Editing San Francisco by Night

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“Ahh,” he nods. “Thank you.” With that, he nods again and walks off.
“Ahh,” he nods. “Thank you.” With that, he nods again and walks off.
I watch him go, his cane–the cane bearing his vicious sword–tapping his pace against the sidewalk, then run down the steps to Norton’s place, slamming the door behind me.
I watch him go, his cane–the cane bearing his vicious sword–tapping his pace against the sidewalk, then run down the steps to Norton’s place, slamming the door behind me.
Me: “Oh my god, I just realized: I have a radio tuned to the bad-guys’ channel, and the detonator for the explosives. I could literally go Full Die-Hard on this shit.”
Jason: “You also have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.”
I stare up at the cell-block, processing what Marcus has just told us.
Just fucking great.
I mean, I’ve been jokingly referring to the German Tremere (which is most of them) as Nazis, but that was mostly just to entertain myself and piss them off.
But, I realize, as a cold wind blows across the rocky courtyard, part of me probably knew the truth, subconsciously, before the rest of me did.
I shudder, and not from the wind.
Unfortunately, of course recall that our party is not fully together at the moment, as Georgia is off at the inn getting drunk.
And by that I mean she’s chained up in a dark solitary-confinement cell with Emperor Norton, whose stay with the Tremere came with free radical eye-surgery.
(Jason: “Do you have Auspex?”
Kara: “Yeah.”
Jason: “Ok, then you can see perfectly well.”
Kara: “Great.”
Jason: “Norton, though, probably can’t.”
Kara: “Probably not.”)
Georgia is struggling futilely with her chains when the bolt in the door screeches and the door is dragged open. Three men are standing there: two normal-looking guards with machine guns, both flanking a big, beefy, glowering guy carrying a meathook. Georgia freezes as they walk into the cell.
The big guy—whose name, incidentally, is Martin, which we know because he was the one who got in the screaming match with Norton when I last visited the island—points the meathook at Georgia. “You. How many did you come with?”
Georgia thinks. “Um…four and a half.”
His glower deepens. “You think this is funny, Fraulein? You think this a joke?”
Martin steps forward and swings, plunging the hook into Georgia’s back and dragging her to the floor. “You want to answer again, ja?” he asks calmly over her screams of pain.
He wrenches the hook out and steps back. Georgia coughs and gasps a few times then lifts herself back to a seat.
“Who did you come with?” he repeats.
“Um, well there’s the Pirate, the Loose Canon, the Small-Fry, and the Executive. Oh, and a bird.”
(The room goes quiet as we ponder these.
Me: “Wait, am I the Loose Canon!?”
Jason: “I’m trying to figure out which one’s the Executive and which one’s the Small Fry….”)
Martin twirls the meat hook ominously. “You bring outsiders to this island, you kill our guards and you kill our allies. You betray the Tremere and you betray the Chantry!”
Georgia pulls herself up proudly, or as best she can. “This place is against everything the Tremere are working toward!”
(Jason: *laughs* “That is such a lie. This place is exactly what the Tremere are working toward, and you know that!“)
“This facility was authorized at the highest level, and you know that,” Martin growls.
Georgia lifts her chin. Whether or not she believes the lies she’s spouting, she’s pushing on with them. “Just because one arm of the Tremere has OK’d it doesn’t mean the other has.”
Martin leans back, his face showing mock-surprise. “Ooooh, we have here…what you call…we have a narc…. You wish to run off to the High Chantry and report all the bad things that your rivals have been doing? Do you know what we do with the narcs in this place?”
Georgia glances at Norton. “…Yes?”
Martin smiles. “Good, then you should expect something like this.” He nods to the guards. They drop their guns to their hips and take out very large knives.
“Start with the extremities,” he says to them, then walks out.
Outside, things are just getting good and ominous as we stare at the cell block when Paul’s phone rings. It’s Gates, so he immediately takes it.
I frown at him. “Is this really the time to be taking calls, Paul?”
He glares at me and walks a few feet away, still glued to the phone. The rest of us can’t hear all the details, of course, but their conversation basically amounts to the fact that Gates is at Tesseract, with Klaus, and there’s…some freaky shit going on. They caught an intruder, and…well…Paul needs to get there as soon as he can to see it for himself.
Anstis sidles up to me as I’m straining to hear the conversation. “Who he be talking to?” he growls.
“It’s…a communication device,” I say, trying to ignore him so I can listen.
Apparently the only thing scarier than whatever the hell Klaus caught is Klaus himself. He’s storming around campus, trying to wrangle order amongst the few people that are there, and his frustration is only increasing. Paul informs Gates that Klaus knows about the whole vampire thing now and is very concerned about protecting the people and the company from these forces that he barely understands.
“This one be a Malkavian?” Anstis asks, still staring at Paul suspiciously.
“It’s the modern world, Mr. Anstis,” Marcus sighs. “Everyone is a Malkavian.”
Paul finishes the call and rejoins us. Anstis stares at the phone in his hand before Paul puts it away.
We discuss strategy. There are at least twenty guards, who are mostly human, but they are armed with stacks of various defenses, including flamethrowers and other incendiary devices.
“What we need is a surprise of our own.” Anstis jerks his head toward the dock. “Does that boat back there carry any powder?”
We stare at him a moment. Marcus figures it out first. “Oh, gunpowder. I doubt it. But they might have something better. You’d know it as naptha, the rest as gasoline.”
We obviously can’t just burn down the prison, though, since it’s made of concrete and stone. We consider setting a trap and luring them toward it. There are a lot of wooden crates around, perhaps we can use those to start a fire.
“Speaking of crates, Boss, before we met you, we found a crate at the gift shop that contained a stone sarcophagus like the one you were trapped in, only much larger.”
Marcus nods. “A Tremere warding sarcophagus, used to transport prisoners. Or I suppose gargoyles.”
“I tried to open it, but couldn’t,” Anstis adds.
“No, it probably wouldn’t. Tremere sarcophagi won’t open without either the key or the application of sufficient force to destroy anything inside.”
Of course we know that a key exists, but unfortunately it is with Georgia.
At the mention of Georgia, though, Marcus’s face darkens. “This begs the question, since she is not here…. I appreciate that you are all from the modern world and the modern world operates differently, and you all seem to all believe it is wise to trust this Tremere.” He looks at us in turn, especially Paul and I. “I know better. I know the Tremere from back in the day, I know what they are capable of, and I know what they invariably do to those that trust them. One day I’ll tell you the story of a clan called Salubri.”
Marcus is still keen on leaving no one alive on the island, both because everyone here is obviously implicated with some fucked up shit, and because having no witnesses to report to the Tremere and tie the attack back to us is a reasonable strategy as well.
Marcus stares at the cellblock again. “If we’re making a clean sweep of the Tremere on this island I see no reason not to include this one….” Meaning, of course, Georgia.
I’m torn. On the one hand, there’s been no love lost between me and the Tremere, all the Tremere, since Isaac the Dick tried to Dominate me (and not in the fun way) outside the Chantry last fall. And, in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been taking my loyalty to Marcus very seriously, so I’ve taken the attacks on him and Aquilifer personally as well.
But, on the other hand (which is still currently missing, fyi) Georgia did risk her own life to help save Sophia, and was instrumental in rescuing Marcus himself. I still don’t entirely know why she did all that, but it does give her some points in my book and makes me uncomfortable with the idea of so casually throwing her under the bus.
Perhaps if I convince him that she’s really a part of Team Marcus, he’ll view the situation differently. “Isn’t…she bound to you now, Boss?”
“Is she?” He looks at me pointedly. “There are bonds in the universe stronger than mine. One can never be sure. I know the Tremere, I have known them for a very long time, and before them I knew the ones they devoured. I have never known a Tremere that could be trusted, for any purpose. Ever.”
I nod and let the matter drop, but Paul gives it a shot. “We’re not going to judge anyone for things they haven’t done yet,” he says matter-of-factly.
Marcus snorts. “May the universe accord you the same respect, then.”
Anstis stares at Paul, arms folded. “Is he always this naive?” he asks, directing the question at Marcus.
Marcus sighs and flutters a hand. “It’s the modern world, they’re all young. They’ll learn. And I supposed the burned hand teaches best.”
Now I glower. Seriously? Captain No-Pants here has only been on Team Marcus for…what, all of four hours, and he’s already angling to be Bottom-Bitch?
Fuck that noise.
Marcus brings the conversation back around to the attack plan. He’s not keen on simply marching in there, mostly because of the flamethrowers, so the three of them discuss ways to lay traps or sneak around. I, though, am staring down the hill at the ferry, remembering what we said earlier about gasoline.
More importantly, though, something has occurred to me.
“Boss,” I interject, “Sebastian said that he had entered into a ‘partnership’ of some sort with Leopold, so I would assume that Leopold was getting something out of the deal as well….”
Everyone follows my gaze down toward the ferry. They agree that this is a good point, perhaps Sebastian was trading weapons or something else of use. We decide to check it out, so head back down the hill toward the docks.
Meanwhile, Georgia is having a bad time.
(Kara: “Not yet.”
Jason: “…Um, yes.”
Kara: “No, not yet.”
Jason: “Oh, I’m sorry, is it going to be worse later?”
Kara: “I don’t know, maybe.”
Jason: “…Let me be less coy. The two guards begin to beat and slice you.”
Kara: “But they don’t, because I get to take actions at this point.”
Jason: “Oh, you wish to take actions? Very well….”)
The guards approach her, knives drawn. Georgia is still sprawled awkwardly on the floor, tangled in her chains. She looks up at them, meeting the eyes of the one closest to her.
“Are you sure you don’t want to…Release me?” she asks, dropping a whole lot of Dominate on the word release. He hesitates momentarily, then drops his knife to reach for the keys. He leans over and pops the cuffs on Georgia’s wrist.
The other guard doesn’t notice this, though, as he is stepping forward to slash at Georgia with his knife. He gashes her across the upper arm, then stops as he realizes what has just happened. She is now free.
And he is now in big trouble.
She grabs his hand, casting Blood to Water, which does pretty much exactly what you’d think it does. His skin instantly goes pale. He spasms, gurgles once, then collapses on the floor, dead.
(Note that part of the process of this was, like, five minutes of us discussing the hypothetical physiological effects of having one’s blood replaced with water. We agreed that the main issues would be lack of oxygen and burst cells from the hypertonicity. We even go far as to debate how long someone would remain conscious and how much pain they would be in.
Jesus fucking christ what is wrong with this fucking game….)
The other guy stumbles back. The Dominate has dropped, so he stares in horror and confusion at what just happened. He curses and pulls his machine gun around.
Both he and Georgia, though, have momentarily forgotten that there is someone else in the room.
Norton’s voice drifts from the other side of the cell. “Mind the leeches,” it says lightly.
The guard screams and drops his gun, clawing at his face. He runs blindly and crashes into a wall. Georgia immediately hauls to her feed and falls on him, draining him dry.
Meanwhile, we’ve reached the ferry. The engines and lights are off, no sign of anyone around or movement inside.
Anstis appraises it as we walk up the gangplank. “How does this boat sail?”
“Magic,” Marcus calls back from the front.
Anstis looks at me. I shrug. It’s certainly a better answer than trying to explain intricate details to him all the time.
We reach the deck. It’s a single-hulled ferry, rather than one of the catamarans, so it’s not too large. Still, we split up to search. Paul covers the main deck, Anstis and I head up to the bridge, and Marcus heads down to the hold.
Paul soon discovers a series of enormous crates, lashed down toward the stern. He sticks his head in the stairwell to the hold to inform Marcus, but the stairwell is dark, and in fact has gotten darker. He can hear muffled noises of things being moved around. He decides to leave Marcus to whatever he’s going and goes to find Anstis and me instead.
Anstis and I poke around the bridge. I dig through cabinets, but Anstis is enthralled by the navigation equipment.
“Do all boats run on magic these days?” he asks, tapping the glass of an inactive screen.
“No,” I call back over my shoulder. “We still have sailboats, but they’re mostly for fun. Most of them have magic as a backup, through.”
I stop as something occurs to me. “If…you get interested in hanging around sailboats, and ever run into a guy named Ellison, no matter what you do, don’t. Tell him. Anything. Don’t even talk to him. And for the love of god, don’t Embrace him.”
Paul comes up the stairs at that moment. “What about Ellison? Is he here?”
“No, I just told Anstis not to talk to him.”
Paul snarls. “Fucking asshole….” he mutters under his breath. Anstis stares at the two of us but doesn’t say anything.
Paul recovers, tells us about the crates, and we follow him back down to check them out.
They’re wooden crates, and large. Large enough to hold a small elephant. We walk around them, peering under the nylon webbing lashing them down. In many places, the wood has been engraved with symbols. Paul and I recognize them as some kind of Tremere occult symbols.
Anstis, though, thinks they’re symbols of the East India Trading Company. Before we can stop him, he shreds his way through the webbing and tears the nearest one open.
Anstis wrenches the top off and stops. “Where be the tobacco and spices?” he mutters. Paul and I climb up to look inside.
There’s no spices, of course, nor are there weapons, like I was hoping. Instead the crate is filled with more stone sarcophagi, packed in like sardines. There are at least a dozen in this crate. I look across the deck. There are four crates on this deck alone, and who knows what Marcus has found below.
Just like before, these sarcophagi are sealed with star-shaped locks. On one of the, though, close to us at the top of the crate, the star is shifted out of alignment. We haul it out of the crate and place it on the deck. Anstis lifts at the lid experimentally. Surprisingly, it opens.
Revealing a gargoyle inside.
It’s smaller than the ones at the Chantry, but still large. Fortunately it’s staked.
“We should call this in,” I mutter. “Boss?” I yell.
Marcus comes up the stairs. The noise of objects being shifted and moved continues to echo from the hold, though. “Did you find—oh my….” He approaches the sarcophagus. “Well, well…it looks like we’ve found at least part of our quarry.”
Marcus sizes up the other crates. “So you were able to get this one open, what of the others?”
“This one was not closed properly,” Anstis says.
Marcus frowns. “I’ve never known the Tremere to be sloppy. Has it occurred to you there might be a reason?”
We look at each other. I speak up first. “Well…they weren’t expecting us to take over the ferry—“
“No, but they were expecting someone who wasn’t Tremere to take it off this island.”
We stare at the gargoyle thoughtfully.
Anstis flicks the stake with one of his claws. “What happens if we take this out?”
“It will awaken. At which point, we will discover what it’s been programmed to do,” Marcus says.
“How do they…program…it?”
“They look it in the eyes and tell it what it must do. Gargoyles are built to serve.”
“Can we not do the same?”
“We might, but there may be a geis upon this one. Still, I could likely bend it to my will if I needed. Might be worth a try.” Marcus shrugs. “Normally I’d burn the thing alive, but….”
“…We could use more firepower,” I add.
“Yes, well we seem to be making a habit of arranging deals with those that we ought to by rights burn alive, so, I’ll let you all have your head in this regard.”
Anstis hands his gun to me and leans over the sarcophagus to grip the stake. Paul hovers nearby, ready to blast the gargoyle with some Awe to hopefully keep him subdued enough for Marcus to get his Dominate off. When everyone is in place, Paul nods to Anstis. He pulls the stake out in one movement.
The gargoyles eyes flutter open. Paul leans in. “Do you know where you are?” he asks, blasting it with the full strength of his Awe.
The gargoyle looks at him. “I obey,” he rumbles in a voice like grinding stone, and lifts one of his hands from where it was wedged between him and the wall of the sarcophagus.
In the hand is a square device that looks unmistakably like a detonator.
I react first, diving forward to grab his wrist, pinching his tendons to keep his thumb from compressing. While we struggle, Anstis steps forward, slicing at the gargoyle’s hand with his claws. He severs the hand, but unfortunately cuts deep gouges across my own in the process.
My last good hand. Of course.
The gargoyle growls and starts to sit up, but before he can, six tendrils of darkness loom out of the shadows around us, grab him, and thrust him back down. The lid slams closed. The whole sarcophagus shudders and shakes from heavy thumps hitting the lid, but it stays sealed.
We regain our composure. Paul leans over to pick up the detonator from the severed hand on the floor.
“What is that?” Anstis asks.
“It makes something explode,” Paul says. “…Probably. We don’t know what yet.”
“Son of a bitch,” Marcus mutters, staring at the sarcophagus thoughtfully.
“Boss, were there explosives in the hold below?”
“No…” he says, “I know where the explosives are….” He turns to us. “The rest of the caskets.”
(The entire room: “Oooooooooooooooooooh….”)
“Open one of them to show him the gargoyle, assume he won’t check the others. Pack this boat with enough explosives to reduce it to matchsticks and send him on his way. Isn’t that what he did to you?”
Right now, if I had them, my hands would be clenching, but at the moment all I can do is glower. Goddamn Nazi son of a bitch….
Marcus walks across the deck, looking at the crates. “Didn’t you say something about looking for a bunch of Semtex, Tom?”
I stop, surprised I hadn’t made the connection yet. “Yes….”
“Well I doubt two people lost massive shipments of it.”
My mind reels through all the information I’ve picked up on that case so far. “Everyone’s been assuming that this guy Helgi had the Semtex, though….”
“Well, as large as this is, it isn’t a thousand pounds-worth.”
(Jim: “Have I heard of Helgi before?”
Jason: “Roll for it.” *Jim rolls* “Yeah, you have a vague memory of hearing the name before, but not much more than that.”
Me: “Wait, shouldn’t Marcus know the name?”
Jason: “Yes, but Marcus already knew he was in town. Helgi…isn’t the most subtle of guys.”)
Right now I would be rubbing my face with my hands, if they weren’t mangled and/or missing. I hate this intrigue bullshit. All I care about is what the solution is and who I need to punch on my way to get there. We’ve been hearing about this Helgi guy for months and I’m still not sure what to think about him, but I know that I’ll have a lot of questions for him for when we finally do meet.
For now, though, on the plus side, we came looking for some sort of weapon, and ended up finding casket upon casket filled with a metric shit-ton of explosives.
And now we have the detonator.
Yippie-kay-yay, mother fuckers.
Back in the cell block, Georgia has retrieved the keys from the guard she just killed and has released Norton as well. She helps him to his feet. He is better than he was when she first arrived, but he is still obviously very unsteady and disoriented.
“Emperor, it’s time to go,” she says, leading him toward the door.
“Ah, yes. Forgive me, I cannot…see very well.”
“Ah, well it’s quite dark in here, if that helps you feel any better.”
Norton looks around with a little more confidence than one would expect from someone without any eyes. “It is, isn’t it. Well, it matters not. But first…. Where is my sword?”
Georgia instinctively looks around, even though it is obviously not in the cell. “Well, we’re just going to have to go find it, aren’t we?”
Norton hesitates. “…YES!!!!” he barks, raising a fist, and rushes out of the cell. Georgia charges after him.
They come out on a catwalk on the second floor of the cellblock.  The area appears to be empty, but lights are on in a guard station immediately to their left. Georgia turns and sees a guard standing inside, staring at her and Norton in shock.
Her gaze pierces his. “Silence!” she commands. He staggers briefly, mouth gaping uselessly, but he lifts his rifle and loads a round into the chamber.
“Hey!” Georgia says, holding out a finger. “Hey…. That’s noisy!” The guard, though, butts the rifle to his shoulder and sights along the barrel.
“Uh, Norton,” Georgia mutters, “We have a problem….”
Norton wheels in the general direction of the guard station. “SNAKES!!!! EVERYWHERE SNAKES!!!!!” he roars.
The guard shrieks and starts firing at the floor in a panic.
Unfortunately, Georgia gets hit with the full force of the spell too. She screams and presses herself against the wall. “Snakes!!!” she yells, staring at the floor in terror. “Why are there so many snakes, Norton???”
Norton, though, is now fully lost to Malkavian madness. “THERE ARE SNAKES AAAALWAAAAYS!!!”
Down at the dock, we hear shots echoing from the prison. “Guess the party is starting,” I mutter.
“Seems like that’s our call,” Anstis says, and lifts an entire sarcophagus—one of the sealed ones—to his shoulder. I grab one too, just managing to hoist and balance it on my shoulder without a full working hand. Marcus takes one as well, but instead of lifting it himself, one of his tendrils wraps around it and raises it up on a column of inky shadow.
Paul and Anstis head immediately down the gangplank to the dock, but I linger back, staring at my mangled right hand. “Boss,” I say slowly, “I can heal my damage here, but it’s…gonna take a lot out of me. I might be useless without it, but…. I haven’t frenzied since the first time, twenty years ago, and I don’t really know what would happen….” I trail off.
He looks at me, face unreadable. “Are you a vampire?” he asks.
I look at the sarcophagus on my shoulder, easily weighing close to a ton. “…I guess?”
The shadow underneath his sarcophagus is spilling forward, gathering around his feet and climbing higher. “Then it’s time you learned,” he says grimly. The shadow swells, engulfing him and the casket. It swirls once, then dissipates. They’re gone.
I hesitate a moment, then hurry down the gangplank after Paul and Anstis.
Georgia is still screaming, trying to stomp at the snakes she sees on the floor, but every time she hits one it splits into two new snakes.
She presses her back against the wall.
(Jason: “There’s snakes on the wall.”)
She presses her back against Norton.
(Jason: “There’s snakes on Norton.”
Kara: “Why are there snakes everywhere?!”
Jason: “Because there’s snakes!”
Chris: “Were there ever not snakes?”
Jason: “No. At no point has there ever been not-snakes.”
Chris: “Have all of her memories become snakes?”
Jason: “Yes.”
Chris: “Then why does this seem unusual to her?”
Jason: “It doesn’t. But there’s still snakes.”
Kara: “I…calm down.”
Jason: “No. There’s snakes.”
Chris: “My hope is that when Colleen does her writeup there are two paragraphs of just ‘Snakes. Snakes. Snakes. Snakes.’ “
Me-in-the-past: >:|
Me-in-the-present: >:|
Jason: “Roll me courage plus snakes.”
Kara: “Wait, what?”
Chris: “Wait, that’s good! You have all the snakes!”
Jason: “Ok, roll me courage plus snakes, minus snakes.”
Kara: “Ok, I get…two snakes.”
Me: “What is happening??? Why are all the words being replaced with snake??”
Jason: “Because it’s madness, it’s not supposed to make sense!!”)
Norton appears to be a shape made up entirely of writing snakes. Georgia screams and turns to run the other direction down the catwalk, but stops as a shadowy apparition coalesces in front of her. It dissipates…
…Leaving another form made up of writhing snakes. Trapped between these two forms, Georgia cowers in the middle of the catwalk.
Then, suddenly, all of the snakes at her feet disappear.
Georgia carefully climbs back to her feet and looks around. Norton’s mania seems to have passed. He is now gripping the railing of the catwalk unsteadily. The guard from the guard room has completely disappeared.
And standing at the other end of the catwalk, where the second snake-figure appeared, is Marcus, standing in front of a large stone sarcophagus.
Georgia throws up her arms excitedly. “Marcus! Excellent timing!”
He frowns at her. “How did you get out?” he asks suspiciously, looking between her and the obviously-weakened Norton.
“Um…with the key,” she says (which is the best kind of smart-ass response: one that’s actually true).
His eyes narrow further. “They gave you the key to your own cell?”
Georgia laughs, completely oblivious to his suspicion. “Oh, ha, no. I dominated one of the guards and got the key off of him.”
Marcus regards her silently for a few moments, glancing at the guard lying dead in the doorway to the cell.
She follows his gaze. “Oh, I wouldn’t drink that one. He has water in his veins.”
Marcus’s head snaps back to her. He stares at her again, but this time in confusion. “Does…he…? Well…he is Tremere….”
(We look at Jason with similar levels of surprise and confusion. He’s grinning and chuckling to himself.
“What? Is that an expression or something?” I ask.
“It is in Latin. Someone who had water in their veins could never be trusted for any purpose.”
The room explodes in laughter.)
Georgia stares at Marcus vacantly. He flutters a hand. “Nevermind. Where are the rest of them?”
“The rest of who? The guards? Well there’s another one in there—“
“The rest of the Phoenicians, who do you think I mean??” Marcus barks.
“Well you know about as much as I do, cause I just came out of that room. And then the world turned to snakes, and then you got here.”
“Where. Are. The rest. Of the Tremere ghouls,” he says, voice darkening, but before Georgia can answer, gunfire erupts from below.
Georgia throws herself back, away from the railing, but gets hit a couple times before getting clear. She presses against the wall, but from where she is standing, she can see more guards pouring into the cellblock on the ground floor.
All of them are aiming up.
Paul, Anstis, and I reach the front doors of the cellblock, which are still locked. We can hear more gunfire inside the building, but so far there’s still no sign of guards outside. We debate using one of the sarcophagi to blow the doors.
The problem, of course, is we only have the one detonator, which conceivably will blow all of the Semtex at once, so we can’t use just one. Also we can’t blow it till we know if Marcus is clear from his yet.
We settle down to wait.
Georgia is cowering against the wall, trying to decide which way to run, when someone grabs her arm. She screams and looks over.
It’s Marcus. His face is angry but focused, a few stray bullet holes healing on it as she watches. “Take the madman,” he hisses. Georgia reaches over and grabs Norton’s arm.
Darkness wells up around them. Georgia is overwhelmed with absolute, bone-chilling cold, slicing through her as if she wasn’t even there. Then the moment passes and all three of them are outside.
Standing in front of us, blinking at them in surprise.
I sigh in relief to see Norton, but it’s short lived, as I take in the extent of his injuries. “Oh, Jesus, Emperor….” I mutter.
Anstis frowns. “That is the Emperor?”
I ignore Anstis and try to pull myself together. “Boss, what do you want us to do with these?” I gesture at the sarcophagi.
“Throw them against the wall and run,” he says darkly, turning to stare at the cellblock.
We follow suit, dropping both caskets against the wall and bolting down the hill to find cover wherever we can, Georgia leading Norton with her. Marcus, though, lingers, staring at the doors.  Tendrils of darkness lift from the shadows around him and fuse into one large tentacle that wraps around him. The shadow starts to lift him up, but right before it does, he steps forward and shoves the sarcophagi against the doors. Moments later, there’s a thud and muffled yells as people start pounding on the other side of the doors. The tendril whisks Marcus away toward cover on another side of the island.
(Me: *Hums as I doodle* “Cool guys don’t run from explosions….”
Jim: “It’s ‘Don’t Look At Explosions.’ “
Me: “What?? Aw goddammit! I just spent the last two minutes drawing the phrase as ‘Run From Explosions’ in grafitti-letters in my notebook!!”)
Paul and I have hunkered down near each other, behind some cement rubble. Paul pulls out the detonator, flicks the cover off, and peers over the rubble. The voices behind the door are getting louder and the thumps stronger, as if more people are gathering to push at the doors. Paul continues to wait, watching the doors closely.
The thumps are getting stronger, now visibly rattling the sarcophagi. I glance at him nervously. “Paul….”
He holds up a hand. The voices grow stronger, then finally there is one large thump that actually opens the door a few inches. Someone tries to peer out.
Paul clicks the button.
A pillar of flame erupts to our right, coming from the docks down the hill. We’re buffeted by the concussion, but otherwise untouched.
The sarcophagi in front of us, though, are still whole.
Paul and I glance at each other. Crap, maybe the caskets are filled with gargoyles, and the Semtex was hidden somewhere else on the—
Moments later, the sarcophagi in front of us explode as well.
The entire front of the building vaporizes instantly, blasting rubble toward us, along with a much stronger shock-wave. Everything on the  south side of the island that’s in line with the shock wave shatters, showering dust and rubble.
(Jason: “Everything, including the actual lighthouse.”
Me: *Gasps in actual horror* “OH NO!!! The LENS!!!!!”)
We’re protected from the worst of the shockwave, but since this explosion was closer, we still get buffeted pretty hard. Paul and I manage to hang on to our cover, as does Anstis, but Georgia and Norton are blown out toward the bay.
Georgia slams into the water. She’s beat up but otherwise uninjured. She regains her senses, orients herself toward the island, and starts swimming toward it. She’s only fifty feet or so from shore, but the current is strong, and despite her efforts she is starting to move away from the island.
Meanwhile, once the heat and the smoke clear and all the largest pieces of rubble seem to have fallen, Paul, Anstis, and I get up to check out the damage.
Half of the cellblock is gone, just gone, like it was ripped off. The rest of the building is sagging from the damage. The courtyard is littered with concrete and rebar. Paul and I pick our way through cautiously. There’s no sign of the guards who were trying to beat down the door. Likely there’s nothing left of them to even find. We survey the damage, expressionless with shock. From this vantage point we can also see the wreckage of the ferry—and, in fact, the entire dock complex—burning below us to the east.
Well, Leopold did say he liked Michael Bay movies….
“Boss?” I call out hesitantly. No response.
Paul pulls his sword, the one he took from Sebastian, and steps into the shell of the building.
Anstis notices Georgia struggling in the bay and wanders toward her, shaking his head. He stands on the shore and watches her lack of progress.
“Ye alright there, Tremere?” he shouts.
“You could throw a rope or something!” she shouts between strokes. Anstis looks around. There’s nothing of the sort nearby, so he shrugs and continues to just watch her.
Finally, she catches an eddy in the current and is able to pull herself onto shore. Anstis climbs down to help her onto the rocks. She coughs and sputters, hauling herself to her feet….
…And sees Norton, lying on the rocks nearby.
Georgia gasps and scrambles over to him, followed by Anstis. If Norton was beat up before, he is absolutely pulverized now—torn to shreds in some places, even—and unconscious. Georgia stares in shock.
Anstis, though, barely bats an eyepatch before leaping into action. He hoists Norton—big guy though he is—to his shoulder. “He be needing blood,” he announces, then starts scrambling along the shore, in the direction of the two guards we left unconscious—but not dead—on the north side of the island, by the “lighthouse,” now ret-conned to “the radio tower.”
Paul and I peer into the disemboweled carcass of the cellblock. We can’t see much through the dust and the smoke, but right no there’s no sign of anyone, or anything, moving.
Still, I linger back as Paul climbs in through the rubble.  He asks what’s wrong. I tell him the same thing I told Marcus, that I’m low on blood and things could go pear-shaped rather quickly, and if they do then he should gtfo my way cause I have no idea what would happen. He nods, and we enter the ruins.
One whole half of the cellblock has collapsed into a mountain of metal shards and concrete. We split up, looking for signs of Leopold and his men.
Paul finds a sign first, at the far end of the cellblock. Three men are smashed up against the remains of the wall, flattened like bugs on a windshield. The rest of the wall has collapsed into a pile of rubble.
Half-buried in the rubble is another guy, human, barely still alive, wheezing and straining for a gun just out of his reach.
The man doesn’t notice as Paul approaches, but looks up when Paul places a hand on his shoulder.
“Let it go,” Paul says softly. “Let it go….”
The man gasps harder, eyes rolling in terror. Paul’s no doctor, but even he can see that this man is beyond help.
“Nothing can be done for you now,” Paul says, “but I can make it quick.”
The man wheezes harder, gasping words that sound like German, but it’s hard to tell.
I catch up with Paul and stand behind him, staring quietly at the guard.
“Tom I don’t think this man is long for this world,” Paul says without turning around. “But, um…there may be some mercy….”
I groan and rub my face with the remains of my one hand. He’s right of course, this solves my blood problem rather neatly.
I’ve killed before, obviously; by accident, in the heat of battle, or both. But I haven’t yet approached a human like this with the express purpose of killing them, especially not one who’s functionally helpless.  (Good thing Georgia’s not around….) But Marcus’s words still ring heavy in my head.
“Fine,” I say and step forward, kicking the gun further out of the man’s reach just in case. His babbling stops as I bend over him. He waves his arms feebly in an effort to grab my coat. I let him.
He pulls himself up slightly and whispers in my ear, “…..Heil Hitler….
Ooooooooh! Oh FUCK! THIS!! GUY!!!!
Qualms gone. I do the thing.
Paul’s still there as I finish, watching me. I stand up and unceremoniously wipe blood off my chin with my right hand, now healed.
“He say something?” Paul asks.
I snarl down at the body. “Yeah, fuck that guy. They’re Nazis man, they’re all Nazis, and I don’t even mean this ironically.”
(Chris and Jason: *chant together* “Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, but at least it was an ethos!!”
Me: *sadly quotes Philip Seymour Hoffman* “This is our concern, dude….”)
Paul picks up the machine gun, I show him briefly how to use it, and we continue through the cellblock. We find more rubble—pieces of the cellblock, pieces of guards—but it’s still quiet. Most of the rooms off of the cellblock are collapsed or blocked with rubble, but we find a door at the rear that seems to be still intact. Paul kicks it open. Behind it is another cellblock room thats been converted to a factory room, filled with crates, equipment, and more sarcophagi.
And blood-stained meat hooks hanging from the ceiling. Because of course there fucking are.
Georgia catches up with us as we’re staring into the room. We step through and peer around in ominous silence.
Then the silence breaks for Paul.
“Who want’s to play catch?” Mr Tails wheedles in Paul’s ear.
Paul hesitates. “Well, that’s ominous…” he mutters. “Mr. Tails, would you care to elaborate?” Georgia and I both stare at Paul in concern, although my concern is of a considerably different nature than hers.
“It’s a fun game! Catch the baaaaaall!” Mr. Tails squeals joyfully.
Paul frowns into the darkness. As he stares, a shape stands up from behind a pile of rubble across the room and throws something at us.
“BACK!” Paul yells, shoving us back to the doorway. Georgia and I stumble through, followed by Paul, moments before something explodes in the room behind us.
(Me: “Yaaaaaay, you just had your first Mr. Tails Quicktime Event!”)
More rubble and shrapnel land around us but we’re largely unhurt. Paul, though, apparently forgets what clan he is and decides to go Full Brujah on the room. He hoists his machine gun and runs back into the room, spraying wildly in front of him. We hear the shots ricochet of concrete, then someone screams. Paul stops shooting.
Then more gunfire erupts, directed at him.
Anstis, meanwhile, has reached the incapacitated guards on the far side of the island, Norton in tow. He dumps one of the guards on Norton, who has just enough instinct to bite and exsanguinate him, then drops the other one (after taking a few bites for himself first).
Norton tosses the last guy aside and sits up, staring groggily at Anstis, even though his eyes are still missing. “Who are you?”
Anstis draws himself up tall in the shitty stolen coveralls. “Thomas Anstis!”
Norton peers at him sightlessly. “Anstis…. Captain Anstis!?”
“Aye!” Anstis grins. “You’ve heard of me?”
“You should be dead! Are you dead, Sir??”
“Betrayed by me own crew, I be. But alive now.”
“VIIIIIIIIIILE TREACHERY!!!!!” Norton roars, scaring a flock of gulls from the Not-the-Lighthouse.
Anstis eyes Norton appraisingly. “So, an emperor you be?”
Norton slams his hand on the ground, nearly cracking the stone. “IIIIII AM EMPEROR NORTON THE FIRST!!!! RULER OF THESE UNITED STATES, AND PROTECTOR OF MEXICOOOO!!” He punctuates the last three words with more pounding on the ground.
Anstis strokes his chin (which, I am going to declare, has a damn-fool beard on it just like Jim does). “The Viceroyalty of New Spain?”
“The Viceroyal have left long ago. These lands ARE NOW MINE!!!”
Anstis glances at the skyline, glittering across the bay. “Tell me of these United States….”
Anstis slowly pulls some useful information out of Norton, finally getting the sense of where the hell he is: the western shore of North America, and not Spain like he had first assumed. Whether or not be believes that Norton is actually the emperor of this land is still up in the air, but his pirate sensibilities say that, for now, it is probably better to be safe than sorry. Emperor or not, Norton could eventually be worth something.
“We best be getting you off this island,” Anstis says.
“Yes…. Have you a VESSEL???”
“I…be without a ship at the moment.” Anstis glances toward the bay again. The cargo ship from earlier is gone, but there are a few other delectable-looking small craft moving around on this calm night. “Do you happen to know the fate of me ship? The Good Fortune?”
Shockingly, Norton recognizes that name too. “Sunk with all hands. At the hands of the Royal Navy.”
Anstis stares at the water and clenches a fist. “Admiral. John. Flowers….” he growls.
(Me: “Lol, Nemesis….”)
After a few moments, Anstis shakes himself out of his reverie.  “I did not see another ship on the island, but there may be other ways.”
“Where are the others?”
“They be inside. I heard the…pistols.”
Norton’s face darkens. “Yes…pistols. We shall allow them their pistoling. And then we shall see what befalls the enemies of the emperor. There will be…a reckoning….”
Anstis looks up the hill toward the cellblock—largely undamaged on this side—looming over them. “Shall we discover the remaining secrets of this place?”
Norton chuckles grimly. “That is the work of a lifetime, Captain.”
“Well then we best get started, for we live longer than life’s time.”
Paul continues to stand in the middle of the room, spraying shots at any movement he sees around him. I, though, having had more than my fair share of X-Box time in the years before I lost all my shit at my apartment, take cover just inside the doorway and start shooting cover fire for him.
Paul blasts the room with Awe (he’s getting pretty good at it), telling everyone to stop. The men firing at us—two of them—both stop.
“Nazis, eh….” Paul mutters, then shouts, “The Fuehrer is dead! Himmler is dead! Your cause is defeated and you are disgraced! Go now with dignity!”
A tense moment passes. The two guards look at each other. Georgia sticks her head around the doorway. She and I stare at Paul in confusion.
Then one of the guards yells in German and starts firing again.
I decide that enough is enough. I launch over my cover and dash at the guard firing at Paul, tackling him to the ground and biting him to finish the job.
Paul turns to the other guard. “Throw down your weapons!” There’s a clatter of a gun hitting the floor, then the guard turns and bolts from the room. Paul and Georgia dash after him, followed by me as soon as I can.
The guard runs toward a heavy door at the far side of the “factory” floor. He crashes into it and tugs at the handle with all his weight. Even in his adrenaline-fueled panic, though, it’s too much for him, and we catch up. I grab him by the back of the neck and pull him away from the door. He babbles in German and claws weakly at my forearm, eyes rolling in panic.
Before I can do anything, Paul interjects. “Tom, he threw down his weapon….”
I hesitate. Urg, Nazi or not, Paul’s right. I pivot the man around to face me. “Hey! Sprechen Sie talk?” I growl in his face.
The man’s eyes roll wider but he nods. “Ja, Ja, I…spreche ze English!”
I look at Paul. Paul jerks his head toward the door. “What’s through there?”
(Me: “Wait, I took two months of German in high school—“
Chris: “Did Tom?”
Me: “……No, I took five YEARS of German, Tom took two months—“
Jason: “Yeah, well Teufelraum was not in his vocabulary.”
Me: “DAMMIT but I know what it means!!!”)
We look at each other blankly. We press him for more info but we seem to have reached the limits of his English vocabulary. He keeps repeating “Teufelraum,” then starts mimicking a strange buzzing sound.
We decide to investigate further. Paul tells the man to find somewhere to hide until sunrise. I scoff and roll my eyes.
“Paul, you know he is a Nazi….”
The man shakes his head vigorously. “Nein nein! Nein ist Nazi! Ich….I….I love Jews!! Ja!”
We stare at him. He nods and repeats this assertion. “Ja! Ja, I love Jeeeews! With ze nose!”
I narrow my eyes. “And what about the gays?” I ask, but he just looks at me blankly.
Georgia steps forward, brushing past Paul. “Can you tell me if you’ve ever seen Max on this island? Maximillian Von Strauss?”
The man thinks for a minute then nods. “Ja, ja, Von Strauss!”
“Was he in charge?”
The man frowns. “Nein….”
“Then what was he doing here?”
“Umm…. Tour-ist?”
Georgia nods in understanding. “Was Leopold in charge?”
The man nods, but there’s still a hint of hesitation in his face.
“Who does Leopold report to?”
At this the man’s face falls. He takes a slight step back, shaking his head. “Nein…nein….”
Georgia and Paul glance at each other. It’s pretty obvious that it’s not that the man doesn’t know, it’s that he knows but doesn’t want to say.
The man’s mouth works silently for a few moments, then mutters something just barely at the edge of hearing: “Der…Nachtteufel….”
We look at each other. “The….Night…..something?” Georgia asks.
“Devil,” comes a voice from behind us. We turn.
It’s Marcus. “The Night Devil,” he repeats.
“Interesting….” Georgia says. “So…who is the Night Devil?”
Marcus rolls his eyes. “I’ve known six vampires in my time who have gone by that name. Four of whom merited it. I killed two of them. So at the moment, I have no idea, but if I had to guess….” He folds his arms. “I think we already met him.”
Marcus raises an eyebrow. “Yes I suppose that’s the name he uses now isn’t it. But there’s no proof of course. It could be anyone in the Tremere.” He looks at Georgia, eyes narrowed. “Most of them would merit the name.”
Paul, meanwhile, has pried open the door the guard was trying to open. It leads to a short hallway. A few doors off the hallway lead to offices, but at the end of the hallway is a door with a sign saying “Maintenance – Off Limits.” Paul walks to this door and opens it.
Surprisingly, inside he actually finds a maintenance room, filled with cleaning supplies and shelves and shit.
But all of these things have been pushed to the sides of the room, clearing a space for the ritual circle inscribed in the floor. The circle looks just like the one we took to arrive at Alcatraz, and it is smeared with fresh blood.
Paul returns to us to report, sharing his suspicions that someone went through the circle recently. We all agree that it would be very unwise to follow.
But we do have to get off the island somehow. We discuss options, none of them good. While we debate Anstis and Norton rejoin us. Anstis’s favorite idea is to wait until emergency personnel and such arrive and then steal one of their boats, but we assure him that would be a bad idea. I ask Marcus if he can do his cool shadow-teleport trick with us across the bay, but he says he can’t take other people that far.
Which reminds me of the last member of our party still missing. “Where’s Aquilifer?” I ask hesitantly.
Marcus goes quiet, staring at the floor. “Not here,” he says softly. “I sent her home. There are better places for her to be at this moment.” I nod and don’t question further, not now.
Marcus and Paul press Georgia for more information about the ritual circle. She says she can’t tell where it’s going, or even if it’s been rerouted since Leopold went through. It could lead back to the Chantry, or to another Tremere bolt-hole in the city, or to Germany, or to the middle of the sun for all she knows.
Finally I turn to the guard, who is still standing with us, trembling with fear and glancing at all of us. “Is there any other way off this island?” I ask him.
His eyes dart to me. “Das Boot,” he says.
“The boat’s gone,” I say. He stares in confusion. I clench and flower my fist. “Boom,” I say. His eyes widen and he nods.
The man thinks for a moment. “Ummm…das Flugzeug?”
Marcus raises an eyebrow. “Flugzeug? Really? Show us.”
The man nods and leads us from the room.
We walk back through the cellblock, out into the remains of the courtyard. Helicopters are starting to gather (Anstis eyes them curiously) but for now they’re keeping a safe distance. The guard leads us to a trail that takes us not to the east dock, but the small west dock where Norton’s and my ill-fated boat launched from. There’s no other boats here at the moment, but there is a large shed nearby at the waterline. The guard walks up to this and hauls the doors open.
Revealing a seaplane moored inside.
We let out a small sigh of relief, but it’s short-lived, as we try to decide who is going to try and fly the plane.
(Me: “DAMMIT!!! Jim could ACTUALLY FLY IT!!!”)
Luckily, though, our new guard-friend apparently knows a thing or two and starts up the engine. The rest of us—Paul, Georgia, Anstis, Norton, Marcus, and myself—distribute ourselves through the small plane as weight balance will best allow, but its clear that the plane is going to be running more than a little heavy.
Anstis follows the instructions we give him, climbing in the back compartment of the plane, but is obviously perplexed. “What manner of contraption is this?”
“It’s an airplane,” Georgia says. “It’s going to go up in the air and we’re going to fly out of here.”
Anstis stares at her blankly, then barks with laughter and turns to Paul. “This Tremere is hilarious!”
Paul just stares back. “Mind your claws, you don’t want to damage anything while we’re up there.”
Anstis’s face slowly falls. “Wait…you be telling the truth?”
Norton peers over the seat-back from his position in the plane. “Behold…my imperial wonders!”
(Both in-game and out-of-game, we are very concerned about whether the plane will even be able to make it into the air. We launch into detailed discussion of fuel-load and ground effect, as advised by Jim. Staying low is definitely our best bet, though I’m concerned about boat traffic, like the inevitable coast guard cutter that’s going to come check on the condition of the lighthouse any minute now.)
The motor starts up without a problem and we putter out of the shed and onto the water. Our plan is to head down to the lower Peninsula, so the guard angles the plane south.
The plane picks up speed, bouncing over the low swells. Each bounce sends us higher than the one before. Everyone holds on, waiting to see if we’re going to catch the air. Finally, one last bounce sends us up and we don’t come back down again. The plane roars, just barely holding itself above the ground effect, but not much further above. We make a bee-line for the south bay, passing under the west span of the Bay Bridge (the Emperor Norton Bridge, thankyouverymuch), buzzing one very confused coast guard cutter in the process.
(Jason: “Perception alertness check, please.”
Me: “Oh god, are there EXPLOSIVES on the PLANE!?!”
Kara: “SNAKES!! How many snakes are on the plane, Jason!?!?!?”)
Although he was shoved rather ingloriously in the storage compartment of the tail, Anstis is in awe. He squirms around to peer up over the rear seats, trying to see out the windows. In doing so, his foot kicks against something heavy, shoved in the back of the compartment and stowed under a tarp. Momentarily distracted from the wonders of flight, he reaches under the tarp to investigate it further.
What he feels is the cool, rough-hewn stone of another Tremere sarcophagus.
“There be another coffin back here!” Anstis announces to us over the roar of the plane. Everyone who can peers around. We assume it’s not filled with more Semtex, or else it would have exploded. For now we leave it for later.
We get to the South Bay within twenty minutes or so. Paul directs the pilot to land just outside the marshes around Shoreline Ampitheater, using the peaked white tents as a guide. We putter through one of the sloughs and beach on an embankment close to a corporate park. Everyone climbs out. I help Anstis lift the sarcophagus out of the back of the plane and Paul pulls out a phone to call Gates, asking her to send some cars.
Anstis and I drag the sarcophagus to the parking lot to wait for the cars. Anstis turns back to stare at the plane, shaking his head in disbelief. “Next you’ll be telling me you put men on the moon,” he mutters.
Georgia, meanwhile, has been helping Norton out of the plane. She gets him to shore. Once again he’s looking very drained and barely speaks to any of us. Marcus, though, still hasn’t exited. I go to check on him….
…And find him unconscious.
My stomach flops. I grasp his shoulder and shake it lightly. “Boss??” I ask, barely keeping the concern out of my voice.
(Jason: “What? He’s not asleep! He’s not alive, you’re not going to shake him awake!”
Me: “Shut up, it’s instinct!”)
He, of course, remains out cold. I remove him from the plane and carry him to shore.
Anstis watches me with a wry expression on his face. “Time for a nap for the little one?”
I glare at him. “You’re lucky he’s asleep for that.”
I put Marcus down on the grass and we gather around the sarcophagus. It’s smaller than the ones on the boat, but larger than the one Marcus was in. Despite our rather mixed luck with these things so far, we decide to open it, using Georgia’s key.
While Georgia fiddles with the key, Paul pulls me aside. “I’m planning to take Ms. Johnson and…our new friend…to Tesseract. There will be two cars, perhaps you can take Marcus, Norton, and Anstis and hole up in the Portola house until we figure things out.”
I agree. Sunrise is coming soon, and my instinct is to get myself—and everyone else—somewhere safe while we regroup.
Paul hands over the keys to the house. I reach to take them, but he grips them an extra moment and stares me in the eye. “Don’t…break…anything.” I roll my eyes and nod.
CLICK! Paul and I turn just in time to see Georgia lever the sarcophagus lid open, Anstis standing at ready nearby with his claws out. Nothing explodes or jumps out at us, so we all peer inside.
Surprise! It’s another gargoyle. This one is also staked, but its hands are crossed over its chest, no detonators or other weapons in sight.
Headlights are approaching, so we close and lock the lid to deal with it later. As discussed, Paul, Georgia, and the guard—whose name, we discover, is Wolfgang—take one car to Tesseract. I take the rest of the crew and the sarcophagus in the other car to Paul’s house in Portola Valley.
The ride to Portola is long, but relatively quiet. Anstis is occupied with peering out the window and Norton and Marcus are in no position for chit-chat. I am in the front seat, staring out at the lights passing us when I feel my phone buzz. I pull it out.
It’s not a text, but a message, from an unknown number. Obviously my phone rang at some point during the escape and I missed it. Perplexed, I dial up my voicemail to listen.
I hear a voice that I don’t recognize, a woman’s voice, in a slight accent I can’t quite place. She identifies me by name and asks me to call a number as soon as possible, citing a matter of “great importance.” The message ends there.
I sigh. I of course don’t have the slightest clue what this could be about but she already knows my name and my number, so I figure it’s minimal risk to see what she wants. I dial the number back.
The call picks up, but no voice answers. “This is Tom Lytton,” I say. Still no response. The call is silent for a few more seconds, then hangs up.
I stare at my phone. I still have no clue what’s going on, but I’m starting to feel like I’m not going to like it. I put the phone back in my pocket.
I glance into the backseat through the rear-view mirror. Norton’s head is sagged on his chest and he’s mumbling to himself. Marcus appears to be missing, but that’s to be expected because Lasombra.
Anstis, though, is staring right back at me, a look of deep interest and suspicion on his face.
Paul, Georgia, and the kraut arrive at Tesseract. Sunrise is approaching and Georgia is starting to fade, but Paul is still going strong. Paul pages Gates, who tells him to meet her and Klaus down in the laboratories.
Gates meets them as they come down the stairwell. She eyes Georgia and Wolfgang. “Paul who are these people?”
“This is Georgia Johnson, this is…a prisoner, I guess….”
Wolfgang waves his hands in front of him. “Nein!! ‘Bin nicht Nazi! I…I love Jeeeews!”
Gates stares at him a moment then turns back to Paul. “Paul, I don’t know what’s going on, but…well…you’re gonna have to see for yourself.”
She leads them down the hall toward one of the laboratory doors. Equipment and boxes, likely removed from the laboratory, are stacked against the walls of the hallway. Two men Paul doesn’t recognize flank the door, both in crisp suits and sporting sunglasses and earpieces. They don’t react as Gates walks up and enters the doorway. Paul follows.
Klaus is in the room, along with four more suited security guys. These ones are openly carrying machine pistols.
Klaus turns as Gates and Paul enter, followed by Georgia. Klaus’s face is even more stern and serious than his normal expression. “Paul,” he says flatly. “You want to explain this?” He gestures past the armed guards.
A cage has been set up, occupying a large portion of the room. Inside the cage is…something. It’s bipedal, but that’s about its only recognizable feature. It has no arms, no head, just a hairless body stuck between two recurved, bird-like legs. It does have a face, though, embedded within the body. An enormous mouth lies across its abdomen in a great toothy gash, and two red eyes glare through the bars. It sees Paul and immediately starts throwing itself against the cage, chattering and screeching.
Paul gapes in horror. It’s now obvious why Gates was hesitant to try and describe this over the phone. “Ms. Johnson, what is that….”
Georgia, too, is staring, but is far less shocked. “It’s a szlachta. A type of Tzimisce war-ghoul. Fleshcrafted. Designed to kill people.”
“Charming….” Paul paces around the cage, keeping a safe distance. “It is sentient?”
“No. It’s not a vampire either.”
Paul turns to Klaus. “Where did you find it?”
“Lurking around the perimeter.”
“How did you catch it?”
“We shot it. A lot. Used tranquilizers to put it down. Dragged it here. It woke up within five minutes.” Klaus sneers at the thing, still chattering and following Paul’s progress around the cage. “We don’t know that it’s the only one.”
Paul folds his arms and frowns thoughtfully. “Ms. Johnson, are these things used for reconnaissance, or are they only used for killing people?”
“Well, they’re mostly for killing, but I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t be used for reconnaissance….”
Paul nods, processing this. Obviously he’s thinking that if Andre sent the thing to try and take him out, that would be a serious breach of the cease-fire before the Monomancy (ha I finally figured out the correct spelling!). Andre seems like a smarter guy than that….
Klaus is now staring at Georgia. “Paul who is this?”
“This is Ms. Johnson, a…a master of the arcane, for lack of a better term. She’s on our side.”
Klaus takes in Georgia’s embroidered Tremere robes, which are now sadly crusted with dried seawater and reeking of marsh. His frown deepens.
“Look, Klaus, here’s the background. Vampires. Different clans, different types of vampires. Some are really ugly, some are really beautiful, some are clever, some do magic, like her. Some of them…” Paul looks at the creature, “do very weird things with body parts and animals. Those are the ones that attacked Tesseract. Those are the ones that made this.”
Klaus turns back to Paul. His face is still stern, but Paul can see some flickers of fear at the edges. “So there could be more?”
“There definitely could be more. I have it on good authority, though, that they will not do any movement against Tesseract or me until after this…ah…fight on Wednesday night.”
“Well, I found this thing on the perimeter. Whether they are planning to attack you or not, they are certainly looking in. I have forty men scattered around Tesseract, equipped with low-light goggles and tranquilizers, but at this point I don’t know if anything is enough!”
“Well, if they’re anything like vampires, they won’t like fire.”
“I can’t exactly set fire to the entire perimeter! At least, not without attracting the attention of the fire department!” (And, as the Hacker Dojo has learned, the Mountain View fire department is someone you want to mess with even less than an army of unholy vampire flesh-monsters.)
Klaus is getting more and more worked up, but Paul is remaining calm. “Lets assume for the moment that they don’t plan to act until after Wednesday.”
Klaus glares. “That’s a hell of an assumption Paul….”
“They’ve had four days to act before now, they haven’t done it yet.”
Klaus demands to know what this whole Wednesday event is that Paul keeps talking about. Paul, in no uncertain terms, describes it as a fight to the death, against the vampire who captured the Tesseract people in the first place. Klaus sputters indignantly, asks if this is some sort of bad movie. Paul sighs and says he asks himself that every day.
Klaus finally makes the connection between the Monomancy and the plan to rig the Shark Tank with solar fiber-optic cables.
Unfortunately, though, a new wrench has fallen into that plan. Klaus produces a letter, addressed to the company, announcing a motion for a public forum meeting for the San Jose City Council to debate the new lighting arrangements in the arena.
The hearing is set for Tuesday. At noon.
(Me: “Oh my god, Andre is fighting you with bureaucracy….”)
Paul is concerned, but not dissuaded. He points out that the Sabbat know he’s up to something, but there’s no way they know what, exactly, it is. The actual work to rig the lights with the fiber optic cable is tedious, but very subtle. Paul suggests a plan where they send in a crew of maintenance people bought-off by Tesseract to complete the work anyway. Klaus is skeptical, points out that the total bribery costs will be considerable, but Paul says he will have a blank check authorized for the mission.
(Me and Jim: “Spared no expense!”)
Klaus starts to come around. He realizes that even if the Sabbat send people through after the maintenance crews leave, all they’ll find is fiber optic data cables, which are already laced through the arena anyway. They’ll be more concerned about explosives or some sort, so they might just ignore the cables.
The plan to use the lights, though, is still a little iffy, as Paul needs a way to attack the Sabbat—or, at the least, Andre—without blasting himself. Paul hopes to get one of their people into the lighting booth, but details beyond that will have to be discussed later.
“Paul,” Gates chimes in hesitantly, “Have you thought through what’s going to happen after you do all this?”
“Yes. There’s going to be a power vacuum in San Jose,” Paul states calmly. “Or, well, there’s going to be a power vacuum in the entire Bay Area. I’m working on that problem.”
Gates still looks unsettled. “Aren’t there pretty scary vampires out there? I mean, scarier than you?”
(You mean, approximately all of them?)
“Well, if things work on Wednesday, there won’t be any nearby. In the meantime….” Paul turns toward the door. At some point, Wolfgang  stuck his head in and has been listening to the proceedings nervously. “Klaus, this man is…well, has been a servant of Ms. Johnson’s tribe of vampires for awhile—“
“No! No I am not Nazi!!!”
“…Uh, that is yet to be verified. In any case, he willingly—“
“I love Jeeeews!”
“—He willingly put down his arms earlier this evening. I’m sure that in exchange for being allowed to disappear quietly, he’d be a great source of information for you on steps to take to secure Tesseract.”
Klaus has been glaring at Wolfgang since Paul first introduced him, and the scowl has only gotten deeper the more Wolfgang has protested. As Paul finishes, Klaus folds his arms and drums his fingers against his biceps. “Oh, oh I have no doubt….” he says, an unsettling edge to his voice. “We shall have a chat. Over strudel.”
Sunrise is soon, too soon for Paul and Georgia to get to the Portola house, so they arrange to have themselves shipped there over the course of the day instead.
Our car arrives at the Portola house, also close to sunrise. Anstis and I unload the sarcophagus into the garage then set out to find shelter for the day. I’m occupied with leading Norton and carrying Marcus, but not so occupied that I don’t notice Anstis staring around appraisingly.
“Don’t touch anything,” I growl, and head toward the wine cellar, leaving Anstis to wander around the house.
Norton collapses into a corner almost as soon as we descend the stairs. It looks decently safe so I leave him there. For Marcus, though, I take extra precaution and walk through the cellar to the last row, furthest from the stairs. I bend over to lay him down in as comfortable-seeming a position as possible, not that it really matters either way but it seems kind of weird to not make the effort.
Satisfied, I move to stand up. As I do, a hand taps my shoulder.
I freeze. Anstis wouldn’t be so subtle, and Norton is already dead to the world. I slowly stand all the way up and turn around.
Someone is standing there, someone who definitely wasn’t there before. A woman. Tall, almost as tall as me. Her clothes are dark and simply-cut, but even in the dim light of the cellar I can tell that they are made of some seriously expensive fabric, as is the shawl wrapped loosely around her head and half-obscuring her face.
But even partially hidden, her face is arresting. Her cheeks and nose are angular in a classic Middle-Eastern  look, but her skin is dark. Not black like a person of African heritage, but dark, cool like obsidian, or a desert night sky, and her eyes shine like stars in its depth.
Even though I’ve never seen one before I know exactly what this is. My natural urge to scoff and snark withers away. I stand very still, waiting for her to make a move, but all she does is watch me.
After a few tense moments, I break the silence. “I assume that since none of us are dead, there’s something you need?”
She is silent for another moment before speaking. “You are Tom Lytton?” Her voice is the one from the phone message. I nod. “My name is Fatima,” she continues. “I am a Child of Haqim.” She inclines her head. “I am not the first one you have laid eyes upon.”
I blink in surprise. “I’m…pretty sure I would have remembered meeting one. That or I would be dead…”
Her eyes widen. “You have not seen it, then?”
I look around the cellar. “Seen what?”
Her eyes narrow. “You truly have not.” It is not a question. “Perhaps there has been a mistake. We were lead to believe that you were the obvious….” She trails off and shakes her head. “Perhaps not.”
I’m still very cognizant of the danger here, and also of Marcus lying unconscious behind me, but despite my better instincts I am intrigued. “The…obvious what?” I press.
She sighs. “I am here on an errand…”
My eyebrow raises, but she holds up a palm. “An errand…not of the sort you imagine. I am not here to kill. At least…not one of you. I seek one of my kind. Two of my kind, if the other can be found, but only one has been known to be here.”
“Ahh,” I relax slightly, starting to feel my way onto more familiar ground, that of Passing the Buck. “An…associate…of mine has had dealings with one of your people recently but I have not been a part of that.”
Now Fatima raises an eyebrow. “What manner of dealings?”
“Fulfilling—or, rather, attempts at fulfilling a contract, from what I understand.”
“A contract? On whom?”
“Georgia Johnson. Tremere.”
Fatima’s eyes narrow down to near-slits in her dark skin. “There are no contracts under that name registered with the Assamite clan. Not in this state.”
I jerk my head back. “Iiiiinteresting….”
Fatima sighs again. “But that is not surprising. The ones I seek do not operate with the blessing of Haqim. They are…what do you call them…antitribu. Defectors from the true path of Haqim.”
“I….did not realize there were defectors from Haqim—“
Her eyes narrow again instantly. “There is a reason you did not realize that, and if you breathe a word of it, it will be the last word you ever speak. I only ask you this because, in all truth, I have had no success in finding either of them.”
Which raises an interesting point… “…Why did you come to me?”
She regards me silently for a few more moments, her eyes considerably softer. “Forgive me, I assumed you knew.” She gazes at the racks around us. “I do not know what name the original traitor goes by now, and what name he had with us has been left long behind. But he sired another after he fled from the Sabbat.” Her eyes flick back to me. “Her name was Isabella.”
Silence in the room. She watches me expectantly. I stare, not entire sure what—
Then what she said sinks in.
I take a step back. “…Wait, WHAT?”
“Isabella,” she repeats. “I was lead to believe you know this name.”
“I do, but…. No, that’s…no….” It’s a good thing I don’t have to breathe because all the air has vanished from the room. I grab onto one of the wine racks to steady myself.
“I am afraid that there is no doubt on this matter.” She reaches into her clothing and pulls out a photo. I take it reflexively. It’s a candid photo, taken from a high angle, showing a woman in an alley standing next to a figure on the ground. Even though the lighting is poor there is no mistake that it’s my Isabella.
My sister.
She looks older than last I saw her, but still far younger than her actual age should be. Her blonde hair is pulled up in the same high pony-tail I used to tease her about. She’s turned toward the camera, revealing feminine facial features that are still strikingly similar to my own.
In this photo, though, those facial features are smeared with blood.
“This was taken by one of our contacts,” Fatima is saying. “It was the last thing he did. We found the camera in the…remnants…of his body.” She waits to see if I react, and when I don’t she continues. “We believe that she was sired directly by the antitribu. She never had the opportunity to know the truth of Haqim. I have been asked to destroy them both.”
Only some of these words are filtering through the haze in my mind. The little bit of my consciousness that still works is focused on the photo, on the blood stains on her face and hands.
Did she know what she was getting herself into? I wonder. Did her sire lie and trick her somehow?
Just like mine did for me….
“I was lead to believe you knew of her whereabouts,” Fatima says sharply, piercing the gloom.
I shake my head lightly but I don’t take my eyes off the picture. “The last time I saw her, she was at home…in her room….” A room plastered with sketches and watercolors, trying in vain to cover the ludicrously-pink walls that she had already outgrown. It was the night I left and as much as I wanted to I couldn’t bear to wake her up to say goodbye. I wanted my last image of her to one of peace and teenage contentment.
And now I was looking at this.
Fatima sighs and reaches out to take the photo from my unresisting fingers. “You have my sympathies then. We assumed you knew. This man, we have been chasing him for fifty years. Across Europe, to Canada, to the United States, and now to here. He is extremely dangerous and he has sired before. Many do not last long, but this one…has been staying with him. We believe he is…using her for some purpose.”
I lean a shaky hand on the wine rack. All these years I had been beating myself up, worrying what our father had done to her, and our mother, in the years since I’d left. But once again, the universe proves that as bad as my fears might get, it can always drum up new horrors beyond my wildest nightmares.
Fatima watches my reaction with a critical eye. “You truly knew nothing?”
I shake my head slowly. “I haven’t…I haven’t talked to….”
“You are Brujah, you are permitted to speak to your…old life, are you not?”
Jesus, if I am, this is the first I’ve heard of it. But I shake my head. “My old life…drove me….” I gulp and try again. “I haven’t spoken to them, but it wasn’t my choice. I mean, I hadn’t spoken to them for ten years before I….”
Fatima sighs and shakes her head, her eyes pitying. I get the sense that since I’m of no use to her she’s going to leave soon. I hold my hand out. “Wait…why? How? When?”
“We do not know. We identified her…five years ago, perhaps. In Mexico City. Since then she has come here. So has he. We think.” She holds the picture up again. “But he has not been careless enough to be seen. I thought you might know her whereabouts so we might ask directly of her where to find her master.”
“Why would she be acting like there’s a contract on Ms. Johnson if there isn’t one?”
“Perhaps whoever contracted to kill this Johnson of yours didn’t do so with us. We do not have a monopoly on killing for hire, much as we would like one.” A flicker of humor passes across her eyes. “And an Assamite’s services, even a false one, are in high demand.”
She tilts her head back to regard me critically. “I should not have told you all this if you did not know. This was an error. So I must ask you now what you will do. My…instructions are to destroy them both.”
I nod. I don’t have the picture in front of me anymore, but the image is still burned in my mind. “What has she done?”
Fatima’s eyes narrow. “In addition to existing without permission of the Children of Haqim? She has taken contracts in our name. Masqueraded herself as one of us. These are killing offenses in the brotherhood.”
I glare. These…are all things I couldn’t give a flying fuck about. Here I’d been expecting some story about how, like, her sire has made deals with demons, or whatever usual shit. I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed—
“Her master, though, has done far, far worse,” she continues grimly. “He is a diablerist. Well, we all are diablerists, but he…. He practices not for the glory of Haqim but to raise himself up. He traffics with demons and dark thaumaturgists.”
Theeeeeeeere it is. I rub my face and nod. “He probably should get in line….”
Fatima tilts her head down, casting her eyes into shadow. “He is a creature of darkness and he will be destroyed. Haqim has banished him from his sight. Banished both of them. The existence she has now is not one to envy—“
Ha, as if any of our existences are…
“—If you still care for her, you will assist us. I understand if you will not, but we cannot permit you to interfere.”
I nod vacantly. “I’ll…see what I see.”
She seems to accept this. “You know the one which she was hunting? The Tremere? The Tremere have been remarkably hard to locate as of late—“
I snort. “Yeah, well, there’s fewer of them to find right now.”
“Yes. I heard there was an altercation tonight. I know you were involved, I will not ask details. But if you know this Tremere…bring her to me. It is for her own good. Isabella will not stop hunting her.”
I nod, though I don’t entirely like the sound of that. Not that I’m suddenly a huge fan of Georgia, but more that I can’t wrap my mind around the idkea of my little sister being a hyper-efficient, unstoppable predator.
Fatima seems to see the uncertainty in my eyes. “She is not a fully trained Assamite. She is not as good as the rest of us. She will likely fail, and if she does, do you think the Tremere will let her live?”
Yeah, well, it doesn’t sound like the Assamites would let her live either, so if it’s the frying pan or the fire—
Once again, Fatima seems to read what I’m thinking. “You think any Tremere can be trusted?”
I hesitate, the (very, very many) events of the evening flashing through my mind. I can’t help but glance at Marcus, lying on the floor behind me.
Fatima follows my gaze. “Who is that?”
“Oh, he’s a friend,” I say with a nonchalant shrug.
Her eyes dart back to me, eyebrow cocked. “You make friends with elder vampires, do you?”
I freeze. Fear floods back, but this time it’s not out of concern for myself. I stare silently for a few moments, mind racing. “Some…times….”
“You are bonded to him?”
This time I don’t respond.
“We all serve someone,” she says, almost companionably. “But his blood would be a great boon to the Children of Haqim. We would offer much in exchange for it.”
I keep my face carefully neutral, but on the inside, shitshitshitshitshit….
“How much?” comes Anstis’s gruff voice from behind me.
Now my face goes flat. If there was any color on it, it would have drained. SHITFUCKFUCKSHITFUUUU—
Fatima peers around me to regard Anstis critically. There’s no way he snuck up on her, but she didn’t acknowledge his presence earlier than this, so I have no idea how much he’s overheard. But right now him knowing about Isabella is the least of my concerns. I glance between him at Fatima, the two of them on either side of Marcus and me.
“And you are?” Fatmia asks.
Anstis smooths dramatically at his coat. “Thomas Anstis.”
She nods. “How much? More than I could lay hands upon at this instant. Wealth beyond the dreams of either of you, I guarantee.”
Horror swells in my gut in exact inverse proportion to the calculating glee growing on Anstis’s face. “Well, isn’t that interesting,” he growls, staring at Marcus and stroking his damn-fool beard.
“It is,” Fatima says. “We have a reputation, I am aware of this, but we can be relied upon to fulfill a contract. And we would contract for this one.” She nods toward Marcus. “One does not encounter blood of that vintage every day.”
Vintage?? Jesus fucking Christ. My hand twitches toward the Tremere sword still tucked through my belt, though God only knows that won’t do me any good against these two.
Instead, I try my least favorite weapon: diplomacy. “I’m afraid the kid isn’t for sale,” I say, folding my arms in a way that I hope looks confident.
Her eyes widen in amused surprise. “You say that without even asking a price?”
I nod.
She gracefully folds her arms to match mine. “One hundred million dollars.” (Dr. Evil pinky finger.)
I snort. Yeah, all the money in the world, and no time to spend it in before Perkins comes back around and kills all of—
“One hundred million dollars…or a favor. From the Assamite clan.”
Now I pause. A favor…like pardoning Isabella? I glance down at Marcus. Shitshitfuckshit—
“Each?” Anstis chimes in.
Fatima turns to him, meeting his eyes. “Agreed. As long as you just mean the two of you.”
The two of them continue to stare at each other. I look back and forth between them, panic rising again. “Could…could you give us a moment? I need to speak to my associate—“
“I should be going anyway,” Fatima says. “When you find the Tremere, bring her to me, at this address.” She hands me a card, which I glance at but barely register. “Tell her that I can arrange it that her Assamite problems are solved. But only if she comes. She will not trust me, I understand this, but you must convince her somehow.”
She looks me in the eye again. “And think on my offer. One hundred million each. Or a favor. Whatever you prefer.”
“Where do we be getting in touch with you?” Anstis asks.
She nods at the card, still held loosely in my hand. “There is a phone number on the back of that card.”
Anstis tilts his head. “Phone…number?”
She looks at me. I hold out a hand placatingly. “I’ll explain it to him.”
If by that I mean I won’t explain it to him, since if he can’t contact her, then he can’t turn in Marcus. I tuck the card into my coat.
She nods. “Think on the offer. I can make you one of the richest men in the city.”
A city that I love, but a city that seems on the brink of disaster, and getting closer each day. “The richest man in Babylon,” I mutter to myself.
“We stand outside of Alamut, Brujah, this whole world is Babylon.” She nods to me, and Anstis. “We will be in touch.” With that, she turns and walks across the cellar, melting into the shadows. Moments later and it’s as if she was never there.
I…have a lot of things to process. I stare off into the middle distance, glancing occasionally at Marcus, as if to make sure that he’s still there. I can feel sunrise approaching, though, so I’ll have to save most of my processing for tomorrow.
Who would have thought that fighting a demon-possessed methusula and blowing up a bunch of Nazis would be the least stressful parts of my evening?
Anstis is still staring at Marcus with a distressingly calculating look on his face. I pull myself together. “Anst—Captain, I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, Marcus is worth far more…well, un-alive, than dead.“
“So find me a better offer,” Anstis says smugly.
I glare at him. Panic is wearing off, but it’s being rapidly replaced by anger. “Pretty sure your life is a better offer. You know all the shit that happened today? It’s peanuts compared to what’s probably coming.” I swing an arm in the direction I think is north. “This guy Perkins? He’s still out there. He knows our faces, knows we’re with Marcus, and will be coming for us. If Marcus isn’t with us when he does, well…that’s not going to stop him.”
Anstis snorts. “You mean he’s after you.”
“He’s after any of us he saw with Marcus, especially the two assholes who tried to cut him in half!”
Anstis’s grin wavers a bit. I’m rapidly approaching the point of passing-out, so I ignore him and settle myself on the floor near Marcus.
“What are these phones she was talking about?” Anstis asks as I struggle to find a comfortable position in my beat-up coat.
“They’re…shit I don’t know, they’re a magical way to communicate with someone over a long distance.”
“Like that…brick-thing Stewart was using?”
I nod, closing my eyes. He doesn’t take the hint, though, and lingers around. “Do you think this be a safe place, then?”
I fake a yawn. “As secure as any. I’ve holed up here before.”
“The Assamite got in.”
“Yeah, they’ll do that. Werewolves too.”
He hovers for a few more moments, but when I don’t elaborate, he wanders off, assumingly to find his own corner of the cellar to camp out in. I let myself drift off into the peaceful sleep of the Damned.
I have no idea, of course, that a few minutes after I pass out, Anstis sneaks back to steal Fatima’s card from my jacket pocket and copy down the information on it.
(Incidentally, this marks the very first time that the real-night has ended at the same time as the in-game night. Which isn’t as surprisingly when you realize that our in-game nights last for LITERAL WEEKS.)
Right, ok, so I know what you’re thinking, this seems like some sort of soap opera shit up in here (“Oooh, my beloved sister whom I’ve missed for so long has been taken by the same curse that befell me! Oh angst! Oh feels!”). But believe it or not, this plot twist actually grew organically, and completely by accident.
Here’s the story. In the backlash of The Marin Incident, which occurred maybe two or three months after we started playing last summer, I was suddenly finding myself with more connection to and interest in Tom (and, transitively, the game itself) than I had yet had. I was suddenly barraged with ideas of his backstory and emotional motivations. This was way before I started this blog, so my only outlet to vent these Thoughts and Feels was to barrage Jason with epic emails once or twice a week.
In one of these emails, I outlined an explanation about why Tom was so unexpectedly protective of Sophia when we first met her. I decided that she reminded him of a younger sister he had been very close to and left behind when he ran away from home. Somewhere in all these thoughts, I came up with a name for her, completely out of the blue: Isabella. I included that in my next email to Jason.
A few weeks later, during the Reign of Carlos the Ticklemonster, we were introduced to an Assamite for the first time. She showed up at Carlos’s body-tank as part of some larger plot from Max and introduced herself as Isabella. I gasped. Jason looked at me and was like, wait what? And then I was like, wait what?
We stared at each other in confusion but continued the game. It wasn’t until later when I was doing dishes that we got a chance to talk quietly. I reminded him that I had chosen that name for Tom’s sister, he was like oh crap I totally forgot, but he had already picked this name for the Assamite. I shrugged and was like, oh well I can pick a new name for Tom’s sister, I’m not too attached to it, it would be too confusing to have two characters with the same name, even if one is never seen. Then I laughed and was like, it’s a pretty crazy coincidence isnt it?
He looked at me, then suddenly got That Evil Grin and was like, “Yes…unless…it’s not a coincidence….”
I froze mid-wash. “….You son of a bitch,” I hissed, fighting back laughter.
So for months, that story remained completely under the radar for everyone else. Even as information about Tom’s sister came out in out-of-game conversations, I was very careful not to give her name. The first time I revealed her name was in the sort-of-suicide note I left before I almost died in Sophia’s silver-removal, and the only reason I did that was because in case Tom died, I didn’t want this cool twist we had come up with to drop completely off the map.
But what’s really funny is how the story ended up working itself in on it’s own. See, many of the times that Assamite-Isabella has already been around, Jason has rolled TERRIBLE rolls for her. I mean just atrocious. During the raid on San Jose she SHOULD have been able to one-shot Georgia, but they ended up grappling for three or four rounds. Then, when Isabella made an attempt on Georgia again, at Paul’s house, she kind of choked up and let Paul talk her out of it, which isn’t very Assamite at all. We all started to joke that, as an Assamite, she’s “not very good,” which Jason and I secretly agreed would work rather well for a relatively young American Assamite with some sort of unusual pedigree (although Jason wouldn’t give me his details on her that he was working out).
But yes. Now, here it is, completely on the board for the first time.
And, as expected, it is far, far worse than I ever imagined.
After the riotous fun of last week, this night was fairly calm. I referred to it as more of a “Politics Night,” filled with discussion and preparation for the next major plot points. I will elaborate on these discussions, of course, but if you want the thumbnail sketch, you can just read Chris’s summary:
“Everyone argues in Paul’s kitchen. Paul takes a shower. Everyone leaves. Paul shows a pirate how to use a cellphone. End of night.”
This evening was particularly notable because it heralded the arrival of our very first NPC Guest Star! See, when Jason was preparing the world of our game, he populated it with many characters from previous World of Darkness games he has played. Most of them are his own, but some of them are the characters of friends of his, which he used with permission.
Interestingly, though, some of these friends actually volunteered to play these characters for us in the game. The friends are rather far-flung so have to Skype in, but actually this ends up working out for the better since they can just Skype in and out as needed.
Anyway, tonight we were introduced to Ben, a PhD student in behavioral ecology at the University of Texas, Arlington (so very very slowly, the biologists are starting to outnumber the non-biologists. Muahahaha.). Ben is a pretty cool guy who doesn’t afraid of anything, but things started off kind of slow since we had to catch him up on a few major points:
Jason: “When last we left off, we had actually finished Sunday! It is now MONDAY!”
Kara: “March 2nd!”
Me: *flips through notes* “Jesus, it’s only Day 19??”
Jim: “Day 19…fourth character—”
Ben: “Oh my god!!”
Jason: *to Ben* “Yeah, Jim here is on his fourth character, Chris is on his first but went through a second on the way there. Kara is on her third…oh wait no, second. Yes. All the death has been Jim’s.”
Chris: “Yes, but who caused all the death?”
Everyone, simultaneously: “COLLEEN.” *everyone looks at me*
Me: *Sputters for a few seconds, then hangs head in shame*
Jason: “…Yeah.”
Kara: “Stop killing us!”
Me: “Wha, it’s not on purpose!! …Except when it was on purpose—“
Jason: “Uh, it was, in nearly every case!”
Jim: “You have been directly or indirectly responsible for Every. Single. One!”
Me: “Except Clarence!”
Jason: “Well Clarence may or may not be dead! But besides him, every single one!”
Me: *hangs head in shame……..but also a little pride.*
Recall that Paul had Gates arrange for Georgia and himself to be shipped to the Portola house over the course of the day, so as the night opens, they are in crates in the garage.
(Kara: “What, they didn’t unpack us??”
Chris: “Oh, yeah, I’m going to have human people just randomly remove my, for some reason, unawakening corpse-like body into my garage.”
Jason: “Generally you don’t want UPS to find your undead shriveled corpse.”
Me: “Yeah, they can barely handle my Amazon packages.”)
Anstis is one of the first to wake up, just after sundown. After he secretly stole Fatima’s contact info from me, he went outside to sleep, burying himself in the loose dirt of Paul’s recently-created flower bed. Once twilight falls, he digs himself out of the recently-created flower bed.
Which of course ended up nearly-destroying Paul’s recently-created flower bed.
Anstis hears a crash coming from the garage and goes to investigate. He finds Paul kicking himself out of his packing crate.
Anstis frowns. This complicates things. See, he had been hoping to get a jump on kidnapping (literally) Marcus and contacting Fatima before everyone else woke up (that or trying to diablerize him. Jim hadn’t decided, though he aaaagonized over the decision all week, not really liking any of his options. He couldn’t figure out how he got shoehorned into becoming the party villain, again, for the fourth time!!).
Anstis turns to leave before Paul notices him, but it’s too late.
“Ah, Mr. Anstis! You’re up early! Here, walk with me.” Paul strides out, heading toward the garden. Anstis grumbles and follows.
Paul walks along the path in the gathering twilight. “Mr. Anstis, do you have a trade?”
Anstis eyes him suspiciously. “Aye, that could be….”
“You captained a ship, did you not? Would you say you have leadership skills?”
“In a manner of speaking….”
(Jason: “His crew did murder him.”
Chris: “Yeah but I don’t know that.”)
Paul nods. “Can you size up a man pretty quickly?”
Anstis nods, wondering where this is going (as are we all).
“Would you mind doing a job for me?”
“Depends on the job, but speak yer piece.”
Paul stops and turns to Anstis, putting his back to the flowerbed. “You are in an area known as the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s on the west side of the continent of North America. The body of water we flew over last night, that’s the bay. On the east side of it is a place called Oakland. There is a relatively new player there, a man named Helgi. Old vampire. Possibly a viking.”
Anstis scratches his (damn-fool) beard. The name seems passingly familiar, but he’s not entirely sure where he’s heard it before, nor does he remember any details.
Paul picks up a hose and turns to the flowerbed, then stops. “Jesus, the gophers have gotten bad,” he mutters, then starts watering the undisturbed parts of the bed. “Anyway, he showed up six or seven months ago and he’s been giving the local management of Oakland some problems. I want to know why he’s here, what he wants, and what conditions he would find acceptable for cooperation.”
“And what be yer stake in the matter?”
Paul is silent for a few moments, watching the water spray. “I have a vested interest in the power structure of the Bay Area remaining stable.”
“Interesting. Then why don’t you solve this problem yourself?”
Paul finishes with the bed and starts on the shrubs. “I’m spread a little thin lately,” he says, still not turning around.
Anstis frowns and looks at the house and the grounds. Paul is obviously a man of some means to be the purveyor of such a fine manor. Perhaps a governor or something. “How soon do you need this handled?”
“Tonight would be ideal. If possible I would have Tom go with you. He knows the area, he could keep you up to speed. You two…” Paul glances over his shoulder, expression carefully neutral, “might complement each other well.”
Anstis nods, also keeping his real opinions of me silent for the moment. “I have been at a bit of a disadvantage in the modern age.”
(Jason: “You know, between the two of you, you’d make one pretty good vampire.”)
“And what are you offering for payment?” Anstis asks, always one to keep his eye on the ball. “I seem to be without a ship.…”
They haggle about compensation for a bit. Paul offers money but Anstis, of course, prefers gold. (Jason points out, though, that pirates didn’t often deal in gold, as much as they would have liked to. Hard currency was mostly silver, but what they dealt in most often was commodities. Jim points out that if Paul was smart he would offer to pay Anstis with the spices in his kitchen.)
But they reach an agreement. Anstis will either be or lead a delegation to meet with Helgi, in exchange for financial compensation, as well as continuing lessons on how to survive in the modern age.
(Kara: “Oh my god, he’s going to learn everything about modern vampire society…from…PAUL!!”)
I wake up in the cellar not much later. I lay on the flagstones, staring up at the dimly-lit wine racks, trying to remember where I am.
Then the events of the evening, specifically the conversation with Fatima and Anstis, come back to me. I bolt to my feet.
Marcus is still there, untouched but apparently still unconscious. I relax a little and examine him closer. His skin is still deathly pale, obviously, but it seems slightly less pale than the night before.
“Tom!” Paul is approaching down the aisle of the cellar, followed by Anstis. “Good evening.”
I nod at them. “Paul. Captain. Has anyone checked on Norton?”
We look around. When I last saw him, he was in a corner near the stairwell, but now there is no sign of him. The dust where he was sitting looks a little disturbed, but there it doesn’t look like there’s been a struggle.
“We best be finding the emperor,” Anstis says.
I’m a little concerned, but not overly so. So long as he doesn’t wind up captured and tortured by the Tremere again he’ll probably be alright. He can’t see, of course, but something tells me that won’t stop him. I’m really hoping he just wandered off toward home so he can feed his dogs. I’ve been meaning to check on them for days now and haven’t gotten the chance.
(Speaking of Malkavian primogens, we decide that Gates had the tote bag containing Sebastian’s head also shipped to the house and that it’s now in the fridge.)
Anyway. “We do,” I nod, “But right now I’m more concerned about Marcus….”
“Aye,” Anstis nods, giving me a Significant Look. I glare at him.
“Alright, I will look for the Emperor. Tom, see if you can rouse Marcus.”
“And what should we do about that?” Anstis asks, still with a winkwinknudgenudge tone to his voice that I don’t like at all.
I ignore him. “Paul do you have any blood on hand?” It just so happens that he does, he gets small shipments of (organic grass-fed) cow’s blood delivered to the house every day. It’s not much, but it’ll help. Still ignoring Anstis’s grinning face, I fetch Marcus’s body and bring him to the kitchen.
We lay him on the granite countertop. Paul pulls two large industrial-looking metal flasks from the fridge. “The blood isn’t very strong, so you might need to use yourself as a filter,” he says as he plops them down in front of me.
I hesitate. My first concern is, of course, my disease, but then I remember that duh, vampires can’t get AIDS. My next worry is accidentally instigating a blood bond. On a cursory level, something like that might be beneficial to me, but I also know about Marcus to suspect that he’s had experience with unwilling bonds in the past and doesn’t. like it.
“I don’t know,” I mutter, staring at the flasks.
Anstis steps forward. “Or I could do it.”
I glare and grab a flask. “Nooooope, I’ll do it.” I pry the lid off and start choking the cow blood down.
The three of us lean in, watching Marcus’s reaction carefully as I bite my wrist and drip blood into his mouth. He stirs very slightly but doesn’t wake up. Still, that’s better than we’ve seen so far.
Anstis wanders off, possibly to try and steal something. Paul announces that he’s going to take a shower, and not-so-subtly suggests that I use it myself when he’s done with it. It’s true, I am currently still splashed with mud from the marsh, dust from the explosion, and even dirt from waking up on San Bruno mountain the night before. Right now, though, I don’t want to let Marcus out of my sight, especially with Anstis prowling around ominously. Paul leaves, and I drink the second flask to repeat the feeding process.
About this time, Georgia wakes up in her crate in the garage. She too kicks her way out and spills out onto the floor of the garage, coughing up packing peanuts. No one is around so she checks her phone. Unfortunately, it is dead from saltwater, likely during her relaxing Alcatraz swim yesterday evening.
She sighs. On the one hand, many of the Tremere leadership who are likely currently trying to get ahold of her can’t reach her. But on the other hand, many of the Tremere who would normally try to reach her are quite possibly currently dead. She puts the phone back in her pocket and leaves the garage to find the rest of us.
She finds Anstis skulking around the garden and he leads her to the kitchen. I’m still leaning over Marcus, dripping blood into his mouth.
“Hey, do you know where Paul is?”
“He’s in the shower,” I mutter, concentrating on my task at hand.
“Ah. Um, do you have a phone that I could borrow…?”
I roll my eyes and stop what I’m doing to pull my phone out (since I still only have the one hand) and hand it to her.
“Thanks.” She dials the phone number for the Seattle Chantry. Anstis watches her carefully.
The call picks up almost immediately.
Speaker: “Yes? Who is this?”
Georgia: “Hi, this is Georgia Johnson, calling from San Francis—“
Speaker: “I’m sorry, we don’t know any Georgia Johnson.”
Georgia: “…From the San Francisco Chantry, checking in?”
Speaker: “I’m sorry, ma’am, you must have the wrong number. Have a nice day.”
The call hangs up. Georgia stares at the phone in confusion.
(Jason: “You called from a number they don’t recognize. There is no Tremere Chantry. There is no Georgia Johnson. There is no vampire-dom. There is nothing.”
Kara: “Goddamit, there isn’t, like, a phone-tree I can call or something?”
Jason: “Well, there is another number you could try. You do know the number for the San Francisco Chantry.”
Kara: “What? Why would I call that?”
Jason: “…That’s a good point.”
Me: *Gasp* “You should call Bell!”
Kara: “That’s not a bad idea actually.” *mumbles* “Except Georgia thinks he’s incompetent.…”
Me: “…What!?”
Kara: “He is kinda incompetent! He showed up and was like, I’m going to fix everything! And then everything fell more apart!”
Chris: “Yeah, he tried to punch it back together.”
Me: “I know! That’s why he’s amazing!!”)
Georgia decides that Bell is probably the next best option—if he’s still alive—so gives his number a try.
Bell: “…Yes?”
(Me: “Yaaaaaay he is alive!”)
Georgia: “Mr. Bell?”
Bell: “Is this Johnson? Where are you?”
Georgia: “I’m…with everyone else, for the moment.”
Bell: “And where the hell is everyone else?”
Georgia: “In a safe place, for the moment.”
Bell: “I think you should be a little more specific. Are you certain that where you are is a safe place for the moment?”
Georgia: “Yes.”
Bell: “How is—nevermind. What’s going on?”
Georgia: “What happened at the Chantry last night?”
Bell: “That is a very good question. Something ate everyone.”
Georgia: *barely keeping the excitement out of her voice* “Did it eat Max?”
Bell: “…I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. Last I saw of Max, well…it wasn’t pretty.”
(God we can only hope so.)
Georgia: “He didn’t eat you?”
Bell: *pause* “Not for lack of trying.”
Bell says that the court of the city—what remains of it—is slowly gathering. He has plans to lead an investigation to the Chantry later that evening to see if there’s any other information about what happened, and possibly to simply burn the whole place to the ground. He needs her to talk to Seattle to try and spin this, since they’re not going to be pleased to hear he ordered the Chantry destroyed. She agrees to meet him in the city as soon as she can.
Bell: “So…you said everyone else is alright? Who is ‘everyone else’?”
Georgia: “Uh, well, Tom and Paul, so, there’s that, at least. I don’t know anything about Clarence.”
Bell: “I unfortunately do.”
Georgia: “Is he alive?”
Bell: “That’s the bad news. Yes.”
Georgia: “…What’s the good news?”
Bell: “There isn’t any.”
Georgia: “What’s…the more bad news?”
Bell: “He’s not…. Well, I don’t know what Perkins did to him, but he seems to have…cloned him or something.”
Georgia: “Oh yeah! We noticed that! That was kinda fun, actually.”
Bell: “Really. How fun was it?”
Georgia: “Uh, well he kept coming at us with enchanted swords that ate us—“
Bell: “I had to kill him eighteen times on my way out the door.”
(Ben: “That got surreal.”
Chris: “Oh, well you missed the part where my character fought him by dual-wielding his own severed right-arms holding swords.”)
Bell: “How did you escape?”
Georgia: “We, ah, used a Chantry exit point….”
Bell: “I’m going to need you to be more specific.”
Georgia: *hems and haws* “Urg, well…a teleport circle.”
Bell: “…Alright. Where is it located and where does it go?”
Georgia: “It’s in the basement of the Chantry and I don’t know if it goes to the same place every time.”
Bell: “…Goddammit. I’ve had SFPD staking out that building since early last night. Nothing has come out of that damned building, but if there’s teleport circles riddled through it….” *frustrated pause*  “I assume, then, that that was you guys on Alcatraz?”
Georgia: “….Yeah….”
Bell: “Do I want to know what happened out there?”
Georgia: “Umm….”
Bell: “Is it relevant to what happened yesterday?”
Georgia: “Not…really, actually. I mean, there will be an accounting of it—“
Bell: “Oh you have no idea. Were you party to what was going on there?”
Georgia: “No, and if I had been, I would have blown it up before last night. Also, have you heard from Van Brugge, the high-ranking Tremere that Max was calling in?”
Bell: “…No.”
Georgia: “Well, when you hear from him, I need to speak with him immediately.”
Someone suddenly appears in the kitchen, directly in front of Georgia. She yelps and jumps back. I tense, grabbing for the sword at my belt. Anstis bares his claws.
“Situation report. Now,” he barks, arms folded sternly across his chest.
Georgia gapes at him. “Bell, uh…. I’m going to have to call you back….” She ignores Bell’s confused protests and hangs up the phone.
Now that I’m passing my initial shock, I’m able to examine the man a little more closely. He is semi-translucent, the edges of his body shimmering in odd ways. I realize that he must be some sort of projection.
But I still don’t take my hand away from my sword.
His clothes are simple—a well-cut but rather stodgy set of tweed—but the things layered on top of the suit are not. He’s sporting armor, a combination of chain-mail and kevlar, and a rather not-stodgy sword hangs at his waist.
“So,” he says in a voice accented somewhere between German and Dutch, glaring right at Georgia. “I am here at the Chantry, and someone has eaten everyone! To use an English expression: What. The fuck.”
Georgia buries her face in both hands. “Sir! I am so glad to see you, everything has gotten completely fucked, and I don’t know how much if it is Max’s fault, and how much of it goes all the way up to Seattle, but there is so much you need to know!”
She starts rattling off about Max letting demons into the chantry, and the gargoyle factory on Alcatraz. Anstis and I trade a look and start to stand down somewhat. It’s obvious that she knows this guy, so we’re probably alright for now.
But it’s also obvious that this is probably the high-ranking Tremere everyone has been talking about, so I don’t stand down all the way.
The man listens through Georgia’s spiel without interrupting, nodding. “I see,” he says when she drifts to a halt. “The gargoyle factory, has it been neutralized?”
Georgia glances at us. “Uh, yes? Mostly. I mean there might still need to be some cleanup done—”
“Who else knows about this facility?”
“Well, Max, who is completely MIA. And…everyone in this room, obviously. And Paul, who is upstairs taking a shower.”
The apparition looks Anstis and I up and down. “Other factions? Sects? Clans?”
“No, just everyone in this room,” Georgia says confidently, but her face falls as she remembers something: her meetings with Abelard, the ones that tipped her off to something weird going on at Alcatraz in the first place. “And…maybe the Nos..fera…tu….” she adds.
The man’s face remains flat, but his eyes narrow. “Scheisse.”
“Yeah, I mean, they don’t know whats’ going on there, but the Nosferatu have been very, very suspicious of kidnappings that have been going on for the last couple of months—“
“And rightly so!” Anstis chimes in, staring intently at the man while idly dragging one claw across the granite countertop.
“—And based on what I saw yesterday I’m about ready to let them go nuclear.”
The man sighs. He produces a handkerchief from somewhere under the armor, takes off his glasses and starts cleaning them. “Ok. So this is a clusterfuck. So. Here’s the problem. What do you know about the person who ran the place?”
“Leopold? He, ah, got away….”
“Oh, wunderbar….”
“Oh, and by the way, Emperor Norton knows too, but he’s missing.”
The man nods, still focused on his glasses. “Ja, he’s Emperor Norton.” He makes no other comment. Georgia looks at me. I shrug.
The man holds his glasses up to the kitchen light to inspect them, which is rather ostentatious considering that, for him, they’re not really there. “Ok. And why do you have Marcus on the table?”
I freeze. Christ, why is it that when Marcus is awake, he can run around town like nobody’s business, but the minute he’s incapacitated, everyone in the world knows exactly who he is.
Georgia looks at me again. This time I look at her stoically, but I tap the hilt of my sword idly with my missing left hand.
“Because…he’s not feeling well….” she says carefully.
“Right. Ok.” The man puts the glasses back on. “So. You mentioned a demon eating everyone in the Chantry. I need to know everything.”
“Ok, well, he goes by the ‘Night Devil,’ or ‘The Man of Wind,’ or…. Gnaeus Perpenna?”
The man’s body remains still, but his eyes go very, very wide. “Mother of god,” he says.
“Yeah, apparently he’s…Marcus’s sire?”
“Yes. I know.” He doesn’t say anything further. We watch as his form pauses to rub his temples. “Ok. So. First of all, if anything happens to Marcus, I will slaughter you all, no questions asked. We are old friends.” He pauses. “Or at least frenemies.”
Well, I don’t know if I really trust this guy—survey results all point to “no”—but at least I have no problem following those instructions.
Anstis, though, apparently gets a very different idea on what it takes to, quote, “keep things from happening to Marcus.” While the man rattles off more imperious commands to Georgia and the rest of us, Anstis walks to the kitchen table, snaps off a leg of a chair into a stake, and comes at Marcus with it.
(Jason: “Christ. Ben, do you see? Do you see what I have to deal with??”
Ben: “Well I can’t really see who’s doing what yet….”
Jason: “Our pirate-y friend is running at Marcus with a stake.”
Ben: “Ah. Well, Jim, I hate to say it, but you may be going through a fifth character….”)
It happens fast, before anyone understands what he’s doing. Anstis lifts the stake and—
“STOP!!” a voice commands from the doorway to the kitchen. It’s commanding with Awe, so we all immediately obey. It’s Paul, of course, who’s definitely getting better with his Presence abilities.
Although, to be completely honest, at least part of the Awe’s effect might have come from the fact that he has just run into the kitchen completely naked.
“What the HELL is going on in my kitchen??”
Georgia, Anstis, and I have varying expressions of deer-in-the-headlights on our faces. The man, though, is still calmly standing with his arms folded.
“Guten Abend,” he says.
Paul whirls on him. “Who the hell are you?”
“I am Adrianus van Brugge. What the hell is that pirate doing?”
Anstis grumbles and puts the stake down. “You specifically said you wanted Marcus delivered. I’m ensuring that be the case.”
Van Brugge—whose identity I suspected but has only now been confirmed—looks at Anstis flatly. “Your ensuring him will not be required. In his state I don’t think he’s going anywhere.”
Paul pulls himself into Diplomacy Mode, nudity-be-damned. “Mr. van Brugge, I didn’t expect to see you in my kitchen…if you are in my kitchen….”
Van Brugge looks down at his incorporeal self. “Yes, well, this is somewhat more expedient than having to communicate by telephone or…using my feet.”
“Ah. I assume you’ve been filled in my Ms. Johnson?”
“We are in the process of it, yes.”
“Well. I’ll leave you to it then.” Paul turns to me. “Tom, the shower is available….”
I nod. Now, though, I am even less inclined to let Marcus out of my sight. I lean against the counter next to him, trying to keep Anstis and van Brugge in my vision at the same time. Paul rolls his eyes and leads Anstis to the shower instead (and then has to hang around to show him how to use it).
I feel Marcus stir slightly. I immediately lean down to check on him. He’s still unconscious, but muttering words I can’t make out. I bite my wrist open and try feeding him some more, hoping this time it will catch.
I’m so focused that I momentarily forget I’m not the only person in the room.
“I take it,” van Brugge says, “that this is to deal with his current condition?”
I glance up. Van Brugge’s apparition has moved across the kitchen to get a better look at what I’m doing. “Yeah, he seems to be…marginally improving.”
“What is the cause?”
The blood flows briefly faster as I clench my fist. “Whatever the hell that shi—“ At the last moment, I remember who I’m talking to and stop.
Van Brugge rolls his eyes. “You can go ahead and say it, I was probably going to kill that bastard anyway.”
“Right.” Huh, never say the Tremere never did anything for you, I guess. “Whatever that jackhole Max and his douche-squad gave to him, then.”
Now that Max’s name has been brought up again, Georgia leaps at the opportunity to throw him under the bus. She says she thinks he’s been working with the Sabbat, which van Brugge doubts, until Georgia points out that Sebastian had been seen hanging around with the Sabbat and he seemed to be doing some sort of gargoyle-trade deal with Leopold when we snuck up on them.
Van Brugge…really doesn’t like this. He glances at me and grudgingly concedes that Leopold might have been working off-reservation. He says that he and Georgia need to talk about these things further, but he would rather do it someplace safer: the Chantry.
Georgia blinks. “Um…isn’t the Chantry, first of all, destroyed, and second of all, being watched by the mortal police?”
“It is secure now.”
“Ah. Ok, I’ll…be there as soon as I can. Oh, also my cell phone isn’t working, so I’ll be out of contact until I get there.”
“No. You won’t be,” van Brugge says, his expression still carefully flat.
“Ah. Well then, I’ll…see you soon?”
“I have already taken the liberty of calling you a cab.”
Paul and Anstis return. Antsis is freshly showered, but unfortunately still smells like something freshly beached (apparently it’s a Flaw). He has, though, acquired new clothes, courtesy of Paul.
But since it’s Paul, the only clothes the had to offer were jeans and a black mock-turtleneck.
The cab arrives then. Before Georgia leaves, Paul takes her to his office and digs out an extra phone and SIM card to give to her. Anstis and van Brugge’s apparation have also followed, though. Paul hides the phone from both of them and taps a quick message in the notepad app before handing it to her:
Georgia reads it and embraces him in a quick hug, much to the confusion of Paul and everyone else. By now the cab is honking, so Georgia bids us all a goodbye and runs out. Van Brugge observes her departure out the window, looks at the rest of us, then disapparates without another word.
“Guy’s worse than Ellison,” Paul mutters.
That’s a pretty high bar, but…I don’t protest.
Paul looks at Anstis and I and claps his hands. “Right, well…. Tom are you going to stay here with Marcus?”
I look down at him. He hasn’t improved any further. “I guess. I mean, we still don’t know what’s wrong, and…I guess here is safe enough….”
Even as I say those words, though, I start to doubt them. Not one but two Assamites have wandered into this house over the last couple of weeks, and I’m starting to get concerned that Fatima might change her mind about waiting for a formal contract before coming after Marcus. Van Brugge, of course, also knows we’re here, and he’s definitely an unknown entity I’d like to avoid entirely.
Paul looks between Anstis and me. “Why don’t you two get better acquainted. See if you can work together.”
I sigh. Right, yes, and there’s also this to deal with….
Paul grabs a flashlight from a kitchen drawer. “In the meantime, I’m going to see if I can find Norton.”
Obviously Anstis can see me glaring at him, but all he does is grin. He looks at me and jerks his chin toward Paul.  “I do believe your boss here had a job for you.”
My glare goes from icy to glacial. “I do believe my boss HERE,” I jerk my head toward Marcus, “needs me here at the moment.”
Anstis turns to Paul. “You haven’t told him yet?”
Paul sighs and walks to the door. “He’s…willful. And there’s not any…well…we can wait a while and see if Marcus improves.”
I turn my eye-daggers onto Paul. “Tell me what?”
“I thought there was a rush on this,” Anstis says to Paul.
Paul sighs, hand on the door, and turns to address Anstis. “A few hours won’t make any difference. A day will.”
Oh heeeeeeeell no. This talk-about-me-like-I’m-not-even-there-like-you-would-a-child is getting shut down ASAP. Christ, I wonder if this is the shit Marcus has to put up with….
I’m about ready to blow up when Paul finally turns to me. “I need someone to go to the East Bay to talk with Helgi.”
I lean back against the counter and fold my arms. “I’m not going anywhere until Marcus gets better or we figure out something to get him better.”
“We can always bring him along,” Anstis says. “It’s not like he weighs a lot.”
Seriously?? What the fuck is wrong wi— “Yeah, I’m sure that bringing an unconscious Methusula into the middle of an Anarch den is a great idea!”
Anstis shrugs. “Do you not have crates in this age? Maybe a barrel?”
Pretty sure I have to spend some willpower to avoid face-palming. Instead, I set my face into the flattest glare possible. “Even if we did that, things that are valuable to me tend to get taken away from me lately, so…no. Still a bad idea.”
Paul finally opens the door to the garden. “Well, a half hour won’t make a difference. You guys talk. I’m going to find Norton.” With that he walks out.
Anstis and I stare at each other across the counter, Marcus lying between us. Anstis looks down at Marcus and looks like he’s about to say something, but then my phone rings.
I pull it out. It’s Bell. Urg, thank god.
“I gotta take this,” I mumble, and turn away to answer.
Bell: “Lytton. What the fuck is going on down there?”
Me: “Well right now we’re looking for Norton, but besides that…not that much.”
Bell: “Where. Is. The Tremere?”
Me: “She’s headed back to the Chantry.”
Bell: “She’s what?”
Me: “Yeah apparently they have it secured again.”
Bell: *silence a few moments* “I have a hundred cops camped outside that building! No one has been in or out!”
“Who are ye talking to?” Anstis growls, eyeing me suspiciously. I wave him off.
Bell: “Where are you and what are you doing?”
Me: “We’re at Paul’s place.”
Anstis moves around the counter, trying to get a closer look at my phone. I pivot out of his reach.
Bell: “What happened last night?”
Me: “Well we found a pirate, and he is very irritating.” *glares at Anstis* “And we went full Michael Bay on The Rock—“
Bell: “Yes, no shit, I saw. The Tremere is heading back to the Chantry now? By what means?”
Me: “Cab. She can’t drive for shit.”
(Kara: “Hey! I have…one dot in drive now!”
Jason: “Which is one more than Marcus has.”
Me: “Well…he’s a little short.”
Jason: “He can see over the wheel if he…stands. In certain types of cars.”
Ben: *fake-sneeze* “SmartCar.”)
Bell: “Fine. Are the rest of you secure?”
Me: *glances at Marcus* “As…well as we can be for the moment, yes.”
Bell: “What happened on Alcatraz?”
Me: “Well, we escaped the Chantry through some teleportation-circle and wound up there, where we found a full-on gargoyle factory that the Tremere have apparently been running for some time now.”
Bell: *Silence* “Did you just say…a gargoyle…factory?”
Me: “Yeah, with conveyor belts and everything.”
Bell: “…Did you find gargoyles there?”
Me: “We found a couple, and a whole bunch of those freaky Tremere caskets they transport things in. Oh, and a heeeell of a lot of blood, like full on microbrewery-vats filled with it.”
Bell: “So how did Alcatraz come to be destroyed?”
Me: “Right. Yes. So apparently Alcatraz has been run by Heinrich Himmler for the last couple decades, and he doesn’t like visitors, so…”
Bell: “Heinrich– You’re being literal?”
Me: “Yes. Remember what Paul told you about me and metaphors.”
The line devolves into a long string of cursing for a full minute. I wince and hold the phone away from my ear.
Bell: “What did you do to the place??”
Me: “Well some of the missing Semtex just happened to be there on a ferry that was—OH!! A ferry that was driven by Sebastian! Who apparently was in league with Himmler and his dudes! We took some of the Semtex and…redistributed it.”
Bell: *Long pause* “…Alright. Is Himmler alive?”
Me: “We can only assume.”
Bell: “And Sebastian?”
Me: “Oh no, he’s dead.”
Bell: “…You sure?”
Me: *Looks toward the fridge* “Yeah. Paul has his head in a tote bag. I’m looking at it now.”
I gotta say, as much as I love the excuse to flirt snark at Bell when he’s not able to point a gun at me, I’m starting to feel bad for the guy. This is all definitely way beyond what he was expecting, and probably way beyond his capabilities.
I look at Marcus again. Way beyond everyone’s capabilities, it seems.
Bell: “Alright.” *Another long pause * “I need you to come back to the city as soon as possible.”
Urg, dammit, that probably doesn’t mean what I’d like it to mean.
I go to rub my face with my free hand, forgetting that it’s missing. I rub my neck with my forearm instead. “I…kinda got some other things I gotta—“
“I said, as soon as possible. If you have other things going on…do what you have to do. But I need everyone back in the city as soon as they can. You do not know what could be running around the South Bay.”
Things like rogue Assamites…. “Right,” I say.
“As soon as anyone finds out what happened here last night, it’s going to be open season. The Sabbat in San Jose may decide to move on the city. You do not want to be on the Peninsula when a war party shows up.”
At the same time, though, I can’t help but think that my dealings with the Sabbat as of late have been…rather neutral. I mean there was Alejandro, who was a dick, but I smoked him, and then when the time came for a reckoning they practically threw me a parade instead.
“Well…my fan club is supposed to be getting my bike detailed for me, so….“
There’s another long pause before Bell replies, and when he does, his voice is significantly more menacing. “That had better be a joke and it had better be the last one.”
Ahh, there’s the hard-ass I’ve come to know and love. …I mean, wait, no that’s not what I—
I sigh. “….Yes. Sir.”
“Get back to the city with all haste. If you do not, you will be killed. Not by me, but by the ravening hordes of the Sabbat that are coming.”
Chriiiist. Assamites coming, Sabbat coming, Perkins coming…. I stare silently into space, trying to process my next move.
I jump, immediately back in the present. “Yes!”
“Good. Come to the Pyramid. No where else. Not the Chantry, not Elysium, nowhere.”
Pssh, right, like I’d be caught undead in the Chantry ever again. And it’s Monday, Elysium probably wouldn’t be tonight anyway….
Oh wait! It’s after Saturday! “Yeah ok, but I really gotta pick up my whip from my leather guy in SOMA.”
“Your wha—nevermind. Just do what you need to do and get here. And bring anything you managed to retrieve from either the Chantry or Alcatraz with you.
I glance down at Marcus. “…Kaaaaay…”
“This is not a joke, Mr. Lytton.”
“Oh, I know.”
“No, you don’t. But you might find out if you stay there too long. Just…move quickly. And make sure the rest of those idiots move as fast as they can as well.” Bell hangs up.
“Who was that?” Anstis growls.
I shove the phone back in my pocket. “That…was someone whom we should all probably respect more than we do.”
“How do you bring this to life?” Anstis asks. For a moment I think he’s talking about Marcus, but when I look at him, I’m surprised to see him holding a phone too. I remember that Paul gave a spare phone to Georgia, but somehow I doubt that he purposefully gave one to Anstis as well….
“Um, well, first you need a contract signed in blood.”
He frowns suspiciously. “With whom?”
“With a data carrier.”
“Who is Data Carrier?”
I roll my eyes, then snort as something occurs to me. “You know, actually, I got a guy at the Verizon store in the Tenderloin. He should be out of the hospital now and can probably get you a good deal. Especially if, um, I was with you. But I don’t have time to introduce you right now.”
Anstis’s frown deepens and he continues to eye me suspiciously.
We now backtrack to the moment that Georgia got in the cab. She flops in the backseat, sighs in exasperation, then leans forward to give directions to the driver.
It’s the same driver she had before. The pale man in black and sunglasses, who dropped her off outside the creepy house in Russian Hill some nights ago. Even though the last time she was using a completely different car service.
She stares at him. He doesn’t react, nor apparently does he need directions because he pulls out of the drive and heads toward the freeway.
“Business in the city?” he finally says after a few minutes.
“Yes….” she says slowly, still staring at him, sitting tensely in her seat.
“Interesting night to be out and about.”
“It is…. Haven’t I seen you before?”
“Oh, that’s possible.”
“What was your name?” She looks around for one of those cab license certificates but none are displayed.
He’s silent for a few moments. “Adam.”
“Weren’t you…driving SideCar the last time I saw you?”
“Oh, I drive a number of things.” He glances in the rear-view mirror. “We all drive a number of things.”
Georgia stares back. “I suppose…that could be metaphorically true….”
(It’s certainly not literally true for Georgia, she can’t drive for shit. Although, ironically, it is literally true for Jim-in-Real-Life. See previous discussions of his days as a truck driver and his fixed- and rotary-winged pilots licenses.)
“Strange days in the city,” Adam says.
“Oh, well, you know how it is in San Francisco.”
“All too well. Do you?”
“Well, it’s a strange city….”
“Stranger than most. Especially these nights.”
Georgia’s suspicion ratchets up a notch. Not many mortals around that use that expression. “Oh? What’s strange about ‘these nights’?”
“Odd folk about. You see all kinds when you drive a cab. It’s one of the perks of the job.”
“So, you like the job?”
He’s silent for a moment before answering. “I’ve had worse.”
They reach the onramp and merge onto 280 north. Traffic at this time of night is, expectedly, light, so they start to make good time.
“What brings you to the city?” he asks, voice a little higher to be heard over the roar of the wind outside the car.
“Meeting a business colleague. One of my superiors, actually. Little nervous about the meeting.”
“Really. What line of business is that?”
“Umm…technology discovery?”
“Hmm. Must be intriguing. Solving all sorts of natural mysteries.” He glances in the mirror again. “Producing wonders.”
For the moment, Georgia forgets to be suspicious and is flooded with excitement about her thaumaturgical research. “Yeah, it really is, actually! I really enjoy it. Do you have experience with it?”
“Oh, a little. Just a hobby.”
They lapse into silence, once again the only noise in the car the wind of its passing.
“So…what are you going to do when you meet this big scary boss of yours?”
She waves a hand dismissively. “I don’t know if he’s that scary….”
“You mentioned you were apprehensive.”
“Oh, no, it’ll be fine.
Another long pause. Her concern about him starts to ebb, and boredom is setting in, so she turns to stare out the window at the rolling moonlit landscape.
“It’s an odd time in the city,” he says finally. “People acting…very strange.”
Georgia shrugs. “Well, that’s not unusual for San Francisco.”
“Oh, this time I think it is.”
She looks up at him again. “What makes you say that?”
She can see his face scrunch a little through the mirror. “Oh, just a feeling is all. You live with the night long enough you start to feel you can understand it. Feel the difference between one and the next.”
Suspicion back in force, she decides to read his aura. The color indicates that he’s mortal, that’s obvious enough, but whether he’s a mage or something more exotic isn’t clear. What is odd, though, is that the aura is very placid. Instead of pulsing and flowing, like many auras apparently do, his looks like an almost solid stroke of color around him.
She stares at him. “So…you drive mostly at night?”
“It’s my preference.”
“Why is that?”
He bobs his head side to side. “Oh, you get to see a different side of the world. One that doesn’t like to be seen.”
“And…you like to see things that don’t like to be seen?”
“Oh, who doesn’t. What about you? You like finding things out?”
“I do, actually,” she says, smiling as she remembers her passion for magic once again.
“Is that why you’re here? To…find things?”
Now she frowns. “In…a manner of speaking, yes….”
“What sort of things are you looking for?”
“I…suppose that’s between me and the things that I’m finding.”
“I suppose it is.” He smiles at the mirror, something unsettling lurking beneath the amusement.
“So…how long have you been driving in the city?”
He chuckles. “Sometimes it feels like forever.”
He chuckles again. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that…. Long enough to have met a few interesting folk. Like you, for instance.”
Georgia bristles slightly and looks down at herself (which, note, is clothed in mud-stained and saltwater-crusted robes). “What’s so strange about me?”
“Not everyone wanders around these parts dressed that way. But there’s more to it than that. I don’t find many who would walk through some of that which this city has to offer and come out still wanting to know more secrets.”
Georgia picks futilely at her robes. “And what do you think I’ve walked through?”
“Fire. And water.”
Georgia’s head snaps up. He is staring at her through the mirror once again, but doesn’t say anything further.  “I…see…. And how do you know so much about me?”
“I’m an observer of human nature. I see all kinds.”
“Well how is it that you’ve come to know so much about me, when I’ve only met you a couple of times?”
He grins his unsettling smile again. “Just lucky I guess. Always was.”
By now they’re at the outskirts of the city, looping around in a dive through Potrero and Dogpatch, plunging straight towards downtown. Any normal person would be dazzled by the impressive vista of the skyline spread before them, but Georgia ignores the view, staring at him instead.
“You don’t like to help with the discovering of things, do you?”
He chuckles again. “Oh, I’m not an inventor. Or an explorer. I just like to watch the world go by.”
(Jason: “That was not helpful to you at all, was it?”
Kara: “No!!!”
Jason: “Good!!”)
Paul, meanwhile, has been wandering aimlessly through the woodlands around his house, searching for signs of Norton. He finally gives up and heads back toward the house. On the way, his phone buzzes with a new text message.
It’s from Sophia.
Her messages are terse, but are basically the same as everyone else’s who has contacted us this evening: Where are you and what the hell happened at Alcatraz? Paul gives a brief sketch, mentioning the gargoyle factory and the fact that Sebastian is dead, and asks if she can meet in person.
Many minutes pass. Finally a reply comes back saying she might be able to talk, later that evening. At Kezar Stadium. Which is in the park. Golden Gate Park.
I.e., the park full of werewolves.
Paul concedes, though, and agrees to the requested conditions to come alone and stay quiet.
He puts his phone away and continues back to the house.
Back at the house, I’m getting antsy. Paul’s not back, Anstis is all up in my grill, and Bell’s words are gradually weighing heavier on me. Without any new data, my paranoia is building and I am starting to succumb to my natural instinct:
Run back to the city, stash Marcus somewhere that isn’t full of Assamites and assholes, and figure out what to do from there.
Anstis is still pestering me about the phone but I brush him off, saying I need to get back to the city for some things so I’ll show him later.
There’s only one problem, though. Anstis wants to come with me.
I glare at him. “I have some things I need to do.”
“And what might those be?”
“I gotta see a man about a dog,” I mutter, pulling my phone out again. Unlike van Brugge, as a true San Franciscian I know better than to waste time trying to call a cab. Uber runs out of Palo Alto now so I put in a request through them.
He quirks his head. “Dog? What dog?”
“It’s an expression,” I mutter, then curse quietly. The nearest car won’t be here for 20 minutes.
Anstis, though, has carefully observed my behavior with my phone and is copying it with his stolen phone. Unfortunately he can’t do much with it, so he’s mostly just pawing at the screen, gaping at the lights and colors.
While he’s distracted, I pick up Marcus, carrying him in a way that he just looks like a kid who has fallen asleep instead of a kid who has fallen dead, and leave the house to go wait for the car in the front drive.
(Ben: “Aw come on, you gotta have a suitcase big enough!”
Me: “…I thought about it.”
Jason: “What?? He’s not two!”
Ben: “You can fit a nine year old in a suitcase.”
Jason: “How do you know that??”
Ben: “Because I had a nine year old cousin.”
Jason: “That you PUT IN A SUITCASE?”
Ben: “…He was willing. He laughed the whole time.”
Jason: “…I don’t want to know any more about this!”
Jim: “Kids loved to be shoved into small containers.”
Kara: “Yeah, I’m not surprised, they really do.”
Me: “They’re like cats. ‘Ooo, there’s something small! Let me fit in it!’ “
Chris: “Ok, then you can load Indy the next time he needs to go to the vet!”
Kara: “What? He sleeps in that crate!”
Chris: “He does, but he doesn’t want to go in it when he knows it’s going to be taken out of the apartment.”
Ben: “You know, that cousin is in medical school now….”)
Marcus stirs slightly when I lift him but doesn’t wake more than that. I sit down on the front steps. Paul arrives back at the house then, sees me, and walks over, looking perplexed.
“What are you doing out here with Marcus?”
“I’m calling a car to take us back to the city. Bell wants to meet with me.”
Paul frowns suspiciously. “You’re taking Marcus back to the city?”
“I’m going to put him somewhere safe.”
“Where is that?”
Fuck if I know. “It’s…probably better if I don’t say….”
Paul glares. “You haven’t gotten it through your head that I have worked to save him as much as you have, and you still don’t trust me?”
I roll my eyes and look around. From where I’m sitting, I can see through some windows into the kitchen. Anstis isn’t where I left him, but I can’t see where he is. My paranoia rises again.
“There definitely are some things we need to talk about later, but for now….” I eye him significantly, “…I am very concerned.”
Paul folds his arms. “I need to talk to Marcus as soon as possible.”
“Yeah, so do I!”
“Do you have a fight to the death with a Sabbat Archbishop in two days?”
“No, but….” I look around. I still don’t see Anstis but I decide to risk it. “I may have had a brief encounter with an Assamite….”
“What? Where??”
“Here. Last night.”
Paul throws up his arms and curses the fact that every supernatural force in the Bay Area seems to be stopping by his house whenever they feel like it these days. I really can’t argue with that.
The car arrives and honks. I head to it, still with Marcus. Paul demands more information, but at this point I am angry and overwhelmed and can’t think straight. I promise him I’ll get Marcus secure and get info to him as soon as possible. I open the back door of the car and put Marcus inside in a way that it won’t be immediately obvious to the driver that he’s not showing up in the mirror. I turn around to say goodbye to Paul…
….And find Anstis standing behind me instead.
Fuuuucking— “Captain. I gotta…go take care of these chores. Go with Paul to the Pyramid and I’ll meet up with you guys there.”
“Aye, we’ll meet up. I’m coming with ye.”
Nope. Nope nope nope… “Ahh, no, these chores are…of a delicate nature. I can’t have other people around.”
He eyes me sidelong. “How delicate?”
I rub my face. Time for the big guns, so to speak. “They got sodomites where you come from, Captain?”
He raises an eyebrow. “Sodomites? Aye….”
“Right, ok, imagine that times about four. That’s the crowd I roll with. I gotta go deal with them about some shit.’
He ponders that for a moment, then smirks. “I’m sure you can handle four.”
I glare back. “Oh, I can…. Look. I gotta go see my guys about some things and then meet up at the Pyramid. I can meet you and Paul there.”
I turn to see where Paul went. He’s inside the house, standing in the kitchen window, calmly holding a mug of tea and grinning at me.
Anstis tries to climb in the cab. I shove him out. We argue. I eventually get the driver to kick him out by proving I was the one that called the car. I climb in, slam the door, and glare at him through the tinted glass as the car drives away.
Anstis goes back inside to ask Paul about these cars (pronounced “cAAAARRs!”) and how to get one to this Pyramid I told him about. Paul sees him holding the stolen cell-phone and decides to get him set up with something more appropriate: an old Nokia, one of the near-indestructible ones.
And then, laboriously, over the course of the next hour or so, Paul teaches Anstis how to use it.
The car is quiet as we speed toward the city. I stare out the window, trying to gather my thoughts and figure out a plan. I need to get Marcus somewhere safe enough where I can leave him and go out and get some some of this other shit done. My apartment is the obvious choice. It’s shitty, but he can’t really blame me for that, since it was Aitor who set it up in the first place.
However, I’m a little concerned that my place isn’t as unknown as I want it to be. That ghoul of the Prince’s knew I was there, after all. Thinking outside the box, I consider installing him at Norton’s, cause god knows no would would expect that. But with Norton missing, and blind, and probably skating the edge of the Malkavian crazies more than usual, I don’t like the thought of what would happen if he showed up at his house and found Marcus unconscious there.
My place it is, then. I lean forward and give the address to the driver.
As I shift in the seat, Marcus stirs next to me and mutters something. I lean down but I can’t make it out. Whatever it is, it’s not English.
“Everything alright?” the driver calls over his shoulder.
“Yeah…. Long party, you know. My nephew. He conked out so I’m taking him home.”
“He didn’t look great when you were putting him in the car….”
“Yeah… We think he might be coming down with the flu or something.”
The driver nods but still glances at me suspiciously in the mirror.
I watch Marcus over the next couple of minutes. He stirs and mutters some more, then actually opens his eyes. They’re bleary and unfocused, but they are definitely conscious.
“Bo—Marcus….” I say, awkwardly forcing myself not to call him “Boss” in front of the driver. He mutters something else. This time I can tell that it’s Latin, but I sure can’t understand it.
“Marcus,” I say again, leaning down. “Are you feeling better?”
“…Wh…where….” he murmurs.
“We are on the Peninsula, heading back to the City.”
“City….” he mutters, looking around. He’s too short to see clearly out the window from the position he’s in, but something tells me he wouldn’t be “seeing clearly” even if he could. “Insula in the city….”
He looks towards me but not really at me. “Subura?” he asks.
I shake my head, glancing nervously at the driver. “I…don’t know what you’re saying….”
“Esquiline?” he says. My mind races, grasping for, like, etymological roots for clues to what he’s saying, but this one stumps me.
(Me: “This is less fun than when everyone was speaking German and I still understood what they were saying.”)
He clenches his face and rubs at his head, a gesture that’s becoming disturbingly common for him. “How far to the city?” he mutters in English, finally.
I look outside. We’re coming up through Colma, the lights of the suburbs spread out below us to the east, the dark shapes of the San Bruno mountains looming over them. “I don’t know…ten, fifteen minutes?”
He nods vacantly. “Tell me when we can see the Palatine.”
I stare at him in concern. “In…San Francisco? There isn’t a building called that….”
He doesn’t respond, his focus starting to drift off again. Dammit, given enough time, and a fucking library, I could probably look all this shit up—
I sit up. Wait a minute, I live in the fucking future!!
I pull out my phone—my top-of-the-line Verizon iPhone with the highest bandwidth data plan—and call up Wikipedia. I carefully type in “palatine” and skim the entry.
Unfortunately, it just confuses me more. I look back at him. He’s leaning against the door, eyes half-closed. My concern is overcoming my need for subterfuge. “Boss, do you know where you are?” I ask urgently.
“Are we there yet?” he mumbles without turning.
“We’re nearing the outskirts of the city,” I say, which is true.
He frowns. “I can’t smell them.”
“Smell who?”
“I can’t smell the pomerium….” he mutters. I feed this into my phone as well, but unfortunately every spelling I try is the wrong one (I get stuck on derivations of “Pomeranian”) and nothing comes up.
Marcus opens his eyes further and tries to pull himself up against the door so he can see out the window. I lean over to help him. He peers around at the suburban landscape speeding by, seemingly looking for something.
“Marcus,” I say softly. “Where do you need to be taken to?”
He stares for a moment. “Erebus.”
I haven’t been having much luck with my drive-by research so far but I give it another shot. This time, I don’t like what I find at all.
“Where are we?” he mutters, still staring out the window.
I look at him in concern. “We’re in San Francisco,” I stress. “In the real world….”
Another pause. “In America?” he asks.
I sag in relief. “Yes.”
“Of course….” He turns to me, blinking, but there’s a steadier awareness to his gaze. “Tom,” he says. I can’t tell if it’s a greeting or some sort of reminder to himself.
He looks around. “Where are we?” Although he’s said these words repeatedly over the last few minutes, this seems to be the first time he’s really asking them.
“We’re in a car going back to the city. I was going to hole you up at my place until you got better or…I figured something else out.”
“What happened?”
“You mean…after Alcatraz?”
“Alcatraz….” he mutters. “We were on Alcatraz, yes…. We…burned it.”
“Yes. There were many Tremere (So explosion. Wow.).”
“Yes…. And now they’re dead,” he says, a note of satisfaction in his voice.
“Well, Himmler got away….”
“Oh, yes…. Himmler was there….” He sighs and shakes his head, turning back to me. “I am sorry, I thought we were somewhere else.”
“What…why are we in a cab?”
Christ, where do I start. I actually take a deep breath. “Because I am very concerned about Anstis. The pirate. I am concerned about what he might do with you, considering some attempts he has already made….”
He frowns. “Attempts?”
“Well at one point he tried to stake you again. He thought that would be the most convenient way to get you back under control….”
Marcus gropes at his chest, feeling for a wound.
“No, you’re fine, we got it. Paul stopped him.”
Marcus looks angry, but also confused. “What was his plan?”
Right. This. Fatima’s offer rings through my mind, specifically the unspoken flicker of hope it offered for finding and saving my sister. I stare at Marcus for a moment, then close my eyes and sigh.
“We…were visited by an Assamite….”
“An Assamite??” Marcus sits up, fully focused now.
The driver glances back. “You guys alright back there?”
I cast Awe without even thinking about it. “We’re talking about his favorite kids’ show here,” I call towards the front of the car.
“Oh, right….” The driver mutters and returns his attention to the road.
I turn back to Marcus. “An Assamite showed up while you were passed out—“
“Looking for me?”
I hesitate again. “Looking for…my sister….” I look away. “…Who is apparently one herself….”
Marcus leans forward. “What?”
I shake my head, staring out the window. Saying the words out-loud has brought back my initial feelings of shock and disbelief, now coupled with the guilt of essentially giving her away. Again. “I don’t know….” I mutter.
I can feel his heavy gaze on the back of my head. “You didn’t tell me you had a sister who was an Assamite,” he says darkly. As if I was somehow keeping this from him for my benefit.
My head snaps around. “Because the last time I saw her she was a fucking sophomore in art class!!” The last words echo through the cab like a gunshot. “I didn’t! Fucking!! Know!!!”
Something in the back of my mind grabs ahold of my anger, reminding me that I have just screamed in the face of a Sabbat Methusula and maybe I should calm my tits. I continue to stare at him, though, not bothering to hide the fear and grief on my face. He stares back, his face unreadable.
“Hey!” the driver barks. “If there’s a problem, guys, I can pull over right now.”
Marcus watches me another moment, then leans forward, putting himself in line-of-sight of the rear mirror. He glances into it. “Keep driving,” he says. The driver goes quiet, focusing on the road once again.
He sits back again and sighs. “You have an Assamite in the family,” he says, more statement than question. “How the hell do you know about this? They show up to tell you out of courtesy?”
I shrug. “This other Assamite—Fatima, she went by—is looking for her. Apparently my sister is part of a rogue Assamite cell.”
Marcus frowns. “Rogue Assamites? Did she give you any details?”
“Just that it’s this one guy who’s apparently gone rogue and turning Assamites on his own initiative, and has been for some time now.”
He rolls his eyes. “There’s been so many Assamite schisms it’s hard to keep track.”
“Anyway, the point of the matter, Boss, is she was there, and saw you, and was very interested in you….”
He chuckles darkly. “I bet.”
“…And Anstis was very interested in her offer.”
He shakes his head. “I’ll tell you what. The next time you see her, invite her to my presence and we’ll discuss her little offer. I’m not afraid of an Assamite.”
He doesn’t ask what the offer was, though, which I am grateful for. I’d tell him about the money, but…I don’t think I’d tell him about the favor. Better to just forget the whole thing happened, act like the hope wasn’t even there in the first place.
The car rounds a curve of the freeway. We can see the lights of the city in the distance. “Where are we going?” Marcus asks.
“I was gonna hole you up at my place in the Tenderloin, but if you have a better location, we can change plans.”
He rubs his head again. “No, your place will suffice. I need to…find someone….”
I look at him quizzically. He gives me a Signifiant Look. “She’ll be looking by now.”
Oh, Aquilifer! Yaaaaaaay! “Well, I have a couple extra steaks in my fridge—“
“You don’t understand. I’ve been poisoned and I gave some of my blood to her in order to keep her whole. The blood carried the poison so I need to find her. What effect it’ll have on a bird….” He shrugs.
(I make another plug for the fact that avian immune systems are really robust. Just saying.)
“Where are you going?” Marcus asks.
“Well, Bell has summoned me—“
“Ahh,” Marcus chuckles. “So Bell survived? What does he want?”
“I don’t know, but it’s probably too much to hope that he’s asking me for coffee.”
“Justicars don’t look for coffee.” (Oh, cool, so maybe he’s not the type to play games then, hey-o) “Where are the others of your…intrepid crew?”
I think for a moment, then my eyes go wide. “Oh! Shit! Yeah, we got visited by this guy, van Brugge, who showed up via some Emperor Palpatine shit—“
Marcus’s face darkens. “Van Brugge…. Adrianus van Brugge? What’s he doing here?”
“He’s been sent by Douche High Command—“
“The Tremere sent him?”
“Yeah, he’s apparently retaken the Chantry—“
“I imagine he might have.” He rubs his head again, though this time it looks like it’s out of frustration rather than pain. “Well that complicates things…. So you met him?”
“Well I met his…hologram….”
“That’s close enough, he can work his magic through it.”
Well, that’s…a concerning piece of information. “Anyway, he called Georgia to him. Paul’s coming back to the city to meet with somebody. I ditched Anstis as soon as I could but told him to go to Bell at the Pyramid too.”
Marcus nods slowly. “Well…thank you,” he says, meeting my eyes. I raise an eyebrow. Coming from Marcus, that is some high praise indeed.
“I’ve…not had a great run of things recently,” he continues, rubbing his head again, “but one perseveres.”
For the briefest, flickering instant, I see him at face value: as a kid, exhausted and overwhelmed by circumstances beyond his understanding or control. I quickly shove that vision out of my mind before it turns into something much more dangerous: pity.
“Well…you’re still kicking ass and taking names when you can, Boss.”
He sighs. “That gets old too.” He stares out the window a moment. “Van Brugge is at the Chantry?”
He nods. “Don’t go there. Don’t go into his presence. Don’t go anywhere near him. Avoid him as much as you can.”
“He did see you when he was—“
“I’m not worried about him, but van Brugge will quite gleefully kill every non-Tremere in this city if he has to to keep his secrets. I know the man.”
(Kara: “Is that true Ben?”
Ben: “…Yeah.”)
“He’s Tremere, the Tremere do such things, and he’s not just any Tremere. Last I heard he was what they call a ‘Fireman.’ They don’t send a Fireman unless something’s burning.”
(Kara: “Or they want something burning!”
Jason: “…Occasionally.”)
Marcus meets my eye. “If van Brugge is in town, do not go near him, do not cross his path, do not look him in the eye. He will kill everyone if he must. And there’s enough Tremere laundry being aired here to warrant wiping the city clean of Kindred. I’ve seen them do it before.” He pauses. “I helped them do it before.”
That….brings up something that’s been eating away at the back of my mind for days (real-time months) now. “Speaking of secrets, Boss….” I say hesitantly. “Can I ask you something?”
“What’s that?”
This is quite possibly a mistake, but…I have to know. I take a breath and meet his eyes again. “Why do the werewolves have a name for you?”
He raises an eyebrow. “Oh do they? How did you find that out? Or do I know already….” I nod. “What name did they give you, cause I’ve carried a couple in my day.”
“The Devourer,” I say flatly.
He nods and sighs. “That…is a long and very bloody story.” He turns to the window again. “We all…do the best we think we can do. Vampires and werewolves do not get along. Our paths seldom cross when we can arrange it, but sometimes we can’t. And when that happens there can be…complications.”
He lapses into silence for a moment, still facing the window. “I had a…client. Many, many years ago. In Europe. Another one like me. Another one embraced…before his time, if you know what I mean.”
Urg, Christ, yeah I do, but I go right back to not thinking too hard about it.
“I killed his sire, helped him as I could. And then he met a pack of werewolves who saw him as an abomination and tore him to pieces. I…overreacted.” Another beat of silence. “I killed them, I killed their Kinfolk, I killed the ones they knew, I killed the ones they did business with. I slaughtered the entire pack, across half a continent and two decades.”
(Chris and Jim: “Not just the warriors, but the women! And the children! I killed them all!”
Jason: “Noope! Stop that!!”)
“I killed them like the dogs they were.”
(Ben: “…Woof.”)
“I am not the last, and not the first. And given the opportunity, I would do it again.” He looks at me. “You see, you may know some werewolf who thinks of herself as the peacemaker. You may even think that you can build a bridge. But the fundamental reality is, we live in a world of death, and they object to it. To the entire world, and everyone who inhabits it.”
Damn. I’m glad the driver doesn’t still think we’re talking about a children’s show….
“99.99% of werewolves you encounter will kill you so quickly, you will not know they were even there. They will not stop to ask questions, they will not wish to know what you were,” he emphasizes the last word, “or what you stood for. They will rip you to pieces, unless you rip them first. I was fortunate enough to meet mine when I was capable. Not everyone is.”
I groan and rub my face. “Yeah, well, I’m hoping to pick up my whip sometime in the next century, but beyond that…I’m doing what I can.”
Marcus turns to the window again. “That’s all any of us can do.”
The car slows and pulls up to the curb outside my building. The driver idles the car, staring straight ahead. I scope out the area. There’s a man passed out in the doorway of my building, and another one standing in the middle of the street, yelling at cars and waving a broken bottle.
So, you know, nothing unusual.
“You getting out here Boss, or….”
He nods, leaning slightly against the door. “I think I’ll stay here for the moment. I can do what I need to do remotely. Where are you going?”
“Well, I can let you into my place and—“
He eyes me. “Oh, you don’t have to,” he says. Right. Yes. Shadow-teleport. Awesome. “Do you have a telephone in the apartment?”
“Ah, no, you’ll find the apartment is…still rather sparse. …Oh, but there’s a Verizon store down the street if you want me to—“
He waves me off. “No, I don’t need a store. I’ll find one.” He eyes me significantly again. “You’re going to meet with Bell?”
I hesitate. “…Yes….”
“I would watch Bell carefully. He’s a Brujah and he’s been pushed to the edge that very few Brujah push.” Great, maybe we can form a club…. “They’re unpredictable, I’m sure you know that.”
“Yeah, I’m…getting there….”
He eyes me another moment then opens the door of the car. “I will acquire the phone and inform you of its number. In the meantime, I have business to attend to. Especially if Adrianus is here.”
Before he gets out, he leans forward in sight of the rear-mirror again. “Take him where he needs to go,” he says, “Then go home and sleep it off. You’re drunk.”
He looks at me again, nods, then exits the car and walks off. I close the door and give the driver the address of my leather guy in SOMA. The car quietly pulls away and merges into traffic again.
I stare out the window at the passing lights of the city, processing everything he said. Most of it seemed par for the course, but my mind keeps coming back to the conversation about the werewolves. On the surface it seemed rather distressing, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s…actually kinda not. Just in the last few decades, I’ve heard multiple tales of epic battles against werewolves and the vampire warriors known for taking them down. Bell, for instance, is—unsurprisingly—supposed to be able to hold his own against them, under the right circumstances.
But Sophia didn’t even know who Bell was.
So for Marcus to have a reputation and a name that has lasted centuries longer than a single werewolf’s lifespan, well…. It seems like there must be more to it than that.
For starters, that’s not even the complete name. If Marcus was familiar with the first part, he’s undoubtedly familiar with the second, but he didn’t mention it, nor did he ask me if I knew it. My stomach churns as I remember.
The full name that Sophia told me was “The Devourer of Innocence.”
Georgia arrives at the Chantry to find it…totally quiet. Obviously there’s no one to meet her when she arrives at the door, but there’s also no sign of Bell’s cops. She walks right up to the building and lets herself in.
The Chantry has definitely seen better days. There’s no signs of bodies, or blood, but many of the decorations and furnishings are ravished. Georgia stares around the entry hall, letting the heavy front door close behind her.
The second it shuts, van Brugge appears next to her, this time not as an apparition. She jumps.
“Right. So. Here is the problem,” he says by way of greeting. “Normally with these sort of situations we would simply kill everyone who knows about a certain…factory of gargoyles. Needless to say, we can’t do that in this case. Not readily.” He folds his arms behind him and paces slowly around Georgia. “In the middle ages we would have simply wiped out the entire city and…you know, blamed the Tzimitze or something. But in this cause, that is not a viable option as well. “
He stops his pacing and faces her. “So we get to something that I’ve been wanting to do for quite some tim. Mainly, about sixty years.”
She looks around nervously. “Oh? And what is that?”
He tilts his head dramatically. “Take out Himmler.”
“I…can get behind that….”
He nods once. “Good.” He returns to pacing. “We’ll have to spin this, being as, of course, people only ever perceive the Tremere as doing these things, so we’ll have to be on political damage control.”
Georgia nods slowly. “How…can I help with that?”
“Do you have any idea where Himmler could have gone?”
“I do have a strong suspicion that he escaped via the teleport circles on Alcatraz, though Im not sure where that goes. We can maybe pop over to Alcatraz and check?
He shakes his head. “No, I already checked. Someone burned it out of the floor. Speaking of which…. You listed off a number of names for…a certain demonic entity. I need to know all of the aliases you  know him by and what he is apparently capable of doing.”
Georgia gives the rundown:
Walter Perkins, aka the Night Devil, aka the Man of Wind, aka Gnaeus Perpenna Vento.
Stats: Crazyballs.
Talents: Looking like someone else, possession, cloning, being killed and coming back from the being killed, teleporting around, trying to kill Marcus (or worse).
Van Brugge processes these, cursing a couple of times. “Speaking of the other thing…. Let us say that I…owe Marcus a favor, with respect to this individual.”
“You…mean like to help him out? Or to take him out?”
“Ah…neither. It’s….complicated. Suffice to say, we knew each other long ago, before the Camarilla existed, and…let’s leave it at that. Marcus is a Sabbat Cardinal, or some sort, but that does not mean that our interests have always been…oppositional.”
He looks at her intently over his glasses. “But he is very, very dangerous, as I’m sure you are aware. You must take extreme care with your dealings with him, if you haven’t already. You have been extremely lucky. Do not reveal secrets to him. Ever.”
“Uuuuuuuhhhhhh…” is all Georgia can say.
Van Brugge glares. “You are hiding something. Do not make me rip it from your mind, I would prefer not to damage your free will.”
Georgia shifts nervously. “Through a series of events which can really only be described as “fortunate,” unfortunately I seem to be blood bound to…Paul Stewart….” (Note: apparently Jason read up on differences between the rules early editions and 20th Anniversary edition and they retconned that Marcus’s blood did not override Georgia’s blood-bond to Paul. Jesus fucking christ this shit gets complicated fast….) “See, he saved my life a couple times by giving me some blood.”
Van Brugge stares flatly. “I see…. Paul Stewart? The one who is the non-Tremere and was in the room naked?”
“Uh…yes. Well…I suspect that he is blood-bound to Marcus.”
“NEUK MIR HET OOR!!!” van Brugge yells and throws his arms. He paces faster. “So what have you told Marcus?”
“Well, not really anything, but he did see the island.”
“What have you told him about everything else? What Tremere secrets have you spilled?! If you are blood-bound, you have been throughly compromised!!”
Georgia groans and rubs her face. Things are definitely going from bad to worse (I, meanwhile, am just amused that Team Marcus seems to be developing a new cross-town team rivalry).
“I haven’t told secrets, I simply informed them of the problem with Max (What, that he’s a douche? Yeah, the whole city knows that) and they were unfortunately here for the attack on the Chantry which means that they saw many things.”
Van Brugge stares at her. “And…how am I supposed to believe any of this? How do I know that they didn’t simply sit you down in a chair, and give you little doe-y eyes and invoke the love of that blood bond?”
Georgia holds up a finger. “Well, I am not entirely sure that Paul is even aware of the blood bond….”
“So, he’s incompetent then? We cannot take that particular risk….”
Georgia hesitates, blood bond effects starting to leak in. “He’s…not a very good vampire. He’s new.”
“Then he will be easy to deal with.”
“He’s…a nice guy.”
Van Brugge rolls his eyes. “You would say that. So. We have two choices. We could kill him or subordinate him to our interests. That is effectively all.”
Georgia sputters. “But…the blood bonding was done in an effort to save my life, which was effective.”
He stares at her imperiously. “And this is relevant to me how? You do a job. You were sent here to figure out what the fuck Max was up to!”
“Well I’ve done that, haven’t I??”
Van Brugge looks around the remains of the foyer. “I suppose, but you’ve managed to make yourself an intelligent asset of a Toreador and a Sabbat in the process!! You are lucky I have not merely vaporized you!”
He throws his arms out. “You do realize that the entire Chantry is destroyed, ja? You’ve manifestly failed in that particular mission. The mission was to preserve the Chantry in some sort of order, but everyone is dead!” He hesitates. “So to speak….”
“Except for Max,” she mumbles sadly.
“Ja. I think. I’m not sure he’s alive or not at this point.”
“Can we track him?”
“Normally yes, but there is a ward of some type in the way. A particularly potent one. More potent than Max could produce.”
“Do you think Perkins kidnapped him?”
He folds his arms thoughtfully. “Kidnapped, or in league with, I have no idea. He did, for example, open the door for him to kill everyone.” He shakes his head. “I would not…fear for Max’s survival, in this case. One way or another he will be tried…in Vienna.”
(Jason: “That’s some bad shit. Guys that go to Vienna don’t come back.”
Chris: “Then how do people know it exists?”
Jason: “….”
Ben: “Well, sometimes people come back…as a talking chair.”
Kara: “Oh, huh.”
Ben: “…By ‘talking chair’ I mean an armchair made out of their own skin.”
Kara: “……Wow. Good job, Tremere, way to be weird.”)
Van Brugge sighs, softening slightly. “There’s no point in arguing about mistakes. I am somewhat certain that certain individuals need to be killed, certain individuals suborned, certain others have interests that align with ours. What we really need to do is locate Max and…Perkins…and all other relevant participants. We can sort what to do with each of them later.”
He stares at the remains of the room again. “Unfortunately, Perkins is manifesting powers beyond anything on which I was briefed. There are…some things I need to check up on.”
“Are you telling me we’re going to have to call for more backup?”
“Hopefully not, if we’re careful we can deal with this ourselves.” He hesitates. “Besides…there is no more backup. Unless I want to bring in the Council of Seven, which no one wants to do. That would end up with me going to Vienna.”
“It…sounds like that’s what it took last time Perkins was subdued….”
Van Brugge stares into space. “Ja….” he says quietly.
“What evidence is there to suggest that it is not necessary this time?”
He hesitates. “There are…Reasons why we cannot call the council to San Francisco. Let’s put it that way and leave it at that. We’ll have to deal with the situation ourselves.”
They discuss places to start looking for Max. Apparently the Tremere have other bolt-holes around the city, so those are the best places to start. They also rant for awhile about how much Max sucks. Georgia hesitantly brings up the Nosferatu again and that they might actually be an asset to this cause. Van Brugge would prefer it remain an internal matter, but finally concedes that she can pursue a temporary alliance of sorts with them if she thinks it will help. She is, of course, to share as little information as possible and lie whenever necessary (which, since she’s Tremere, will be often).  They decide that the public story will be that Max, Himmler, and who/whatever else is working with them are Sabbat infiltrators, and van Brugge is here to annihilate them all.
Van Brugge asks about other resources. She mentions Paul again and that he has a lot of wealth and technology.
Van Brugge frowns. “Paul Stewart is a massive liability. We may need to destroy him.”
Now Georgia frowns. “Why?” she asks, voice wavering slightly.
Van Brugge rolls his eyes and bobs his head side to side. “Oh, I don’t know, it could have something to do with that blood bond he has to Marcus—and thus back to the Sabbat—that he also has on you, have we not explained this properly?”
She wilts. He stares at her and rolls his eyes again. “Urg. If your blood bond makes this impossible, other arrangements could be made.”
(Chris: “Let’s hire an Assamite assassin!
Kara: “Oh, yeah, that’s worked out well….”
Me: “Yeah, cause we need more of them in the city….”)
Georgia seems have a similar line of thought because something occurs to her. “You know, Paul Stewart did talk an Assamite out of killing me….”
Van Brugge sighs. “For now, at minimum, I need some sort of assurance that he will not run his mouth.”
“Well, he’s been discrete so far—“
Van Brugge tenses again. “NOBODY in this city has been discrete! This is a city comprised of rank indiscretion!!” He throws up his arms. “The competence in this city, I….I don’t even know!! How do these people survive?? How did Max gain rank?? I have NO CLUE! If vampires valued sexual favors I would ask whose dick he sucked, but NO!! I have never seen ANYTHING this fucked! And I engaged in a 500 year war with the Tzimitsce!!!”
Georgia throws up her arms right back. “And yet you sent me here to deal with this city, alone!!”
He glares. “I sent nothing. That was the Oberchantry, and they will have to be…chastised.”
“Well, I will say that I am very glad that you have arrived.”
Van Brugge calms down, returning to merely glaring at her. “As well you should be. …Or not, depending on your level of competence.”
He asks for any other things he should know about. Georgia points out that Bell is in town. Van Brugge rolls his eyes but doesn’t seem worried, mentioning that Bell is in over his head. She also mentions our “werewolf problem,” how there’s packs everywhere and Everton’s statue and rumors about some sort of werewolf apocalypse. She also specifically brings up my name in connection to all this and how I have a werewolf “pet” of some sort. Van Brugge concedes that this is…unusual.
“This…werewolf pet of Tom’s…would it be possible to bring it here?”
Georgia hesitates. She does know where Sophia is at the moment, and as far as she knows, Sophia is still incapacitated, but…. “I have no idea,” she says. “But…Tom is able to summon it….”
“Hmm. Can you manipulate him into doing this?”
Van Brugge nods, thinking about this. “The werewolf will have more information about what’s going on in their community, obviously. But they also have their own grapevines. This might allow us to track down Perpenna. …Slash-Perkins, Slash-Nachtteufel…. Whatever he wishes to be called this week.”
“Well….I  can certainly ask Tom if he can tap into that network.”
He gives her a look. “Do that. The werewolves actually tend to tune into anything that is horrifyingly disastrous. It’s almost as if they have apocalypse-magnets inside their snouts. They may be hunting Perpenna as we speak. Where was this werewolf the last time you saw it?”
Georgia hesitates, squirming under van Brugge’s impatient glare. “It was…at Sutro Tower…. Recovering from some wounds…. It was attacked by what we think was Perkins, with silver.”
He frowns. “And you took it to Sutro Tower with those injuries? That does not make sense. What is in Sutro Tower that the other werewolves would not be able to assist it better? Unless you simply feared for your life or something, which is perfectly understandable.”
“Well, there was a bit of fearing for the life, but there was also….the…” she gulps. “The…mage in Sutro Tow—“
“WHAAT???” He takes a step back. “Theres a MAGE in the—It knows you’re—WHY AM I HEARING that there is a tradition mage in Sutro Tower right now? First off, what tradition?”
His face goes blank. He actually whimpers. “How…how many death rays?” he asks quietly.
Georgia tries to convince van Brugge that Siegfried is A) really nice and 2) actually wants to remain out of our vampire dramas, but van Brugge points out that the worse things get, the less likely that he will be able to remain neutral.
“So….” He rubs his eyes. “You took a werewolf…to an Etherite… And who knows what the Etherite will do  to the werewolf when he’s done healing it…. For all you know, it will be turned into a cybernetic monstrosity!! Why did you take the werewolf to him?”
“Well…it was going to die….”
He stares at her for a full minute, jaw slightly open. “Why do you care if a werewolf dies? If you save a werewolf, it will just rip your face off later! It’s a werewolf, it’s what they do!”
“Well, it has just been in a fight with Perkins—she, actually, the werewolf is a female….“
She trails off as van Brugge full on Picard face-palms. “Can the mage be worked with?” he asks, voice muffled by his hands.
“Well, yeah….”
“Does he seem civil and…slightly sane?”
Georgia nods enthusiastically.
He sighs and folds his arms. He watches her another moment, drumming his fingers against his arms. “I am beginning to worry about the quality of your judgement. You seem to think that everyone is affable and workable. This worries me. See, I am neither affable nor workable, so this is unusual for me.”
“Actually so far you’ve seemed very pleasant. You’ve been quite reasonable!’ Georgia says with literally no trace of irony.
Van Brugge stares again. “I have simply been too confused to do anything else! Who the hell have you been working with??”
He starts making another slow circuit of the room. “When I enter a situation like this, I try not to be too heavy handed. I mean, I will kill everyone, if necessary, but I’d prefer not. It’s messy.”
“That’s…very reasonable!”
He glances at her. “It’s pragmatism,  not kindness.”
Georgia shrugs. “Well, in my experience, everyone is trying to kill everyone else and you shouldn’t take it too personally. So, you know, when you find someone who isn’t trying to kill everyone else…it’s a nice change of pace. You seem like a decent fellow.”
He stares at her for a long moment again, then waves the conversation away. “All of the insanity aside, we can’t sit here all night. Perkins is up to whatever he is up to. For all I know he could be trying to summon Satan. Because he practically is Satan!”
He approaches her. “Here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to need to figure out what he’s up to. I want you to search the Chantry bolt-holes, all of them. Find the Nosferatu primogen, and work this werewolf and this mage. By which I mean suborn them to the will of the Tremere. Ok?”
She sighs and nods.
His eyes narrow. He unfolds one arm and holds out a finger. “Explicit orders. Suborn. Will. Of. Mortal. Beings.” He hesitates. “And werewolves, whatever the fuck they are. You may do this in whatever order you wish. I’ll be keeping tabs on you to make sure you don’t dilly-dally.”
He sweeps his arms open, gesturing through the room again. “I know it’s a log, but right now you are the only Tremere within a hundred miles who is not myself, dead, or captured by Satan. You will have to make do. Ja?”
She nods. “Yes sir.” She hesitates. “I’d…I’d like a pay raise.”
Paul and Anstis have left the South Bay by this point, in separate cars. Paul sends Anstis to the Pyramid, but Paul heads to his meeting with Sophia at Kezar Stadium.
It’s still relatively early in the evening, early enough to expect late night joggers using the track, but no one is there. He walks down the stairs, footfalls ringing across the empty stadium, and takes a seat halfway down the bleachers. He’s brought his tea with him in a travel mug and sits there, breathing the steam and absorbing the warmth with his hands.
Minutes pass. No one arrives. Paul pulls out his phone to check for messages. As he’s holding it, though, it rings with a call from an unknown number. He answers it, though he doesn’t say anything.
“Hello??” says a clipped voice.
Paul affects a ridiculous fake accent. “Hallo??” he mimics.
“Who is zis?”
“Zes es ze other person at the other end of the phone!”
“…Are you French?”
“I am tonight!”
Pause. “I am looking for Paul Stewart….”
“And who es zes?”
“Oh!!” Paul drops the accent immediately. “Doctor! Good to hear from you! I didn’t recognize your number. What can I do for you?”
“Ahhh….” Siegfried’s voice has a clear note of anxiety running through it. “Zis is delicate, how do I put zis…. Your werevolf, the one you left up at the tower?” (As if we have other werewolves lying about….)
“Yes, is she alright?”
“Ehhhhmm…. Possibly?”
“That’s….better than ‘no,’ I guess….”
“She has….vell…. I may have misplaced the werevolf….”
Paul frowns. “As in she…went off on her own?”
“Nein, nein, not on her own….” He sighs. “Zis is sort of ze reason I didn’t want to get involved in zese situations, see,  zere were other werewolves.”
Paul’s eyes widen. “Ah. I’m sorry to hear that. Are you alright?”
“Everything is perfectly fine. Zey did not break anything zat could not be replaced. But, ehm… Vell I should not be saying anything, but…. Zey asked many questions. Of me, and of the werevolf you brought…. I did not find it politic to deny zem. The one in charge, vell…he was of uncommon size.”
Paul’s usual cool starts to waver a bit. He glances around at the looming trees surrounding the stadium. “I see….”
“He had a, vell…. A tool, shall we say?”
“I’m sure he was quite persuasive,” Paul says grimly, staring into the shadows.
“Ja, he vas. I call you because…vell…he may have heard your name, und…he may have asked questions…concerning….you……”
Paul goes still. “Well, you don’t know that much, you couldn’t have said too much….”
“Ja, vell, zat is something of ze problem. Ze werevolves, zey…do not care for ze vampires, so…. Zey assume, generally speaking, the worst. Especially ven ze werevolf shows up vith ze silver….” Siegfried fidgets audibly in the background. “I tell you zis cause you may vish to know zis so that you might be prepared. Vith…something on the order of a teleporter, und…a death ray, und…more death rays….”
Paul glances at his mug of tea. “Those…sound like fantastic preparations.”
“Anyhow, I vished simply to suggest that given that zere is a werevolf of this size attempting to locate you, it might be best if you vere to relocate to…Sri Lanka?”
“Well…come Thursday I may be able to do that.”
“Zat…may not be a good enough time. Ze werevolfs, zey vere here….not long ago….”
Paul looks around him. Still no sign of anyone, but his exposed position is feeling more exposed by the minute. “Well I appreciate the heads-up, and I’m probably in a very bad place to be right now—“
“Vere are you located at ze moment?”
“Oh I’m, you know…in the park.”
“Our…former patient asked me to meet her here, but now I’m not sure that it was her whom I talked to….”
“You are certain you do not have ze teleporter?”
“Um, entirely certain.” Paul looks behind him. It’s about fifty feet back up to the top of the stadium bowl, and then maybe a dozen yards to where his car should be waiting for him. “Well…thank you for the heads up, I am…going to get out of the park—“
He scans the stadium again, then stops. A figure has appeared, stepping out of the shadows on the far side of the bowl. Humanoid, but only just barely, bulging with muscles in places that no human has ever had them. It’s large, and as it lumbers closer it only grows larger.
As details resolve, Paul can see that part of its bulging shape is actually from an enormous sword slung across its shoulders. He can also see that it looks angry.
But then, it’s almost impossible for something this large to not look angry.
“I feel like the arc of the plot for the rest of the game is to asymptotically approach the Monomancy.” —Chris
Unfortunately, this night ended up being more of a Politics Night yet again. Not because Politics Nights are bad, necessarily, but I realized last time that they end up being more work for me since there’s less down-time spent on dice rolls and discussing action.
The good news, though, is that our “guest-star” cast has grown. Tonight we were once again graced with the presence of Ben as van Brugge, but we also met two more of Jason’s comrades in sadism: Julian, from the exotic lands of the Great Frozen North, and Cameron, a physicist from Jersey. I could tell you up front who they played but it should be inherently obvious so we’ll just get to it then shall we:
Paul is at Kezar Stadium, alone with his tea, but is being rapidly approached by a large, misshapen stranger carrying an even larger sword. He could run, but it likely wouldn’t do any good anyway, so he remains seated and watches the stranger approach.
As well as being large, the man is hairy, but not even in the normal Eastern-European hirsute sort of way. His hair, which at a distance might be mistaken for a mullet, is actually more a mane, cascading down his shoulders and onto the upper reaches of his back. As he gets closer, Paul can see that it’s actually not hair at all.
It’s fur.
So, obviously, this guy has something else going on than just an unusual thyroid problem.
The guy is hulking and angry, but the sword hasn’t been brought to bear, and he’s approaching slowly enough that Paul gets the sense he’s going for intimidation at the moment, instead of brute aggression. That could—and will—probably change at any moment, but for now Paul carefully holds his ground. And his mug of tea.
Paul stands up. The man ambles up at a measured pace and stops in front of Paul, one row down the bleachers. Even though he is standing lower, he still towers over Paul.
“So, vampire,” the man growls. “You’ve either got a death-wish…or you wish to talk.”  He looks Paul over, sneering at the last word. “I will assume that your admirers—the ones who call you the next Steve Jobs—are at least somewhat correct.”
(Jason: *stage whisper* “Call him the next Larry Ellison!”
Julian: “He’s done nothing so far that would warrant such abuse!”)
Paul steels himself. “Let’s talk. I wasn’t expecting to see you, I was expecting someone else.”
“If you mean Sophie, she’s…indisposed.”
“You’re her friend?”
“Packmate,” he says, lifting his chin.
Paul nods to himself, suspicions largely confirmed at this point. “Did she ask you to come here or did you take your own initiative?”
The man grins, revealing teeth unmistakably sharper than normal. “Oh no, I am here on my own initiative.”
“Well…then I guess the question is what can I do for you?”
His grin widens. “Excellent. We will get along…fabulously.”
“Well. Why are you here and what can I do for you?”
Still grinning, the man affects a relaxed posture that somehow makes him look even more intimidating. “I am here regarding some business that Sophie seems to have gotten herself caught up in.” His grin drops. “It’s trouble I don’t need and don’t want.”
“You’re referring to myself?”
He bares his teeth again, and this time it’s not a smile. “I am referring to the whole vampiric mess she’s in. I have bigger fish to fry.”
“Well, look at it this way. We are all orbiting each other. Plans are being messed up by everyone elses—“
“That’s not how I look at it,” the man growls. “I want to free Sophie from her current entanglement so I can get the more important business done.”
Unsettled, Paul starts sliding into Full Stewart mode. First rule of negotiation: figure out what your partner wants, then offer it to him. “Might I ask what that more important business is?”
“You can ask, but I’m not going to tell you.”
Aaaaaaaaand negotiation shot down. “Fair enough….” Paul regroups. “I have my own arrangements with Sophia. Are you stepping in on her behalf?”
He cracks a fist. “One could look at it that way.”
“Well her orbit and mine have crossed a few times now, and I would say we actually have a…reasonable functional relationship. I have a job in a few days, a simple one. No violence, just software. Something she’s uniquely well-suited for. I wanted to speak with her about it. That’s why I’m here tonight.”
The man glares at Paul for a few moments. “She’ll be indisposed for awhile. But if you want Sophie’s hacking skills, she’ll be well enough to use Skype.”
(Jason: “Oh my god, it’s become META-SKYPE!”)
Paul nods. “That is all I require of her. She’s recovering well, I hope?”
The man is silent for another moment. “…Yes.”
“Good. Glad to hear it.” Paul’s shoulders sag a little in noticeable relief. “You are…obviously already familiar with me, but I didn’t catch your name?”
“You can call me…Stormwalker.” Stormwalker folds his arms. “What is your specific business that you need Sophie to assist with?”
Paul talks about his need to commandeer the sound- and light-board at the Shark Tank to control his laser-sun show, without specifically mentioning the Shark Tank, nor the laser-sun show. But his careful phrasing is for naught because Stormwalker has already heard about Tesseract’s solar-piping optics, most likely from Sophia herself.
Stormwalker cracks his knuckles again, but this time it’s more thoughtfully than aggressively. “What leeches are you trying to kill in this particular trap? I need to understand the repercussions of this act.”
“South bay gangster, by the name of Andre. He’s started picking off my employees.”
Stormwalker laughs. “Well what did you expect, baby Camarilla? We play hardball where we’re from.”
Paul frowns. “It seems…unproductive to me.”
“If you grow up to be a real vampire, maybe you’ll understand.”
Now Paul clenches his fists, though it is obviously far less impressive. “From what I’ve seen of real vampires, I have no desire to become more like them.”
Stormwalker chuckles. “Don’t misunderstand me, I have no problem with your desire to kill your kind in large quantities. I, however, have to deal with what happens after your attempt to do so. Which means I want my hands very much clean of this particular business.” He points a finger at Paul, displaying an unusually long and sharp nail.  “The Fiends do not forgive this. They are very sensitive about their home territories. And I already have a war on my hands.”
“Seems everyone does these days….”
Stormwalker bares his teeth in a lolling grin. “Oh, baby vampire…. You know nothing yet.”
As unused-to as he is to such brash condescension, Paul pushes through with diplomacy. “Are you concerned Sophia’s hacking attempts will be noticed by someone? I’m sure most attention will be directed my way, particularly after this goes down.”
“I just want to make sure she isn’t dragged too far into this particular mess. And it will be a mess. The Fiends are…perceptive.”
“Well…. All I am curious about right now is if you have any plans to…well, get in the way.”
He chuckles again. “No. I welcome vampires killing each other.”
Paul frowns, but nods. “Good. Can I trust you will pass on the message?”
Stormwalker draws himself up and folds his arms, expression unreadable. “…Yes,” he says after a moment.
“Good. Time is of the essence, so if there’s nothing else I can do for you, I’ll be on my way. Sophia knows how to get in contact with me.”
“A pleasure doing business with you,” Stormwalker growls, no trace of sarcasm in his voice at all. Nope. No-sir-ee.
Paul lifts his mug of tea to him, then very, very calmly, turns and climbs out of the stadium.
(Ben: “…That was disturbingly cordial….”)
Georgia is finishing up her audience with van Brugge at the Chantry. She has things to do, people to suborn, so van Brugge sends her off to get started. Before she leaves, though, he folds his arms sternly and does the double-finger “I’m Watching You” eye-point. Georgia, though, ever the un-intimidatable, leaves cheerfully. She goes to her room to clean up and change and sets out on her first major task: search the the local Tremere bolt-holes and safe-houses for signs of Max.
Getting around the city, though, will require a car,—cause lord knows a Tremere isn’t going to be caught dead on MUNI—but she’s still a little unnerved by Adam the Sunglasses Man who seems to keep showing up to give her rides. Instead, Georgia goes to the garage to requisition one of the Chantry cars, but finds that all of the ghoul drivers, too, have mysteriously disappeared. She decides to flaunt her new one-point of Drive skill by taking a car and driving herself. She finds a set of keys in the valet room and matches it to one of the “P.O.S.” cars, a brown ’92 Civic. She gets in the car, sets herself up, turns the key in the ignition….
…And the car explodes.
(Me: “Why does everything in this city explode??”)
Fortunately, the door was still open and she wasn’t belted in yet, so she’s merely blasted across the room. She rolls, groaning, on the concrete for a few moments, then scrambles away from the wreckage of the car burning a few yards away.  She hauls to her feet and bolts toward the stairs.
And immediately crashes into van Brugge as he runs down the stairs to see what happened.
He gapes past her to the smoky, sooty, burn-y room beyond. “Oh, verdamp…”
She holds out her hands, scraped and sooty themselves. “I really, really, really need a driver.”
He shakes his head. “You didn’t check the car for explosives, did you?”
“I did check the car for explosives, I didn’t find any!”
Smoke is starting to pour into the stairwell and up to the Chantry above. Van Brugge’s eyes narrow. “Apparently you missed something….”
She throws her arms out. “What, is this…standard procedure?!”
He rolls his eyes. “Nein, it is not standard procedure to bomb our own cars. That would not make any sense.” He takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “Ok. So here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to call a cab, you’re going to ghoul the cab driver and make him into your personal slave. Does this make sense to you? Are you grasping this concept?”
“But…that takes time!”
Van Brugge sighs belaboredly. “Or you could Dominate him. Either way. Go. I’ll deal with the fire.”
(Jason: “Adrianus is officially too old for this shit.”
Ben: “Yeah. Well, he has to work with what he has, and….”
Jason: “Well, what he has now is fucking nothing. He has one neonate and an empty Chantry house.”
Ben: “Yeah. And it would be a bad investment to just kill the neonate. At the least, it can absorb bullets.”)
Georgia goes back upstairs, gets herself cleaned up, again, then downloads an entirely new rideshare app—Lyft—to call a car, hoping that Creepy Driver doesn’t work for them too.
Anstis and I are both angling toward our ultimate destination of meeting Bell at the Pyramid. On the way, I swing back to SOMA to FINALLY pick up my whip from Bruce my leather guy. As per my commission, the last three feet of tail have been re-braided with a couple strands of fine silver chain woven in amongst the leather.  I give it a couple good test cracks, then, satisfied, head back downtown.
Anstis arrives at the Pyramid first. He gets out of the car and gapes up at the building. He wanders around the base of it for a few minutes before someone comes out and leads him inside.
The man, a security guard, leads Anstis to the bank of elevators. Anstis jumps as the doors slide open, then cautiously steps inside at the security guard’s urging.
“Thirty-third floor, sir,” he says, then steps away as the doors close.
Anstis stares around him at the metal and mirrors lining the strange small room (Jim: “Mirrors are…extremely valuable! I make a note of this!”). He notices the bank of buttons and presses a couple at random.
The room groans and shakes. His sensation of weight pulses strangely. He reacts instinctively: he shoots out his claws, digging both hands into the walls on either side of him. The claws plunge through the metal of the walls and into the tracks and equipment lining the shaft. The elevator groans and shudders harder, but continues its climb.
Anstis hits a few false-stops but eventually makes his way to the 33rd floor. The elevator doors open, but the car has stopped a full foot or more below it’s normal level, so Anstis has to climb up to get onto the floor. Luckily for him he doesn’t realize there is anything unusual about this.
He gets out and stands up at the same time I arrive on the floor, in one of the other, undamaged elevators. We exchange pleasantries—or, as pleasant as one can be with someone whom they do not trust—and I lead him down the hall to the Prince’s Bell’s office.
Bell is pacing the office on his phone, sporting his standard outfit of leather coat, sunglasses, and irritation. He hangs up as we enter.
Anstis jerks his chin at Bell. “Who be this?”
Bell’s eyes narrow. I wince. Well, we’re off to a great start….
“Theophilius Bell. Justicar. Who the hell are you?”
“Thomas Anstis,” he drawls. “Captain of the Good Fortune.”
Bell looks at me questioningly. I roll my eyes. “We found him in the basement of the Chantry. Staked. He’s a Gangrel so we assume they had…plans for him.”
Bell looks Anstis up and down. “You as old as you sound?”
Anstis hesitates. “…Apparently.”
Bell shakes his head and stares up beseechingly. “They had a 300-year-old Gangrel staked in the basement. I’m not even surprised anymore.”
He looks at me and his face hardens again. He folds his arms and strolls closer. “Your friend coming? Your little friend?”
Crap, I knew this was coming. I shrug, trying to look as blase as possible. “He…had other errands to do.”
“Well I’m glad to hear that. Have you talked to him?”
I shrug again. “A little.”
“And? Are we going to have a problem again?”
“…I think he has other problems to deal with right now.”
“Oh I think we all have other problems to deal with right now, which is why I’m asking the question.” Bell is now just a few inches away from me, face clenched like a drill-sergeant.
Dammit, why is he only ever this close to me when he’s pissed off….
I force myself to stare calmly back and hold my ground. “Well, I think he might be one of the best ways we have to deal with the problems.”
“The last time I laid eyes on that man he tried to rip me apart,” Bell snaps. “The time before that he knocked me out the window. So ‘I think’ isn’t going to get it done right about now. What is his agenda and what is he planning to do?”
I sigh. “I don’t know what his plans are, but I know that they are above and beyond whatever was going on before. Circumstances have…changed.”
“Circumstances may have changed, but if you haven’t noticed, vampires that old don’t change very easily.”
I lift an eyebrow. Sounds like a good segue-way to me…. “Speaking of old vampires, you know that Perkins guy running around?”
Bell’s eyes narrow. “We’ve met….”
“Yeah. He’s older.”
“Older than that one? How do you know?”
Oh the ephemeral joys of our world. Bell doesn’t know…and I get to be the one to tell him.
I look him right in the eye. “He’s his sire.”
Bell’s face goes blank. I successfully resist smirking.
“So….” he finally says. “They working together?”
I snort. “Nooooooo….”
“Oh it’s like that, is it?”
I nod.
“Alright.” Bell takes a step back and rubs his face. “To what degree of reliability can you assure me that he’s not gonna march up here and try and kill everyone again?”
“Which one?” Anstis asks.
Bell glares at him. “The little one.”
Anstis decides to be helpful. “He’s a little…indisposed at the moment.”
Now I glare at Anstis. “He’s better now.”
“How so?” Bell asks Anstis, ignoring me.
“Some sort of Tremere blood poison, they called it.”
Bell turns to me. “This true?”
“He’s better now,” I repeat with the same glare.
“Alright.” Bell holds a finger out at me. “I have to make a number of moves in this city and I can’t do that with a 2,000 year old elder from the Sabbat watching my every move, waiting to jump me! Do I need to deal with this problem first or do I need to deal with something else?”
“I think you can deal with something else—“
“‘I think’ isn’t what I asked you right now!”
I look him in the eye again. “You can deal with something else.”
We stare each other down for a few moments. Finally, Bell nods. “Alright. I’d say I’d hold you to that, but honestly, I don’t know that anyone will.”
Bell leans against the Prince’s his desk and outlines the first of his apparent planned moves. Seems he too has heard of Helgi of Oakland and the trouble he’s causing. He doesn’t give a rats ass about whatever the hell Adrianna wants, but he would care if Helgi decided to roll over to our side of the bay to stir new shit up, so we might as deal with him before things get worse. Bell doesn’t want us to start a fight or anything (so lord only knows why he’s sending me, then), but he does want us to figure out what Helgi wants so we can get him the hell out of here.
Anstis is intrigued by the Helgi situation. Partly it’s because the name sounds familiar to him, though he still hasn’t been able to put his claw on where he’s heard it before. Partly, though, it’s because he’s seeing it as a unique opportunity for personal growth:
“I’ll take care of yer problem, but I’ll be needing a ship to do it. Helgi will not…think well of anyone not coming by sea.”
I raise an eyebrow. This…could be fun. “Man’s got a point,” I say.
Bell rolls his eyes. “I somehow don’t think that’ll be a problem. He hasn’t been asleep as long as you have. The way I hear it he travels by bike now.”
I open my mouth to make another crack about my bike being with the Sabbat but Bell stares me down. “Best I’ve been able to determine he’s in a bar on 55th. Near the waterfront. Old Hell’s Angel’s knocking ground. Go there, see if he’ll talk to you. See if you can find out what he has to say. You piss him off, and it’s on your head. You have any problems with this?”
None on my end. This is totally in keeping with Bell’s MO: glower, threaten, make me go do something. I shrug and shake my head. Whatever, it’s a(n un)living.
Anstis, though, is new to this, and has an angle I never thought of before: “What be in this for me, then?”
Bell raises an eyebrow above his sunglasses and looks to me. “Does this man not understand what a Justicar is?”
I shrug. “He’s a pirate, sir.”
He turns back to Anstis. “What’s in it for you, Gangrel?” he barks. “It’s that I do not take this shotgun, shove it up your ass, and pull it till it goes click.”
Whoah. I bite down a grin.
Anstis’s swagger droops somewhat. “Oh, it’s like that then….”
“It is like that then. But if you absolutely must know, you will all be compensated well for your services to the Camarilla in general, am I making myself clear?”
Wait, what? This is the first I’ve heard of some sort of reward for dealing with this bullshit—
“That…not be clear. General assurances are not hard numbers.”
Bell stares at Anstis a moment, then takes off his sunglasses, folds them, and carefully puts them in his pocket. “You want hard numbers?” he asks, voice low. “We all survive this little altercation, you help me out in a way that I think appropriate—and I’m talking long term here, until this situation is resolved….”
Bell leans back and folds his arms. “Twenty-five million. Dollars. Cash.”
My jaw drops, but I quickly gather my senses. “—Each?” I chime in.
Bell glares but doesn’t reprimand me. “I can write liens on that much for travel expenses. Yes, twenty-five million apiece. Hell, if you want it, you can get yours in gold doubloons. How’s that sound for you?”
Anstis regards him for a moment, then smiles. “Very well, we have an accord,” he drawls.
Huh. Imagine that. I’m impressed, but…well…. Shit around here has obviously been getting real bad, so I fully expect that I—or, quite possibly, the entire Camarilla of the Bay Area—will be destroyed long before I can ever cash in on such a thing. Still, I will accept the offer just in case (especially since I was gonna do what Bell wanted me to do anyway).
Bell stares at us, then nods. “I want this handled tonight,” he says, walking around the desk to sit down in the Prince’s his chair. “The sooner we can deal with one problem the better. Besides, there’s always the chance he knows something about what’s going on around here.”
Excuse me while I don’t hold my breath on that.
We catch Bell up on other things. I mention that Norton is missing, again, and this time he’s somewhat blind. Bell shrugs it off, but I beg him to at least send someone out to the Cliffhouse to check on Norton’s dogs because he’s been kidnapped and/or missing for days now and I am getting very concerned. Bell rolls his eyes and says he’ll take a look.
“How we be getting over there?” Anstis asks, about the trip to Oakland, probably again hoping to wrangle a boat for himself out of this deal.
Bell, though, is obviously thinking about the more prosaic method of The Bridge. “I’ll give you a writ of deputization. That should square you with any officials you meet over there.”
Ha, probably not but ok. “Should we roll heavy on this one?”
“I’d roll heavy but not use it.
I look down at myself. I am still in torn, stained clothes, the shitty corduroy coat I found in SOMA, and right now the only weapons to my name are my whip and the Tremere sword I stole from Max. Not exactly the picture of intimidation.
Then something occurs to me for the first time. “Is…there an armory here we can use?”
Bell sighs, says yes, we can avail ourselves of it, within reason, although unfortunately no they do not have any dragonsbreath rounds.
Anstis also asks about some new threads, as he is not feeling very pirate-y at the moment in Paul’s tech nerd hand-me-downs. Bell rolls his eyes, reaches into one of the desk drawers, and tosses us a stack of hundred dollar bills a couple inches thick. My jaw drops.
“You know this city better than I do,” he says to me. “You’ll take him somewhere?”
I look at Anstis and grin. “Oh, yuuuuuuuuuuuuuup.”
(You know what that means, right?
!!!!!!!SHOPPING MONTAGE!!!!!!!
After his meeting with Stormwalker, Paul heads downtown. But instead of going to the Pyramid, he heads to the place on the map he saw me head to when I  got back to the city with Marcus, because apparently he’s been stalking me through Find My Friends on my new iPhone.
Urg. I gotta get Sophia to scramble it again.
Anyway, he arrives in the Tenderloin outside my apartment building. He lets himself into the building (because the methhead assholes on the third floor are always propping the fucking door) and starts tracking down which apartment is mine by the most expedient method available:
Knocking on all the doors one by one.
Luckily he doesn’t go too far before one of them opens, revealing Marcus standing there in surprise.
(Me: “Really, I live on the first floor?”
Jason: *glowers at me* “Yes.”
Me: “Huh, I always imagined myself on the fourth floo—“
Jason: “TOO BAD!!!!!”)
Marcus is confused and a little irritated, probably because every time he has tried to go to ground in the last month one of us assholes has been able to find him right away. Paul wants to talk, but Marcus says my place probably isn’t the best. They go to Paul’s car and the driver just starts driving.
And…they talk. For a very long time. About the Monomancy and Paul’s sun technology plan.
It’s…not a happy conversation.
So here’s the deal. Marcus is concerned about Paul’s ability to control/direct the sunlight, partly because he is a vampire, partly because he is a Lasombra vampire (and thus extra sensitive to sunlight), but also because…well, Marcus put it best:
“Ever seen what happens to a group of vampires trapped in sunlight? They get desperate, yes, but they do not lack coordination, just…discrimination. You’re going to drive them all into the fear of God. Those that don’t cook instantly will become ravening, savage beasts willing to do anything necessary to Get. Out. And many of them have means you cant even conceive of.”
And of course once they get out that doesn’t mean the madness would end. Paul would effectively be releasing crazed Tzimitsce onto downtown San Jose, and no one—not the Camarilla, not even the Sabbat—would like that.
Paul suggests directing the light just to Andre, through spotlights. Marcus, though, points out that it is a hockey arena, which means the floor is made of ice, and ice reflects. Paul doesn’t think that this will be an issue, since hockey ice is a little more matte than natural ice, but Marcus is still very concerned—concern which is probably hiding actual fear—and warns Paul not to over-assume his control over the light.
Speaking of control of the light, he asks Paul how he’s planning to control the light system to begin with, since the arena is staffed by Andre’s people. Paul says he has a hacker, which Marcus realizes is “your werewolf,” aka Sophia. This gives Marcus a segue-way to—like everyone else we have met who has found out about her—warn Paul against playing around with werewolves, as they are wont to change their minds about cooperation at any time.
Still, Paul wants to push through with the plan, as it is the best—aka ONLY—one he’s had so far. Marcus, though, wants to be clear about what’s going down before he walks into the place. Also note that, as Paul’s sponsor, if Marcus doesn’t walk into the place, Paul forfeits by default.
They review the details of the thing which is, quote, “standard battle to the death crap.” Weapons will be decided by Paul, as he is the challenged party.  In normal Monomancy rules, there might be an option for sparing someone, but in this case Paul has no choice. Andre will definitely try to kill him, and if he gets the upper hand, he MUST kill Andre. Using unapproved weapons justifies a forfeit, and technically this “sunbeam” of Paul qualifies, but if theres no one left to object….
Marcus brings up something he calls the Golden Rule: it’s not about what the rules are, its about whose enforcing them. If Andre and his his people are dead, then no one will be left to say what’s what except Marcus himself.
But…that will be a lot of people. All of Andre’s associates will be there, along with many others who just want to see the show. Marcus points out that quite a few of them might just be there to see him himself, since rumors of his death have been rather common through the ages.
Paul decides to think positively and asks what will happen if Andre goes down. Paul’s smart enough to know that there will be a power vacuum, which is often more dangerous than the person who left the vacuum, so will there be someone to fill it? Marcus says he himself could lay claim, but he won’t (and I don’t blame him, San Jose suuuuucks) and he doesn’t know anyone else offhand who would be interested.  Camarilla might try to move in, maybe even Anarchs. Anything could happen (at Zombocom).
Marcus is far more concerned about how the Sabbat outside of San Jose will react. If the Sabbat find out how Paul did it, they will, quote, “move Heaven and Earth to find you, and you are not a hard man to find.”
If Paul wins using heretofore unknown technology, there will be investigations from serious people. If they take scrying readings—or whatever—on the arena, they will know everything that happened. If that happens, the Sabbat will be less concerned about the fact that Paul killed an archbishop and more concerned with the fact that he has a weapon that can kill vampires, in the dark, en masse.
Mexico City will notice, Marcus says. The Black Hand will come looking. They’ll figure out the weapon was in the lights, and they’ll look around their havens and see lightbulbs. And then they’ll be afraid.
Marcus suggests doing something else on top of the solar lights to disguise the thing as a routine hit. Something more pedestrian, like killing all the witnesses and blowing up the arena so there will be nothing for investigators to investigate. Such a plan is tricky, and risky, but it just might work.
Paul is thoughtful for a while, but then he asks…. What if he DOESN’T want to cover it up? What if he WANTS everyone to know what he did with the lights? Reveal enough information to frighten everyone away from messing with him or his people for good.
Marcus doesn’t like that plan. The Hand would definitely come after Paul after that. To kill him, to enslave him, maybe with an admission form. He doesn’t know. But they would come.
More to the point, if Paul openly reveals how he did it, EVERYONE will want this technology. The Sabbat, the Anarchs, the Camarilla, hell even the werewolves. Some will try to buy Tesseract out from under Paul, but (un)fortunately Marcus already took care of that months ago. So those factions will probably try to come to Paul direct and make a deal.
But then there are some factions who will show up when Paul’s asleep, cut his head off and use it in a some kind of thaumaturgical ritual to figure out how the technology works.
Marcus says if Paul wants peace with the Sabbat he has to show them he’s worth having peace with. He points out that the Sabbat don’t share Paul’s…shyness…for violence. If Paul wants to make a statement that no one is to mess with him, then he has to be ready to deal with the people who are going to object, whomever they might be.
All these points that Marcus is bringing up are good ones, but aren’t leaving Paul with many options that he likes. Paul feels like he’s being backed into a corner, and nobody puts Paul Stewart in the corner.
Paul points out that such a drastic reaction from the supernatural community will only occur if what people want is in limited supply. His response to that is…unconventional:
What if EVERYONE had the sun technology, openly? What if every streetlight, every flashlight carried this technology? If everyone has the weapons, why does anyone have to bother Paul or his people about it ever again?
Marcus goes very still. “You can’t mean that…. You want to give this to every goddamn asshole out there? Do you have ANY idea what that would do?”
Paul glares. “Well, my people aren’t much affected by sunlight. Besides, it seems like this can come out bit by bit, people fighting wars to have a hold over one another, or it can land all at once.”
Marcus stares at him. They’re still in the car, driving aimlessly down 101, the only sound the rushing of the wind past the windows. “…You’re serious?” Marcus finally asks, softly. “You would seriously do this?”
Paul shrugs. “I am open to better ideas, if you have them,” he says, stressing the last part (cause it’s true, Marcus is being kinda a Negative Nancy about this whole thing). “But it sounds like any small step is just going to defer the problem a few weeks down the line. Someone else is going to come along, want the same thing.”
“Welcome to the nature of the Kindred,” Marcus says, face still carefully flat. “It’s enough to drive you out of politics altogether, isn’t it?”
Marcus leans forward, face darkening. “You hand this out to every vampire in existence, and you have no idea what will happen next. I don’t either. But it would be abject chaos.”
“Well, your principal thesis is that I wouldn’t have any idea what happens next anyway.”
“It wouldn’t be this. Other than the fact that you’d be among the first victims, you certainly wouldn’t be the last. And your people may not burn in the sun, but some people’s do.” Marcus glares through the gloom of the car. “Mine do,” he adds, in case his implied point wasn’t clear.
Paul refuses to be cowed. “How many people die if there are wars fought over this technology? And how many die if the technology is just out there?”
“More,” Marcus answers without hesitation. “And even if it isn’t, I don’t do that kind of math.”
“Then what do you do?” Paul says, barely able to keep the distain out of his voice.
“What we all do. What I have to do.”
Paul meets his gaze evenly. “Well it seems to me I have to do what I can to protect the people I brought into danger.”
“And you’re going to do that by sparking a world war?”
Silence in the car as Paul and Marcus stare at each other a few moments. Paul breaks the silence first. “Here’s something to think about. How many atomic wars have been fought?”
Marcus’s eyes narrow, obviously unsure where Paul is going with this. “One, far as I know.”
“Right. How many atomic powers are there?”
“…Eight or nine, last I checked. Why?”
Paul shrugs. “Doesn’t always end in doom and gloom—“
Marcus barks a laugh. “You think you’re going to set up mutually assured destruction?”
“I’d rather not.”
Marcus laughs more, shaking his head. “You are playing with something you cannot possibly understand—“
“Then what about this can I understand?” Paul snaps.
Marcus’s eyes narrow at Paul’s tone but he doesn’t comment on it. “The simplest possible thing. Whether you kill Andre with this sunlight weapon of yours or your bare hands, someone else is going to come. You can hand out these light weapons like candy, and someone. will still. come. Vampire, werewolf, a mage, some other damn thing none of us have heard of. Something! Else! Will come! This is the world. You can’t burn it all away.”
Marcus leans forward again. “And when some of these vampires go down from your little light shows, they’re going to bring something with them. Who do you think actually are the nuclear powers in this world?”
Marcus leans back. “You wanna burn this guy to death? You wanna announce to the Sabbat that you have the means to do it again? You do that, you take what comes. Night by night. Challenge by challenge.”
Paul is rapidly losing his thin veneer of cool. He asks what the hell the point of making preparations is if there’s nothing he can do about the results of things anyway. Marcus snaps back, saying that Paul should be taking steps to protect him and his but he should not start making plans to blow the whole planet up because he thinks that’s going to be too hard.
It is probably important to note here that this is a recurring point of contention between Marcus and Paul. Marcus was really disturbed by the idea of the sunlight technology back when he first found out about it, when they first met in Marin. Back then, though, Paul’s idea was to use Tesseract’s data satellites and their big relaying mirrors to create focused beams of light to shoot down out of the sky on people. Marcus tried to shut the whole thing down by buying out much of Tesseract and liquidating resources involved with that project. The fiber-optic technology only occurred to Paul later, after Marcus released him, and he’s been developing it on the sly ever since.
And, of course, in the great irony of things, the fiber optics are even scarier than the Sunlight Star Wars plan, because they allow far more insidious applications of sunlight in a wider variety of locations.
A fact which, I think, is finally occurring to Marcus for the first time.
Conversely, I think Paul is realizing that Marcus is realizing this, and is starting to grow irritated that Marcus—like so many vampires throughout history—is getting his bloody hands all over human business, corrupting what Paul feels is the natural course of human technological progress.
In essence, ruining Paul’s Great Work.
Anyway. Marcus lays it out like this. If Paul is using the sunlight plan, then he has two basic choices to manage the inevitable blowback. One is to flatten the building so theres nothing left for anyone to scry and hope for the best. The other is to let knowledge of the technology leak out after the Monomancy, then announce his intentions and dare the world to do anything about it, although keeping in mind that somebody will.
Paul doesn’t really like these options, though, so he decides to Kobayashi Maru the thing. He asks his driver to take him to the airport. Marcus frowns and asks where he’s going.
Mexico City, Paul says, to try to talk to the Sabbat big-wigs before the Monomancy and broker…I don’t think he even knows what exactly, but something impressively unexpected, cause gods know no-one is going to expect him to do that.
Marcus sure doesn’t. Rather aghast, he tells Paul that he didn’t mean he should do such a thing now. Additionally, to them, Paul’s a nobody, he wouldn’t even get past the front gate. But, he says, if Paul is  really interested in pursuing such a path of intimidation, Marcus might be able to…make the necessary introductions.
“That said,” Marcus says, “there is something that would help a great deal.”
“What’s that?” Paul asks suspiciously.
Marcus looks at him evenly. “If you weren’t in the Camarilla.”
(At this point I choke on my drink and grab my phone to text ChrisM cause HOLY FUCKING SHI—)
Paul frowns. “Do you mean not in the Camarilla, or in the Sabbat?”
“I think we understand each other,” Marcus says, glaring. “They are more inclined to look favorably upon one Bishop replacing another than they are upon the Camarilla conquering San Jose.”
Marcus regards Paul for awhile, then advises him to “do what he needs to do” to Andre. If Paul wants to pursue this path, Marcus can make the arrangements—even on short notice—but warns that it might involve making commitments to people Paul would not otherwise want to commit to.
Paul glowers, likely thinking to himself that he is already well on that path already.
Paul cancels his airport plan and heads back to the city to drop Marcus off at the nearest Bart station. Marcus gets out of the car, but hesitates at the door turns back.
“You can’t possibly know what you’re getting yourself into, but I suppose theres nothing for that at this point. Even I couldn’t explain it all to you. Even if I had a year. Just be aware this is no turning back after you do this.”
Paul stares straight ahead. “Is there an alternative to not doing this?”
“Would my people be safe if I run?”
“No,” Marcus says flatly. “Not even slightly.”
Before Marcus leaves, Paul has an Oh Just One More Thing moment of his own, mentioning the szlachta Klaus caught at Tesseract. Marcus is very surprised, both that it was caught and that it was there in the first place. There’s obviously no proof that Andre sent it to fuck with Paul, but Marcus can’t think of any other explanation besides it being sent by Andre to fuck with Paul. Marcus is intrigued and asks Paul to ship the thing to his old hideout in Marin so he can investigate it himself further.
Marcus closes the door and disappears into the shadows—prosaically, this time. Paul tells the driver to take him back to Portola Valley.
Anstis and I have finished requisitioning new threads and are rolling up like ballers.
I, naturally, am back in black, literally. I’ve dumped all my shitty ruined clothes and replaced them with a new motorcycle jacket and—this time—leather pants, which I’ve always wanted but could never really afford, but since the Prince is buying this time, make it rain, son. I’ve got a new bulldog-harness over my black t-shirt, which normally is a noob move but I’m not going to be that guy walking around shirtless all the time so fuck you. The point is rather moot anyway since it’s hard to see the harness under the double bandoliers of shotgun shells across my chest, one for each gun slung cross-wise on my back. I’m still missing my left hand, of course, so I can’t take full advantage of both of them yet, but I’m working on it.
Anstis, though, is less happy with the results of our shopping trip. He wanted something more befitting his station—i.e., baroque and frilly—but unfortunately all the good steampunk Burner stores that would have passable pirate-y garb are closed at this hour, so he will have to make do with my late-night shops.
(Jim: “What’s available?”
Me: “Leather. And…more leather. And…skimpy girl lingerie. Actually, there’s probably a Sexy Pirate outfit!”
Kara: “…For girls.”
Me: “Well honestly there might be a guy version too but that’s not as funny.”)
Anstis selects a long leather trenchcoat, as that’s passable, but gets stuck on what to choose to replace Paul’s turtleneck and jeans.
(Me: “Uuuuh, we got vests…we got ass-less chaps…we got a lot of latex, but that can cause allergies so be careful—“)
Anstis finally settles on a similar pair of black leather pants and digs around the Sexy [N] outfits until he finds one with a frilly-enough shirt.
(Ben: “Oooh mai gaaaaawd, that shirt is sooooo 1780’s!”
Me: “Oh my god, I have the exact same blouse!”)
Anstis refuses to leave the stores until he finds himself a suitably grand hat. Luckily he spots something that he falls instantly in love with: a costume pimp hat, in purple velour with a large feather glued to a leopard-print band.
Montage over, we step out and call a car to take us to Oakland. This time, no one stops us as we cross the bridge, so we go straight to the location Bell gave us: a biker bar on 55th, huddled amongst the warehouses and abandoned lots of West Oakland. We pull up out front and scope the place out. It looks pretty much like any other dive bar I’ve been to, complete with line of bikes out front—all Harleys, no crotch-rockets ruining the tableau.
What is notable, though, is one particular bike, larger than the rest and as glisteningly pristine as new-fallen snow. It has all sorts of custom mods, but the most eye-catching are the patterns of runes and sigils and shit painted and embossed across the body. It’s parked right in front of the door to the bar, but despite the choice location, there’s a full four feet of space on either side. It’s as if it parted the sea to park there. I stare at it longingly, missing my own bike, which is still with the Tzimitsce valets at the Shark Tank (although, as Jim points out, I couldn’t drive it with one hand anyway).
Anstis peers through the car windows. “What be Helgi’s last name?” he grumbles.
I turn away from staring at the bike. “What? I don’t know.”
“Who would?”
“Uhh, Helgi.”
Anstis rolls his eyes.
“Why do you need to know his last name?”
“So we can introduce ourselves properly.”
Urg. Seems ridiculous, but I don’t know, this guy is a Viking, maybe there’s some protocol and shit I don’t know about. I grumble and rack my brain, trying to remember if, in ALL THE MONTHS people have been mentioning Helgi to me, anyone has mentioned his last name. Nothing rings a bell, but I recall that Marcus at least knew of him, so he’s probably the best shot. I sigh and give him a call.
Marcus: “Yes?”
Me: “Boss, the pirate wants to know Helgi’s last name, do you know it?”
Marcus: “…Say that again?”
Me: “I said the pirate would like to know Helgi’s last name for the proper introductions.”
Marcus: “…Well I do know, but may I ask a question as well?”
Me: “Please.”
Marcus: “When you dialed this number, were the first digits you pushed 4, 1, and 1?”
Me: *…Creeping dread*
Marcus: “Do you imagine that I’m an information service??”
Me: *Many dreads. Much regrets.*
Marcus: “His last name is Isarnbjorn, and if you don’t have anything more important than this to ask me, then please don’t pick the phone up. I’ve had quite a night.”
Me: *Facepalm, flipping the finger, whether it’s to Anstis or Jim I am not sure* “Yes sir. Boss. Sir. I’m sorry.”
Marcus: “Why are you dealing with Helgi anyway?”
Me: “Bell wants us to, and Paul does as well.”
Marcus: “Well…give him my regards, will you. Oh, and be sure to tell him that Odin is a bastard. …No it’s alright, he worships Thor. There’s a rivalry. Tell him Odin is a prissy bitch and you’ll be willing to fight for it.”
Me: *Highly skeptical* “O…kay?”
Marcus: “It’ll help with him. He’s a Thor worshipper and he respects those who are willing to lay themselves down for his own faith.”
Me: “…I was always more a fan of Loki, but alright. Thanks Boss, let me know if you need anything.”
Marcus: “…We’ll see.” *click*
I turn to Anstis, glaring. “It’s Isarnbjorn…son…helger…furter…. Oh, and apparently you’re supposed to disrespect Odin…as part of his cultural tradition.”
Unfortunately, Anstis also looks skeptical about this. “How well do you be knowing this Marcus?”
As far as Anstis is concerned? “Quite well.”
“And is he being a one for practical jokes?”
I snort. “Noooooo.” Man, it must have been a weird night for him.
We get out of the car and enter the bar. It’s sparsely populated with the usual grizzled biker types, many looking like they just left a ZZ Top concert. People look up as we enter but no one reacts otherwise. Anstis and I amble up to the bar.
The bartender comes over, wiping down a glass in the way that all dive-bar bartenders are required to do. “What’llya have?”
“We’re here to speak with Helgi Isarnbjorn,” Anstis announces.
The bartender laughs. “No, you’re not.”
“And why not?” I ask.
He puts down the glass. “Cause you’re not.”
I frown. “And what would we have to do to be?”
The bartender rolls his eyes and snaps a hand. One of the larger bikers wanders over. He stares me in the eye and grins. “Suck my dick!” he laughs.
I look him up and down. “Well, I’m usually more of a top, but…I got some skills.”
Anstis turns to the bartender. “I be not with this one.”
The bartender folds his arms. “Ya’ll better get out of here. You guys ain’t got no choppers, I saw you rolled up in some kinda company car.”
I bristle. I’m already missing my bike—hell, being around here is making me miss my old Harley, the one I had restored myself before I was a vampire, the one Alejandro shot up—and this is just insult to injury. “Yeah, well, I left my bike with Andre’s guys to get detailed so we had to make do.”
The bar goes quiet. The bartender raises his eyebrows. “Oooh, ok….” He lifts his voice. “Hey boys, we got ourselves a couple of Sabbat in here wanting to talk to us! Why don’t you say we give them a big welcome?”
Eight guys get up and walk toward us. Anstis tries to step away from me but he’s caught in the circle.
I freeze, instantly regretting my snark. “Maybe I should have name-dropped my werewolf friend instead,” I mumble.
The guys don’t hear me but Anstis does. He turns to me in shock. “You have a werewolf friend too?” he says. “I’m outta here—“
Just then, a door leading to a back room of the bar opens and…the largest man I have ever seen walks into the room.
Well, I say walks, but he actually has to duck to get through the doorframe, as he’s easily pushing seven-feet. Also, on his shoulders he’s carrying a war-axe larger than some of the bikes parked outside.
Everyone in the room stops and turns to him. He looks at Anstis and me, and smiles.
Georgia, meanwhile, is off on her quest to search the various secret Tremere bolt-holes in the city. The first one is apparently hidden at City College, the Ingleside campus.
Georgia arrives in the facility and finds that on the surface, everything surprisingly fine. The equipment is all there, nothing is disturbed, there’s no signs of scuffle.
But there are no people anywhere. No vampires, no ghouls, no one. She pokes around a bit then does what any sensible person would do in such a situation: raid the fridge.
While digging through the fridge for blood packets, though, she hears the sound of someone sneaking up on her, poorly. She stands up and turns around.
It’s a man, a ghoul, in a lab coat, thin, middle-aged, and shakily holding a lab stool above his head. When Georgia turns around he screams, drops the stool, and dissolves into gibbering hysterics, shouting about how, quote, “He ate them all!”
Georgia calms him down enough to get some more information out of him. Seems that the “he” the man is referring to isn’t Perkins/Perpenna, or even Max….
…But a Ventrue.
(Jim: “Oooo, wow, what have I been up to?”)
This ghoul—a lab assistant by the name Bob—escaped the slaughter by hiding in, quote, “one of the vats.”
Yeah, vats. Yeah…they’re gargoyle vats.
Georgia sighs and tries exerting some leadership.  It turns out Bob has worked at this facility for a long, long time, and hasn’t even left the facility in ages. He doesn’t have a phone, doesn’t have an outside residence, hell he’s not entirely sure what year it is. He is used to the vampire Head of House taking care of everything, as they have for decades, and now that they’re dead he doesn’t know what to do. Georgia calms him down, says that he’s gotten a promotion, and she’s deputizing him to help her in her investigation.
“A promotion?” Bob says nervously. “Does…does that mean I can leave?”
Georgia does magnanimously give the man some blood to help maintain his ghoul-hood, but since she is a Tremere the reason she did this was largely for her own benefit, as it means he is now bonded to her.
(Me: “Hey, are Tremere ghouls more susceptible to bonding like the Tremere are?”
Jason: “You know I’m actually not sure about that….”
Me: *into the Skype computer* “Are Tremere ghouls more susceptible to bonding like the Tremere are?”
Julian: “No, it’s just the standard bullshit.”
Jason: “Long-term ghouls who have had the same bloodline blood can take on elements of their parent bloodline, but it takes a long time.”
Julian: “Yeah, Nosferatu blood does not do anything good for your looks.”
Jason: “…And Malkavian blood doesn’t do anything good for your sanity.”
Julian: “Yeah, well working for Malkavians doesn’t do anything good for your sanity so it’s hard to tell.”
Jason: “Ha, yeah, that’s true, it’s hard to tell if it was the blood that drove you crazy or the fact that you were made to strip naked and fight a pillow-fight in a swimming pool full of whipped cream for four hours.”
Me: “Fun!”
Jim: “Yeah, that sounds like a good time actually….”
Jason: “Yeah, it sounds like a good time until you realize your opponent is a vampire with Potence.”)
Georgia says that she will get Bob set up with a phone and the internet.
Bob: “What’s an internet?”
Georgia: “…How long have you been down here, again?”
Bob: “Since they built it!”
(Kara: “When was City College built?”
Jason: “…That’s the wrong question.”)
In any event, Georgia assures her new ghoul friend that he will be fine and she will be back to check on things once she finishes her errands. She leaves him nervously wringing his hands in the middle of the lab and heads off to check the next bolt-hole.
Anstis and I stare at the giant man in shock. There is absolutely no question that this is Helgi. He too is wearing motorcycle leathers, but the metal studs and buckles covering his gear have the legit look of worn armory metal, instead of the shiny plated Chinese-made shit covering mine. He’s wearing a plain shirt under his jacket that looks at least two sizes too-small, but I realize that it was probably actually the largest size the store had (at least he has a shirt, though, which means he is also not being that guy, so…there’s that….).
He walks further into the bar, footsteps noticeably shaking the wooden floor. As he steps into the light, I realize that the war-axe slung across his shoulders isn’t just a war-axe; it’s also an axe-axe, in that it has also been modified to be an electric guitar, strings strung along the handle and bolted to the poll of the blade (Me: “I once saw a guy playing a shovel that had been made into a guitar, at a bar in the Mission, so this doesn’t surprise me at all).
Helgi is also conspicuously armed, and I mean beyond the axe. He has two guns slung in holsters on each hip. They look like pistols, but they are the size of sawn-offs.
As he gets closer, though, I realize they are sawn-offs.
(Me: “I think I have a new crush.”)
Everyone in the bar is still watching him silently. He looks at Anstis and me, then surveys the room. “Alright, who is making such a commotion?” he asks in a rough voice like the grinding of glaciers.
The guys surrounding us step back, leaving us exposed in the middle of the room. I tense and glance toward the door.
Anstis, though, grins and throws his arms wide. “Helgi! We meet again!” (Yeah, so, although the name has only seemed passingly familiar to Anstis all this time, it isn’t until Anstis sees him that he realizes he’s met him before. Because yeah, theres no way to forget seeing this guy.)
Helgi looks him up and down, then recognition dawns. “Well that explains the smell. Did they drag you out of the bottom of the ocean, Anstis?”
“Mmm.” Helgi shakes his head sadly. “Messy business. I heard about it. I would have offered to help hunt down your crew, but I think they all found their way there anyway.”
I, meanwhile, am staring back and forth between them, still not entirely sure I shouldn’t try and make a run for it.
Anstis looks around the bar. “Ye’ve been busy in yer time.”
Helgi chuckles, a sound loud enough to rattle nearby glasses. “I always have. Always some new fight, some new place that needs…a proper northern touch.”
Helgi unslings his hybrid-axe and drops it head-first to the floor, divoting the wood. He leans on the handle, pressing it in even further. A quick look around the place reveals multiple divots of suspiciously similar size.
“So, they dredged you from the bottom of the ocean. How long have you been awake?”
“Ooh, not long. The city has changed…a lot.”
Helgi chuckles. “Yes, you missed quite a bit in that rest. Cities have changed. We’ve even been to the moon.” He chuckles again at Anstis’s shocked face. “Not much there, though. I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Helgi catches a nearby chair with his foot and drags it over. The wood squeals in protest as he sits. “So,” he says, still leaning his arms on the handle of the axe, “You heard I was in town and decided to seek me out?”
I speak up finally. “There are many who are interested in talking to you.”
Helgi turns to me. “Yes, yes. And who are you, exactly?”
I glance around the room. The bartender is still eyeing me suspiciously. I clear my throat. “Uh, the name’s Tom Lytton, sir.”
Helgi nods. “I see.” My name doesn’t seem to spark any recognition in his face. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed. “Well then, my name is Helgi Isarnbjorn Ogenherdi. For short.” He tilts the axe-handle toward Anstis. “Are you with him, or…did you dredge him out?”
Anstis interrupts. “I’m not ‘with him,’ if that’s what you mean.”
I glare at Anstis. “We found him,” I say to Helgi. “In the basement of the Chantry. And no I’m not ‘with him,’” I make air-quotes, “but circumstances seem to have thrown us together. My actual boss, though, said to send his regards.”
“Oh, and who do you swear service to, precisely?”
Urg. That’s kinda a douchey way to put it but I can’t really deny it. I rub my face. “Ah, a short guy by the name of Marcus.”
Helgi looks at me thoughtfully. “How short? You’re all sort of just…down there, for me.”
“Shorter than me, sir. Shorter than your…quite handsome bike out there.”
He tilts his head, absently scratching his chin with the handle of the axe. “Does he have a last name?”
I sigh. “He has two. Sertorius Posthumus…probably because he thinks that nobody else can understand Latin—“
“Oh, Marcus,” he leans back, nodding in recognition. “So you’re working for him?”
I shrug. “It…seems.”
“So you’re with the Sabbat?”
I look around the bar. Everyone is staring at me again, including the bartender, who is wiping down another glass in a surprisingly ominous way. “I…don’t actually know who I’m with at the moment….”
Helgi chuckles. “Well it’s a good thing you weren’t sent by someone else. I was starting to get bored with all the killing. I think we ran out of all the good ones after, what, the third night?”
“The second,” a voice calls from the crowd. The room rumbles in laughter.
“That’s right, that’s right,” Helgi agrees. “So…what does Marcus want?”
“He doesn’t want anything, actually. But…other forces are interested in finding out some more about you, since…you seem such an intriguing man.”
“A certain Theo Bell thought you were…interesting,” Anstis adds.
Helgi raises an eyebrow. “Mr. Bell, you say? I’ve never run across him before, but his reputation is one to be respected. Even if he is the Camarilla.” He leans forward conspiratorially. “It would be best not to mention his name around here, most nights.”
“Yes,” I say,  “I hear the lovely Prince Adrianna has…some frustration with him as well.”
“Oh no, it’s not that. One of my children, they…have a history. You don’t want to get involved.” He sits up again. “So, you’re working for Marcus, but you’re at the beck-and-call of Theo Bell as well…interesting….”
Light laughter rolls around the room. Anstis shoots me a smirk that’s bordering on a sneer. I try to glare stoically back but I’m concerned it comes off more as a pout.
“And what it is that Mr. Bell wants?” Helgi continues.
We pause for a minute while we try to remember what the fuck we’re supposed to do now that we’re actually talking to Helgi, after real- and game-time months of trying to get here.
“He wants to know what your price is,” Anstis says first.
Helgi chuckles. “Is he going to offer me Normandy? I didn’t know he had French blood in him.” More laughter rolls around the room as Anstis and I look at each other blankly.
“So,” Helgi continues. “I am guess he is asking on behalf of the Prince of Oakland?”
I snort. “Actually he doesn’t really want to deal with her at all. This is mostly his concern. He’s been blowing her off for some time now.”
Helgi trades a surprised look with some of the other men in the room. “That’s interesting. So, she’s not getting the support of the rest of the Camarilla…. Good to know.”
Ahhh, well, I may have just accidentally shot down any of Adrianna’s chances at…anything, but…whatever. Fuck her.
“So. Theo Bell wants to make sure that this doesn’t spill over. So what is it that Theo Bell is here for? Certainly not me.”
Now I laugh, tossing a hand dismissively. “Oh, no, he’s here for all the other shit that’s been going on. You are very low in his rankings, but he just wants—“
I stop, suddenly realizing what it is that I have just implied. The room goes quiet, all eyes turning to Helgi again. Anstis shoots a look at me.
Helgi gets slowly to his feet, leaning his axe against a nearby table. Anstis and I take a cautious step back. I can’t read Helgi’s mood, since his face is now cast in shadow, and his voice—even when it’s laughing—always sounds angry.
“So,” he says slowly, spreading his arms. “Here I am, so alone and eager, and he thinks he can just buy me off. A few million dollars, perhaps, or a shiny new bike. Some new toy to marvel at. Maybe he’ll give me a smart phone.” He pauses thoughtfully. “I never care for those, by the way. They break too easily.”
“Yeah, I recommend getting a good insurance plan,” I mumble.
“I much prefer the old ones, what were they called? The Nokia,” Helgi continues.
Anstis beams. “Aye, like this one!” He pulls out his new-retro bar phone and holds it up proudly.
Helgi peers at it and nods. “Ah yes. Though mine is a little bigger. For my fingers.” He’s still looming over us so I avoid making the double-entendre remark that just begs to be remarked upon.
Helgi folds his arms and stares down at us. “So. You expected to barge in on behalf of Theo Bell who views me as an annoyance, but not a real threat.”
Anstis, wisely, takes the lead on the backpedaling. “He did suggest that you may be a threat, just that you weren’t directly in his way.”
“Ah yes. And he’d rather see the churning of the oceans head another direction?” He chuckles. “As much as one can control the oceans.”
The tension in the room drops noticeably. Helgi sits back down, tilting the chair back and folding his arms. “So. Tell me. What…grand threats does Theo Bell need to worry about, that I am but a pittance to him?”
Anstis and I trade a glance, and then the info dump starts. Perkins/Perpenna is the top story of the evening, of course, but we don’t need to provide too much info on him because apparently Helgi and he have met. Some centuries before. When Helgi supposedly helped Marcus kill him. Helgi has no idea why or how he might have survived that, but he sure doesn’t like it. Helgi calls him “a servant of jotunns.”
Our next story: the shitload of werewolves everywhere, with more showing up every day. Helgi is unperturbed by this, saying that “Freyja’s children” show up anywhere “Jormungandr rears his head.”
“You see,” Helgi explains, “in battle, Odin takes half of the souls that die, and Freyja takes the other half. She plants them in her garden where they root and grow. Like the seasons, they die and then grow again. Whereas Odin’s sentinels are eternal, though limited to the night, where his favor can protect them. ”
I frown thoughtfully. I don’t know much about vampire mythology, but this is definitely a different interpretation than anything else I’ve heard. I glance around. Anstis also looks a little perplexed, but many of the men in the room are nodding.
In any event, Helgi advises us to stay out of the werewolves way. Which is great advice, I’m glad he mentioned it, it hadn’t occurred to anyone else to warn us of them yet.
Anstis tries to turn this info dump into an information exchange.  “So tell me, why have the seas brought you to this realm?” he asks.
Helgi shifts in his chair thoughtfully. “Well, I’ve always enjoyed the frontier, and a hundred years ago this was the frontier. Now, the frontier is the open road.”
“Well, it’s a new type of frontier. A digital one,” I add, with more than a small touch of local pride.
“Ahh, but you can’t breathe that in. You can’t live that. It’s a fascinating tool, don’t get me wrong. The pictures of the cats are quite entertaining. But other than that….” He shakes his head. “I’ll take a bike. Or a boat, though it’s been a while since I’ve captained a longship.”
Helgi agrees that Perpenna being around is a bad thing indeed and he can understand why Marcus and Bell are concerned, but sadly he has other matters occupying his time at the moment. At the top of this list: he is apparently missing some Semtex.
…But yeah, no, even though it’s still unclear whether or not Helgi stole Esteban’s Semtex in the first place, in an interesting twist some of the Semtex in Helgi’s possession has subsequently been stolen from him.
Funny he should mention that, since we just happened to run into a load of Semtex in Sebastian’s possession just the night before, which quite possibly was unloaded onto him by the Tremere, likely under the orders of one Heinrich Himmler.
“Himmler?!” Helgi jumps to his feet again. “He yet lives?”
“Er…sort of,” I say.
“I did try to diablerize him,” Anstis chimes in, “but he vanished.”
Helgi growls.“Well, the soul-bite is not something that is to be done under normal circumstances, but for him I would make an exception.” He stares across the bar, gaze boring through time as well as space. “I came across the camps back in the war. If he was not a was a servant of evil, I don’t know who was. Fitting he was embraced by the Tremere….”
“Yes, he’s been working for them for some time now,” I say. “…Er, well obviously, I guess—“
“Making gargoyles, you say?”
Helgi nods. “That is also fitting, somehow.”
I frown, remembering my first meeting with him, with Norton. “Yes…. They say he built that place to remind himself…of who he was….”
Helgi steps forward, glowering, but this time it’s clear the aggression isn’t directed at us. “I think I have something for you. Bring me the person who sold my Semtex to him, and bring him to me…still moving. Then we will talk about Theo Bell’s price.”
(I bury my face in my hands. “Oh my god it’s been fucking months, I am never going to find this fucking Semtex….”)
This week, I was the character who had a rather lackluster night. Almost everyone else had some major developments, but my night can be summed up as follows:
“I hung around the shipping yards. A Viking told me a story. I ate a bunch of pigeons. End of night.”
We open with Georgia, who was last seen at the Backup Chantry, located at SF City College. I realize last episode I indicated that she left that location, but we’re going to backup a bit because she realized she actually wants to investigate a little more before leaving. She has Bob take her to the gargoyle vats located there, since apparently she hasn’t seen enough of them lately.
He takes her to a room lined with stone; ceiling, walls, and floor. The vat is recessed into the floor, like a great big hottub. A hottub filled with blood. Blood that is slowly bubbling. Some large meat hooks hang over the vat on heavy chains (because there are always. fucking. meathooks.) but otherwise the room is empty.
Bob says this vat is only producing one gargoyle and it isn’t, quote, “finished yet.” Even though his bosses are all gone, Bob has been maintaining the process, “stirring it” every couple of hours. He was in the vat room when Clarence attacked and escaped by hiding in the pool of blood, but he suspects the gargoyle “didn’t like it.” Apparently even though it is only half-finished, the gargoyle…talks…to Bob sometimes.
Georgia steps into another room to “make a call,” which in this case is disturbingly literal:
She closes the door behind her and turns to the empty room. “Van Brugge?” she calls into the empty air.
“…Yes?” Van Brugge’s disembodied voice echoes through her head.
“So I am at the Backup Chantry, and they have a vat here with a half-finished gargoyle in it.”
“…Ah. So they have…some facilities.”
“Apparently. There’s only the one vat, and there’s…an intern here I have started to ghoul. I’m going to leave him here and move on to the next location.”
“Ok. What is the status of the sub-Chantry then?”
“Oh, everyone here was eaten by Clarence,” Georgia announces brightly.
“…Ah. Ok. Um, wow…. So who is this Clarence?”
“Oh, he’s a Ventrue. Friend of the Prince.”
(Jim: *cough*”Former-PC”*cough*
Me: *cough*”Douche”*cough*)
“Ah. Well. That certainly speaks of the Prince’s judgement. He may also have to be replaced by someone more competent.” (Me: “Oh, Christ, please do….”)
Georgia points out that Clarence is probably under the thrall of Perpenna, but that only enforces van Brugge’s assessment of his character. Anyway, she finishes her report and van Brugge advises her to move on. She says goodbye to Bob, who waves at her with a somewhat brittle smile, and then she leaves to the next location:
(Me: “EWW, why??”
Chris: “Wait, like in Buffy?”
Jim: “You know there’s a Hellmouth there.”)
Paul was originally headed to his house in Portola, but he changes his mind and goes toward the house in Seacliff, since he has something stashed there that he needs.
On the way, though, he gets a call. From Leeland, Baron of Berkeley, of all people. Paul answers. They exchange pleasantries (Paul: “How are you?” Leeland: “I’ll be honest with you, I’ve had better weeks.” Paul: “Yeah, that seems to be going around….”) Leeland rants about werewolves and Inquisitors and Viking Anarchs and undergrad protestors camping in the trees.
Paul: “Well, at least they’re going back to their roots.”
Leeland: “…Thanks.”
(Chris: “Could be worse, they could be branching out. *pause for effect* Can’t you just leaf them alone?”
Me: “Chris is being knotty.”
Kara: “Be careful, Jason’s going to turn us all to ash!”
Jim: “I hope he doesn’t bark at us!”
Chris: “Those were all sappy jokes.”
Ben: “These are all some wonderful tree puns.”
Jason: “NO!!”
Chris: “I don’t know, I think the humor is blooming here.”
Jim: “Jason is looking a little green.”
Ben: “Is the willow weeping?”
Cameron: “I think we’re getting to the root of the problem.”)
Speaking of werewolves, now that he’s calmed down somewhat, Leeland is curious about how Paul came to be associated with a werewolf. Paul says that it was rather odd—
(Me: “OH!! Put a cork in it!!!”)
—Rather odd circumstances and Sophia is certainly an outlier in even the limited experience we’ve had with them so far, since frankly it seems that they care about us far less than we care about them.
In any event, though, Leeland says that Paul has caught the attention of an associate of his, an associate who would very much like to meet him. Paul is skeptical, but Leeland assures Paul that he’s known this man for awhile and his intentions for the moment seem to be focused on business, not hostilities.
Paul agrees and has Leeland set up a meeting with the man within the hour, at the Samovar tea lounge downtown.
Back at Helgi’s bar, Anstis and I agree to his request to track down who stole his (likely originally stolen) Semtex and sold it to Himmler on Alcatraz. The stuff was stolen about a week ago, from a locked cargo container. Helgi has no suspicions about who it might have been specifically, but whomever it was, he is very clear he wants them brought to him alive.
Helgi takes us to the scene of the crime, a shipping yard next to the bar. The container with the Semtex is unmarked and hidden in the middle of a row of other, identical containers. The door is locked with heavy bolts and has apparently been modified so that the doors swing inward. Helgi has to throw his weight into the doors to shove them open, creating a loud shriek that echoes across the yard.
We step inside the container. Anstis and Helgi pop their Eyes of the Beast to peer through the gloom. I pull out my cellphone and pop my flashlight app. Inside we can see that the doors have been rigged with a large, industrial-looking hydraulic system to brace them closed. It’s obvious that Helgi is one of the only vampires in the Bay Area able to open the thing, and even he had to exert effort to do it. It’s also clear that even if someone had forced their way in, the noise would have alerted everyone at the bar nearby.
This leaves one likely suspicion: someone transported themselves through the walls of the container by some other means.
Although a good chunk of the stash has been stolen, most of the Semtex is left. The air stinks of chemicals. Pallets line the walls of the container, stacked with reddish-orange bricks. Anstis picks one up and peers at the Cyrillic writing stamped on it.
“What’s this say?” he asks Helgi.
“‘High explosives; Do not smoke.’”
I poke at some of the blocks experimentally. “Really? I wouldn’t think cigarette ashes would be enough to set these off.”
“Oh no, it’s a warning to not smoke them. It’s made by Russians, after all.”
I raise an eyebrow. Anstis nods, impressed, and puts the brick back on the pallet. We leave the container and start poking around the area for clues.
Paul arrives at his Seacliff house. He doesn’t have much time before his meeting with this contact of Leeland’s, but luckily his plans won’t take too long.
He goes to a small safe in his office and opens it. It’s empty, save for one thing: a stoppered vial containing a small amount of deep red blood.
The Vaulderie blood that Marcus gave to him, though me.
Paul doesn’t know much about it, but he knows what I told him: that it’s part of some kind of Sabbat ritual, that the vampires tied to this blood are long gone, and drinking it has the notable effect of erasing all previous blood bonds.
Like his bond to Marcus.
Paul wants a little more information about it, though, so he calls up his best resource for dealing with blood magic:
Georgia: “Paul! I was just sending you a text!”
Paul: “Ah, intriguing. So, you know a thing or two about blood magic, right? Do you know what a Vaulderie is?”
Georgia: “Uh, yeah…”
Paul: “Ok. Do you know much blood someone needs for that? Like what sort of equations do you use to spec out the proportions?”
Georgia: “Um, you just…take a sip?”
Paul: “That’s it? I mean, how small? Is there a unit beyond which you can’t subdivide it anymore?”
Georgia: “I…don’t understand what you’re asking me…”
(Peanut gallery suggestion: Use the homeopathy solution and dilute the stuff down in water until it’s of minute concentration!)
Georgia: “Why are you asking, Paul? You do know it’s a Sabbat thing?”
Paul: “Potato, pot-A-to.”
Georgia: “Paul…are you planning to create a Vaulderie?”
Paul: “No…but how would one do that?”
Georgia: “I don’t know, but I think you would have to be Sabbat.”
Paul: “Ok, so? Isn’t that just, like…crossing the street?”
Georgia: “Umm….no?”
Paul: “Look at it this way: are you religious, Ms. Johnson?”
Georgia: “No….”
Paul: “Ok, well do you possess a full understanding of the various differences and denominations out there?”
Georgia: “Um, sort of….”
Paul: “Right, so for you, they’re all kind of the same thing, the distinctions aren’t personally relevant?”
Georgia: “I guess….”
Paul: “Well, now you know what sane people feel about the difference between the Camarilla and the Sabbat.”
Since she can’t help him much with the Vaulderie blood, Paul asks what she was trying to text him about. She says that van Brugge suggested she have Paul contact his “werewolf friends” to try and find more information about Perpenna, since they can tap different resources than us vampires can. Paul says he’ll pass the message along.
Paul hangs up the phone and picks up the vial. He pulls out the cork and drinks the whole thing.
Georgia, meanwhile, is waiting around outside City College for a car service car. Her intended destination, Sunnydale, is a baaaad set of projects in the south of the city, so understandably no one wants to pick her up. She pings every major service simultaneously until finally a car accepts the ride and comes to get her.
She climbs in the car, sighing in relief, and turns to the driver.
It’s Adam. The Creepy Driver.
She tenses. “Adam! …Good to see you!”
He nods at her.
“I, uh…assume you already know where I’m going?”
“Well, you indicated you wanted to head to a bad part of town.”
“So you came to fetch me?”
He shrugs. “I needed the fare.”
“Ah. You…don’t seem like a man who would need the fare….”
He puts the car in gear and pulls away from the curb.  “Well, I’m a man of many talents, and…well, you wouldn’t like to know everything.”
Over the course of the ride they…basically have the same conversation they’ve had the last two rides. She asks him pointed questions that he somehow is able to deflect every time. This time, though, Adam does mention how he’s lived in many cities before, and how he likes to be around when things, quote, “reach a tipping point.” He likes to watch and see what happens.
As usual, he turns her attempts at conversation back around on her:
Adam: “So what brings you to a place like Sunnydale?”
Georgia: “I’m sure that you already know as much as you need to….”
Adam: “Oh, no one could possibly know as much as they need to.”
Georgia: “I find that that’s very true. Which is why I keep searching.”
Adam: “Well that’s always wise. And what do you hope to find in Sunnydale? It’s not a very nice place.”
Georgia: “The same thing I hope to find anywhere; information.”
Adam: “Ahh, it’s information you hope for? Cause not everyone searches for that.”
Georgia: “Don’t they?”
Adam: “No, some people are looking for something else. They don’t always know what.”
Georgia: “I find that information is usually the best. If you get too much power, people come for you. That’s no fun. If you get too much money, then you have problems spending it. But information, you can hold onto that, or give it away without losing it.”
Adam: “You can, but if you think no one will come for you in search of information, well…you’ll have another thing coming.”
Georgia: “Right, but you can give it away without losing it.”
Adam: “Yes, unless someone else doesn’t want anyone else to have it.”
Georgia: “That’s true….” *thoughtful pause, then brightly:* “Well, I guess I’d better give up then.”
Adam: *chuckles* “Well, that’s not an option.”
Georgia: “No?”
Adam: “No, we all have to play the game.”
Georgia: “…Why?”
Adam: “Because the game is out there.”
Georgia: “What if I want to stop?”
Adam: “You can’t stop. It’s play…or be played.”
Georgia: “…What if I want to be played?”
(Ben: “Oooh myyy…”)
Adam: “Well…. If you just want to be played, perhaps you found the right line of work.”
The car pulls up outside the Sunnydale projects. Georgia glances at the clock. She’s only been in the car for three minutes or so, watching and talking with Adam the whole time.
But Ingleside is at least fifteen minutes away from Sunnydale, even in clear traffic.
“Wow, we’ve…made remarkable time….”
Adam smiles at her, sunglasses still masking his eyes. “I’ve been doing this a long time.”
Georgia puts her hand on the door, then hesitates. “If I need to get ahold of you again, how would I do that?”
“Well, I don’t like to be tied down. I’m just gonna be around. But if you need a lift,” he nods his chin toward her, “just use that little phone of yours, and I might be there.”
“That…does seem to be reliable so far.” She hesitates again. “I’m, ah…I am going to let you know that you do creep me out a little….”
He chuckles. “If I creep you out then I wouldn’t go in there. You’ll find there’s far worse things than me inside some places. “
Georgia looks at the buildings. “I’ve seen a lot of terrible things in the last few nights…are we talking worse than those, or, like, those?”
“We may be talking anything. See, in this city, at this time, you really never know what you’re going to find on the other side of a door.”
She turns to him again, frowning. “Adam, I am very impressed by your ability to tell me nothing.”
He grins. “It is a skill, isn’t it.”
“It is.” She opens the door and climbs out. “Drive safely,” she says as an afterthought.
“I always do.”
She shuts the door. He flicks a jaunty wave and drives off.
(Kara: “I hate him so much.”)
The Sunnydale projects are a series of two-story apartment buildings with all the charm of a WWII baracks and all the construction- and design-integrity of the late 70s. Georgia walks up to the one that is the supposed location of the next Chantry bolt-hole.
It doesn’t take her long to realize she’s being followed.
(Heads up: Trigger warning. Spoiler alert: It’s fine, but trigger warning all the same.)
Georgia ignores this fact and walks to the door, pulling out a key. Unfortunately, it seems that someone has sprayed plastic sealant over the handle of the door and she can’t get the key in.
The person following her walks up behind her. He’s a young human male, his dress and attitude obviously pegging him as a local. He looms behind her as she fiddles with the door. She continues to ignore him.
“How ‘bout a taste?” he sneers.
She finally turns around and looks him over. “Of me or of you?”
He smiles, flashing some grill. “We can do it either way.”
She smiles in return. “Well in that case, I’d love one.” And she grabs his neck and bites him.
Damn, girl. Represent.
He flops down to the ground unconscious. She turns back to continue working on the door.
“What the FUCK??” a voice shouts down the corridor. Georgia turns again.
Two guys are standing at the edge of the building, dressed in the same colors as the guy she just met. They stare at his body on the ground as they wander up. “Who the fuck are you?” one guy barks.
Georgia gestures meekly at the door. “I’m locked out, could one of you guys help me? That would be great.”
The other guy points to his buddy on the ground. “What happened to him?”
“Oh, I…think he’s sick…. I was gonna get him some water, but I can’t get into my apartment.”
They stare at her. “You don’t live here!”
She shrugs and wobbles her head. “Ok, so it’s not ‘my’ apartment, so much as my friend’s, but—“
“You trying to rip the place?”
“No, I just…I haven’t heard from my friend in a couple days, I’m kinda worried about her.”
The men look at each other. “Yeah, we’ll help you in,” one says. He pulls out a pen-knife and manages to dig the sealant out of the lock of the handle. Georgia pulls out her key and opens the door.
Many things happen at once. Georgia pushes the door inward, then jerks as both men hit her from behind, shoving her into the apartment. She stumbles forward a few feet, but then the force pushing her forward disappears. She stops and turns around.
The men are gone. And she is now covered in a fine coating of white ash.
(Kara: “I assume I have a reasonable suspicion that they were obliterated by Tremere wards?”
Jason: “That is a pretty good guess, yes.”
Kara: “I…can live with that.”)
Once again, never say the Tremere never did anything for anyone.
Georgia closes the door and checks out the place. This place is smaller than the City College facility, more like am office than a lab. There are a couple rooms—one set up with a couple lab benches and one set up with a couple cots—a kitchen, and a desk in the living room. Like City College, the place looks undisturbed. No one is present, but then it’s such a small location that it’s not regularly staffed anyway.
Georgia walks through the space then stops in the middle of the living room. “Van Brugge?”
“…Ja?” his voice replies after a few moments hesitation (as Ben gropes to unmute his microphone).
“The second site looks clear…. There was sealant over the lock, which made it a little hard to get in, and I’m not sure how to replace that, but if there’s nothing else I’m going to lock up and leave.”
“Hmm. The sealant is not standard procedure.… How did you end up getting in?”
“I, uh…had some help jimming the lock—“
“…You had help jimming the lock?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry, the guys who helped me were vaporized by the wards.”
“Ah. And by ‘helping’ this late at night I assume they were being helpful for self-interested purposes?”
(That’s rich, coming from a Tremere….)
“Yeah, but. You know. No big deal.”
“Ah, good. Well played. Any idea who put the sealant in the locking mechanism?”
“I…am guessing it was someone with a can of sealant who didn’t want other people to get in.”
“*sigh* Well obviously….”
In any event, no she has no idea what happened here nor does she have any clues to follow up on. Van Brugge tells her to object-read some things but she sheepishly says that she can’t yet. He sighs and says that Max has obviously been neglecting her training (that’s fine, no one has any problem with blaming everything on Max) and she definitely needs to pick up the skill fast.
In the middle of this lecture her phone rings. Van Brugge goes quiet but hangs around (her head) to listen in as she answers.
It is Doctor VonNatsi! Georgia is very happy to hear from him. He asks her how things are going. She looks at her ashy footprints and says, um, quite well actually, how is he doing?
“Um, zis has been an interesting couple of days, ja…. I was vondering if you vould answer me a qvestion or two?”
“I’d love to!”
“Ven you said to me that you vished to bring me the verevolf, ja, so I could assist you with the verewolf, you said you vould be bringing me the one verewolf und she was unconscious?”
“Um, yes….?”
“You did not mention the two other verewolves who vere not unconscious!!!”
“What? There are other werewolves—?“
So, yes, Dr. VonNatsi is still very upset about Stormwalker showing up with a buddy of his to “rescue” Sophia. Dr. VonNatsi would like to know why—despite the fact that Georgia came to him in the first place to ask him to stay out of things—he has been dragged kicking and screaming into the middle of things anyway. She honestly doesn’t know, but while she’s at it, she warns him about Perpenna and asks him to call her if any more strange figures start sniffing around the tower.
Georgia, though, gets a thought, and also asks him if he might be able to locate specific figures, such as Perpenna. He says perhaps, asks why. She cheerfully responds that she wants to kill him.
Siegfried: “Oh. Is zat all? Why?”
Georgia: “Oh, well he killed a bunch of other people and he’s…kinda creepy.”
Siegfried: “…But you are a vampire, ja?”
Georgia: “He’s creepier than me!”
Siegfried: “Oh. Zat is unfortunate. You should arm yourself vith a deathray!”
Georgia: “…Do you have one to spare?”
Siegfried: “Well, nein, one can never have too many deathrays—“
Georgia: “Could you help me make my own?”
Siegfried: “Vell, the problem is the deathrays require a very detailed understanding of the precise science in order to produce the proper act. One can not simply pull out a deathray und kill. Zat would be ridiculous!”
The good doctor hesitates, though, and warily says that he might be able to arrange something, though he doesn’t indicate what it might be. He says he will get back to her on that. They exchange more pleasantries and bid each other good night.
“You have a remarkable ability for humoring Etherites,” van Brugge says the moment she hangs up.
“Oh, but he’s lovely, don’t you like him?”
A pause. “I…sort of do, actually…. Well, if we survive and we need to establish diplomatic relations with the Etherites or something, you are going to the top of the list.”
Van Brugge instructs her to check the third and final location and to “dispose” of the third man, still unconscious outside, before she leaves. She does this by the simple method of dragging him over and tossing him through the wards as well.
(Jason: “What’s your Humanity score?”
Kara: “Uh…six.”
Jason: *barely containing glee* “I think it’s time for a Humanity roll! As you murder the defenseless, helpless man!”
Kara: “…But I was told to!”
The entire room and Skype call: “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!!!!”
Jason: “She was just following orders, ladies and gentlemen!”
Ben: *in van Brugge accent* “I am a German, it’s what we do…”)
She feels bad about it—
(Kara: “Pretty sure he was gonna try to rape me, though.”
Jason: “I know, that’s why I had you roll instead of just giving it to you.”
Kara: “Well, out of game I don’t feel bad about it.”
Jason: “Oh, out of game you shouldn’t feel bad about it.”)
—but is able to move on. She brushes the ash off her robes, locks the door, and wanders off into the night.
Paul arrives at Samovar Tea House at the Metreon. It’s close to closing, but they make an exception for Paul Stewart. He sits down at one of the outside tables and orders tea. When it comes he pours himself a cup, but doesn’t drink it, instead just holding it as he stares at the lights of the downtown skyline.
One of the other patrons a few couches down has been staring at Paul since he came in. Paul eventually notices him. When their eyes meet, the man gets up and approaches Paul’s table. He is a dark-skinned man with an impressive mustache and is wearing exquisitely-tailored Edwardian morning dress.
He stops next to Paul’s chair. “Paul Stewart?”
Paul looks up at him. “I am. And you are…?”
“William Leidesdorff.”
Paul extends a hand. “Have a seat, join me.”
“Thank you, I think I will.” William sits down and glances around the patio. “If you would do me a favor? Don’t gesture toward me. No one else can see that I’m sitting at your table.”
Paul nods slowly. “I see.”
William shifts in his chair, adjusting his coat. “So I have a question for you….”
“Alright. I can’t promise I can answer it.”
“Well I think it will be in your best interests to answer it this time.” He leans one arm onto the table, staring intently at Paul. “What exactly do you plan to do on Wednesday? Because I read you as an intelligent, educated man, and an intelligent and educated man knows that there is no way on this Earth that you are going to walk into an arena of Monomancy with Andre Rousimov and walk out alive. Not unless something very, very special is about to happen.” He lifts an eyebrow. “Possibly the same kind of special thing your people have been trying to set up all over the Shark Tank for the last week?”
Paul keeps a very carefully neutral reaction through all this. After the last comment he gestures with his tea. “Oh, yes. Technology demonstrations. You heard about that?”
William doesn’t break his gaze. “Technology isn’t my field. My field is business. But I know enough about the world to know that when someone decides to send an army of workmen to walk all over the place where a Monomancy is about to happen and does so without telling the authorities running the joint…well he just might be up to something. So I was wondering if you might tell me what that is.”
Paul shrugs. “What’s the rush? It’s two days from now, you’re bound to find out then—“
“Well, you see, if what it is happens to be, I don’t know, a hundred pounds of C4 (lol, or Semtex) that would concern me somewhat. Especially if I happened to be in residence at the time it went off.”
“I see. Are you planning to spectate on Wednesday?”
William’s gaze turns into a glare. “I don’t have much of a choice.” He hesitates a moment. “I apologize, I should have introduced myself further. My name is William Leidesdorff, and I’m the Bishop of Palo Alto.”
Paul sets his tea down. “I see….”
“I work for Andre Rousimov, have worked for him for some time.”
Paul uses Diplomacy! “Do you like working for him? You strike me as more of a self-employed type.”
William sighs and rubs his eyes. “Ooooh, that is a long and ugly story. Andre…goes back in this city a ways. I go back a ways further. Let’s leave it at that. But he’s deputed me to find out…well, to find out what in the world it is you’re planning to do, and to make sure nothing interferes with the Monomancy. I’m running security for the operation to make sure the whole place remains secure, and lo and behold…here are all manner of Tesseract people wandering all over the place and setting up meetings to talk about rewiring the lights.”
Paul nods, still keeping his face carefully blank. “Indeed. So I assume you haven’t found anything, then. It seems like a lot of…well, busywork.”
“It does seem like  a lot of busywork, which is why we’re sitting here now having this conversation. Because it would be really unfortunate if I had to tell Andre about all this, because I know what he would do. Ive seen him do it before.”
Paul and William cat-and-mouse each other for a little while, during the course of which Paul learns that while William figured out his people are doing something with the lights, neither does he have any idea what it means, nor has he told anything to Andre about something being up in the first place.
“Ill be frank,” William says. “I’m here to make a deal if I can. My situation is…not as secure as I would like it to be. And there may be a way for me to increase that security somewhat, but in order to do that I would need some forms of guarantee.”
“Such as?”
“Well for one thing, knowing exactly what it is that I’m dealing with, and for another thing, knowing exactly what it is the person who’s planning on employing it intends to do after it’s all over.”
William tries to intimidate Paul by discussing how one could “in theory” rig the place up with explosives, but what an ultimately bad idea that would be. He goes off on discussing the various theoretical logistics of explosives for a while, completely oblivious to the fact that he has missed the mark entirely. Paul lets hims speak, calmly swirling his cup of tea on the table.
Paul brings up the fact that if he was to, in theory, reveal his actual plan, such as it might be, then he would need some guarantees of his own. William points out that Andre is from a sect of the “old country” that reaaaaaally takes the Monomancy seriously and won’t react well to even a rumor that someone is considering messing around with the rules, but since William is the one who’s been put in charge of the investigations, well…who’s to say what information will or will not reach Andre?
Finally, someone who speaks the same language of Saying Things Without Saying Anything that Paul does.
William also brings up the fact that if Andre is taken out, there will be an opening for the title of Archbishop, an opening the Sabbat would certainly like to see filled rapidly and with a minimum of fuss and thus it would certainly be convenient if there was a Bishop in the area already able to fulfill that role. It is also interesting to note that whomever claims praxis over the South Bay would be the one in charge of investigating the death of his predecessor and could pretty much tell the other investigators as little or as much as he likes.
This is the second time tonight Paul has had to discuss these issues but the first time he’s actually marginally enjoyed the conversation.
As to the “guarantees” William mentioned, he said that “this person”—whomever it may be—would need enough information to make sure that “the right people” were the ones to survive the event, and to ensure that “this person’s” own well-being wasn’t being threatened itself. Also, “this person’s” involvement in such a deal would naturally have to remain secret because, quote, “the only thing the Sabbat would hate more than some Camarilla walking in and messing with their rituals is a Bishop helping him.”
If it’s a Bishop. We certainly don’t know, speaking in hypotheticals and all…. Besides, where-ever would we find a disenfranchised Bishop willing to move against Andre?
William stares at the skyline. “I’ve been in this city since long before Andre heard its name, but he’s the boss. And I don’t find that reasonable. I’m tired of working for someone who doesn’t appreciate this area the way I do.” He turns back to Paul. “They call me the Bishop of Palo Alto, but you may have noticed that despite your facility being within spitting distance, you’ve never seen me before? Well there’s a reason for that. My bishopric is more or less an invention of the Sabbat to throw me a bone. Andre keeps his friends and his enemies both equally close and disposes of either whenever he sees fit. If I don’t kill him, it’s only a matter of time before he kills me.”
William suddenly goes tense, eyes darting over Paul’s shoulder. Paul freezes as well. “Someone unwelcome?” he asks quietly.
William licks his lips nervously. “Would…would you do me a kindness, at the moment? Would you turn around and tell me what you see?”
Paul turns around, pretending to fiddle with his coat. A couple people are crossing the patio and a server is straightening up the hostess station a few feet away. No one seems to be paying their table any attention.
“Is there anyone there? Anyone staring directly at us?”
Paul shakes his head. “Not that I see, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there….”
William sighs and rubs his face. “No, in this case I believe it does. Could I possibly prevail upon you for another favor? Could you forget that we just did that? Or endeavor to, at least.” William tears his eyes away from whatever he was staring at and turns to the skyline again, face pained. “It’s…. We all have trials we have to put up with, thanks to our state.”
Paul nods slowly. “I think I follow your meaning.”
“Yes. Yes I hope you do.”
Someone else follows William’s meaning: “Is he a new friend?” Mr. Tails wheedles. “He should be our friend. He’s should plaaaaaay…on the ice!”
Paul ignores Mr. Tails, William slips back into business mode, and the negotiations continue. Paul wants to know who would be leaving the arena, since anyone leaving would have at least some knowledge of the sun technology. William says just his people, unless Paul has any objections. Paul doesn’t (but not saying, just saying, at some point he should probably get Marcus’s and my names on the guest list. Just saying.).
William reiterates, of course, that this arrangement will not be valid unless he knows exactly what is going to happen on Wednesday:
“What is it you intend to do, Mr. Stewart? Some form of magic? You didn’t strike me in the background checks as a Tremere.”
Paul chuckles, perhaps taking that as a compliment. “Well, one picks things up, but no, magic is not my game.”
Paul asks for more assurances that William isn’t just tying to mine him for information, information that he will then report to Andrew. William points out that his people already caught Paul’s workers fiddling with the lights and that alone would be enough to Andre to call the thing forfeit:
“If Andre knew, he wouldn’t wait to find out what you have planned. He’d just kill you. You don’t have to believe me on that note but I think you know enough about Andre to guess. And if you don’t believe me, you can ask your little friend.”
Paul raises an eyebrow. “Really? You can hear him too?” William stares at him a moment before it clicks over. “Oh, wait, you mean that other little friend.”
William’s stare turns serious. “Who are you talking about?”
Paul waves it off. “I’m sorry, it’s like you said. We all have our own trials to deal with.”
(Jim: *Laughing hysterically*
Chris: “Good job, Jim. Leaving a lasting scar on the game.”
Jason: “This isn’t going to come up so I’m just going to mention it: he can see Mr. Tails on your shoulder right now, but he assumes he’s hallucinating it.”)
Paul looks at William thoughtfully. “Just out of curiosity, you wouldn’t happen to be able to see a talking squirrel anywhere around, would you?”
William tenses and leans back slightly. “Why?” he asks softly.
“Um, lets just say that it’s something that…interests me from time to time. Though ‘interest’ is maybe a generous word.”
William stares at Paul, still tense. “You’ve been playing around with Malkavians?”
Paul shrugs. “It seems you have as well.”
“I am a Malkavian, sir,” William says, glaring.
(Me: “He’s a Sabbat Malkavian? Thats terrifying!”
Jason: “It should be!”)
“And how did you become one?”
“The same way any of us become one, I was bitten,” William snaps. “By a man who regarded my existence as a black man with power in this city as something of anathema. It was the 1840’s. Malkavians are known to bite on spurious grounds just to inflict their torment on someone else.” William shifts in his chair and straightens his coat. “But one rises above.”
Paul nods. “Well…it’s somewhat comforting to have someone else around who can…see this guy.”
William’s stare turns icy again. “Believe me, if you knew the half of it you would not say so. But that’s beside the point. We all have crosses to bear. I could have asked to meet you in an art gallery but I chose not to.”
Back to business. William has literally no clue what Paul is actually up to. Paul decides—partly out of calculated risk, but also probably partly out of pride at the fact that he’s been able to successfully fool the big scary vampires of the area—to lay it out for him:
“You understand our competitive advantage in…well, the internet backbone industry?”
William nods. “I’ve done a bit of research, yes.”
“Our cable is the best around. We can send much more information over it, and that’s because we can send a much broader range of light than anyone else.” He puts his untouched cup of tea, now cold, back on the table. “Including sunlight.”
Silence. Paul stares at the tea, swirling the cup. After a few moments he glances up. William is staring at him, face carefully blank.
“No…” William whispers. He leans forward. “You’d put sunlight through the lights?”
Paul shrugs, still slowly swirling the cup. “We can. It’s not just the Shark Tank that’s wired.”
“My God…. How long have you been doing this?”
“About a year.”
Paul uses Environmental Awareness Talking Points! “Well, power generation for home lighting accounts for 164 CO2 piped into the atmosphere every year. Why? Because we had the technology and it’s simply the right thing to do.”
William shakes his head in awe. “The right thing to do? I think I know a number of people who would disagree with you on that point, and I think you know some of them as well.”
“Well, there’s a simple thing to do when you’re out of your element, and that’s just Do the Right Thing.”
“How in the world is piping sunlight across the planet doing the right thing?”
Paul shrugs again. “Well, for my immediate circumstance, it solves the problem of a room full of angry vampires. But the applications are truly endless.”
“If you’re fixing to get yourself murdered by some paranoid elder, that is. You see, I don’t really understand what fiberoptic cable is, I’m 180 years old, you will forgive me. But an elder? One the  age of…your associate? One who has never heard of electricity before, or who thinks it’s some form of Tremere magic? One who thinks the whole rest of the modern world is some nightmare he’s trying to wake up from?—“
(Jim: “Yarr.”)
“—He’s going to hear that you can pipe sunlight through the lights? Well, he’ll kill you just to make sure.”
Paul sighs. He’s already gotten this speech once tonight and he didn’t like it the first time. “There are levels of retribution I’m willing to deal with.”
“I seriously doubt that. But then….” William shrugs and leans back. “If all goes well, no one needs to know what happened underneath the lights.”
Paul and William continue to circle each other carefully through discussion and eventually realize they are at a stalemate. With nothing to lose, they might as well move forward with their agreement. They discuss logistics. William points out that sunlight is not an instantaneous death for most vampires and some—perhaps many—will be able to stumble around in search of safety for full minutes, possible longer. Paul suggests setting it up so that there is one obvious looking point of exit, but that exit leads to more sunlight. William agrees that there is certainly a droll macabre element to it, but he would prefer if instead his people were set up at the escape point with fire.
William warns, though, that if Andre escapes the solar lights, even fire wouldn’t be enough to stop him.
Paul is…well, not so much thrilled, but very relieved at the idea of William taking over as Bishop of San Jose, since he speaks Paul’s language of Rationality and Technology (or at least, openness to technology). William says, though, that just declaring himself as Andre’s successor is not enough. He needs some sort of gesture to reinforce his claim of praxis among the local Sabbat.
A gesture…like a strike against the Camarilla. William needs, quote, a “sacrificial lamb,” and he needs Paul to set it up. Someone important. A Prince would be nice (and no one would protest that day), but a Primogen would do.
Paul taps the rim of his teacup. “Would…a former primogen do?”
William frowns. “Who did you have in mind?”
“The former Malkavian Primogen in San Francisco. Sebastian.”
“Sebastian? I heard he was dead….”
“He is.” (Again.) “But I don’t think that information has travelled too far yet. You would be welcome to claim his demise.”
William stares at Paul, puzzled. “I thought he burnt to death.”
“That was the plan, but he survived that. He didn’t survive the sword to the neck.”
William snorts. “Few of us do.”
William agrees that Sebastian’s head might do, especially since apparently he was up to something with the Sabbat. William’s not sure what it was, but whatever he was doing hanging around with Andre was just the tip of the iceberg.
The last important question, of course, is how to not burn up themselves. Paul has a plan for this, though: rotating patches in the arena where the sunlight isn’t activated. Cleverly, those patches will be masked by regular lights in concert with the solar lights, so the difference between where the sun isn’t and isn’t won’t be as obvious. The details on this will have to be hammered out later but for now William agrees that it is an ingenious plan indeed.
“Well, I’m just full of bright ideas,” Paul says, lifting his cup.
William chuckles (although Jason most definitely does NOT). “I think we can do business along these markets, Mr. Stewart.”
“Is there a name other than William I should use with you?”
William stares at the skyline again, taking a slow breath. “So many of us pick up other names. So-and-So the Unholy. What’s-His-Name the Inscrutable. Garvax the…Ill-Odored, I don’t know….” He turns back to Paul. “William Leidesdorff was my name when I was alive and it will do just fine for me now.”
The two of them are now alone on the patio, save for the server hovering in the corner, trying to look as politely impatient as possible. Paul takes the hint and gets up to leave. William, though, stays seated.
William’s eyes dart across the patio. “If you don’t mind, I am going to stay here a while. I have to…well, I have to wait for my own personal difficulties to subside.”
Paul nods, bids him farewell, and leaves him alone on the patio, staring into the lights of the city.
On his way back to his car, Paul messages Sophia. He wants to meet to discuss hiring her hacking skills for the show on Wednesday. She agrees, and tells him to meet her at the Arboretum.
Which is back in the park. In werewolf territory. But Paul goes anyway.
Nothing immediate has turned up in Anstis’ and my search for clues. I’m getting bored and want to get back to the city to pursue a lead of my own, but Anstis is still intent on scoping out the shipping yard. We shared  a ride and I feel bad about ditching him—especially in front of Helgi—so I slouch against the outside of the container while he wanders around.
First thing Anstis does is call up some bird-friends from the area to see if any of them have noticed anything interesting in the area in the last week. Unfortunately, they’re, you know, seagulls, so all they really remember are dead rats and a couple empty fast-food bags.
“You almost done here, Dr. Dolittle?” I yell. Anstis shoots me a perplexed look. I wave it off and go back to sulking.
Anstis turns to Helgi. “Have you killed anyone around these parts lately?”
Helgi chuckles and considers the question. “Hmm. Well the killing’s been running together…. Why?”
To my surprise, Anstis looks uncomfortable. “Well…if you had…offended certain groups by killing some of their members, they might be a good place to look.”
Helgi laughs explosively, scattering the remaining seagulls left in the area. “Well, I’ll have to remember not to offend certain people by killing them.”
Anstis apparently decides to change the subject and points out that some sort of Lasombra shadow-teleport could easily have gotten someone inside the crate, and since Marcus and Helgi have a history, could it have been him?
“If Marcus wanted something from me he wouldn’t steal it,” Helgi says.
(Kara: “He’d make Tom steal it.”
Chris: “Yeah. Not as a test, just as management. His management style is ‘Bad’.”)
“If he did take it,” Helgi continues, “he’d have left a note.” (Me: “And that’s why…you always leave a note.”) Helgi chuckles. “He still hasn’t forgiven me for that whole mess with the Toreadors, though.”
I…am suddenly a lot more interested in the conversation.
(Jason: “…You son of a bitch….”)
Anstis raises an eyebrow. “Is there a tale you could be telling about this?”
(Jason: “OH GODDAMIT!!!!”
Jason sputters indignantly at Cameron for awhile, then finally grits his teeth and lets him tell the story, but uses that time to take Kara off-scene for secret stuff. He and Kara abscond to the back room for almost half an hour for…whatever the hell happened. Meanwhile, the rest of us cozy up to hear the tale of Marcus and the Toreadors)
So there we were in Constantinople, back before it was Istanbul. We had just burned the Bogomils out of the city.
“The whose-it whats now?” I interrupt.
“Bogomils. Christians the other Christians hated, so it was alright to kill them. “
Anyway, we had done this, and we had killed a Toreador that had been meeting them. I can’t recall his name—it was the childe of Michael, one of the leaders of the city, but he had fallen out of favor, in part because he had fallen in with the servants of Jormungander.
We were looking for some things and Marcus was looking for…Perpenna, interestingly enough. You see, Marcus had been asleep for nearly a thousand years and he had no idea what had happened to Perpenna. But here he was, come across someone who knew of Perpenna’s name, though we had disposed of the man at the time.
But there were other Toreadors. The…you would call him Primogen, now, I think?…was holding a party. A person we knew had been staying at the Primogen’s mansion after it had been nearly burned, and he had an invitation, as he was of their blood.
Now, at the party, I decided I was going to go and make friends. I’d learned enough Greek on my way to this place that I could compose in it well enough, and I’d learned enough Latin from Marcus to be able to compose in that. I took one of the great sagas and composed it in Norse, and Greek, and in Latin.
I stood up in my chain and leather—
—And I spoke of the tales of the North, in three different tongues at once. The entire room stood silent as I spoke.
And the Toreador Primogen, the leader of them there in Constantinople, why if he still lived he would have been moved to tears. He wondered, how a Northman could speak such wonderful words? And I said, the words themselves come from the stories and the greatness of the tales, but the way to speak them, in part, came of Marcus. He taught me the words. After that, the Primogen arranged a meeting between him and Marcus and they spoke of the old times, back in Rome.
But despite this, Marcus was never very happy, because for weeks after, every time he would go to see the Primogen: “Oh, Marcus! Did you bring Helgi?” Marcus was tasked to to bring me with him every time he went to visit, so that the Primogen might hear the stories again.
I remember afterwards we left the city, the Primogen was still struck dumb every time someone spoke of me. He fawned over my tales, likening them to that of Homer, or Tacitus or…one of the other ones.
I wonder if he ever found another teller of tales as me. I think he died in one of the crusades.
I nod vacantly. “It…seems like most people did.…”
I am considering ways in which I might use this information to tease Marcus—while still surviving the conversation—when something occurs to me. “Wait…you said Marcus was looking for Perpenna a thousand years ago, why was he so surprised to see him here?”
Helgi shrugs. “Well we thought we’d killed him! We fought, it was an epic battle. Much like the sagas…In fact, I composed one! It’s etched into a wall somewhere, but I forget where….”
Anstis, too, seems perplexed by this. “How did you think him dead, when he apparently be not?”
“That’s a good question. I suspect he may be draugr. One of Jormungandr’s greater servants. Perhaps a jotun.”
“Could you tell us more about these?” Anstis asks, apparently clicking every option in the dialogue tree.
“Ah, well you generally can tell them by the stretching of their skin over their bones. They appear to be corpses more than others. Some people back then called them Cappadocians. They tormented the living, often bringing them back to life after having killed them. Most unnatural. And most of them would not be harmed by simple weapons. To get rid of them, you had to drag them back to their grave, wrestling the entire way. Their art is a dark one, to be certain. Raising the dead like that…unnatural.” Helgi shakes his head. “It could be Perpenna was of their number, or perhaps he was brought back some other way. Truly he was a servant of evil.”
We ask Helgi how they killed Perpenna last time. Unfortunately, Marcus was the one who actually struck the killing blow and Helgi wasn’t around to see. Helgi does not doubt, though, that Marcus would have ensured Perpenna was dead. Helgi can’t remember many other details, it being so long ago. The best thing for it would be to check the inscription of the saga, but of course he cannot remember where it is.
(And that’s why…you always leave a note.)
Helgi starts reminiscing fondly of other epics he’s written, apparently scattered on rockfaces across Europe. Many of them were events like onto Ragnarok in terms of scale, but of course they weren’t really Ragnarok. He says he’ll know when Ragnarok is approaching because of the signs.
I frown. Ragnarok. Armageddon. Gehenna. These are all words I’m hearing a lot of these days. “Are…any of the things we’ve been seeing around here lately some of those signs?”
Helgi thinks. “Well the first sign is three years winter with no summer in between—“
I snort. “That’s San Francisco every year, sir.”
Helgi raises an eyebrow. “Is it? Interesting…. Perhaps it is fortuitous that I am in the area.”
The conversation wanders. Now that we’re becoming BFFs, I tell Helgi that Marcus told us to mock Odin in front of him. He laughs and makes it clear that that would have been a rather poor idea. My missing arm is also brought up. I say that I’m working on healing it but I don’t have the blood at the moment. Helgi, though, kindly offers to summon some animals for me to feed on so I can top-off.
“I could call up whatever you prefer,” he says. “Strays. Rats. Birds. …Those pigeons, they’re everywhere!”
(Me: “NOOOOO sleepy pigeons!!!! 😦 😦 :(“
*Stunned silence*
Me: “…See, there’s a flock of pigeons that roost at the Bart station and at night they’re all fluffy and cute and—”
Jim: “Colleen is a slight bird lover, I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this.”)
(We still need to kill time for Jason and Kara to come back so) Helgi regales us with more tales of his adventures and his lost culture of the North. The common thread through all of these ramblings, though, is clear: Helgi views himself as a honorable man and respects those of similar integrity.
Helgi folds his arms and draws himself up proudly. “If you can show me that you are a virtuous person, I care not how you look, I care not how you act, beyond the fact that you have your virtue.” He looks intently at each of us. “When faced with conflict, do you shy away or stand tall? Do you bear the scars of battle proudly? Do you avenge when wronged?”
I glance at my missing hand. Anstis, too, looks thoughtful.
Helgi turns to me. “I do not believe you would have been in Marcus’s service long, if you did not share at least some virtues. Marcus and I…have not always seen eye to eye on everything (looooool) but he does have integrity.”
I rub my face. “I’ve…definitely had worse jobs, that’s for sure.”
“I can imagine. After all, you are serving two masters, and one of them is in the Camarilla.”
What, the Prince? No, fuck that gu—Oh. Bell. I shrug. “It’s…not so much serving as…trying to impress him….” I mutter.
Anstis snorts. “Let me give you some advice. You follow your own path.”
I stare off into the yellow-and-black shadows of the shipping yard thoughtfully. Meanwhile (Jason and Kara come back and Jason OK’s the pigeon summoning so) Anstis calls in some pigeons for my “fast food.” I shrug and get to feeding (while IRL I curl up on my chair fake-sobbing, keening about how fluffy they are).
While Helgi and I are distracted with the pigeons, Anstis wanders off, ducking out of sight behind another container row. Despite being a swaggering pirate, he does this stealthily, avoiding attracting our attention.
For you see, Anstis has a secret.…
…He knows Necromancy.
His story is that he diablerized a Giovanni on a captured ship during his pirating days. Ships are lost at sea all the time so the Giovanni never investigated, and Anstis has been very, very, very careful to keep his secret, from everyone—even his most trusted crew—ever since.
Right now, he wants to use it to cast Witness of Death and try to interrogate some ghosts around the yard. He double checks to make sure Helgi and I can’t see him, and casts it.
(Jason: “I’m not exactly sure how it works, remind me?”
Jim: *reads* “Can see, hear, feel, and smell the dead. Ghosts don’t like being spied upon and may react…Lasts the scene…umm…Botch means you only see the dead for the scene.”
Me: “Psssh, good thing you never botch, then.”
Jim rolls his dice…and receives ones. Ones for daaaaaays.
Jason: “Well, look at you, Mr. I Never Botch!”)
The world drops away, swallowed by haze. No shipping containers, no lights, no sign of Helgi and myself, nothing. Anstis whirls around. The mists fade to darkness in every direction, but within the mists…things are moving. Shapes rippling like oil slicks across the gloom, circling Anstis.
Circling him…and getting closer.
The ones closest to Anstis take on recognizable forms as they approach, forms of people who have died in the shipping yard. Dock workers, gang members, prostitutes, even some native peoples from the prehistory of the shore. They drift closer to Anstis, but their staring, hungry eyes don’t seem to have noticed him yet.
Except one. One workman, dressed in a hardhat and utility clothes, is staring intently at Anstis. Anstis meets his eyes. The man stares back, unblinking, then starts walking closer.
Paul has reached the Arboretum (funfact: in grad school we once were trying to explain to someone what an arboretum was and my friend Megan said, “It’s a zoo for trees.”) for his meeting with Sophia. Paul goes to the designated meeting spot and, shockingly, finds a wolf sitting in the middle of the lawn. A wolf wearing a tablet like a backpack. Paul walks closer and the wolf shifts up into Sophia.
She looks…better? Not great, but a lot more healed than any of us was expecting, even for a werewolf. At least her chest isn’t blown open anymore.
“You look…better….” Paul says by way of greeting.
She shrugs, arms folded tightly across her chest. “Should I ask what happened?”
“Are you familiar with the Society of Leopold?” She shakes her head, perplexed. “Weird bunch of guys. One of them had a Bible that he used to whack Tom around. Burned like fire.”
“I don’t think Tom reads much.”
Paul smirks. “That may be true, but this was something supernatural. But here’s the even weirder thing. A few days later we saw the exact same person, even though he should have been dead….” Paul trails off, frowning in concern. “Oh, and then he turned into an ancient vampire. I don’t really understand it.”
Sophia is also surprised and perplexed by this, but doesn’t seem to have much to add, so the conversation moves on. Paul talks about needing a hacker to take control of the light boards at the Shark Tank. Sophia presses him for more info and he says it’s for the Monomancy with Andre. She is surprised that this is the plan, since, duh, won’t the light burn Paul too? He says he’s working on a plan for that. She asks how he’s going to get away with rigging the place without them knowing, but he says that they already do know, in a way, but not to worry cause it’ll be an inside job. He assures her that she doesn’t need to be on site, that all she needs to do is set up the software remotely and he can take it from there.
While he talks, she glances over his shoulder, staring into the shadows of the landscaping. Paul frowns. “Something wrong?”
She stares for a moment then shakes her head, clutching her arms tighter. “It’s…nothing. It’s the park, there’s things around here. Spirits. Ones that don’t like you.”
They talk more about what happened in Berkeley. She was understandably surprised when she found out she wound up in Sutro Tower, both at the fact that we thought to do it and that Dr. VonNatsi agreed to go along with it. Even though she’s dealt with him before, he—and apparently all mages—are pretty crazy and everyone is generally advised to stay away from them.
Speaking of the fact that she’s dealt with him before, Paul brings up the dagger, and the fact that Sophia apparently requested that Dr. VonNatsi make one just a couple weeks before the attack at Elysium.
Sophia rubs her arms and glances around the clearing again. “That’s…well…. “ She sighs. “I don’t think it concerns you but I don’t really know what’s been going on around here.”
“Well that powerful demon or vampire seemed to be the sire of Marcus, whom I’m sure Tom has told you about. And I’m not quite working for him but I do have some arrangement with him.”
Sophia looks down and sighs. “I don’t know Marcus, but I know the stories. And they’re not good at all. Not even by suckhead standards. I mean, vampires kill people, we’re used to that, but this one…. They talk about him like he’s some kind of demon.” She looks up at Paul. “They call him the Devourer of Innocence. You don’t get a name like that just by killing people.”
Paul frowns. “Innocence, or plural of innocent?”
(Me: “HA, I asked the same thing first time I heard.”)
Sophia clarifies and Paul shrugs. “I don’t know, he’s…odd. There’s a strange code he seems to adhere to.”
“Really? Do you know what that code’s actually about?”
“I assume it’s about being an irritating prick.”
Sophia shakes her head slowly. “Paul, that guy has a huge amount of dirt on his head. If the others knew he was in town, I don’t know what they’d do.”
“At this point, I’d be surprised if they didn’t know.”
“Well, there’s other things they’re concerned with now. But if they knew you were involved with him?” She meets his eyes. “You’re a lot easier to get at than he is. And so’s Tom.”
Paul rolls his eyes. “Something tells me Tom can survive anything.”
“No. He can’t.” She suppresses a shudder. “I don’t know exactly what the Devourer did but the stories are…terrible. We’re talking like demon stuff. Human sacrifice. Rituals. Decades worth. Terrorizing entire countries. You don’t earn that kind of a name in one night.”
She tells him he should distance himself from Marcus but Paul points out that he is probably too entangled at this point to get out easily. She says fine, but be careful not to let any of the other werewolves know that he’s associated with Marcus, or even that Marcus is in town, cause they could very well tear the city apart to reach either of them. Or even Sophia herself, if they realized she was involved too.
Anyway. She agrees to do the wire-work for the Monomancy and will contact Paul with more information about it later. In the meantime, she advises him to keep his head down.
“It’s been weird couple of weeks,” she says, glancing around the park again. “Even for us.”
“What’s been going on?”
“I don’t really know. Just a lot of bad stuff in the air. The Talons are here and everyone else is running around on eggshells because of it. They’re looking for something, looking at you guys, but no one knows what for. We’re all kinda worried about them.”
Paul scowls and stares unseeingly into the distance. “You wanna know something that has been bothering me since I began learning about the supernatural world? It seems like everyone has all these plans that they’ve been working on for thousands of years, but no one has actually accomplished anything. You’d think people would realize what they’re doing doesn’t seem to work.”
Sophia snorts. “Well, now you understand why our policy is usually ‘Fuck it, kill them all.’ “
“That doesn’t seem to be working either.”
“Ask the guys we kill.” She shakes her head. “Anyway, if there’s nothing else, I gotta get out of here.”
Paul pulls himself out of his reverie. “No, that’s it. Um, ok, well…be careful.”
She nods. “You too.”
Moments later, the clearing is lit up by a flash of light, then rocked by an explosive wall of sound. Paul and Sophia stumble to the grass in a panic. As they reorient themselves, they see a fireball rising over the trees to the west, the light of the flames lighting the park around them.
Sophia climbs back to her feet, gaping at the cloud. “Oh…my god….” she says, voice quavering. Before Paul can ask her what’s going on, she shifts back to wolf form and sprints off in the direction of the explosion.
Paul hesitates a moment, then runs back to his car so he can follow her.
(Me: “Why. Does everything. In this fucking city. Explode.”)
“The dismemberments and explosions will continue until morale improves.”
Anstis is partially trapped in the spirit world. Physically he is still in the real world, but his senses can only pick up the ghostly emanations of the dead. He’s starting to hear voices, now, as the shapes circle closer. Some of the voices are in English, but the rising cacophony obscures all meaning. The spirit shaped like a dock worker is still staring at him, approaching slowly, and, unlike the other shapes, purposefully.
Anstis gropes backward, trying to make his way back closer to where Helgi and I were last standing, when a new sound pierces the gloom. An ethereal shriek, coming from the west. A sound like the whispers around him but condensed in anger and pain.
It is the cry of the newly dead.
All the time I’ve spent this evening moping around the shipping yard—telling stories, eating pigeons—hasn’t been entirely wasted. I’ve been formulating a plan to deal with a new line of investigation and I am itching to get started.
“Captain!” I turn to see Anstis stumble backward from behind a row of containers next to us. “We need to get going!”
Anstis turns in my direction and stares vacantly for a moment. “…Aye, we should,” he says, bemused.
I frown. “Been hitting the grog there, Captain?” I ask. He doesn’t seem to hear, staring back over his shoulder at the empty air behind him.
I ignore Anstis’s odd behavior, bid my farewell to Helgi and start walking toward the car. I don’t get far, though, before I realize that Anstis isn’t following me. I turn to see him stumbling randomly, staring around sightlessly. Helgi is also making his way out of the shipping yard but is staring at Anstis with a frown. I grin awkwardly at him and walk back to grab Anstis’s arm.
Anstis can’t find me in the gloom, but the form of the dock worker is getting stronger and closer by the second. The man’s face is tortured—whether with fear or with anger, Anstis can’t tell—and he is holding something formless and heavy-looking in his hand. Anstis tries to back away, toward the dim sound of my voice, but the man speeds up. He lifts his object in one hand and reaches toward Anstis with his other.
I grab Anstis’s arm. He jerks, ripping himself out of my grip, scattering gravel as he stumbles back. His face is clenched in panic, lone eye focused toward the distance behind me.
“Who be ye!?” He shouts.
I stare at him and throw my arms open. “What the FUCK?!”
The man seems to be trying to say something, his spectral mouth opening and closing, but slowly, like a gasping fish. Faint whispers slither through the gloom, but Anstis can’t make them out over the muffled sounds of cursing coming from somewhere closer.
Anstis steps toward the spirit. “Speak!” he commands.
“I AM speaking, you damn arr-tard!” I watch, flabbergasted, as he continues to ignore me and grope at the empty air. “What the hell kind of pigeons did you eat, son!?”
“Dark arts,” Helgi’s voice rumbles to my left. I turn. He has wandered back from the edge of the yard and is watching Anstis, face unreadable. “Spirits,” he mumbles (along with some other things I couldn’t hear cause Jason’s Macbook wasn’t close enough to mine for the recording to pick up >:|)
“Spirits!? What? Fucking where??” I whirl around. There’s nothing around us in the yard but shadows and pigeon feathers.
“We need to leave now!” Anstis finally declares. He stumbles again, dodging unseen foes, and starts walking, in the opposite direction from the entrance to the yard.
I’ve had enough of this bullshit. I grab him again and start dragging him toward the fence. This time he doesn’t resist.
We get back to the bar without further incident. I shove Anstis in the back of the car, bid farewell to Helgi, again, and climb in after him.
We leave, but as our car turns the corner at the end of the block I glance back toward the bar. Helgi is still standing out front, next to his fucking dragon of a bike, watching us drive away, arms folded and face furrowed.
Now that we’re safely in the car, Anstis has quieted down. He seems drained by whatever the hell happened, leaning against the door and staring at nothing in particular. I use the moment of quiet to call Bell and report in.
Bell seems surprised that I’m alive, but unfortunately not pleasantly so. I tell him that Helgi seems willing to do business, so long as we track down whomever stole “his” Semtex and sold it to Himmler on Alcatraz. Bell, ever the detective, asks what makes me think that Helgi wasn’t the one who sold it himself?  I admit that I can’t be entirely sure, but Helgi doesn’t seem the type.
“Well, as I understand it, you do have a history of goose chases and elder vampires,” Bell says.
“Uh, yes, but they lead me to the elder vampires, generally, not away from them. Sir.”
I can practically hear Bell roll his eyes. He says fine, whatever, I can follow this goose if I want. Great, I say, because I already have a goose I want to check out.
Well, actually it’s more of a stool pigeon, but on the plus side it’s already been trussed and spitted:
Staking Slayer and shipping him off to the Prince was all before Bell got here, but everything else started to go down immediately after that, and as far as I know the Prince never got the chance to interrogate him. He probably got shoved somewhere in the basement and subsequently forgotten about. Bell says he’ll dig around a bit and in the meantime I should come to the Pyramid.
I ask if Bell wants me to bring him anything from Oakland, maybe some artisinal coffee or micro-batch urban apiary honey? He hangs up the phone without a response.
I update our driver on the destination. Anstis is still out of it so I sit quietly, ruminating over our conversations with Helgi. I chuckle again over the story of Marcus and the Toreadors.
My laughter, though, is short-lived, as I recall the on-going mystery of the Resurrection of Perpenna. Unsurprisingly, I need more information. Marcus has been rather stingy so far, but I am starting to wonder if that’s because he is somehow unable to share more than he already has.
I need unbiased information. Since I have the time at the moment, and there’s no reason not to, I pull out my phone, and for the very first time in-game, I start doing some historical research on the matter.
Georgia wakes up in the third Chantry bolt-hole, which she went to visit after the stop in Sunnydale. She remembers arriving at the place and entering….
And that is the only thing she remembers.
This hideout apparently occupies some amount of space within the Pyramid itself (fucking Tremere). Like the other locations, it consists of rooms and offices and probably some gratuitous lab-type setups somewhere. Currently every room is empty. And every room is spotless. Georgia wanders around, perplexed (and Kara is META perplexed, for reasons she cannot say). Georgia isn’t sure what’s going on but deep down she feels that something isn’t right.
“Van Brugge?” she calls. This time she gets no response, which perplexes her further. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a phone number for him (cause why would he need one, if he can just show up in peoples’ heads whenever he wants. Ass.). Fortunately, she finds a teleportation circle and uses it, hoping it will lead her to the Main Chantry.
It does. She arrives in a room she recognizes, a large studying hall, also noticeably empty of any other humanoids. This time, though, when she calls for van Brugge he answers. Georgia thinks she’s been out of contact for five minutes or so, but van Brugge says he’s been trying to reach her for two hours.
Now she is really confused. Van Brugge muses that it’s possible someone used a Dominate on her to erase her memory. There are other things that could also account for missing time, but Dominate is the most likely option.
(Jason: “Well, I don’t know about that.”
Ben: “I mean in general use.”
Jason: “The most likely option is she was there for two hours and is lying to you.
Ben: “…I can rummage through her head!”
Kara: “That’s comforting.”
Jason: “It should be. Welcome to the Tremere.”)
Confused and slightly shaken, Georgia leaves the study room and heads to Max’s van Brugge’s office to talk to him face to face.  He meets her at the door (a door which Max’s name has not only been removed from, but there is no sign it was ever there in the first place), points her to a seat, and proceeds to interrogate her on everything she does remember from her Tremere scavenger hunt across town, which is pretty much everything except for the missing two hours. She apparently entered the Pyramid bolt-hole via teleport circle, which he points out shouldn’t have been possible because they are heavily warded. He says she should have found, quote, “some sort of tentacular monstrosity there.”
“They are there to make sure no one unauthorized uses the teleportation circles,” he says, with a pointed glare over his glasses at her.
She shrugs. “I’m pretty sure I would have remembered a…tentacle monstrosity.”
He purses his lips. “Mm. This is not normal. Someone has obviously been tampering with our systems.”
“Well…nothing looked out of place. It all looked very tidy.”
He paces the room, staring at nothing in particular as he ruminates over this. (If he notices the sword missing from Max’s tacky shield-thing over the fireplace he doesn’t comment on it.) “Have you ever been to a laboratory? They’re not supposed to be tidy. Even in the office space there should be, you know, papers and documents everywhere. But it was ‘tidy,’ you say?”
Georgia doesn’t answer. Van Brugge walks back to the desk and sits down in Max’s his chair. He frowns at her over tented fingers a few moments then changes the subject, bringing up the explosion in the park. This is the first Georgia has heard of it, although the fact that she didn’t hear it when the explosion happened is interesting in and of itself.
Van Brugge shakes his head in frustration. He tells her to go back to the Pyramid, since her presence has been requested by Bell, and while she’s there she should take another look at the bolt hole for clues as to why she lost two hours in there and missed an explosion that rocked the city. He would check it out himself but he has other things to attend to here and something seems to be blocking his distance-scrying of the place. He gives her formal permission to use the teleportation circles, which means that she can move through the local network with impunity without worrying about any tentacular monstrosities.
(Kara: “Yaaaay, I got a promotion!”
Jason: “Yes you did, in the standard way that people in Vampire get promotions: your superior died.”)
Cheery as usual, though slightly bemused, Georgia leaves the office and takes the teleportation circle back to the Pyramid.
Everything looks pretty much the same as before—empty and clean—but now that she’s re-entered the space she notices a subtle smell, one she had probably been acclimated to the last time she was there. It’s a strange sickly-sweet chemical smell, like an industrial cleaner of some sort. She also observes that the carpet is vacuum-smooth and the only footprints in it are her own. She finds a ancient-looking rolltop desk in an upstairs office, but it is completely empty. No papers, no computer, no dust, nothing. It’s as if it was a decorative piece rather than a piece of functional furniture, but somehow she doubts that.
In her scouring of the place, the only thing she finds out of place is a rock, a ragged pebble about the size of a quarter. It’s wedged partway underneath one of the legs of the desk, as if the desk had been put down on top of it. Nothing about it seems particularly notable but she pockets it anyway.
She “calls” van Brugge—who is able to hear her this time—and reports in, though there isn’t much to report. He tells her to leave and seal the place behind her. She does, and heads off through the Pyramid to meet Bell.
We backtrack to the time just after the explosion went off in the park. Paul is in a car, having the driver follow where he saw Sophia dash; which is, naturally, toward the explosion. They follow the smoke and flames, but it doesn’t take Paul long to realize where they’re coming from.
Strawberry Hill, on the island in the middle of Stow Lake.
The car pulls up to the drive circling the lake. Paul rolls down the window and is confronted by a scene of chaos. The island is like a miniature volcano, rising two stories above the lake and belching smoke. The trees of the island—towering Monterrey cyprus as old as the park itself—are aflame. As Paul watches, a branch from a tree high on the hillside snaps off and crashes into the lake in a cascade of sparks.
There is no sign of Sophia. Or, for that matter, anyone else.
Paul calls 911. They tell him that the explosion has already been reported, emergency crews are on their way, and Paul should leave the park immediately for his own safety. When Paul hangs up, though, the only sound is the crackling of the fire. No sirens anywhere.
Moments later, though, the park is racked by a new sound: gunfire, coming from the crest of the hill.
Paul’s car circles the lake drive slowly. As they approach one of the stone bridges that lead to the island they finally see signs of people. Multiple unmarked vans are parked haphazardly in the road, clustered around the path leading to the bridge. No one seems to be around.
Paul’s car stops a few yards down the road and Paul gets out. Immediately, one of the van doors slides open and two men climb out, dressed in black tactical gear with balaclavas covering most of their faces.
(Chris: “Are they wearing turtlenecks?”
Jason: “Why are you asking me that?”
Me: “Because Archer invented the tactical turtleneck.”
Chris: “Well, he wasn’t the first to wear the turtleneck, but he was the first to discover the tactical uses of the turtleneck.”)
The men are armed, which Paul can tell by the very obvious way they are trying not to look like they are armed. They keep their hands loose and low as they swagger up to him.
Paul acts nonchalant, gaping around like a rubbernecker. “Heeey! You guys see what happened up there?”
The men approach him and stop. They stare at him, not saying anything.
Paul glances between them. “You…guys on a date? Romantic walk, maybe? With your matching outfits?”
One of the men glances to the other and gestures. The second man walks back and disappears behind the van. The first man continues to stare at Paul silently. Another burst of gunfire, followed by a scream, erupts from the top of the hill. Paul jumps, but the man doesn’t react at all.
Paul hears a new car coming up the road behind him. He turns to see an SFPD squad car pulling up next to his, no sirens or lights. The car parks and two cops get out.
“Sir,” they call out, obviously addressing Paul. “We’re gonna have to ask you to leave, there’s a situation ongoing.”
“Yeah no kidding!” Paul gestures at tactical man. “Look at these guys! They’re being all suspicious!”
The cops glance at each other. “We understand that, sir, but let us handle that. Please get back in your car and leave the park as quickly as possible. We’re going to be cordoning this area off.”
Paul looks at the vans and back to the cops. “…Okay,” he says, and walks briskly back to his car without another word.
“Sir?” the driver turns around as Paul climbs in the back.
“Pull back, around the far side of the lake,” Paul says. “Where they can’t see us.”
Neither the men nor the cops follow as Paul’s car drives off. Once the car clears line of sight, Paul gets out and walks a little back along the road to watch what the men and the cops are doing. One of the cops is talking to one of the tactical men, while the other is speaking into his radio.
Another scream drifts down the hill. All the men glance up, but otherwise don’t react.
Paul gets back in the car and tells the driver to pull around to the bridge on the south side of the island. As they approach, he’s stopped by another cop car blocking the road. Two more cops are standing in front of it, manning some flares in the road and brandishing shotguns. They gesture for Paul’s car to take the turn off leaving the lake and heading back to MLK Drive. Paul tells the driver to do as they say, though he stares suspiciously as the men as they pass.
“Sir? Is everything alright?” the driver asks.”
“I have no idea,” Paul says, still staring out the back window. “Did those officers seem…legitimate to you?”
The driver glances nervously in the rear-view mirror. “I don’t question the police, sir.”
“That’s probably for the best,” Paul says absently. “Pull down the road slowly, I have to think for a second.”
Paul grabs his phone and tries texting Sophia: “Everything OK? Do you need help?” No response.
Paul looks out the window again. “You go wait at the Academy of Science, I’m going to get out here and go exploring.”
The driver looks at him strangely but pulls over. “Are you sure that’s a good idea, sir?”
“Not remotely,” Paul says brightly as he opens the door. The car drives off and Paul sneaks back to the lake, keeping low in the shadows of the shrubs.
Paul approaches the south bridge, more sounds of gunfire echoing across the lake. Two more of the vans are parked here, and five people are standing at the base of bridge on the drive-side, dressed in more tactical turtlenecks and brandishing assault rifles. They’re all in cover positions, watching a man with a radio, who is staring up the hill and signaling for them all to hold.
Paul approaches as close as he can, then leaps out of the bushes, blasting Awe: “Alright guys let’s MOVE!” he yells, gesturing up the hill.
The men start and glance at him. There’s a brief moment of silence, then their leader leaps to his feet. “You heard the man! Let’s GO! Gogogogo!” The men obey, bolting across the bridge and crashing into the smoky undergrowth at the base of the island.
Paul stands at the base of the bridge, peering after them into the gloom. Silence descends. Five seconds pass, then six, seven. Paul frowns.
“Oh GOD!!!!!!” a voice screams through the darkness, followed immediately by rapid gunfire. More shouts and shouts ring out, coming from multiple points on the hillside. A few flashes burst out but illuminate nothing.  The cacophony swells, then is drowned out by a guttural, explosive roar like nothing Paul has ever heard. There are a few more shouts and shots, then silence descends again.
Paul scans the island for movement. Nothing. He’s not entirely sure what happened but he can guess, and…he feels kinda bad. Tactical turtlenecks or no, he’s not entirely sure whether they were good guys or bad guys.
Paul stares up at the burning hell-scape that Strawberry Hill has become, then leaves to walk to Cal Academy and meet up with his car.
Anstis and I arrive at the Pyramid. Anstis seems to have calmed the fuck down from whatever he was afflicted with but is still rather taciturn. He follows me into the elevator and up to the 33rd floor without protest. As we approach the Prince’s Bell’s office, we run into Georgia. We exchange awkward greetings—
Me: “So…how was your evening?”
Georgia: “Oh, good, I got a promotion! How was yours?”
Me: “Uh…we met a Viking and I ate a bunch of pigeons.”
Georgia: “Pigeons? Why?”
Me: “Well the Viking offered. I didn’t want to be rude.”
—and enter the office.
Bell is on the phone as we enter, as usual. He’s not speaking, though, just listening. Anstis and I find a seat to wait, but Georgia is able to use Auspex to listen in on the call. Bell is apparently listening to police radio frequency. Georgia doesn’t know police codes—
(nor does anyone else IRL, though we spend a few minutes looking some up:
Jason: “10-32: Subject is drowning…. 10-45 D: Subject is dead…. 10-52: Subject was dead but has been resuscitated!”
Me: “That would come up here a lot.”)
—but the tone of the speakers is urgent. Bell listens for a few seconds then hangs up, turning the full attention of his glower onto us.
He asks what we found. I reiterate that Slayer is the best lead I have and I need to talk to him. He says that Slayer is still in custody but is no longer on-site. Sometime during the last (in-game) month, he got moved to an off-site storage facility in the Inner Richmond, which the Prince keeps for objects of, quote, “low-priority interest.” Bell gives me the info and the key to go check it out.
“The Prince apparently dropped him there then forgot about him,” Bell says as he hands me the key. “If he is still there, I have no idea what condition he will be in, but he’s probably still staked. If he’s lucky, he’s in a bath of formaldehyde. If he’s not, there’s a rat chewing on his balls.”
(Chris: “Ha, testicle rat.”
Me: “Testicle Rat, band-name, calling it!”)
Bell turns to Georgia. “What have you got for me?”
She shifts nervously. “Well no good band names, that’s for sure….”
His eyes narrow. “Anything I should know about?”
“Well, van Brugge said you were asking for me—“
“It was so I could ask you if there’s anything I should know about, preferably without him being involved in the conversation.”
“Ah.” Georgia glances around. “You do know he’s probably listening in right now?”
“I am aware of that,” he grumbles, “but I don’t need him physically in the room in the moment. I have to work with the Tremere but I don’t have to like them.”
Georgia shrugs and gives Bell the edited progress report, which…honestly isn’t that much different from the real progress report. There’s no sign of Max, no sign of Perpenna, van Brugge has her checking the Tremere bolt-holes in the city but they’ve all been clean and empty. The only one with any sign of anything was the first bolt hole, at City College, where Clarence apparently ate everyone, and honestly the biggest mystery there is how he—a non-Tremere—got in in the first place.
Bell points out that another Tremere—say, perhaps, Max—could have let him in. Georgia says that’s unlikely unless he was under heavy duress. Bell scowls and says, quote, “Max has not exactly been filling me with confidence as to his allegiances around here lately,” as he’s already suspected of working with the Sabbat, which flies in the face of the Camarilla AND the Tremere. Georgia concedes that it is possible he’s gone completely rogue here.
Bell sighs. “Do any of you have any information about what just happened in the park?”
Anstis and I glance at each other. “What happened in the park?” I ask.
“There’s been some form of explosion, I’m having difficulty getting any answers out of the Prince’s ghouls.”
I shrug. “Yeah, well, everything in this city explodes, so….“
Bell glares at me. “Well right now it seems to have picked this moment to do so. My understanding of this city is that the park is off limits to most of us.”
“It’s supposedly full of werewolves,” Georgia chimes in.
“Well right now it’s full of fire.”
“Oh, well then it’s definitely off-limits to us, then,” Georgia and I say at the same time.
Bell rolls his eyes. “Yes, I suppose so.”
Bell sighs and sits at the desk. “Look. I’ve been trying to put a network together to try and figure out what is going on in this city, cause no one seems to have thought to do that prior to this moment. A major portion of the largest park in the city just exploded and not only did I not know it was going to happen, it appears no one knew it was going to happen. And supposedly this is a city run by the Camarilla!”
Anstis and I laugh openly and Georgia looks thoughtful. “I’m not sure any of us believe that anymore,” Georgia says.
Bell gives us his best Exasperated Police Chief in a Buddy Cop Movie face. “I don’t believe it anymore, which is why it’s time we changed that state of affairs.”
Everyone in the room, both in the game and out of the game, looks confused. (“So…call in the Anarchs?” I-as-me mutter.)
“What?” Bell snaps.
“What?” I-as-Tom respond, innocent look on my face.
“Do you mean…it’s going to be run by not the Camarilla?” Chris/Paul ventures.
“Are we going to kill all the Camarilla?” Kara/Georgia says.
“We going rogue?” Anstis asks.
“What? No! It’s going to be run by the Camarilla!” Bell says, frustration growing.
(“Who else interpreted it as meaning San Francisco is breaking away from the Camarilla?” Chris asks. All hands but Jason’s shoot up. “Ok, and who interpreted it to mean that the Camarilla is going to be managed properly in the city?” Chris continues.
No hands, not even Jason’s, go up.
Jason glares at us. “I will raise my hand now and I will make my meaning entirely clear,” he says, and dramatically flips us off.
Cameron, meanwhile, IMs to say that Helgi would be willing to take the city from the Camarilla. I say that neither I nor Tom would have any problem with that.)
Bell drums his fingers on the table, glaring at me now. “Do what degree of reliability do I have that Helgi is not going to come over here and kick all of our asses?”
“It is unlikely that he would do that,” Anstis says.
I shrug, but look Bell right in the eye as I answer. “He seems to be an honorable man.”
Bell stares back silently for a few moments, then nods. “Alright. Well I’ll take ‘unlikely’ at this moment.”
Bell tells me to go find Slayer and interrogate him. He also says he has some leads taking him “south” that he intends to follow so he will probably be out of the city for a few days. My disappointment apparently is clear on my face, cause rolls his eyes again and reminds us that we have his phone number and can contact him that way if any new information comes up.
Which reminds me of some new information that has come up. I tell him what Helgi told us about Perpenna, that supposedly he’s been killed before.
“Well, whoever did that did a shitty job,” Bell says.
“Marcus apparently did it,” Anstis adds.
Bell glances at him then glances back to me. “I stand by my statement,” he says bitterly. “Marcus has tried to kill me twice, didn’t do a great job of that either.”
As glad as I am that he didn’t, I can’t help but bristle. “He killed my last team pretty well,” I say, eyes narrowed (wait, why the fuck am I bragging about that?!).
“Oh? And what was your last team?”
“A….” I start to droop as I answer. “…a teenage Malkavian and a Nosferatu….”
Bell snorts. “‘Idiots’ would have been an acceptable answer.”
(Chris: “Much like your current team….”
Me: *moping* “Whaaaat, it’s Team Marcus, is fun team to be on.”
Chris: “All those in favor of it not being Team Marcus anymore?”
*All hands but mine go up. I scrunch down in the couch and pout.*)
Speaking of Marcus, Bell is not happy with, quote, the quantity of powerful non-Camarilla vampires roaming about the city. He needs a guarantee as to the continuation of Marcus’s good behavior.
“What would qualify for that?” I ask hesitantly.
“A number of things would qualify for that. Some means of ensuring that in the next five seconds I’m not going to have the door kicked open by a diminutive Methusula.”
“Uh….” I rack my brain. Bell certainly doesn’t have anything that Marcus would want, but I try and be as helpful as I can. “Well step 1 is not fucking with his people. Step 2 is probably not shooting him in the face….”
Bell gives me another Look. “Lets presume for the moment that I’ve taken those steps.”
“Right.” Meaning that he’s already tried both those things and he’s learned not to do them again. “Step 3 is probably…not fucking with his bird?”
(Kara: “What’s Step 4?”
Me: “Profit.”)
The leather of Bell’s chair creaks as he leans forward. “I understand that you are a Brujah. I’m a Brujah myself. But if you could cut the shit right now that would be of real big assistance.”
I rub my face, still with the only hand I have left. “Well, frankly sir, everything in this city is already going to shit so I don’t know how to cut it any further.”
“And I would like to ensure that as few things continue to do so as possible. What is he currently engaged in doing?”
I throw out my arms. “Looking for Perpenna!”
“How is he going about it, and with what intention in mind?”
“I don’t know, creepy Sabbat shit? And probably with the intent to finish whatever he started a thousand years ago!”
“You’re sure of that, are you? I mean it, you sure?”
Seems like lately more and more shit has been coming up questioning my loyalties and the wisdom of having aligned with Marcus. For the moment I’m sick of it, and I don’t even care whether or not the shit is right. I fold my arms and don’t answer.
Bell levels a finger at me. “The next time you encounter this…Methusula, tell him that I want to arrange a meeting. A meeting, preferably, with fewer swords and guns.”
Jesus. What could possibly go wrong with that idea? “When would you want such a meeting to occur?” I mumble, arms still folded.
“Whenever it is possible. I do not know the scheduling habits of a 2,000-year-old Lasombra. He might want the Aides of March for all I know.” (I burst out laughing. “Oh my god, he probably will!”) “Just…find  a way to arrange it.”
I sigh. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Bell excuses me to go find Slayer, telling Anstis and Georgia to go with me. We all protest but he says that he’s had enough of everyone running around in seven directions at once.
(Me: “Is that Bell talking or Jason?”
Jason: “Yes!”)
The three of us exit the Pyramid just as Paul shows up outside. We go through another awkward greeting. He still needs to talk to Bell so he goes upstairs while we start trying to call a car to go to the storage facility.
Strangely, though, even though it’s not a busy time of night, we have the damnedest time trying to get one to accept our ride….
Paul meets with Bell. At first it doesn’t seem like Paul will have much of interest to share that Bell hasn’t already heard, so it looks like the meeting will be short.
But then Paul mentions he just came from the park, and Bell becomes a lot more interested in what he has to say. Paul describes the explosion and finding the police presence and the Tactical Turtlenecks. He also mentions the “horrible growling death” that seemed to befall the group he doomed was watching.
“Where was this, exactly?” Bell asks.
“Stow Lake. Or, rather, the island in the middle of it.”
Bell frowns. “Isn’t that supposed to be the middle of the werewolves’ territory?”
“Shit, is it? Well, that’s good to know.”
Bell rolls his eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to be the local werewolf expert?”
“No, that’d be Tom.”
Bell mulls over these points, specifically the fact that the men were well-armed, well-organized, and human, and not to mention the fact that the cops seemed to be in on it all somehow. He says he has, quote, a very, very bad suspicion about who they might have been.
Bell pulls up something on his laptop and pivots it around to show Paul. A picture fills the screen, showing two more Tactical Turtlenecks in the same gear Paul saw, holding guns and standing at attention.
“Yeah, that looks like them,” Paul says.
Bell rubs his temple. “Wonderful,” he mumbles. “These are security personelle, from a private security company located down south. These are their ‘tactical’ men (yeah, we gathered that from the turtlenecks). The company is a front, it works for the Prince. Of San Francisco.”
Paul stares at the picture. “Is there any reason the Prince would be assaulting the werewolves in the park?”
“Well, there shouldn’t be. The Prince hasn’t attacked the werewolves since he got to the city.”
“Where is the Prince?” Georgia asks.
“That is a very good question, the Prince is—(—wait, you’re not there! Stop it!)”
(Chris: “Do you want to be there?”
Kara: “Kinda, yeah.”
Chris: “Well maybe you followed me up!”
Jason: “…And only now have been identified? Are you a ninja?”
Chris: “You used to be a Nosferatu. Maybe you used Obfuscate!”
Kara: “Okay, I drop Obfuscate!”
Jason: “Alright, you put down the palm frond.”
Jim: “You step out from behind the box!”
Jason: “Fortunately vampires lack object permanence.”
Chris: “That explains a lot, actually.”)
Bell taps the screen emphatically, refocusing (everyone’s) attention. “These are men who work for the Prince. So what in the world are they doing attacking Stow Lake?”
Paul shrugs. “Is the Prince around to answer that?”
“No. He is not around to answer that question. I haven’t laid eyes on him since…the incident at the Chantry. He’s not answering his phone, he hasn’t shown up at any of the hideouts I know about. He could be in Las Vegas by now, for all I know.”
Paul suggests Summoning him. Bell says that considering the fact that we don’t know what state the Prince is in or who he might be with, that would be a very bad idea.
They discuss the Monomancy and Paul mentions catching the fleshbeast thingy lurking around his campus. Bell doesn’t like that, but also doesn’t like that there are humans around Tesseract—Paul’s people and Klaus’s security people—who are discovering this shit as well. He points out that we’re dancing on the edge of a major Masquerade violation and says he’ll send someone down to watch Paul’s people and make sure that edge doesn’t creep any closer.
Bell tells Paul to go with us to find Slayer, as he(/Jason) wants everyone to be in eyesight of someone else from this point on(/so that the party sticks together for once). He dismisses Paul with a wave and returns to glowering at his computer. Paul leaves the office and comes downstairs to find us.
Paul steps out of the front doors of the Pyramid, where we’re still standing, futilely ping-ing cars. Seconds after he joins us, a car accepts our ride and pulls up in front of the building.
(Jason: “You all get in the car?”
Us: “Yeah.
Jason: “You know what just happened?”
Me: “…Does the car blow up?”
Jason: “No! I united the party!!!”
Jim: “…I step out of the car.”
Jason: “….It explodes.”)
I grab shotgun as everyone else squeezes in the back. I nod at the driver and fiddle with my seatbelt. He turns around and smiles at everyone in the back. “Where to?” he asks in a calm voice.
Georgia tenses mid-buckle. “…Don’t you already know?”
I look between her and the driver. “You know this guy?”
Georgia sighs. “Tom this is Adam. Adam, Tom. Though something tells me you already know Tom.”
I peer at Adam. He’s thin, short for a man, with dark hair and Mediterranean-ish skin (note that this is different from my previous description of him cause I was wrong). He smiles at me from behind his sunglasses.
“Tom,” he says. “Very good to meet you.”
I tense and glance around. “Um…good to meet you? Any friend of Georgia’s is…somebody I should probably keep an eye out for….”
“I don’t know if we’re exactly friends,” Georgia says. “He just takes me where I apparently need to go.”
I glance at her in the mirror. “That’s usually how drivers work, sweetheart.”
“So. Going somewhere, are we?” Adam asks.
Paul answers first. “Masonic and Geary,” he snaps, obviously impatient. Adam nods and pulls into the street.
An uncomfortable silence settles over the car as Adam drives. Paul decides to break it. “So, Adam,” he says, “You seem very measured.”
“Oh, well you see a lot of things around this city. Helps to maintain your cool.”
“You ever seen a vampire?” Paul asks. Georgia and Anstis (and all us in the room) glance at him.
Adam looks at him through the mirror. “I’ve seen people who thought they were vampires.” He looks back at the road. “Seen a lot of strange things.”
“You ever seen a vampire who thought he was a person?”
“Possibly. How would I even know? Doesn’t a vampire just look like a person? After all, lots of places have vampires.”
Paul frowns. (It may be metagaming, but Chris is determined to get some actual information out of Adam, for once). “What about a werewolf? You ever seen a werewolf?”
“Seen a lot of people who thought they were. Seen one guy walking around in a wolf skin.”
“Hmm, that’s kinda weird, even for San Francisco.”
Adam chuckles. “Oh, nothing’s too weird in this city. It’s why I’m here in fact. I like the variety.”
Anstis leans forward. “What’s the weirdest thing you ever seen?”
“Oh, that would be telling. Looooot of things.” He turns onto Geary and heads toward the Broadway tunnel. “You folks from around here? Or just passing through?”
Anstis shrugs. “Passing through.”
“Yeah, you look it,” Adam replies.
I’ve been staring out the window, only half listening to the conversation, but I chime in on this point. “This is where I’ve chosen to be,” I mutter to the glass.
“Why’d you make that choice?”
I shrug, still not turning around. “It’s the best place I could find that…lets me be myself.”
“And if this place decides it’s gonna change its ways? Will you move on? Or set down a stake and defend it?”
I chill slides down my back. I turn to look at him. His face is still calm, but I can feel his eyes bore into me from behind the sunglasses. I stare back and don’t answer.
“Adam I’ve been working on a joke,” Paul suddenly announces from the back. “I wonder if you could help me with the punchline.”
Adam watches me another moment then turns back to the road. “Let’s hear it.”
“‘A pirate, a biker, and a wizard walk into a bar’….?”
Adam grins into the mirror. “They rub their head and say ‘Ow.’”
“…That’s what I had too,” Paul grumbles.
The rest of the ride passes in silence. Adam pulls up in front of the storage facility, a multistory building in the heart of the Richmond. It’s very late and no one is around, even in the office, but we have the keys to get in anyway.
We all climb out. Adam tips his head. “Be seeing you,” he says, and drives off. I stare at the car a moment, definitely unnerved, but I shake it off. I have other things to focus on at the moment.
“So…what is this? We’re finding some kind of vampire slayer?” Paul asks as I enter the code for the front door.