Jason: “What do you do?”
Jason: “Yes, but what do you do?”
Jim: “The box will tear him open and climb inside!”
Me: “…The most horrifying thing about this is the glee with which Jim says it….”
The werewolf growls as Gavril notices it, then lifts a stake and rams it through the heart of his chest. Everything goes dark–
(Jim: “…Wait, he staked me?
Jason: “…Oh, shit. I forgot about that…”
Chris: “Forgot about what?”
Jason: “Nevermind. So, moving on–”
Chris: “What, why?”
Jim: “Did you ever see the list of Gavril’s…’body mods’?”
Chris: “No. Does he have a Prince Albert?”)
The werewolf lifts the stake, rams it through the heart of his chest–
–But Gavril just stares at it. An instant later, he pretends to pass out.
The werewolf doesn’t notice the deception. It hoists Gavril’s limp form over a shoulder and begins carrying him up the mountain, back to where he just escaped from.
Gavril opens his eyes as they walk, staring down the massive, muscular back of the werewolf to the ground passing below. His limp arms dangle just above the recurved bend of the werewolf’s legs as they work back and forth to climb.
(Jason: “You going to do anything about this?”
Jim: “Yes. I’m going to use Vicissitude to meld the werewolf’s legs together.”
Jason: “…I. Hate. Vicissitude.”)
Once he’s sure the werewolf is out of sight of anyone else, Gavril lunges down and grabs the wolf’s hocks. Flesh and bone ripple under his fingers. The wolf hesitates in confusion and Gavril uses the pause to shove the legs together, smushing them into each other like putty.
The wolf roars in pain, dropping him. Gavril rolls away out of reach and stands up to watch. The werewolf tries to shift into another form to follow, but each form it tries also has its hind legs melded together. Once back in Crinos form, it snarls at Gavril and slashes at him, but its legs drag uselessly against the ground, keeping it from lunging forward.
Gavril smirks and turns to jog away, back down the mountain.
SUTRO TOWER: PAUL
With the Black Spiral Army fast approaching, Paul and Marcus don’t have time to wait for Gates to send a car. Instead, Paul summons an Uber to take them up to von Natsi’s lab at Sutro Tower. Surprising no-one, Adam is driving the car when it arrives. Paul and Marcus get in and avoid talking to him the whole ride.
A few minutes later, they arrive at the base of the tower. Adam drops them off at the gate and drives off into the darkness. The massive eucalyptus forest surrounding the tower rustles in the breeze and the red lights of the tower blink overhead.
Sophia is waiting at the guard shack as Paul and Marcus walk up the driveway. “I just got here too,” she says, “But I don’t think we’re alone.” She points into the shack. No guard is present, but the chair is shredded with blood-streaked claw marks.
“Werewolves?” Paul asks grimly.
There’s a soft whisper as Marcus draws his sword from his back, staring off into the trees. “It would seem reasonable to assume,” he says.
A deep boom suddenly shakes the ground, coming from the building at the base of the tower. Muted shrieks carry on the wind.
“More werewolves?” Marcus asks.
Paul frowns. “More likely etherites.”
All three approach the building. The front doors are ripped off but the ground floors appear empty. They head to the elevator leading down to von Natsi’s basement lab but its doors are mangled too, trapping it in place. Paul nods silently toward the stairwell instead. Marcus and Sophia follow.
As they reach the laboratory level and peer carefully inside, another shriek makes them jump. A hyena-like werewolf stumbles into view, acrid smoke belching from its chest. It snarls, then howls again as dark liquid splashes onto it from someone out of view. More smoke bellows out, then, with one final gasp, the werewolf collapses to the floor dead. They stare in shock as a figure steps into view:
Georgia Johnson. Holding a teacup.
(Jason: “And since Kara’s not here, now it’s my turn to do my best Georgia impression.”
Me: “It’s surprisingly fun.”)
Georgia grins. “Paul!”
Paul rushes into the lab. “Georgia! You made it back! And…I see you are now throwing tea onto people.”
She looks at the delicate china in her hand. “Well yes, it seems the more civilized thing to do.”
“Of course it does.” Paul looks around. The lab is in its usual state of chaos with some additional werewolf-damage thrown in for good measure, but no one else is in sight at the moment. Nor is anything that looks like it might be a golem. “Are you and the doctor activating the golem tonight?”
Georgia tucks the teacup carefully away into her bag. “Goodness, we will certainly try.”
“Great, so how can we help?”
Georgia beams. “I don’t know!”
Paul and Sophia stare at her while behind them Marcus slowly facepalms. “Okay….” Paul says finally, “…Where’s the doctor?”
Georgia points vaguely across the lab. “He’s in the medical bay.”
“Is there a reason he’s there?”
They wait expectantly. “…And what is the reason?” Paul finally prompts.
Georgia smiles. “Medical.”
(Jason: “Am I doing this right?”
Everyone: “Oooh yes.”)
Georgia leads everyone through the lab, passing multiple dead werewolves along the way, all with various types of smoking wounds. They reach a door at the back of the lab with “Medical Bay” over it in flashing pink neon lights. Standing in the doorway is Professor Lovelace, her dress looking somewhat disheveled. Her umbrella is resting against one shoulder and a bazooka is resting on the other.
Paul smiles at her as they approach. “Professor! I’m glad to see you and the doctor got out okay!”
She smiles wearily at him. “Mr Stewart, I’m delighted to see you as well.”
Paul looks at the bazooka and the umbrella with equal levels of nervousness. “I see you are aware of the werewolf problem.”
Lovelace sighs. “Yes, though I’m sorry about the mess I’ve made of it, I’ve had other things on my mind.” She glances into the room behind her and lowers her voice. “Dr. von Natsi has been pronouncing that now is the time to release his great work. I have spent the better part of this evening trying to dissuade him from it.”
Paul gestures vaguely northward. “Well, besides the werewolves, we just saw hundreds of dark creatures pouring across the bridge toward the city. Some of them were Spiral Dancers, some of them…worse.”
Lovelace frowns. “Why would the Spiral Dancers choose this moment to make such a fronted attack?”
Paul hesitates. “It may have something to do with a group of vampires and mages breaking into their underground lair, stopping their ritual, destroying their coliseum, and stealing all their prisoners.”
Lovelace nods grimly, though a hint of a smile tugs at her face. “Ah, yes of course.”
Paul tries to peer behind her into the medical bay. “Is Dr. von Natsi okay?”
“For the moment.” Lovelace opens a small beaded purse, tucks the bazooka neatly away inside, then gestures them all into the room.
Inside the room, Dr. von Natsi is spread out on a table under a large contraption hanging from the ceiling. Paul has a moment of de-ja-vu until he remembers that this is the same room and device Sophia was under when they came here for help long ago. Paul then does a double-take as he realizes that “long ago” was, in reality, about two months.
Dr. von Natsi lifts his head weakly as Paul approaches the table. His coat is singed, his skin is bruised, and this is the first time Paul has seen him without any sets of goggles.
(Chris: Wow…things must be dire.”)
Goggle-less, von Natsi squints. “Mr Stewart? Iz zat you?”
“It is. Can you not see me?”
“I…have experienced some difficulty. And have seemed to have misplaced mein goggles.” von Natsi lifts himself shakily on an elbow. “But Mr. Stewart, I have seen zem coming. Ze verewolves. Many, many verewolves–” He squints again, then jerks in panic. “–AND ONE OF ZEM IS BEHIND YOU!!!”
“No, no, this one is our friend. You remember Sophia. She…was once on this very table.” Paul glances at Sophia. She’s staring around at the machinery of the room, looking somewhat pale at the memory. She nods tersely at von Natsi.
Paul turns back to the table. “Are you okay, Doctor? Will you be able to operate the golem?”
von Natsi glares myoptically. “I am quite fine! Ze golem iz ready and vill function beautifully! I have been telling zis to everyone but zey never believe me!!” Slowly, he sinks back down to the table. “Zey never believe me….”
“It’s not that we don’t believe in your work, Siegfried,” Lovelace says with the resigned cadence of a long-repeated argument. “It’s just that you’ve kept everyone at Horizon in the dark about the project and undoubtedly have not had enough time to properly test it–”
von Natsi’s head shoots back up. “Zere iz no time! Ze Spiral Dancers are coming! And zey vill raze ze tower and ze city to the ground!”
“I’m inclined to agree with you, Doctor,” Paul says grimly. “Professor, I know you have some reservations–”
“Reservations is putting it mildly,” she replies. “He is in no condition to practice such a level of magical art, even if it had been properly tested.”
Paul sighs. “Then at this point I will ask if anyone has any other alternatives to fighting the invading army of monstrosities, besides activating a golem that may well turn on us–”
von Natsi shoots all the way up into a sitting position. “ZE GOLEM VOULD NEVER TURN ON US!!! ZE GOLEM VAS CREATED BY MEIN OWN HANDS!! I arranged for everything. I created zis golem. It is my life’s vork!”
Lovelace watches him coolly. “And out of how many attempts to activate the golem, what percentage resulted in you being flung into a Paradox realm?”
von Natsi glares at her a long moment, then slumps against the table. “…Ze sample size is low.”
Paul steps in. “Professor do you have any alternatives for dealing with an invading werewolf army? I mean, I could try talking to them but I dont think they’re in a talking mood anymore.”
Lovelace is quiet a long moment. She eyes the scattered werewolf corpses out in the main lab, quietly twirling her singed umbrella in her fingers, then sighs and places the umbrella on a table. “I suspect you’re correct, and sadly it appears not. With the darkness the way it is, Paradox will not be working exactly the way it usually does, but even with that, I simply do not have enough time to prepare an effort necessarily to deal with this level of foe. If Siegfried’s golem is ready now, it will have to do.”
Paul nods. “Well then, is there anything we can do to mitigate possible fallout from activating the golem?”
Lovelace hesitates a moment, then gestures Paul close. “Mr. Stewart,” she whispers, “it pains me to say, despite all that Siegfried has been talking about this golem for as long as I’ve known him, I haven’t the slightest idea where the golem is located nor what form it will take.”
Paul considers this. “…Do we get to choose the form of the golem?” he whispers back.
“…ZIS IS NOT GHOSTBUSTERS!!!” von Natsi shouts, climbing off the table with a wince. “Mr. Stewart, zis must be done. Zis can be done.”
Paul glances at Sophia, watching with wide eyes; Marcus, watching with a hooded expression; and Georgia, watching with a face both genial and vacant. “…Well,” Paul says finally, “I don’t see any other alternative, so I guess let’s go ahead and do this.”
“Excellent!” von Natsi grabs a set of goggles from a nearby table and shoves it on his face. “To begin, ve vill require four mages and someone to configure the tower’s power systems.”
“Power systems….” Paul repeats skeptically. “Are there any velociraptors involved?”
von Natsi pauses and thinks about this–a little too long–then finally shakes his head. “Nein. I am…almost certain”
“Okay, well then the mages. I count you, Professor Lovelace, and…Georgia are you a mage now?”
“Yes!” Georgia chirps.
Paul turns to von Natsi. “Great, so that’s three.”
von Natsi, though, is poking at a screen nearby and frowning.“Zat is impossible. My mage detector indicated zere vere four mages here. I assumed you brought one vith you!”
Paul glances around the lab again. “Is it possible there is an evil mage following us invisibly and has tailgated in after us in preparation to destroy us?”
Sophia suddenly pulls Paul aside. “Paul, I think I know what he’s talking about.” She glances at Marcus, still lurking in the shadows of the doorway, and lowers her voice further. “…The cub.”
Paul frowns and looks around. There’s no sign of the metis cub anywhere. “What do you mean?”
“She’s been with us the whole time.”
“Then why haven’t we seen her?”
“I told her to hide.”
Paul looks around again, scanning carefully with Auspex-enhanced senses. “How?”
“I…don’t know.” Sophia winces. “Paul, we’re werewolves, we can do crazy things. You might call it magic but it’s different, it’s us talking to spirits and getting them to help us. But there’s no spirits around this cub. Despite that, she can appear and disappear at will and has remained safe through everything that’s happened….”
Paul considers this as Sophia trails off. “Okay, so…the cub is a wizard now?”
Sophia meets his gaze evenly. “I think she might be.”
As von Natsi putters about giving mage-speak instructions to Lovelace and Georgia, Paul slips out the main floor of the lab. “Cub? Cub are you here? Can we talk?” His voice echoes through the space. “So I don’t know if you’re listening, or if you’re really a mage, but we don’t really have any alternative to von Natsis plan so…we could really use the help.”
There’s no response. The only sound in the lab is the subtle beeps and chirps of various pieces of equipment.
Paul shrugs and turns back to Sophia. “She doesn’t seem to want to come out right now.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Marcus says grimly from right behind them.
von Natsi suddenly bustles out of the lab, thrusting goggles at anyone who accepts them. “Ve are prepared, but ve still need one more mage!”
Paul glances around once more for the cub, then sighs.
(Chris: “…Alright. I spend a blood point.”
Jason: “Alright, to do what?”
Chris: “I summon…Austerlitz.”
Me: “…Wow. Wooow….”
Jason: “……Huh…I did not think of that.”
Jim: “Jason has this big machine going and Chris has a big supply of wrenches.”)
Paul closes his eyes in focus. Silence falls on the lab. Then, distantly, from out of the quiet comes the growing chords of an 80’s rock guitar.
(Jason: “Jim…pull up the Top Gun theme.”)
Suddenly, a man shimmers into existence in the room, standing on one of the lab tables, dressed in some sort of cross between Beethoven and Falco with a lace cravat shirt over a high-crotch jumpsuit. Smoke pours around his feet–though there’s no smoke machine in sight–and his eyes are closed in rapture as he plays out the entire arrangement of the song–including the drum machine–on a reversible guitar-keytar combination instrument.
Lovelace purses her lips. “Ah. An Ecstatic.”
Paul is momentarily swept by a moment of Toreador rapture, but he fights through it and approaches the mage. “I appreciate the music, but don’t get too lost in it. There are things that need to be done tonight.”
Austerlitz finishes the song with a last long lingering cry of the guitar then slings the instrument onto his back. “Ja, what was it you wanted? I am trying to create aaaaart.” He drawls out the last word like a first cigarette as he looks around the lab. “And this place…this place is very boring. The acoustics are uninspired.”
von Natsi glares at him. “Mein gott…..Austerlitz.”
“Oh. Sigfried.” Austerlitz steps off the table with poised elegance. “Why do you call me here? This is not a place for art, this is a place for mechanisms and uninteresting things.”
von Natsi’s glare–already magnified by goggles–magnifies further. “Uninteresting!??” he shouts, then grabs a spatula off a nearby table. “Why, you airheaded–”
Before he can finish the thought, Paul steps between them, takes a breath, and Majesties.
“IF ANY OF YOU GIVE ME ANY MORE SHIT TONIGHT I AM GOING TO BURY YOU UNDER SO MUCH CONCRETE YOU’LL WISH YOUR FAMILY HAD DIED THREE GENERATIONS BEFORE YOU WERE BORN!! NOW YOU’RE ALL GOING TO WORK TOGETHER, WERE GOING TO ACTIVATE THIS GOLEM, WERE GOING TO DEFEAT THIS SPIRAL DANCER MENACE TONIGHT, AND I SWEAR IF YOU DONT, YOU WILL NOT BE HAPPY WITH HOW ANGRY I GET!!!!”
Silence falls across the lab. Even the beeps and chirps have stopped. Everyone stares at Paul.
von Natsi reacts first, gesturing for Paul to lean closer. “Mr Stewart…are you prepared…for Science?”
Paul nods seriously. “Yes. I am prepared.”
At that moment, the overhead lights in the lab suddenly shift to red. A klaxon echoes, loud enough to drown out thought. von Natsi looks up in surprise, then grimly pulls a set of goggles down over his goggles. “Zey are coming…ve have little time….EVERYONE TO ZE CHAMBERS!!!”
Everyone hesitates, then begin to move toward the back of the lab where von Natsi is pointing. He holds out another hand, though, to stop Paul. “Not you. Ve must empower ze etheric golem vith etheric energy. It is presently stored in ze subbasements. But ve must direct ze energy to ze top of ze tower.”
Paul trades a nervous glance with Sophia and Marcus. “Alright, we’ll direct the energy–”
“Nein. I vill direct ze energy. You must activate ze golem.” He shoves Paul toward the elevator. “Quickly, take ze external service elevators to ze top of ze tower and activate ze three etheric batteries. Ven ze charging is complete, you must enter ze upper control room and discharge ze etheric batteries into ze golem’s power capacitors.”
“Then what?” Paul asks.
von Natsi grins, his face awash with red. “Zen…it vill live.”
MOUNT DIABLO: ANSTIS
The distant echo of Flowers voice drifts on the wind. “Anstis!” it calls from all directions at once. “Come out boy! Have you learned nothing?”
The Anstis-mist twists on itself in irritation and starts to drift back toward the ground.
“Where do you think you’re going? You can’t hide from me. I…GOT YA!”
Gigantic hands made of cloud and mist grab at Anstis. He twists out of their grip and they evaporate. Laughter echoes on the wind again.
Then, from the gloom of the mists, Flowers suddenly ascends a cloud bank, as if climbing a staircase. He stops at the top, grinning. “Come now, Captain. Will ye abandon your crew, I wonder?”
(Jim: “Steal Soul.”
Jason: “And what does that require?”
Jim: “Contested willpower roll.”
Jason: “Gee, I wonder if a Ravnos admiral will have a lot of willpower.”
Jim: “Well, probably less now that he’s been throwing illusions around.”
Jim: “……Crap, unless he’s seventh gen or lower. Dammit.”)
The Anstis-mist pulls for Flower’s soul, but there’s nothing to grab. It’s yet another illusion.
The image of Flowers smiles and spreads his arms. “Still unable to see what’s real and what ain’t?” More copies of Flowers suddenly appear, circling Anstis in a ring. “Shall we stay all night, captain? You chasing shadows and me laughing? Or shall we play a game for even greater prizes?”
The Anstis-mist watches warily as the figures walk forward and merge together into a single man again. “Maybe ye recognize this?” Flowers says, taking off his hat. Underneath it is a smaller pirate hat. Noah’s hat.
Anstis lunges forward but Flowers snatches the hat back. “Oh no, Captain. Ye want this back, ye shall have to come get it. I be thinking it’s time for pirates to dance at the end of me yard-arm.
(Me: “Oooh goodness….”)
“A keel-hauling, perhaps,” Flowers continues with a smile.
(Me: “You should kiss him, he wouldn’t expect that!”)
Flowers laughs. “So what’ll it be, Captain? Will ye be a lily-livered traitor once again, abandoning your crew the minute things get rough? I know this already, but do ye?”
In response, a ball of fire conjures within the Anstis-mist and hurls forward. It splashes into Flowers, igniting his image like flashpaper. Anstis, meanwhile, uses the distraction to dive out of the clouds, back toward the battle below. Back toward the scent of blood.
In the heart of the battle, Joyeuse and Durandal are still raging, werewolf corpses of various forms piled high around them. Yet still werewolves are throwing themselves at them, and now animate trees have joined the fray. Anstis drifts toward the far edge of the battle, toward one of the fresh corpses still rich with blood, but before he can reach it he’s knocked back by a thunderclap.
Flower’s voice echoes from the clouds again. “Oh Captain. Scrounging for blood amongst the wolves, are ye? And here I thought you’d be attending yer ward’s funeral.”
Anstis shifts back into pirate form, dropping the last few feet back to the ground. “Come down here and fight like a man, ye lily-livered scum!” he shouts to the sky.
“I only fight men like a man, Anstis. The dead have no call to honor. If I come down, ye’ll use your sorceries and yer devil worship.”
Anstis smirks at him. “If ye promise not to use yours, I promise not to use mine!”
Flowers laughs again, the sound echoing around them like cannonfire. “And why should I believe ye, Anstis? You’re a knave and a rogue with nothing to offer me.”
“Except a fair fight, from someone you’ve duly wanted a fair fight against.”
Flower’s laughter dies.
(Jason: “Jim, roll Manipulation + Expression.”
Jim: *rolls, sighs*
Jason: “What’da get?
Jason: “I’m glad to see that the new dice have kept up the tradition of your rolling style.”
Jim: “They were fine last session!”
Jason: “Yes, they lured you into a false sense of security in order to destroy you.”)
Flower’s ghostly warship appears again, floating overhead, all cannons trained on Anstis. Flowers himself stands on the yardarm, cutlass out in one hand, Noah held aloft in the other. A rope is tied around the young vampire’s neck, the other end looped around the bowsprit.
Flowers eyes Anstis, seriously this time. “A fair fight is what ye want? Well then come on board me ship and face what’s coming to ye, and I’ll let go your little friend. Do not and he’ll be dancing on the rope.”
Anstis eyes Noah, then nods. “Very well.”
A gangplank suddenly lowers off the side of the ship, touching down next to Anstis with a thump. Anstis marches up without hesitation and stops on the wood of the main deck.
Flowers grins. “Take him, boys!”
A ghostly crew suddenly appears, climbing directly out of the woodwork all around Anstis, armed with cutlasses and braces of pistols.
Anstis sneers. “Not even man enough to take me one on one? You got to have yer crew do your dirty work?”
“There’s nothing dirty in purloining a traitor.” Flowers looks him over. “Really, Anstis? No sword? No pistols?”
Anstis grins. “Just me fists.” He holds out his hands as claws wink into existence at the tips of his fingers.
Flowers smirks. He cuts the rope around Noah’s neck, then jumps down off the bowsprit to land on the deck in front of Anstis, cutlass brandished. “Give him room, boys,” he growls, circling. “I’ve been waiting for this day, Anstis. Waiting a long time.”
Anstis and Flowers circle each other while the ghostly crew jeers them on. Underneath them, the deck rolls like a ship at anchor. The sounds of the vozdt battle below sound like a million miles away.
Flowers lunges first.
They dance across the deck in a frenetic series of blows, sword against claws, perrying each other almost too fast to see. Flowers’s crew roars in approval. Anstis snarls and pushes his own attack, driving Flowers back. Flowers is forced back against the mast and twists away just as Anstis makes an open-fist slash across his chest. He misses Flower’s flesh, but the admiral’s coat and linen shirt fall open, exposing pale skin underneath.
Anstis dances back with a smirk. “Aye, Admiral. Yer almost out of uniform.”
Flowers merely smirks. The slash in his clothes heals before Anstis’s eyes as Flowers examines his own sword. “Careful, Anstis. I hear tell these things are sharp as well.” Then before Anstis can respond, he lunges forward–almost too fast to see–and slices Anstis open from chin to sternum,
Anstis staggers away, healing the damage. Flowers merely grins, raising his cutlass to level at Anstis and beckoning him forward with his other hand.
Anstis growls and bursts forward, claws extended. Flowers parries the attack and rolls out of reach in one fluid movement. Anstis snarls and lunges again, but Flowers ducks behind the mast.
Flowers grins around the side. “Ye’ve learned a trick or two, Anstis. But I hear tell your crew always called ye soft sword.”
Anstis snarls and slashes at him, but Flowers is suddenly back around the other side of the mast, slashing at Anstis’s throat. Anstis falls to the deck to dodge the blow and kicks out, knocking Flowers clean across the deck and up against the railing.
The jeers of the crew turn harsh. Briefly disoriented, Flowers catches himself against the wood, then snarls back at Anstis. “Yer a tough one, Anstis. But I’ll break you on the wheel if I must!” With a cry, Flowers raises his sword overhead and rushes forward, chopping it down toward Anstis’s neck. Anstis stands to meet him, claws extended–
(Jim: “…ELEVEN successes!”
Jason “Holy shit!!!”)
–Which drive into Flower’s chest like skewers, stopping him in his tracks. Flowers gurgles, sword still raised, but before he can bring it down Anstis pulls his fist up in curving rip, tearing Flowers open. Flowers falls to the deck like a butterflied chicken, gurgling and struggling to heal his gaping ribcage.
But before he can, Anstis draws a stake from his coat, kneels down, and drives it into Flowers’s visible heart. Flowers gasps, then slumps into unconsciousness.
Instantly everything vanishes–the ship, the crew, Noah tied up on the upper deck. The desk dissolves into mist, leaving Anstis kneeling on the dirt of the mountain. But Flowers’s body is still there, sprawled in front of him.
Anstis hesitates merely a moment before leaning down to drink.
(Jason: *leans back, folds arms* “Are you attempting to diablerize Admiral Jonathan Flowers?”
Jim: *grins* “Yes. So he can be with me forever.”)
Ecstasy rushes into Anstis as the amaranth takes, a rising tide of triumph and glory. Just like every other time he’s diablerized, energy crackles through him like lightning, lifting his strength and sense of being. Flowers’s body dissolves to dust underneath him and Anstis sits back, laughing in victory as the ashes scatter to the wind–
–But something is different.
(Jason: “A lot of what you expect is there. The energy, the ecstasy, the rush…but…where are the memories?”)
Anstis frowns, searching his mind as the initial rush starts to subside. There’s no sense of anything new left in its wake–no skills, no knowledge, not even the shadows of memories.
(Jim: *frowns* “…Could it have been another illusion?”
Jason: “An illusion can do a lot for your senses but it cannot make you feel the rush of diablerie.”
Jason: *grins* “Jim…I’m gonna need a willpower test.”)
Suddenly a voice speaks, inside Anstis’s head. Flowers’s voice.
Hello Anstis. Can ye hear me?
“Aye,” Anstis replies, for once too confused to snark back.
Laughter echoes through his mind. “Oooh Captain. Such marvelous things ye have shown me. I cannot thank ye enough, boy. You’re everything I’ve wanted and more. It’s been so long…but to feel… It’s almost overwhelming! I feel like…dancing a jig!”
Flowers’s voice begins singing an old Yorkish tune. At the same time, Anstis’s body is jerked to its feet, beginning to dance.
And can’t stop.
(Jason: “Jim, Intelligence + Occult.”
Jim: “…Three successes?”
Jason: “Something is desperately wrong. You don’t know what this is, how he’s able to be in your mind and make you dance. Did he posses you though the diablerie? Did he use some form of Domination?”)
As Anstis struggles against the strange actions, Flowers’s voice speaks again. “Oh Captain, I would stay and chat with he, but yer benefactor has words he’d like to say.”
“And who might that be?” Anstis says through gritted teeth.
“One who does not forget his debts,” says a new voice.
Suddenly the world around Anstis fades to grey, the grey of the Shadowlands. A new figure is standing before him. Short, with military-bearing, and strangely familiar….
(Jim: “Who am I looking at?”
Jason: “A man with one eye.”)
The Wraith of Quintus Sertorius, father of Marcus, enemy of Gnaius Perpenna Vento, would-be founder of the independent Iberian Roman Empire, stands glaring at Anstis. Flowers’s figure appears beside him, grinning. Anstis’s feet finally stop dancing.
Anstis stares between. “What sorcery is this?”
Quintus eyes him coolly. “You ask such questions of me? You who have done such things, cur?” He lifts a fist and cuffs Anstis across the face with a blow like iron, driving Anstis to the ground. “I will not hear of failures from you, thief of souls. is it not plain what has become of you?”
The image of Flowers grins. “Is it not plain, Captain, what this has been all along? Oh Thomas, so obsessed were you, it never occured to you.”
Anstis glares as he climbs to his feet. “Never occured what?”
“You’ve been chasing a dead man, Anstis.”
Anstis jerks his chin at Quintus. “Aye. That one there should have stayed locked in the latrine where he belongs–”
“Nay….” Flowers’s grin widens. “Me, Captain.”
Anstis stops. He stares, confused, but a slow understanding spreads across his face.
“I’m no Ravnos,” Flowers continues. “No vampire. At least, not in a very, very long time. I’m a spirit, same as he.”
The image of Flowers spreads his arms. As it does, Anstis’s arms lift too.
“And now, thanks to yer own invitation…I’ve a body once again.”
Jason: “Roll it.”
Jim: *rolls* “…Uh…”
Jason: “…Did you BOTCH the Torment!?”
Jason: “…I don’t even know what that does….”
Me: “He…torments himself?”
Jason: “No, see, he was trying to Torment a spirit possessing his own body, which WOULD have tormented himself if he had succeeded, so I…don’t even know how to backfire the backfired torment….”
Chris: “He…experiences pleasure?”
Me: “Well….Flowers is inside him, so…”)
Anstis draws on every necromantic skill he has to thrust the spirit from his body, but instead–strangely–he feels a sudden rush of bliss–
–Until he’s slapped out of it by Quintus Sertorius.
“I’d like you to remember this moment, Captain,” Quintus says. “Remember that a Roman always pays his debts.” He nods at the image of Flowers. “Do what you would.” With that, Quintus disappears into the mist.
Before Anstis can respond, or even move, the image of Flowers grips Anstis’s shoulder firmly. A cold paralysis spreads from the grip down his arm.
“Oh Thomas,” Flowers sighs. “We’re going to have such fun together. Forever.”
(Jason: “Yeah, so of all the secrets I’ve been sitting on for a long time. You know how Flowers seems to have been doing things that are pretty weird, even for a Ravnos?”
Jason: “Like you know how he met with you guys that one time in the hotel and left a dead body in his wake?”
Jason: “That wasn’t an illusion. That was Skinriding. Wraith puppetry. He’s not a vampire, he’s a wraith. He’s been a wraith this entire time.”
Jim: “A…particularly potent one.”
Jason: “Yes, and in alliance with another particularly potent one who you decided to piss off.”
Chris: “He’s like an angrier, gayer Mr Tails.”)
MOUNT DIABLO: GAVRIL
Gavril heads back to the place where the werewolves first grabbed him. During the scuffle, he had dropped his sword, an antique cavaliers blade. It was an heirloom and he wants it back.
As he comes around a bend in the trail, though, he comes face to face with two more werewolves. Massive Spiral Dancers, staring down at him, rib cages heaving.
(Jason: “Roll me some fucking dodge.”
Jim: “…That was shit, that’s a botch on the dodge.”
Jason: “Of course it is! Give me…two soak checks, and these better be really good.”
Jim: “Four successes on one…two on the other.”
Jason: “So I have really bad news and some good news. The bad news, you just took nine aggravated damage. The good news…that doesn’t matter entirely, does it?”)
The werewolves grab Gavril and rend him limb from limb, splashing chunks and vitae and gore across the dirt. One tears Gavril’s head off in its jaws, crushing it like an overripe melon. The other one bolts down chunks of his entrails, scattering the rest of the body into a bloody pile of rotting parts.
And one strange box, made of bone.
The wolves don’t notice though. They howl in victory and lope off into the darkness, leaving the carnage behind. Silence falls in the clearing.
Then the box twitches.
Spidery legs of skeletal spurs unfold underneath, lifting it up. It staggers a bit, orienting itself, then turns and starts skittering through the brush straight down the mountain. Toward the remains of the town.
(Jason: “…Why the fuck did I let a Tzimisce in this game….”)
At this point, dear reader, you are probably wondering just what in the hell of horrors is going on. What you’re feeling is exactly what Chris and I felt when this happened in the game. After laughing at our reactions, Jim–grinning like the asshole he is–whipped out this little sketch he apparently did way back when he conceived of Gavril, blueprinting out all the Vicissitude body-mods he has. I’ll let the horrors speak for themselves:
My least favorite part is the fact that the bone box is apparently always staring at his crotch from the inside.
Gavril’s bone-box full of vital organs arrives in one of the suburbs of the town. Most of the houses seem dark and empty, but lights are on in one. The box scurries up to it and scratches at the front door.
A nervous voice inside responds. “…Who is it?”
The box considers this a moment, then opens the toothy mouth on the side of the box to rasp a reply. “Help me….”
“Go away!” the man inside the house shouts back.
The box scratches at the door again, then folds one bony pseudopod back to knock. The man inside screams. The box tenses, confused, then tilts the box with a slow creak to peer up. The man is staring out at him through the window next to the door, his face pale. As myriad eyes focus on him, he screams again and fires a shotgun blast, missing the box but shattering the glass.
(Jim: “…Soo the window is open now.”)
The box legs tense, then spring to leap through the window, landing on the mans face like a headcrab. The man’s screams turn muffled as bony legs tear for purchase against his skin.
(Jason: “What do you do?”
Jason: “Yes, but what do you do?”
Jim: “The box will tear him open and climb inside!”
Me: “…The most horrifying thing about this is the glee with which Jim says it….”)
The box rends the flesh of the man’s abdomen, drilling itself into him in a fountain of gore. Once inside, it absorbs the remains of the blood, then the flesh, collecting it en-masse and reforming it around itself like a rubix cube. The humanoid figure morphs and undulates, bones popping and resetting, then reforms itself into the fine-boned features and elegant posture of Gavril. Lastly, the box reaches a bony claw out and zips the wound closed from the inside.
(Jason: “I want you to understand, just in case you ever decide to start GMing: this is what happens when you let a Tzimisce in your game.”
Jim: “You did specify that you wanted to hear what the bone box could do.”
Jason: “Why is Jim a creepy asshole?”
Me: “I don’t know. All of you guys are the worst.”
Jason: “What did I do?”
Me: “ALL of this! First we had Chris’s characters shoving people into horses and now Jim is crawling around digging himself into the flesh of innocent bystanders!”
Jason: “How is all that MY fault??”
Me: “How is all that NOT your fault!??”
Chris: “I believe we can trace all this back to Carlos dying. He concentrated all the weirdness and evil in the world and when he was dead it dispersed.”
Me: “…That’s…actually not a bad theory.”)
Gavril absorbs the last few spatters of gore into his new form. He searches the house for some passable clothes, then leaves to head back up the mountain so he can find the remains of his skull and the vital dirt stored inside it.
THE UMBRA OR WHATEVER: TOM
Yolanda takes delicate slices and bites of her strange skillet meal, pausing occasionally to sip her Irish coffee. I watch her, bemused, as the bustle of the Fake Buena Vista cafe continues around us. An untouched Irish coffee sits in front of me, sighing a long trail of whiskey-scented steam.
Yolanda flashes a matronly smile at me. “You don’t like the coffee?”
I watch the diners bustle around. It’s strange, seeing people in daylight. “No it’s great. I used to drink these all the time.”
“Really? I don’t remember this place ever making them with blood.”
I glare at her. “I mean before…that.”
She smiles and takes another sip. “Of course. What has kept you away since?”
“Well, they don’t have good night hours, and as you pointed out, their menu is rather limited.”
“One doesn’t come here for the menu, one comes here for the atmosphere. Besides….” She looks around the other clientele, mostly tourists drawn in by the cafe’s proximity to Fisherman’s Wharf and sweeping views of the bay. “…I would say the menu is very, very appealing.”
My stomach clenches, but not in disgust. I look away. “What do you want, lady?”
She puts her fork down. “What I want isn’t the question. What do you want? It’s plainly not that coffee. Perhaps it’s the men behind you?”
I turn to look. A gaggle of Marina-bros are sprawled in the booth behind us, each one playing on expensive phones and sporting almost-matching polo shirts.
(Me: “Oh shit, is it the guys I tried to feed off of the very first night of the game? The ones I blew a bunch of dragonsbreath at to scare off and then had to peace-out before the cops came?”
Jason: “…I forgot all about that.”
Me: “Yeah, I’ve been avoiding re-mentioning it cause I didn’t want you to bring that up again to haunt me, so…do-do-de-doo….”)
I turn back to Yolanda. “Nah. Those guys are assholes.”
She smiles. “That has never stopped you in the past.”
“Well things have changed in the last half year.” I sigh. “2016 has been a very long, very strange year….”
“There are no unstrange years in this city.”
“Yeah. That’s why I like it.”
She pauses, looking at me over the rim of her glass. “Do you?”
I shrug, sprawling across my own seat like the douchebags behind me. “I’m still here, aren’t I? Despite everything in the universe trying to drive me away.”
“That could be anything. Stubbornness. Inertia. Fear of change.”
“Well, I’ve got no apartment so it’s not exactly inertia.”
“Yes, you have nowhere to stay, you’re forced to couch surf or live in the slums. Yet you are still here.” She takes a sip.
I glare at her. “Where else would I go?”
“Somewhere where you don’t have to deal with monsters from beyond imagining and creatures who despise your very existence?”
I roll my eyes. “Pretty sure I’d find that second group anywhere.”
“Then perhaps somewhere where you’re not responsible for killing a great portion of the city?”
My mild hunger instantly freezes. She’s talking about my virus, the strain of HIV that followed me into undeath and spread before I realized what was happening. The virus that was still spreading. “Nobody’s died yet….” I murmur, then add, “…That I know about….”
She eyes me seriously. “No. But they will. You know that.”
My half-baked plan comes back to mind, the idea to bargain with Orlando for hi–it to fix my strain of the virus, possibly even change the virus to attack other forms of HIV. Cure the plague once and for all. Of course, that was before Rabenholz jumped me at Costco and everything went to shit. “Working on it,” I mumble.
She finishes her coffee and gestures for the waiter to bring her another. “Have you considered that those trying to drive you out of the city might not be wrong?”
I groan and rub at my face “If they drive me somewhere else, obviously shit’s gonna follow, just like it did when I came here. So clearly if I dont figure something out to fix things I’ll just keep reliving the same story.”
“Really, the same story? When you came here in the first place you drank blood? You participated in vast conspiracies orchestrated by ancient monsters?”
I glare at her. “Yeah, well, I could have died in a motorcycle crash instead. But this is what I got stuck with.”
She chuckles. “What you got stuck with? The sun is out there everyday. You could end it anytime you wish.”
I glance at the diner windows, looking out on the bay glittering ominously in the sunlight. “Well, maybe as you said, it’s inertia.”
The waiter drops off another coffee. She picks it up and sits back in her chair. “You didn’t come to this city because of inertia and you didn’t come because of vampires. So what are you doing here?”
I stare into nothing a long moment, trying to put myself into the mindset of a lifetime ago. “I guess I came here to find my own place.”
“And did you?”
“Well, unfortunately the literal rent-controlled place is gone, but metaphorically…yeah.”
“Yes, the housing prices. I have seen them. Everyone wishes to be here. Why, I wonder? But you didn’t come out here to property speculate. No, you came out here for this.”
Instantly, we’re no longer in the diner. It’s a club in the Castro, one I recognize quite well, despite the fact that it shut down in 1996. Right now, we’re in a moment much earlier than that, as the crowd around is clearly dressed for the mid-80s and not in a throwback-night sort of way. Lots of curls, not many t-shirts, vests and mustaches dot the crowd. Not for the first time, I’m thankful for the fact I cut my hair and shaved my Freddie Mercury mustache before I was embraced cause it would have sucked to look like this for eternity.
But I don’t think about that long, as a slow dread starts to climb over me.
Yolanda is sitting next to me at the bar, her Irish coffee having morphed into a martini. “Is this more to your liking?” she shouts over the music.
“It’s alright,” I say, looking around the room, hoping and fearing what I’m about to see.
As if reading my mind, the vision I’m expecting appears. The crowd parts, revealing a figure I know very well: tall and lean, blonde hair tousled like everyday is a lazy Sunday in bed, brown eyes like sun-warmed wood, alternatingly narrowed in laughter or wide enough to engulf you in their depths.
I can feel Yolanda’s gaze burning into me. “Do you recognize this place? This night?”
I nod, mouth dry as grave dust. “I do. Now.”
“Good. Cause this is an important night.” She sips her drink. “It’s the night he dies.”
Anger flares in me. I tear my gaze from the ghost of Rob. “He didn’t die till ‘92. After I was embraced.”
“Yes, it took awhile for you to finish killing him.”
I stare at her, words of protest choking my throat. She stares back calmly, assuredly.
I look away. But as much as I ache for it, I can’t bring myself to look at Rob again. “Why are we here?” I grumble. “This is some Ghost-of-Christmas-Past bullshit.”
“Why did you become immortal?” she asks.
“Well, I was a little drunk at the time–”
“That’s not why.”
I glare at her but continue. “From what I remember, given the option of that or dying anyway, it was worth a shot.”
“And do you still think so?”
I stare at the wood of the bar. “It’s been…interesting.”
“I think interesting is what everyone else might say, but I dont think it’s what you would say about it.” She places her drink down and leans close. “Rob is dead because of you. If you had not come to this city, if you had died a normal death when you were supposed to, then he might yet be alive in your place.”
I continue staring at the bar, watching tears of condensation slide down her glass.
After many moments of no response, she sits back. “You accepted the embrace to save yourself from your disease. Did you never consider the same for him?”
Slowly, I pull myself back out of the shadows of memory. “Well, to be fair, at first it took me awhile to figure out how it all worked. Then when I finally offered it, he didn’t want it. He saw the shit I had to put up with and said he wanted to enjoy life.” I laugh drily. “And then he got sick and wasn’t enjoying much of anything. But even then, he denied it. Said he wanted his death to be the way it was meant to be.”
Yolanda nods and turns to regard the crowd. “Many, many people come to this city. I never know why. Sometimes they die, sometimes they prosper, sometimes they leave, sometimes they go mad. Sometimes they do all of the above.” She looks back to me. “But was it worth it for you, coming here to die and live?”
Eyes heavy, I look at Rob once more. History aches to repeat itself, urging me to get up, walk through the crowd, introduce myself and offer to buy him a drink. Urging me to make the choice that would inevitably bind me to him and the city he loved. Bind us both to our deaths.
I turn away. “It doesn’t matter. Whether or not it was ‘worth it,’ I can’t change what happened. And as long as we’re playing the hypothetical game, just as many ‘what if’s’ end up with bad endings as good ones.” I look up to meet her gaze, gold-flecked eyes in a weathered face. “All I can change is what’s happening now. And yeah, okay, I definitely caused some of it. But a lot of it would have happened anyway. The werewolves were already here, Perpenna was already here. Even if I had never come to this city, it might still be on the brink of destruction anyway.”
“You don’t care what happens here,” she says flatly.
“I do when it affects people I care about.”
She eyes me a moment, face unreadable. “Admirable. But it doesnt change the fact that he’s gone.” At that, Rob disappears from the crowd, winked out of existence. “They’re all gone….” The entire crowd melts away too, leaving an abandoned, beaten bar decorated with peeling posters and broken glass. The way it looked the last time I saw it.
Yolanda looks at me. “…And you’re still here. So what is left for you to care about in this place? You’re not a hero. You’re not Batman. You’re just another vampire.”
I stare out into the dead room filled with ghosts. “…Maybe I can be more than that.”
She laughs drily. “How? When you never even learned to be that much.”
Before I can reply, she stands from her stool with surprising swiftness. For a moment, her short stature surprises me. “I have to see someone,” she says. “And you…well. You need to decide what you actually want.”
She walks out the door, leaving me at the bar. Alone.
SUTRO TOWER: PAUL
Paul, Sophia, and Marcus leave the lab building and get into the external service elevator rising up the southmost leg of the tower. A cold wind whips at them as they climb, slowly rising above the tops of the surrounding forest to see the lights of the city spread out underneath them.
To the north, amorphous dark shapes are spreading from the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge and into the surrounding neighborhoods. Flashes of National Guard gunfire and small munitions meet the onrushing horde, but inevitably pull back, block by block. As the front spreads, street lights begin to wink out one by one.
Marcus frowns, then peers up at the tower. There’s still hundreds of feet to go before they reach the triangle of catwalks at the top. “This was your best plan?” he asks Paul.
“Desperate times,” Paul mutters.
Suddenly a blood-chilling howl erupts from the woods lining the slope of the mountain. It’s answered by more calls in the distance.
“Dancers,” Sophia says grimly.
“What are they saying?”
Sophia cocks her head, listening a moment, then goes pale. “Burn tower, kill…Stewart.”
“Paul?” Marcus says, pointing out. Above the top of the trees, a dark shape is approaching. A cloud of shapeless things darting through the air in unholy murmuration, approaching the tower.
“Fomori,” Sophia says, this time with a growl.
Paul peers up the length of the elevator cable. “Marcus, you think you could shadow-teleport us to the top to save us some time?”
“Urg. Hold on.” Marcus grabs Paul and Sophia’s wrist. There’s a wrenching pull, a brief feeling of intense cold, then they’re standing on the catwalk at the top of the tower.
Another werewolf howl echoes from below, carried on the wind. More howls answer, closer this time. Marcus sighs and draws his sword. “I have no idea what the mage expects you to do, but this I can handle. Good luck, Paul,” he says, then disappears back into shadow.
Sophia turns to Paul. “How do you keep getting into situations like this?”
Paul stares off into the unending night around them. “I keep helping people.”
They begin looking for Dr. von Natsi’s etheric batteries. Massive antennae stick out the top of each of the three tower legs, and from where they stand, they can see large contraptions bolted to the base of each antennae, accessible by the catwalks. They run to the nearest one. It’s a large box studded with gears and levers and various Germanic-looking words scrawled across the surface.
Paul peers at it a second, hovering his hands nervously over the many levers. “Do you speak German?”
Sophia shakes her head and starts digging out her tablet. “No.”
“Is there some sort of spirit of the German language you can commune with?”
She stops and gives him a Look. “It’ll probably just be faster to use Google Translate.” She pulls up the app and starts transcribing the labels, but before she can finish, she looks up and freezes. “PAUL LOOK OUT!”
A dark, shapeless creature is diving out of the air toward Paul, extending and undulating to grow a massive maw at its front end. Paul watches it approach, holding his position on the catwalk.
Then Dreadgazes it.
The fomori spasms in the air, shrieks, then wheels around to soar away.
Paul takes a moment to pose dramatically against the rail, wind tugging his hair. “Now that’s what I call management!”
Sophia, meanwhile, is frantically typing words into her tablet and frowning. “Paul! This isn’t working! I don’t think any of these are real words!”
Paul’s dramatic pose melts. “Of course. What do we do now?”
She glares at him. “How should I know?”
“You’re the hacker!”
“And you’re the tech billionaire!”
Shrieks echo through the air. More fomori are gathering, circling the tower.
“Screw it.” Going on Etherite-instinct, Paul pulls the largest lever.
A deep hum rumbles through them, felt more than heard. Then, moments later, bright bolts of energy launch their way up the leg of the tower, arcing between the spans like a Tesla coil.
The other two legs of the tower, though, are still dark. Paul and Sophia run to the battery bolted at the top of the next one.
As they run up, though, it’s immediately obvious this one is different. Rather than a neat box with gears and levers, this battery looks to be more like a termite mound made of Ikea furniture.
Paul stares at it a long moment, eyes slowly narrowing. “I hate this.”
Sophia examines the pile, looking for any buttons or instructions. “What is this?”
“Hell,” Paul replies flatly.
Sophia finally finds a piece of paper wedged between two chunks of birch-veneer particle board. On it is a crudely-drawn picture of a werewolf and a vampire–the latter indicated by a cape and big red fangs. Both figures are snarling and punching at a scribble representing the pile of furniture.
They look at each other, shrug, and try it.
(Jason: “Roll to attack.”
Paul punches first, pouring all his aggression against poor interior design into the hit–then yells and dances away, cradling a broken fist.
Sophia winds up to punch next, then freezes, staring at the sky. “Oh god, here they come….”
The amassed cloud of fomori in the sky is circling closer, some of them taking investigative dives toward the tower, shrieking as they pass. Paul pulls back to punch the battery one more time–
(Chris: “…Double botch.”)
–But just before his fist connects with the wood, one of the shapeless things crashes into him. He staggers against the rail and tips over it, swaying dizzyingly out over open air–
–Just before something grabs his leg, wrenching it almost out of the socket, but holding him onto the catwalk. He twists around. Sophia is in full werewolf-form, holding his foot in her passive jaws.
She meets his eyes and winces. “Sorry ‘bout ‘his!” she mumbles around the mouthful of foot. Then, still holding him by the leg, she jerks her neck, swinging him overhead to smash into the etheric battery, shattering the wood to pieces.
She drops Paul, shifts back to human form, and both scramble to pull the wood chunks away, revealing a single red button. This time they don’t hesitate to hit it. The hum in the air intensifies and another massive bolt of energy begins arcing up the second tower leg.
The wind begins to pick up. Clouds are collecting over the tower, amassed against the dead sky and lit by bolts of etheric energy jumping to meet them from below, like reverse lightning. The shrieks of the circling fomori increase.
Paul and Sophia run to the last battery, the clang of their footsteps drowned out by the rumble coming from the tower. This last battery contraption appears to be made from an antique telephone switchboard. It’s just wires and pegs, but there’s hundreds of them to choose from.
“I have an idea,” Sophia says, pulling out her tablet again to take a picture of the board. She then swipes a series of glyphs across the image, calling up the assistance of some sort of spirit program, then uses its glowing guidance on the screen to begin moving the pegs to match the same order.
With an ear-splitting shriek, one of the fomori folds itself into a dive, lunging right at her.
“Sophia, look out!” Paul cries and tries throwing himself in the thing’s path to Dreadgaze again. This time, though, the creature avoids Paul’s distraction, lunging at Sophia and knocking her over the rail of the catwalk.
(Jason: “You could probably catch her before she falls if you spend a Celerity.”
Chris: “Well, I only have one blood left, soooo….”)
There’s a long, heart-stopping moment as Sophia drops her tablet to the catwalk and teeters over the edge of infinity. Paul hesitates….
…Then lunges for the tablet.
Sophia disappears into the night without a scream. Hoping her werewolf abilities will protect her from a fall of this height, Paul turns all his attention to the tablet screen and finishing the final connections on the switchboard to match it. Moments later, he completes the last peg and stands back.
The last leg of the tower lights up. Energy leaps up each in waves and arcs between them, forming a spiderweb of lightning that moves and shifts around the perimeter of the structure. Overhead, the amassed clouds start spinning in a gyre, moving counter to the circling cloud of fomori.
A shuddering boom rocks the tower. Three bolts of energy launch simultaneously from the tip of each antennae toward a central point in the middle of the catwalk triangle. There’s a shimmering effect, then a hidden control room suddenly appears, suspended between all three towers with another catwalk leading to it. Paul runs down this catwalk and enters the room.
Inside, windows face out in all three directions like an airport control tower, but unlike a control tower–and unlike anything else made by Doctor von Natsi so far–there’s no screens, or dials, or gears, or colandars, or any control surfaces of any sort. There’s just a work table in the middle of the room with a red button on it.
There’s also no sign of the golem.
Paul examines the button. Scribbled words in multiple languages are scrawled around it, but as Paul stares, the words shift and reform under his eyes into just English words: MASTER CONTROL SWITCH.
Paul hits the button.
Paul looks around. Energy continues to thrum through the tower, but nothing else has changed. He hits the button again. Nothing happens. He looks around the room, searching for something he might have missed–
–Then notices something odd. As he scans, his eye seems to skip one corner of the room, glossing over it and focusing on the space around it. Concentrating, he forces himself to stare at this corner….
…And suddenly sees the shape of the werewolf cub, staring up at him.
“What did I miss?” he asks her. “Where’s the golem?”
The cub smiles a canine smile. She walks forward, tail wagging, leans up over the table, and hits the button herself.
The whole tower begins to shake. Energy surges up the pylons, harder and faster than before. More lightning arcs between the tips of the antennae and out into the surrounding clouds, incinerating many of the circling fomori. The vibrations grow to earthquake levels with no signs of stopping. Paul grabs onto the edge of the table to keep from falling over. Then, just as it seems the whole tower is going to shake itself apart, there’s a rumbling blast like a foghorn, and everything dies. The shaking stops, the energy subsidies, and everything settles down into silence.
Until a voice as loud as the word of god echoes through the night air:
“VOICE MODULE ONLINE. AUDIO FUNCTIONALLY TEST INITIALIZED. DESIGNATION: SUTRO TOWER. MISSION: DEFENSE OF SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA.”
(Jason: “Chris…you were right. The golem has been here the whole time.” *points out the window to the Twin Peaks skyline and the blinking shape of Sutro Tower at its peak* “Ladies and gentlemen, I present…the golem.”
Me: “In the tower?”
Jason: “No…it is the tower.”)
(It’s also worth mentioning that the role of Sutro Tower was played by our voice actor friend Cameron, with the help of voice modulation software he has, which definitely needs to be heard to be fully appreciated)
The entire tower shudders again. This time, though, it seems to have a sense of purpose.
“MISSION: DESTRUCTION OF ALL OPPONENTS TO ETHERIC SCIENCE.”
Paul holds out his hands, half to stabilize himself, half in a useless placating gesture. “Oooh no, nonono–”
Metallic squeals echo up the tower. Paul runs to a window and looks down. The radio antennae and various communication-dishes studding the legs of the tower are rotating.
“COMMENCING TACTICAL ASSESSMENT. LUDDITE PRESENCE DETECTED. LETHAL FORCE ENGAGED.”
As one, the arrays and dishes blast bright beams of energy into the night. Most are aimed up, incinerating most of the fomori and scattering the rest. Some beams, however, are aimed out into the city, blasting unseen targets. Most of these, though, seem to be aimed north. The dishes start firing in series, targeting the chaos growing at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.
(Me: “…Oh my god…the death rays work!!”)
“BEHOLD THE GENIUS OF DR. SIEGFRIED VON NATSI!!!” the tower blasts out into the night. Paul stands frozen in shock, barely allowing himself to comprehend what has just happened.
But then, far below, dark shapes pour out from the trees surrounding the base of the tower and begin to climb.
MOUNT DIABLO: ANSTIS
The grey gloom of the Shadowrealm fades, leaving Anstis standing on the mountain at the edge of the battle. The figure of Flowers is gone, but he can still feel his presence rooted deep in his mind.
Sooo Captain, Flowers’s voice says, What shall we be talking about? Now that I got ya here as a captive audience and all. Shall we…dance?
Anstis’s body begins waltzing around the clearing, arms held out as if holding an invisible partner. He grimaces and searches his mind for some sort of spell or trick to strip the parasitic soul from himself.
Flowers laughs. Ahh, necromancy can’t help ye now boy! I’m too strong for ye!
Anstis ignores him, attempting the words and command needed to Compel a spirit to his will. “Leave my body and never return!” he spits through gritted teeth.
Flowers’s mental presence suddenly writhes in irritation. The dancing stops. A growl echoes in his mind, then his claws extend against his will.
“I’ll leave your body by your windpipe!” Flowers shouts, and the hands leap toward Anstis’s neck. Before they reach, though, Anstis dissolves into mistform/
Flowers chuckles. Clever, Thomas, very clever. But not clever enough.
Anstis feels his thaumaturgy activated moments before a nearby tree bursts into flames and floats out of reach just in time.
Ye cannot best me Anstis!
“You don’t know who you’re messing with,” Anstis snarls back within his head.
I be messing with a lily-livered cur! A pirate with no repute and no honor.
Anstis drifts closer to the outskirts of the battle, toward a pile of dead werewolves slain by the vozdt. “And you be a corpse.”
We’re all corpses, matey. And I be claiming this one, in the name of his majesty!!
Anstis drops back into human form, but before Flowers can attempt to control him again, he summons forth another Compel. “Leave me and inhabit the next body I point to!” he shouts, pointing toward the pile of bodies.
This time, the spell sticks. Flowers’s voice screams within his head. There’s a wrenching pain as if his brain was being torn in half–
–Then Flowers’s spirit is gone.
Anstis freezes, barely daring to believe it, then looks around carefully with necromantic sight. Horror and chaos from the battle surround him, but there’s no sign of Flowers’s spirit. Frowning, he walks closer to examine the pile of bodies he pointed to.
Suddenly Flower’s voice echoes in laughter again, but this time it’s not in Anstis’s head. It’s in reality, echoing from an undisclosed direction.
Anstis whirls, claws extended. “Where be ye??”
“Isn’t it obvious??” Flowers cries back, but something is wrong. Something about his voice sounds almost as if there were thousands of him all merged together. And coming from somewhere behind Anstis.
Anstis slowly turns to look.
The massive form of Durendel appears from invisibility, looming behind the pile of bodies. Thousands of mouths scattered across the flesh and embedded in the pseudopods move as one, laughing with Flower’s voice. “You should be more careful where you point, boy!!!”
He heads uphill. Behind him, the body of the vozdt roars and follows. In the distance, he can see the fire of the werewolf ritual still shining over the trees. He heads toward it, dodging between trees to try to slow his pursuer down. But the vozdt just tears directly through the brush, roaring and laughing as it goes.
Desperate, Anstis stops and tries to lock eyes with the approaching creature in a Dominate. “BEHAVE AS MY ALLY!”
(Jason: *looks at Jim’s dice* “Jim, here’s a riddle for you. Who has two thumbs and completely failed to Dominate?”)
“Ye have no friends or allies!!” Flowers shouts back. Pseudopods lash forward, snapping fast enough to split Anstis in half, but before they contact he dissolves into mistform. The tentacles pass through him painlessly and Anstis spirals high into the air, climbing out of reach.
Flowers, though, just laughs, a dark chuckle that rumbles like a train through dozens of maws. “Now now, Anstis. Do you really think you can escape me that easy?”
As Anstis climbs higher, the back of the vozdt suddenly swells, then bursts. Two enormous batwings unfold from its flesh, beating slowly to dry themselves of the viscera clinging to the membranes. The wingbeats gradually increase, building power.
Then, slowly, the body of the vozdt lifts from the ground.
(Jim: “…You know what’s worse than an invisible vozdt? An invisible flying vozdt.”)
END OF NIGHT