7/30/16

Jason: “So, Jim, I want to point something out to you. You just gave an entire Sabbat pack werewolf blood.”
Jim: “Yeah…?”
Jason: “So now they’re all hopped up on goofballs and it’s time for LEEROOOOOY JENKINS!!!!”

***

I apologize for the delay in getting the mainline writeups back on track, unfortunately most of this month has been wiped by both compounded work and almost three weeks of what I can only assume is the Death Flu that’s been going around. I haven’t been this sick in years and it suuuucks.

Anyway, the main storyline last left off at 7/14/16, which you are welcome to go back to check over yourself, but the tl;dr is as follows:

  • The Bay Area is still under the strange black shroud of eternal night. In the midst of this, werewolf shenanigans are building up on Mount Diablo, themselves a counter-effort to stop Perpenna’s shenanigans. Rabenholz and Rhona have been preparing a major offensive to stop the wolves, mostly with a fleet of crop dusting planes that will release silver nitrate over the mountain. One should also recall that this offensive is partly because Rabenholz has secretly sworn allegiance to Perpenna.
  • Anstis went to get extra help for dealing with the werewolves by trading in his favor with Orlando, but unfortunately–and hilariously–the resurrected Everton double-crossed him and now Anstis is a captive of Orlando instead.
  • Scout has also been scouting in the East Bay and fallen in with Gavril, Sergi, and a whole pack of Sergei’s werewolf-hunting Sabbat, who incidentally have also captured Leeland and are keeping him around for the lulz. (It’s important to remember that at this point in the gameplay, few of the characters and none of the players knew Scout’s true identity yet).
  • Tom and Paul are still in Marin, in the midst of battle in the Black Spiral Hive, where Sophia, Marcus, and half the mages in the whole Bay Area have joined the fray. Tom and Paul are trying to rescue the werewolf cub and a stack of unconscious prisoners–which includes Helgi and Bell–while the mages fight the Nephandi Heydrich and Marcus erupts into combat against Perpenna himself.

Taking up the main storyline after almost nine months of time off and the Scout storyline will be interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if my tone and style shifts somewhat, though I can’t predict how. I’m also not sure yet what I’m going to do now with the Tom/Scout POVs. I might try a more removed-POV with them when they’re in an ensemble and only delve into deeper POVs with them when they’re the only player character in-scene. We’ll just see how it goes.

***

Jason: “When we last left off, Jim–”
Jim: “–Was in a really cool house.”
Jason: “Yes. I believe you had been sold to a Voivode by the man you were intending to sell to the Voivode.”
Jim: “…Yes. Anstis may have been in error in bringing Everton back.”

#

HEARST CASTLE: ANSTIS

Anstis, gagged and chained, struggles surreptitiously against his bonds as Orlando leans over the edge of the coffin, a lit candelabra in one hand. A smile crosses its fine-boned androgynous face and it places the candles down on the edge of the stone. Flame and hot wax gutter over Anstis’s head. He eyes it nervously.

Orlando reaches down and pulls the gag out of Anstis’s mouth. “Captain. How good of you to come. I do so admire the Gangrel. So…malleable.” It reaches in to caress Anstis’s squid face. “I find your kind’s animalistic tendencies intriguing. Inspiring, even. I wonder…are you using all of your skull?”

Anstis’s tendrils twist politely from Orlando’s grasp. “For what purpose?”

“For what purpose does a Gangrel use its skull at all? It’s so…phrenologically interesting.”

Anstis glances again at the candelabra. It’s made of twisted bone. “I do have a great respect for your work.”

“Do you? I am always intrigued by those who have an appreciation for the arts.” Orlando gestures dismissively. “Not the plastic formless gunk the Toreador call art. Proper arts.”

Anstis peers past Orlando’s head. Echoing shadows lie beyond, as if the coffin lay in a massive cavern. “You put great care into your home.”

Orlando smiles. “I am the lord here. This manse reflects upon me. It must holistically reflect who I am.” It strokes Anstis’s chin again. “As must all things in my possession.”

Anstis clears his throat. “So what will you do on this…ominous day?”

Orlando sighs wearily. “I have received many petitioners this night. Or perhaps night is not the right word. It is dark, and there is no sun, but it is not properly night. They ask me to take active hand in opposing this act. Great works by others. By Kindred who consider themselves greater.” It gestures lazily. “But why should I? Afterall, this darkened sky is filled with portent, and perhaps it mean we no longer need hide what we are.”

“How many Kindred do you consider greater than yourself?”

Orlando’s grin widens, revealing too many teeth. “None.”

Anstis hesitates, then returns the grin.

“But there are those who would disagree,” Orlando continues. “Your patron. His sire. The Assamite of the Hand. They scurry about with their plots and plans. And why should I take them seriously at all? I care nothing for which Lasombra kills another. Or whether the Camarilla or the Sabbat should rule some pile of brick.”

“But do you care when they aim to make themselves a god?”

Orlando laughs, a sound both musical and dark. “A god? There is only one God, and I am the one who can approach him the closest for I can remake myself in whatever image He should choose. This Cappadocian obsession of the rest is no concern of mine. Their pagan traditions do not worry me. Are you so superstitious captain?”

Anstis is quiet a moment. With far less bargaining position than he had hoped to be in with Orlando, he reconsiders the best way to convince the Voivode to join them in the fight against Perpenna. “I believe the matter to which our….youthful friend’s sire has put himself needs to be addressed, and quickly.”

“And how would you address it?”

“By disrupting that which he wishes to accomplish.”

Orlando smiles and folds its arms against the coffin rim. “I don’t understand why that means I must expend my resources. My artistic creations. For it is those you have come for, isn’t it Captain? You don’t want me, you want what I have built. My living engines. My vozdt.

Anstis’s face falls serious. “Would they be up to the task?”

“The task?” Orlando laughs. “I created these of my own hands. I sculpted them as from clay and earth, i breathed life into them through their nostrils and most have more than two. I made them perfect. You know nothing of such perfection. Are they up to the task of subduing such barbarous folk? They could crush every werewolf who ever lived!”

Anstis nods slowly, considering this. “Are yours the ones rumored to have attacked the south bay? During Andre’s Monomancy?”

Orlando beams. “Mere examples. Andre requested a demonstration. He petitioned and offered great sacrifice at the altar of art. I gave him three of my lesser creations to play with for a time.”

“And may I ask what he offered?”

“He offered me something which ultimately turned out not to be his to give. He offered me a promise, which he was unable to redeem due to his untimely death. He offered me a weapon. A terrible weapon.”

“What manner of weapon?”

Orlando idly strokes the knobbed bone of the candelabra. “The Light of God itself.”

Anstis frowns, considering this. “You mean Stewart’s?”

“He didn’t indicate whose, but yes, it turns out. He offered me the very sword he died by. But unfortunately his debt is paid.” Orlando looks down at him again, thoughtful. “Yours…well, I do owe you a boon, do I not?”

Anstis smirks. “Aye.”

“Is that then your request of me? That I devote my children to your wonderous cause?” Orlando reaches down to play idly with Anstis’s tendrils again.  

Anstis doesn’t flinch. “If you release me and help me see fit to removing the werewolf infestation, I would consider our debt paid in full.”

Orlando considers this a moment, stroking its own elegant chin, then nods. “Agreed, and witnessed. Arise, Captain. I offer you bread and salt.”

The chains suddenly withdraw, clinking like ivory. Anstis climbs out, careful not to knock the candles. As expected, the space beyond is vast, a rough-hewn cavern undoubtedly carved into the hill under the castle itself. It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust to the gloom, but when he does he freezes.

Looming in the dark behind Orlando are two massive walls of pulsating flesh, stretching almost to the ceiling, living heat rolling off them in waves to stir a breeze in the cold of the cavern. Myriad eyes stare down from patchwork skin, some of it naked, some of it dotted with patches of hair and pelt. A rumble issues from the leftmost one and it shifts, revealing an assortment of limbs along the underside–not all of them legs, and not all of them human.

Orlando gazes on the creatures with loving pride. “This is Joyeuse, and Durendal. They are my swords.”

(Jason: “For those who are not historians, Joyeuse was the sword of Charlemagne, and Durendal that of his greatest paladin, Roland. Known perhaps better–in the original Spanish, in the poem thereof–as Orlando.”)

Anstis stares at the monstrosities a long, silent moment. “They…are magnificent.”

“Their wonders, Captain, are beyond comprehension.” Orlando gestures grandly, the silk sleeve of its robe stirring the candle flames into dance. “Take them, go forth. Slay what you would.”

Anstis recovers his hat from the bottom of the coffin and sweeps it in a formal bow. As he straightens, he glances up at the vozdt again. “Will your creations turn on me?”

Orlando considers this a moment, then smirks. “Probably not. Not unless I will it.” It picks up the candelabra and moves toward a set of stairs at the edge of the cavern. “Come, Captain, take refreshment before you leave. My swords will meet you when necessary. They have a thousand legs with which to chase, and a thousand eyes with which to see, and a thousand mouths with which to drink.”

#

EAST BAY HILLS: GAVRIL AND SCOUT

Sergei’s caravan of men wind through the backroads of the East Bay hills, heading toward Mount Diablo. In the main van, Gavril sits up front with Sergei and one of his men, laughing and discussing werewolf battle-strategy. Leeland and Scout crouch in the back, behind the half-drained corpses of the hikers. Leeland stares in horror at the bodies as they roll with the motion of the vehicle, while Scout forces herself to stare out the window, occasionally catching glances of Neshka’s rippling shadow as she paces behind the van.

Leeland scoots closer to Scout, carefully avoiding one of the corpse’s out-flung arms. “You gotta get me out of this,” he whispers.

“I’m not exactly thrilled with the situation either,” Scout murmurs, glancing at the other vampires at the front of the van.

“These are your people!” Leeland hisses.

Her glare snaps to him, cold as the bodies at their feet.

Leeland looks away. “Alright, I get it but…I can’t exactly hold my own like you can.” He licks his lips. “Besides…you owe me one.”

Scout eyes him silently, then stiffens as Gavril and Sergei turn to regard them from the front. “I think best plan is to have this one scout ahead,” Gavril says.

Sergei grins at her. “Yes. She is Scout. She find werewolf, we kill.”

Scout stares back flatly. “So you want me to travel ahead by myself?”

“You are very sneaky, are you not?” Gavril gestures to the saurian shadow following them. “Only Neshka can find.”

“Yeah, she’s cute,” Scout replies absently, then jerks her chin toward Leeland. “Don’t do anything to this one, he could be useful later.”

Sergei laughs. “We have fun waiting for this one! If he is not killed by werewolf, maybe we let him go.”

Gavril grins. “Perhaps Leeland find his heart in battle.”

“Yes!!” Sergei booms. “He drink werewolf blood, put hair on chest!!”

Scout gives Sergi a Look.

(Me: “It’s the same sort of look I give to my students when they’re being ridiculous.”)

At this, Sergei’s grin fades from exuberant to simply cocky. He winks at Leeland, who looks like he’s about to throw up.

Gavril eyes Leeland as well. “You have much experience with werewolves, yes?”

Leeland stiffens and straightens his bowtie. “Of course I do! More than the rest of you, spending all your time screwing around in the South Bay!”

“Perfect, then you will lead assault.”

Leeland gapes at them, then crumples back against the wall of the van. Sergei laughs. “You should be proud! Today you will become man! All thanks to Tom Lytton!”

Leeland’s fists tighten. “Yes. I know,” he mutters through clenched teeth, tossing a glare at Scout. This time she looks away.

Not long later they arrive in the small town of Clayton, at the base of the north side of the mountain. Miles from the nearest interstate, Clayton is a sleepy hamlet in the best of circumstances. Now, though, it’s positively deserted. The pack caravan pulls up on the tiny main street and Sergei’s men get out to investigate.

The town appears to have been abandoned in a hurry. The stores are all empty, but unlocked, with the lights still on. In many of them, wares and other displays have been knocked over. Leeland, Scout, and Gavril follow silently as Sergei’s men clear the main block and move on to the next, turning a corner around a coffee shop.

Here, in the middle of the street, they find a large pile of gutted dogs, most still attached to their leashes.

Leeland chokes in shock. Sergei moves closer to poke the carcasses with his gun. Gavril sniffs the air. “Smells like wolves,” he announces.

“Werewolves should have done more damage than this,” Scout says, glancing at the empty buildings. Leeland lurks close behind her, skin paler than ever.

One of the pack members jogs out of the coffee shop holding a human arm, the stump bloody and ragged. As if twisted off. “Found in back. Is more.” He licks at the blood, then spits. “Is old.”

“How old?” Sergei asks.

The man shrugs. “Half day.”

Sergei takes the arm and eyes it thoughtfully. “Werewolves kill everyone?”

“There would be more blood if they had,” Scout replies. “They may have taken some.”

“They take people?” Sergei tosses the arm onto the pile of dogs. “Good. They have refreshments for us.”

Scout eyes him. “You just had refreshments.”

Sergei grins back at her. “We fight werewolf. This make men very thirsty.”

A wolf howl echoes in the distance then, far off but carrying clearly in the silent air. The gathered pack turns to stare at the mountain looming over the town, a dark wedge against the darker sky. As they watch, light flickers at the summit.

“We will secure the town,” Gavril announces, selecting a small dog from the pile and tossing it to Neshka. “Scout?”

“Yeah?” Scout says, trying to ignore Neshka’s crunching sounds.

Gavril smiles. “You are scout. Investigate the summit.”

Scout stares back at him, then sighs, rolls her eyes, and disappears.

Leeland tenses, suddenly exposed. He glances at the gathered men, then, making a decision, straightens his suit and moves toward Gavril. “Gavril, is it?”

Gavril looks him over. “Da.”

“You’re Sabbat. You work for the Archbishop?”

“‘Work for’ is strong term. I know the Archbishop.” As he talks, Gavril moves to inspect Neshka’s saddle.

“Then you know that he doesn’t like people interfering with how things work in this area.” Leeland draws himself up. “I am an Anarch Baron and I demand that you let me go.”

Gavril looks him over again, then smirks. “And what will you give Sabbat in return for leniency?”

“I won’t call every Anarch in the western US to tear you all to pieces.”

“And how many Anarchs are at your beckon call?”

“I know half the Hells Angels in the state, and Helgi Isarnbjorn!”

Gavril inspects Naska’s razor-lined maw, picking bits of dog from between her teeth. “And when is last time you’ve seen Helgi Isarnbjorn Ogenherdi?”

“Nights ago,” Leeland says, momentarily faltering, then regains his composure and levels a finger at Gavril. “You fail to bring me back to Berkeley he’ll track you down, carve out your lungs and nail you to a wall to watch the sun rise!”

Gavril smirks at him again, then walks away. “Your threats are meaningless.”

“So is this mission!” Leeland hisses, hurrying after. “There’s nothing I can do here, I am not a werewolf hunter!”

“But you have great experience with werewolves.”

“I chase them out of my campus!”

“Then you can chase them out of mountain,” Gavril says with a smile, swaggering after Sergei’s men.

#

MOUNT DIABLO: SCOUT

Scout makes her way rapidly up the mountain, jogging up trails devoid of animal life. As she climbs higher, though, the wind brings more occasional howls of wolves, as well as an increasing stench of blood.

Finally, near the top, she arrives in a clearing. A log cabin sits in the middle, half-burnt, by the lingering smell of ashes relatively recently. Her attention, though, is drawn instantly to the doorway. A large pool of blood spreads across it, and a body lies sprawled in the middle.

She approaches cautiously. It’s an old man, with white hair and a long beard. Gashes mar his face and torso, and by the way he’s lying his spine might have been broken in half. She gropes for a pulse. It’s there, but weak.

She peers around. The peak of the mountain isn’t far, just visible over the low scrub surrounding the cabin. Dancing firelight is visible through the gloom and the breeze now carries the faint sound of drums.

Scout hesitates a moment, then makes a decision. She drags the injured man out from the remains of the cabin, hoists him over her shoulders, and begins making her way quickly back down the mountain.

#

CLAYTON: GAVRIL

Meanwhile, Sergei’s pack clears the rest of downtown–finding just a few more pieces of the residents–then gathers in the town square playground to decide what to do next.

“We wait for Scout return,” Sergei says, honing his knife against a support beam of the jungle gym. “Then…we go hunting.”

The gathered men chuckle ominously, though one frowns. “Do we not wait for Tom Lytton?” he asks.

“Yes, where is he?” Gavril asks, turning to Leeland.

Leeland jerks in surprise and stares back at him. “How in the world should I know?!”

“Did you not just say you have vast network of Anarchs? Not one of them has found out where Lytton has gone?”

“Half the Camarilla is hunting Tom Lytton to rip out his fangs! The very prince of San Francisco and a Justicar just declared a NEW blood hunt on him! You think I can find someone they can’t?!”

Gavril grins at him. “He is hiding from Camarilla. Not from Anarch.”

Leeland glances at the men, all brandishing an assortment of weapons. “Do you actually think I am insane enough to try and shelter Tom Lytton from you?”

“I think you wouldn’t stop Tom Lytton if he wished to hide with you.”

“I couldn’t stop Tom Lytton if I wanted to!” Leeland yells. “If I could do anything about that idiot, I wouldn’t have wound up dragged out to the middle of nowhere to hunt were–”

Leeland suddenly stops, staring into the dark at the edge of the square. The men follow his gaze and see Scout standing watching them, a body sprawled across her shoulders.

“Who the hell is that?” Leeland says.

“I found this in a half-burnt cabin halfway up the mountain.” Scout approaches and dumps the man to the grass in front of them. “He may have seen what happened. He’s barely alive, maybe not for very long, but please, Leeland, finish your conversation about Tom Lytton.”

Leeland glares at her and falls silent.

Sergei and his men crowd forward to investigate. The body is still alive, though barely in one piece. Under the bright light of the streetlamps, it’s clear most of the damage was done by claws. Gavril works to try to repair some of it, melding the torn flesh back together like fresh dough.

“Can you wake him?” Sergei asks.

Gavril finishes his work and sits back. After a moment the man stirs, lids slowly opening to reveal milky white eyes that peer sightlessly at the vampires crowded around him.

Gavril nods, pleased. “Well, at least he–”

Instantly, Gavril is cut off as the man’s arm shoots up, grabbing him by the throat. A moment later, the body explodes with mass and fur, twisting into the form of an eleven-foot crinos werewolf. The wolf pulls Gavril close to his muzzle, takes a long inhale, then growls. “Leeeeeeeeech…..”

(Chris: “Yeah, see, you ridicule me for aura-percepting everything, but see what happens when you don’t?”)

Leeland shrieks. Scout dances back, grabbing her knife. The men yell over the clatter of guns being drawn.

Gavril, though, just glares at the werewolf…then explodes up into a massive shape of his own. Eight-feet of muscle and claws, with chitinous grey skin and razored spikes lining every extremity and a deep-fanged mouth under bright, blooded eyes. His Zulo form.

(Jim: “Because it’s never a bad idea to demonstrate to the people around you that you have Zulo form.”)

Gunfire echoes, but the two hulking monsters ignore it, clawing to their feet. Sergei’s men stop shooting and pull back as the two creatures tear at each other. Gavril bares foot-long claws and slashes at the werewolf’s arm, but his talons bounce off as if the fur was made of iron. The werewolf snarls and lunges, snapping at Gavril’s face and throat.

Suddenly a new roar echoes across the square and Neshka throws herself into the fray, grabbing the werewolf’s neck in her saurian jaws and tugging him back. Her teeth gnaw at the thick fur and muscle but can’t break the skin, working uselessly like chewing on a tire. Behind the battling giants, Sergei shouts in Russian and his men open fire again, this time targeting the wolf.

Leeland stands at the edge of the chaos, petrified, until Scout grabs his arm, obfuscates, and drags him away.

#

ANTIOCH AIRFIELD: RABENHOLZ

Rabenholz stands at the entrance to the airfield, wind tugging at his cloak. In the hangers far behind him, the last of his preparations are wrapping up, but he waits alone, staring at the lonely road. Finally, a lone car arrives and stops at the gate. A man in a crisp tweed jacket gets out, tottering slightly as if unused to his own height.

Rabenholz nods to him. “Dr. Everton. I see you are settling into your new form.”

Everton nods to him. The disheveled hair has been pulled back into a knot and the beard at least somewhat combed. “Yes, well while it’s not exactly the strangest form I’ve ever been placed into, it does seem to be unfortunately permanent, so we must do what we must.”

The car drives away. The two men turn to watch the preparations on the far side of the field. “Are you sure this will be enough to deal with an army of werewolves?” Everton asks.

Rabenholz gestures toward the crop dusters. “The planes are loaded with as much silver nitrate as my assistant could acquire on short notice. But beyond that, the Dread Captain Anstis assures me he can secure ground support.”

“Pirates aren’t exactly known for their infantry skills.”

“Right now he is attempting to secure assistance from Orlando. In the form of vozdt.”

Everton lifts an eyebrow but says nothing. They stand in silence a few more moments before he continues. “Orlando’s creatures are legend, but even that may not be enough. The werewolves are not just gathering on the mountain, they are attempting to awaken a spirit.”

“From what I understand about werewolf magic, they do that sort of thing a lot.”

“Yes, but this is a spirit they really shouldn’t awaken.” Everton eyes him. “The ritual will involve major sacrifices, lead by a master theurge. If you kill the theurge you may likely end the ritual, but it will the the strongest of all the werewolves there. Perhaps the alpha of the pack. The other werewolves will die to protect it.”

Rabenholz considers this a moment. “From what I understand about werewolf nature, that is also something they do quite a lot.”

“Their suicidal nature is somewhat overblown, but only marginally,” Everton replies coolly. “If they complete the ritual, the entire mountain will become a volcano and erupt, destroying the better part of this half the state and killing them all in the process. They are clearly desperate to even consider this and certainly they will be desperate to complete it, no matter the cost. Cannibalistic acts, dark rituals from the depths of their history. They may even call upon the Wyrm.”

Rabenholz considers this. “Intriguing. When will they begin?”

“They undoubtedly have already.” Everton glances at the matte-black sky. “I suspect they are waiting for the moonrise to rise to complete the ritual, though we cannot see it.”

Rabenholz checks his pocketwatch. “Then that gives us a little more than five hours to resolve the situation. And fortunately my forces should be ready to begin within the half hour.”

#

CLAYTON: SCOUT AND GAVRIL

Scout frog-marches Leeland a few blocks away from the battle, leaving a doppelganger illusion of herself behind to watch the fray. Once they’re out of sight, she releases him. “Get out of here,” she says. Leeland nods once and scrambles off.

Scout jogs back to rejoin her doppelganger just as the battle is finishing. Between the slashing, pounding, roaring, and gunfire, the werewolf is eventually wrestled to the ground through sheer force. Gavril’s monstrous form pins him down, exposing the throat, then crouches down to tear it open with his fangs and drink deep. The werewolf gurgles, then slowly stills. Gavril looks up, blood dripping from his misshapen jaws.

Sergei shoulders his rifle and grins. “Tovarich….Now, you are man!!”

The men cheer. Gavril folds in on himself, shrinking back to his normal form and stepping back as the rest of the pack rushes forward to drink from the cooling werewolf corpse.

(Me: “Whelp, so much for interrogating him.”)

Gavril straightens his brocade clothes, checking for damage, and finally notices Scout standing nearby, watching with a strangely blank expression on her face. “Scout,” he says.

She blinks and her eyes focus on him. “What?”

“Why you bring werewolf to interrogation?”

She shrugs, sheathing her knife. “I didn’t know he was a werewolf, I thought he was just some ranger. But even so, he could have had information we could have used, so…thanks for that.”

(Jason: “So, Jim, I want to point something out to you. You just gave an entire Sabbat pack werewolf blood.”
Jim: “Yeah…?”
Jason: “So now they’re all hopped up on goofballs and it’s time for LEEROOOOOY JENKINS!!!!”)

Sergei and his men stand, howling with lust into the blackened sky, firing their guns into the air. Sergei himself strides forward, blood smeared down his face and soaking the front of his fatigues. “Now, is time! WE KILL WEREWOLVES!!!”

The men roar approval and move toward the waiting cars and motorcycles still parked in the middle of town. Gavril moves toward Neshka, then stops, scanning the crowd. “Where is Leeland?”

Scout shrugs nonchalantly. “I don’t know, maybe he ran to hide from the werewolf.”

Gavril frowns as he mounts up. He leans down and tugs Neshka’s head close. “Find Leeland,”  he commands.

The vehicles are starting up with a roar, tearing off toward the fire road that will take them up the mountain. Neshka sniffs the air, then takes off in the opposite direction, toward the interstate.

Scout is left alone in the emptying square. She glances back and forth between the two retreating groups, then curses, jumps into an abandoned car, then takes off after Gavril and Neshka.

#

ANTIOCH AIRFIELD: RABENHOLZ

Rabenholz is on the phone with Rhona, who’s left the airfield to return to the city but is still coordinating the preparations remotely. “The planes are ready,” she’s saying, “But word is there’s a weather system moving in. Most of the meteorological equipment in the bay is screwed up by whatever’s going on with the sky, but all of them are reporting some sort of freak cyclone moving toward the East Bay.” She hesitates. “…It’s not a freak cyclone, is it?”

Rabenholz glances at the sky. To the north, the untidy texture of clouds grows against the matte darkness. “Almost certainly not.”

“It shouldn’t be enough to ground the planes but it might disperse the silver nitrate.”

“Unfortunate. How long till it arrives?”

“Half an hour.”

Rabenholz glances at Everton next to him. Everton merely raises an eyebrow.

“Launch the planes,” Rabenholz tells her. “We’ll start now. Captain Anstis will have to catch up.”

“Yes sir,” she says, and hangs up. Across the airfield, activity suddenly increases as prop engines sputter to life.

“I have a gift for you, Doctor,” Rabenholz says suddenly, leading Everton to a waiting towncar. Rabenholz opens the trunk and pulls out a long, thin box. “Consider it a…welcome home present. I thought it would do you more good than myself.”

Everton takes the box skeptically and opens it. Inside, nestled on blood red velvet, is his cane-sword.

Everton smiles and takes it out. “You know I had this custom made. While I was still alive. From the finest knifemaker in Sheffield.” He draws the blade from the cane and examines it.  “Ribbon-steel. Nothing like it. Well, not besides that of course.” He nods at Glitch, hanging at Rabenholz’s hip under the cloak. “Orichalcum. I’ve seen it before, in the hands of someone who stole it from someone else.”

Rabenholz’s thumb strokes Glitch’s hilt. “Yes, it has belonged to many thieves.”

Everton focuses again on his own sword, this time more thoughtfully. “Did you intend for me to use this this night?” He glances again at Glitch.

Rabenholz meets his gaze evenly. “Doctor if you will be my friend, I will be yours. If you use it in revenge, I can only assure you you will need good luck.”

Everton smirks grimly. “You’re a better swordsman than I am, and I’m half the swordsman I used to be.” He makes a few thrusts, his stance wobbly with unpracticed muscles. “No, Lord Rabenholz, if I take my revenge, it won’t be with this, and it won’t be tonight.” He sheathes the sword and turns to Rabenholz, eyeing him a moment in the cool delta air. “May I make a suggestion?”

Rabenholz nods. “Of course.”

“Run. Right now.”

Rabenholz frowns, then realizes Everton is staring behind him. He turns to follow his gaze.

Standing at the gates of the airfield is the bent shape of Mad King Laertes, grinning at him maniacally.

#

CLAYTON: GAVRIL AND SCOUT

Neshka courses rapidly over the grass, targeted on the thin figure struggling toward the road in the distance. Leeland squeaks in terror as she roars up next to him, then again as Gavril grabs his shoulder and hauls him up over the saddle. “Going somewhere?” Gavril asks.

Leeland squirms and kicks. “UN! HAND! ME!!!” he shouts, trying to pour command into his words, but his fear saps it away. Gavril laughs and turns Neshka to head back toward town.

Suddenly a werewolf steps out from a copse of trees just a few yards away, massive as the one they just killed, but without injuries. It roars at Neshka and strides forward.

Gavril curses and pulls Neshka the other way, sprinting toward the road. The werewolf’s roars recede behind them, finally fading as they reach the road. Neshka slows to a walk and Gavril peers around them, hand on his sword, ready for an ambush.

Instead he sees Scout, leaning against a parked car, watching them over folded arms. “Did you get him?” she asks.

Gavril regains his composure. “Da.” He slaps Leeland’s struggling thigh. “Tried to escape, but not so quick.”

“Mmm.” Scout eyes Leeland dispassionately. “What are you going to do with him now?”

Gavril shrugs. “He come with.”

“The rest of the pack has already left.”

“Then we make haste. There are werewolves about.” Gavril peers into the field behind them, but though the copse of trees is still visible, the werewolf has disappeared. Gavril frowns suspiciously.

“Why bring him along anyway?” Scout says suddenly. “He’s no werewolf hunter.”

“No, but is entertaining. Is good to have adventure, da?” Gavril chuckles and leans low to grin into Leeland’s face. Leeland glares back.

And locks him in a Dreadgaze.

(Jim: *rolls* “…Ah, shit.”
Jason: “…Did you botch? Did you botch!? Against Leeland’s six success Dreadgaze!?”
Me: “Of course he did.”)

Gavril freezes, staring into Leelands eyes, now wide and dark like caverns into hell and he barely on the edge of plummeting into their depths.

Leeland grits his teeth. “Go…away.”

Gavril hurls Leeland off the saddle. He grabs the reins and jerks Neshka’s head around. Responding more to her master’s radiating panic than the lead, she squeals and bolts off into the darkness.

Scout watches them disappear as Leeland climbs to his feet next to her. “We have to run,” he gasps, “Werewolves–”

“No, that one was me. Illusion.”

Leeland groans and brushes himself off. “Whatever you say. What the hell is going on here?”

“I don’t know. But the pack drank the rest of that werewolf and now they’ve gone joyriding up the mountain.” She tosses him the car keys. “So you got plenty of time to get a head start.”

He catches the keys, staring at them in disbelief, then hurries to the car. Before he gets in, though, he stops and looks at her. “You should know, that werewolf in the town, the one you brought down the mountain? I know him.”

She stares. “What? How? You said you don’t talk to them.”

“When I can avoid it.” Leeland shudders. “That was Sigurd Ironside. Crazy, homeless, hermit bastard. Been living in the hills for thirty years.”

“Well, he’s dead now.”

“Yeah, but he was mauled pretty bad before the pack got to him. Looked like other werewolf wounds.”

She shrugs. “Word is there’s Red Talons around, isn’t that what they do?”

“Yeah but….” He shakes his head. “…Everything’s gone too far.”

“You’re telling me.” She glances up at the sky.

Leeland shudders and finishes climbing into the car. He starts the engine, then pauses to look at her again. “Thank you.”

She shrugs again, this time sheepishly. “Don’t mention it.”

His fingers tap nervously against the wheel. “Does this make us even?”

She eyes him a long moment. “It’s a start.”

He eyes her back, then nods. The car pulls away and disappears down a bend in the road, heading back toward civilization. Scout watches it disappear, then starts crossing the field back toward town.

(Me: “Escort quest complete!”)

#

BLACK SPIRAL HIVE: PAUL AND TOM

In one movement, every millimeter of Marcus’s blade sinks into Perpenna’s back. For one eternal moment, the chaos of the arena seems to pause, frozen by the shock and realization of being stabbed passing over Perpenna’s face. At the same time, raw, unfettered fury rolls over Marcus’s, more frightening than the monsters swarming around them.

Then the moment passes and both vampires are swallowed up into a writhing darkness.

Up on the dias, Tom turns to Paul and Sophia. “We gotta go.”

What control Paul had over the Spiral Dancer werewolves is over. They’ve descended into a frenzied rampage, attacking everything in sight. The HMES Harumph still hovers overhead, exchanging vollied attacks with creatures of the arena. The battling mages appear and disappear throughout the crowd, firing bright bolds of magic and SCIENCE! at each other. With each appearance, von Natsi looks more and more charred and strained. Lovelace, meanwhile, has extended her umbrella.

A trumpet suddenly blares from the ethership. Tom and Paul look up to see a rope being slowly lowered down. “Can you lower that any faster?” Paul shouts up.

Very good, sir!” Reginald’s voice answers from above. The speed of the rope increases, though only barely.

Tom, meanwhile, is staring at the unconscious prisoners still scattered on the dias. He tries to conjure tendrils to lift them like he’s seen Marcus do, but all the shadows in the area are getting pulled into the dark maelstrom building around Marcus’s battle with Perpenna at the far end of the arena.

“Tom!” Paul shouts. “Get the prisoners out of here! I need to find the cub!”

Tom stares up at the descending rope, still out of reach, then around helplessly. “Fucking how!?

“You’re the one who’s good with ropes! Figure it out!”

Tom sighs, then starts jumping up and down, trying to grab at the rope to pull it down faster.

Sophia, meanwhile, is on defense, mowing down approaching monsters before they can reach the dias. One Spiral Dancer hauls itself from the chaos, entire bottom-half missing, snarling and army-crawling across the sand. She yells and shreds it in a hail of bullets before turning to another target.

Paul takes a breath and closes his eyes, trying to concentrate on the cub, building a Summons–

–But before he can release it, he feels a tug on his sleeve. He looks down to see the werewolf cub there, staring up at him with wide brown eyes, tail curved nervously around her legs. Paul crouches down. “Hey little fella, it’s good to see you.”

Tom finally gets the rope and starts pulling it down, coiling the slack around his forearm. “BOSS!” he shouts across the arena. “BOSS, WE’RE LEAVING!!”

The cub tugs at Paul’s arm again, pointing down one of the dark tunnels leaving the arena floor.

Paul frowns. “Is that another way out?” He glances up at the ethership. A twisted creature extracts itself from the mass swarming the walls of the arena and throws itself toward the ship. Moments later, a piano launches from the deck and hits it mid-air, taking it down.

Paul watches the creature and the piano fall. “We have a lot of wounded who can’t walk, I think the ship is….”

He trails off as he sees the cub shaking her head slowly.

(Jason: “Perception+Awareness, both of you….”)

A crackle of lightning builds across the arena. Dr. von Natsi stands in the sand, wielding heavy leather gloves studded with wires and the plastic pegs from a Lite-Brite. Energy crackles along them in bolts, blasting at Heydrich, perched on a stone tier above. Huddled behind a glowing shield, the Nephandi ignores von Natsi, fiddling with a long object in his hand. Finally, Heydrich stands, twists a cap at the end of the stick, shouts something in German, and tosses it through the shield, high through the air to land on the deck of the Harumph.

The werewolf cub grabs Paul and pulls him down.

There’s a flash of soundless, blinding light, wiping away the chaos of the battle in an instant. It lingers for an eternal moment, then slowly, with a rumble as if of distant thunder, the sound returns, building louder as the white light fades.

And the only thing left visible is fire.

Above, the wood-and-brass gondola of the HMES Harumph burns in an inferno, listing in the air of the cavern, shedding flaming debris as it sinks slowly to the floor of the arena. Paul, Tom, and Sophia freeze, staring up in shock. The other end of the rope in Tom’s hand falls limp to the sand next to them.

New movement and sound stirs across the arena as the creatures chitter and roar in triumph. On the far side of the sand, the shadow maelstrom has disappeared, Perpenna along with it. Marcus is left alone, getting unsteadily to his feet, covered in some sort of black ichor.

Lovelace is staring up at the ship in shock, the umbrella extended in front of her burnt down to the struts. Next to her, von Natsi gapes through cracked goggles. There’s another explosive burst, and the burning ship sinks lower.

“WE NEED TO MOVE!!” Paul shouts, gesturing toward the tunnel the cub pointed to. Tom and Sophia kick into action, Tom bundling the unconscious prisoners with the rope and Sophia shifting into Crinos form to help carry them. Once they’re secure, Tom dashes across the sand to grab the bewildered Marcus and Paul leads the entire bedraggled group toward the tunnel. They stumble inside just as the wreckage hits the sand behind them. Paul directs them to keep moving, away from the inferno, into the safe embrace of cool darkness.

The sounds of chaos gradually fade behind them. Lovelace follows close behind Paul, half-supporting von Natsi on her shoulders. “That bloody fool….” she murmurs, face drawn. “That vain, bloody fool….”

“Heydrich?” Paul asks.

“No. Snodgrass.” She looks up at him. “That was a kill-switch.”

Paul glances back at the white-hot heat consuming the tunnel mouth behind them. “Snodgrass did this?”

“That’s what happens when you kill an etherite.” Lovelace shifts von Natsi against her shoulder. “I should have known that fool would be so stupid….”

Disbelieving, Paul turns to the cub. “Is Snodgrass okay?”

The cub looks up at him and shakes her head.

Marcus, meanwhile, marching woodenly behind Tom, suddenly starts to regain focus. “Where’s Perpenna?”

Tom–struggling with the unconscious weight of Bell over one shoulder and Helgi over the other–shrugs. “Probably somewhere under the Hindenberg back there.”

Marcus looks up at him with dark eyes. “I’m not that lucky. If he were dead I’d know.”

“Gentlemen,” Lovelace says suddenly, “I hate to interrupt but we have a slightly larger problem at the moment. There is an etheric reactor on that ship. When the fire eats through to it we had best not be anywhere within these tunnels.”

Paul nods grimly. “Well the best thing we can do is keep moving forward and hope that–” he stops as they turn a corner and find a new, dark-robed figure facing them in the tunnel ahead.

Jeremiah Flagg.

They all stop. “Oh. Fuck. This. Shit,” Tom mutters.

Flagg beams sickly and raises his Bible, glowing bright as the Harumph’s unexpected explosion. “Repent, you sinners. Repent from the dawning of the Light.”

Marcus stares at the man, perplexed. “Tom, this is the priest you’ve been talking about?”

Tom nods grimly. “Yeah. The problem with him is that he just doesn’t seem to–”

Tom stops as Marcus suddenly dashes ahead, sword drawn. In one movement, he slices Flagg clean in two.

Tom exhales slowly. “–Okay, so that’ll buy us about thirty seconds.” He hurries them all forward, even as Marcus smirks in triumph and sheaths his sword.

“Trust me, Tom,” Marcus says as he follows, “When you’ve been around long enough, some things just become easier to–”

“TREMBLE, SINNERS, FOR YOUR JUDGEMENT IS AT HAND!!!!!”

The group stops. Slowly, as one, they turn back. Behind them, Flagg stands alive, whole, arms outstretched and face alight in rapture.

Marcus stares. “What in Dis…?”

“SEE!” Tom yells, gesturing angrily. “This is what I’ve been talking about!!!”

Marcus’s eyes darken. He steps forward and draws his sword again. “Alright. Let’s see what this god of yours can do….”

Flagg beams. Slowly, moving with the formality of ritual, he draws his Bible again, holds it in front of him, and opens it.

(Me: “Oh my god, he’s going to read from Romans, isn’t he?”)

As Marcus stalks toward him, Flagg lays a hand upon the page and closes his eyes.

Instantly, darkness falls.

#

(Me: “Ah crap. Is Flagg sending us all to hell?”
Jason: “Not quite….”)

#

PAUL’S UNKNOWN LOCATION

The next thing Paul knows, he’s surrounded by light. It’s a soft, cool light, though, touched with spots of bright LED color. He blinks, eyes adjusting, and with a thrill of mixed emotion instantly realizes where he is:

The Digital Web.

He sits up. He’s on a platform high above the webbed spider-trails. Massive ziggurat structures loom in the distance, but the only thing nearby is a lithe woman standing with him on the platform, dressed all in white and staring down at him quizzically. He looks around. No one else is here.

He stands and holds out a hand to her. “Hi. Paul Stewart.”

She looks at his hand, unamused. “I know you.”

“Then you have me at a disadvantage. To whom am I speaking?”

She folds her hands into her robe. “I am the Oracle,” she says coolly.

Paul freezes. “…Uh oh.”

(Chris: “Uh oh…”)

“…When you say you’re the Oracle,” Paul continues carefully, “You mean to say, you are the corporate spirit of Oracle Inc, owned and run by Larry Ellison?

The woman lifts her chin, smirking condescendingly.

(Me: “…Oh my god. That’s worse than hell.”)

 

END OF NIGHT

 

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4 Responses to 7/30/16

  1. So good to finally see the story continue! The Scout interlude was good, but that cliffhanger was killing me xD

  2. samjackson01 says:

    Aww come on. We all know the corporate spirit of Oracle is running on Java. Can’t wait to see it catch a virus right in front of Paul.

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