Jason: “So. Rabenholz is in his bolthole, which I believe is in the Westin?”
Chris: “Oh, I was imagining it as more like office space.”
Jason: “Oh, right, your bolthole from which you do evil.”
Chris: “Yes. I have many of those.”
THE WESTIN 555 CALIFORNIA
Rabenholz and Rhona are discussing business in low voices while various servants—Dominated to forget what they see—are cleaning up the mess in the office left by the shoggoth attack. In the middle of this, Rabenholz’s phone rings. “Yes?” he answers.
“Lord Rabenholz!” Anstis greets him jauntily. “I have found and interrogated Smythe. A key to the Perpenna mystery may be known by Everton.”
“…How unfortunate,” Rabenholz says after an awkward pause. “However, if Everton were still alive, I assume we would still be waiting for him to get to the point.”
“Did ye keep a trophy?” Anstis asks. “A possession of some note?”
“Yes, his cane sword,” Rabenholz says, glancing at it on the desk. “Why?”
“Mayhap we could use it to commune with him in the afterlife.”
Rabenholz falls silent, watching the cleaners work. “…Is that wise?”
“It’s the best option available.”
Rabenholz exhales slowly. “Very well.”
“Where shall we meet?”
Rabenholz glances out the window to the massive dark-faced skyscraper across the street. “My office space in the Bank of America building. My current location is…not in a state to receive guests. Besides, I believe the teleportation circle is still there.”
“I shall be there in twenty minutes.” Anstis hangs up.
“A slight change of plans, Ms. Tyler,” Rabenholz says, ignoring her concerned stare as he sweeps to the desk. “Leave the men to finish the work here. I will require your assistance across the street.”
Rabenholz grabs Glitch—now cooled—and Everton’s cane, and gestures for Rhona to follow him out the door.
Safely perched on his obfuscated mount, Gavril makes rapid time across the city, heading east toward the Bay Bridge. The szlachta jogs easily along the half-empty streets with her massive strides, then accelerates as she climbs the onramp.
(Jim: “How well does obfuscate work? Like will cars avoid her automatically?”
Jason: “Not really. If she’s in the way they will crash into her.”
Jim: “And there’s not much of a shoulder on the bridge…hmm….”
Jason: “You could take the suspension cables?”
Me: “Wait, you mean, the walkway along the top!?”
Jim: “…Yeah, that’s more bad-ass, let’s do that.”)
Neshka climbs to the top deck of the bridge and runs onto the massive main suspension cable, fore-claws and talons grinding against the metal as she scrambles along its length. Gavril himself rides smoothly, unperturbed, rolling with the rhythm of his mount underneath him as they climb and descend hundreds of feet over the water, gazing out impassively at the city huddled quietly under the unexpected darkness of day.
Finally, they reach the wider, eastern span of the bridge, making their way to the shoulder and bolting along the freeway toward the looming bulk of East Bay hills.
(Jason: “But you do not know specifically where Tom went.”
Jason: “Perhaps you should call upon others.”
Jim: “Except I don’t have a phone….”
Jason: “Because you love to annoy me.”
Me: “I remember Rabenholz doing that for awhile, until Chris decided it was more trouble than it’s worth.”
Jim: “…Yeah, Gavril may be getting to that point….”)
Gavril pulls Neshka to a stop, perched on the edge of an overpass looking out over the toll plaza of the bridge and the surrounding dockyards. He stares to the east and casts Breath of Whispers.
(Jason: “That’s Koldunic sorcery, right? What’s it do?”
Jim: “You whisper a statement into the wind and they may or may not hear and reply to it.”)
He whispers for Tom, but the wind brings no response. He tries again for Sergey. Still nothing but silence.
As he waits, though, he senses something else. An unease within the very Earth. Neshka tenses as the underpass rumbles low underneath them, as if a truck was passing, but for the moment no cars are nearby.
Suddenly Neshka’s sense snaps around, staring east as well. Gavril follow her gaze. In the distance, far over the hills, the triangular point of Mount Diablo is just barely visible, a familiar looming shape over the entire eastern bay. But tonight, in the darkness, something bright and orange licks near the top.
(Jim: “…Is Diablo a volcano?”
Jason: “No. And Gavril has been in the Bay Area long enough to know that.”)
Gavril frowns and urges Neshka to continue.
HMES HARUMPH (GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!)
Snodgrass paces the room as Paul finishes giving him a rundown of the unfolding situation in Marin.
“So,” Snodgrass says as he finishes, “You say this…Perpenna,” his mustache sneers around the word, “Is in allegiance with a Nephandi?”
Paul, sitting in one of the leather chairs, nods. “This is what we suspect, yes.”
Snodgrass strolls to the window, staring out at the passing starfield. “Hmm. Then it is perhaps worse than I thought. I shall have to consult with the Society, on Horizon.”
Paul stands. “Horizon? Why?”
“My boy, you are young for a vampire, but even the most well-trod of your kind have little experience with the barbarism manifest in the likes of the Nephandi. Dealing with one takes planning and considering.” He grumbles in amusement. “You cannot simply come in guns-blazing.”
Paul’s gaze drifts to the painting on the wall, richly layered oils showing the HMES Harumph doing exactly that over a smoking field of battle. “Surely your grandfather wouldn’t have hesitated when rushing to save the lives of those who needed him,” Paul says carefully. “The longer you wait, the more people might die.
Snodgrass frowns and follows Paul’s gaze to the painting. Footsteps echo off the polished wood floor as he strolls over to examine it, hands behind his back. After a moment he sighs and turns away. “My ancestors, for all they did for the glory of Britain, lived in different times. These days one must consider the larger picture.”
“The larger picture is that Perpenna is trying to end the world!”
Snodgrass scowls through his monocle. “Perpenna is trying to end one world. A single Nephandi could consume many hundreds if left unchecked. But we will do the best we can.”
Paul moves to protest more, but before he can Snodgrass holds a hand out crisply. Reginald appears from the corner of the room, holding a map, which Snodgrass unrolls out on the table. “Now, Mr. Stewart, if you could point me to the last known location of the Nephandi, that would greatly help our efforts.”
Paul eyes the map, a detailed topography of the Bay Area, then sighs and walks over. “They were in the tunnels, somewhere here,” he says, gesturing to coastal Marin.
“Mr. Stewart, I need you to be as exact as possible.”
Paul tenses. “Well…see, last time I touched a mage-map, it teleported me here….”
Snodgrass blusters. “The map of that teutonic charlatan, no doubt! A proper Etheric scientist knows how to make a map without mucking about with Correspondence!” He taps the map himself. “If time is of the essence, sir, then I need you to show me where von Natsi and all the rest are.”
Paul hesitates, then leans closer. “Well…the tunnels wind pretty far underground, so it’s hard to tell, but from what I estimate, we were somewhere here—” He touches the map.
Snodgrass stares a moment, then glances about the room. Reginald is the only other figure visible. He exhales slowly, rumbling his mustache. “Bollocks….”
The next thing Paul knows, he’s in darkness.
The space is tight, and musty, rough wood underneath him and on all sides. A vague murmuring sounds in the distance, punctuated by howls and a sound almost like chanting. Paul gropes for his phone and triggers the flashlight. He’s in a crate, made of old, half-rotten planks. He stares a moment, listening to the distant noise, then braces himself and shoves against the lid.
After a few shoves, the nails give way, the lid slides off, and he sits up. A dim cavern surrounds him, lit by a sickly ambient-green light. Dark tunnels lead off in three directions, with the chanting sound echoing down one of them. Around him lie more crates, all roughly the same size as his. Coffin-sized.
As he stares, heavy footsteps approach down one of the tunnels. Paul climbs out and hurries to the edge of the cavern, crouching behind a stack of broken crates. Moments later, a large figure steps into the light. A man, but larger than any man has a right to be, bulk and muscles straining against a skin-tight suit of heavy black leather, his face obscured by a gas mask with glowing green eyes. The man shuffles forward to peer into Paul’s now-empty crate. One massive hand grips the edge of the wood, but the other arm hangs at his side, ending in a triple-barreled shotgun welded directly into the flesh.
He stares into the crate, scans the room with his green gaze, then shuffles off, disappearing down another tunnel.
Paul releases a breath he didn’t have to hold in the first place, then investigates the other crates. Most are newer than his, their wood and nails holding firm, but he’s able to slowly pry the lid off of one of them.
Sophia is inside. In human form, clearly unconscious, bound in chains of silver. Dark burns stripe her skin wherever they touch her bare skin. Paul grabs the chains, pours concentration into his grip, then pulls. The metal twists and groans, then finally the chains snap free. He quickly clears the chains away and lifts her out of the crate. She doesn’t wake up, but the marks on her skin immediately begin to heal.
Heavy shuffling footsteps approach again. Paul freezes, Sophia in his arms, then looks at the other tunnels. One leads toward the chanting, a rising, rushing sound, as if coming from a massive crowd. The other one is smaller and leads to a set of stairs spiralling up.
Paul grips Sophia tighter and runs to the stairs.
BANK OF AMERICA BUILDING
Anstis arrives in the ballroom suite where Rabenholz held his Elysium, Weyland in tow. Rabenholz and Rhona are already there. Rabenholz nods a greeting to Anstis while eyeing Weyland curiously. “Who are you?”
Weyland draws his bedraggled self higher. “I be Horatio Weyland, first mate to Morgan the Terrible. Who be you?”
“I am Augustus von Rabenholz, Prince of this city.”
Weyland sniffs wetly. “Prince. Mm. Never knew a prince before, don’t feel like bending the knee.”
Rabenholz stares at him another moment, then turns back to Anstis. “Well, you could scarcely find a better-dressed companion. Captain, if you would do the honors.” He hands over Everton’s cane-sword and begins walking to the closet with the ritual circle already set up, its door removed and propped to one side.
Anstis, though, hesitates. “Do you have a room set aside where a mess wouldn’t be a problem?”
Rabenholz stops. “You didn’t mention this before. Is this circle not sufficient?”
“Nay, it will suffice for the summoning, but to complete the ritual….” Anstis grins sheepishly, “…I will require a sacrifice.”
Rabenholz eyes him flatly. Nearby, Rhona goes very still. “Why do you need a sacrifice?” Rabenholz asks.
“A sacrifice can enhance the power of the ritual and make Everton’s shade easier to track down.”
“Is it required?”
“Not strictly, but it may fail without. If you require the information he has, well….” Anstis grins and shrugs.
Rabenholz’s gaze narrows. He glances at Weyland.
The ghoul stiffens. “I be no-one’s sacrifice!”
Anstis waves him down. “Nay, we need someone weak-willed.”
Rabenholz hesitates, as if about to proclaim Weyland’s eligibility, then turns to Rhona. “Ms. Tyler—”
“—If you would be so kind as to…find a volunteer. Someone eager to further the efforts in protecting this city. Perhaps someone from the local transient population.”
The tension in Rhona eases, but only slightly. She hesitates, glancing once at Anstis’s grinning face, then nods crisply to Rabenholz and leaves the room.
Anstis steps into the closet and gets to work preparing the circle, modifying its base teleportation spell into the runes necessary for necromantic summoning. Weyland crouches against the wall, dozing off, but Rabenholz paces the ballroom, alternately watching Anstis and scanning the surrounding city outside the massive windows.
Finally Rhona returns, leading a tall, gaunt, bedraggled homeless guy.
(Chris: “What does he look like?”
Jason: “Bedraggled and homeless.”
Chris: “Does he look like he wants to die?”
Jason: “Not really, he just looks dirty and a little crazy.”
Chris: “Hmm. Like…irredeemably crazy?”
Jason: “…A little bit, yeah. Nice path-dodge.”)
The man leans against the wall and mumbles to himself, eyes jaundiced and cheap liquor on his breath. Rabenholz examines him a moment, then nods. “Thank you, Ms. Tyler. You don’t have to be here for the rest of this.”
She hesitates again, then nods and disappears back into the elevators.
Next to the circle, Anstis stands. “We are ready.”
“Excellent,” Rabenholz says. “Then you may proceed with our…volunteer.”
Anstis swaggers forward and examines the man. “He will do, but…let’s try the ritual without him first. We may not even need him.”
Rabenholz turns to Antis, eyeing him suspiciously. “You said yourself it would increase the power of the ritual, and time is of the essence.”
Anstis grins, twirling Everton’s cane in his hands. “Waste not.”
Rabenholz stares a moment, then sighs and gestures for Anstis to proceed.
Anstis grins wider, lays the cane in the circle, and begins the ritual.
(Jim: “Difficulty is equal to 7, or the ghost’s willpower. Whichever is higher.”
Jason: “Oooh boy. Well, roll well, Jim!”)
Anstis gathers his will and his focus, pouring his necromantic essence into the power collecting before him. His mind pierces the Shroud, plunging into the spirit realm—
—To find pandemonium.
Spirits whirl and howl in the underworld of the city, pain and fear battering Anstis like a tempest. He ignores it, digging through the chaos, searching. To his eye, a thin, glowing line extends from the cane at his feet out into the havoc. He focuses, latching his mind to this gossamer-thin thread, and pulls. The spirits suddenly whirl faster, realizing a necromancer is in their midst, their panic rising into anger. Anstis hoists on the thread, gradually sensing something approaching at the other end.
(Jason: “So, now…for everyone watching, two things happen….”)
In one throbbing pulse, the spirit world collects on Anstis, then withdraws, washing him back into the real world. In front of him, hunched over the cane in the circle, is the shade of Corwin Everton. The ghostly image is battered and fire-darkened, almost unrecognizable if not for the tweed jacket, charred and smoking at the edges.
(Me: “Ha! It’s literally a smoking jacket!”)
Everton’s ghost raises his head wearily. His misty gaze hovers over Anstis, then drifts toward Rabenholz. And hardens.
Anstis bows to him. “Dr. Corwin Everton.”
Everton tears his gaze from Rabenholz “Anstis…. Yes…your name is Anstis….”
“You’re looking worse for wear,” Anstis says.
“I’m dead, sir, it has that effect.” Everton’s voice echoes hollowly, as if coming from a space even greater than the ballroom. “Why am I here? How am I here?”
Anstis grins. The smile has fang. “You are here at my whim.”
Everton’s ghost tenses, then, understanding dawning, sneers back. “Curse your whim and the whims of all the Kindred around you.”
“I am not your enemy.”
“No, but you are in the presence of them.” Everton looks at Rabenholz, watching them silently from a few feet away. “And the ally of my enemy is not my friend.”
“You know things.” Anstis gestures to the windows, and the uncanny view of a the skyline against a matte-black sky. “Things about this calamity.”
Everton’s shade rotates in the circle, scanning the windows around them. “I know more than you will ever know,” he says grimly, then rotates back to face them. “Why do you ask? Only now at this late hour you seek to avail yourself of sources left to you?”
(Me: “Wait, what’s the second thing that happens?”
Jason: “Ah. For that, I’ll need everyone to roll me Perception + Alertness, then look outside.”)
Movement flickers outside the window. Rabenholz turns to see. Across the street, the roofline of 555 California lies at eye-level, its giant wraithly statues poised dramatically against the dark glass. Rabenholz frowns and approaches the windows, searching the building and sky for the movement he glimpsed. Then he sees it again.
The statues are moving.
The three figures turn to face him, the shadows under their robes dark as the sky overhead, concrete robes billowing on unfelt winds. As he watches, they lift their invisible arms and rise, lifting off the building to hover in the sky.
“Captain,” Rabenholz warns. “Make it fast.”
“These things are better not rushed,” Anstis replies. “The underworld is a dangerous game.”
Rabenholz turns back to the windows and the possessed figures hovering beyond. “Yes, I can tell.”
Anstis notices the figures then and scowls. “Dissuade them.” He turns back to Everton. “What can you tell me about what’s coming?”
Everton shakes his head slowly. “Everything. Death and ruin, fire and blood…”
“How can it be stopped?”
Everton chuckles, the sound echoing away into eternity. “You can’t stop it. You haven’t the fortitude. You and all your ilk.”
Anstis glares. “What were you going to do?”
“I? I was going to storm the gates of Hell itself.” Everton shakes his head again, sadly. “But even that wouldn’t have been enough. I see that now….”
Across the room, Rabenholz paces along the windows, eyeing the figures as they slowly drift closer. “What do you suppose these—”
Instantly, one of the statues is there, looming in front of the glass, twelve-feet high, concrete cloth undulating across the sky, and from the depths of her hollow form comes a world-ending shriek.
(Jason: “Courage test.”
Chris: *rolls* “…Double botch.”)
Rabenholz’s Beast takes over, driving him from the room and down the stairwell. Weyland, half-asleep in the corner, also panics at the noise driving down his nerves, stumbling to his feet and bolting for the stairs.
Anstis watches them go, then turns to Everton with a slow smile. “Now’s our chance.”
Everton frowns back. “I’m not sure what—”
Anstis grabs the homeless man, rapidly drinking his thin form dry in a few deep gulps. As the body slumps in his grip, he bites his finger and feeds a drop of blood back to it.
Everton watches in shock as Anstis kneels next to the circle, activating a second layer of runes hidden under the primary spell. A moment later, Everton’s form jerks. He blinks in surprise, then his shock turns to horror as understanding dawns.
“Waste not,” Anstis says again, grin wide, and activates the final layer. Everton’s form twists on itself, pain radiating visibly across the spirit-spectrum, then pours into the body.
Anstis kneels next to the body and feeds him a few more draughts of blood. Then he drags him into the circle and teleports them away.
At some point, consciousness returns and I find myself in darkness. Dark, but thankfully not abyssally-so. Air surrounds me, cold and clammy and carrying the echoing sound of dripping water on stone. Water is pooled underneath me too, running in a thin trail along the floor. I sit up, groaning, and hear a metallic clink underneath me. Vera is still here. I clutch her to myself like a life-ring and peer into the gloom.
I’m in some sort of basement cistern, with a low ceiling and punctuated by thick columns and the occasional dim patch of light leaking in from rusted grates overhead. I climb to my feet, keeping low to avoid the ceiling, and make my way through the dark. Rotting concrete walls stretch off into the gloom. I make my way to one and move along it, looking for some sort of exit, but as I come around one of the pillars I stop
A small, thin figure is curled up in a corner, dressed in shabby robes, arms wrapped around the legs, head-down on top of them. Surrounding it, pooling across the floor and climbing up the walls and ceiling, is solid shadow.
I hurry forward. “Boss?”
As I approach, the shadow boils up in front of me and lashes out, lightning fast.
Jason: “Roll it.”
Me: *rolls* “…FOUR successes!”
Jason: “Yeah, you dodge. It’s almost like some Matrix shit.”
Me: “Well, I was just in the Abyss, so….”)
I hit the floor and roll, dodging the black as it snaps at me in razor-thin wisps. I lunge forward and jump back, jerking from their attacks in a strange dance that has me moving before I even perceive them. It’s as if part of me knows where they’re going to be before they’re there. Finally the tendrils withdraw back into their pools.
The small figure curled up in the middle of them doesn’t even look up.
I shuffle carefully closer. The tendrils rise up warningly, undulating like snakes. I stare back, like a snake-charmer, pulling my focus to try and will control….
(Jason: “You’re trying to control someone else’s Shadowtendrils?”
Me: “Yeah, is that a thing?”
Jason: “…Technically yes, but…good luck.”)
Instantly, my will is shoved back, withering under the force controlling the shadow. A single tendril snaps at me again and I duck as it lashes over my head. No more attacks follow. The darkness pulls back, but deep down, I sense it’s watching me.
But my concentration on the shadow evaporates as the figure in front of me looks up, revealing Marcus’s withered, gaunt face.
“Boss?!” I cry, reaching out.
It takes a moment for his eyes to focus. He stares at me, but there’s no recognition on his face. “Out of tricks?” he mutters.
I step closer. “No, Boss, it’s me—”
The tendrils lunge again.
(Me: “EIGHT successes!”)
Another burst of frenetic energy as I dodge their snapping attacks. Finally they pull back again. I sense they’re getting more wary.
Pushing my advantage, I lunge forward, trying to break through to Marcus. A tendril rises at the last minute, cracking me in the ribs with the force of a truck, but I stumble past to reach him.
Quickly, I rack my mind for something only he and I would know. “Boss, it’s really me. Remember, I’m the one who gave you the bottle of chocolate milk. Before Aitor died.”
He looks up at me, dark eyes blank. There’s a flicker of confusion, then fear. Another tendril whips around but I sense it at the last moment, ducking to let it fly over my head and crash into the wall. I’m not sure how, and maybe it’s only temporary, but part of me is connected to the living darkness around me, and as I stare into Marcus’s face, a sudden instinctive realization hits:
He’s not the one controlling them.
I feel the shadow pulse up behind me again and turn to face it. Well, if you’re gonna fight fire with fire…. I close my eyes, concentrating on the sensations of the Abyss—the cold, the dark, the quiet and the hunger—will it into me, then out—
Jason: “Alright, roll it.”
Me: *rolls* “…Um…botch.”)
In a cataclysmic burst, I feel the power well forth…then implode back on me.
Next thing I know, I’m back on the slimy concrete floor, innards battered like I just got pried off an art sculpture. Groaning, I spare some precious effort to heal myself back together and rise shakily to my feet. “Boss? Sorry about that, are you—”
The small figure is sprawled unconscious on the ground next to me.
“Boss!” I shout, shaking the body, then stop as my hand touches bare skin. Warm bare skin. I lean down, peering at the face. Every curve, every freckle matches what I remember from Marcus, but the eyes flutter behind their closed eyelids, and the chest rises and falls slowly with breath.
I stand. “What the…?”
The darkness around me shifts, melting away into the floor, the spell controlling them broken, or perhaps banished by their actual master. As they dissolve, a new tunnel appears in the wall behind them. Dim light flickers at the far end, and a steady rumbling sound echoes along its length.
Leaving fake-Marcus where he fell, I enter it.
BLACK SPIRAL HIVE
Slowly, Paul climbs the long, winding staircase, Sophia hoisted over his shoulder, walls rumbling around him in the dark. Light at the top of the stairs urges him upwards and he continues, even as the ominous rumbling in the stone rises to the clear sound of chanting from many throats. Sophia shifts on his shoulder, slowly coming around as her silver burns heal. Finally, they reach a doorway at the top and Paul steps through.
They’re at the top of a massive cavern, lit by green-tinted braziers, gouged out of the earth in a series of descending terraces to form an enormous, enclosed stadium.
(Jason: “Big enough for a hundred-thousand people.”
Chris: “Oh wow.”
Jason: “But it’s not filled with a hundred-thousand people.”
Chris: “Okay, good.”
Jason: “It’s filled with a hundred-thousand worse things.”)
Creatures upon creatures fill the arena, descending down the tiers in a near-solid mass of muscle, fur, and flesh. Some are humans, many are werewolves, but most are things of indescribable shape and form, like the collected nightmares of a dozen ancient civilizations.
And every single one of the howling, anxious mass, is staring expectantly at the stadium floor below.
Paul carefully slinks through the shadows along the wall, finding an empty bench at the back. He lowers Sophia down onto it, but at the touch of cold stone her eyes snap open. Her whole body tenses like a board.
Then erupts up into full-on Crinos form.
(Chris: “Probably not all that noticeable in here anyway.”
Jason: “Oddly, yes. This actually makes her less conspicuous.”)
A hulking, twisted thing sitting in the row below them turns to stare at her, then turns away a moment later.
Sophia stares around, long maw gaping in shock, then notices Paul huddled in her shadow. “Paul?” she rumbles deep in her throat. “Where are we?”
“I was hoping you could tell me, but I’m pretty we’re still in the hive.”
Suddenly Sophia freezes, eyes glued to the stadium floor far below. “Oh god….” She shrinks back down into human-form, then shrinks further, slouching into her jacket and huddling next to him. Paul follows her gaze.
Far below, the largest werewolf Paul has ever seen has stepped out onto the arena floor, approaching a raised stone dais in the middle. Sixteen feet tall, jet-black, with a snarling hyena-face and carrying a sword dripping with green fire. The werewolf howls and snaps up at the crowd, then lifts the sword and chants. The multitude raises its collective voice to chant along.
Sophia begins trembling. Paul pats her shoulders in an awkward approximation of comfort. “Just be quiet, try not to be nervous, though I know that’s not possible. Look around, see if there’s anything you recognize that might help us find the werewolf cub.” Paul scans the crowd. “Or anything we need to avoid.”
Instantly, Sophia stops trembling and glares up at Paul with a sardonic teenage Look.
“I mean things that we need to avoid even more than usual,” Paul continues. “Things that might recognize us.”
Sophia glances quickly around them. “Most of these things are fomori, banes….” A shudder passes through her. “And more of the 7th generation cultists.”
Paul looks again, this time stretching his senses to scan auras. The crowd is so thick, individual auras are melded together into one dark, twisted miasma filling the cavern, but even through the mess common threads are clear: pain, hate, and anger.
As he looks, a patch of the stadium catches his eye, a small section of tiers near the bottom clear of most of the crowd. Two humanoid figures sit in the middle of this space, and as one turns to say something to the other, he recognizes them: Reinhardt Heydrich, and Perpenna. Neither are chanting but both watch the werewolf on the arena floor intently.
“Paul,” Sophia whispers, “What are we going to do?”
“Just hold on. There may be help coming….” Paul digs out his phone. Despite their unknown depth under the earth, he seems to have reception. He quickly fires off a text message to von Natsi and Georgia, telling them he’s found Sophia and to transport themselves to his location if they can.
After sending the message, Paul waits anxiously. Moments pass, but there’s no response.
(Chris: “Did I get Snodgrass’s number at any point?”
Jason: “I don’t think you did, and if you did, it would be something weird, like, ‘4.’”)
Chris: “Um, okay, I try calling ‘4.’”
Paul huddles down next to Sophia as the phone rings, cupping the phone close against his ear. After a few moments, it connects. “Is this Professor Snodgrass?” he whispers.
A booming voice answers, broadcast on the phone’s external speakers. “You have reached the auditory messaging system of Professor Barnaby Chauncy Snodgrass the Third!! Leave a message and I will get back to you post haste. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!!!!”
A few of the creatures turn massive heads and myriad eyes to stare at him.
Paul fumbles with the phone as Snodgrass’s message begins to repeat. “Sorry, sorry about that!” he shouts to the crowd. “New phone!”
The things mutter among themselves, then a hulking thing down the row suddenly gets up to approach them. Paul and Sophia freeze. The thing growls low, opening a massive, double-hinged jaw—
Sophia instantly explodes back into Crinos form, grabs the creature, and throws it down the rows into the crowd below. A few creatures turn to stare up at her, then turn back to face the arena again.
Sophia sits down heavily in her seat, snapping back into human form as quickly as she left it. She stares into space a moment, clearly shocked by what she just did.
Paul snaps out of his stare as the phone in his hand finally beeps for him to leave a message. “Uh, hi, Professor Snodgrass, this is Paul, I ended up inside the installation, we’re trying to locate the cub but I wanted to check if you’re still com—”
The phone beeps again, cutting him off.
Paul sighs and puts the phone away. “Sophia, do you know where the others are? Stormwalker? Charles? Anyone?”
She shakes her head. “I don’t know, I—” She freezes, staring down at the arena.
The werewolf—clearly a Spiral Dancer—is still presiding over the crowd, now mounted upon the dais, but as it howls and gestures, more Dancers appear on the floor from hidden tunnels. All carrying more packing crates.
“Oh no….” Paul mutters.
Anstis appears in the teleportation room of his submarine, the embraced homeless man in his grip. He drags him out of the circle and sets him down to slump against the wall. The man is still for many long moments, then begins to stir. His eyes flutter open.
Anstis kneels and peers into his face. “Everton?”
The man looks up, blinks rheumy eyes, and groans. He rubs his hands along his face, then stops as they tangle in his unkempt beard. Slowly, he gropes at his face, then stares at his rough, filthy hands. “Well…this is odd….” he says, voice ragged, but with the cadence of a British accent.
Anstis grins and stands, throwing his arms wide in triumph. “Doctor Everton. Welcome back to the land of the unliving.”
The new body of Corwin Everton shoves his way to his feet, staggering a moment at his unexpected height. “Is that what this is? And what will you do now? Diablerie?”
“Nay. I believe we need you in the coming nights. So tell me what can be done.” Anstis wags a finger mockingly. “And I don’t want to hear doom and gloom, I want to hear options.”
Everton takes an unsteady step forward, fire in his eyes. “If I am no longer a ghost, I am no longer bound to your necromantic will, Captain.”
“Nay. Now you’re simply my childe.”
Everton stops. He closes his eyes in pain a long moment, then release a low sigh and opens them again. “Options? Not many. But I know what he’s done. What he’s doing.”
Anstis rolls his eyes. “Yes, Perpenna aims to make himself a god, we know that already.”
“Worse.” Everton runs a tongue across his uneven, broken teeth. “He’s covered his tracks. Contingencies upon contingencies. Worked his way into every major faction. Settites, Sabbat, Camarilla.”
Anstis frowns and leans against the bulkhead. “What part of the Camarilla?”
“The heart. The very heart of the local circle. Spent decades building attacks. Domination, long-term conditioning. All preparing for this. It’s why so many showed up.”
“Then he’s a great head start.”
“Enormous.” Everton shakes his head. “Worse than we thought, worse than I thought. Plans to make himself a god, then destroy it all.”
Anstis snorts. “What’s the point of being a god if you have nothing to rule?”
Everton eyes him. “He plans to rule, but not here.”
Anstis frowns. “Then where?”
But Everton ignores the question, pacing unsteadily in the small room. “The Talons,” he mutters, half to himself. “He’s using the Talons. They think they’re summoning a ritual to stop him but they’re playing right into his plans. They don’t know it any more than the Settites did. He has their leader. Their pack lord.”
“Controlling the pack lord?”
Everton nods. “Yes, like he did Anektahken. The pack lord commands the rest. It’s why they came, it’s why they waited. When he has what he’s taken, they’ll bring forth destruction incarnate. And in the aftermath he’ll have all the time he needs.”
Anstis strokes his tentacles. “In that case we pull the strings he’s been pulling.”
Everton glares at him. “How? He’s a Lasombra lord. Two thousand years old, fifth generation if not lower. Your will is nothing to his.”
“Any weaknesses we can pursue?”
Everton snorts. “Arrogance, and the complexity of his time table. He must achieve apotheosis tonight, under this darkness.”
“And if he doesn’t tonight?”
“Then the werewolves destroy the city, and him along with it.”
“Can we stall it? Disrupt it?”
“Not without the cub. The cub is key. Sacrifices are already in place, but the cub is the focus. The Dancers will not summon the Wyrm without it.”
Anstis considers this a moment, his gaze falling to the ritual circle inscribed at their feet. “You had the cub for awhile,” he says slowly. “Do you have anything from it? Fur, anything?”
Everton scowls. “Any relics I had burnt with the rest of my body—” His face falls. “Wait. there is one thing. At one of my safe houses. You won’t like it.”
“I don’t have to like it.”
Everton takes a breath. “Shit. Werewolf shit.”
Anstis stares at him a long moment, then rolls his eye. “…It’ll do.”
Everton nods, then begins pacing again. “The question now, then, is how to get into my safehouse. They’re spelled to only allow myself to enter, even via Thaumaturgy.”
“Aye, but we have you.”
Everton shakes his head. “No. You have my…consciousness. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it a soul, that’s an argument we don’t have time for at the moment. The only way to enter is with my old body.” Everton eyes him. “Or a piece of my old body.”
Antis considers this a long moment, toying with his beard, then straightens. “Your fangs. Rabenholz took them, displayed them at his Elysium.”
Everton smiles grimly. “Somehow I am not surprised. However, considering everything that has happened, and even with all else being equal, the likelihood of getting Augustus von Rabenholz to help us is—”
Suddenly the room brightens as the ritual circle activates. Everton and Anstis step back, peering forward as the light clears.
Rabenholz is standing in the circle.
Anstis stares. “Ah. Shit.”
END OF NIGHT