7/07/16

Jason: “And now I need to know what you’re going to do next.”
Chris: “I’m going to start to free the prisoners.”
Me: “I’m going to start shooting things.”
Jason: “…I don’t even know why I ask….”

***

#

THE SPIRAL HIVE

Paul and Sophia watch nervously as the crates are dragged into the floor of the area and stacked on the dais around the massive Spiral Dancer in the middle. Sophia pulls deeper into the shadows of her jacket, hands clutching the edge of the seat.

After a few moments, Paul takes a breath, gently takes her shoulders and turns her to face him. “Sophia. You need to find the cub now. You find the cub, and you take it, and you get the hell out of here and you never come back!” He shakes her once as she stares, wide-eyed. “Your fight is over!! You get it to safety, and you find someone to love and you find someone who loves you and you abandon this fight and lead whatever life you can as full as you can!!!”

(*silence in the room*
Jason: “Jesus christ, what were you listening to on your headphones just now?”)

Paul lets her go and sits back. “Go find the cub,” he murmurs. “I’ll handle this.”

Sophia sits a moment, staring in shock. Her mouth creeps open, as if about to say something, then closes. In a snap, she shifts down into wolf-form and bolts off, disappearing into the tunnels leading out of the arena behind them.

Paul sits another moment, watching the commotion on the arena floor, listening to the blood-thirsty cries of the arena crowd, then takes another breath, stands, and begins to descend.

Twisted creatures loom around him as he makes his way down, but none so much as glance at him, intent as they are on the arena floor. A few werewolves—too small and low-ranked to sit in the prime seats with the rest of their kind—sniff at him, but turn away once they identify the familiar scent of vampire. Paul continues down, making his way toward a cluster of humans, dressed in dark robes marked with the logo of the Seventh Generation.

(Chris: “Do the cultists see me?”
Jason: “Eventually, but I mean, all they see is a vampire.”)

They stop cheering and stare, perplexed, as Paul moves down the row to stand in front of them. “Kneel,” he commands.

(Jason: “…What are you using?”
Chris: “I’m not using anything.”
Jason: “…”)

The cultists glance at each other. One moves to stand up, but the others grab him by the shoulders and pull him down to kneel with them on the stone.

(Chris: “I take a point of blood from each of them.”)

Without being asked, they offer their wrists. Paul bites each one delicately, taking only a little, but they each drift off woozily once released and slump against the rough hewn seats. He finishes and turns to walk away.

One grabs at his leg. “More,” the man sighs, holding both wrists high, a look of ecstasy on his face.

Paul stares back, fighting down a grimace. “When you redeem yourself,” he mutters and walks away.

He continues his descent. Down lower, the concentration of Spiral Dancers increases, all watching the big werewolf on the arena floor and the circle of crates spread around the dias. Across the arena, Perpenna and Heydrich are similarly focused, oblivious to Paul’s presence.

Paul pulls out his phone. Reception is low, barely managing one bar, but he still pauses a moment to thumb out a text, addressed to Snodgrass, Lovelace, von Natsi, and Georgia: “Don’t know if you’ll make it here in time. But if you do, bring the big guns, and come in firing.”

He sends the message then types another, this one to Gates: “Might not make it out. If you don’t hear from me in the next couple hours, execute Tesseract contingency plan. Thanks and love you.” With that, he tucks his phone away and takes a slow breath.

(Chris: “And now…we do some magic.”
Jason: “Oh?”
Chris: “Everyone I just texted, except Gates?”
Jason: “Yeah?”
Chris: “Summon.”)

#

(Now, Chris’s results on the roll on this Summon is something that really is best understood by listening to this segment of the initial recording)

#

TOM

The walls of the tunnel become more well-hewn the further I travel down the tunnel, and the strange murmuring roar in the distance increases. A bright doorway grows before me, and a few feet before I reach it, I hit a portcullis blocking the way, rusted almost all the way through. I wrench it off easily then stumble the last few feet out into the light.

And step out onto the sand floor of an arena.

Tier upon tier rises up around me, stretching to a cavernous roof overhead, every row is filled things beyond description. No one seems to be looking at me, though. Instead, all eyes and snouts and other ghastly appendages are focused on a raised stone dais in the center of the floor, piled with crates and dominated by one massive fucking werewolf. But I don’t stare too long, as something in the stands on the far side catches my eye. Perpenna, and the blonde man known as Reinhardt Heydrich, are sitting in a clear space a few rows above the edge of the arena. Or, well, an almost-clear space, since they’re surrounded by almost two dozen small figures.

Marcus-clones, identical to him and each other in every way, all staring flatly down at the area with solid-black eyes, like the one I just left behind me.

I pull back, lurking in the shadows at the edge of the tunnel, gripping Vera tightly, trying to decide what to do—

When suddenly Paul Stewart descends from nowhere, soaring through the air in a streak to land on the center of the dias.

#

PAUL

Paul lands heavily on the stone, sand and dust radiating from the impact. The giant werewolf stops and stares at him, tongue lolling in confusion. Slowly, Paul stands and meets its gaze

(Chris: “Majesty.”)

An almost palpable wall of mental force radiates across the sands, dropping the lower tiers of the arena into silence. Slowly, the rest of the arena falls quiet too, in confusion.

Paul turns, scanning the crowd, and gestures to the crates. “I…am Paul Stewart! I claim these offerings, and pardon them! Your fate hangs on the edge of a knife! Whether to follow through on your dark path, or to find your best selves and find redemption. Join me now! Defend them!

High up the stadium, the werewolves and monsters glance at each other in confusion, but the closest tiers of werewolves fall still, nodding in agreement.

(Jason: “Tom, you see and hear all of this, as Paul gives his speech.”
Me: “So…I was in range of the Majesty?”
Jason: “Oh yes. Paul is the most awesome thing you’ve ever seen.”
Me: “Oh my god I hate this man so much….”)

Paul continues his scan until he finds Perpenna, staring down at him as if Paul had just turned into a pile of cabbages. Heydrich looks similarly perplexed, glancing at Perpenna. Around them, the Not-Marcus’s don’t react at all.

Paul’s attention, though, is dragged back to the dais as the massive werewolf grabs his shirt. “Who are you?” it roars.

Paul stares evenly into its gaze. “I am your redeemer! Join me!

The werewolf snarls and lifts its sword. Sickly-green fire erupts along its length. Growl rumbling deep in its throat, the werewolf looks up at Perpenna. Perpenna smirks and lifts a hand to flick his fingers once.

The werewolf’s growl deepens. Slowly, it raises the sword above Paul’s head, angling for a strike, moving so deliberately and confidently it’s almost slow motion—

—Then the werewolf’s chest explodes.

(Jason: “Colleen, I’m, ah…I’m going to need nineteen dice of damage.”
Me: “…I don’t think I have nineteen dice….”
Jim: “Here’s ten more—”
Me: “I DON’T WANT YOUR DAMN CURSED DICE!!”)

Instantly, the werewolf’s carcass is hurled off the dais. Paul stumbles as he’s dropped, regains his footing, and turns to see Tom approaching across the arena, carrying his gratuitously-large gun, smoke pouring from the barrel, and dressed in his usual outfit somewhere between middle-aged biker and Lady Gaga backup dancer.

Roars of anger erupt from the crowd. Werewolves scramble in the stands, trying to climb down to the arena floor, but the nearest rows—the ones affected by the Majesty—turn to stop them. Weapons appear in the chaos, as well as more flashes of balefire. Heydrich is on his feet, yelling in German, while Perpenna sits stunned, staring at Paul. Then Perpenna frowns and raises a hand.

As one, the crowd of Not-Marcuses rise to their feet and draw identical swords, leaping down the stands, ducking through openings in the rising maelstrom to reach the floor and rush the dais.

Meanwhile, Tom jogs up to the dais and scrambles up. “Paul!”

“Hey, Tom,” Paul replies with forced nonchalance, watching the chaos. “How are you?”

Tom scans the chaos and spots the approaching N0t-Marcus army. He adjusts the strap of his gun, swinging it onto his back. “Hey, I don’t have time to explain, but…I need you to hug me right now.”

Paul stares at him.

(Me: “…Shadownova?”
Chris: “Oh god. This is how Paul dies. Not to the thousands of Spiral Dancers and evil mages and monsters. To Tom fucking-up Shadownova.”
Jason: “Have you tested yet if Shadownova doesn’t work on people touching you?”
Me: “No…but this is the Tom Lytton way of approaching problems, so.”)

Hesitantly, Paul lifts up his arms. Tom embraces him.

Moments later, darkness erupts.

#

TOM

The Abyss boils forth, erupting not with malice, but cool assurance, confident that all around me was once darkness and given enough time will become darkness again. Paul remains tight in my grip while around us the wall of shadow rolls across the arena, knocking over werewolves and blowing the Not-Marcuses back up into the stands. A awed silence falls over the entire stadium as the concussive wave dissipates up to the ceiling and light returns. Werewolves and monsters fall quiet, watching us warily.

Perpenna is staring too, but his expression is far more calculating. Almost eager.

Paul pulls himself from my grip. “Tom, the crates!”

Around us, the force of the blast has smashed and splintered them open, revealing their contents. I scan quickly, stomach dropping. In every single one, bound in chains inscribed with glowing runes, are people we know: Claude, Sophia’s packmates, some skinny vampire in a trucker hat. And Bell.

Above us, Perpenna is still staring, but Heydrich is on his feet, yelling in German and doing obscure shit with his hands. Dark energy crackles between his fingers.

“Tom?” Paul says grimly. “Shoot that fucker.”

I pull Vera around. “Yes, sir.”

Heavy shells shatter the stone, sending werewolves ducking. Heydrich stays put, shouting louder, his voice suddenly echoing in something not German, something not even human. Balefire erupts in front of him in a wall, absorbing the blast of my bullets.

I stop and reevaluate. The chaos in the stands has poured onto the floor of the arena, as werewolves battle each other in a flurry of claws, blades, and blood. Stranger monsters are also beginning to join, climbing down from the upper tiers.

(Jason: “And now I need to know what you’re going to do next.”
Chris: “I’m going to start to free the prisoners.”
Me: “I’m going to start shooting things.”
Jason: “…I don’t even know why I ask….”)

I reload a new belt into Vera and kick her into full auto, swinging her fire across the maelstrom.

#

PAUL

Paul ducks low from the line of Tom’s fire and scrambles toward the prisoners in the shattered crates. The nearest one contains Stormwalker, in Crinos form, but wrapped in heavy silver chain. Paul pulls the last pieces of wood from him then grabs the chains, pulling at them with all his might—

There’s a thunderclap burst, and Heydrich appears on the edge of the dias, blue eyes as baleful as the balls of fire streaking across the arena. “Very clever, Herr Stewart,” he hisses. “But not clever enough.” He lifts a hand. More green fire collects within his palm as he begins to stride forward.

Paul stands, meeting his gaze evenly, then tries to Entrance him.

Heydrich stops, blinks, then chuckles darkly. “You call that sorcery?” He lifts his hand and throws.

Paul ducks from the fireball just in time, then again as another flaming burst follows it. He tries to scramble away, then falls to his knees as gravity suddenly seems to shift and warp around him. Heydrich stalks closer, grinning, slowly spinning a large ball of flame between his hands….

Then a tingling sensation buzzes the back of Paul’s mind. A familiar one. Leaning against a crate to steady himself, it takes Paul a moment to identify it: his Summons is here.

(Jason: “Care to come up with a one-liner?”
Chris: “Umm….”
Jim: “Catch you fuckers at a bad time?”)

A thunderous crash of displaced air explodes through cavern, this time from above. The squabbling crowds all stop and look up. An enormous, zeppelin-esque ship is hovering within the cavern above the arena, sails and fins striped in crimson and ultramarine, polished wood limned with gold and brass trim. The Union Jack waves jauntily from the bowsprit. Painted across the bottom, in six-foot letters on both sides of the keel, are the words, HMES HARUMPH (GOD SAVE THE QUEEN)

(Jason: “Parenthetical and everything.”)

As the masses stare, a porthole opens in one side and a trumpet-shaped speaker unfolds, expanding to a bell four-feet wide. There’s a sound of someone clearing their throat, echoing clearly across the stunned cavern, then the voice continues:

“MOST UNORTHODOX!!!!1!!1!!!”

A moment later, more portholes slide open, and the sonic cannons begin to fire.

Paul smiles.

(Chris: “Paul’s a doer. He gets things done.”)

#

THE TWILIGHT’S FORTUNE

Rabenholz glances once around the narrow, grimy submarine cabin, then nods at Anstis. “Captain.”

Anstis stares a moment, then spreads his arms in greeting. “Lord Rabenholz! I have gathered interesting intel on the situation.”

Rabenholz glances down. The body of the homeless man is collapsed on the floor, slack-jawed, eyes closed. “And what is this?”

“Ah…this be a corpse. I’ve been using it to interrogate Everton’s spectre.”

Rabenholz eyes Anstis for a long, long moment, then turns back to the corpse. “Doctor, stand up. Slouching is below your dignity.”

The body stirs, then slowly climbs back up to standing, posing with more dignity than its ragged appearance and clothes would imply. “Lord Augustus von Rabenholz,” he says in a voice with new timbre but familiar cadence. “May I say, with all of the official authority of a professor of Cambridge, fuck you.”

Rabenholz nods to him. “You may.”

“What in gods name are you doing here?” Everton says from his new body.

“I am as curious as anyone as to what you have to say about Perpenna.”

New Everton glares through drug-reddened eyes. “Are you as curious to discover or to eat it? Because I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.” He glances at Anstis. “And if this is all a ploy to bring me back to be someone’s dinner, Pfalzgraf, Captain, you both have a surprise coming to you.”

Anstis gestures dismissively. “It certainly was not.”

“Hard to take the word of a pirate.”

“Then take my word as a gentleman,” Rabenholz offers.

Everton turns to him, glare cold as the dark water beyond the hull. “A gentle-man you are not,” he says grimly, then takes a long sigh. “But then, who of us are, anymore.”

Rabenholz nods again then gestures invitingly. “Doctor, please. Do share with us what you know.”

Everton sighs the relays the same information he just gave to Anstis. Rabenholz listens calmly, pacing the small room. “What other forces do you suspect Perpenna of having?” he asks as Everton finishes.

Everton’s face turns grim. “He could have anything, but there’s one I know for sure. Reinhard Heydrich. One of the most evil men ever to draw breath. A Nephandi mage. Perpenna’s pawn, perhaps, but I doubt it. Nephandi worship destruction and entropy incarnate. Helping Perpenna’s plans likely furthers his own.”

Rabenholz nods, considering this. “Not an easy foe to subdue.”

“Almost impossible. Even for a nephandius, he is very, very good.” Everton frowns, gaze turning distant. “Especially for one as young as he is. He shouldn’t be this good.”

“Can Perpenna succeed if the werewolves in the east bay do not succeed in destroying the world?” Rabenholz continues.

Everton shrugs. “Possibly. My guess, though, is he’s assuming he won’t have the full power of the Wyrm immediately and he needs the distraction to give him some time. By the time anyone figures out what happened, it’ll be far too late.”

Rabenholz paces in silence  long moment. “Do you have faith in Paul Stewart?”

Everton frowns. “Paul Stewart? Why?”

“He roams the caves Perpenna is hiding in. If you have faith in his abilities, then we should focus our attentions on the werewolves in the east bay.” Rabenholz pulls out his phone and glances quickly through some archived emails from Rhona. “I have been pursuing the technology and licenses necessary to emit aerosols over the bay area. Silver nitrate.”

Everton hisses a slow, raspy indraw of breath.

“The technology is ready,” Rabenholz continues. “The licenses not so much. But I imagine that is less important right now.”

“That might be good, but it won’t be enough by itself,” Everton says.

“The Nosferatu might have additional resources,” Anstis adds.

“There’s someone else who might as well,” Everton says, grimly. “Someone else with the resources to handle werewolves, even werewolves en-masse.”

“Whom?” Anstis asks.

Everton meets his gaze. “Orlando. Not many know this, but it’s a vozhd dealer. I don’t know if it has any on hand, but if it does….” he shrugs.

Anstis smiles. “Aye. The last ones were quite potent.”

Everton turns to Rabenholz. “Silver nitrate will be nasty, but it won’t be enough. The werewolves will have protections in place against artillery and chemical attacks. But they won’t be expecting a vozhd.”

“I will contact Orlando,” Anstis says.

Everton scoffs. “You?”

Anstis breaks out into a wide, evil grin. “He owes me a favor.”

Everton lifts an eyebrow. “That is a rare position to be in, with Orlando. But you will need to see it in person to make such a request, and boon or not, you should not show up to its haven without a considerable gift.”  

Anstis considers this a moment, looking to Rabenholz, then lets his gaze fall to Glitch hanging at his side. Rabenholz frowns and twitches his cloak to cover the sword.

Anstis grins and turns back to Everton. “Last time we offered him a living sacrifice, but that was simply to convince him not to kill us.”

“Yes, for this it would need to be something very grand,” Rabenholz says, staring appraisingly at Everton.

Everton meets his gaze with daggers. “I won’t pretend that in this state I could stop you. I will say, however, that you might come to regret it.”

“Perhaps. I think we can do better, though. Let us head back to the city and consider on the way.” Rabenholz kneels and begins making adjustments to the circle as Anstis and Everton watch.

Suddenly, Anstis’s face falls.

(Jim: “Oh. My god. I just thought of a gift.”
Jason: “What?”
Jim: “I can use Necromancy to get him a captive wraith. More specifically, I can offer him Marcus’s father. Bound to an object.”
*shocked stares*
Chris: “…Nice.”
Me: “That is a nice gift….”
Jason: “That is a good idea…and a terrible idea….”
Chris: “Marcus’s dad-in-a-box!”)

Slowly, as Rabenholz works, a wide, evil smile blooms across Anstis’s squid-drenched face.

#

EAST BAY HILLS

Gavril and Neshka exit the main roads and climb into the hills above Oakland and Berkeley. As they leave civilization, Gavril pulls a small wrapped package from his coat and holds it out for Neshka to sniff.

Hidden within the brown paper is one of the chunks of Tom Lytton from Rabenholz’s party, acquired by Ivan through back channels late the night before.

Neshka nuzzles the package, inhaling deeply, then snaps her head around and tears off into the night.

#

A few miles north, Scout arrives in the hills near Orinda, pulling off the highway and onto the dirt roads winding up into the hills. As the roads get steeper and more washed-out, though, she pulls over and abandons the car, continuing the rest of the way on foot. She climbs steadily through oak woodlands, all eerily silent under the unnaturally-dark sky.

Ten minutes out from the car, she realizes she’s being followed.

Instantly, she doppelgangers, sending the illusory form of herself continuing up the road while the real-her pulls her knife and ducks into the shadows lining it. A few moments later, a thin figure creeps from the shadows, following the illusion, glancing around furtively. Scout steps from the shadows under a tree, approaching him with knife out.

The figure suddenly whirls, slashing the air with something in his hand. Scout sidesteps easily and dashes up to grab him from behind, dagger shoved against his throat. The man tenses with a muffled squeak and drops the object in his hand. It’s a Swiss Army knife.

Scout pulls him close. “You looking for something?” she hisses in his ear.

“Just a way out of this fucking place,” he hisses back.

“Why are you up here?”

“Does it matter?! I’m the BARON OF BERKELEY! And I command you to unhand me!”

Scout freezes. “…Leeland?”

Her grip slackens and he pulls away, rubbing at his neck. He turns to see her and stops. “Oh, shit,” he mutters. “What are you doing here?”

She looks him over. His suit is rumpled, his skin is bruised, and his bowtie is totally missing. “What are you doing here?”

“Trying to get away from the Russians!”

Scout frowns. “Russians…. You mean Leidesdorff’s Russians?”

“No, Putin’s Russians!” Leeland snaps. “Of course I mean Leidesdorff’s Russians!!!”

“Do they have Tom with them?”

“You mean Lytton? How the fuck should I know!?”

She glances back down the road. “Where are they?”

Leeland shudders. “I think I left them behind. Somewhere up on the ridge. I don’t know, I took off as soon as I—”

He stops as almost a dozen people suddenly step from the shadows around them.

Scout freezes, hand twitching on her knife. The group—dressed in a melange of tactical gear and armaments—stops in a loose circle around them. A dark-haired man with a scar down his face swaggers forward. “Leeland, why you run away—” He stops as he sees the figure of Scout behind Leeland, then grins. “Ohh! Look what we find here!”

Scout steps forward, nodding once. “Sergei.”

Sergei peers at her, then grins. “Oh ho, is the Scout! Why you come all this way, little girl?”

The men around them chuckle, but Scout holds Sergei’s gaze. “Sounds like you lost something that was in your charge.”

Sergei swaggers forward and slaps Leeland’s back. “Yes, this one is very bad. He run away, he is naughty man! But we find him! Everything is good now!” He squeezes both Leeland’s shoulders and grins at her. “Now…is solid.”

Scout ignores Leeland’s panicked stare, focusing on Sergei.  “I hear you’ve also been running around with Tom Lytton.”

Sergei throws back his head and laughs. “Lytton, yes! He is tovarich! He is big man, he kill werewolf!”

(Me: “Ha, that’s like Sergei’s catchphrase.”
Jim: “I love Sergei.”
Jason: “Well, good, cause guess who else arrives just now….”)

The men around them join in Sergei’s laughter, sharing stories they’ve heard of Tom Lytton. Scout smiles thinly. Leeland, though, suddenly tenses and stares off into the darkness, frowning. “What in the name of—”

Instantly, the darkness melts back. Neshka is looming at the edge of the group, Gavril mounted firmly in her saddle.

Leeland shrieks. Sergei’s men shout, backing away and bringing their guns to bear with a clatter. Gavril ignores the commotion and dismounts gracefully.

Sergei storms forward, gun raised. “What is this?! Who are you!?”

Gavril turns and bows. “I am Gavril.”

Sergei stares down the length of his gun a long moment…then lowers it, beaming, and spreads his arms wide. “TOVARICH!!!” He strides forward and embraces Gavril. “Have not seen in decade! You do not come to San Jose!”

Gavril returns the embrace politely. “I prefer the quiet of the coast.”

The men around them instantly relax. Leeland watches Sergi and Gavril in shock, while Scout rolls her eyes and tries to ignore Neshka, who is once again sniffing and licking at her.

“Why are you here?” Sergei asks.

“I am finding Tom Lytton,” Gavril replies.

Sergei grins and wags a finger at him. “Ahhh, yes! We do not have him, he is supposed to meet here. And then we kill werewolves!”

“Are the werewolves here?” Scout asks, shoving Neshka’s saurian head away and glancing nervously through the dark.

“No, they are up there….” Sergei turns and points. The dark pyramid of Mount Diablo looms in the distance, east over the rolling hills. Near its peak, light flickers with the bright-orange hunger of fire.

“How many werewolves have you spotted?” Gavril asks.

Sergei shrugs. “I do not know. Maybe three. Maybe fifty.” He grins. “We find out.”

“How long have you waited for Lytton?”

“Long time, since before this happens.” Sergei gestures to the mountain again. “But now this happens and we are ready to go.”

Gavril eyes the mountain a moment then turns back to Sergei. “I was also sent by Archbishop. He looks for you.”

Sergei barks a laugh. “Ha! Leidesdorff. He is not Archbishop. He is pretender! He is little man, skulking around with tech companies. He talks to Toreadors, to Paul Stewart!” Sergei spits on the ground. “He want to make peace, he want everyone to be nice!”

“And now he talk to you,” Gavril says firmly, “to get him off me back.”

(Me: “‘Me’ back?”
Jim: “Shut up! Accents are hard, they’re both jumbling together!”
Jason: “Oh, I weep for you.”)

Sergei’s laughter dies. He frowns a moment, then drapes an arm across Gavril’s shoulder and pulls him in conspiratorially. “Maybe we do something else, eh? Maybe when we kill werewolves and we are big men, maybe we don’t have to think about what Leidesdorff say. Maybe we are the Archbishops now! Maybe you are Bishop…of Pacifica.”

(Me: *bursts out laughing* “The idea of Pacifica as a Sabbat town is just…the best. All the vampires are, like, surfers with lifted trucks and/or Priuses. The Pack Priests peddle homeopathic medicine and stock organic produce in Oceana Market. They have Ritae at Surf Bowl. And where the hell do they hold their Monomancy? Fogfest?”)

Gavril smiles at Sergei, then pulls Sergei’s phone out of the Brujah’s jacket pocket and hands it to him. “Tell you what. Make call to the Archbishop. And then we go hunt werewolves. Archbishop…he gets annoying.”

Sergei glares at him, then sighs. “Tell me about it. Amerikanski.” He takes the phone and wanders away a few feet, dialing as he goes.

Gavril turns to Scout and bows. “Ms. Bennett. I thought you were not joining us.”

She smiles back thinly. “I finished my business and thought this was an interesting lead to follow.

“Excellent. And what is plan next?”

She shrugs. “Well, Tom Lytton doesn’t seem to be here.”

“But was perhaps here recently. Neshka follow scent.” Gavril holds up the wrapped chunk of flesh, then tucks it away and turns to one of Sergei’s men standing nearby. “If kill werewolves, where is silver?” Gavril asks.

The man grins a fanged grin and hefts his gun. “We bring good stuff.” He pulls the clip, showing the silver-jacketed rounds lined up inside.

Gavril nods in approval. “Did you bring extra gun?”

The man grins and hands him a pistol. Gavril takes it, eyes the pistol, eyes the automatic weapon slung on the man’s shoulder, then holds the pistol back out. “We trade.”

The man’s grin falls. “But is my gun!”

Gavril eyes him in a long, slow stare. Finally the man grumbles, takes the pistol back, and unslings the rifle to hand it over.

Sergei comes back and addresses the men. “Leidesdorff says we must go back,” he announces. Grumbles roll through the crowd until Sergei breaks into a smile, “…But I say fuck him. We kill werewolves!”

Cheers erupt. Scout stands patiently. Behind her, Leelend sidles nervously closer.

Gavril grins at her. “Ms. Scout, you join us hunting werewolves? Make reputation in Sabbat!”

Scout stares at him a long moment, then sighs. “Yeah, alright.”

“Excellent!” Sergei claps her shoulder. “But anything goes wrong, then your reputation only gossip.” He waggles a finger. “And things between us…not so solid.”

Scout turns to meet him with a cool stare. “Really?” she says, barely loud enough to be heard over the cheers.

Sergei stares back, then after a few moments his smile falters and he looks away. “We see,” he says, fiddling with his gun.

Scout glares at him, then scans the men around them. “Do you have any ghouls?”

“Da.” Sergei gestures to a cluster of tanned-looking men examining their guns just outside the circle of vampires.

“If we’re hunting werewolves, we should probably be loaded up,” Scout says firmly.

Instantly the ghouls freeze. Sergei, though, laughs. “We do not need to eat ghouls. We bring refreshments.”

Now Scout tenses. The men around them—even the ghouls—laugh darkly. “This way,” Sergei says, leading them up the hill.

A pair of panel-vans are parked in the road just around the bend. One of the men jogs forward to slide the door open. Inside is a pile of people, dressed like hikers, tied and gagged and struggling weakly. Sergei gestures grandly. “We have picnic!”

Scout eyes the captives coolly, posture stiff. Behind her, Leeland blanches.

Sergei pulls a knife from his belt and leans against the van. “Maybe we cut one loose and play?”

Scout’s gaze flicks to him. “We don’t have time.”

“Mmm.” Sergei smirks, toying with his knife, then gestures to the captives. “Ladies first.”

Scout hesitates a moment, trades a brief glance with Leeland, then steps forward.

(Me: “I take two points of blood.”
Jason: “Each, or total?”
Me: “Total.”
Jason: “What’s your path?”
Me: “Humanity. Five.”
Jason: *long stare* “…Yeah, you’re okay.”)

Scout takes a few quick bites from the wrist of one of them, then steps back. Once she does, Gavril steps forward.

(Jason: “What are you?”
Jim: “Also Humanity, also five. But Gavril is part of the Sabbat, so.”
Jason: “Alright, well how much?”
Jim: “Um…two as well.”)

Gavril selects a different captive and takes a few nips. Once he’s finished, he steps back.

Then the rest of the pack falls on the van.

Muted screams echo underneath the laughter as the men drag the captives out onto the ground. Knives and fangs flicker in the dark. Scout watches distastefully, arms folded. Next to her, Leeland looks like he’s going to be sick.

One of the captives, a young woman, works her gag free and starts shrieking for help, her cries echoing off through the empty woods. The vampire holding her down growls and draws a knife.

Gavril steps forward and holds up a hand. “Allow me.” He kneels next to the struggling woman and clasps her face in his long fingers. Her screams mute but her struggles increase as his hand massages her jaw. Her skin softens and spreads, and her eyes widen as he fleshcrafts her mouth shut.

(Jim: *rolls* “That’s a lot of successes!”
Jason: “Yeah, you know what else it is?”
Jim: “What?”
Jason: “A conscience roll. It’s one thing to drink when you’re hungry cause you’re about to fight werewolves and also you’re the Sabbat and it is what it is. It’s quite another thing to engage in fleshcraft torture.”
Jim: *shrug* “Is noisy.”
Jason: “Just roll your damn dice.”
Jim: “Ah, actually, behold my conscience dice!” *holds up a single die*
Jason: “Wow. Okay, roll it.”
Jim: *rolls* “…Botch!!”
Me: “Yeah, wow, just look at that ‘1’ there, staring up at you.”
Jason: “…Yeah, Jim, you know, we joke about you botching a lot, but jesus christ….”
Me: “What does that mean when you botch a conscience test?”
Jason: “It means his Humanity is now three.”)

Sergei watches Gavril work with awe. “Tovarich…is just like Matrix!!” He points excitedly to another captive. “Do again!”

At this, Scout turns away. Leeland leans in close to her. “Please tell me you have a plan to get away from these crazy people,” he hisses under his breath.

“Just roll with it for now,” she mutters back, scanning the darkness.

“I’m not going to that fucking mountain!”

Scout eyes him appraisingly a few moments, then turns back to the carnage. “Mr. Sergei?”

Sergei looks up, licking blood from his knife. “Da?”

“Surely the Baron here would be better maintaining the homefront in case the werewolves slip past us,” Scout says, nodding toward Leeland.

Sergei laughs. “Baron, ha! He is not true Anarch, he is fussy man!” His laughter cools. “No. He comes.”

Gavril steps forward to join Sergi, smoothing at his coat. “Yes. If Leeland fight werewolf, he maybe develop backbone.” He grins. “If not…I do transplant.”

Leeland gapes at the men, glances at the carnage pooling on the ground behind them, then shudders and quickly looks away. “I’ll…I’ll go.”

“Good. You hungry?” Sergei hauls up the girl with the fleshcrafted mouth, still struggling weakly despite her loss of blood.

Leeland shakes his head.

Sergei laughs at Leeland’s expression. “Oh, you already eat? Okay.” In one movement he snaps the girl’s neck and drops the body to the dirt. “Then we go.”

The men chuckle, rolling the bodies off the road into the ditch along side it, then move toward other vehicles parked further up in the dark. Sergei grabs Leeland’s shoulder and shoves him stumbling along after.

Scout hesitates a moment, staring at the dead girl, then follows.

(Me: “Oh my god, I just realised…we are now playing a Camarilla game and a Sabbat game…simultaneously.”)

#

BLACK SPIRAL HIVE

Waves of sound distort the air around the sides of the ship, reverberating through the arena like the baseline of a Hans Zimmer soundtrack, tearing through the surrounding tiers and raining stone down into the arena below. Chaos erupts throughout the cavern as werewolves and monsters struggle to attack the ship, attack each other, or simply escape. In the midst of this, Professor Snodgrass himself steps out onto the bowsprit of the ethership, dressed in full khaki, pith helmet, and what one can only assume are his fighting trousers. An enormous blunderbuss is cradled in his arm and he leans over the railing to take potshots into the melee, shouting epithets and ignoring the bursts of balefire splashing off the wooden hull around him.

Down on the dias, Paul, Tom, and Heydrich remain momentarily frozen, staring up at the hovering ship in shock, but reality comes slamming back as the air next to them shimmers and two figures step from it: Professor Lovelace, and Dr. von Natsi. Von Natsi is armed to the teeth with six pairs of goggles, two bandoliers of death rays in varying sizes, kevlar-reinforced laboratory coat, and a laser-guided egg beater in his front pocket.

Professor Lovelace…has an umbrella.

“Mr. Stewart!” von Natsi yells, throwing his arms up in excitement. “You have called for Science?!” He pulls what looks like a TV remote from a coat pocket and presses a button.

(Jim: “Omg, is it Golem Time?!”
Jason: “No. Not yet. Trust me, you’ll know when it’s Golem Time.”)

Instantly, a shining silver globe appears in the air above the battle, hovers a moment, then drops, exploding into fine silver dust and filings. Howls and shrieks of pain rise above the cacophony as the silver particles settle across the crowd.

Lovelace takes a long sip from a fine teacup held delicately in her fingers, then releases it into the air. The cup disappears in a small puff of smoke. “Herr Heydrich,” she says smoothly, “By order of the High Council of the Nine Traditions, you are under arrest. Please cease all current activities, willworked or otherwise, and prepare to come with us.”

Heydrich snarls at the mages. He raises his hands, stoking balefire in his palms.

Lovelace nods crisply. “Very well. Then prepare to be subdued by force.” She lifts her umbrella.

Gleaming chaos erupts between the mages as as bright beams of light and energy clash against bolts of balefire. VonNatsi wields deathray after deathray, while Lovelace swings her umbrella around as both energy-rifle and shield. Tom and Paul stumble back and check on the battling crowds of the arena. Some are breaking through, making their way toward the dais.

(Chris: “I will continue using Paul’s superpower of Micromanagement.”)

Paul summons up the deepest Majesty he can convey to direct the werewolves under his control to circle the dais and protect them. Tom lifts his gun and continues firing.

#

TOM

Vera’s shots strafe across the onrushing crowd, smashing werewolves back. Eventually, Paul’s mind-controlled wolves reach the onslaught and I cease fire to avoid hitting them.

With the werewolves forced back and the mages occupying Heydrich, I scan the arena for my next likely target: Perpenna. But the only humanoids I see boiling down the tiers are dark-robed cultists.

“Tom!” Paul shouts over his shoulder. “Get the prisoners free!”

Putting Perpenna out of my mind for the moment, I sling Vera onto my back and rush to the nearest crate, kneeling down to pull the shattered planks of wood free.

It’s Helgi.

(Everyone: “Eeeeeeeeey! :D”)

He’s bound in chains even thicker than the werewolves’, each link branded with runes dripping green fire. I reach out a single finger to poke them. The metal is cool to the touch and despite their appearance the sigils don’t burn. Bracing myself, I grab the chains and pull.

(Me: “POWERFUL ARMS!!!!!”)

My muscles burn, straining so hard they almost rip themselves from the sockets, but the chains don’t budge. I drop them, shaking off the pain, and think. I’ll need a considerable amount of power to force my way through, but hunger is already licking with dangerous intensity at the edges of my mind. I look around the dais, thinking.

(Me: “Are there any, like, unconscious Spiral Dancer werewolves around?”
Jason: “…Uh oh.”)

Leaning over the edge, I grab an unconscious werewolf by the scruff and drag it up onto the stone.

“Tom!” Paul shouts. I look up to see him staring at me in horror. “Don’t kill him!”

I stare back a few moments as I try to work out if that’s actually what he just said. “I just mowed, like, four down with Vera, asshole!” I snap back.

“Because they were attacking you!”

“This one was attacking me earlier!”

“Yes, but he’s unconscious now!!”

Hunger rising into rage, I stand. “If I don’t get some blood into me I may snap and take out everything on this dais, including you!!”

“How much blood do you need to fire a gun?!” Paul shouts.

“Not as much as I need to shove it up your ass!!!”

An explosion rocks the arena. Paul and I look up to see the Harumph listing hard to starboard, balefire pouring down its flank. Heydrich is standing a few yards across the sand, arms up held toward the ship, chanting something that echoes above the sounds of battle. Moments later, Dr. von Natsi—his labcoat charred and torn—forces his way through the chaos, draws a deathray, and fires. An arctic blast shoots out, expanding in a cone toward Heydrich, freezing other monsters solid, but before it can reach him Heydrich is gone, disappeared in the blink of the eye and reappeared halfway up the stadium, still chanting. Von Natsi curses and runs for the stairs.

While Paul’s distracted by this, I fall on the werewolf, drawing as much blood as I can. Hot blood, rich as ambrosia, pours into me. My wounds heal and energy surges through my limbs. I’ve tasted werewolf blood once before but had forgotten how good it is, how much concentrated power surges in every drop. The Beast in me writhes, eager to do anything to get more, forsaking all else for this….

This is how it starts, a patronizing voice in the back of my mind chides through the rush.

Fuck it, no time, I answer back. I’ll do a twelve-step program later.

I stumble back to my feet, wiping blood from my chin, as Paul glares. “Tom what are we even fighting for if you’re just going to go around—”

He stops as a werewolf bursts through the guarding circle and surges up to the dias, wielding a massive cleaver, and roars.

Paul stumbles to get behind me.  “Okay you can kill that one!!”

I scramble to bring Vera around. The werewolf takes a flying leap, cleaver clenched in its talons overhead, roaring as it brings it down. I fumble with my gun, but the strap is snagged, I won’t gret it in time—

The cleaver shatters against my head.

(Jim: “Well, Tom is quite thick-skulled.”)

I stumble from the impact, unhurt, as the werewolf lands and drops the shattered handle. Paul leaps onto its back and grapples at its head. The werewolf roars and tries to pull him off.

“Shoot him! Shoot him!!” Paul screams.

I finally untangle Vera and pull her up, unloading a multi-second burst of full auto right into the werewolves gut. Blood and viscera spray across the dais. The werewolf staggers to a halt, red eyes wide with shock.

Still on its back, Paul slowly pets its head. “Shh, shh… Calm down, I forgive you.”

Ignoring its disemboweling wounds, the werewolf roars and reaches up to grab at Paul again—

Paul bites him, deep. The werewolf staggers again, woozily this time, then collapses heavily onto the stone.

After a few moments, Paul releases his bite. Blood dripping down his chin, he strokes the head again. “Shh, shh…go to sleep….”

I watch this silently a moment. “Goddammit Paul, I hate you so much.”

#

FORT FUNSTON

After teleporting back to the city, Rabenholz and Anstis split up, the former to check in with Rhona’s progress and the latter ostensibly to go meet with Orlando. Anstis doesn’t tell Rabenholz about his plan to summon the wraith of Quintus Sertorius, though, and heads back to his hideout in the Fort Funston caves to prepare it. New Everton goes with him, eyeing Anstis’s evil grin in suspicious silence.

Anstis leads them to the deepest part of the caves, where he has a circle already set up. He makes some quick adjustments, them rummages among his supplies until he comes up with an obsidian plate polished to a mirror-shine. He spreads some of his blood onto it, muttering incantations, while Everton watches in silence.

(Jim: “I think I am going to spend a willpower on this.”
Jason: “I think you might want to.”
Jim: *rolls, stares* “…What the FUCK!?”
Jason: “Are those…two 1’s?”
Jim: “Yes!”
Jason: “…Did you just roll ten dice, spend a willpower…and STILL botch!?”
Jim: “YES!!!”
Jason: “You just botched your necromancy!! Ladies and gentlemen….Jim!!
Jim: “Sonofabitch—”
Chris: “You know, the V20 rules say that any number of success rolls negates the botch.”
Jason: “Yes, but we have never played that way because I like botches.”)

The light in the cave, already dim, dims further. Anstis concentrates on the ritual, trying to pull Quintus’s soul from the underworld up to himself.

But something feels off. The thin thread stretching from Anstis into the netherworlds is taught, but he suddenly realizes the soul he’s drawing isn’t’ the one he wanted. In fact, he’s not pulling it at all, it’s coming of its own accord.

Pure darkness falls across the cave like a curtain. Pure silence follows. Anstis stares around, frowning. “Everton?” he calls, but the sound is sucked from his mouth.

After a few moments of nothingness, a light finally appears. A single match, held in the dark by narrow fingers, it’s flickering light barely illuminating a face.

Then a voice speaks. An unfortunately familiar voice.

“Mine eyes have seen the glory…of the coming of the Lord….

(Jim: “…Son of a bitch!!!
Me: “So…Flagg-Jim-Jones didn’t die?”
Jason: “No. You just dragged him into the Abyss and left him there. But guess who just pulled him back out?”)

END OF NIGHT

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