Olivia stared suspiciously at the pub on the waterfront. “You’re sure this is the one?” They had arranged to meet Jack the previous night, and this pub only barely matched the description he had given them. How long had Jack been away, Olivia wondered, for things to change so much?
Shen nodded, “He said he knew the landlord.” His two mastiff puppies, Salt and Pepper, pulled at their leashes in front of him, wagging their tails, and he leaned down, speaking softly to each of them. “Calm down, you’ll see him soon.”
“See who soon?” Olivia frowned.
“Ah, I invited Harvey along too,” Shen confessed. “We don’t hang out enough.”
Olivia pursed her lips. “Are you sure he’s… safe? You know, with the whole…” Olivia trailed off, gesturing to her right arm. A few months previously, Harvey had contracted a curse from an ancient tomb, and he had spent much of the intervening time in quarantine in the tremere chantry.
“Lucius says he’s safe, that’s good enough for me.”
“Sure, if Lucius says he’s safe.” Olivia rolled her eyes.
“He is the authority on that kind of thing, you know,” said Shen, a little testily.
“Forgive me if I don’t trust you to be impartial about him.”
From the front of the pub, they could make out Jack’s massive form at the bar. He was hunched over a pint, his coat dripping onto the floor beneath him. The smell of river water filled the room, and Olivia fought back the crawling sensation in her stomach, clutching her head as she backed out from the room, the shadows obscuring her peripheral vision.
“… Shen?” Olivia’s struggle against her beast gave out as Shen clapped a hand over her mouth and bore her to the ground.
“I’m ok, I’m ok.” Olivia spat dirt. “I’m ok now, I promise. Just… tell the dogs to get off me, please.”
Shen was sat cross-legged on her back, pinning her to the ground. “You just spent the last ten minutes trying to bite me. You’re not ok.”
Olivia paused, tense. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“Neah, I’m fine. Got you outnumbered.” Shen laughed, scratching Pepper behind the ears. “Ok, I guess you’re done now.”
Olivia felt a lightness in her chest as Shen took his weight off her back and helped her up, brushing the worst of the dirt off her.
“There. You’re clean.”
Olivia pulled a disinfectant wipe from her bag and began to scrub her face. “I’ve still got dog on me.”
“So what set you off this time?”
“Jack smelled like the river,” Olivia gave a small shudder. “I had a dream today, the river was a horrible blackness, consuming the city.” She scowled in Jack’s direction.
“Dante say anything about it?”
“Said it was probably nothing.” Olivia shook her head, looking mournfully at her broken glasses before pulling a new pair from her bag. “I don’t know if I believe that.”
“Well, he’d know more than I do,” said Shen. “You ready to try this again?”
Olivia looked deflated. “Yeah, I should be ok. Just let me go to the ladies room and clean myself up.”
Jack waved Shen over to the bar where he sat with Harvey as he stepped inside. “You guys ok? I saw Olivia had a… fall.”
Shen shook his head, letting Salt and Pepper say hello to the former ghoul, who looked well enough, apart from the black leather gloves that now covered his hands . “She said you smelled like the river.”
“That set her off?” Jack looked uncomfortable. “I just figured I’d smell less after a swim.”
Harvey leaned over to Shen, his voice low. “Don’t look now, but there are two guys in here who’ve been watching us all evening.”
It was true enough. Olivia would have felt more comfortable within her invisibility were it not for the middle-aged man with a flatcap and a newspaper studiously avoiding looking at her. The other watcher, a young man with vividly blue hair, showed up on her glasses as being dead for eight years but made a gallant show of drinking his drink. She was pretty sure there was a nos in here too, possibly the landlord.
Shen nodded. “Ok. Let’s see if they’re following us. Jack and I will leave the bar with Salt and Pepper, you can send us a message if you see either of them leave.”
The plan agreed, Shen handed Salt’s leash to Jack, who seemed quite taken with the puppy, and the two left the bar together. The blue-haired man stared after them as they left, seeming thoughtful, and then wordlessly rose to his feet, leaving a half-finished drink at his table. He brushed past Olivia as he left, and he smelled like a kindred, faintly of alcohol and dirt.
“Well, that’s our answer I guess,” Harvey pulled out his phone and began to message Shen, cursing as his touchscreen struggled to register his gloved fingers. The Curse had left its mark on him, when he had killed its previous bearer, blackening his hand in a skeletal pattern and etching a coiling serpent onto his arm and shoulder. “Oh, hello Olivia. I, uh, didn’t see you there.”
Olivia shrugged, plucking a frame with a good image of the blue-haired kindred from her glasses and sending it to Dante’s number. One of yours? “That’s ok. How’s freedom?”
“It’s alright, I guess. Getting my bearings still,” Harvey ran his thumb over his chin. “Business is pretty good.”
“Still working the rental stuff, then?”
Harvey’s eyes flashed with something, maybe anger. “Yeah,” he said. “Something like that.”
Olivia looked over her shoulder to find the man with the newspaper staring intently at her. She frowned, and he flipped his phone open and closed again, long enough for Olivia to pick out the number on the screen. Dante.
No. Hangs out at the Double Locks, meets other kindred.
“How’re the others getting on?”
Harvey checked his phone. “Shen says the guy followed them. Made some kind of threat. I’m going to go meet up.”
Olivia nodded. “I’ll follow you.”
Harvey nodded to the bartender and headed out.
It took a moment for Olivia to slip into the blind spot again. It was a strange sensation, like stepping into an oily space that coated the skin and prickled at the corners of the mind. Dante, perhaps in jest, had called it a glareous humour. Olivia sighed as she felt the bartender’s gaze slide over her, and stepped outside after Harvey.