Jason: “So, Jim. You’ve been a vampire for awhile now. The concept of ‘a couple dozen’ werewolves should fill you with mortal terror.”
Jim: “Yeah, it’s not the most comforting of thoughts.”
MOUNT DIABLO: SCOUT
The battle continues to rage across the mountain. By this point, most of Sergei’s men have been killed, or–choosing sense over manliness–fled. But Scout continues to linger, hiding at the edges of skirmishes under deep obfuscate, watching for changes in the tide.
But most importantly, watching for signs of the arrival of her brother.
She’s crouched under a tree, watching a pack of three werewolves converse with each other in low growls over some disemboweled Sabbat corpses, when her phone suddenly rings. It’s Anstis. “Yes?” she answers, keeping her voice low just in case.
“We don’t have much time,” Anstis says by way of greeting. “But I feel we shouldn’t trust Rabenholz.”
“Really,” she replies, tone flatter than a prairie. “And why not?”
“Insights from the Malkavians. Be on your guard. We can resolve our differences later.”
“And what differences would those be, Captain?” Scout replies sweetly.
Silence lingers. Scout smiles to herself in the darkness.
“What is happening at the mountain?” Anstis asks finally.
Scout peers upslope. The glow of the distant bonfire is just visible over the crest of the ridge. “The werewolves are conducting some sort of ritual. They just took out an entire Sabbat pack.”
“Can you stop them?”
Scout rolls her eyes. “They’re werewolves.”
(Jason: “So, Jim. You’ve been a vampire for awhile now. The concept of ‘a couple dozen’ werewolves should fill you with mortal terror.”
Jim: “Yeah, it’s not the most comforting of thoughts.”)
“Aye, I see. Well a few things might happen to even the odds. Rabenholz, if he doesn’t betray us, will be dropping silver over the entire region. More importantly, reinforcements are on their way from the south.”
Scout frowns skeptically. “What sort of reinforcements?”
“Ye’ll know them when you see them.” Anstis hangs up.
One of the werewolves suddenly lifts its snout, sniffing suspiciously in her direction. Scout tucks her phone away and retreats, melting back into the brush, away from the sounds and stench of the battlefields.
Some yards away, while crossing an open patch of dirt between copses of trees, movement in the dead sky draws her attention. It’s Rabenholz, soaring in on a slow approach path, cape flapping dramatically behind him.
Still obfuscated, she stops and glares at him. Seriously, he’s such a douche–
Then suddenly Rabenholz banks, adjusting his course to land in front of her.
Scout freezes, sure it must be a coincidence, but Rabenholz’s eyes are fixed clearly on her as he lands. “Ms. Scout,” he says as he settles his cloak.
She hesitates, hand drifting closer to her knife. “You can see me?” she asks, still obfuscated.
“For the moment, yes. You are quite skilled but I have been practicing. Too many things are hidden these nights to my liking.”
Scout eyes him carefully. From their previous interactions, Scout had been gathering that–while old and with more than a few tricks up his sleeve–Rabenholz was ultimately of a weaker blood than hers. By that metric, he should never be able to break her obfuscate. But then, some Tremere mages are known to force changes to their power rankings at will. She’d never really understood how it worked, but by all accounts it’s an act that takes an ostentatious amount of power.
And Rabenholz is just the sort of asshole to go throwing around that amount of power all the time.
Hand still near her knife, she drops the obfuscate and nods to him.
(Chris: “Aura perception?”
Jason: “Alright, Colleen describe her emotional state.”
Jason: “And she has not diablerized someone?”
Me: “……That’s what the aura says.”)
Rabenholz glances around the clearing, his body language the picture of calm. “Ms. Scout, you are here to put an end to the werewolf ritual, and it is imperative that you succeed tonight.”
(Chris: “I leave aura perception up while I talk to her. Let me know if anything happens to the aura.”
Me: *glares across the table at Chris over folded arms.*
Jason: “In case…she turns aggressive?”
Chris: “No, in case the aura disappears.”
Me: *still glaring* “He’s using it to break my Doppelganger.”
Jason: “…Oh my god, I never even thought of that…”
Me: “It’s totally fair, I’m just now pissed at myself for telling him how Doppelganger works.”
Jason: “I mean, there is a way to make a false aura with Chimerstry, but it’s really hard.”
Me: “Yeah. I think it’s a sixth-dot discipline.” *nonchalantly sips her tea*)
Scout watches him evenly. “Does this have something to do with the happenings in Marin?”
“Yes it does. But first I need you to provide the illusion that I’ve just slain you.”
She blinks. “…For whom?”
A new chill lances through her. “Perpenna is coming here?” she asks, unable to keep a note of fear out of her voice.
Rabenholz nods coolly, glancing around again. “His eyes are everywhere. So if you could please cast the illusion so we can talk in peace.”
She eyes him skeptically a moment, then the air between them shimmers and an illusionary version of herself, headless, appears at Rabenholz’s feet.
Rabenholz nods once then steps back into the deep shadows. “Now…take my form.”
She gapes. “…What?”
Before Rabenholz can respond, a sudden rustle jostles the brush. They both turn, weapons and magics at the ready, but before they can react a small shape rolls from the shadows and crumples against a rock. Rabenholz strides forward to investigate. It’s Marcus.
(Me: “Waaaait, but Marcus was in–”
Me: *turns to Chris, stage-whispers* “Perpenna has extra Marcuses….”
Chris: “But does Rabenholz know that Perpenna has extra Marcuses? Anyway, Celerity. I’m going to cut off his arms and legs.”)
Rabenholz draws Glitch and slashes at the figure. The boy screams, red liquid welling forth from the open wounds. Frowning, Rabenholz investigates the blade. It’s still steel, dripping with gore. He touches it delicately with a finger and tastes it.
It’s real blood.
(Chris: “And that’s why…you always aura-perception first.”)
The boy shudders as blood-loss rapidly drains his life, but before he can die Rabenholz lifts a hand to summon the remains of the blood forth, siphoning it through the air and absorbing it into his own hand. The body sags to the ground, dry.
Scout stares in shock, knife still uselessly outstretched, as Rabenholz cleans Glitch’s blade. “Ms. Scout, this is the monster we are fighting, one who sends children out as pawns to die in his place. Now please, adopt my semblance.”
She eyes him a long moment, considering. On the one hand, Rabenholz is clearly not to be trusted. On the other hand, appearing to be dumb enough to trust him might be enough for him to keep her around. Plans had been changing moment by moment but Rabenholz continued to remain balanced in the center of it all. And near the center might be a useful place to be if she needed to tilt things her way….
Scout’s form shimmers a moment, then reappears as the tall, manicured shape of Rabenholz.
The real Rabenholz nods. “The Dread Pirate Anstis should be arriving soon as well. The captain is powerful but not always reliable. You’ve proven yourself adept at managing him. I expect you to manage him tonight and ensure he ends the ritual.”
Scout-as-Rabenholz scowls. “And you don’t think Perpenna will interfere with these plans?” she says in a perfect mimic of his voice.
“Perpenna will believe I have killed you and Anstis. One of your tasks tonight is to make sure no one believes you and Anstis have gotten out.”
“And where will you be?”
Real Rabenholz looks to the north. “I will be attending to Marin. A task I do not relish.”
Scout hesitates. “…And what of this Lytton who was supposed to be sent here from that place?” Tom’s continued absence is worrying her, but not as much as the idea of what might happen if he runs into Rabenholz without her around to back him up. Her mind flashes back to that moment in Leidesdorff’s meat locker, followed by echoes of the barely-restrained rage that had crawled under her skin as this man decided whether her brother should live or die.
Rabenholz gestures dismissively. “Forget him. If you and Anstis with the sword are inadequate to prevent the catastrophe here, so too is Mr. Lytton.”
Scout’s scowl deepens, the rage threatening to stoke higher, but before Rabenholz can notice her odd reaction he suddenly tenses and whirls away, hand sweeping his cloak back to expose Glitch as he stares into the darkness.
“What’s wrong?” Scout-as-Rabenholz asks.
“I sense something. Nearby. Something dark and powerful.”
Before Scout can respond, Rabenholz turns to her. “Find Captain Anstis. I will look into this then make my way to Marin.”
(Chris: “Sweeping cloak gesture!”)
With that, Rabenholz sweeps off, melting into the shadows and disappearing.
Scout stands a moment, still mimicking Rabenholz’s body and standing over the dead form of her own.
Then the illusions melt, Scout obfuscates, and follows him.
MOUNT DIABLO: ANSTIS
After having made some pitstops for blood along the way, Anstis is finally at the mountain, circling in parrot-form overhead. He watches scattered packs of werewolves hunt down the last remaining Sabbat stragglers. One werewolf cluster is climbing the mountain toward the bonfire at the top, dragging a well-dressed staked vampire between them, but he doesn’t dare fly low enough to see if he can identify him.
The wind suddenly shifts, blowing hard in a burst from the far side of the mountain. Anstis stabilizes in the air but circles back, perplexed. Both his bird- and sailor-senses are tingling. With the shape of the mountain and the prevailing winds from the west, the air should not have moved like that, and with such energy. He climbs higher and circles over the crest of the ridge to investigate.
A war is raging on the far side of the mountain, battering the air and splitting the soil underfoot. This battle, though, is not between vampires and werewolves, or ghouls, or anything else.
It’s between mages.
Light and flame drawn from cracks in reality lance against bolts of darkness, each wielded by two human figures. One is a pale man cloaked in black, lobbing attacks and shouting curses to the heavens in reverberating German. Anstis doesn’t recognize him, though by this point almost everyone else would: Reinhard Heydrich.
Facing him is a black man in brightly-patterned robes. Anstis’s first though is that it’s Bell, but the man is older and more heavily built. He’s holding a scepter that burns in white hot flame. As Anstis watches, the man gestures, sending a wave of energy flinging from the scepter toward Heydrich, where it smashes against an invisible barrier and splashes out to light the nearby brush on fire.
(Jason: “Warmaster Mwonge is warmastering.”)
Anstis wheels away, returning to the leeward side of the mountain where the only threat is roaming werewolves. He finds an empty clearing just over the ridge and lands, shifting up into human form and digging for his phone to call Scout–
–Till, conveniently, Rabenholz appears from the shadows nearby.
Anstis freezes, phone clutched loosely in his hands, ready to snick his nails out into claws and launch an attack–
Rabenholz nods to him. “Captain. Perpenna has spies on this mountain. He has tasked me with slaying you and Scout. I must placate him in Marin. But you must stop the ritual. All the rest depends on your success.”
Anstis stares at him skeptically. “Aye…?”
Ignoring his confusion, Rabenholz continues. “When you are through, make your way back to San Francisco discreetly. Perpenna must not know you and Scout have survived. You will be a secret weapon against him.”
Confusion still stains Anstis’s face but the tension in his body ratchets down a notch. He gestures toward the ridgeline. “There be more than werewolves out tonight. I spied mages battling on the far slope of the mountain.
Rabenholz frowns. “Well, focus on stopping the werewolves. Once my forces arrive and they are under control, we can focus our efforts on stopping the mages–”
“A strange hope,” a voice suddenly says, and a figure steps from the shadows nearby. Reinhard Heydrich himself, dressed in the dark tailored wool of a full S.S. uniform, carrying a thin cane topped with the Prussian eagle stooped over a swastika.
Heydrich stops a few feet away, looking them over with a sneer. “The Gangrel pirate. And Pfalzgraf von Rabenholz.”
Rabenholz nods curtly. “You have me at a disadvantage.”
(Chris: “Rabenholz hasn’t met Heydrich yet, has he?”
Jason: “No. Not that I’m aware of.”
Jim: “But he has been watching WW2 documentaries.”
Chris: “Oh that’s true, he has been watching them since he woke up. Cause he’s an old guy and that’s what old guys do.”)
Anstis–taking courtesy as the better part of valor–bows. “I saw part of the battle, very impressive.”
“You saw nothing but the disposal of old problems. Another such problem I have come to dispose now.” Heydrich tsks softly and raises a hand toward them. “I had thought Germans would do better–”
Rabenholz reacts first. Blood blooms forth from Heydrich’s mouth and eyes, twisting through the air to absorb into Rabenholz’s outstretched palm. As soon as the spell began, though, it cuts off. Heydrich chokes and staggers, then looks up at Rabenholz with eyes filled with hate like the death of worlds. He raises his cane.
The ground rumbles underfoot. Rabenholz and Anstis steady themselves, then stumble back as the earth peels open. Massive dirt-colored humanoid-monsters claw their way from the soil, hauling themselves up to an eight-foot height, and peer down at Rabenholz through glowing eyes under a forehead emblazoned with an equally-glowing symbol. Some sort of Hebrew symbol.
(Jason: “Hebrew golems. Now, where the hell did Reinhard Heydrich get Hebrew Golems?”
Chris: “Cultural appropriation, much?”)
One trods forward. Rabenholz draws Glitch and lunges, slashing at the mark on its forehead. Glitch instantly shifts to hard, cold iron and cuts a slash across the golem’s face, revealing an interior burning with the same glow as the eyes. The golem stumbles, but doesn’t fall.
Heydrich smirks, twisting his cane between his fingers. “It will take more than some pointy trinket to destroy–”
Anstis joins the spellwork-fray, plunging his necromantic focus through battering tides of spirits in an attempt to sever Heydrich’s soul. Heydrich stops, then slowly turns to look at him.
While Heydrich is distracted, Rabenholz lunges forward past the remaining golems, dodging their grasping hands, and lifts Glitch to slash at Heydrich himself.
(Chris: *mumbles to himself as he counts out successes on his dice* “One…two…three…four…five…six….seven….eight, nine, ten…eleven….twelve, and thirteen for the Willpower.”
Jason: *stares* “…Well that’s not good.”)
Glitch hits Heydrich, then explodes into light like the surface of the sun, brighter than any flame it’s created so far. Rabenholz completes the strike and dances back to reveal a slash across Heydrich’s face, clear from temple to temple.
(Chris: “But the light doesn’t burn us?”
Jason: “No. Its sudden appearance is shocking, but it’s not really sunlight.”
Jason: “…Okay. This is a hard one to describe. But basically you just hit him with a metaphor.”
*the room laughs*
Jason: “Basically you hit him with concentrated Quintessence, the stuff of the power of mages.”
Jim: “Why is the sword capable of this?”
Jason: “Because it was made by mages.”)
Heydrich shrieks, the sound as piercing as the sword’s light. The cut across his face chars and peels back, revealing not flesh underneath but a pit of solid shadow. Tendrils boil forth, grasping at the air. Rabenholz moves back, slashing at a few that get too close, disintegrating them instantly. Heydrich gropes at his face and the tendrils recede, but when he looks up again the darkness is still there, now joined by two red pinpricks of light glaring from it depths.
“Impudent corpses!” Heydrich snarls, the words hollow and echoing as if from a long way off. He lifts his cane in a sharp gesture. There’s a surge of heat, then Anstis is blasted off his feet, crashing back toward the trees, dissolving into mist moments before he’s impaled on them. Rabenholz maintains his footing, crouching low under the onslaught, his cloak billowing around him. The moment the tide of the blast recedes, Rabenholz dashes forward, Glitch held high and burning bright…and smashes the sword through Heydrich’s forehead.
Heydrich drops his cane. For a moment, the red lights in the dark maw of his face falter. Swaying slightly, he reaches up with shaking hands to grip the hilt, drawing the sword out of his skull with painstaking slowness….
…Then snaps the blade into three pieces.
Glitch’s light dies. The pieces fall to the ground, now a plain, matte steel.
Heydrich turns his unearthly glare onto Rabenholz. “Untermenschen….”
Rabenholz draws Laertes’ shillelagh from his other hip, but before he can strike lightning lances from Heydrich’s outstretched hands, burning into Rabenholz in a concentrated bolt.
(Jim: “I thought lightning was going to be your thing?”
Chris: “Well, apparently, lightning is not without a sense of irony.”)
Smoke curls from the edges of his cloak, but Rabenholz continues forward. Heydrich snarls and launches bolt after bolt, but still Rabenholz pushes onward. The mage raises his hands, shouting an incantation above the elemental roar–
The lightning is suddenly drowned by an enormous flash of soundless light. The moment it fades, Rabenholz and Heydrich are gone.
Anstis coalesces back from mist and investigates. The only sign the two were even there is the scorched earth, the crumbled remains of the golems, and the pieces of glitch lying forgotten on the ground.
Anstis frowns, toeing at the sword fragments, when a sudden snap of a twig pulls his attention to the trees. Warmaster Mwonge steps from the shadows. His staff is cracked, his robes are charred, and he meets Anstis’s gaze for one piercing moment…
…Before collapsing to the ground.
Anstis hesitates, then makes his way to him. Nearby, Scout suddenly melts into visibility and watches him cautiously.
Anstis kneels next to Mwonge. Blood is seeping into the mage’s robes from multiple points across his body. Anstis feels for a pulse. It’s there, but weak.
Mwonge’s eyes flutter open and gradually track on Anstis’s face. “Vampire,” he mutters, blood-soaked spittle bubbling to his lips.
“Ye fought Heydrich?” Anstis asks.
Mwonge’s head lolls heavily against the dirt. “I had no conception…he was too great…for me….”
“Can I summon anyone to your aid?”
“Too late now. Heydrich is gone. Him and the other vampire.”
Anstis frowns. Behind him, Scout tenses. “Gone for good?” she asks.
“No. They penetrated the gauntlet and fled, I do not know where.” Mwonge’s lurches as if to sit up. “There is something more, something greater! The wolves are a puppet of it. I am a puppet of it. Only now do I see it.” He stops struggling and slumps back against the ground. “We are all fools. I was doing what I thought was best, and in doing so I played his game.”
“Who’s game?” Scout asks earnestly. Anstis turns his frown to her, perplexed at her sudden interest.
“The dark one,” Mwonge says.
Scout shifts nervously. “…Which dark one?” She ignores Anstis’s stare of confusion.
“The puppeteer. The Man of Wind. He is a creature who would be god. But worse than that, he is a denied god. A god of wrath and retribution. A fury. He will lay bare this world, and in so doing he will serve something worse.”
Mwonges gaze tracks to Scout and suddenly crystallizes into focus. “I know you…I don’t remember why….”
Scout freezes. “How do you know me?”
“I saw your face… You were with someone…and two others…I knew I would meet you. I knew that I had to, to tell you something, but I don’t remember what….” He closes his eyes. “Isn’t that odd. Just a feeling, I guess….”
Scout frowns thoughtfully, avoiding Anstis’s gaze, but before she can question further Mwonge’s eyes snap open again. “Let him come,” he says clearly, as if drawing energy from somewhere beyond his failing body. “Let him come home.”
Scout stares. “…Who?” she asks softly.
“The one he found. The one that is rightly his. Clear his path….” Mwonge’s eyes drift closed and he slumps to the ground again. Anstis feels for a pulse. Nothing.
(Jim: “…I drink some blood.”
Jason: “That…was a poor decision. It tastes like FIRE.”)
Anstis pulls a few droughts of blood from the dead mage’s wrist before suddenly frenzying into a panic and bolting off into the night. Scout ignores this, standing unmoved next to the body, staring at it thoughtfully. After a few moments, she goes to pick up the shards of Glitch lying in the charred dirt where Rabenholz last stood. They’re nothing but dead metal in her hand.
But she pockets them anyway.
WEREWOLF HELL: PAUL AND TOM
Cerberus stares down at the small forms of Paul and Tom before him, and the even smaller form of Marcus. The pools of molten silver scattered across the burnt landscape are still, but the intensity of his triptych gaze is fire enough on its own. “So it is judgement you seek,” his voice rumbles.
Paul steps forward. “I’m not really big on the whole judgement thing, but I’m happy to hear you out.”
He turns to look at Tom. Tom glances around sheepishly. “I’m more into the punishment-thing,” he mumbles.
Cerberus’s three sets of jackal-ears lower menacingly. “You are not the first leeches to enter Erebus. you will not be the last. Those others who have entered have been destroyed by those seeking merit.” His red eyes turn toward Tom. “Why are you here?”
Tom clears his throat nervously and moves forward to stand next to Paul. “I was trying to save my friend from an eternity of hellfire and damnation, so there’s that.” He glances at Paul.
Paul clasps his hands in front of himself. “I was going to say we’re all here to find within ourselves the ability to grow our compassion and act in whatsoever way we can in our finite time to improve the world for ourselves and those that come after us.” He hesitates. “But I think Tom pretty much summed it up.”
Cerberus’s muzzles sneer simultaneously. “You have come to a place forbidden to you from a place forbidden to you, through a place forbidden to you. You have killed, maimed, lied, and slaughtered. You have given rein to base instincts and urges. You have violated your own moralities as much as the litanies of werewolves, and others. Your existence is anathema, your decisions reprehensible, your motivations self-serving.”
Paul raises a hand slightly. “Can I ask a slightly tangential question? Why are werewolves always so angry?”
Cerberus glares at him. “The gift of Luna was the gift of Rage. This is a gift not unknown to some of you.” He turns his glare back onto Tom, who tenses then turns to look behind him.
Paul shrugs. “Well, I worry about what so much rage will do to your management structure. For example, you say your goal is judgment of the unrighteous. Do you feel you have adequate staff for that–”
Marcus suddenly appears at his side, tugging his arm warningly. “Paul,” he whispers. “I would be careful. You’re addressing a demigod, not a CEO.”
Paul looks up at the monster. “From A CEO’s perspective I’m not sure there’s much of a difference.”
Cerberus, meanwhile, has not moved his stare from Tom. “What of you, Wyrm of Rage? By the laws of kindred you are already condemned. A slayer and violator of the masquerade. By laws of kine you are condemned, a murderer, killer, and destroyer of properties. By laws of the Christian god you are condemned, a sodomite.”
Tom shifts. “Yeah, okay, that’s not the party line these days–”
“So what laws shall I judge you on, whereby you are not condemned?”
Paul lays a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Selflessness,” he says firmly. “Tom isn’t a greedy man. I don’t know what his end-game is but I’ve seen him lay down his life on many occasions to help people less fortunate than him. Or more fortunate than him. He acts without thinking, but he acts without thinking for himself or of himself. He’s charitable to the extent that he has anything to give. His power outstrips his capacity maybe, but somewhere in there is a good person.”
Paul’s words drift into silence on the smoke-laden air. Tom stares at his boots. For a lingering moment, the ghost of a blush flashes across his face. “Thanks Paul,” he mumbles.
Cerberus continues to stare at Tom, faces firm as stone, but then one of the heads suddenly turns thoughtful. It’s ears flick, as if listening to something far off. The other two heads soften, then nod. “There are others who would speak on your judgement, Wyrm of Rage. I will release you into one of their keepings.”
In the next instant, Tom disappears.
Paul and Marcus stare at the air where Tom just stood, but before they can react Cerberus’s rumbling voice continues: “You are strange banes, even by the standards of those who come here. How should I judge you, then? The Bringer of Light…and the Devourer of Innocence.”
Marcus falls very, very still.
“Yes, I know you, Small Wyrm,” Cerberus says, turning his red gazes toward Marcus. He stares down a long moment as the charred, dead air of the plain swirls around them. “Yet for all your crimes, this one perplexes me more.” Cerberus turns back to Paul. “You are not Garou. Why did you entangle yourself with them? You knew what the Garou think of your kind and what the consequence might be.”
Paul shrugs. “I was just doing what I thought was right.”
“And in so doing condemned your Garou friend to outlawry. There are some who would claim she is already halfway a Dancer, thanks to you.”
Paul glares. “I repeatedly tried to send her away to safety and get her out of what’s been going on.”
Cerberus snorts. “She is Garou. As a servant of Gaia, she has requirements.”
Paul considers this a moment. “Maybe she accomplished more for Gaia by working with us?”
Cerberus suddenly bares taloned fingers longer than Marcus is tall, and his voice rises to an explosive boom across the landscape. “She would accomplish something by fighting for Gaia, by dying for Gaia, rather than sully herself with the enemies of the Garou. As she was born to do!”
Silence falls as the echoes die. Cerberus’s chest heaves in anger, the growl in his throat like the rumbling of subterranean lava. Marcus stands frozen, but next to him, Paul eyes Cerberus with the some contemplative stare as before. “So…I met this dragon once. Who is apparently also some sort of were-alligator, not sure how that works. But the impression I got from him is that everything is an enemy of the garou.”
Cerberus’s eyes narrow, but his voice lowers somewhat. “Gaia created the Garou and gave them the gift of rage. It has lead to…incidents…in the past. But it is not for the garou to question Gaia.”
Paul lifts a finger. “See, I don’t buy that. For all their rage and fur, the werewolves I’ve met still seem to be thinking people. And I hold that its people who judge themselves, give themselves meaning. Maybe Gaia brought them into the world, but once there, Gaia is no longer alone in interpreting what they’re for.”
One of Cerberus’s six eyebrows lifts. “You have great arrogance to walk into the lair of a Spirit of Judgement and deny the right of judgement for anyone.”
“I’m not necessarily denying it, I’m just saying yours isn’t the only form of judgement.”
Another eyebrow lifts, but this time it’s with an air of amusement. “What then should I do with you then, Paul Stewart, Lightbringer? You who claim the right to judge yourself? What judgement do you pass?”
“Unfinished. I have a product release to manage in two days.”
One of the heads rolls its eyes. “Weaverkin to the core. But then, there are worse things to be.” Cerberus turns back to Marcus and his gaze cools again. “And what of this one who has no product to release, and who has far greater amounts of Garou blood on his hands?”
Paul too, turns to regard Marcus. “You know, I don’t really understand him. He’s anachronistic from my perspective. But when it comes to me, he’s treated me with some dignity, generally allowed me to keep my agency, and helped me to help people. And for that he has my thanks.”
“Yet he has terrible crimes to speak to,” Cerberus rumbles. One of his heads tilts expectantly. “He will not even deny it here, will he?”
(Chris: “Does Marcus say anything?”
Jason: “No. Partly because I don’t like my NPCs talking to each other when I can help it, and partly because from Marcus’s perspective, he is literally looking at a god.”)
Cerberus looms, as imposing and eternal as a mountain. “I am judgement. My entire existence is judgement…” Then, suddenly, the mountain slopes soften. “…But perhaps in this case, my judgements are not the standards to be applied. I am not of the Wyrm, nor the Weaver
“Who is your equivalent for the Wyrm and the Weaver, respectively?”
“You would not wish to know them.” All three muzzles suddenly grin, exposing their full sets of canines. “But never fear. You may yet find out one day.”
Paul sighs. “If it helps, consider that people are trying their best.”
“If only, Lightbringer, that were enough.”
Cerberus lifts a hand, then everything goes black.
MOUNT DIABLO: GAVRIL
Gavril awakens with black sky overhead and stone at his back. He’s on some sort of altar, bound down by strands of something cold and heavy. Standing nearby, backlit by the nearby glow of the bonfire, is the old woman, talking to a man. “I do not care if the conditions are ideal,” the man is saying. “You will perform the ritual. His blood is Sabbat, his lineage is old. It will suffice. Perform it and consume the place in fire.”
The woman glowers up at the man, but barks a command at two werewolves waiting nearby. They melt into the darkness.
While they’re distracted, Gavril fusses with his bonds, but every movement seems to make them draw tighter.
“Do not bother, Tzimisce,” the man says suddenly, spitting the name like an insult. “Your will is nothing to mine.”
Gavril stops fidgeting. The man is still facing the flames, his back to him. Carefully, Gavril cranes his neck to examine his bonds.
They’re not chains, or even ropes. They’re thick knots of pure shadow.
“Who are you?” Gavril asks.
The man approaches him then, leaning over the altar with a cruel smile. “Your better.”
Gavril quickly scans the man’s clothes for any identifying marks. “How may I address you?”
Shadow snaps from the darkness to grab Gavrils head and force it back to the stone. “I am Gnaius Perpenna Vento,” the man sneers, “And you will not address me at all.” He leans closer, his gaze searching for Gavril’s eyes, clearly winding up to Dominate him into submission–
Then stops, momentarily puzzled, as a new sound rises far off in the night.
Airplanes, approaching from a distance.
The next thing I know, I’m lying in a bed in some kind of house. No…an apartment. My apartment, my old rent-controlled loft in the Clocktower Building. Faded posters and a few framed photographs peer down at me from the walls. As does a person, sitting in a chair next to the bed.
It’s an older hispanic woman, in a shawl and comfortably-aged flower-print dress, with her grey hair pulled back into a neat bun. I’m sure I’ve never seen her before, but something about her is strangely familiar. Something to set her apart from the standard abuelas often seen pushing shopping carts through the Mission.
(Jason: “It is not Consuela.”
Me: “Oh thank god.”)
I sit up. “Who are you?”
She smiles. “Who are you?”
“Well, I think this is my apartment, but I remember losing all my stuff….” I look around but something about the room is odd. Almost fuzzy, as if I was visualizing it from a half-remembered dream. “…I’m sorry, is this your apartment now? I’m not sure how I got here, I’ll just be going–”
“It’s always been my apartment,” she replies calmly.
I pause with my legs half-swung off the bed. “Are you the new landlord? That asshole Brian was the landlord the last time I was here….”
Her smile doesn’t falter. “I am Yolanda. Who are you?”
“Oh I know that. But who are you?”
“Oh.” I place my feet on the floor. “It’s one of those questions.”
“It is always one of those questions.” Yolanda gets up from the chair, moving slowly but confidently. She walks to a milk crate on a side table and starts flipping through the records tucked inside.
I watch her suspiciously. “Why are we in my apartment? This can’t be real. Clarence stole most of this stuff and I had Slayer fence the rest.”
“People lose many things,” she says without looking up. “Sometimes even themselves. We are here because it’s a nice place. Nice view.”
“Of…the freeway onramp?” I glance at the window. The aluminum foil covering which I had added in my later years of occupation–and which set off the feud with Brian–is strangely missing, revealing the long concrete curve of the freeway just yards away.
“Yes, but just past that onramp, the bay. And some of the island. Treasure Island.” She looks at me, still smiling. “And Yerba Buena.”
I stare back a long moment. “…Are you a mage?”
She laughs. “No, no. I am just Yolanda.”
“And how do you know who I am?”
She turns back to the records. “Everyone knows who you are. Everyone speaks of Tom Lytton. He kills werewolves, and dresses in leather. He talks with odd people. Goes wine-tasting with teenagers. Your personality precedes you, and your personality brings us here. Should we be somewhere else?”
“Well, I think I was in werewolf hell before this….” I go to the window to peer outside. Night–real night–hangs overhead, stars and everything. “…This isn’t reality either, is it?”
“Not exactly, no. Your friends have wound up other places. Other hells. Metaphorical representations of things. So why are you here?”
“I have no idea. Like I said, I was in werewolf hell and this big triple-headed motherfucker–”
“No, I mean why are you anywhere.”
I stare at her. “Well, when two people love each other very much–”
Yolanda gestures dismissively. “Humans are born and die. You are not human.”
At those words, an urgent reminder of that fact swells inside me: hunger. Not bad yet, but enough to be distracting. Halfheartedly, I go to check if there’s any blood in the fridge, but all I find is a dusty bottle of protein shake. “If you’re asking why my sire…did the thing,” I call over my shoulder, “That’s a good question. I have no idea, I’ve never seen him again to ask him.”
“I know why.”
My head snaps around. “You do? Then…fucking why!? Was he just an asshole?”
Yolanda pulls an ABBA record out of its sleeve, carefully examining the vinyl for scratches. “Oh he was an asshole. I believe you know that. It was what attracted you to him.”
“Well, that, and some vague memories of…chiseled features….”
I trail off, unsure of her elderly-person views of my lifestyle, but she just smiles knowingly. “I know what he thought. I know what all of them think. All of these Kindred that walk the streets. Wander through the city. It’s so obvious.” She smirks at me. “You’re not very complicated creatures.”
I eye her a long moment, examining her floral homespun one again, then slowly close the fridge door. “You’re sure you’re not a mage?”
She chuckles as she tucks the record away. “What, do you think I will wave a magic wand and make blood appear for you?”
I rub my face, resigning myself to ignoring the pangs swirling in my gut. “Just so long as there’s no death rays.”
“Ahhh, yes. The Doctor. This is a city that attracts people like him. People like you. The lost, and the damned.” She glances up to see my expression, undoubtedly finding it as surprised as she expected. “Why do you think the doctor is stationed all the way out here, doing experiments in a radio tower? His theories are insane, he himself is probably insane. His colleagues do not respect him. They cast him from Paradigma, they shun him from Horizon, and now he is here.” She returns to the chair by the bed, easing herself down with a sigh. “but why are you here? You are not from California, and it has nothing to do with your sire.”
Shaking off the strange revelation about von Natsi, I try to focus on her question. “Uh, well, at the time, it was the only place I belonged. The first place I really felt at home.”
“So what happened?”
I turn once more to scan the room, lingering over the faded photos. Photos of people long gone. “My home died,” I say softly.
She nods sagely. “You speak of the plague. The city survived the plague. You did not.”
“The city adapted, became something new.” I sink back to the bed in front of her. “But vampires don’t adapt, do they?”
“No. They don’t. Yet here you are. Here you all are.” She cocks her head and smiles. “An exiled count of the Palatinate who wishes to be king. A pirate lost from time. Mages unstuck from their moorings. Werewolves with nowhere to turn. Kindred who think themselves damned. A city of madmen. On the edge of the world.”
I stare at her a long moment, the only sound in the room the rush of the traffic outside. “Which still doesn’t explain why we’re in my old apartment,” I urge finally.
Yolanda smiles again. “If you’d prefer not to be in your apartment, we could easily be somewhere else.” She lifts one weathered hand and snaps.
–Suddenly we’re sitting at a white-linened table instead of my bedroom, next to a massive bank of windows looking out on a storming sea. Though I haven’t been here in decades, I instantly recognize it as the main dining room of the Cliff House. The room is packed with dinner guests but no one seems to notice our sudden appearance, or strange clothing.
I gape out the moment a moment, still processing that I’m here, then peer around nervously. “Oh my god…Norton isn’t here is he?”
Yolanda laughts. “No. Norton is somewhere else.” She unfolds her napkin and lays it in her lap with the grace of a prayer shawl. “Norton is special to me.”
“Yep, that’s…one way to describe him.”
“That’s not the way I meant.” She lifts an eyebrow at me. “Have you ever asked him?”
“About what? His past? I mean, I’ve read his Wikipedia page….”
“Not his past. Yours.” She straightens her silverware. “He knew your sire.”
I stare at her, my napkin and silverware still untouched. “It’s not Andrea is it, cause he’s been mentioning that name to me for awhile….”
For a moment, Yolanda’s face turns sad. “No. Andrea is someone else. A colleague. Of a sort. Prone to…outbursts.”
“Yeah, okay, fine,” I wave the comment away. “Focus on the real topic here. Who was my sire? Why did he embrace me in the first place? Was there some reason?”
She tilts her head a moment, as if thinking. “Perhaps. But the Brujah are not creatures of logic, or planning, or tact.”
I glare. “Thanks.” I glance around the dining room again. “If you’re not going to give me answers, was there some reason for coming here? Should we order drinks?” Quickly I catch the eye of a waiter, and as he comes over I point to Yolanda. “What will you have?”
She smiles. “Irish coffee.”
I roll my eyes. “If you wanted that, you should have taken us to the Buena Vista.” I order for her, asking nothing for myself. The waiter nods and hurries away.
Yolanda is still watching me with that infuriatingly placid smile. “I didnt bring you here, Tom Lytton. You came.”
“But you snapped your fingers and did the thing!”
“Of course I did….” She lifts her hand and snaps again–
–Now suddenly we’re sitting in one of the trendier hotel bars downtown, then snap—
–Now we’re sitting at a picnic table in the park, streaks of fog driving overhead, then snap—
–Now we’re sitting at a folding table under fluorescent lights while elderly Chinese people play go on other tables all around us, then snap—
–We’re actually at the Buena Vista, at a table in the back. Yolanda smiles at my bewilderment and continues. “…But no matter how many times I snap my fingers, it doesn’t change the fact that you came here yourself.”
As I’m staring at Yolanda, at a loss for words, the bartender comes up and places a familiar fluted glass of Irish coffee in front of her. She smiles her thanks to him and takes a sip. “You know, it’s a myth that this place invented these. But it’s a good one, because they make a very good one here.”
I stare at the coffee as if expecting it to explode. “What does that have to do with any of this?”
“Only what you want it to.” She puts the glass down. “I don’t care where you came from, but you do. And you care so much that everyone else is forced to. You all do. You come to get away from everything but you bring it all with you.”
“Are you…trying to make me let go of my past?”
“I’m not saying anything.”
I glare. “Clearly.”
She shrugs. “It’s not my purpose. I just wanted to know why you were here. Your friends are elsewhere, scattered across the realms. But you are here. So I am wondering why that is.”
A server suddenly approaches and places a carved wood plank in front of her. A hot cast-iron skillet is nestled on top with some sort of fajita stir-fry dish.
(Jason: “Colleen. Roll me Perception+Intelligence.”
Me: *rolls* “…Double-botch.”
Jason: “Ah! Well, you don’t notice shit!”
Me: “What!? No!! Goddammit I hate perception botches, all they do is fuck up the story!”
Jason: “…Alright, fine. So you see her plate of food. It’s on a hot skillet, right out of the oven. It looks like some sort of Spanish fusion dish, with strips of meat and vegetables. But the meat has been egg-washed, before it was fried. It’s a traditional culinary technique, not really popular much these days, but once upon a time it was called gilding.”)
Yolanda leans down to smell it with obvious delight. “Ahh. Can’t get this anywhere else.”
I eye it suspiciously. “I thought they only had pub fare here, shephard’s pie and bullshit.”
She picks up her utensils. “They make special exceptions. For me.”
I watch, bemused, as she slices the slices the meat and spears it delicately into her fork. Of all the strange things that I’ve been thrust into, sitting around watching while some interdimensional woman eats egg-fried meat is at least probably not the–
I freeze as a realization hits me: gilded meat. In an iron skillet.
END OF NIGHT
Jason: “Gentlemen, a moment of silence for the passing of Warmaster Mwonge.”
Jason: “And Glitch.”
Jason: “Wow, you all sound a lot sadder about Glitch.”