Thornwood was a community perhaps two or three hundred strong, mostly one-storey prefab wooden buildings. A hotel, wooden and windowless, loomed over the structures around it, and the van pulled into its modest carpark.
The Anarch community’s three leaders were waiting for them in the pub, and Tom, the bearded brujah, raised his hand to Shen and Olivia as they entered.
“Good to see you guys again. And your… friends.” The kindred nodded to Tony and Clive. “Dick, can you show our new citizens their quarters?”
With a reserved smile to Olivia, the massive mute kindred guided the Ravnos pair away. Olivia took a seat at Tom’s table as Shen went to the bar for blood. As backwards and insular as Thornwood was, there was something oddly freeing about the lack of masquerade. You still can’t drink the blood. You don’t know who might have tampered with it. Olivia shut out the intrusive thoughts, rubbing her forehead.
“Long drive?” Tom’s tone was avuncular.
“A little,” she admitted. “When did you guys start getting werewolves guarding the roads?”
Tom and Harry exchanged a look. “Too late is when,” said Tom.
Harry nodded. “Turned up after we’d finished clearing the Beasts-that-Stare from the forest. Would’ve been useful for that job, but no.”
Shen set a pint glass full of blood down on the table and pulled up a chair, Salt and Pepper sitting quietly at his feet, unfazed by the other vampires. “You had any more attacks?”
“Not since Samuel and Olivia dealt with the base,” answered Tom. “Their population levels are back to normal now. Plus, the weres are keeping them quiet.”
“We’d like to stay here for today,” said Shen. “I’d like to check on all the previous victims. And the children.”
“Of course.” Harry looked a little troubled at the mention of the children, Olivia thought. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why. The Syndicate, John’s group, had been using young teenagers as incubators for the spirit creatures known as the Beasts-that-Stare, a process which seemed to strip the higher mental faculties from the victim in exchange for a new Beast. Or was it soul? She had never quite been able to determine the difference between the two; perhaps they were simply different words for the same thing.
“Are they any better?” She asked the question, knowing that it was an empty one.
“The weres claim to have sent for some sort of spirit healer for them,” said Tom, sounding a little bitter. “The parents are pretty desperate, they’ll clutch at any straws they’re given.”
Shen looked interested. “You know how they’re planning to do it?”
“Fuck knows. Were magic.” Tom took a draught from his own glass of blood.
Olivia looked to Shen. “We could ask them.”
“Antedewhatnow?” Olivia nearly laughed. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me.” They were walking side by side along one of Thornwood’s backstreets, Shen carrying the gift on one shoulder. The spring night was cool and balmy, the moonlight soft on the wooden roofs of the houses.
“You mean your sire never told you what the Antediluvians are?” Shen sounded genuinely shocked.
“Shen,” Olivia shook her head. “Dinah is a crazy lady who lives in a cave in bumfuck nowhere and drinks goat blood. I’m not sure if she even knows.”
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt you to read a book once in a-” Shen paused, blinking. “Goat blood?”
“The locals bring it for her. Something about drinking the blood of the living being unclean.” Olivia stopped in her tracks, spotting something up ahead. A blonde woman, dressed in jeans and a jacket, emerged from the treeline and strolled towards them. Her aura was strangely luminous. “Ah, can I help you?”
The woman looked her up and down. “You’re not very stealthy at all. You are a malkavian, aren’t you?”
It wasn’t, Olivia observed, really much of a question. “Yep. And you are?”
“Cynthia,” answered the woman. “I believe you’ve got a gift for me.”
She was a beautiful blonde, at least. The first they’d seen in Thornwood. Olivia sighed and indicated the parcel that Shen carried. Cynthia set it on the ground and unwrapped it.
“So, what’s all this about, then?” Olivia asked.
Cynthia glanced up, sliding the box open to reveal a rack of sealed test tubes full of blood. “This? Oh, this is Dante, trying to bribe me.”
“And has it worked?”
Cynthia looked down at the blood, and slid the container closed, frowning. “I’ll have to think about that.”