“Olivia, Shen, please approach the front,” the Prince called. Elysium that night was a black tie affair, even the sheriff donning a dinner jacket, albeit he wore it with a sword, and the prince’s gown was a confection in pale purple, thousands of tiny pearls sewn into the sleeves.
“What did you do?” Olivia hissed to Shen.
Shen returned her look, wide-eyed, adjusting his tie. “Nothing? I don’t know.”
Olivia looked sideways at Shen as they entered stage left. “Three months no Elysium, and now this? We’re fucked, we’re totally fucked.”
Shen shrugged and straightened his lapel. “Well, nothing we can do about it now.”
“-for their outstanding services to the city, in curing the plague and ridding us of a grave problem-” the Prince paused, leaning forward conspiratorially on her lectern. “- I am pleased to raise Olivia Goodwin and Shen Lin to the rank of ancillae.” The prince mimed along as polite applause spread from the front of the crowd.
Shen and Olivia exchanged a look before they bowed.
“Well, that was better than expected.” Back in the crowd, Olivia fiddled idly with her glasses, drink untouched. “I reckon Dante knew about this, for sure.”
Shen snorted. “Of course he did, he’s a primogen.”
Olivia tapped the side of her glasses as she pushed her hair back from her face. Reflections flickered on her pupils as she replayed the stream of wellwishers. “I guess. You got anything more on this mystery elder?”
“Neah.” Shen shook his head. “Lucius seemed pretty relaxed about it, though.”
Olivia’s gaze flicked to the Tremere primogen, resplendent in victorian dinner jacket and burgundy waistcoat. “One of your… daytime calls?”
Shen stiffened. He had volunteered to be bloodbound to the Grimouth chantry several months previously in exchange for their protection, and Lucius was his regnant. “Those are only for important things.”
“Sure they are, Shen.”
There was a lull in the festivities as Dante ambled into the room. The malkavian primogen was tall and slender, with swept back red hair and a black and white suit, like Twoface from the 90s batman cartoon. Olivia figured he was a fan.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the former Prince of Badger, Alaska – Jack.” Dante gestured to the door.
The kindred’s stench preceded him through the door. Fresh soil, dead animals, dried blood, fecal matter. Olivia snatched a softcloth from her bag and used it to cover her face as the former prince staggered through the door.
He stood at a little over six feet tall, even with his shoulders hunched, his hair matted down over the back of his neck, colour indistinguishable under the dirt and plant debris. He wore what had obviously once been a serviceable trenchcoat, now showing signs of extreme age- irreparably torn in odd places and covered with a patina of red-brown stains.
He inclined his head towards the prince, who stared at him like a child looks at freshly fallen snow, and, this genuflection completed, he pulled a half-eaten subway sandwich from the inner folds of his coat.
“He’s not going… to eat that, is he?”
“It’s just a sandwich, Olivia.” Shen raised an eyebrow.
“That’s a subway meatball marinara. And it’s… over a week old.” Olivia felt her nose wrinkle.
Jack munched stoically as the prince spoke to him, her hand hovering a couple of inches from his arm as she guided him through the room.
“Hey, looks like she’s bringing him over here,” Shen glanced over his shoulder.
Olivia gave Shen a side-eye from over her cloth. “I know. I can tell.”
Of more concern, however, was the movement of the malkavians. They had begun to congregate, talking to one another in groups of two or three even as the harpies made their first jokes at the former prince’s expense. Olivia watched them carefully, a growing unease clawing its way up from the pit of her stomach.
“-like you to meet our newest Ancillae, Olivia and Shen. Olivia, you’ve got that company…” the Prince snapped her fingers. “The name escapes me. And such extensive grounds.”
Jack paused his eating, pocketing the remnants of the sandwich. “I don’t need a place to sleep, if that’s what you’re asking. I sleep in the earth. It’s useful if you move around as much as I do.”
Shen rose from his seat, extending his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Jack.”
“Likewise.” They shook.
“Hey.” Olivia inclined her head to Jack, still looking sidelong at the accumulating malks. What were they planning?
The Prince smiled broadly. “Well, regardless, I’m sure you will all be the best of friends,” she said, taking a long draught from her glass before melting back into the crowd.
Shen blinked. “So, uh, you used to be a prince?”
“You could say that,” Jack chuckled to himself. “It’s a funny story, really. Some tradition said the Prince had to fight a guy, the prince didn’t want to fight a guy, I was standing around at the time.” He shrugged, spreading his hands. “The rest, as they say, is history.”
Olivia tensed as she spotted the rest of the malkavians assemble. Dante was studiously facing the wrong direction, deep in conversation with the nosferatu primogen. He knew what was up, she was sure of it, and he was doing precisely nothing to stop it.
Jack wiped his hands on his coat. “How about you? A businesswoman, eh?”
Olivia’s gaze flicked between Jack and the approaching malkavians. They had their hands behind their backs. They were carrying something. Something bad. Olivia felt the panic rise in her chest. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I have to go.” Grabbing her bag, Olivia hurried to the ladies toilet, and laughter rippled from the harpies’ corner.
Jack stared after her. “Huh. What was her problem?”
Shen grimaced as he finally noted the approaching malkavians. “Oh, that’s just Olivia. You get used to it.”
“She’s pretty cute, though,” said Jack.
Shen grinned. “Thanks. My work. You like what I did with her cheekbones?”
The leader of the malks cleared his throat as they approached. Moving as one, each of the malks whipped a party popper from behind their back and unloaded it at Jack.
Jack, unimpressed, brushed paper animal confetti from his shoulders.