In which Olivia receives some much-needed exposition

“Thank you,” Olivia inclined her head to the gangrel. “And my thanks to Samuel,”
The kindred nodded, scrambling back out the door.
“Get the perimeter guards back in the tower. High alert, prepare the vault for lockdown,” Olivia turned to Shen. “Do you know what werewolves eat?”
Shen looked thoughtful. “Organic food?”
“Great. Help the kitchens to organize some kind of buffet. They’ll be hungry if they’ve just run up from Darkmoor.” Olivia sighed. “I suppose it’s a bit late to be thinking about bunting.” And hopefully they’re not coming here to kill us, she thought, remembering the howls from her dream.

The werewolf, when he came, was not the elder they had met in Thornwood. This one was younger, tall and muscular, black hair slicked back. He lacked the aura of palpable rage that the elder had, instead seeming strangely self-contained. But no less dangerous. Olivia swallowed her fear.

He looked over to the food “You knew I was coming?”
Olivia nodded. “One of Samuel’s.”
“Ah. He has fast runners. There are not many kindred who can outrun the garou.”

The werewolf padded over to the buffet and began to taste the food, taking small bites of each thing on offer, sometimes stopping to spit something out onto the floor. Strange dietary requirements. Olivia watched his aura as he ate. It was bright, as Cynthia’s had been, but it flickered and whirled, as if others were pressed close around it. Invisible, inaudible, intangible werewolves are a thing? Invisible, intangible, inaudible werewolves are totally a thing. Olivia felt her beast wriggle and writhe in her stomach at the realization, and squashed it down hard. She had a good idea of what might happen if she frenzied here and now.

“My name is Joshua. I am pack leader now. I ask that you never ask me, or any of my people what occurred for this to come to pass.” He sighed. “I come to you because you are the saviours of Thornwood, which we have failed, and to deliver on the arrangement which our former leader began at my behest.
But let me first ask you a question; you find a man laying by the side of the road, his leg is mangled. You have two choices; if you feed him your blood, he will be healed but will live his life as a slave, if you don’t, he will live his life as a cripple. Which do you choose?”
“Why does the man have to be a slave?” Olivia asked.
Joshua shrugged. “It’s just part of the riddle. Part of the mystical nature of your blood, say.”
Shen scratched his chin. “It depends on the man,” he said. “If he could live a full life as a cripple, I would forego healing him. But if he had a family, people who would suffer or starve if he were an invalid, then I might heal him.”
Joshua seemed to think on this, and at last he nodded. “The truth is that there is no true answer. But you did not answer me immediately; you thought about it and you questioned. Too many people would jump to “cripple” or “slave” without consideration or questioning. They call me rageless, but some people… sometimes I feel a flicker in there. I think I can work with you.
There is one condition that I must set forth before we begin; the provision of human lives for our kinfolk. I ask that you provide jobs and homes for them, and that this not be conditional on the continuation of our alliance.”
Olivia waved her hand. “This is easily done.”
“Very well.” Joshua paused to cough, clearing his throat. “I will not waste your time. From recent events, it seems we have a common cause, in stopping the Snakes in the city.”
“You know what the Setites are doing? What the underground power supply they’re tapping into really is?” What Dante wouldn’t tell me, thought Olivia.
Joshua nodded. “Yes. There are two things beneath the city. What the Snakes brought to the city was a physical manifestation of the Wurm. The power source that they are tapping is a cairn, one of two in the city, a sacred site to my people. One is deep under the earth, the other is in a site of great natural beauty in the city, and they feed from each other, each clearing the other of possible contamination and corruption. This is also what has been calling your kind to the city of Grimouth, since its activation a few months ago.” He cleared his throat. “That’s our fault, I’m afraid.”
“Your fault?” asked Olivia.
“When we, when my people, returned from the spirit world, we inadvertently awakened the cairns,” admitted Joshua.
Olivia rubbed her forehead, thinking of the vision of the snake and the tether. “You know what links the two? The wurm thing and the cairn?”
Joshua shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “But no. I don’t know what the snakes are using.”
Jack stepped up from behind the buffet, a chicken wing in one hand. Had he been there a moment before? Olivia frowned.
“We’re sending a guy,” said Jack. “To the Setites’ casino. Getting a better idea of what they’re doing.”
Joshua frowned. “You’re the kindred that spends time with the homeless at the Goodwin shelter, aren’t you?”
Jack chewed his chicken wing. “That’s me.”
Joshua exhaled, turning to Olivia. “We have been watching this one. Were you aware that this one has been binding the homeless with his blood?”
Olivia raised an eyebrow. “No,” she admitted. “Though I had assumed he would be doing something of the sort. He has been doing work to protect them, and given the dangers that the homeless face, particularly with the vampire overpopulation, it is a sensible and laudable course of action.”
Joshua narrowed his eyes, but seemed mollified by this. “Know that we have people watching the shelter. They will keep an eye on this.” He met Olivia’s eyes. “How many other kindred, in your… ah, what is the word… coterie?”
“There is a girl in my basement, under my protection. Another in my house, as a guest. And a gargoyle, who…” Olivia frowned, looking at Shen. “Who we associate with on occasion.”
Joshua nodded, taking this in. “My proposal for ridding us of the Snakes is simple. They are opportunists; taking a chance at the cairn because it is easy. If we apply a little pressure, make it difficult for them to continue here, they will leave.” He looked between Olivia and Shen. “Tell me, if things in the city got tough, would you stay?”
Shen nodded. “Of course. It’s my home.”
“And Olivia?”
“I’d stay as long as I could do some good,” said Olivia quietly. “You were planning to stay here?”
Joshua looked up at the tower and shook his head. “We will make other arrangements in the city. My kind has a tendency to discomfit humans. But you will need a line of communication to me.” He pulled two items from his pocket; a mobile phone and a wolf-tooth necklace, and set them out before Olivia. “These are bound to spirits,” he said. “The mobile will carry your voice, but is less reliable. The necklace will simply let me know you have need of me.”
Each object tingled uncomfortably as Olivia ran her fingers over them. “Thank you. For the information, and the courtesy of calling on us.”
Joshua stood, making a genuflection. “Know that the promises I make are not easily broken. Others may fall to rage, or petty personal desires, but my will is stronger than that.” Pushing the sleeves of his coat up, he revealed a silver bangle on each wrist, burning into the flesh. With an expression of disdain, he unclipped each in turn, and threw them into the grass. “ And thank you. If you can carry this alliance through to fruition, you will prove generations of my predecessors wrong.”

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