San Francisco by Night

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A hilarious set of posts dedicated to a vampire game set in San Francisco.

Chapter 1: Don’t Fuck With Tom’s Bike

I wake up at home, that first night, to the sound of my phone ringing. I check the caller ID.  It’s an occasional-contact of mine from the clubs. Human. I groan. They know better than to call me unsolicited, or at least they should. I don’t like risking forming relationships. At least, not anymore. I ignore the call and go back to trying to sleep. My phone rings again. This time, it’s another vampire calling: the local Brujah Primogen, a guy named Daunte. In reality he’s just about as douchey as you would expect with a name like that, but I still run jobs for him sometimes. Also he is my Primogen, so I decide I should probably take this call. Unsurprisingly, he tells me he has a job for me. A drug deal. He’s got a shipment coming in  through some guys in Bayshore and needs me to do a pickup. He can pay me a few grand for my trouble. I’ve been short on work lately and a few grand will go a long way in funding me and my rent-controlled apartment, so I accept. I grab my usual gear–black shirt, black jeans, heavy leather motorcycle jacket, a couple guns, and my trusty 10-foot bullwhip–and head out. I live in SOMA, in a decent-sized studio loft, the same place I’ve lived for the 30 years I’ve been in this city (both before and after becoming a vampire). I head out to my bike, a late-80s Harley that I restored myself. Even though it’s SOMA and thus prone to crackheads what will steal your spark plugs to make pipes out of (true story), I park my bike on the street right in front of my building (because, as Jason points out, “No one fucks with your bike.”) I roll out to the meeting place Daunte gave me.

I meet my contacts–two large black guys, human–at an abandoned church at the edge of Bayshore. They show me the goods–a bunch of blocks of heroin–but I can tell that they’ve been cut with some sort of cheap filler. I call Daunte, say the shipment is no good, and he urges me to get more information out of them about where the fuck the real stuff is. I pull some intimidation tricks on them and they say that they don’t know anything, they just got the shit from this guy, Alejandro. If I want to complain I should take it up with him. Daunte says he would love to come meet this Alejandro with me and has me set up a meeting with him through these guys, set for later that evening at the Costco in Colma (“Great,” I say, “I can get some shopping done at Trader Joe’s next door.”) I am on my way out of Bayshore, heading to the nearest onramp to 280-south, when a giant ball of flame erupts from a cement factory a few blocks away from me.

Unbeknownst to me-as-Tom, the drama at the cement factory started much earlier in the evening when Chris’s character, Paul Stewart, Toreador, was called there by his Primogen, a man named John Edmundson. Paul is a very young vampire, very naive about the supernatural world, but what he lacks in vampire clout he makes up in real world power. He is the founder/owner/president/CEO/etc of Tesseract Inc, a major global telecommunications company. Paul is a visionary leader and is very passionate about his company (think SteveJobs!Vampire) and has tried to not let becoming a vampire slow him down. Still, when his Primogen calls him out for help he has no choice but to answer. Paul meets Edmundson at the factory, gets a lot of information that basically says, “Shit’s been weird around here I want you to check it out.” Edmundson sends Paul back downtown to pick up a Nosferatu contact, telling him to bring her back here so they can investigate the factory together. The ‪Nosferatu‬ he is meeting is named Elsa, Kara’s character. Not much is known about Elsa except that she’s in good with the Nosferatu Primogen, Karl Sutro (brother of Adolph Sutro, one of the important figures in the city’s real-life early history) When the car comes to get her, though, she is suspicious and shy. She sends one of her ghouls to meet Paul in the car instead and follows along through the sewers. The last player character is Jim’s character, Isaac. He is a high-ranking Tremere of relatively low-generation. Unfortunately we cannot remember exactly why he was sent to the cement factory but it’s likely that the Tremere Primogen, Maximilian Von Strauss, sent him because Max has many plans and plots in the works and likely wants more information about whatever has been going on there. Since going through the sewers is much slower than travel by car (although one could probably argue it’s still faster than MUNI), Elsa arrives at the factory well after Paul’s car, but finds the car empty and no one around. She lurks through the shadows, searching, and turns a corner just in time to see a figure walking between the buildings. As he passes the shadows where Elsa is hiding, she steps forward to confront him. “Hey! Who are you?” she asks, apparently trying the direct approach. He stops and turns toward her. His clothes are well-made, tailored in classic cuts. He regards her quietly for a few moments. “If I might offer you a word of advice, my dear?” he says. His voice is British-accented, an obviously educated upper-class type. He leans in toward her, lowering his voice. “…Run. Run from here, and do not look back.” He turns and continues walking. Elsa hesitates, perplexed, but before she can call out to him again, the factory explodes behind her. Elsa is knocked to the ground. She climbs to her feet just in time to see a man stagger out of the building some feet head of her. The Englishman turns and approaches him. As their paths cross, the Englishman pulls out a thin sword and in one swoop decapitates other man. He then calmly sheaths his sword and continues walking toward a waiting car. After Elsa gets over her shock, her first thought is concern for the ghoul she sent in her place. She pull herself together and sets out to find her. Around the back of the building, though, she finds Paul and his entourage. Everyone is unconscious; a few may not even be that. Paul is unconscious by virtue of being staked. Elsa’s ghoul is there too, alive but obviously injured. Elsa’s mind races in shock and confusion, trying to decide what to do. The urgency escalates as she hears multiple breeds of siren rapidly approaching. She tries to grab her ghoul and escape into the sewers, but comes up against some early-arriving cops. She panics, shoots one of the cops in the face (a soon-to-be recurring theme in this game), and basically escalates things into a bunch of chasing and drama. Once she finally extradites herself from the whole shitshow, she escapes back into the sewers, but not before texting Karl with the message, “We have a war on our hands.” Meanwhile, Isaac has arrived on the scene and is lurking around. He also comes across Paul’s unconscious body. He has never met Paul in person but recognizes him as the local tech magnate he is. Being the shifty-ass Tremere that he is, he immediately sees the advantage of the situation and picks up Paul’s body to bring back to the local Tremere clan stronghold, the Chantry. Unfortunately, he also soon runs into cops and other human authorities crawling all over the place. He leads them on a chase through the local neighborhoods, eventually trying to hide in the apartment of a crack-dealer. He tries to pull some mind-control shit to get into the apartment quietly, but it doesn’t go well. Shots are fired. Fortunately, even though Isaac is struggling to haul Paul’s undead-weight, he is able to take out the crack-dealer and his cronies. Unfortunately, the new round of shots has alerted the police to his location. They storm up to the building and pound at the door. Isaac’s last hope is to “play possum;” he collapses on the floor, next to the bodies of Paul and the crack-dealers, for all intents and purposes appearing to be just another dead body. The cops burst in, find a slew of bodies, then call an ambulance to bag them up and bring them to the morgue at General Hospital. (IRL, I start to panic. See, the reason Paul has been staked is because Chris wasn’t able to play with us that night, so this was a convenient way to move him around without his input. But if Paul is brought to G-Ho as “a dead body,” his “normal” identity–as the public leader of Tesseract–is going to be seriously jeopardized. He’ll be identified instantly and widely-reported as being dead, basically ruining the character concept Chris had created IN ONLY OUR SECOND NIGHT OF PLAYING. Jim laughs hysterically as I scream at him to FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT!)

Now, me-as-Tom doesn’t know about any of this. When the factory exploded, I took a short detour to check things out. I parked a few blocks away and observed things until the authorities started showing up, but I didn’t see anything unusual (I mean, besides the burning building.) I continued back to 280 to head to Costco. But as I start merging onto the freeway, my bike starts sputtering oddly. I pull over to the shoulder and check things out. I discover that my spark plugs, all of the spark plugs, have become loose. I’ve never seen anything like it. Perplexed, I tighten them all down, then continue on my way. I arrive at the Colma Costco. I don’t see anyone in the lot so I cruise around, looking for signs of Daunte or this Alejandro guy. I circle around to the back side by the tire center and finally see another car. It’s Daunte’s car, parked akimbo in the middle of the aisle, doors open. No one is around. I stop about 30 yards away, still sitting on my bike as the engine idles. Something about the situation is obviously fishy. Instead of going over to check out the car, I decide to try and call Daunte. As the call goes through, I hear a tinny echo of a ringing phone. It’s coming from the abandoned car. No one answers. I consider moving closer to check things out when…something…looms up behind the car. It’s dark, outside the streetlights, so all I see is some sort of misshapen shape swelling in the darkness. Part of the figure reaches forward and I hear a metallic crunch as something akin to enormous claws dig into the roof of the car. My jaw drops. The phone in my hand is still ringing, and just then bounces to voicemail. I hear Daunte’s voice advising one to leave a message and then the beep. In a daze, I hold the phone up to my ear. “Heeeeeeey, Daunte, so….Yeah, I seem to be having some weird bike trouble, don’t know what’s up, but imma have to miss the meeting, I’ll call you later.” With that, I rev up the bike and roar out of there as fast as I can. At this point in my unnatural life, I have been a vampire for about 20 years. My sire pretty much embraced me then dumped me, leaving me to figure out vampire society on my own.  Luckily, two decades of schmoozing around the city–and even making some brief forays into Camarilla higher-society–has allowed me to collect enough information to get by. But I have no fucking idea what the fuck that was all about. Luckily, tonight is Elysium. I really hate the pomp, politics, and pageantry of the thing, but I can think of no better place to ask around for someone who might know what’s going on.  I head downtown, toward the Hyatt Regency at Embarcadero Center. Traffic looks bad on 280, likely do to the fallout from the factory explosion, so I exit at Cesar Chavez to take Potrero across the Mission. Just as I merge, an ambulance screams past, obviously headed toward G-Ho. I decide to try and make up some time by drafting in its wake. Inside the ambulance, of course, are the body-bags containing Isaac and Paul. Isaac realizes that being dragged into the hospital would make an already-bad situation infinitely worse so tries a last-ditch effort to escape. He tears himself out of his bag and tries to mind-control the EMTs. In the confusion, the driver starts to swerve, loses control, and crashes into some other cars in an intersection a few blocks from the hospital. Unfortunately, I had been following too close to the ambulance. When it swerved, I couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. The front end of my bike gets clipped by the bumper, mashing my front fender and sending me skidding into a slide. Once the ambulance stops, Isaac kicks open the back door. He grabs Paul’s body–still in the body bag–and jumps out of the vehicle. Meanwhile I am extraditing myself from underneath my own vehicle. I am unhurt, but my bike is less fortunate. Not only the fender but the headlamp are smashed and most of the paint job is scratched along the whole length of the bike. Furious, I look up just in time to see a man jump out of the ambulance carrying a body bag, then stride over to a nearby stopped car.  Isaac leans into the car, mind controls the driver, then climbs in and directs the driver to speed off. I am angry, but I’m able to think clearly enough to recognize that this whole thing reeks of fellow vampire drama. One of the EMTs climbs out of the ambulance, looking around for Isaac, and I duck in to distract him so he doesn’t see the other car speeding away from the scene of the crash. I then grab my bike–beat up but still drivable–and roar off after the other car. I follow it across town till it pulls up in front of a posh building in Russian Hill. I’ve been around long enough to recognize that this building is the Tremere stronghold, the Chantry, but in 20 years I haven’t had many direct dealings with the Tremere so I don’t know much beyond that. Besides, my mind is currently occupied with other things at the time. Isaac gets out of the car, hauling the body bag over his shoulder, and sends the driver on her way. I pull up nearby and storm up to him. I say that look, I don’t know whats going on, frankly I don’t really care, but his little escape attempt wrecked my bike, and despite that I still saw fit to cover his ass from a possible Masquerade Violation, so if he chips in something toward the repair then we’ll call it square. He glares at me, then wordlessly tries to Dominate me and make me GTFO. It doesn’t work, but I still recognize what he did. I stumble back, then advance forward, asking who the hell he thinks he is– He tries again with a different level of Dominate. This one sticks, but I am able to resist. The fucker still hasn’t actually verbally acknowledged me, and that level of class douchery is pissing me off more than the actual attacks. I decide to leave, but before I do I’m gonna make a point. I pull out my whip and crack it across his face. He still struggling with the body bag and can’t dodge, so the crack cuts a deep gash across his face. I throw up some bro-arms at him, then get on my bike and roar away. (IRL, Jason is yelling: “IT’S ONLY THE SECOND NIGHT OF GAMEPLAY AND WE HAVE PVP ALREADY!?!?!?”) Fuming, I make my way back across the city. There’s still some time till Elysium so I decide to run some errands and drop the bike off at the shop before it starts.

Chapter 2: The Attack on Tesseract

Isaac brings his new prize–Paul’s body–into the Chantry and directly to Maximilian von Strauss, the head of the SF Chantry and, naturally, the Primogen of the Tremere. They don’t know much about him besides the fact that he both the head of one of the most powerful corporations in the world and a very young, very naive vampire. These things in combination are irresistibly enticing. The two start discussing secret schemes…. The next thing any of us know, Paul is waking up in the middle of Civic Center plaza with no memory of most of the evening and no idea how he got there. Last thing he remembered, he was in a car heading to the cement factory with some guards and the ghoul of Elsa’s. Luckily he still has his phone, so he calls his people and has them send a car around. Somewhere in all this, he gets a message from the Prince’s people, formally requesting his presence at Elysium that night. He makes plans to attend after visiting his SF penthouse for a change of clothes and a shower.

I arrive at Elysium not long before the formal court is set to start. As I said, although I am not some high-falutent political-manipulator or social-climbing snob, I am armored with a cadre of social skills gleaned from decades of working the private intrigues of the local BDSM and general leather-scenes. Still, just because I have these skills doesn’t mean I alway use them. Often when I visit Elysium I end up standing around quietly to keep from snarking at the douchey Ventrue and the like that litter it. Also I am discovering something interesting: many of the more machismo-minded forces in the city try and rile me up by impugning my masculinity, as has been the cultural norm for generations. However, such verbal attacks lose something of their power when their target is someone who is actually gay and is willing to own up to it in this, this modern era of public-and-self acceptance. Example: Not long after I get to Elysium this night, some weasely guy sidles up to me and starts talking some  political gossip I don’t particularly care about. He takes offense that I am not enthralled by his conversation and snaps at me that maybe I should just to try and suck the Prince’s cock. I shrug it off, saying, “Why do you think I come here?” He stares at me for a moment, then snaps, “Fuck you, man!” and storms off. Elysium is called to order. The Prince is a Ventrue by the name of Van Nuys. He’s an average age for a vampire but fairly young for a Prince. He works hard to keep up levels of respect for him by sporting an intense demeanor. This act is helped by his Sherriff. She is a woman nearly always at his side, but no one knows anything about her, not even her name. She never speaks, few have seen her in action, but almost everyone is terrified of her nevertheless. Tonight, she is once again at his side as he scowls out at the crowd and delivers some very upsetting news. Someone has been killing Primogens. In the last 24 hours, both Daunte and John Edmundson–the Toreador Primogen–have been found dead. Daunte I suspected, but it turns out Edmundson was the man beheaded by the mysterious Englishman at the cement factory explosion. The Prince calls on me–as the last person to talk to Daunte before he died–and Paul, Elsa, and Isaac–as people known to have been around the cement factory during the recent incident–to share what we know. Paul has no information to share, Isaac is characteristically terse and dickish, but Elsa talks about meeting the Englishman and witnessing his attack on Edmundon. I, for my part, talk about my trip to Colma and my encounter with something I dub “the Costco Monster.” Both Isaac and I–who recognized each other the moment we stepped foot into Elysium–leave out the part where he had to escape out of a moving ambulance and I chased him down and I chased him down and fucked up his face. The Prince considers these facts, then orders us four to team up to investigate this mysterious Englishman, like some sort of asshole Fellowship of the Ring. Paul and Elsa look confused but accepting. Isaac and I glare at each other but don’t make any comment. The Prince finishes his official business and Elysium breaks up into schmoozing. The four of us gather to introduce ourselves and discuss strategies (and, it is later assumed, exchange phone numbers). While we’re talking, a new vampire comes up to us from out of the crowd. He is well-dressed in late 19th-century stylings, with a long face and long hair, and carries a cane. His voice is lilting and mellifluous and his words and actions indicate he’s taken an immediate liking to me, ifyaknowwhatImean. Anyway, he introduces himself as Sebastien la Croix, the Malchavian Primogen. He is somewhat of a socialite in the local community, best known for his exclusive club, Salome, located under the St. Francis Yacht Club in the Marina. He points out that as a Primogen, he has a vested interest in helping us with our investigation, so he invites us to visit his club two days hence to meet with him privately. Everyone hesitantly agrees, so he excuses himself an saunters off. (My reaction, both in-game and IRL, on seeing how uncomfortable he made the rest of the party, was to lean back in my chair, grin, and announce, “I like that guy!”) At this point it has been a rather long night, so once it’s clear Elysium is wrapping up, we all head back to our homes and go to bed.

The first task the next day is to take care of chores. The most important chore on the list is, unfortunately, feeding. So here’s the deal. Tom isn’t just a cool, swagger, leather-daddy gay vampire. Tom is a cool, swaggery, leather-daddy gay vampire…with AIDS. Or, HIV-positive, rather. Tom moved to San Francisco when he was still a starry-eyed human teenager in the early 80s. He got active in the local scenes and thus was on the front lines during the Plague Years. Fortunately, he avoided getting infected himself until the late 80s/early 90s. By then, AZT was on the market, so once he was diagnosed he started treatment right away, sending his infection into remission. Deep down he knew he wasn’t cured, but he still believed that he had things under control and was out of the worst of the woods. That is, until a few years later, when his viral strain mutated and the AZT didn’t work anymore. This was before the drug cocktails were fully introduced, so basically he went from thinking he was safe to being completely out of options, overnight. Tom panicked, terrified to be facing a death sentence, again. It was at this time that he found by a wandering Brujah, deep in the club scene, who convinced/tricked Tom into becoming a vampire as a way to cure himself for good. Desperate, Tom took the deal. It wasn’t until a few years later that Tom learned how foolish this “escape” actually was. Yes Tom was not going to die of AIDS, but that was largely because, technically, Tom was dead already, and the “unlife” he was now living was a mere shadow of its previous self. He can’t eat, can’t drink, can barely have sex, and of course can’t do any of his favorite daytime activities anymore. But most importantly, even though he cannot be killed by the HIV virus, for some magical reason he still carries a live strand inside him and his feeding carries a risk of passing it on to others. It took him a while to figure this out. His early years as a vampire were more haunting than most, as he was forced to stand by helplessly as his community of friends and lovers slowly rotted away, leaving him standing alone, eternally youthful in a shell of his former life, knowing all the while that he was responsible for at least some of the deaths around him. In more recent years things have gotten easier. He is still engaged in the human world–working random night jobs like bartending, doing some modeling and acting for art and porn, occasionally doing some pro-dom work in the scene–but keeps his emotional connections to a minimum. More to the point, with the development of new drug cocktails shifting HIV from an immediate death-sentence to something more of a long-term, manageable condition, his feeding strategies changed. He now uses his extensive connections in the local club scenes to maintain a “herd” network of known people of HIV-positive status that he tries to feed on exclusively, to eliminate the risk of spreading the virus to new people. He also takes advantage of pre-packaged blood whenever he can, although that carries with it the risk of blood-bonding him to another vampire, if the source is secretly spiked with their blood. He figures the trade-off is worth the risk. Unfortunately, emergency situations do sometimes arise where he has to take some blood from a stranger. In those cases, he tries not to think about it too much, besides hoping for the best. So, anyway, on this evening, before I do anything else, I swing by my clubs to visit my herd and grab some “safe” blood while I can. Once that is done, I go to the shop to pick up my bike. They didn’t have time to touch up the paint or the scratched chrome, but they did fix the headlamp and check out for internal damage. There wasn’t anything serious, but they do mention, it’s the damnedest thing, but when they were checking it out, they found almost every screw and gasket on the bike mysteriously loose. Nothing was stripped, in fact some of the pieces were good as new, they were just…all loose. I remember the incident from the freeway the night before but am just as perplexed as ever. I thank them and head out.

We have all agreed to meet to discuss plans for finding the Englishman. The first place suggested is The View at the Marriott, the cool top-floor bar and lounge with stunning views of downtown and the skyline (seriously this place is baller check it out sometime). Unfortunately, all of us–including Kara–forgot that one of the key features of the Nosferatu clan is that they are hideous monsters who cannot be seen by regular human beings without the humans freaking the fuck out instantly. Jason saw fit to not remind us until we were already at the bar. We then somehow settle on meeting at the Tesseract campus in Mountain View. This is convenient for Paul, but it is also convenient for Chris because it allows him to role-play a company board meeting for almost 15 minutes before Jason is able to pull out some shit and bring the rest of our suffering to an end: Paul receives a call from his head of security, Klaus, reporting some strange occurrences. Apparently there’s been some intrusions at the perimeters of their network. Paul says to keep an eye on it and goes back to the board meeting. Not long after, though, theres another update from Klaus. Without warning, the minor intrusions had turned into a full-on assault. Someone broke through and was now in the process of downloading terabytes of data from their private servers. Security immediately tried to shut everything down, but for some reason their usual protocols weren’t working. Klaus suspects that part of the attack may be coming from someone on or near the Tesseract campus itself, so we fan out to investigate the property. Isaac ends up wandering the perimeter of the campus, around the parking lots. He sees a car and some people at the edge of one of the more distant lots, partially hidden behind some landscaping. He wanders over to check it out. He discovers a small knot of guards and goons lead by a man–a vampire–with a heavy South American accent who introduces himself as Alejandro. He and Isaac exchange empty pleasantries wherein he avoids answering any questions about why he’s lingering around Tesseract. At some point, he says he has other plans for the evening he needs to get to, but perhaps Isaac would like to join him? He gestures at the open door of the car. And then, for reasons that we still do not understand to this day, Isaac is like, “Yeah sure, why not!” and gets in the car with him. He drives off with Alejandro and doesn’t tell anyone where he went. Meanwhile, in my search, I make my way to the on-campus server room. I don’t know much about computers but I keep my eye out for anything unusual. Fortuntately, I find that, when a ball of fire coalesces out of nowhere and hurls directly at my face. I dodge the fire and just barely manage to keep ahold of myself and avoid the instinctive fire-phobia panic known as Rotshriek. I get to my feet just in time to see a small figure appear to step OUT of the concrete wall in front of me and dash out of the room. I follow. The figure exits the campus buildings, heading straight toward the parking lots. I get close enough to pick up some distinguishing details. It’s a woman. Or, well, actually, a girl; an older teenager, in simple teenager-y clothes and a backpack. She sees me following and shifts to an oblique path across the parking lots that takes her–and me–crashing through strips of landscaping separating the lots. As we pass the main lot, I pull away from the chase just long enough to race to my bike instead. I kick it on and into gear as fast as I can and return to the chase. She still tries to lose me by ducking across meridians, but I just crash right through on my bike anyway. Finally she shifts her path to make a bee-line for the dense housing and condo developments near campus, many of which are ringed by fences and walls. As she approaches one, she launches herself at it and scrambles over. I donut and roar off to find another way to enter the development. About a block away I find a clear drive into the complex and head in. I round a corner tangential to the path she was taking, expecting to see her somewhere along the road, but instead I see…a wolf. A smallish wolf, about the size of a labrador. It is loping away from me along the drive through the middle of the development. And it’s wearing a backpack. I rev up and follow, although I am starting to get a little concerned by this development. I’ve heard tales that some vampires can change into a wolf form, but I also can’t ignore the possibility of a werewolf either. I’ve never seen one so I had no idea if their wolf forms look like wolves or…something else. All I know about them is that if this was a real werewolf, then by all accounts I would probably already be dead by now, so I decide to push my luck and figure out whats going on. The wolf turns a corner and scrabbles to a halt. It’s a dead end, blocked by at least a 20-foot concrete wall. I pull up at the mouth of the cul-de-sac and stop, idling. The wolf stares at me. I stare right back. Nothing happens for almost a full minute. Maybe it was some sort of bait-and-switch, I think. Maybe this is some trained, pet wolf that the girl dumped her backpack on and sent to distract me while she got away. I lean forward to pat my thigh and whistle a “come here!’ pattern at the wolf. The wolf growls…then explodes into a hulking, hairy, semi-bipedal monstrosity with a long snout and razor fangs. Still growing at me. Still wearing the backpack. I lean back on my bike, nonexistent heartbeat racing. Apparently I was right the first time. Curiously, though, I am still not dead. The werewolf is still standing in the cul-de-sac, whole body heaving with its breath and radiating rage, but for now it is just glaring at me. I glare back. After a few moments, I rev my engine at it. Its eyes narrow and the growl deepens. I rev the engine again, higher this time. The werewolves’ hind claws clench, digging into the cheap brick flagstone of the drive. It raises one forearm and curls one enormous talon in an unmistakable “come hither” gesture. I can’t help but grin to myself. I rev the engine one last time, but instead of using the energy to roar forward, I squeal my way around in a 180 turn. During the turn, I whip out my phone and snap a picture of the werewolf’s surprised face. With one last jaunty wave, I race out of the housing complex and head back to Tesseract.

Chapter 3: Don’t Call My Name, Alejandro, Part 1

I get back to the Tesseract campus, thankfully with no werewolf on my tail (lol). I meet up with Paul and Elsa and report on what happened. They, unfortunately, weren’t able to find anything of interest themselves, so we sit back and consider our next move. That’s when we realize Isaac is missing.

We search the compound. At the edge of one of the parking lots, we find some fresh tire tracks where some sort of larger vehicle peeled out into the road. Nearby, we find a dropped iPhone and a random shard of metal, which we identify as silver due to the fact that Elsa has an aversion to it. The iPhone is locked, and thus by all accounts useless, but then Paul tries something. (Chris: “I hit ‘Emergency Call,’ press # three times, then relock the phone, which should glitch me to the address book where I can see recent calls!” Jason: *Jaw. Drops.*) Unfortunately, as baller as this move is, it doesn’t get us much useful information. We take the phone to Paul’s head of security, a dour man named Klaus who doesn’t much appreciate my snarky sarcasm. He suggests that we use Tesseract’s impressive telecommunications networks to track the location of Isaac’s phone directly. We do that and see that he is somewhere up in the Santa Cruz mountains. We immediately head out, me on my bike and Paul and Elsa in his Tesla. On the way through the mountains we get separated and start finding our own way to the location Isaac was last identified at. Paul and Elsa arrive in the area first. They hide the car off the road a ways and make their way through the forest toward Isaac’s location. As they approach, they see a clearing, with Isaac, Alejandro, and a bunch of doods. Isaac is talking with Alejandro and doesn’t seem to be under any form of duress, but they keep themselves hidden and scope the place out further anyway. There’s a small fleet of cars parked in the clearing nearest the road, including a couple vans. At the other end of the clearing is what appears to be a large cage…with an unconscious figure lying inside it. Now, I too plan on taking the stealthy approach to the location, but when I arrive in the area I have an unfortunate incident with a coyote that necessitated the discharging of firearms (don’t worry, the coyote was fine). I figure that now that the element of surprise is lost, I might as well do this thing balls-out. I rev up the bike and ride all the way down to the end of the road. Alejandro, Isaac, and all the doods look up as I approach. I stop at the edge of the clearing. Alejandro: “Who the fuck are you?” Me: “FedEx delivery.” Alejandro: “What? You ain’t no fucking FedEx, what the fuck are you doing here???” Me: “Hey man, if you don’t want to sign for it, that’s fine–” Alejandro: “I ain’t signing shit!! Now, you tell me who the fuck you are, or get the fuck out of here!!!” Me: *exasperated sigh* “Fine, I guess I’ll just go back to the depot, then. Too bad too, cause it’s quite a big package.” *grabs my crotch.* Alejandro’s face turns furious. He pulls out his gun and shoots out the front tire of my bike, screaming the usual “Don’t you know who I am???” bullshit. Irritated, but rapidly realizing that I perhaps have gotten in out of my depth, I climb off the bike and walk over to where he tells me to. A bunch of his guys search me, taking away my gun, but leaving my whip. During all this, I still don’t acknowledge Isaac at all, nor he me. (Perhaps I was hoping he would pull out some sort of double-cross and rescue me. This was obviously before I got to know him better.) Alejandro directs his men to lead me across the clearing, toward the cage.

Paul and Elsa see my exchange with Alejandro and the men lead me to the cage. They decide that rescue might be in order. They slowly make their way toward the parked cars. Elsa climbs her way into one of the large vans. She crouches low in the seat-well and starts working on hotwiring the thing.

The men lead me to the door of the cage. One unlocks it and gestures for me to go inside. Since it’s just me against many armed men, I decide to comply. I wordlessly step into the cage. They lock it behind me. Alejandro, at this point, is launching into full Bond-villian mode, waxing confidently about his own power and prowess, saying that he had other plans in mind for the evening’s entertainment but pehaps this change will be just as exciting. At first I don’t notice the other figure in the cage, since it’s dark and he’s unconscious on the floor. One of Alejandro’s men comes up with a cattle-prod and jabs the man through the bars. He jerks, sits up, then groans and climbs unsteadily to his feet. He looks at me with eyes slightly unfocused. But once the eyes settle on me, they focus up right away. And the focus is obviously full of crazy. For the second time that night, I’m rocked by a brief concussion of displaced air as the figure in front of me erupts into a giant of a werewolf. I take a step back. Alejandro’s men are yelling and jeering. Alejandro himself is standing with his arms folded, a pleased smirk on his face. The werewolf is growling as he advances, obviously taking pleasure at my increasing terror. If I’m going to act, I know I have mere moments to do so. In a flash of insight (aka, people in the room reminded me) I remember that I still have that small shard of silver we found in the road back in the suburbs. I reach into my pocket slowly to grab it, sliding it between the fingers of a fist. My only other weapon is my bullwhip, which the men probably thought was only for show. Ha, as if. Though it might not do much against the werewolf…. Nevertheless, it might work as a temporary distraction. I unclip the whip from my belt, grabbing the handle as the rest of the length snakes to the ground. The werewolf is close enough now, its muscles tensing as it finally prepares to strike. CRACK!!! In one smooth motion, I lash the whip across the werewolf’s face, cutting a small gash across one eye. It howls and cowers, pulling its head down instinctively to protect it. Which just so happens to pull the head into my range. I clench the shard in my fist and step forward into a brute punch, throwing the entire weight of my body into it. I smash it in the forehead, right between the eyes. Driving the shard of silver clean into its skull. The werewolf pulls back, staggers momentarily, then collapses. Fully, completely, dead. Around me, the crowd goes silent. There’s a brief murmur as everyone simultaneously takes a step back. I turn to look at Alejandro. His face is white, gaping in disbelief. And that’s when Elsa finally gets the van started up.

Chapter 3: Don’t Call My Name, Alejandro, Part 2

(Ok, so, realtalk guys: I just haven’t been having the time to go back and fill-in the missing backstory. However, I’ve been collecting more readers (*waves*) who have been asking for, at the very least, a summary of what the hell happened in this big blackhole of the plot. As I said, we don’t have recordings of most of these early ones, and I don’t have time to listen to the ones we do have recordings of, but going on notes and memory/internal oral history, here are at least some details on our story’s evolution:) So, as I recall, the part of Chapter 3 that’s been written up ends with me one-shotting a werewolf in a single punch. Alejandro and his men are understandably surprised and infuriated by this, but fuck them cause we all pile in a van to escape. Alejandro reveals himself as full-on Tzmitsce by morphing into his Zulo (aka, Costco Monster) form to try and chase us down, but I drive him away with a shotgun I find in the back of the van. This shotgun, incidentally, was loaded with dragonsbreath, which is my first exposure to it–in game or in real life–and I immediately know that I need approximately all of it. But as we outpace Alejandro and his men, we discover something else in the van: a teenage girl, tied up and unconscious, and somehow during the subsequent shock and arguing we realize she is tied up with silver. Realizing she is a werewolf–and me secretly suspecting she’s the wolf I met at Tesseract–we all flee back to Paul’s house in Portola Valley to figure out what the hell to do with her, and what to do next. The werewolf eventually comes around, identifies herself as “Sophia,” and is understandably freaked to shit. Most of the group wants to take her back to the city to turn into the Prince, but I object, because he’ll undoubtedly kill her and, as I say, she’s just a kid. Secretly, though, she reminds me of my long-lost sister, Isabella, and werewolf or not I just can’t let her be surrendered to an imminent death. During the course of all this arguing, Issac makes a power-play, trying to Dominate all of us and take over the coterie for unspoken Tremere reasons. Elsa and Paul struggle to resist–one succumbs, I can’t remember who–and fighting breaks out, but I resist completely and stumble back, trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. The three of them crash off into another side of the house, leaving me alone in the garage with the werewolf. I hesitate a moment, staring at the frightened girl while listening to the distant sounds of destruction, then calmly swagger over…and snap Sophia’s silver chains. She immediately bursts into full-werewolf form, looming over me, breath heaving, but doesn’t attack. I stare back calmly. She asks why I let her go, I shrug and say, “Girl, I got no problem with you, but I got a biiig problem with that asshole down the hall.” She stares another moment, then disappears, and much fuckery later the whole drama ends with Sophia tearing Issac in half. And thus was the death of Jim’s first character. We part on awkward, if neutral, terms, and Paul, Elsa, and I head back to the city, while IRL Jim comes up with a new character.

Chapter 4: Ruler of These United States and Protector of Mexico

In the next major plot beat, we’re still looking for the Englishman, but while poking around Elysium and the Prince’s court, Sebastian–the Malkavian primogen–intercepts us and mentions how he’s heard of some guy hanging around Land’s End, with an implacable English accent and waving a sword around. Sebastian indicates he has a long history with his guy and would love for us to handle things for him, and is predictably oily and simpering as he does so (classic Sebastian). We’re like, yeah alright, and head out there the next night. We head to the ruins of Sutro Castle, at the edge of the city, and, as promised, stumble upon a man with an English accent and a sword. But while THE Englishman was a distinguished gentleman with a rapier, this man is a bombastic force of nature with a broadsword, and I–a long term resident of the city–am the first to realize who he is, seconds before he announces it to us himself. It is Emperor Joshua Norton the First, Ruler of these United States and Protector of Mexico, and he’s as Malkavian as the night is long. He may be a raving madman, but he’s not a raving killer, and we realize that Sebastian’s lead is a bum one. Figuring Sebastian was misinformed, we debate what to do next…. …Moments before a trained hitsquad jumps from the trees and tries to kill us all. Fuckery ensues (which at one point involves people falling off the edge of the ruins, a fact which I later noted while visiting the area in real life, saying outloud to Chris, “Is this where Paul threw that bitch off the cliff?” without any regard for nearby joggers who might overhear). After defeating the assassins with the help of Norton, Norton reveals he has long been Sebastian’s enemy–in fact they’ve been jockeying for the Malkavian Primogenship in the city for years–and this whole thing must have been a setup from him to kill his rival and remove some annoying assholes on the side. We’re all frustrated by this… …But Paul is furious. He declares that this shall not stand, we need to make a counter hit on Sebastian in revenge, and even though it is an hour until dawn, we need to do so RIGHT. FUCKING. NOW. We know Sebastian is in his private club, Salome, hidden under the Yacht Club, and right now he’s probably settling in for the day and waiting to hear on the results of the hit, so he wont be expecting this at all. We all pile into Paul’s Tesla and head over there (which includes an amusing bit where Paul pulls his Tesla into a station at 4 in the morning to buy a container of gasoline). We arrive at Salome dangerously close to dawn, and unsurprisingly it turns out that while the attack is a surprise, Sebastian is not completely unprepared. A battle breaks out, though it ends when Paul throws a lit container of gasoline to Sebastian’s face while the rest of us G. The. F. O. The club explodes and we stumble away, finding shelter in a nearby yacht moments before dawn hits. Or, rather, all of us do, except “Elizabeth,” Jim’s new character, a teenage Malkavian as cluelessly irritating as Norton is insane. She avoids the battle and breaks into a house on Marina Green to try and sleep for the day, but that goes tits-up and she murders a family of three to do so.

Chapter 5: Marin, Part 1

The next night falls and Salome is no more. There’s no sign of Sebastian either, and–considering we threw a can of gasoline in his face–it’s reasonable to assume he’s off the board. The Prince is furious, but, since he’s a spineless idiot, rather than disciplining us he begrudgingly looks the other way. He puts us back on the hunt for The Englishman and also promotes Norton to Malkavian Primogen once again (which leads to an interesting scene where Norton sweeps into Elysium like the drunk uncle everyone feels slightly awkward around, issuing proclamations and threatening anyone who dares call his beloved city “Frisco.”) In the course of all this, I get a summon from someone identified as The Baron, who turns out to be Don Esteban de la Vega, Baron of the Anarch territory of the Sunset District. He’s heard of my bravery with the werewolves and hopes I can help him with a little job, specifically, tracking down a shipment of Semtex of his that went missing. I don’t got much better to do, so I say sure, and get on it. Meanwhile, the other players are working on different things relating to tracking down The Englishman, the details of which I can’t remember, but they didn’t have much impact on the larger plot, for reasons which will soon become apparent. The one important thing is that, during all this, Paul and his Tesseract engineers are secretly working on their solar-carrying optic-fiber technology. So, I’m tracking down this fucking Semtex, which quickly turns into the Obnoxious Chain Quest from Hell. I start looking for leads from random barflies and drug dealers, and before long the name “Helgi” gets tossed around. I eventually wind up meeting an Anarch vampire in some shitty bar in Bayshore, a greasy guy of mixed-Latino heritage who goes by the name of Slayer. Slayer says that yeah, he’s heard of this Helgi guy, he’s some fucking giant Viking who supposedly stole Esteban’s shipment himself, and currently he’s hanging out in the Oakland docks. Slayer promises to introduce me to Helgi, but it won’t be easy. See, Helgi’s got a high reputation in the Anarch community and he won’t go talking to any yahoo that shows up, so I gotta prove myself first. I point out the relatively minor point of punching a werewolf in the face, but Slayer says that’s not enough. Fortunately, he has a better idea. Supposedly, Helgi has some enemy that’s shown up in the Bay recently, a powerful old Sabbat vampire, like old old. He doesn’t know much about him, but he knows his name: Marcus Sertorius. Slayer says he’s been spotted hanging around Marin, up in a place called Cascade Canyon. Word is the reason we know he’s there is because all the werewolves are avoiding that place, and this Sertorius guy has been known to scare werewolves away. “Whatever,” I think, “I just killed one myself, how bad could this guy be?” Slayer says that if I was to kill Marcus Sertorius and prove it, that would put me in good with Helgi, and he would then meet with me to discuss Esteban’s Semtex. I impatiently agree and leave the bar, off on the next leg of my chain quest, blissfully unaware of what was to come.

Chapter 5: Marin, Part 2

So I need to go up to Marin to track down this Marcus guy and get to the next stage of my chain quest, but there’s a problem: Everyone and their sire has been telling us Marin is full of werewolves. While I took out one werewolf, I know better than to go running into their territory alone, so I stew around the city, trying to figure out a way up there. Meanwhile, fortunately, one of the other assholes in the coterie–cant remember who–gets a lead on The Englishman that also points to Marin. Once I hear, I decide to make a weekend of it, convincing them to help me kill this Marcus guy while we head up there to follow the other lead. They seem suspicious–Paul probably most so–but eventually agree. A night or so later we roll out, and luckily we’re dressed to thrill. See, “Elizabeth,” while appearing to be a starry-eyed young girl, is incongruously also something of an arms aficionado. Thus, she decks us out with guns of almost every make and size (Jason wouldn’t let Jim have a grenade machine-gun) and transports us in an armored Suburban (because Jason wouldn’t let Jim parachute in from an airplane.) We arrive at the location, an abandoned-looking farmhouse in Cascade Canyon staffed by a couple armored ghouls, and immediately drop it like it’s hot. Battle rages, tearing up the house and nearby trees, but we eventually drop the goons and secure the site. We spread out, looking for signs of this Marcus dude, but everyone in the house is dead. However, in the hillside behind the house, we find a heavy door, like a cellar door, leading to a long dank corridor into the ground. Elsa and Paul stay above to continue searching the house, while “Elizabeth” and I enter the bunker. It’s long, dark and dank, with doors leading off the sides. Some appear to be storerooms, most turn out to be locked. Frustrated and impatient, I force one open…. …Revealing a twisted abomination of flesh. A tzlotcha–or “hellbeast,” as we’ve started calling them–lunges out at us, trapping our escape from the narrow hallway. Luckily I still have my dragonsbreath-loaded shotgun, which continues to work very well against undead flesh of all shapes and sizes. Fuckery ensues, but we eventually take it down. Now a lot more cautious, we continue searching the rooms, finally finding what seems to be a cell-block. The floor is stained, the bars are rusted, but it seems to be empty…until we hear the whimpering. We cautiously move through and find, in the very last cell…a boy, about nine, with sandy-blonde hair, watching us with wide-eyes. I ask him his name, he carefully whispers, “Matt.” “Elizabeth,” at this point, is bored. Out of game, Jim tells me to just eat the kid or something so we can continue searching, but I balk, cause that’s obviously not the way Tom rolls. I release Matt from the cell and bring him back to the surface, where Paul steps in to take charge of him and we discuss ways to get him back to the proper authorities. Then…more fuckery. My details on this–and my notes–are hazy. Something split the party, bringing Elizabeth and I back underground, leaving Paul and Elsa in the house, where they are immediately beset by giant tentacles of darkness that erupt from the trees and grab at Matt. Paul and Elsa battle the tendrils as best they can, but the darkness grabs the boy and drags him to the edge of the woods, then seem to pull him down into the ground. Meanwhile, “Elizabeth” and I have discovered an office-like room underground, filled with a desk and nice furniture, but the walls are covered with pure, rippling darkness. In this room is a middle-aged man with Mediterranean features, who calmly and very politely inquires what the fuck we are doing. Paul and Elsa join us at some point, and we talk with him, assuming that he is the Marcus we’ve been looking out. (Now, it is important to note at this point that, out of game, we were reaching the end of the night, and the reason I don’t have good details on a lot of this is because I was tired and bored and tired and just wanted to get the dishes done and go to bed.) Finally someone asks if this guy is the Marcus everyone’s been talking about. He says no. We say, well then who the fuck is? The guy turns to look at the shadowy walls…. …Which draw back like a curtain, revealing Matt, standing calmly, watching us with a bemused expression on his face. Matt identifies himself as Marcus Sertorius Posthumus, of clan Sertoria, and strides calmly into the room, suddenly a lot more composed and collected than his apparent-age of nine. At first I’m confused cause Slayer said Marcus was an old vampire, but then I put the pieces together: Marcus is old because he is physically, Classical-aged Roman. And just like a Roman, he seems to have a lot of dramatic and pompous things to say. He strides around, lecturing us at having broken into his based and murdered his men. Not “killed” his men, mind, murdered his men, a word choice that struck me as odd for a vampire even then. We ask him what the fuck was up with the hellbeast, but he waves if off, saying it was a relic from the last person to occupy this property, which he only acquired recently, and he kept it around in case it had its uses. Marcus asks us who we are, and we identify ourselves, but I glower at him; frustrated, nervous (and, remember, tired). His pacing eventually brings him around closer toward me. He looks us over slowly and his gaze meets mine. “So,” he says finally, “Why exactly have you come so far and expended so much effort to find me?” In real life, there’s silence at the table as we consider this, but before anyone has a chance to speak, I meet Jason’s gaze, smile, and answer first: “I shoot him in the face.” Jason’s response, his gasp and look of shock and horror, will haunt and entertain me to my dying day. My grin falters as my gaze tracks from him to everyone else’s faces at the table. “Wait, or…maybe I don’t?” But it’s too late. In the game, I lift the dragonsbreath shotgun and fire at point-blank range. Jason starts rolling dice, saying that you never know, Vampire is a lethal game, and this could work. “That’s true,” I said, “Random dumb luck worked for the werewolf, afterall.” Yeah. It doesn’t work here. In summary, Marcus fucking wipes the floor with us, using every shadowbullshit trick in the book (incidentally, after this incident was the first time I actually read up on Obtenebration in the V20 core book, and I instantly fell hopelessly in love). Marcus disables and stakes all of us. We ended the night then, as Jason had to go home and figure out how the hell to spin all of this, but he said quite seriously that many–if not all–of us would not be waking up again.

Chapter 5: Marin, Part 3

An interesting thing happened in the intervening week. As Jason said, there was a very real possibility–almost a probability–that this would be a TPK. Breaking into a Methusula’s den, killing his men, and shooting him in the face is a difficult thing to spin any other way. Everyone else was simultaneously irritated and amused, that my–or, rather, Tom’s–antics had gotten so far out of control that he got us all killed. As the truth set in, though, I realized something else: I didn’t want Tom to die. At first, it was for shallow reasons. He was fun and snarky and I loved using him to come up with hilarious come-backs while metaphorically punching all the things. “Well,” Jason advised, “If you don’t want him to die, you’d better come up with some very good reasons for Marcus not to.” So I sat down and started thinking about it. And that’s when the rest of Tom poured into my head. Until this point, he was just a sketchy vehicle for bits of action and comedy, but suddenly him as a character materialized. I realized the full depth of his backstory, how he ran away from home when his abusive father drove him out, but how he still feels guilty for the sister he left behind. I saw details of his life in 1980’s San Francisco, watching as the AIDS epidemic erupted around him. I understood better why he became a vampire when he did, and I realized it’s horrible consequences, as he accidentally spread the disease to his still-human boyfriend, Rob, and had to watch helplessly as he sickened and died in front of him. I saw his classic-rock vinyl collection in his SOMA loft apartment, and how he secretly enjoys ‪Lady Gaga‬ as well but refuses to admit it and succumb to the stereotype. I started barraging Jason with emails on all these ideas, and the more I wrote the more they came to me. Finally the next week rolled around, and we sat down to see what became of us. Marcus unstaked us one by one, lecturing and delivering judgement. At some point, someone asked how long we had been captured in torpor. “Six or seven months,” Marcus/Jason said. “Oh my god,” I muttered in growing shock. “…I probably lost my apartment!” Elsa/Kara turned to me. “We are probably about to die, right now, and you are worried about your apartment?” I/Tom leveled a withering glance at her, then uttered the words that set this entire project in motion: “IT WAS RENT CONTROLLED!!!!” After that, Marcus doled out his sentences. He knew about “Elizabeth’s” rampage through the Marina, killing the family of three, and when she simply stared at him in a vacant Malkavian way, he executed her, as one would put down a dangerous dog (marking the death of Jim character #2). Elsa also did not fare well. Their discussion turned philosophical, veering into the area of, “Do the ends justifying the means?” which she openly supported and Marcus apparently did not, since he executed her as well. Paul was a trickier prospect, since morally he seemed on Marcus’s level, but Marcus revealed he knew about Tesseract and the solar technology project, and railed at how dangerous an idea it was, how it could eliminate all of vampire-kind in one fell swoop. Paul stared back evenly and said that yes, that was kind of part of the point. Instead of executing Paul, though, Marcus staked him again, to figure out how to deal with him later. When it came my turn, though, things were different. I was sullen and frustrated, but in my interrogation it became clear that I was just a patsy used by this Slayer guy, and everyone else who sent me on this damn quest. Not only that, but Marcus seemed interested in my (newly-written) tragic backstory, having been driven out from home and embraced by a sire who abandoned me to figure things out on my own. And, patsy or not, it was clear that I was willful, and strong, and perhaps just balanced enough between brave and stupid to be useful. So Marcus said he would release me…if I agreed to work for him. It was either that or death so I begrudgingly agreed. Marcus gave me a vial of blood, his blood, binding me to him and preventing me from pulling shit. He ordered me to go back to the city to spy on the various bullshit shenanigans going on there, which apparently had gotten worse in the last seven months. He told me to report back to him via Aitor, his lieutenant–the older man we first met in the bunker–and released me. I looked around. “Where’s my whip?” The whip which, I had decided, was a hand-made present from ‪my dead boyfriend‬, Rob. Marcus gestured for Aitor to hand it over. I strapped it to my belt, then hesitated. “Could I have my gun back too?” Marcus’s eyes narrowed. “…No.” And with that, I was set loose, in the middle of the dark, werewolf-ridden woods of Marin, left to hitch-hike my way back to SF on my own, with absolutely nothing whatsoever left to my name except a secret brand on its surface: traitor.

Chapter 6: The Goddamn Prince Can’t Run His Own Fucking City, Part 1

Once I finally get back to the city, I take stock of the situation. I’m beat to shit and, with my apartment defaulted, have nothing and nowhere to go, so bereft of options, I decide to roll over to Elysium, cause walking in, back from the dead, like nothing’s wrong, should be entertaining at the least. I’m not disappointed. The Prince is flabbergasted, and angry, and drags me away for a private interrogation to find out where I’ve been for seven months and what happened to the rest of the assholes. I start laying it all out, but when it comes time to dish on Marcus I hesitate, my blood-bond making it difficult to rat him out completely. Also, I suspect that if I do betray him to the Prince, the Prince isn’t the one I’ll have to worry about. So I carefully spin a story of running afoul of a Sabbat Methusula up in Marin, who captured us, killed the rest, and somehow I was able to escape. The Prince glowers, but seems to accept it. But not everyone in the room does. Looming over the Prince’s shoulder is another Ventrue asshole I vaguely remember seeing around but have never interacted with before. He identifies himself as Clarence Walker, owner of–as well as other vice-related interests in the city–and “asshole” is right because it is in fact Jim’s new character! After my meeting with the Prince, Clarence pulls me aside and, in that fake-chummy Ventrue way, says he’s heard I lost my apartment and my stuff, how sad and frustrating it must be for me, but perhaps I can stay with him for awhile till I get back on my feet. He even offers me a brand new motorcycle, a Valkyrie Rune, the exact rare bike I have coveted for ages, as a token of our new friendship. I, of course, don’t trust the asshole as far as I can throw him (which is admittedly far. Potence, and all) but I do need a place to crash for the day, and a new bike to replace the one Alejandro shot up in Marin, so I agree. Meanwhile, an entirely new face is poking around Elysium, a Tremere by the name of Georgia Johnson. She’s new in town, sent in from the Seattle Chantry to figure out not only why the hell Isaac disappeared in Portola Valley seven months ago, but why the Tremere team sent in his wake was apparently torn to shreds. Georgia is a starry-eyed Neonate, but it doesn’t take long for her to develop a rivalry with Maximilian von Strauss, the Tremere Primogen and Regent of the San Francisco Chantry, who suspects that she has also been sent to spy on him. The Prince rounds up Georgia–who, naturally, is Kara’s new character–and introduces her to Clarence and myself, saying that we should get back on the trail of The Englishman, cause in the last few months his shit has gotten worse, running around, showing up in unexpected places, and stabbing some people. The East Bay vampire populations have been freaking out and have shut down travel across the Bay Bridge. This is funny for them, though, because the viking guy Helgi in the Oakland Docks has apparently been warring openly with the Prince of Oakland, making their own shit worse. On top of all this, there have been more werewolf sightings, in Marin and other places. So basically everything is fucked up and the Prince wants us to solve it. Us. A useless brown-noser, a starry-eyed Tremere, and a Brujah with no weapons. Good leadership decision, that.

“But what about Chris’s new character?” you ask, and yes, that is an interesting subject. Chris’s new character isn’t at Elysium yet. Here, now, is what Chris’s new character is, and what he’s been up to: Carlos (full name “Carlos the Ticklemonster,” after a throwaway line in 4th season Arrested Development that I can’t seem to find a video clip of) is a Caitiff, with a murky history that somehow involved being a groundskeeper on an old European estate in the 1800’s. His disciplines are Protean, Dominate, and Obtenebration, which doesn’t sound o.p. at all. Physically he is a withered man of indeterminate age, with wispy hair and a rasping voice, and lank, bedraggled clothes that hang off his thin, hunched frame. Most importantly, though, Carlos is on the Path of Bones, and his Great Work in life is to understand the full nature of death. When we first meet Carlos, he is hanging out at his homestead in Bayshore, at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. By “homestead” I actually mean an abandoned gas station, and by abandoned gas station I mean the razed lot a gas station used to occupy. Carlos actually lives underground the station, in the empty gasoline tanks. Three of them, to be exact. One is an office-y sort of workspace, one is an empty space (perhaps the sort of place he’d put up guests, if he had them). The third tank, though, is the body tank, filled with the slowly decaying remains of his many victims, kept around for continued study as part of his Great Work. None of the tanks are a bedroom space, you might notice, and that is because Carlos sleeps in the body tank, just one more corpse in a pit of death. He feels comfortable there. …Yeaaaah…. Carlos hits the ground running. While making his rounds in Bayshore, he runs into some kids, whom he Dominates into taking him back to their home, where he proceeds to slash the throats of all four kids and their parents, one by one, making them watch each other die, and studying their deaths in turn. ………Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah………… At some point, one hook or another forces Carlos to come up to Elysium–which, you can imagine, he doesn’t visit much–and the Prince somehow orders him to join the rest of us assholes. But the first chance Carlos gets, he leaves, heading back to his hunting grounds to continue his Great Work.

Chapter 6: The Goddamn Prince Can’t Run His Own Fucking City, Part 2

After waking up in Clarence’s douchey high-rise building downtown, I get a call from Don Esteban, congratulating me on being alive, and asking about his fucking Semtex. I choke down irritation and tell him no, I don’t have it yet, but people have been throwing this guy Helgi’s name around, but Oakland’s on lockdown so I don’t know what to do about him. Esteban suggests I go meet an acquaintance of his, an Anarch down in Colma who goes by the name “Doc.” He and I have something in common, both being enemies of Alejandro, and maybe he’ll be able to help with my (many) problems. Speaking of Alejandro, Esteban tells me he’s not just a Sabbat asshole, he’s a Sabbat Bishop, and he’s been running around pretty pissed at me killing his werewolf and kicking his ass in front of his men. More to the point, though, Alejandro’s boss, an even scarier motherfucker named Andre, has been asking around about me. Andre is the Archbishop of San Jose, aka the biggest Sabbat asshole in the region, so I may want to stay off their radar if I can. I take a mental note of that, while also reminding myself to report all this to Marcus, the actual biggest (supposed) Sabbat in the region. I leave Clarence’s douchey mansion, taking the Rune bike he gave me, even though I know the thing is going to backfire on me somehow–and, in fact, find a LoJack tracker on it almost immediately–and ride down to Colma to meet this Doc guy. Long story short, “Doc” turns out to be Doc Holliday, who holds his on mini card parlor in the dusty backroom of a crappy convenience store he owns in Colma. Humble surroundings aside, the man is a figure of considerable power and presence and I respect him immediately. He tells me that Alejandro has been up to some bullshit down in San Jose, and since he is, quote, “an ignorant skunk,” if I was to made an expedition against him, Doc would be happy to join. I agree and we make plans to venture down there in one nights’ time.

Meanwhile, Clarence is up to some bullshit. Despite being BFF’s with the Prince, he secretly wants his job, and starts doing some political machinations to that effect.

Meanwhile, Georgia starts making inquiries into secret Tremere business, many scenes of which happened actually-secretly, off screen, so I can’t tell you too many specifics, but the main concern seems to be not the fact that Isaac disappeared, but that the team sent to find him was killed, since signs point to it being a gargoyle attack. This is concerning because the Tremere are supposed to have total control over all the gargoyles in the world.

Meanwhile…*sigh*…in Carlos land…. Carlos returns to Bayshore after meeting with the Prince and picks up right where he left off. A whole gang of locals–as in, literal gang-member types–shows up at his hide-out, since word has spread he’s the monster who murdered that family. They are almost-literally a pitchfork-wielding mob, but Carlos takes them all out with liberal application of Obtenebration darkness and Protean claws. He captures two of the men, though, and ties them up in his tanks, separated from each other so that one is in each in the not-body-tanks. (Later, when Chris asked Jason for their names so it would be easier to distinguish them, Jason came up with the name “Vontaze” for one, but was stuck on a name for the other, so we ended up calling him “Not-Vontaze.”) I should also probably point out that during the course of the fight with the gang-members, Carlos comes across another young kid, who was apparently with the gang because he led them to Carlos’s hideout in the first place. Carlos calmly slashes the boys throat with the Protean claws, and watches cooly as he bleeds out on the weed-cracked tarmac.

After his networking, Clarence returns to his home-base. Now, out of game, Jim put a lot of thought into this hideout of his. He basically wanted to build a modern castle that Clarence could retreat to, while still being able to run his businesses and networks from afar. He’s got all sorts of security goons and technology, reinforced walls, even a fucking elevator that locks down and blasts fire on the occupants, like a modern day portcullis oil-pit. He also has a helicopter, a sweet little AW109, and in fact chose his building not for looks (in real life its really fucking ugly), but because (at the time) it’s one of the only private buildings downtown with a helipad. He carefully planned out and identified all these details to Jason over the course of a couple weeks, bragging about how he was going to be almost impenetrable, unlike the rest of us schmucks running around with normal housing, or no housing at all. Which, of course, was an insanely stupid thing to do, because Jason then took this as a challenge. So Clarence is hanging out in his place, minding his own damn business, when suddenly gunfire breaks out, inside the building, and werewolves start walking in through the fucking walls. Clarence tries to escape, running to his helicopter, but he doesn’t get more than a few feet from liftoff before one of the attackers takes it out with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. The chopper crashes back to the helipad, ruined, and Clarence scurries back into his building, trying to find a new route of escape.

I’m riding back through the city from my meeting with Doc when I notice smoke and flames pouring from the top of Clarence’s building. I…don’t much care what happens to him, but this is certainly unusual and worth checking out. I pull up in an alley next to the building, but find it overrun with black vans and men–human men–in black-ops style gear. They shove their guns at me and force me off my bike, asking who the hell I am. I affect an ignorant expression and a lisp, saying that my boyfriend lives here and what the hell is going on? They order me off the bike, slap some zip-tie cuffs on my wrists, and shove me into the back of one of the vans. I let them do this, of course, curious where this is all headed. Once I’m in the van, I break the cuffs and listen at the doors. Footsteps race by, trailed by muffled shouts. Finally I hear a cry of, “He’s on the roof!” and they disappear around the building. I still hear a voice talking outside, though, a softer voice, but I kick open the doors and stick my head out anyway. It’s Sophia, holding a tablet and staring at me with equal shock. I ask what she’s doing here, she asks what I’m doing here, something about me being Clarence’s boyfriend…? I snort. “He wishes.” I tell her that I was simply passing and saw the commotion, figured I should check it out. She looks around nervously and says I need to go, that there’s shit going down and she doesn’t want me caught in the middle of it. She won’t give me specifics on what’s happening, but she mentions the name, “Dias Ultimae” a couple times and I make a mental note of it for later. In return, though, I start telling her about some of the vampire shit going on, how The Englishman is still running around and the Prince doesn’t have a handle on shit. She says she heard of some vampire up north, a baaaad vampire, and I mutter that yeah, I may have heard of him. Sounds of fighting from the building get louder and she says I should go, and she’s sorry if I’m a friend of Clarence. I laugh and say no, fuck that guy, asshole is working some angle on me, he even bugged my damn bike. “Really?” she asks with a confident smile, then taps at her tablet. “…No, he didn’t. I just deactivated it.” I stare at her. “…Really? Um…won’t he notice that it’s suddenly stopped working?” She grins wider. “Not if the bug keeps reporting false location data.” I’m a little taken aback by her power there, but undoubtedly pleased. I grin back at her. “Thanks girl, I owe you one.” “Well,” she mutters, suddenly shy again. “I still owe you, for…what happened….” Before I can respond, a new car pulls up in the alley and Georgia, of all people, gets out. I turn back around, but Sophia has gone, melting back into the mess of vans. I go over to meet Georgia and discuss what the hell is going on. “Who was that you were talking to?” she asks, craning past me to look down the alley. “Um, no one,” I mutter, “Just…another tenant of the building.” “Really? I thought Clarence owned the entire building himself?” I tense. “She may have just been one of the…new hired help, or something.” “I don’t know if Clarence needs any more help,” Georgia scoffs. At that moment, Clarence crashes to the ground behind us, having just fallen off his own roof in his escape and broken his neck. Georgia argue a bit on what to do next, then finally shove his body into her car. She leaves to take him to the Prince, while I decide I am done with vampires for the night and leave in the other direction, heading up Market street to go to a club or something. I’m almost to the Castro when my phone rings. Caller ID tells me it’s the Prince. Dammit, I don’t want to deal with more shit tonight but I probably have to take this. I pull over to answer. “‘Yello!” I say cheerily. “WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU!?!” He doesn’t sound pleased. I look around calmly. “I’m out looking for a new apartment, what are you doing?” “THE FUCK YOU ARE! THERE’S PRIVATE ARMIES AND GODDAMN WEREWOLVES ALL OVER MY CITY!! GET YOUR ASS BACK HERE RIGHT NOW!!!” I roll my eyes. “But I have an appointment for an open house in half an hour–” “RIGHT FUCKING NOW OR I AM SENDING THE ENTIRE CAVALRY DOWN ON YOUR ASS!!!” I hold the phone an inch or two from my ear until he stops shouting. “Alright,” I sigh, “I’ll reschedule.” With that I hang up and turn the bike around, heading back down Market street to Elysium at the Hyatt.

Chapter 6: The Goddamn Prince Can’t Run His Own Fucking City, Part 3

The Prince drags me and Georgia–and a resuscitated Clarence–in front of him and asks what the fuck is going on. Clarence says he was attacked, the Prince asks by whom, Clarence says he doesnt know. I raise my hand and say I overheard some guys talking, they mentioned this name, Dies Ultimae…? The Prince freaks out. Apparently they are a private military contractor run by werewolves–which I had more or less assumed already–and if they’re attacking vampire businessmen in our city that’s baaaad. The Prince calls the Camarilla leadership in New York, speaks to some dude named Hardestadt, who more or less chews him out for not being able to run shit–which I had more or less assumed already–and says he’s sending a Justicar to help straighten things out. A guy by the name of Theo Bell. The Prince ends the call and orders us all to spend the day in his private quarters at the top of the TransAmerica Pyramid while he tries to figure shit out. The next evening, wake up and pace in my room, trying to figure out what to do.  I give fewer than two shits about the Prince’s problems but I’ll need to stay involved in all this to report back to Marcus. I also find myself thinking about Sophia. The Prince seems like he might go on the warpath vis a vie the werewolves, and I’m concerned about her getting stuck in the crossfire. I decide to let her know, but since I don’t know her phonenumber, I concoct an elaborate workaround wherein I type a message to her in the notepad of my phone (addressing her as “GRRRRRL!” ), warning her about the arrival of Justicar Bell. Knowing she has a near-mystical affinity for technology–and assuming she’s already watching me–I’m hoping that somehow she’ll find it. I also contact Aitor, Marcus’s man, and give a thumbnail sketch on what happened last night. He replies that he needs to meet with me in person to discuss this further, tonight, so I tell him to meet me at The Eagle in an hour. I suddenly realize that I have now effectively become a triple agent, relaying information to Sophia and Marcus, while still doing whatever the Prince forces me to do (to the letter of the law if not the spirit of it). Somehow, I am not bothered by any of this.

Meanwhile, things have gotten interesting for Carlos. Upon returning to his tanks after an early-evening hunting trip, he checks on Vontaze and Not-Vontaze–both of whom he has been putting through Guantanamo-levels of psychological torture for the last night or so–and discovers that Not-Vontaze, while still tied up, is dead, his throat cleanly cut. His murderer, though, isn’t a mystery for long; a woman melts out of the shadows, blonde and lithe, confident as a cat, and identifies herself as Isabella. Apparently she is an Assamite doing some work in the contract of Maximilian von Strauss. The details of the arrangement are a little hazy, but in essence Max wants Carlos to do some work for him, and Isabella has been sent to ensure it happens. In return, though, Max promises Carlos that he will provide the means necessary to help Carlos with his “Great Work.”

I head to The Eagle. Aitor is there, sitting awkwardly at the bar, but he leads me out of the bar to an alley behind the side-patio. He leaves me there, and wait, perplexed, wondering what’s going on. Then Marcus steps out of the shadows of the solid wall behind me. I stare, paralyzed with sudden fear. “That’s…a pretty cool trick, Boss,” I mutter. “Thank you,” he mutters, fidgeting with his clothes, which are nothing more than kid-sized jeans and a t-shirt, but some how still seem to fit uncomfortably on him. He asks for my report, and I dish on everything that’s been going on, from the attack on Clarence to the Prince’s continued flailing around, carefully omitting all mentions of Sophia, though I do mention the arrival of Bell. Marcus says he is a man of considerable power, Brujah as well, and the best way to deal with him will be to lay low and do what he says. Marcus, eyes narrowed suspiciously, goes back to the topic of the attack, asking why, if it was in fact Dies Ultimae, I survived, and for that matter, how did I know it was Dies Ultimae in the first place? I decide to go with edited truth, saying they grabbed me and shoved me in a van, and I overheard things, then later escaped. His stare intensifies. The shadows along the walls start to ripple, just like they did in the room in Cascade Canyon. Dread climbs through me and I take a step back. “There’s something you’re not telling me, Tom,” he says softly, his nine-year-old voice carrying more threat than the Prince has been able to convey in his entire body. “Those men should have killed you the moment they smelled you. How did you escape, Tom?” I look around, desperate for an exit, but the shadows seem to swell closer. “Tell me, Tom,” Marcus repeats, “Or I will make you. You know I can, and you know you won’t like it.” I cast my eyes to the dirty alley ground and sigh. It was probably only a matter of time till it came to this. “I…may…have found a…werewolf…friend….” I whisper. Silence in the alley. I can hear shouts from the patio next-door, but they seem strangely muffled, distant. Marcus stares at me, but I avoid his gaze. There’s no question that what I’m doing–talking to werewolves, giving them information about vampire politics–is illegal, and even if Marcus isn’t involved in those politics, I’m probably too much of a risk to keep around. I wonder if he’ll kill me quickly, like Elsa and “Elizabeth,” or if it will be slow, like whatever the hell he has done to Paul…. “Well,” he says finally. “That’s certainly not what I expected….” I risk a glance up. There’s actually a hint of a bemused smile on his narrow lips. Relief that I’m not about to die rushes thorough me and washes out all the details, how I rescued Sophia from Alejandro and how she killed Isaac, though I say this is the first time I’ve seen her since then. I say she seems to be good with technology, mentioning my bike. “Glasswalker,” Marcus nods, gesturing for me to continue. I say that I might still be in contact with her, through texting, and gave her a warning about Bell coming to the city. Marcus nods again, considering this, and tells me to continue with my interactions with her, if I see fit, so long as I report to him whatever happens. “However,” he says warningly, “Do not mention me, not my name, not even my abstract existence.” He hesitates and I see a strange look cross his face. “I…have a history with the werewolves. It would be best if she didn’t know you were associated with me.” With that out of the way, I ask him if there’s anything he wants me to work on. He says that he’s heard word ‪Slayer‬–the asshole who sent me to Marin–has been hiding out in the South Bay, at the fringes of Sabbat territory, talking smack about how he got a Methusula to do his dirty work and get rid of a bunch of neonates for him. Marcus advises me that he’s not too thrilled about what that will do for his reputation, so if I could go pass his…displeasure…on to Slayer, maybe publicly humiliate him in some way, that would be equitable. I agree whole-heartedly. Marcus hesitates again. “And…another thing. Something has come to my attention….” He pulls out a folded newspaper clipping and hands it to me. It’s from today’s paper and mentions how gang-war in Bayshore has escalated lately, leading to a bunch of disappearances, a family of six brutally butchered in their own home, and one young boy executed and dumped in the shipyard. “Most vampires wouldn’t notice something like this,” he says, “Most people wouldn’t. Such victims are already half-disposed so what difference does it make what they do to each other.” He meets my gaze. “But I make a habit of keeping an eye out for these sorts of things.  I’d like to know more information on this.” I stare at the article another moment. According to it, the lone boy didn’t even have a recorded name. Marcus watches me carefully. I don’t know why he has an interest in such a thing, but the fact that he does…intrigues me. I look up and nod. “I’ll do what I can, Boss.”

Later that evening, the Prince calls everyone back to Elysium in desperation (including Carlos) and starts ranting about everything that’s going on. Apparently the werewolves have been moving against his own business interests, attacking him in specific, targeted ways that makes him think they are acting on inside knowledge. He glares at all of us suspiciously–(Me: “OH MY GOD THE PRINCE THINKS SOMEONE IS PASSING INFO TO THE WEREWOLVES BUT THE BITCH IS THIS PERSON IS PASSING INFO I CANT PASS SO ITS NOT ME EVEN THOUGH I AM PASSING INFO TO THE WEREWOLVES!”)–then waves off his suspicions and moves on. He says he is organizing a new special task force, based on the various bits of info we have relayed to him. Werewolf bullshit aside, most signs about The Englishman and other things going on seem to point to the Sabbat in San Jose, lead by Alejandro and Andre. He wants us all to go down, check it out, and report back to him. We agree, and make plans to leave immediately, picking up Doc along the way. Somehow in the confusion of departure, despite my frantic gestures against it, Clarence and Georgia convince Emperor Norton to come along as well.

Chapter 7: Carlos and the San Jose Raiders, Part 1

Before I continue, I realize there is a character I have yet to explain in these backlogged-writeups, a character of invaluable narrative importance. Mr. Tails. Mr. Tails was an artefact of “Elizabeth’s,” simultaneously a spirit guide and part of her psychotic Malkavian manifestations. Mr. Tails was a squirrel that only she could see, who would whisper things at her, things which might have been helpful clues and might have been traps for his own amusement. Mr. Tails was, of course, voiced by Jason in a wheedling voice whenever he felt it necessary to influence “Elizabeth’s” actions to add creepy drama to the plot. When “Elizabeth” died, one of the first thing we lamented was that we would no longer get Mr. Tails commentary. Jason considered this fact a moment, then said nope, Mr. Tails was too useful and terrifying. Thus it was decreed that, upon Elizabeth’s death, the spirit of Mr. Tails separated from her body and attached itself to any other intact beings in the room who were able to receive him. Which Jason decided was myself. Since returning to the city from Marin, Mr. Tails has been whispering creepily to me at random moments, though–as I treated his master before him–I mostly try to ignore him.

Back to the story, we collect all the associated assholes and start rolling down-Peninsula, in cars provided by Clarence, heading to San Jose. On the way we pick up Doc in Colma. (It bears mentioning that after we grabbed him, an argument broke out on who was going to sit where in the cars, since few people wanted to deal with Norton and no one wanted to deal with Carlos, so we ended up drawing a diagram and rolling initiative to pick our seats.) Once we get settled, it seems like it’s going to be a straight-shot to the South Bay. Except…. My meeting with Marcus is still fresh in my mind, as are the tasks he gave me, one of which I have absolutely no problem with: finding Slayer and getting revenge. Word has it he’s hiding out in Palo Alto, at the edge of Sabbat territory, so I convince everyone to make a detour on the way to find him. Everyone tentatively agrees, but only after Doc says he’s on board, citing Slayer as, quote, “An ignorant skunk.” I have a plan for what to do with the asshole once we find him, something which will hopefully injure body and reputation, so before we get to Palo Alto I have the cars stop at an all-night adult store for…a few items, hiding them in the store’s opaque black bags so no one (not even Jason) can see. We get to Palo Alto. After asking around, we track Slayer to the Nut House, the closest thing Palo Alto has to a dive bar. When we get there, the place has largely cleared out of its usual crowd of locals and grad students, which is good because the first thing Slayer does when he sees us rolling in is leap to his feet and shout at his goons–ghouls and otherwise–to smoke us sons of bitches. A firefight breaks out, with much crashing and shouting and people running in and around the back door like its the fucking Benny Hill show, but eventually we grab ‪Slayer‬ and subdue him. He starts babbling, apologizing for the shit in Marin, expressing some manner of shock and awe that I’m still alive. I backhand him a couple times till he starts telling us something useful, specifically that Alejandro was the one who told him to send us to Marin. (Me: “I don’t understand why Alejandro has it so out for me.” Jim: “Maybe it’s cause the last time you saw him you shot him in the face.” Me: “Yeah well the last guy I shot in the face is now my best fucking friend! …Which says a lot about the quality of my friends right now….”) Slayer says Alejandro was also involved in this missing Semtex business, that apparently he stole it from Esteban, though later Helgi stole it from him. Slayer gives us more specific directions to Alejandro’s hideout, where he’s apparently been working on…something. Interestingly, though his operations have had limited success, they’ve apparently been enough for Alejandro to win a lot of points his his boss, the Archbishop of San Jose, a guy named Alekse Roussimov, sometimes called Andre. Slayer gulps, says that whether or not we fuck around with Alejandro, we reaaaaally shouldn’t fuck around with Andre. Having gotten as much usefulness out of Slayer as we can at that point, we decide to stake him. I, however, can still get entertainment value out of the asshole, so I grab my unmarked black bag and move to complete my plan. Which is to strip Slayer, redress him in the Catholic school-girl outfit I bought at the porn store, then write, “BUFFY” in big letters across the white tanktop. Then, to complete the quest, I take a picture of him and text it to Aitor to show Marcus. With that, we have some of Clarence’s ghouls take ‪Slayer‬ back to the city to be put in the custody of the Prince, while we continue the ride down to San Jose.

Chapter 7: Carlos and the San Jose Raiders, Part 2

We arrive at Alejandro’s hideout, an unassuming corner store in a rundown backwater of South San Jose. We spread out to investigate, but there’s no-one in the store, so getting in is easy. A bunch of us fan out, searching for back-rooms or whatever, when suddenly we notice something: the store has products on the shelves, but they’re surprisingly dusty, and almost everything I pick up is year’s expired or out-of-date. Meanwhile, while most of us are poking around inside, Carlos decides to be Carlos about things and climbs up to the roof. Scrabbling around up there, he is beset by the Assamite, Isabella, who has apparently been following us down in secret. She relays new instructions, ordered by Max: Carlos has to help her kill Georgia. Carlos agrees readily, irritated by all these distractions, and she disappears into the darkness. He hears people moving around in the rooms below him (which are above the corner store we’re in). He finds an area above an empty room, slices a gap through the ceiling with his Protean claws, then crouches there, talons extended, patiently waiting, like a polar bear on the ice waiting for a seal.

Downstairs, we find a lead: there’s no back rooms, but there is a trap door, hidden behind the counter. We pry it up and find a black pit with a ladder descending into it. The ladder is streaked with blood, some of it fresh. I pull away at the sight, fighting waves of panic. See, my experience in Marin has sobered me. For the first time in two decades of being a vampire, I’m starting to get the sense of what’s really out there, and it’s a lot more than douchey goths hanging around a hotel bar. For all my bravado, Alejandro’s giant monster form–“Coscto Monster”–terrifies me, and who knows what else could be down there. I find myself wishing for that dragonsbreath shotgun again and make a mental note to track more down, if I survive this. Suddenly, in the midst of all this discussion, Mr. Tails wheedling voice appears in my mind, “Are we going down there?”
 “Maybe,” I mutter, glancing at the others to make sure they don’t hear me. “I think we should go down there! It looks like fuuuuuuuun!” Well, shit, if I didn’t have reservations about the pit before…. “Is there anything else you think we should do?” There’s a pause, then, “…Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!” he whispers cheerily. I hesitate, then hit the floor, milliseconds before a shotgun blast erupts upstairs.

Upstairs, Carlos’s prey have discovered him, but duck out of the way of his claws before he can take their heads off. They fire a shotgun, miss, then fuckery ensues.

Everyone looks to the stairs, except for Doc, who looks at me curiously. I get sheepishly back to my feet, which is good, because moments later Carlos’s battle spills down to us. The guys are all humans–ghouls, perhaps–so we quickly kill them or drive them all off. We reconvene around the pit. The time has now come to make our decisions, and if I had a living heart, it would be pounding. As the largest guy, the obvious strategy is for me to head down first, but I hesitate. Doc, though, scowls at me, and makes some comment about courage or whatever that I barely hear through my anxiety. His face, though, is clear, so I nod, steel myself, and descend, with everyone else following along after.

Chapter 7: Carlos and the San Jose Raiders, Part 3

We descend into some sort of sewer complex, with long, dank tunnels and a lingering stench of blood strong enough to overpower the rot. The tunnel at the base of the ladder goes two directions and through details I don’t remember, we end up getting split (because the rule in our game is ALWAYS split the party). Georgia, Carlos, and I–oh, and Emperor Norton–go left, while Clarence goes right. Doc, incidentally, stays up top to stand guard.

I, armed with nothing but my whip and a machete, lead my half of the team through the narrow tunnels, eventually coming out on a walkway circumscribing an open cistern. Instead of being filled with stormwater and sewage, though, the bottom of the pit is filled with bodies. Fighting through our distaste (or, well, except Carlos, he prolly feels right at fucking home) we make our way around and into a new corridor. As we move along this one, we hear chanting echoing from the distance, across the stone. Turning a corner, we see an archway lit from beyond by candlelight and torches. Slowly, we make our way forward and peer inside. Beyond the archway is a room, almost as large as the cistern, with candles and sconces around the perimeter. A pentagram drawn in what looks to be fresh blood covers the floor, and five figures stand at each point, apparently the source of the chanting. Our eyes, though, are drawn to the middle of the pentagram, and the man standing shirtless and blood-covered there. Alejandro. We pull back, discussing a plan. The whole point of the operation was to collect information, maybe find some of the missing Semtex, but this ritual looks like something we probably don’t want to let procede. But there’s five robed men in the room, and Alejandro, so stopping it won’t be an easy thing. Georgia and I debate what we should in hurried whispers, but after a few seconds the decision is made for us…. ….When Emperor Norton draws his sword, screams about usurpers and vile treachery, and charges into the room.

Meanwhile, Clarence is poking around a different part of the hideout and comes across a room filled with vats. By the smell, they’re vats of blood. Strange shapes seem to move around in them, just beneath the surface. Clarence peers in sneeringly before moving on. Beyond the vat-room, he finds a prosaic-looking office, complete with computer terminals. He immediately sits down at one of the computers and starts combing through it, smirking at his efficiency in investigating, as compared to the rest of us losers running around the place in circles. (Jim: “The vampires are, of course, running Win95.” Jason: “No. Windows ME.”

  • everyone gasps*)

Element of surprise lost, Georgia and I grab whatever weapons we have available and charge into the room. Norton is battling with the robed summoners and Georgia takes one on as well. I, however, only have eyes for one man in the room: the shirtless asshole in the middle of it. Alejandro roars at the sight of me and immediately explodes up into Costco Monster form, nearly scraping the ceiling with his bulk. He lunges at me and I dodge, swiping with my machete, reaaaally wishing I had my dragonsbreath back around now. He swipes back with claws the length of my forearm. I duck back and go with the only ranged weapon I have, slicing him across the face with my whip. He roars and wheels away, one eye bisected in a bleeding welt. Thus distracted, I take my opening, dashing forward, ducking around, winding up to make a full-powered strike– –And practically cleave his spine in two. (Jason: “…Well that was a lot more anticlimatic than I was hoping.”) Alejandro falls with a thump that shakes the room. The gash in his back is massive, but healing even as I watch. Scared, pissed, and berefit of ideas, I do what any rational person would do: continue beating the shit out of him. Georgia and Norton, once they take out the robed men, join in, and soon Alejandro is reverted to normal-human form and passed-out at our feet. Only then do I realize that perhaps I should have left him conscious to interrogate him….

Clarence’s hacking is going better than he expected. He finds his way into a bunch of files, many of them encrypted, but in the parts he can read, he keeps finding references to something called “The Dancer.” Running short on time, he decides to download as much as he can to pour over later. However, having seen this movie before, instead of trying to download a hard copy of the information, he backs it up to a private online cloud server, completely independent from all the shenanigans going on around him. Which is good, because it’s around this time that he hears strange noises coming from the vat room; wet, organic sounding noises, undercut by growling. Carefully, he crosses the office and peers out the door. A hideous creature is climbing out of the vats, like a balrog that’s been flayed alive, dripping blood and snarling like grinding stone. Wings, like half-skeletal dragon wings, flare over it, and it peers around the room myopically through underformed eyes. Clarence carefully steps back. He hasn’t had specific interactions with these creatures before, but he’s been around long enough to know what it is: gargoyle, or rather, a half-formed gargoyle. Carefully, quietly, Clarence closes the office door and barricades furniture in front of it.

As I am standing there over Alejandro’s prone body, trying to figure out what to do next, darkness falls on half the room. As in, literally half the room has been bisected by a wall of black so thick it’s like a hole in reality. I stand in the candlelight, machete loose in my hand, staring in awe, before I realize: Georgia was in the half of the room that is now absorbed. “INFIDELS!!11!1!111” Norton screams, hoisting his sword, then he too disappears into the black. I stare, frozen in indecision, simultaneously wanting to help Georgia, not wanting to leave Alejandro, and really not wanting to stumble blind into whatever the hell just cast this shit. Moments later, Mr. Tails chimes in to help the matter, “She’s heeeeeeeere,” he whispers in a sing-song voice. “She’s heeere to eat her soooooul….”

Inside the darkness, Georgia is struggling with the complete lack of sight and sound, when suddenly something grabs her from behind in a grip like iron. A woman’s voice whispers in her ear, creepy-(-yet-vaguely-homoerotic-)-shit about surrendering, how easy and blissful it would be, and then moves to bite her. Georgia ruins the moment by stabbing her assailant in the gut. A struggle breaks out, with more slashes and stabs, but finally comes to an end when the unseen assassin–whom I’m sure you can guess is Isabella–decides she has had enough of this shit and stabs Georgia repeatedly with something that leaves her unconscious on the floor, wounds boiling green and smoking.

Outside the darkness, I’m fighting my anxiety and passing the time by trying to decide what to do with Alejandro. (Out of game, it’s pointed out to me that now would be a perfect time to diablerize him, but I balk. As a high-generation character, I’m worried about “eating above my station,” so to speak, and there’s nothing a Tzmitsce has that I would particularly want anyway. I soon incorporate these rationale into my character by saying that Tom had heard of such “soul bites,” but is weirded out by the concept and has little interest.) But that doesn’t mean I can’t still have fun with him. Thus, I pull out my sharpie left over from the Slayer prank, draw a bunch of dicks all over his face, and take a picture. I figure that this is actually better than killing him cause now he’ll lose face with Andre, or something. Course, he’ll probably be even more pissed at me, but…whatever. Fuck this guy. I don’t have too much time to gloat, though, before the darkness suddenly boils over and envelops the entire room, cutting out sound and light like a heavy cloth dropped over reality. I stumble to where I remember the doorway was, making my way through to find more darkness in the hallway. I run down it, groping at the walls, until I reach clear air once again. There I stop, staring at the abyss behind me, waiting for Georgia, or Norton, or anyone to come out of it again.

You might be wondering what happened to Carlos in all this, and you, dear reader, would be a lot more intelligent than we were at the time. The dark cloud–Nocturne, as I know know it’s called–was cast by Carlos as cover for Isabella the Assamite to make her move, then expanded to drive us out of the room. Once we do, he goes in to investigate. And finds Alejandro, beat to an unconscious pulp, ready for the taking. Which he, unlike myself, does. But, just as I feared, the generation-gap is a little too wide, so the moment he finishes consuming Alejandro’s soul, he frenzies.

I am waiting in the hallway on the far side of the cloud, waiting for Georgia or Norton to reappear, when suddenly something does, rushing out of the darkness and toward me like a talon-tipped freight train. It’s Carlos, and by the look on his face, he is out for more than just blood. I have just enough time to whip up my machete and slash at him before he dives at me with his claws, tearing open my chest (and instantly causing three levels of aggravated damage). Wounds healing before my eyes, he comes at me again, so I (wisely)decide to noope! the fuck out of there, dashing down the hall, toward the way we came in. Carlos isn’t as fast as me but I can hear him following behind, snarling and scraping against the stone. I reach the cistern and make my way around carefully, mindful of the slick footing, but something draws my eyes away from the walkway to the open pit next to me. The bodies, they’re moving, heaving like a tide of limbs and flesh, reaching for the walls, climbing over each other to reach toward me. Double nooooope! I scramble around the cistern and bolt down the entry hallway, leaping for the ladder and climbing up to the safety of the surface. He follows, but before he can climb the ladder, he’s tempted by something else: the smell of blood, fresh blood, drifting from further down the hallway.

Clarence is holed up in the office–using his time to continue working on the computer–when suddenly roars and crashes echo from the vat room outside. He freezes. The sounds of battle grow louder. Finally, Clarence gets up…and starts piling more things in front of the door.

Back up in the convenience store, I lurk around the entrance to the pit, wondering what to do, when suddenly I see a pale shape ascending out of the darkness. Clutching my machete, I lurk back behind the couter, waiting to attack or run if necessary…. …Then a cowboy hat appears from the darkness, followed by Doc’s head, then Georgia’s unconscious torso, slung over his shoulder. I sheathe the machete and hurry over to help them out. We retreat outside, where Clarence’s two cars are waiting, and discuss what to do next. While we debate, Clarence himself appears, strangely calm and mentioning something about a computer and things that may or may not have been gargoyles. That’s odd, we agree, cause making gargoyles is supposed to be illegal, and only the Tremere are supposed to know how…. We glance at the unconscious form of Georgia thoughtfully. The last question, of course, is where the last members of our party–Carlos and Norton–are. I mention how Carlos seems to have gone berserk, and Clarence mentions the battle in the vat room, though by the time the sounds died down and he stuck his head out everyone was gone. As we debate this, someone else stumbles out of the store. Carlos. Clothes torn up more than usual, covered in blood, but woozy and apparently back to himself. We all freeze, watching him owlishly. In his rasping voice, he apologizes for the mess down below, saying he’s not sure what came over himself, but no lasting damage seems to have come from it. I poke gingerly at the gashes across my chest and glare. As Carlos stumbles around, staring up at the roof of the building for some reason, we all rehuddle, debating to do about Norton, whether it’s best to look for him to get back to San Francisco before sunrise and just hope for the best. As we debate this, Carlos skitters over to one of Clarence’s cars, overwhelms the ghoul driver through a combination of strength, Dominate, and just plain terrifying intimidation, and goes squealing off into the night. We all freeze again, not sure we believe what just happened. Clarence curses, storms over to the other car, climbs in, and orders it to go racing after Carlos, back up to the city. Leaving Doc, Georgia, and I stuck in San Jose, in the middle of Sabbat territory, two hours from sunrise.

Carlos has an interesting plan. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but here’s what happened. As his car raced out of sight, a few blocks away he opened the passenger door and rolled out, sending the car continuing on its way. He then made his way back toward the convenience store, perhaps to figure out what the hell happened to Isabella and why Georgia was still alive.

Meanwhile, as the rest of us figure out what the fuck to do, a heavy bass line starts approaching from the distance. We turn to see a low-rider El Camino with spinner plates and a hot-rod flame paint job, roll up next to us. Emperor Norton is at the wheel. He pontificates about his victory, having convinced some men to loan him the use of their conveyance. In no place to question or argue, we pile in, Doc and Georgia inside the car and me sprawled out in the open bed. With a rev of the oversized engine, we pull out, heading back toward San Francisco. Then two blocks away we spot Carlos, walking back to where we were. We pull up next to him, asking what the fuck is going on. He blinks at us innocently and rasps some excuse, I don’t even fucking know, but I flick my machete at him and tell him to get in the car. He does so, sitting across from me in the small bed, which I’m fine with cause I don’t want to be anywhere near him if I don’t have to be. I knock on the rear window, asking Norton to change the music from rap to classic rock, but after that I remain silent the whole ride home, ignoring Carlos’s strangely piercing gaze. A gaze that spends the entire hour-long trip slowly and carefully studying my face. Because, unknown to me, Carlos has now picked up Viscissitude. And he has ideas….

Chapter 7: Carlos and the San Jose Raiders, Part 4

I think I need to ret-con a bit already, here. Last post I said that Doc brought Georgia up unconscious, but I was thinking about it, and I think that actually he brought her up dazed, but alive and well. See, Doc was there when she woke up down below, having survived the attack and the darkness, and details are sketchy cause it was off-scene. All we know is that she suddenly had no damage from the stab-wounds, the Assamite was gone, and she may or may not have had the bloomings of a crush on Doc, but only to the level as is proper between a lady and a gentleman. In any event, she is in the cab of the El Camino as we ride up the Peninsula. Doc asks that we drop him off in Colma, since apparently he doesn’t come around the city too often, and she and he share a brief and poignant moment of goodbye while Norton flips through the radio stations and I avoid Carlo’s creepy stare. Once we’re ready to go again, I climb inside the car, where Georgia and I discuss what to do about Carlos. Georgia and Doc found a withered husk of Alejandro down in the catacombs, and we now suspect that eating him was what drove Carlos to a frenzy (Also, we don’t know it at the time, but Carlos went on to diablerize not just one but four of the proto-gargoyles in the vat room. Jason said that if anyone had tried to check Carlo’s aura, it would have been solid. motherfucking. black.) Georgia and I quietly agree that maybe it’s best to take him to the Prince and let that asshole figure it out. Carlos, though, apparently hears this, because as soon as we’re off the freeway and cruising through the abandoned streets of downtown, Carlos leaps out of the back of the car and starts running away, again. We tell Norton to follow, but as we try to corner him, Carlos unsheathes his claws and starts climbing up the side of a building. (Jason: “This is not how I expected things to happen!” Kara: “You say that every week!!” Jason: “BECAUSE IT KEEPS HAPPENING EVERY WEEK!!!!”) We get out and stare up at him, unsure what to do. Realizing that Clarence has probably made it back to the city now, I call him. “…Yes?” He answers curtly. “Heeeeey,” I drawl, “So, we’re back in the city, and we found Carlos, but he’s escaping. Again.” “Oh?” Clarence replies flatly. “Yeah, we’re down the street from your place and he’s climbing up the side of a fucking office building.” There’s a pause. “Well. Deal with it.” And with that Clarence hangs up. I stare at my phone. “…Sonofabitch Ventrue piece of shit,” I grumble, shoving it back in my pocket. Worried about what Carlos will do now that he’s loose in mortals’ territory, Norton and I grab our weapons from the car and race after him. We can’t climb up after him directly, but we break into the building and try to make our way up from inside, but he intercepts us, and fuckery breaks out. Norton and I eventually retreat, ceding the building to him, and head back outside. Now out of options, I call the Prince, reporting that Carlos has gone awol and is armed and dangerous. The Prince grumbles, orders us away from the building, says he will be sending someone else in to apprehend Carlos and drag him in for trial. Not long later, the Sheriff shows up– (–Oh shit, I haven’t mentioned the Sheriff yet, have I? Well, there’s not much to mention, except that she’s a strong, lithe woman, usually seen lurking behind the Prince, dressed in a well-cut suit, and always, always silent. No one has ever heard her speak, but they certainly speak of her, and usually in hushed tones. Everyone is afraid of her, far more than they are of the Prince, and no one is even entirely sure she’s a vampire…) So she shows up, climbing out of an unmarked car and gliding toward us with the smooth gait of a hunting cat. Even Norton shuts up as she approaches. She eyes us quietly, then gestures us away and taps something on her phone. And then an army of unmarked cars pull up, armed dudes jumping out of them and rushing on the building. She stares at us a moment then enters the building herself. Norton and I trade a glance, wordlessly agreeing to find Georgia and GTFO. Luckily, Georgia shows up then with the El Camino. Unluckily, though, since she is originally from the 15th century and has zero dots in drive, so we stare as she actually rolls up, the car stuck in neutral, stopping only when she bumps slowly into a mailbox next to us. Dawn is fast approaching. Norton takes over the driver’s seat and says he will take us to our abodes before retiring to his own palace. Georgia thanks him graciously and asks to be dropped off at the Chantry. Norton turns to me and asks where I would like to be taken. I grin sheepishly. “So, ah, your eminence…you got a couch?”

Indeed, after dropping off Georgia, Norton takes me to his place: The Cliff House, at Land’s End. Rather, the Cliff House itself is a restaurant, but Norton apparently has an apartment secreted underneath it. He has lived there for almost a century, through all the occasions his enemies tried to get at him by burning the place down. Norton parks the BarrioMobile out front and disappears down the secret staircase leading to his quarters. I hang back, staring at the pre-dawn light over the sea and firing off quick notes to Sophia and Aitor informing them of what happened. And by “quick notes” I mean “My Instagram photo of dicks all over Alejandro’s face.” Footsteps on the sidewalk draw my attention up. A gentleman stands before me, smiling at me patiently, and for a moment, I wish I was back with Carlos. It’s The Englishman. “Pardon me,” he says in a smooth British accent, “But would you happen to have the time?” (I stare at Jason. He smiles at me. “So…what do you do?” “I…give him the time?”) I glance at my phone. “5:27. A.M.” I add, needlessly. “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.