“What happened?” asked Olivia as the crowd began to peel off, the struggling gargoyle no longer a novelty.
Shen shrugged. “Dunno. Guy was just talking to the sheriff, and then – Bam! Frenzy. Something set him off, maybe.”
“Maybe.” Olivia leaned back on the bar, watching as Jed’s screams subsided to a low whimper as the gargoyle’s frenzy ended. Isaac released his hold, brushing the ash from his hands on his long coat, and the gargoyle scrambled to his feet, apologising profusely. Isaac didn’t give any reply, but simply stared at him coldly until he left.
The nosferatu primogen approached them at the bar, a sheaf of paper tucked under his arm. He inclined his head pleasantly, greeting Olivia. “I’ve completed the translations from the compound,” he said.
“Oh,” Olivia felt herself smile as she took the papers from his hands. “Thank you Cain.”
His writing was small and tidy, interspersed with diagrams showing alternate meanings and footnotes referencing similarities in syntax to various archeological sites. Olivia felt both lost and deeply impressed as she stumbled for something else to say. “You know, I’ve been working on some translation software recently,” she said. “Conveying true meaning is difficult, particularly if you lack common vocabulary, but if you can program to recognize context, you get closer in the majority of cases. I could show you sometime, if you want.”
Cain gave her a long, stern look. “I prefer to use sentient translators,” he said. “They are more trustworthy, less prone to error.”
“Well, sure,” Olivia smoothed over Cain’s translation absently, the paper crackling under her fingertips. “I, um- I didn’t mean- I wasn’t saying replacements.”
“Olivia! Just the person!” Kristina spoke from behind her.
Olivia turned, surprised to see the Ventrue primogen standing at her shoulder. “Oh, hello Kristina. What’s up?” Cain took the opportunity to make his excuses, and left with a bow to both of them.
“Oh, nothing in particular,” the former harpy tilted her head with a smile. “A small thing. I keep hearing of your exploits, second hand, as it were. I was wondering if you could tell me what really happened the other night.”
“With Balrus?” Olivia frowned. “Why don’t you tell me what you’ve heard, and I can clear up any misinformation.”
Kristina gave her a considering look. “Sure,” she said. “Well, first I heard you and your little army followed Balrus down that hole for some reason.”
Olivia nodded. “That’s right. Though my security guards hardly qualify as an army.”
Kristina waved away her objection. “And then you used some kind of arcane ice to chill the fires of the pit?”
“Nothing as exotic as that, I’m afraid,” Olivia shook her head. “We used a mundane coolant; inert gas to force out the flammables.”
“Well, you chilled the fires of the pit.” Kristina waved her hand. “In whatever fancy technical way, and went to fight the Setites?”
Olivia nodded. “They were doing some kind of blood ritual; we had to rig up our comms systems as white noise generators to block out its effect.”
“How terrible. And then you… left?”
“The conditions down in the hole became too dangerous. We couldn’t leave our guys down there.” Olivia spread her hands. “The ritual’s still going on, though. As far as we know.”
Kristina raised her eyebrows. “Oh my.”
“Mhm,” Olivia played at utter sincerity. “It could well sap the life force from every living thing in a fifty mile radius, and that would be terrible.”
Kristina looked nervous. “Quite.”
“Still, hopefully the vampire hunters can take care of it, before it comes to fruit. It’s what they’re here for, right?” said Olivia, with perhaps a hint of irony. Kristina seemed almost cheered by the prospect.
Olivia drove to Dante’s house after Elysium, and he waited for her in the parlour, sober and sane, the writhing sobbing weight of madness lifted from his manse, for now.
“I had another vision tonight,” she said.
Dante showed no sign of surprise. “Tell me.”
She told him about the serpent and the tether, and he nodded. “This fits with mine and Lucius’ theories on the matter.” He left a great expanse unspoken, offered no explanation and begged no questions.
“Dante,” Olivia paused, thinking. “Why is it dangerous for me to know what lies beneath the city, in that pit?”
Dante looked at her, his eyes gleaming wary. “A great many reasons, Olivia. You could be captured, tortured, your mind read. Perhaps, when you have learned the elder arts of obfuscation, I will be able to tell you safely.”
“The elder arts?” Olivia breathed a sigh. “Dante, I’m less than a year embraced, pretty sure I’ve mentioned that. I’m only ancilla because the prince decided to promote me, and I’m pretty sure I was the weakest ancilla there tonight. How do you expect me to learn the elder arts? That could take years! Centuries!”
Dante seemed to smile to himself, leaning back in his chair. “Well then,” he said. “Come back in a few centuries, when you’ve mastered elder level obfuscation.” He spread his hands. “I’ll be here waiting.”