Shen tucked the wine bottle of blood under his arm as he stepped out into the rain. It was heavy, unnaturally so. It soaked the streets, running a river on the sides of the road, black and cold and quick; miniature Grims. Lightning struck a nearby building, and then again, and Shen felt the thunder in his bones. Victor’s storm.
Shen closed his eyes, focusing his mind. Lucius had asked him to make contact with Victor to help with his research on the Setites, but his own feelings on the matter were mixed. Victor had been his captor, and his torturer, yes. But also his father. His teacher. With a pang, Shen realised that he missed his sire, and looked forward to the meeting.
The blue haired kindred known as Eldrich met him at the door, leading him down a hidden staircase and down into Victor’s tunnels.
Victor was tall and hook-nosed, dressed in a dark suit, white hair spilling over his shoulders. His thin lips curved in a smile as he saw Shen, and he stood, the Eldrich at his side standing also.
“Shen, welcome to my domain. Please, take a seat.”
Shen made a bow, and placed the bottle on the table before his sire. There was a strange symmetry between them, he noted, each sat at the same chair, with an Eldrich beside them. “This is a decent vintage, through the blood of my best ghoul.”
“A fine gesture,” Victor inclined his head, taking the bottle and placing it beside him. “Thank you.” He watched Shen as they both sat. “Do you happen to know why Olivia Goodwin is so nearby?”
“She… has business with you too. She asked me to make an introduction if I could.”
Victor seemed mollified by this. “Very well. I will send for her once I am done with you.” he raised his eyebrows fractionally. “I hear you are experimenting with hellhounds.”
Shen smiled. “I have a kennel, yes,” he said. “But the breeding program is in early days.”
“Of course, of course.” Victor was, as ever, inscrutable, but Shen caught what looked like a spark of pleasure in his eye.
“Sir, might I ask you a question?” asked Shen.
Victor nodded. “Of course.”
“Did you attain the curse of Abel?”
Victor raised his eyebrows, seeming surprised. “No. The Camarilla claims possession of the curse.”
“The Camarilla?” Shen sat back in his seat.
“I’m surprised you didn’t know. I thought you would know better than I.”
“I-” Shen swallowed. He had assumed, when Eldrich was there when Harvey was murdered, that Victor had been behind it. “It’s not in the chantry.”
“Is it not?” Victor clasped his hands before him on the table. “What is your business with me, Shen?”
“Lucius has sent me here, to ask a favour of you. Do you know of the Setites beneath the city?”
Victor inclined his head. “I am aware of them, yes.”
“They are performing a ritual known as the carrion snake ritual. Lucius can find no means to prevent it from the chantry library, and he seeks access to your collection for his research. I am authorised to make the following offer-” Shen reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and pulled out the envelope Lucius had given him. Victor took the envelope, breaking the wax seal between his thumb and forefinger, and took out a thin white card. He stared at it a moment, frowning. The card looked blank.
Finally, he nodded. “You can tell Lucius that his terms are acceptable,” he said.
“There was a second matter,” said Shen, quietly. “A more personal one.”
“I am listening,” said Victor.
Shen bowed his head. “I am worried about my descent into sociopathy.”
Olivia waited at the bar of the Mercure, a hotel near Victor’s bookshop, a glass of Merlot sitting untouched in front of her. She stared at it, feeling a little guilty for the waste. In my defense, she thought, it smells pretty awful. The rain pounded on the windows, drowning out the noise from the other patrons, and the bartender played with his phone. He was using an OS she had written, Olivia noticed with a small thrill.
A blue-haired Eldrich entered the bar and looked around. Olivia slipped from her barstool and waved to the kindred, who nodded to her, moving to her side. “Victor will see you now,” he said.
“Thank you, Eldrich,” said Olivia, as they headed outside. It was strange, seeing him up close. He seemed quite normal, really, no mad glint in his eyes, no words flickering across his lips. Not tonight, at least.
Olivia struggled with her umbrella as they left the hotel, but Eldrich simply stepped out into the torrential rain, seeming to accept being drenched to the bone as an inevitability.
Despite her best efforts, the rain had saturated Olivia’s shoes by the time she reached the bookshop. Shen was waiting with another Eldrich at the top of the stairs as they squelched inside. Shen nodded to her. “Good luck.”
Victor was examining the label on a wine bottle as Olivia stepped inside.
“Olivia Goodwin. I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”
Olivia bowed. “Victor. Thank you for granting me audience.”
Victor looked up from his bottle. “What is your business with me, Olivia?”
“Please do not think this too forward of me, but I have been sent here to ask something of you.”
“What is that?”
Not what. Who. Olivia swallowed. “That is Eldrich.”
“Eldrich?” Victor frowned. “For companionship? Ownership?”
“Is ownership the correct word?”
Victor appeared to consider this. “I suppose.”
“Then the latter.”
Victor paused, exhaling through his nose, and put the wine bottle down on the table. “Who sent you, Olivia?”
“Eyes. It is my belief that she would not send me without a chance that I would be able to get what she desires, or merely to anger you. But I do not know you, or what I might have that you would be prepared to trade… for your companion” Olivia lowered her head. “I have skills, yes, and mortal means, but little that I would consider of interest to an elder such as yourself.”
Victor inclined his head. “Ah. I must admit I am quite baffled, also.”
“I have one thing that might be of value. A life boon, from one of the primogen.”
“No,” Victor’s face clouded briefly with something akin to disgust, but then was neutral again. “No, Olivia, you have nothing you can offer me.”
An image of Balrus, imprisoned. Balrus, crucified. The guilt spread downwards from the back of her throat, and she swallowed it. “Then my apologies, sir, for wasting your time. I hope that I have not angered you.”
“Not angered, no.” Victor stroked his chin. “But I believe I know what is happening. Eyes has given you a task that she knows you cannot fulfil, in order to strengthen her own bargaining position.” He closed his eyes, seeming to smile to himself. “I recommend that you agree to whatever she next proposes to you, and you do so with a smile.”
“Thank you, sir.” Olivia bowed to Victor again before she left.
Shen waited for her at the door to the bookshop, an open umbrella in his hand. Olivia felt like crying as she took his arm and stepped out into the rain.
“Look at it this way,” said Shen, consoling. “It could be worse. At least he didn’t fleshcraft you into a bicycle.”