It’s Dante all the way down

Apologies for the delay, readers.

The second arc is finished, but it’s been too hot to do a writeup. I’ll get round to it, I promise.

Arc three should begin in six months; in the interim I’m running another V20 game set in Brighton, November 1995.

 

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In which Jed meets a stranger

Jed woke in the basement, covered in a fine coating of metal chips. Alone. He took a few moments to look about him, trying to piece together what had happened. The door had been burst open; what remained of it was either hanging limply from the frame or scattered piecemeal over the floor. His sword lay to one side, discarded. And Jack had been taken. Jed’s heart caught in his throat as he traced the drag-marks on the floor. He pulled his phone from his pocket and contacted Olivia.

Jack’s been kidnapped! Can you find him?

There was a short delay, and then Olivia’s reply came.

His phone’s just outside Grimouth. Up near Darkmoor. Sending you a map.

Jed sent his thanks and headed off at full speed.
Jack woke on his back, shackled to the earth. The scent of freshly turned earth filled his nostrils.
Reflexively, he began to will himself into the earth, sinking slowly, but something caught the front of his shirt and heaved him upwards.
Joshua stood over him, grinning toothily, his canines unusually pronounced and his hands clawlike.
Fuck, thought Jack. I’m going to die.
“I’m going to ask you a question,” said Joshua. “You find a man laying by the side of the road, his leg is mangled. You have two choices; if you feed him your blood, he will be healed but will live his life as a slave, if you don’t, he will live his life as a cripple. Which do you choose?”
“Um…” Jack looked from side to side. No avenue of escape availed him. Only Joshua, looming over him. “I’d ask them,” he said.
“Oh, really?” Joshua bared his pointed teeth. “You would, would you?”
“Yes,” said Jack, his voice small.
“And what about your homeless friends. Did you ask them?”
Mutely, Jack shook his head.
“And the girl in the tower? And the little winged man?” Joshua’s tone was insistent. “You asked them, before you tried to enslave them with your blood?”
“I didn’t know!” protested Jack. A lie. He panted. “I was just trying to help.”
The werewolf looked at him a few moments, scrutinising him.
Finally, Joshua growled. “You’re an idiot,” he said. He sighed. “Very well. I will not kill you tonight. But neither will I help you.”
With that, the werewolf lord turned on his heel and stalked away into the darkness- gone.
Jack struggled in his chains and found that he could not rise. He spotted a figure at the edge of the field –a hiker?– and willed himself to sink back into the earth. No point in escaping the wrath of the werewolves if he got himself caught in a masquerade breach.

 

Jed found the field easily enough. Although it backed onto a housing estate, it was empty, save for a lone figure, a man in a coat, hunched over and digging in the earth. Not Jack. The skin on the back of his neck crawled. Definitely not Jack.
Silently, Jed landed, drawing his sword. He padded towards the hunched figure, bare feet soundless on the soft earth, and levelled his sword at them.
“Who are you?”
The stranger unbent, and Jed felt a glimmer of fear as he saw that he was bestial; a long mane of hair and hands ending in claws, coated with fresh earth.
There was a moment of tension, and Jed caught sight of things rising from the earth around him in his peripheral vision; writhing tendrils, squamous horrors, and strange, long creatures emerging pale against the dark soil.
Jed gave a yelp and leapt backwards, briefly airborne, drawing his shotgun from his back.
He shot, and the stranger grunted, staggering backwards, but the creatures were on him, more than peripherally now, blocking his view. Crowding around him.
Jed let out a scream and launched himself into the sky.

Olivia went to Dante’s after Shen left for the chantry. Dante’s mansion was much the same as ever, the multitude of guards eyeing her with a professional wariness. He met her in the accusing parlour, looking like his usual self. His eye was healed, or else his injury well-disguised.
“So, Olivia, what brings you here?” His tone was genial.
“I just met with Eyes,” said Olivia. “As you predicted she might, she asked for Alice.”
Dante’s eyes glimmered. “And so, of course, this was unacceptable, so you came
straight to me.”
Olivia shrugged. “I very much doubt that she would have worked for Eyes of her own free will, and I don’t fancy myself a slaver. So yeah, I guess.”
Dante looked far away for a moment, his eyes unfocused. Telepathy? Olivia wondered. Finally he blinked, and the look was gone. “Yes,” he said, his expression inscrutable. “She’s not been disturbed in, ah, quite some time. You want me to settle the debt, I take it?”
Mutely, Olivia nodded. Was this a con? Probably. But if the alternative was to be a slaver, to leave Alice with Eyes’ crew of villains, then better to let Dante have his way.
“Very well,” Dante looked serious. ”It will be done.”
“Eyes… didn’t seem very interested in Alice,” said Olivia. “I mean, talking about Eldrich, she seemed interested, but she didn’t seem to really want Alice, even. Why is that?”
Dante shrugged. “Eyes and her crew don’t put much stock in oracles. They prefer, ah, more direct methods. Less wishy washy.”
“Dante?”
“Yes?”
“If you don’t mind me asking, how will you settle the debt?”
Dante smiled his inscrutable smile. “I have a great many things that Eyes wants. I will simply throw them at her until she considers the matter settled.” He made a sweeping gesture. “And I believe that this means that I don’t owe you… anything… anymore, if memory serves correctly.”
Olivia felt a pang of worry. Was Dante planning something nasty for her? Something that required him to not be indebted to her? “That’s right,” she said. “Thank you, Dante. Will you be able to get Balrus out?”
“No,” said Dante. “Though I suspect he will soon leave of his own accord.” He looked thoughtful. “Oh, Olivia… could you get Jack to see me, please? And Jed too, come to think of it.”
“Sure,” Olivia pulled out her phone, and Dante peered over intently as she pulled up a map with their current locations. Jack was still in a field up near Darkmoor, and Jed seemed to be going in a large circle near the chantry.

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In which Eyes makes an unreasonable request

Olivia sighed as she wiped her glasses for the nineteenth time. She needed to look neat, look presentable. Dignified. Maybe. “Thanks for coming with me, Shen.”
They walked side by side through Grimouth park, towards the veil that covered Eyes’ bunker.
She had arranged the meeting the previous night; to see Eyes, and explain her failure to obtain Eldrich. Though the prospect of seeing Eyes again worried her, meeting with Dante had reassured her, enough that the ever-present demoniac whisper of her beast was quieted to a susurrus of what if this is just part of Dante’s plan?
Stepping through the veil felt like opening the window of a warm room on a cold night; the spidersilk of the illusion shivering across the skin. The bunker was still there, no figures in the gun emplacements on the roof this time, but a single kindred standing at the door. Olivia recognized him from Jed’s grainy cameraphone image from the previous night; the young face and large headphones picking him out. Flute Guy. He seemed pleased when he noticed Shen.
Shen was looking intently at his shoes, and Olivia looked at them too, which prompted a snort of amusement from Flute Guy.
Olivia looked up. “We’ve got an appointment.”
Flute Guy looked at them a moment before nodding. He reached behind him, and gave the iron door three resounding taps before it opened.
Olivia bowed her head. “Thanks.”
Flute Guy said nothing but gestured for them to enter.

Eyes’ office was much the same as before, the shelves upon shelves of trinkets, the desk, and Eyes herself, sat as if she had not moved since their last meeting.
Olivia stood uncomfortably before her, hands clasped. “I’m afraid you may have overestimated my capabilities somewhat.”
“Oh?” Eyes raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“I find that I am unable to obtain Eldrich for you.” Olivia cleared her throat nervously. “Within a reasonable time period, that is. I mean, in time I could negotiate something, maybe, but I felt that this would ultimately displease you. So, out of respect for your time, I came to ask if there was any alternative arrangement to be had.”
Eyes looked thoughtful. “A shame. I had been hoping for a guard dog. He would have looked good on top of my haven,” she smiled. “All six of him. But, I suppose an internal guard dog would suffice. You have an oracle in your basement, I believe.” Eyes seemed less than thrilled at the prospect of Alice.
Olivia shook her head. “She is not mine to give.”
Some small spark of anger seemed to light in Eyes’ pale blue eyes. “Tell me, Olivia,” she said. “How many times over can you fill my bunker with things that you cannot give me?”
“That,” said Olivia. “Depends on the size of the bunker.”
Eyes sat back in her chair, glowering. “You tell me that you have come out of respect for my time. But instead, you waste it,” she growled. “Leave, and return with Eldrich or Alice, or do not return at all.” She turned to Shen, who had sat quietly through her tirade. “One of my associates has a commission for you. Will you consent to see him?”
Shen frowned. “Can I bring Olivia with me?”
Eyes gave a derisive snort. “Sure,” she said, with a wave of her hand. “Why not?”

They went outside and were readmitted by Flute Guy, who gave a different series of taps on the door. The layout of the bunker had changed subtly; the concrete passage twisting to the left, and they found themselves in a concrete anteroom. Windowless, of course. Standing there was a man clad in motorcycle leathers, the visor of his helmet opaque. Notable was the smell; like someone had taken all of the potpourri in Devon and crushed it into a single tiny ball on the waiting figure’s person. It was overpowering. Olivia wrinkled her nose as the black clad man extended his gloved hand to Shen.
“I’m Nose,” he said.
Shen shook Nose’s hand, and Olivia saw a writhing thread of dark energy pass between them. From the look on Shen’s face, he had seen it too.
“What was that?” Shen snapped, withdrawing his hand and staring at it.
“Oh, you know, just a little insurance.” Nose’s face was hidden behind his visor, but his tone was jovial.
“Insurance?” Shen’s tone was flat.
“Yes,” Nose gave a dry chuckle. “For instance, if our compound were to be attacked by, let’s say, a fire, or an earthquake, or a troupe of chantry mages, then I will hold you responsible and activate the curse. If not, then everyone is happy. You see?”
“What is the curse?”
“A death curse. For mortals, it would be death. For you, something less.”
Shen did not look happy. “I had hoped you would be a better judge of character, sir. This sort of countermeasure is not only unnecessary for me, it makes me regard you poorly.”
Nose seemed nonplussed. “No point in taking chances, you know.”
Shen sighed. “I hope that once we have a working relationship, you will see just how unnecessary this is.”
Nose shrugged. “Perhaps.”
“Well,” grumbled Shen. “I’ll hear what your commission is, at least. Though given your assault on me, I’m not minded to accept it.”
“I’m not about to curse you for rejecting my commission,” said Nose.
“Well, I’d hope not,” grumbled Shen.
“What I want is the enhancement of one hundred ghouls,” said Nose.
Shen frowned. “Tzlacha?”
Nose shook his head. “No,” he said. “Just bone spikes. Other enhancements would be… superfluous.”
Olivia blinked, thinking of the strange flying ghouls that Jed had described around Flute Guy. And now they wanted to give them bone spikes? Fantastic.
“For future consideration?” asked Shen.
Nose nodded.
Shen scratched his chin, considering the offer. “I’ll have to talk to my regnant about this, of course.”
“Of course,” said Nose.
“I’ll leave a message with Ann at Goodwin when I have an answer for you.”

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In which Jack digs a grave

After Jed had left, flying off into the night, Olivia sought out the werewolf lord again, and met him on the steps of the tower. “Joshua?”
“Yes?” The werewolf looked somehow not as large as before, and not as sweaty, though his demeanour was otherwise unchanged.
“I meant to talk to you earlier. I’m concerned about Jack.” Olivia folded her arms over her chest, careful not to raise her voice.
Joshua’s brow furrowed. “Concerned?”
Olivia nodded. “He’s started bloodbinding other members of my coterie. Jed.”
Joshua exhaled through his nose, his expression unmoved. “I see. Where is he now?”
Olivia pulled her phone from her pocket and looked at it a moment. “Huh. They’re upriver near the Grim. Here.” She flashed the map to Joshua.
Joshua inclined his head. “Thank you. I think I must have a talk with Jack.”
“Just a talk?”
Joshua grinned toothily. “Just a talk.”

Jed wheeled through the air in the darkness by the river, the taste of Jack’s blood still in his mouth. Jack had taught him quickness, and now his wings seemed to blur as he flew; faster than any mortal creature had a right to.
“To the east, there’s a spot, well covered,” he called, and he saw Jack nod and follow his direction.
Jack, who was his friend.
Jack dug a grave in the soft earth by the river, and they buried the setites there, still torpored and bound, with the tracking chip from Jack’s dead ghoul to mark the spot. Their bodies disposed of, they headed for the warehouse district, racing the dawn.

The warehouse Olivia had directed them to was near the edge, well-kept, with high windows. A couple of defunct shelving units stood tall and lonely in one corner, but the place was otherwise empty. Jack seemed to survey the place critically.
“It’ll do, I guess,” he grunted. “Huh. Even got a basement. Good thing too, with those windows.”
Jed frowned up at the windows, where the grey light of pre-dawn was visible through the industrial grime. “I vote we head downstairs.”
“Right you are, Jed.”
Jack followed him down, closing the door behind them. The place was pretty much empty, save for some crumpled plastic wrapping in one corner. One hand to the floor, Jed reached out with his senses. A figure? On the roof?
“Hey Jack, did Olivia put a guard on us? Cuz there’s someone-” Jed felt his words slur as his consciousness slipped away with the dawn.

Jack watched as the gargoyle hit the floor, looking like a pile of rags and building site detritus. Tentatively, he prodded Jed’s body with his foot. Out cold. Poor fool. Not that he could do much, trapped in a basement with him like this. Too bad he hadn’t checked the roof while it was still dark out.
A call to Olivia yielded nothing. Jack looked to the basement door, feeling uneasy. An interior door; no lock. Jack leaned over Jed, and patted him down. I could have sworn he had a sword in here somewhere, though Jack, peering down Jed’s collar. Ah, bingo!
With a quiet noise of triumph, Jack pulled the sword from the bunched rags between Jed’s wings; what might have once been a tailcoat. It was a long rapier, maybe an inch thick, and made of a strange, silvery metal. Jack twirled it experimentally, enjoying the balance.
This is a nice sword, he thought, as he began to jam it under the bottom of the door.

Safe in her room in the vault of Goodwin tower, Olivia pulled on her pyjamas, wondering not for the first time if she was the only vampire with such a daytime habit, and climbed into bed.

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In which Joshua brings a gift

“Olivia-”
Olivia scrambled back as the werewolf lord Joshua materialized before her, a body slung over his shoulder.
“Uh, hi Joshua,” She looked up, swallowing. He was a vision in black leather and raw animal power, sweat glistening on his bare chest. He smelled like fighting and smoke. “Thanks for dropping in.”
Joshua inclined his head. “I have this for you.”
He moved forward in a single fluid motion, laying the body down on Olivia’s table. A pale-aurad kindred, not in torpor, but rendered incapable; his battered face revealed him as the Black Mamba’s owner.
Olivia felt her eyes flicker away from his face, and then away from Joshua’s, an involuntary reaction. Will this be the way it is forever? she wondered. Will I live eternity afraid to look a man in the eye?
“Thank you,” she heard herself say. “A fine gift. There were casualties?”
Joshua shook his head. “We evacuated civilians beforehand, no accidents. Most of the snakes ran. Except this one.”
Olivia nodded slowly. “Good. Thank you, Joshua.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should go. This place gives me the creeps.” Joshua turned on his heel and left, his long leather coat flaring behind him.

Olivia stared at the unconscious Setite a moment more before she called Shen, arranging for restraints and a gurney for their new guest.

Shen looked at her curiously as he inspected the setite leader’s body, the flesh indly warping under his hands. “Lucius said you didn’t prewarn the council of the raid.”
“Well, of course not,” said Olivia, frowning. “They might have had spies, tipped the Setites off.”
Shen made a noise somewhere between frustration and pity. “Well, at least send something to Lucius explaining what happened,” he said, shifting the body from Olivia’s table to the gurney.
Like Lucius needs to know anything with Shen to inform him. Olivia narrowed her eyes. “I’ll send him something,” she conceded, and Shen seemed a little happier as he wheeled the setite away.

Jed returned next, requesting clearance to land on the roof. Olivia granted it with a moment’s hesitation; tame as he was, the gargoyle was still dangerous. He was closely followed by Jack, at the gates with another setite under one arm and a bag full of cash under the other.
They met in the boardroom, and Olivia’s eyes watered between the musty mouldering smell of Jed and the rank assault of Jack’s cologne. Shen’s faint smell of disinfectant barely registered.
“We’re collecting Setites,” said Shen, eyeing Jack’s latest specimen critically. “I don’t like it.”
Olivia felt a twinge of anxiety as she looked from Jack to Jed. “I’m afraid I agree with Shen,” she said. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave our property, and to take your captives with you.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “Only a few hours until dawn,” he grumbled.
Olivia pursed her lips. “I have a few properties in the warehouse district. I can give you the pass for one of those for the night if you need it.”
“And a van, to transport my guys?”
Olivia waved her hand. “Sure. Talk to John, he’ll fix you up.”

Jed remained behind once Jack had gone, looking thoughtful. “Olivia-” he began.
Olivia looked up from the email to Lucius she had been composing. “Yeah?”
“You know your… haven…”
Olivia looked at him sharply, suspicion digging its silver spurs into her psyche. “My haven?” What the fuck does he want with my haven?
Jed nodded. “Can I have a look at it?”
Olivia frowned. “Why?”
“I wanted to check underneath it,” said Jed. “For tunnels.”
What was his game? An impostor? A spy? Olivia found herself staring into Jed’s aura; it crackled with anxiety and doubt, but there was something more there. Jed’s sword, the justicar’s sword, swirled with the dark aura of a wraith. Shen’s black expression showed that he had seen it too.
Olivia found herself breathing in deeply to calm herself. She swallowed. “You need to get that sword out of my house. Now.”

They left the sword in the gatehouse, with a warning to the guards not to touch it, and headed down to the vault.
“You know,” said Olivia, as they waited in the airlock. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you smell pretty bad.”
Jed looked a little uncomfortable. “I had a suitcase when I first came here,” he said. “But, I lost it. In the… you know-” he gestured.
“The confusion?”
“Quite.”

The gargoyle stepped through the security door and onto the walkway of the vault, and Olivia felt a sliver of anxiety crawl up through her spine. This was the first kindred that they had allowed down here since they had taken in Alice, and ragged though he was, he was still more of a threat than the oracle girl who barely deigned to get out of bed. Or was that just what Alice wanted her to think? Olivia closed her eyes, dispelling her creeping suspicion as Jed laid his hands on the metal of the vault, seeming to concentrate, his aura shimmering with magic.
Finally, the gargoyle shook his head. “No, I can’t sense any tunnels near here. The vault is secure.”

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Next week in City of Grimouth (2)

Will Shen have to compete with his sire for his regnant’s affections? 
Will Olivia get blamed by everyone for everything bad ever now that people know that she associates with werewolves? 
Will Jed realize that he has been running around in the same clothes in which he has been torpored twice, and which he has never washed? 
Will the primogen council do anything?
Will the Setites leave the city after a good pub kicking?
Will Eyes ruin everything forever by staking a claim on the Setite’s cairn and using it for weird wraith shit?
Will the Archbishop’s flute music turn out to be some kind of secret sabbat cypher, or is the guy just kind of a narcissist who likes making people listen to him playing music?
Will the Black Hand turn up for some sort of poetry reading?
Will Jack become the new Gangrel primogen?
 
Find out next week!
 
We still don’t know what “incredibly evil thing Eyes might make Olivia do” is
My current vote is on “I need to make a dreamcatcher to protect me from bad decisions, please give me Jed”
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In which Jack goes to the casino

The plan was simple enough. Track down the signal from the transmitter Shen had implanted in the ghoul’s spine. Extract the guy, if they could. Then send in Joshua’s pack.

Jack was to be the man on the floor, Jed on the roof giving directions, Olivia back in the tower, running comms, holding the spirit fetish that would provide the signal to the werewolf pack.

Jack had been so casual, almost jovial, about his blood binding of Jed. Almost as if he were laughing at them. Cross-legged in front of her screens in the control room, Olivia frowned. This situation would be problematic if she allowed it to continue. Sooner or later, I’ll be helpless in the same room as him. Her beast roused a little at the thought. I need to do something about this.

With a few keystrokes, Olivia established contact with the cameras that Jack wore.
He was approaching the casino, Black Mamba. The casino lights blared out against the sky in shimmering neon. The scent of the excessive cologne that the werewolves had recommended he wear to disguise his scent filled his nostrils, heavy even by human standards. Nevertheless, he seemed to pass muster with the bouncer at the door and proceeded inside.

The casino was busy, and noisy. Rows of people played the glittering fruit machines, and yet more crowded around the green felt of the games tables, playing poker, blackjack, roulette.

Jack played a hand or two of five card stud, winning convincingly. He wandered off, mingling with the crowds and slipped through a door into the staff only area. Jed made occasional interruptions, informing him of approaching staff members as he navigated his way towards his ghoul’s tracking signal. Another door, this one to a set of metal stairs; some kind of basement.

In the basement, there were no lights. It took Olivia a moment to adjust the display for the darkness, and Jack’s eyes glowed dimly red, reflected in the lenses of his shades. It looked like pretty much every utility area ever, plain walls, uncarpeted floor.

“You see down here, Jed?” Jack murmured into his mic.
“Too far down, sorry,” came the gargoyle’s reply in his ear.

Some use he was. Jack kept walking, keeping his body low to the ground, eyes at chest-level.

The setite was waiting around the corner, just standing there in his casino uniform. He might have looked shocked, Jack didn’t stop to check.

Jack moved first, closing the distance. He wrapped one arm around the kindred’s head, his hand over his mouth as he rushed him up against the wall behind him. Death would feed their ritual; he needed to take them alive. Sighing with frustration, Jack cracked the setite’s neck backwards and bit his throat.

Exhilaration hit him in a soundless, vibrant wave at the taste of vitae. It tasted like power. It tasted like death. The setite twitched and struggled briefly before he succumbed to the ecstasy of the Kiss, moaning into Jack’s hand before his knees finally buckled. Disgusting. Jack wiped the setite’s juices from his mouth as he dragged his victim to a nearby cupboard.

Olivia’s voice sounded in his earpiece. “The signal from your guy is nearby. Keep an eye out.”
Jack grunted as he finished hiding the body. “Gotcha.”

He turned the corner into yet another concrete corridor and was nearly on top of it before he saw it; a glint of metal in the detritus on the floor. In what looked like a sluice, sticky with organic flux. Jack’s eyes widened. He’s dead, he realised.

And then his comms cut out.

He started moving back, hurriedly, but the trap was already sprung, three more vampires running for him from the far end of the corridor. By the time he got to the exit, there was another vampire waiting there, arms crossed. Jack looked up, and found himself meeting the kindred’s eyes. Transfixed. He tried to look away, and found that he could not.

Well, he thought. Shit.

And then there were howls in the night.

The setites around him exchanged glances before they fled up the stairs, and Jack held his head a moment, dazed. Man, but that had been close. A few seconds later the door at the top of the stairs opened, and was filled by a huge humanoid figure covered with black fur. Jack felt his hackles stand on end. Joshua. The werewolf stared down at him a moment, nostrils flared, before seeming to come to some inner conclusion and nodded to him, stalking past.

Jack grabbed his unconscious setite from the cupboard and fled into the night, the howls of Darkmoor’s werewolves at his back.

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