frowns. “Are you unable to seek him yourself?”
Thrace smiles. “Unfortunately, interests keep me in the city.”
Rabenholz eyes him a moment, then nods. “I will have agents of mine try to find him.”
“Good luck. He is very, very shifty, even for his kind.”
“Then we shall have to find something of value to him to bargain with.”
(Jim: “Apparently all you need to do is start killing local sea-life.”)
Rabenholz strides to the window, pulling the curtains back to reveal the sky. “This darkness, do you understand it at all?”
“Some.” Thrace joins him at the window. “I can’t replicate it, certainly, but I’ve heard stories of it. The Cry that Slays Light, they call it. Semi-mythological, but in my experience most things that are semi-mythological are not. Its supposed to be some tremendous capacity bestowed by the Abyss itself. But Perpenna doesn’t have the strength for this.” Thrace shakes his head slowly. “No, I think this is the Wyrm, reaching out and striking down one of its competitors prior to its ascension. But I don’t know for certain. I do know that it heralds unpleasantness, and soon.”
“You are confident the darkness will hold?”
Thrace eyes him. “If it is the Cry it will hold until the next sunrise. If it’s not, then we are dealing with powers beyond my understanding and I doubt seriously they will run out anytime soon.”
Thrace turns from the window. “I have to be going, I have an appointment in Chinatown. If you try to have me followed, all it will do is cost you agents. If you try to have me killed, well…” Thrace smiles. “Many have. Few are still with us.”
Rabenholz returns the smile thinly. “Indeed.”
“And I know your reputation, I’m sure the same holds for you.”
“A true partnership of equals, then. Isn’t friendship grand.” Rabenholz bows. “Welcome to San Francisco, Mr. Thrace.”
Thrace walks to the door. “Thank you, though it is not my first time. I was last here in the 1800’s, when it was nothing but a boomtown. Interesting time, most of the Kindred I knew then are gone, except one. I believe he’s an Archbishop now.”
Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “You don’t say.”
“Back then, Leidesdorff was nothing but a Camarilla gun-runner. He’s made quite an improvement. I knew his sire too, I’m not surprised to hear what became of him. Burnt to death in a factory accident, something about a roof collapse. No one ever quite figured out who was responsible, though the list of candidates is long, and begins with both of his childer.” Thrace slides the deadbolt back and opens the door. He turns once more to bow. “I will leave you to it, Lord Rabenholz. Good day.”
With that Thrace leaves, closing the door behind him.
Rabenholz lingers in the middle of the suite a long moment, till the room phone rings. It’s the front desk, calling to inform him his tutor has arrived.
(Jason: “Do you…do the thing we were discussing before?”
Jason: “Well. No need to beat around the bush, you are eminently successful.”
Chris: *grins, steeples his fingers* “Excellent.”)
SUNSET DISTRICT, ESTEBAN’S BAR
(Jason: “Did we ever come up for a name for the bar?”
Me: “Maybe that is the name of the bar, ‘Esteban’s’.”
Jason: “Sure, why not!”)
Scout arrives outside Esteban’s. Despite the darkness, the place seems to be abiding by the hours posted on the front door and is currently closed. She strides up and knocks firmly. After a few moments, someone creaks the door open and slides a shotgun barrel into her face.
She stares down it coolly, meeting the gaze of the man at the other end. “I want to talk to Esteban about what’s going on.”
He eyes her a moment, then nods and lets her in.
Inside is emptier than usual, without even the usual complement of thugs lurking in the shadows. Esteban, though, is at his usual table in the balcony above the bar. He nods at her as she crosses the floor below and climbs the stairs toward him. The TV near him is on mute, but the screen shows frantic camera footage and news reports from around the city.
She approaches the table and waits. Esteban watches the TV a moment. “Interesting times. Many interesting things to see, Ms. Scout, and yet you come to me?”
She shrugs. “I was in the area. I was hoping you’d heard something of what’s going on. I haven’t been able to access any internet reliably.”
Esteban puffs at his cigar. “I am not a scout, but I hear you know someone who is,” he says with a grin.
She scowls. “I’ve seen her around.”
Esteban taps his ash into the tray. “I also hear an interesting thing. I hear there is a man who wishes to see you.”
Instantly Scout tenses. “Really,” she says. “Nobody’s called me.”
“No, they have not because this man who wishes to see you is…different in his methods.” Esteban places a hand against his chest. “You see, I am a businessman. When I wish to see someone I call them. I present them reasons why they should present themselves to me. But this man who wishes to see you is a different sort of man. A different background, I should think.”
Scout stares at him, still as stone. “So why hasn’t he come to me personally?”
Esteban takes a long pull from his cigar, then exhales in a sigh. “I feel as if I should apologize. Because you see he has.” He looks up at her with a sad smile. “I’m sorry, I truly am. But, though I value my independence, when a Justicar comes—”
Scout winks instantly from sight as Esteban continues, “—One must do what one must do.”
Scout ducks deep into the shadows, eyes darting to locate an exit. Before she can move, heavy footsteps ascend the stairs, approaching the balcony. She freezes as Bell appears above the crest, leather coat flaring gently, face expressionless under his sunglasses, and shotgun cradled against his arm. He stops at the top of the stairs, scanning the shadows slowly. Esteban nods a greeting, but he ignores him.
“I gotta admit,” Bell rumbles after a long moment, “You had me fooled. That’s not common.”
Scout presses against the wall as Bell paces slowly across the floor, circling Esteban’s table.
“I knew you weren’t what you said you were,” he continues saying to the air. “But you played one hell of a game, didn’t you? You’re no Caitiff.” The shotgun cocks heavily. “And you ain’t no Ravnos either.”
Scout tries to sidle toward the stairs but Bell stops a few feet away, positioned perfectly between her and escape. “It took me awhile to figure it out,” he says, “But now….” He turns toward the shadows and raises the shotgun, leveling it directly at her obfuscated face. “…I think we got ourselves a conversation to have.”
(Me: “Motherfucker!! Why would Bell go to Esteban’s!??”
Jason: “Uh, maybe because you’ve been seen around Esteban’s for multiple nights now?”
Me: “Goddammit!!! But he’s got other shit to deal with! I should be on the bottom rung of his triage priorities!”
Jason: “Maybe. Unless there’s another reason. Like him finding out something secret about you.”
Jason: “Colleen? I think you should come with me. And bring your dice.”)
(And the details of what happened next are still secret at this time.
I know, I know, I’m sorry, but Operation Scout is still underway in real-time gameplay, with her full secrets not yet revealed to Jim and Chris, so I have to keep these off-screen details still secret for now.)
Antis appears in the middle of the circle in the Pyramid teleportation room, Wayland at his side. He steps out of the circle, then stops.
The Hispanic cleaning lady from before is in the room, kneeling on the floor, scrubbing at the circle once again.
(Jim: “But I killed Consuela!”
Jason: “Yeah, well.”)
Anstis glares at her. “I’m here to speak with Bell.”
She peers up at him. “No, no…. Mr. Justicar no here.”
Anstis snarls and barges past her into the hall, Wayland hurrying at his heels. A few wide-eyed ghouls are lurking around, whispering to each other, but they all stop and stare as he strides past. He storms into Bell’s office, but the room is empty.
He pulls out his phone. There’s many missed messages, including a civilian emergency broadcast mass-text, and a similar one from Bell ordering all Kindred in the city to lay low. Anstis ignores these and dials Rabenholz.
After a few rings, Rabenholz answers. “Ah, Captain.”
“What is going on?”
“That is an excellent question and one I am trying to establish some answers for. How fortunate you called. If you are not otherwise occupied I have a task for you.”
Anstis hesitates, then settles into Bell’s chair. “Go on.”
“There is a man down south, in Half Moon Bay, by the name of Albert Smythe.”
Anstis glowers. “Aye, I’ve heard of him. He doesn’t much like me.”
“I am sure he doesn’t much like anyone. Nonetheless, he may information relating to Perpenna’s end-game and thus we need to speak with him.”
Anstis drums his fingers on the desk. “I have promised the Nosferatu I will not harm Smythe and I should like to keep that promise.”
“I see no reason to do otherwise,” Rabenholz says smoothly. The Nosferatu, as always, are an important contributing member of this community.”
(Jason: “Now that’s a Prince line, right there.”)
Anstis smiles. “Then perhaps I shall pay him a friendly visit.”
Some time later….
Scout wakes up outside, sprawled on the blacktop of the parking lot. Bleary and confused, she snaps instinctively into obfuscation and shoves herself upright, twisting to look around.
Behind her, Esteban’s bar is on fire.
Various figures dart in front of the flames, some dressed like Esteban’s men, some clearly people from the neighborhood. Incoherent shouts echo over the rising roar. But there is no sign of Bell.
Scout gapes at the fire a long moment, frozen in shock and fear, then scrambles upright and hurries away across the street. She pulls deep into the shadows under the trees, watching the fire in disbelieving horror.
Then suddenly bumps into something behind. Something else obfuscated. She turns.
A man is there also watching the fire, vampire pale, in richly-layered clothes and fine cheekbones just a little too chiseled to be natural. But she barely notices more than this, because her attention immediately focuses on what he’s riding.
A massive beast, large as a Clydesdale, balanced on two powerful legs, with long clawed forearms trailing to the ground. Taloned feet dig into the earth and clusters of striped spines erupt from every dorsal surface, except the mid-back, where an organically-sculpted ivory-and-bone saddle sprouts directly from the flesh. Muscles flex under mottled blood-red skin, arcs of bone erupt elegantly from the joints, and lines of blue-black scales armor and highlight the rolling organic contours. The whole creature looks as if someone had once been told about the idea of a dinosaur then proceeded to construct one out of leftover parts, from the tip of the long, stiff tail to the wedge-shaped head balanced on a serpentine neck.
A head which, despite Scout’s obfuscate, is currently staring right at her, the light of the fire reflected in its massive, golden eyes.
Scout freezes as the monster leans forward, nostrils flaring as it sniffs at her. The lip curls and the mouth opens, revealing multiple rows of razor teeth. Rotting-stench breath washes across her as as the thing leans leans closer…
…And licks her.
At this, Scout’s obfuscate breaks enough for the rider to notice her. He looks down curiously. “Who are you?” he asks in a thick Slavic accent.
Scout tears her gaze from the creature’s golden eyes and stares up at him appraisingly. “Are you with him?” she asks, dropping clear emphasis on the last word.
He cocks his head. “Do be specific.”
Some of the tension eases from her stance. “If you were, I wouldn’t need to be.”
The man bows from the saddle. “I am Margrave Gavril Yasenev Tsaratsovoshki.” He gestures to the bar. “Was this your doing?”
She turns to stare at the flames. “No,” she says softly.
“What is your name?”
She turns back to him. “Scout.”
He frowns. “That is not name, that is title.”
“My name isn’t important right now.”
They eye each other in silence a long moment. Gavril’s mount continues to lick her.
(Me: “I’m…just gonna ignore the dinosaur cause after all the shit I’ve been dealing with, I don’t think I can comprehend that right now.”)
“What are you doing here?” Scout asks finally, tugging her arm away and frowning at the saliva staining her suit.
“Neshka and I were on our way into the city and saw the fire.” He frowns thoughtfully. “You are Scout of Lands End?”
“That’s where I’m staying,” she replies, tone wary.
“I am also looking for someone. I am told you can find things.”
She shifts, glancing again at the fire. “Told by whom?”
Gavril settles back in the saddle and smiles. “Tell me your name, I will tell you my sources. Information is two way street.”
Scout eyes him a long moment….
(Me: *eyes Jim appraisingly, mumbles to herself* “Does this character have Necromancy too…is this a bad idea…?”)
“Tiffany,” she finally says coolly. “Tiffany Bennett.”
(Me: “…Because all my characters are named after streets I’ve lived on.”
Jim: *suspicious* “Can I tell if she’s lying?”
Jason: “Okay, roll me opposed checks, Perception + Empathy vs Manipulation + Subterfuge. Difficulty six, don’t show each other your results but tell me what you get.”
*Jason looks at our rolls, nods to Jim*
Jason: “She’s telling the truth.”)
Gavril nods. “Archbishop has mentioned you before. Says you have done work for him.”
Scout hesitates, as if to ask more, but before she can an explosion from the bar rocks the neighborhood. She, Gavril, and his mount flinch instinctively, and the growing crowd shouts about gas mains and starts to scatter out into the neighborhood.
“We should move away from this area,” Gavril says. At his unspoken command, Neshka turns away, rippling through the shadows and padding down the empty street away from the fire.
Scout moves to follow, but as she does, a piercing shriek rises from the flames behind her, a voice filled with pain and rage, its words barely intelligible over the roar of the inferno: “Kai su, tekna!”
Scout stops, terror freezing her face. After a moment, she forces herself to continue after Gavril, moving stiffly, refusing to turn and look back, disappearing into the darkness under the unnatural sky.
END OF NIGHT
Jason: “So for once, something blew up and it wasn’t Tom’s fault.”
Me: *snorts disdainfully* “Tom’s not here, Tom’s not even in this dimension, he’s completely absolved of any of this bullshit going o—” *face falls* “—Wait. He did do a bunch of shit in the Abyss…that wouldn’t have effects on the real world, would it?”
*everyone watches me, faces expressionless*
Me: “Did…Tom cast Shadownova over the real world?”
Jim: “If you did, I’m impressed.”
Jason: *leans in* “What have you done, Tom?”
Me: “No…no, you’re just fucking with me….”
Jim: “On the plus side, if this is Tom’s fault, there’s no way this is getting back to him. Nobody’s going to believe Tom did this.”
Me: “Tom couldn’t do this! He only has, what, three dots of Obten?”
Jason: “Tom has three dots of Obten when he isn’t in the Abyss. Guess where he is right now?”
Me: “Uh, the Shadowlands, with Carlos.”
Me: “…The Abyss….” *trails off*
Jason: *leans closer, grins* “…Tom—”
Me: “No! No, I refuse to believe—”
Jason: “What did you do, Tom?”
Me: “You need antediluvian levels of shit to blot out the sun! Not one thirteenth-gen Brujah who doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing! If there was a way to block out the sun from doing shit in the Abyss, people would have figured that out by now!”
Jason: “Would they? How often do people get out of the Abyss?”
Me: “I don’t know, I thought all Lasombra did sooner or later—”
Jim: “Didn’t you create your own combo-discipline for this?”
Me: “I did, but—”
Jason: “Yes, aren’t you an Inceptor?”
Jason: “An Inceptor is someone who invents their own disciplines.”
Me: “Oh is there such a thing? Sure—”
Jim: “And you researched this thoroughly before doing it, right?”
Me: “…Well…I, myself, considered it at length, mostly thinking of how awesome it would be, but Tom evoked it as a result of the stress of the situation.”
Jason: “So, in other words, no, you didn’t research it at all, so you have no idea what sort of side effects might be involved.”
Me: *gapes, staring into space* “…Did I accidentally discover Abysticism?”
Jason: “No, Abysticism is a well-trod path by some. You did something no-one’s ever done before. I wonder what effects that might have?”
Jim: “You revealed the eternal night.”
Me: *gapes wider* “Did…Tom kill the whole planet?”
Jim: “We still don’t know, it could just be a local disturbance.
Chris: “It turns out, when Norton was going on about the person who could save us all, he was talking about Perpenna. And when he was talking about the great evil threat, he was talking about Tom.”
Jim: “Way to go, Tom.”
Chris: “Yeah, thanks O-Tom-a.”
Me: “Oh my god, I just realized; the chapter title for this segment should be, ‘And Then The Sun Went Out. Because Of Course It Fucking Did.’”