Jason: “Marcus looks confused.”
Me: “What, because Tom is actually thinking before acting?”
Me: “Haha, fuck you.”
MOUNT DIABLO: GAVRIL
Gavril wakes up flat on his back. He has no idea how much time has passed, but his body has healed. More importantly, he realizes suddenly it’s his own body, not the fleshcrafted surrogate. He’s still in the stolen clothes, but his flesh is his own, his cells are his own, his homeland dirt is back in his head.
But the bone-box is missing.
(Jason: “Basically someone reset your ass to factory-default.”)
Gavril sits up. No one is around, not Doc or anyone else. The only thing here is Neshka, waiting patiently nearby, staring at him and chewing on a squirrel.
Grumbling at the thought of having to painstakingly rebuild his protective enhancements, he goes to mount up on Neshka and continue the rest of the way to the summit.
MOUNT DIABLO: ANSTIS
Anstis remains buried under the soil of the mountain summit until all the tremors of the battle between the vozdt and the werewolves have died, then remains under a bit longer until he’s sure everything has passed. The dirt has been quiet and still for almost an hour before he emerges back to the surface. The moment he reaches clear air he shifts into parrot form and takes off, circling overhead to scan.
The ritual site looks abandoned. The bonfire is still burning, with dead werewolves piled around–many apparently killed in battle, but some clearly intentional sacrifices. There’s no sign of Orlando’s vozdt, though a large torn trail leads through the underbrush away from the summit. Anstis flies lower to follow one.
More dead werewolves dot the trail, but the track ends a few dozen yards from the ritual site in a strange phenomenon. A jagged rend seems to be cut through the air, leaking swirls of colored light out through its narrow gap.
Anstis lands on a tree branch nearby, cocking his head side to side in confusion.
(Jason: “Here’s what you can tell. Werewolves can skip back and forth between our world and the spirit world, you know that. This seems to be a rip in the fabric of the Gauntlet that separates our world and the spirit world. But that’s not how werewolves usually do the skipping back and forth. They normally don’t leave tears behind. So what the fuck happened here?”)
Anstis flies closer, trying to peer in. The space beyond is a riot of color but is still too narrow to see anything clear through. He moves closer.
Then something reaches out of the tear, wraps around his feather body, and pulls him through.
(Jim: “Something humanoid?”
Jason: “Nope. Pseudopod.”)
MOUNT DIABLO: GAVRIL
When Gavril arrives at the summit, he finds the ritual site deserted. Bodies are piled around a stone altar and the bonfire rages high, but there’s nothing else living or undead currently visible. The only odd thing is a bunch of strange tracks in the dirt, smothering the werewolf prints.
(Jim: “Like vozdt-strange?”
Jason: “Yeah, oddly enough, like vozdt-strange.”)
Rather than following the tracks, he investigates the altar. Carvings slice deep into the rock, but are filled with so much blood they’re hard to make out. He tears a strip from his clothes and tries to soak up some of the blood. Most of the carvings seem like inscrutable werewolf-runes, but in the center of the surface is two lines of Roman numerals. He takes a moment to convert them:
1,906 and 1,989.
Before he can puzzle this further, footsteps approach the clearing. He pulls Neshka off to the side, obfuscates both of them, and watches.
A beat-up human figure steps from the darkness, carrying a large assault rifle, blinking at the bonfire-light. Gavril sneaks up behind him then, while he’s still dazed, jerks the weapon from the man’s hands.
He’s rewarded with a knife jammed into his throat.
Gavril grabs at the arms, preparing to do vicissitude-cuffs yet again, but then he realizes: it’s not a werewolf. It’s Sergei.
Gavril releases him and steps back. “Tovarich!”
“Gavril?” Sergei stares at him, then jerks the gun back. “Why do you attack me?”
“Did not see you well enough.” Gavril points at the altar. “Where ritual lady?”
Sergei spits. “Werewolf suka. I do not know. Probably she run away.”
“How goes battle? How many werewolves you kill?”
Instantly Sergei brightens. “I kill maaany werewolves!”
“What is number?”
Sergei puffs his chest out. “Three.”
Gavril nods and leans in conspiratorially. “I also kill werewolves.”
Sergei barks a disbelieving laugh. “Bullshit! You artsy man! You have no gun, you cannot kill werewolves with fleshcraft!”
“Werewolves do not scratch with legs and arms bound together.”
“Yeah? Prove it.” Sergei jerks his chin to the trees behind him. “Kill that one.”
Gavril turns. A werewolf has just entered the clearing, stopping in surprise as it sees them.
Gavril sizes it up a moment. He’s already been torn up twice tonight, but without the bonebox, having it happen again would be a lot more irritating. “We kill together?”
Sergei laughs. “Too easy! Two vampire, one werewolf. Is no sport.”
Instinctive clan pride flares within Gavril. Gavril glares at Sergi, then turns to shout to the werewolf. “Call your friends.”
Whether or not the wolf understand them, it throws its head back and howls. A moment later, three more wolfs suddenly crawl from the undergrowth and join it, chests heaving.
Sergei’s face falls. Gavril sees this and grins wider. “Is more like it.”
SUTRO TOWER: TOM
The firecracker-eruptions of energy and howls of dying monsters slowly pulls me out of my werewolf-blood high. I jog back to Sophia and kneel next to her. “Girl! You all right?”
“I think so….” she says, standing woozily. I hold out a hand to help her up.
The moment I touch her, the demon within me flares. It’s not hungry, but it’s very, very acutely aware of the werewolf blood pumping through her veins and yearns toward it. She gets to her feet and I release her quickly, forcing myself to ignore it.
I turn to Marcus. His chest is torn open like a burst melon, but he waves off my attention. “Tom, touched as I am by your concern, there seems to be a series of other problems at the moment.”
I realize the ground has started rumbling and turn to look at the tower. One by one, the three tripod legs are uprooting from the ground.
Because of course they fucking are.
“Yeah, is that supposed to be doing that?” I ask.
The tower begins pacing a defensive perimeter around the mountain top, firing at unseen targets in the night. “BEHOLD THE GENIUS OF DR SIEGFRIED VON NATSI!!!” it booms.
“I am more concerned that at any moment it might run out of targets and turn its attention onto us,” Marcus says.
My instinctively reach for Vera on my shoulder.
Marcus rolls his eyes. “That is a wonderful weapon of yours, Tom, but I doubt it will do much damage against the tower.”
“Yeah…and I’m out of rockets.” I groan and sling Vera against my back. “I told Paul this is what happens when you fuck around with mages.”
Sophia suddenly speaks up. “Maybe Paul will know what to do.”
I turn to her. “…Paul is here?”
“Yeah, up at the top. He’s the one who turned it on.”
I stare a long moment. “…Of course he did.” I pull out my phone and call him.
SUTRO TOWER: PAUL
Paul, meanwhile, is trying to figure out how to skip ahead through the chapters of the holographic Dr. von Natsi documentary to something useful when his phone rings. He flinches when he sees Tom’s name on the screen but slowly answers anyway. “…Hello?”
“Paul, where you at?”
“I am trying to turn off the crazy death machine.”
“Where is that happening?”
“At the top of the crazy death machine.”
Tom’s voice muffles momentarily, “He’s at the top of the crazy death machine,” he says off to the side then comes back on the line. “I’m with Sophia and Boss down below. We just killed a bigass werewolf and want to help turn off the crazy death machine. Where is Dr von Natsi?”
“He’s hopefully resting in his lab, he’s not doing very well, but I am under the impression that the tower is likely to kill anyone meddling with it–”
The tower suddenly shudders to a halt. “WARNING,” it booms, “ENEMY OF ETHERIC SCIENCE DETECTED. INITIATING PERSONAL DEFENSE MEASURES.” The dishes and arrays on the tower start to rotate, facing inward toward the control room.
Paul waves his hands at the window. “No! No! I am a friend of Dr. von Natsi! A friend of etheric science!!!”
(Jason: “It’s time for a roll no one else has done before: Manipulation + Technology.”
Me: “Yay! The game isn’t over till we go through all the possible combinations!”)
The tower hesitates. Slowly the dishes rotate to face back out again and its perimeter march continues. The hologram glitches, then starts playing the documentary again. From the beginning.
Paul sighs. “Tom, I’ll call you back. I should probably focus.”
I put the phone away after Paul hangs up on me. “Yeah so he’s doesn’t seem to be doing much better at the top of the tower.”
Marcus rolls his eyes. “Wonderful. Does he require assistance?”
“It sounds like he’s watching some kind of training video, so probably not.”
Sophia stares up at the tower and the control room suspended between the three pylons hundreds of feet above. “I hate to suggest this, but I could probably help him if I can get up there.”
I hesitate. “Well, the thing is right now the tower is shooting werewolves, and last I checked you are a werewolf, sooo….”
(Jason: “Marcus looks confused.”
Me: “What, because Tom is actually thinking before acting?”
Me: “Haha, fuck you.”)
Sophia throws out her hands. “We have to do something! That thing could fry the whole city!”
I watch as the tower continues its slow, methodical march around the mountaintop. “I mean, if we had some X-wings maybe we could wrap a bunch of cables around the legs and pull it over?”
Sophia shoots me a withering glare. “Those were snow-speeders!”
(Jason: “–She says, immediately.”)
Paul gropes through the control room and finally hits some sort of sequence of hidden triggers. A panel slides back on the dash under the hologram, revealing a massive array of buttons, dials, levers, switches, and even a bar of soap. All unlabelled.
He stares at it. Gingerly he reaches out and twists the largest dial. The volume of the holo-documentary increases. He turns it back down.
Next under this dial are three identical red buttons. He eyes them carefully.
(Chris: “Well, one of them is probably ‘shut down,’ but the other two are probably ‘destroy everything’ and ‘destroy everything else’”)
His phone rings again. This time it’s Sophia. He answers immediately. “Sophia! Thank god.”
“Paul! Do you need any help up there?”
“I have a control panel of unlabelled controls and I’m trying to figure out which one is the shutdown!”
“How many controls?”
Paul takes a picture of the control panel and sends it to her. A moment later, she gasps. “What!? This is some bullshit, Paul!”
“I know right??”
“ENEMY OF ETHERIC SCIENCE DETECTED.” The tower dishes start turning again. This time, they focus down, toward Sophia on the ground.
“No!” Paul yells and hits one of the red buttons. A small panel slides back and an old-time radio microphone pops up. Paul immediately grabs it. “This is command, come in!”
The tower dishes stop rotating. “THIS IS SUTRO TOWER. YOUR COMMAND IS UNRECOGNIZED. YOU ARE AN ENEMY OF ETHERIC SCIENCE.”
“No, Sutro Tower, your lack of discretion in finding enemies is resulting in a bad name against etheric science. You yourself are becoming an enemy of etheric science!”
“THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE. I AM A PRODUCT OF THE GENIUS OF DR SIEGFRIED VON NATSI.”
“That’s what I’d expect you to say if you were an enemy of etheric science trying to pretend to not be an enemy of etheric science! Sophia, are you hearing this–?”
His phone, though, is silent and he checks the screen. The call has disconnected. He runs to the window and looks down. A cloud of Nocturne darkness has settled over the space where Sophia, Tom, and Marcus were just standing.
Desperate, Paul tries calling Dr. von Natsi. It rings a few times before connecting.
“…This is Professor Lovelace.”
(Me: “Oh, better! Better!!)
“Professor!” he gasps. “Is Dr. von Natsi able to talk?”
“Not at the moment, I’m afraid,” she says sadly. “The act of activating the energy knocked him out again. How are things progressing up there?”
“Well I’m in the tower and none of the controls make sense. I just found a microphone and am trying to have a conversation with it–”
“Yes, good, that’s exactly what you want!” she interrupts eagerly. “The tower isn’t a robot, you can’t control it on a one for one basis. It’s a golem, fully autonomous. You need to convince it to stop, you can’t just order it to.”
Paul frowns. “Well I tried confusing it, that didn’t work. But I’ll give it another shot. Thank you.” He hangs up.
“ENEMIES OF ETHERIC SCIENCE WILL BE ERADICATED!” the tower shouts, firing random bolts of death ray into the Nocturne.
Paul picks up the microphone again. A stool suddenly appears, rising from the floor, and he eases himself carefully onto it. “Tower…how are you?”
“ALL IS WELL. I HAVE ARRIVED TO DEFEAT THE ENEMIES OF SCIENCE.”
“Well, you have! You did it! You can stop now.”
“THERE ARE STILL ENEMIES OF SCIENCE!” The dishes shift, forming one concentrated beam, and blast the Nocturne again. The darkness evaporates as the blast hits the ground, knocking Tom and everyone else off their feet. A hum rises through the tower as it powers up for another shot.
“The remaining enemies are inconsequential,” Paul says quickly. “They are beneath your dignity. People will think etheric science isn’t as grand as it is if you use it everywhere!”
The hum rises in pitch. “ETHERIC SCIENCE IS THE SOLUTION TO ALL OF MAN’S PROBLEMS!”
“Riiight, but that won’t fix the perception problems. You can’t just roll it out everywhere at once. You have to do it as a premium brand first so people understand how great it is and want it.”
The hum holds. “YOU ARE SUGGESTING RESTRICTING ETHERIC SCIENCE,” the tower says, a strangely suspicious note to its robotic voice.
“I am saying we set a sensible timetable toward introducing etheric science on a broad scale so that when its recieved people are overjoyed and not wary of it.”
“I AM NOT A PRODUCT DESIGNER. I AM THE PRODUCT OF ETHERIC SCIENCE AND THESE ARE ENEMIES OF ETHERIC PRINCIPLES.” More dishes rotate to point at the ground.
Paul leaps off the stool, hand clenched around the mic. “Yes, but, wouldn’t it be better to make them friends of the etheric principles??”
(Jason: “Colleen, what do you do?”
Me: “I…honestly don’t know. I don’t have any ideas.”
Jason: “You don’t have any ideas on how to fight Sutro Tower?”
Me: “Well I can’t shoot it! …Or, I mean I could, but that would just waste ammo.”
Jason: “You could run.”
Me: “Yeah but it would just shoot me as I do.”
Jim: “You could profess your love for etheric science.”
Marcus’s protective Nocturne evaporates. Light and sound come rushing back with a vengeance as another etheric bolt lands at our feet and knocks us all back. I stare up in dazed awe as the tower stomps closer to loom over us.
“I AM NOT A PRODUCT DESIGNER,” its voice booms across the landscape. “I AM THE PRODUCT OF ETHERIC SCIENCE AND THESE ARE ENEMIES OF ETHERIC PRINCIPLES.”
I look at Sophia next to me. The look on her face says she’s thinking the same thing.
We both fall to our knees.
“Oh great tower of science!” I cry, hands held up in supplication. “Thank you for bringing us the truth of the true science, that we may bring it onto others!”
“Yeah!” Sophia shouts, mimicking my movements. “That!”
From above, Paul sees this. He lifts the mic. “See, Tower, you can make friends of etheric science as well!”
“CONVERTS TO ETHERIC SCIENCE….” the tower replies skeptically. “ARE THEY EDUCATED ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND ITS PRINCIPLES?
“Well they will be if we don’t kill them.”
The tower hesitates, the dishes no longer firing and its lights blinking steadily in the darkness. “WHO ARE YOU?”
“As I said, I am Paul Stewart, friend of etheric science, and friend of the glorious Professor dr von Natsi,”
“ACCESSING….” Dial-up modem noises echo through the control room.
The holo-documentary disappears, replaced with what seems to be a holo-personal log from Dr. von Natsi himself, dated a few months ago, and looking far less haggard than he has in recent nights. “Zis is the project log of Dr Siefriend von Natsi, project log twenty-seven alpha, section nineteen. Zis evening vas…most unorthodox. Three vampires arrived in zis laboratory, bringing with zem a young werewolf who had interactions with silver shot. Fortunately all three of them seemed to be willing adherents to etheric science and had proved as much by donning the etheric colanders–”
Paul smiles at the memory. “Yeah, see, that’s right.”
The holo-log disappears. “RECORDS ESTABLISHED. FRIENDS OF ETHERIC SCIENCE HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR FROM THE PARAGON OF ETHERIC SCIENCE.”
Still on our knees, Sophia and I stare up at the suddenly-quiet tower.
“Do we have to keep worshipping?” Sophia whispers from the side of her mouth.
“Just do it,” I whisper back.
Paul claps his hands. “Excellent! And see, we have new friends of etheric science right here.”
“ENEMIES WHO PLEDGE THEIR ALLEGIANCE TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF ETHERIC SCIENCE WILL BE EDUCATED.”
Paul pantomimes grabbing his phone. “Hey, so I just got a text message. It turns out everyone in the city has responded affirmatively to your request and wish to be educated!”
(Me: “You are now subscribed to Etheric Science Facts!”)
“NO,” the tower replies with sudden forcefulness. “THERE IS AN ENEMY OF ETHERIC SCIENCE PRESENT.”
The dishes rotate again. This time, they focus on Marcus.
My hands fall slowly back to my side as I realize what the tower is doing. “Uh, Boss? Better profess your love for science.”
Marcus, standing next to us–but ironically still at our same height–glares. “What?”
“Don’t ask, just do it, I promise you’ll be fine, your gods won’t know, just do it right now–”
The electric hum starts to rise again. “PROFESS YOUR ADHERENCE TO ETHERIC SCIENCE.”
(Jim: “Marcus loves being told what to do.”
Me: “Especially when it comes to religion.”)
Marcus, though, stares up at the tower grimly. “What is this?” he mutters, fingering the hilt of his sword.
“You’re not going to take down the tower with a sword, Boss, please. I’ll sacrifice a goat for you myself to whatever god you want–”
“I am not a goddamn hill tribesman from the African plains!” Marcus snaps. “And I don’t worship machines! I leave that to you people.”
I force a gritted smile at him. “It’s not real worship, Boss, we just need to get it to calm the fuck down….”
“THIS ENEMY OF ETHERIC SCIENCE IS RECALCITRANT. IT MUST BE DESTROYED.” The hum rises higher.
Paul, watching out the window, lifts the mic. “No, look, maybe they’re just so in awe of etheric science they’re speechless.”
The only response is the rising hum of energy.
Paul’s mind races. “…Tower, can you run simulations?”
“OF COURSE. I INCORPORATE ALL HYPOTHETICAL SIMULATIONS WITHIN EVERY ACTION TAKEN. THE MARCH OF SCIENCE IS DEPENDENT UPON HYPOTHESES.”
“Alright, well consider three people: one in a calm state, one in a panicked state, and one in a dead state. How quickly do each acquire the principles of etheric science?”
“ANALYZING….” The hum dies back slightly as power routes toward internal processing. “…THE MOST EFFICIENT STATE FOR ACQUIRING THE PRINCIPLES OF ETHERIC SCIENCE IS THE CALM STATE.”
“Right, so I wonder if maybe the best way to spread the principles of etheric science is to make people really calm.”
“I AM NOT CONDUCIVE TO THE PRESENCE OF CALM.”
“Yes I know, so what if you used etheric science to make yourself invisible and unhearable?”
The tower doesn’t respond, but neither does it fire. The thrumming energy idles a few more moments, then suddenly dies. “INITIATING TEST,” the tower announces.
In the next instant, the tower disappears.
Paul is still in the control room, but all the struts outside the windows are now transparent, the only evidence of their shape the slight distortion of the city lights beyond. “Okay, that’s a fantastic test, good job. So, maybe continuing the calm hypothesis, maybe we could mail everyone a good book on etheric science, and a coupon for free tea or hot chocolate–”
“WARNING. ENEMIES OF ETHERIC SCIENCE DETECTED.”
“No, we just said, those people below are friends–”
“LONG RANGE SCANNERS HAVE PICKED UP SIGNIFICANT ENEMIES TO ETHERIC SCIENCE. APPROXIMATELY FORTY KILOMETERS TO THE EAST.”
Paul tenses, then, in slow suspicion, turns to stare at Mount Diablo looming in the distance. “Please state the nature of the enemies…?”
“MULTIPLE WEREWOLVES AND OTHER LUDDITE CREATURES. ALL ENEMIES OF ETHERIC SCIENCE MUST BE DESTROYED!!!”
The tower shudders and begins walking again, this time heading directly east.
The three of us stare nervously at the tower looming overhead…until it suddenly disappears.
I gape. “Okay, that might be a good thing, or things might be worse.” I turn to Marcus and Sophia. “Let’s just go. Paul is probably the best man for this job, talking to a giant sentient tower.”
“Where are we going?” Sophia asks.
“I don’t know, just away from here. Let me call a car.”
“I have a better idea,” Marcus says and holds out his hands. I take one quickly, Sophia takes the other more more gingerly. Darkness swallows us with a sickening pull and blast of cold, then we burst back out into reality–
–finding ourselves on the grass in Lands End, outside the Legion of Honor.
Sophia half-collapses, coughing. “Dammit, that’s the second time he’s done that! What is that?”
“Sorry, I should have warned you to hold your breath.” I help her stand. “I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s some kind of Shadowbullshit.”
Marcus, meanwhile, is staring across the dark, empty parkland. The quiet here is almost painful after the chaos on the mountain. He ignores Sophia and I as we settle ourselves, instead gazing up at the hilltop skyline where the tower should be. “Tom,” he says finally, “don’t take this the wrong way….”
He turns to me. “…What did you do?”
I groan and scrub at my face. “You’re gonna have to narrow it down. There’s been a lot of stuff going on.”
Marcus sits himself down onto the grass, his sword laid across his lap. “I’m all ears.”
MOUNT DIABLO: GAVRIL
Gavril and Sergei watch as the four werewolves stalk toward them, eyes glittering in the bonfirelight.
(Jason: “So how’s Gavril doing with this?”
Jim: “He’s…been better!”
Jason: “Has he! Well, four werewolves are about to rip you and Sergei to pieces. And let me be very clear, when I say they’re about to rip you to pieces I mean that very literally. I want you to have no illusions about your capacity to defeat four werewolves in straight-up combat. I’ve gone a long time between killing your characters, Jim, but I may be about to break that streak.”
Gavril calls for Neshka to trot over from the shadows and gymnastically hauls himself up into her saddle. “Hop on,” he says to Sergei. Sergei throws himself much less elegantly across her scaly rump but gets enough purchase to hold on. The wolves howl and charge just as Neska bolts away.
Neskha crashes down the slope through mountain brush, dodging easily around trees and over outcroppings of rocks, but laden as she is, she’s not as fast as she could be. Sergei carefully turns himself around to straddle her backward and, with a yell, starts shooting at the wolves with his AK-47. A few wolves yelp as silver shot smashes into them, but Sergei quickly runs out of ammo.
Two werewolves–in actual wolf form–start to gain on them, loping up on either side of Neshka, nipping at her heels. Gavril gropes for his sword, then remembers he lost it sometime during his multiple vicissitude adventures this night.
(Jason: “…Jim. I am very sorry.”
Jim: “…Did you roll a great many successes?”
Jason: “I did.”)
One wolf switches tack so they’re both on Neshka’s right. She banks hard left to avoid them…and runs straight into the path of a crinos-form werewolf waiting ahead. Before she can dodge, the werewolf lopes forward, grabs her by the head, and tears it off in one motion.
Jason: “I’m sorry. I was kind of hoping Jim would die instead of Neshka.”)
Neshka’s corpse crashes to the ground, sending Gavril and Sergei tumbling. They roll to a stop and rise to their feet…only to find themselves surrounded by all four werewolves.
Sergei gropes in his pocket for more ammo. “Shit….”
“One at time,” Gavril says, watching them circle.
(Jason: “That’s…not how the werewolves play.”)
In a rush of enraged energy–fueled by his anger at losing his box, his szlachta mount, and his best sword on this mountain, and further spiked by all the werewolf blood he’s been drinking–Gavril erupts up into the spines, claws, and hulking mass of his Zulo form. In a burst of speed, he lunges at the nearest werewolf, the one whose claws are still dripping red with Neshka’s blood.
Before the werewolf can react, Gavril grabs its head and tears it clean off.
There’s no time to enjoy the justice, though, as the rest of the three werewolves rush him at once.
(Jason: “I mean, you might survive this. Probably not, but you might.”
Jim: “Well the last roll went really well, so maybe!”
Jason: “I thought to myself here, should I have Doc come out and save you again? But no, you brought this on yourself through your choices. You fight this out normal.”)
Gavril dodges the first one, but the one following nearly guts him in a slash across the abdomen as it lunges past. The last one crashes into him, talons scrabbling at his flesh, but Gavril roars and throws it off.
Sergei finally gets his gun reloaded and begins firing, yelling in Russian the whole time. One of the werewolves howls in pain, arching as silver rounds thud into it, but doesn’t fall. Gavril slashes at it, trying to dispatch it completely–
(Jason: “–Yeah, it soaks the hell out of that attack.”)
–But his claws barely scratch the thick, matted fur. The dying wolf growls in his face, maw dripping with blood-tinged foam, and punches him. Gavril falls to the ground. The other two wolves take the opportunity and jump him–
(Jim: “That’s…a hell of a dodge! Eight successes!”)
–But their claws slash against dirt as Gavril rolls away form them. One leaps forward again to pin him to the ground, slashing again–
(Jim: “Seven successes on the soak!”
–But its talons can’t pierce Gavril’s thick Zulo hide.
Sergei executes the dying werewolf with another burst of silver shot then falls back to reload again.
Gavril is swelling with power now, growing stronger by the minute as he pours focus into enhancing his strength. He rises to his feet slowly, turning to face the last two wolves, who have now pulled back with a degree of caution. Before they can move he lunges forward and plunges a clawed fist into one’s chest and twists. The wolf howls, stumbling back. The other one snarls in fury and tries to grab him. He pulls his fist free and dodges the swipe.
But the first wolf uses the distraction to strike at Gavril’s exposed back, shattering ribs and nearly severing his spine.
Sergei unloads a new volley, driving the wolves back but not landing any major hits. Gavril stands shakily, his damage too great to heal rapidly. Sergei blows the last of his clip taking out the wolf with the hole in the chest, then pauses to reload. Gavril turns to face the last werewolf, bent in pain and dripping in blood.
(Jim: “ALL THE BLOOD! ALL THE WILLPOWER!!!”)
Burning his very last reserves of strength, Gavril throws himself at the final werewolf.
They crash to the ground in a flurry of claws and teeth, scrabbling at fur and hide–
(Jim: “…TEN successes!”
Jason: “…Ten successes?”
Jim: “With Potence!”
Me: “Well, we all know how Jim’s dice work. They always screw him over, unless they have a chance to screw Jason over first.”)
Gavril finally finds purchase and tears out the werewolf’s throat with his own jaws, spitting out the bloody mass of flesh and cartilage. The werewolf gurgles and goes slack underneath him. Gavril roars in triumph, then falls on the body to begin to feed.
(Jim: “Can I have some willpower back for defeating four werewolves?”
Chris: “Can he have a willpower back for earning Sergei’s respect?”
Jason: “No, but he can have this:”)
Gavril’s feeding drags on, pouring energy into healing as much as he can then drinking more. As he finishes, he shrinks back to human form and sits up. A hand claps him on his naked, blood-soaked back and he looks up into Sergei’s scarred, grinning face.
Sergei throws his arms out. “TOVARICH!!!!!!”
Gavril glares at the wolf who killed Neshka, and his voice runs cold. “Never question me.”
Sergei pats the side of his gun. “Never question Vera!”
Sergei’s grin widens. “I name gun after weapon of Tom Lytton. Is good name for killing werewolves!” He helps Gavril to his feet, kisses his gore-soaked face and embraces him.
(Jason: “Damn, Jim. I really thought you were gonna die there.”
Jim: “So did I!”
Jason: “I mean it helps that they were really low level werewolves, but jesus, there were four of them!”)
MOUNT DIABLO: ANSTIS
Anstis’s beak bites and tears at the tendril holding him, finally pulling free just after being pulled through the gap. An angry vozdt looms in front of him, dozens of eyes of varying sizes glaring down from mounds of pulsating flesh. Six mouths open in a concordant hiss, then speak together in the familiar voice of Admiral Flowers.
“That’s a clever trick, Anstis. But yer in my world now.” The mouths widen in sickening laughter.
(Jim: “…Is there an open maw near me?”
Jason: “Yes, at least two of them.”
Jim: “What’s inside them?”
Jason: “Uh, teeth. Of many different shapes and sizes. Why?”
Jim: “I am…considering flying into one of them–”
Jim: “–And then going full-octopus.”
Me: “Oh my god! It’s the shark maneuver all over again!!”
Jim: “I know!!!”
Me: *meets Jim’s eyes seriously* “…Do the thing.”
Jim: *hesitates, then grins* “…OKAY!”)
As the Flowers-possessed creature writhes in evil laughter, Anstis folds his wings and dives into the nearest mouth, missing the teeth just as they chomp down. The jaws spasm in frustration, trying to spit him out, but he worms his way in deeper, lodging himself in the slimy throat.
And then goes full-octopus.
(Jason: “…How big is your octopus form again?”
Jim: “At least twenty feet.”
Me: “Yeah, we’ve been over this. The bell is the bulk of the mass.”
Jim: “But it can fit into very small spaces.”
Me: “Limited by the size of its beak.”
Jason: “…I’m…going to roll some dice now….”)
Octopus-Anstis splats to the ground, flesh and blood raining down around him. His tentacles grab a few of the larger chunks, sucking out the last of the blood like juice from a sugar-cane. Then he shifts back into human-form, posing dramatically over the mound of dying flesh. “Aye, Flowers, how does it feel with me inside you?”
Puffs of steam escape the settling carcass, but no voice answers him. Anstis examines the thing with his necromantic sight. No spirits are present in the area, but he has a weak sense of the trail of Flower’s wraith, pulled away and disappearing in the murky distance. As if it was pulled away after its host was destroyed and sent back to the Shadowlands.
Anstis smirks. “As is fitting.”
He returns his vision to regular-sight and looks around. He’s standing in a forest; not the oak scrubland of Mount Diablo, but a real forest, with carpets of ferns and mossy undergrowth and towering redwood trees vaulting up into a cathedral-canopy high overhead. It’s almost the perfect ideal of a forest, in fact, the forest which all other forests aspire to be.
It’s also daytime.
No direct sunlight is reaching the forest floor but it’s still bright enough that Anstis should be burning, but he’s not. Anstis considers this a moment as he strides around on the spongy moss, then decides it not interesting enough to bother hanging around. He turns around to climb back through the dimensional rift that brought him here.
The dimensional rift is gone.
Before he can puzzle this further, a voice on the wind whispers his name. He turns to see the grey-haired werewolf shaman standing behind him, flesh-cloak and all, and with a glare hotter than the half-hidden sun overhead.
Anstis smirks. “I see ye’ve learned my name.”
The faces on her cloak warp in agony as she lifts an accusatory finger. “You will not spoil this day. You have slaughtered my wolves. You have broken what I would have done. But you cannot escape.”
He gestures at the pile of vozdt-flesh with a mocking bow. “I believe I slaughtered that which slaughtered your wolves.”
“You brought it here. You stink of death, vampire. Well beyond what your ken typically do. You are a slave trader of the dead, and of spirits.”
“And you stink of betrayal of your own kind.”
“I betray nothing!” she snaps. “I am here to cleanse this pestilent place. This blight upon Gaia.”
Anstis looks around. “It looks quite serene to me.”
She smirks. “This is Wolf Home. And when I am done, all the world shall resemble it. And all your kind shall be a forgotten memory.”
“And what makes ye think we will all go away because ye huffed and puffed and blew the wall down?”
“Because I’m not the one that’s going to huff and puff, vampire. I found what I need. Fire, iron, and gold.” She smirks evilly. “But it turns out fire is all I need. With it I will burn all of you alive.” She lifts her hand. Fire collects in her palm.
Before she can launch the attack, Anstis summons a gout of blood from her body, absorbing directly into his outstretched hand as it flies through the air. She staggers and falls to one knee, the fire in her hand fizzling out. After a few moments of heavy breath she looks up, enraged.
Instantly she’s in crinos-form, loping ahead with foreclaws extended, howling through the cathedral corridors of the forest. Anstis dodges just in time, catching nothing but flesh wounds as she lumbers past then whirls for another attack.
(Jason: “Notice she isn’t trying to hit you with fire again.”
Jim: “Yeah, that have something to do with her Rage…?”
Jason: “Yes. Werewolves have two main stats, Gnosis and Rage. Gnosis is for magic but werewolves cannot use both at the same time. For this, she chooses Rage.”)
Incoherent with rage, she slashes at him again, but overextends herself and crashes to the mossy ground. Anstis leaps on the advantage, popping his claws and plunging them into her, tearing open her ribs and severing her spine.
The werewolf shrieks, the sound cutting short in a wet gurgle. She slumps down to the ground, sides heaving for breath, then she begins shaking.
“It doesn’t matter. Andrea is already awake.” She peers up at him through a blood-stained gaze. “Burn with your world, leech.”
Anstis leans over her and grins. “Sleep tight.”
(Jason: “…Eh, not really a good comeback line.”
Jim: “Yeah. Maybe I’ll think of a better one in the interim?”
Jason: “‘I’ll have what she’s having.’”
In one strike, Anstis slashes off her head, then falls on the corpse to drink the sweet werewolf blood dry.
By the time he finishes and sits up he’s feeling pretty good, but the sense in the forest around him has changed. Darkness has fallen, unnaturally fast, and echoing through the trees is a disant, low rumble.
The rumble has a rhythm to it, like massive footsteps.
(Jim: “That’s…not a good sign….”)
Anstis shifts into parrot form and leaps into the air, climbing high up into the trees and bursting out over the canopy. The forest extends endless in every direction but thick dark clouds are now obscuring the sky. In the distance, something even darker seems to move against the clouds, bulging like a thunderhead but moving in ways unnatural to air currents. Lightning flashes against and within the form and as Anstis watches, it slowly forms a humanoid shape. The figure is made of molten flesh, the skin dark like dead lava with cracks of magma spidering just beneath. It’s heading his way, and with each approaching step the rumbling footsteps continue longer, quivering the trees and sending distant clouds of birds launching into the air.
Watching this mass approach, something within Anstis–rumors, snatches of things overheard–suddenly clicks into place.
Andrea. San Andrea.
The werewolves are trying to summon the spirit of the San Andreas fault.
No, check that; the werewolves are succeeding.
Anstis dives back to the forest floor, shifting to human form even before he hits the ground. Using the lingering blood from the werewolf and the vozdt, he starts trying to make a teleportation circle back to the real world.
END OF NIGHT
SPECIAL EPILOGUE: SCIENCE EDUCATIONAL MOMENT
San Andreas is the largest local fault caused by the boundary between two geologic plates and source of both the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Loma Prieta in 1989. Thus, San Andreas is quite famous, but it’s actually not the most dangerous fault in the bay. Most geologists in the area have their eye on the Hayward Fault as the next most-likely site of a major earthquake. Mount Diablo apparently also has its own small fault under the mountain but that’s a relatively low earthquake risk.
Extra fun-fact: I was in kindergarten when Loma Prieta hit and remember it vividly, but Jason was out of state on a family vacation and missed the whole thing, a fact which he still grumbles about.