“That’s not Balrus,” said Shen, as he walked forward, looking over the body.
“No?” Olivia’s head swam.
Shen nodded. “Surgical copy,” he said, reaching up and pulling back the collar of the corpse’s shirt. “Look, he’s got scars from the incisions.” He gave a low whistle. “Whoever did this was good, as good as me maybe.”
Olivia stepped up, peering around Shen’s shoulder. The man on the cross wasn’t Balrus, though if she hadn’t known Balrus well, she might have been fooled. There was no aura of faith on the body, only the pale aura of kindred, and the silver stakes in the bandolier at his waist lacked the wooden core needed to be effective. Behind him and around him on the cross, there were names written in red. The nosferatu ancilla had taken out a notepad and was frantically writing; Olivia recognized some of the names as those of the newly arrived vampire hunters. She sighed, her shoulders falling. “Poor guy,” she said. “Maybe we should get him inside before anyone sees him.”
“And then I can do an autopsy,” said Shen cheerfully, pulling the nail from the corpse’s right hand.
The primogen had moved onto money by the time they returned; moving properties and land rights between themselves. The ancillae with Auspex passed the nail between themselves, trying to ascertain the identity of the perpetrator as Shen used his fleshcrafting to investigate the body on a nearby table, cracking open the chest and rummaging inside.
Shen shook his head. “Nothing special that I can find,” he said. “Kindred, died by exsanguination, surgery post mortem.” He threw a pair of bloodied latex gloves at the bin. “Looks like a conventional surgery, but I don’t know a conventional surgeon around here that could do this good a job. Victor could, but why would he use conventional surgery?”
Olivia rubbed her head. Why would someone go to that much trouble, to fake Balrus’ death, to track down the site of that night’s Elysium? A message, a statement, for someone other than her.
The primogen table finished their meeting and peeled off to investigate, Lucius, Dante and the Prince each taking turns with the nail, but seeing nothing with their Auspex. Cain was nowhere to be seen, and Jed, too, had vanished.
Having passed the nail to snow-pale Lucius, Dante came to Olivia again.
“What did you see?” he asked. Olivia described the grisly tableau, and Dante nodded, looking serious. “I’m going to have a look at the cross,” he said, and Olivia nodded following him as he left.
“Have you expanded your Dementation enough to see the patterns in the madness?” he asked, as they walked.
“Dante, I’ve been dead for less than a year,” said Olivia, feeling a little ashamed even as she said it. Why must everyone be disappointed in me? “You can’t expect me to just know all the disciplines.”
Dante smiled and shrugged. “Well, you picked up the invisibility trick quickly enough, didn’t you?”
Olivia looked at the floor. “I had a good teacher.”
Olivia watched Dante as he stared at the cross; saw his stance shift subtly, saw his eyes widen, and her mind was drawn back to the vision she’d had sleeping in the earth out on Darkmoor. And Dante… Dante’s mask is cracking. Even without looking at his aura, she felt as his madness seeped from the cracks, like smoke, or perhaps light. Olivia heard a scream and a crash from inside the theater, but Dante didn’t seem to react, lost in his trance, lost in his madness.
And then it was gone, and Dante stood there again, looking as if nothing had happened. He shook his head. “If there was a hidden message in that writing, then there isn’t,” he said, finally. And together, they headed back inside.
The ancillae were clustered in a crowd near the door. They parted for Dante, and Olivia slipped in behind him. At the center of the crowd, Isaac held a struggling wide-eyed Jedivan down by his throat. The gargoyle clawed at the sheriff, his wings slapping against the floor, and Isaac recoiled with a hiss. Jedivan gave a strangled cry and there was a wisp of smoke and the smell of burning flesh as the sheriff’s hand seared his throat.