Oh, the contemptible folly of youth. Leave it to her to be in the “right place at the right time.”
Amélie didn’t mean to witness the insidiously planned hand-off. Blame her vampiric ears and eyes - she was on her way to the bar when certain lingo made her give pause, letting the partygoers fold her into the mix once more. It hadn’t been heard to suss out the source: two men - the taller of the duo sticking out like a sore thumb - did their business under the cloak of heavy music and low lighting. For anyone else, it might’ve been a perfectly discreet drug deal. Amélie was wholly prepared to dismiss it altogether.
It was a good thing she glanced back once more. She saw the flash of black, finely ground crystal, and Amélie paused, pressing up against the bodies around her as she swayed to the music.
The club was abuzz to the max. It was a good night for Hanna - wherever the hell that pixie had gone. Amélie had yet to spy her, the kid, or Wesley anywhere. Nor did she have time to go out on a field trip looking for them - even then, as she danced off to the side, the drug exchange quickly ended. The buyer threaded his way out of the crowd, though the seller remained, oblivious to the predator hiding in plain sight. Amélie chewed at her lip, thinking.
Maybe she was dressed a bit too nicely for what she planned. On the other hand, she’d seen richer dope fiends than herself, and so went on with it, letting the blood rush to her eyes and expand the pupils slightly. She started to sway, half-dancing, half-stumbling her way in the man’s direction, making sure that her eyes never lingered on one face for too long.
The drug dealer grew more repulsive the closer she got. Only a poorly groomed man in a pricey coat - perhaps he was a slave to his own product. Most users dealt, and it would certainly explain his haggard, washed out appearance. She saw a flash of yellowed teeth, and she sighed.
Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.
Amélie stumbled. As her drink spilled sloppily across the man’s clothes, she gasped, hands flying to her mouth in a disjointed manner.
“Oh my god. Oh my GOD. Hey-”
After a moment of dazed staring, she allowed her eyes to focus on the dirty, disheveled man in front of her. She could see herself reflected through his eyes: a twenty-something year old, twitchy and off-balance, eyes rimmed with something that was definitely not alcohol. She eyed him up and down listlessly, forcing a playful expression on her face.
It was too out of character to laugh, so she smiled crookedly, dilated pupils pulsating with the flashing lights.
“Heeeeey, my bad,” Amélie cooed, winking at the disgusting man, “I’m- I’m like, so sorry, baby, hey- hey-”
Her finger pinched quickly at her nose. Like a drone abruptly switching targets, she spun on her heel and snagged the sleeve of a passing server. Or at least, she attempted to. The hand to eye coordination was purposely slowed, and as she swung low and missed, she feigned a shocked look, turning to the drug dealer with Bambi eyes.
Though it pained her to no end, she giggled. High and pitchy, like a rich girl on crack.
Speaking of which.
“C’mon, lemme buy you a drink at the bar or something. I owe you one.”
Compulsively, her hand reached forward and pulled at the collar of his filthy, nasty-
She went for the hand instead, massaging it in her grasp. She cocked her head to the side, pouting prettily.
While most of Maximum Buzz pulsed with life lived to the full, there was a small pool centred around a girl with purple hair that had all the energy and joy of a morgue. The problem with trying not to think about something, was, that it became all you could think about. Well that and the fact that you were trying and failing not to think about something. The conversation with the ranger bounced around the inside of Isabel's skull like the green stuff in the Robin Williams’ movie her sister had dragged her to two years before. Already she was feeling embarrassed about how much she had flapped and stuttered; how obvious her reaction had been when he had shown her the photo. If she were a character in a cop show, everyone would be certain she was guilty. The ranger had to know that she knew more than she had said. Why would he have left a card otherwise?
“You done with that honey?”
“Errr.” Lifting her eye from the heel of her hand’s, Isabel found herself face to face with one of Hanna’s employees who was halfway through grabbing a half empty beer bottle someone had left on the table.
“Oh sorry Izz. Didn’t see it was you there hun. Want me to get ya anything?”
“Yeah could ya get me a-” Looking out over the excitable crowd, Isabel suddenly knew she was in the wrong place. She was never the life of the party, but most of the time at least she enjoyed her time lurking on the fringes of the party. Tonight was a write off for her, the least she could do was not ruin it for anyone else. “actually, I’m good thanks."
Forcing a smile, Isabel slid out from the table, grabbed her hoodie and started to push her way towards the bar. Finding Wes was easy enough, partly because he was on the phone and partly because he was taller than nearly everyone else and pretty much impossible to mistake for anyone else.
“Hey Wes, I’m gonna jet.” Leaning in, Isabel pulled Wes into a friendly hug. "Not really feeling in the mood for all this tonight."
Wesley didn't have the patience to serve another drugged up idiot. Even if he was with good company. Wesley could deal with the sex crazed idiots, the drunk idiots, all the idiots in the world, but he drew a hard line whenever drugs were involved. Maybe that's why he wasn't asking more about the Prince's little investigation. It just didn't have the right tune to hold his attention.
He took the towel he'd been wiping the bar with and tossed it lazily into one of the ice wells. A nearby employee scowled at him. It was some small mercy Hanna was so patient with him, or Wesley would have been fired years ago. He wasn't exactly one of her star employees. He could look pretty on the bar, make a decent drink, but there was definitely room for improvement. There was something to be said for Toreadors and their delicate senses. Wesley would deny it until the end of time, but it didn't make it any less true.
He smiled apologetically to Amélie from across the way before pointedly placing one of the other staff members in his place. Whether or not she saw was another matter entirely. He could apologize another night. "Amélie, Je m'excuse." He muttered under his breath before sneaking out of the bar area...
...and running right into Isabel. Not a bad change of pace.
"Neither am I. Wanna scram?" He replied with a smirk. "Maybe you want to help me with something. Hm? Your friend Lizzie called, said she saw a real ugly car." Wesley crossed his arms, his smirk widening. "Might be mine."
Wesley wrapped his arm around Isabel's shoulder and began to walk to the door of the Buzz. His steps were slow, not for any other reason than to talk to the new blood and see if she was interested.
"What do you say? Feel like chasing down a car thief for little to no prize other than my own satisfaction?" He turned his head sideways to look over at Isabel.
He had at least bothered to wet down his matted gray hair before flattening it against his skull. The effort had toned the otherwise mad display of disinterest into something more resembling the carefully measured, and particularly feigned, air of disapproval that was somewhat common in that circle. It matched the bedraggled coat: trash molded and folded into a semblance of quality. A smug smile had been stretched across his face, framed if imperfectly by ash colored strands to match the mop above his forehead. The yellow slabs remained as yet hidden within his cracked lips, like a disease waiting to induce deadly symptoms to its victim.
He hardly looked at his coat, though Amélie's forced stumble had left a dark stain that reeked of strong alcohol. Not that any but a Kindred or a hound dog could tell it was there: though dissociatives and opiates and hallucinogens were the order of the night, there was a bar, and alcohol was not uncommon. It looked as though Amélie's new friend had been partaking of that particular libation quite liberally. The chapped red curtains parted, and putrid yellow shown out in a smile. Dark and faded eyes leered out from beneath one overly long eyebrow, and they dipped and rose slowly, tracing her form under the black dress that Sigurd had provided her.
"Don't ffffukkin worry abou' ih, honey. I've had worsh on this'ol rag." Amélie began to pick up a distinct odor wafting into the air from his mouth. At the mention of a drink, his eyes lit up. "Oo. But ish not pohlite to take me tah bed withoubt even known mah name.
"Aintcha gonna ashkit?"
The grin widened, seeming to nearly touch his ears, and his eyebrows waggled in what was clearly meant to be a seductive manner. He had not stopped his 'dancing'.
“Sure.” Isabel didn’t resist as Wes guided her towards the club’s door. The idea of walking home by herself wasn’t exactly appealing. The fact that someone had seen her at the meeting last night still had her creeped out “All I got waiting for me at home is bad tv and washing up so I think it’s a step up. I didn’t think they’d find it this fast though.”
As the pair emerged onto the street, Isabel slipped out of Wes’s grip and pulled her hoodie over her head before rolling the sleeves up to her elbow and grinning almost conspiratorially at her friend.
Amélie smiled. It was rare to see her so pleasantly featured for so long. For once, she looked soft and pretty; under the pulsating lights, she swayed gracefully in tandem with the music, her eyes tracking the dealer’s eyes roving over her body.
She hoped he enjoyed every second of it. It was the last reprieve for a man marked for death.
She could forgive the man’s cursed features. It was the uncleanliness that filled her with utter and complete revulsion, and quite frankly, she just didn’t know where to look, or even where to start. The yellowed teeth? The foul, mildewing odor that sprouted from body and breath? The hideous strip of hair joined above his eyes? Whatever ungodly amalgamation of humans that had joined to create the grotesque bastard had put every ounce of ill-will and hatred towards making the little gremlin.
In a word: ugh.
Unfortunately, the ugly poverty was nothing new to her. The late 19th century had shared many denizens of his means, none more so then the pathetic, starving wretches of her hometown’s city block. Actually-
Oh, now wasn't that funny. He reminded her of her father.
A pity. Would that she could kill him, as she so often had dreamt of doing to the man as a child.
Amélie said nothing in reply to the man’s garbled words. He mentioned being taken to bed, and still she remained mum, because truthfully the words “Eat shit, bitch” were neither seductive nor kind. Instead, her other hand came to curl around his forearm like a clinging vine, and she tried not to think too hard about the mysterious stains on his coat.
He would hopefully be too drunk to notice. Quite literally manhandling him, Amélie pulled at the arm in her clutches with unnecessary strength, towing him towards the bar. She stumbled a bit to compensate, and her eyes batted innocently at him.
“Ok I’ll bite. What’s your name? Oh but hey-”
Amélie glanced up at the bartender. Wherein she had expected to see Pretty Boy at his post, some woman with cobalt blue hair had taken his place. Strange. As nonchalantly as she could, she raised her eyes up to look behind her drinking companion, apparently right on time: through the dancing crowd and over the dj booth, she watched as two very familiar and very undead forms escaped out into the night.
She felt the warmth in her smile freeze over.
"Heyso, their drinks are not, like, super strong or anything,” She continued, snapping her eyes back down to her ‘friend’, “but I mean- if you’re into, like other stuff-”
Despite the fact that it would be nearly impossible for anyone to hear their conversation, Amélie leaned in a bit further, lowering her voice some.
“I think there’s a guy here who sells dope, I dunno. I’d have to, ya know, ask around and shit, but um. Yeah. I ran out awhile ago.”
She tilted her head, letting her hair fall away from her bare neck and slim shoulders. Her fingers scratched a bit at her nose, and she smiled coquettishly at the cretin.
Dance With The Devil (Pt. 1) Collab post between @Doctor Jax and @radiojelly
The Anarch vampire stood in front of the gaping maw of the Astro Stadium. Golden-brown eyes scanned the darkness around her, blinking languidly as she lit a cigarette. The ritual calmed her, more than anything. A cloud of smoke wafted out of her mouth in a plume, the wind so still, it did nothing to waft it away.
“Knock, knock,” she called into the darkness. After all - despite having an invitation, it would be rude to just let herself in.
Hanna’s announcement, polite though it may have been, did not earn an immediate response. For a long moment afterwards, Maximum Buzz’s leading lady was left standing in the dark, and the same stillness that seemed to pervade every nook and cranny of the scene before her remained omnipresent. Then, subtly, the atmosphere began to shift. Though nothing visibly changed, a series of quiet, but urgent, sounds began to emanate from beyond the gate: distant and unintelligible whispers from sources unseen, the skittering of tiny claws on cracked tarmac, and the soft cooing of a solitary owl nestled high in a nearby elm.
Then, across the parking lot, a solitary silhouette came trotting up from the depressed stone staircases of the Astrodome. As the creature trotted into the carpark, it paused, sniffing at the air for a moment before sprinting wildly in Hanna’s direction. Even with as little light as there was, it was easy enough to tell from the size, shape, and incessant panting alone that her welcome party was a dog of some kind. Indeed, as it slowed to a halt in the moonlight, the creature revealed itself to be a beautiful—and rather large--Border Collie, in possession of a luxurious coat of thick, ebony fur, and adorned with a single, unmarked collar of off-white leather.
Hurriedly, the hound began to pace back and forth on the other side of the gate, its sharp eyes scanning in every inch of Hanna’s form. After two or three passes, the animal seemed to be satisfied: all at once, it lunged against the side of the gate, paws-first. The creature began to gnaw and pull at some mechanism on the other side, pausing only to give a satisfied yelp before falling back to the ground. A collection of various padlocks came clattering to the ground shortly thereafter, and the Collie--apparently quite pleased with itself--bounced up and down in small circles around where they lay.
The gate began to swing listlessly on its hinge, and the noise temporarily pulled the dog from its celebrations. The creature, filled with energy and yet bound by forces yet unseen, let loose a string of excited noises. It turned then, pawing in the direction of the Astrodome, before looking over its shoulder at Hanna. The dog waited for her to pass the threshold into the carpark, but just as soon as she did, it took off into a brisk jog towards the Dome.
It appeared that this was Salvatore’s go-ahead. Fair enough— she couldn’t fault a man for wanting flair, especially when their physical appearance typically lacked the bedazzling type. That did not negate the unease she felt, aware she was alone and entering the realm of another, whose laws would more than likely differ from her own. She would need to be on her best behavior.
Her eyes remained on the Border Collie, waiting for it to fully disappear. With a long, last pull on her cigarette, she flicked the burning ember into the darkened parking lot, the tiny light sputtering out with the breeze. The Brujah strode in through the gate, following the sounds of a dog’s footsteps.
At least for the entryway, the stadium felt bizarrely empty. It was an eerie feeling, occupying a space that normally packed tens of thousands. Vacant, it felt more like a slumbering giant, a potential volcano lying in wait.
To describe the Houston Astrodome as impressive would be an understatement of colossal proportions. When the gargantuan baseball stadium first opened its doors to the Houstonian public in the Spring of 1965, it was the only arena of its kind: the Astrodome was not just Houston’s, but the world’s first multi-purpose indoor stadium. When the ribbon broke, and the kine of South Texas first crossed its concrete thresholds, the stadium was so awe-inspiring that the humans nicknamed it the “eighth wonder of the world.”
Though its adopted title was hyperbole, the Astrodome was wondrous. Besides it’s impressive construction, it was a site of many histories. Kine sports may have meant little to most of the Astrodome’s nighttime menagerie, but the aged among them knew its history--and its achievements. The dome was the first indoor stadium of its kind, and once it opened to the public, it continued to be a place of firsts. Between the artificially green turfs, the animated scoreboard (a first of its kind), and the myriad of brilliant Lucite skylights that adorned the stadium’s crown, it was no great wonder that the kine had been enraptured with this place in its heyday.
Alas, the heyday had long passed.
As the Collie trotted through the empty concrete foyer, and beneath the rusted turnstyles, it barely paid mind to the worn banners, and shuttered retail outlets on either side of it. The dome had been a wonder in its day, but its time had--more or less--come. The kine had tried to save it, of course. Numerous renovations to expand its capacity, and update its safety parameters had been made throughout the decade, but nostalgia and pride could not save this temple alone. The Houstonions would play at their games here for some time yet, but as the kine’s interest in the archaic monolith waned, the interest of kindred in the area had waxed wholeheartedly.
The dog came to a stop at an open set of double doors. They had been propped ajar with a couple of heavy cinder blocks at either side, revealing the massive stadium before both Collie and Brujah alike. Rows upon rows of seats--nearly 68,000 in total--descended from the outer rim of the arena. From their vantage point, both Hanna and the Collie had no trouble spotting the arena’s centerpiece: the baseball diamond--150,000 square feet of pristine turf, surrounded and encapsulated within the 642 ft. diameter concrete dome. The dog turned back to Hanna once more. Though it could not speak, there was a fresh energy to the hound’s eyes, and suddenly it’s panting began to quicken in the dark. With a start, it once again took off into a sprint, this time directly towards the baseball diamond itself.
There, on the turf, sat a lone figure. A couple of spotlights had been dragged onto the field to illuminate the space, and in between their fluorescent beams sat a lone stranger. Before him was an empty chair, no doubt intended for Hanna, and a small end table with assorted accoutrement. The Collie sprinted directly up to the side of its master, pressing its head into his outstretched palm. The dog’s panting grew louder, and its tail twirled happily in the dark as it arrived at the successful end to its duties. The kindred, adorned in black leathers, riding boots, and a viper skull cap, reached out to his furry assistant with leathered fingers, and affectionately--if absentmindedly--began to scratch the creature behind the ears. After all, Salvatore had called this meeting, and even if he trusted what he had seen through Lassy’s eyes, it still would have been a mistake to underestimate her.
Hanna stood at the edge of the baseball diamond, aware that she was standing at the precipice of a cliff, with no guard, no handrail, no harness and rope. Her eyes looked through the dark to the Kindred on his throne, petting his dog. The impressive surroundings only added to the atmosphere of decaying allure, the Astrodome still an architectural marvel, even if it had long since fallen into disrepair and disuse. Her form was a dark silhouette, waifish, feminine.
She began towards the makeshift dias in the middle of the diamond, her footsteps soft against artificial green, fake horticulture filling the immediate air around her with susurrations. Her stride was confident, indolent, her every move one of familiarity and nonchalance. So much with Kindred was posturing, but at the least she knew how to play the game. No showing that she was aware this wasn’t her bar, her world, her galaxy. She was going to play like she’d forgot she walked out with her crown still on.
Finally, she entered the light, and she gave a smile.
“Salvatore, I’m guessing? Nice digs,” she said as she sat down in the chair offered her. She leaned against an arm, and a pack of smokes appeared from a pocket, eyes staring straight at him. “Mind if I smoke?”
Her legs crossed.
Salvatore glanced down at the carton of cigs in Hanna’s hands, and despite his otherwise unreadable expression, an amused grunt escaped from his withered lungs. The Nosferatu patted his dog on the back, and without a moment’s hesitation, the creature scampered away from their table and towards the outfield. As Salvatore spoke, the dog slipped beyond the effect of the spotlights and into the curtain of darkness beyond.
“Nah,” He began. “They don’t bother me none.”
Salvatore’s voice was both deep and raspy. The curse of his clan had made the rich baritone of his youth perpetually hoarse and sandpapery. Still, the barest echo of his true voice remained, layered beneath. He spoke slowly, his tone disinterested and relaxed despite the intense way his glassy eyes seemed to scan every part of her.
“Sorry ‘bout the wait and all that.” Salvatore leaned over the table a little, clasping both of his leathery hands in front of his face. “I uh… Well, I didn’t think you’d actually show.”
“I like people,” Hanna said simply, letting out a long huff of smoke. “And to put it simply, you’ve got my interest. Not everyday the head honcho of the Nosferatu come a-bangin’ on the door.”
She grinned at him.
“What can I do you for? Me— I’m looking for a, um…. fresh stock. Nice cozy home for the forgotten. Not a lot of them around these days, even though I keep hearing about them coming in droves. I ain’t seen ‘em,” Hanna stated, tamping the ashes into a tray.
If Salvatore was surprised that Hanna had immediately started laying out her terms of engagement, then he certainly didn’t show it. The old Nos didn’t even flinch at the request. More homeless for the Buzz? It was hardly a difficult request. In fact, Salvatore was already one of Hanna’s suppliers. The way Hanna had asked made it seem like she either didn’t know, or simply didn’t care.
Either way, it didn’t matter.
Salvatore looked down at his gnarled fingers for a moment, pretending to ruminate on Hanna’s request.
“Hrmph.” The old cowboy leaned back in his chair. “Straight to brass tax, huh?” Salvatore spoke in a languid drawl, his words practically tumbling out of his mouth. He was usually a careful speaker, but in this particular instance he had good reason to exaggerate his air of nonchalance.
“Our businesses both have a... vested interest in the homeless situation.” Salvatore smiled a little--or at least appropriated as much of a smile as the taught, desiccated skin around his lips would let him. “But.. there’s more to it than that.” The old Nos drummed his fingers against the top of the off-white, plastic folding table. As he did, he opened and closed his mouth a few times, never quite able to find the right way to put what he was thinking.
Fuck it. There was no point in dancing around the elephant in the room. Certainly not for some Anarch patsy’s sake.
“Look, I’ll just cut to it. I’ve known Washburn plenty long, and I can say with some degree of confidence that you ain’t Ricky’s A-team. Hell, y’all probably ain’t even the B-team. Still, far as I understand it, you’re on a team, which means, at some point or the other, y’all are probably goin’ to need the help of me and mine.” Salvatore paused a moment to let his words sink in. His tone hadn’t been malicious--just matter-of-fact.
“I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t bring you here ‘cause I think you have something I want. Frankly, unless y’all stumbled on a miracle in the last twenty-four hours, then there isn’t anything you could sell me I ain’t already heard. I brought you here, because I think my network is something that can and will be of benefit to you as you stumble through the shitstorm our gracious prince has dropped y’all into.”
Salvatore paused a beat to reach under the table. When he brought his hands back up, he held a pair of whiskey tumblers betwixt the the fingers of his right hand, and a two liter plastic bottle in his left. The bottle still had streaks of white stuck to the front, where somebody had hastily removed its former label long ago.
Salvatore dropped the glasses on the table, and began to work on unscrewing the large plastic vessel. As he did he spoke.
“Unless I’m wrong. Unless you’ve had a miracle?” The kindred cowboy glanced back up at Hanna as the top came undone, before turning back to his glass. With both hands he began to carefully pour human blood out of his soda bottle, and into their glasses.
Hanna’s expression remained still, her agitation only shown in the way she flicked the cigarette in her hand. Her head tilted, looking over Salvatore as he laid out drinks for them both, and abruptly she started to laugh a little. Ah— yeah. Yeah, he was right. Hanna was under no illusions about her place in the world.
His honesty and candor was appreciated. They both knew where they stood.
“Miracle, I cannot provide, no,” Hanna stated. “I’m not really in the business of miracle-working… sir.”
Her eyebrows raised upwards. She could play lackey when she wanted to.
“But the Buzz also acts kind of like a seive around here. Strains out things that fall down through the cracks. Maybe we can be valuable to each other, y’ dig?”
She sipped the drink offered. The blood went straight to her veins, a jolt of energy to add to the store she’d shores up the night previous. Her delicate fingers swirled the glass, the red mixing in inkblot fashion.
“After all— you can’t be everywhere. And me, I’m just an Anarch with a bar to run,” Hanna said with a shrug of her shoulders.
Salvatore threw back his glass and tried his best not to gag when Hanna called him sir. The old Nos knew he had come back at her opener a little too strongly. It had been an unfortunate necessity though. In Salvatore’s experience, kindred negotiations often took far too long, and established far too little. Better to dive into the unpleasant truths, than to spend all night dancing around them.
The cowboy poured, and then sipped at his second drink, his gaze shifting between the contents in his glass and Hanna herself. Even after she finished speaking, he continued to scrutinize her in silence. This conversation was far from where he had planned for it to be. For that, Salvatore owed her at least a modicum of respect. After all, it had taken some brass balls just to show up here, let alone persist with an offer.
“Okay then.” Salvatore straightened up in his seat, and gently moved his now empty glass aside. “Let’s imagine for a minute I'm the least bit interested. Let’s imagine I start goin’ out of my way to send The Buzz some new blood. I’ll need a thing or two in return. But, before we even consider that…'' Salvatore lifted one of his hands off the table, languidly pointing to the nonchalant Anarch on the other side of the table.
“I need to know I can at least trust the information you sell me. So, much as I do hate playin’ games, I need you to tell me precisely what it was the Prince called you to the pier for last night. Spare no detail, barlady. If I like what I hear, maybe your business and mine do got something worth talkin’ about after all.”
Hanna weighed her options. Nosferatu were a breed apart from even the other Kindred. Their loyalties ran beyond simply Camarilla or Anarch. They had few friends and knew it. Secrets for secrets, just as with Leon. How much should she tell?
Then again, the Prince decided of his own will to ask her questions. He never said anything about discretion.
“New drug floating around, apparently. This black stuff, looks like salt took an ink bath. He wants to know what it is and where it came from,” Hanna said, circling her drink with a finger. “And honestly it got my interest. Now I am a psychonaut myself, but I’m a smart psychonaut. I wanna know what it does. I’ve got no idea if it has a street name or not. On top of that…”
There was likewise another piece of information she knew he’d want.
“... I think he’s seein’ an out of town visitor. Don’t know who or why. Just he didn’t want anyone around to know, coming in by boat. But you never heard that from me. Maybe a little birdie told you.”
She grinned at her own joke. That was all she could offer at the moment. It wouldn’t hurt her to lose the info— others knew it, too. It’s exclusivity was only so important as her relationship with the head of the city’s Nosferatu.
If only Hanna knew how wrong she was.
Salvatore let the Brujah spill her story, and though there was a rigid intensity to his posture, no other part of his physicality betrayed his thoughts on the matter. The cowboy had two centuries of kindred politicking to thank for that. In this particular moment—as Hanna mentioned Washburn’s foreign visitors—Salvatore found himself silently grateful for those many years of experience.
The old Nosferatu peered at Hanna with a renewed sort of curiosity. This simple barkeep—little more than a blip on Salvatore’s radar—had waltzed alone into the Astrodome, transformed an introduction into a negotiation, and revealed to Salvatore that she had seen something that the Prince (and, frankly, Salvatore) had taken great pains to ensure no one had.
The cowboy smiled, and this time, it was genuine.
“Huh. Well, color me impressed.” The Nosferatu refilled both of their glasses before speaking again, and when he did, there was a new gleam to his otherwise dead eyes. He didn’t need to hide it: he had asked Hanna to be honest, and she had been.
“Most of the idiots that come ‘round this way try to lie ‘bout everything. Can’t fault ‘em for that—it’s just our nature. Still, being too greedy with the truth makes for bad business. In my line of work, it’s all about knowing which cards to play, and which to hold.” Salvatore’s smile softened a little, and the former stiffness in his physicality began to melt back into the same loose and aloof posture from before.
“Ricky’s visitors weren’t nothin’ special. Just some Camarilla assets from up the coast. Much as I respect Washburn, he doesn’t got the fiercest reputation among Princes. It wouldn’t’ve helped him none to be seen asking Anarchs for help with the drug problem. Speakin’ of which…”
Salvatore paused, taking a long draw from his tumbler. Even for a kindred as old as him, the taste of blood activated the beast within. Now a couple of glasses in, Salvatore felt the subtle writhing of his long-tempered beast within. It did not speak—not yet, anyway—but he could feel it coiling in his gut like a rattlesnake preparing to strike. He would need to feed again tonight.
“In this business you give, and you get—and you did give. So, here’s your get.” Salvatore straightened up, his eyes scanning the darkness beyond for just a moment before he continued. “The homeless are the dealers. That’s why they keep comin’—and also why they keep disappearing. Whoever the supplier is, they are using disposable kine to traffic the drugs. In my professional opinion, your mark is killing off their dealers to cover their tracks.”
“I’ll send your Buzz the kine you’re lookin’ for, but I suggest you don’t drain ‘em dry too quickly. They are the lead.” Salvatore paused, considering for just a moment the budding respect he had developed for Hanna. Maybe her crew wasn’t so useless after all. Maybe Washburn had his head on straight this whole time.
It was almost enough to make Salvatore laugh.
“If I start fixin to send you your strays, then I’ll need a favor in return. As far as this drug business is concerned, I intend to be ahead of the curve. Whatever you and yours present to the good prince, I’d ask you also send my way. How’s that sound?”
Hanna watched, carefully. He was a hard one to read, and it spoke to his many, many years trying to stay ahead. She had only heard of Salvatore by reputation, and that reputation had not disappointed. It kept her on the edge of her toes.
And maybe it helped her feel that much more alive as well. A tiny remora picking off the detritus of some Great White. The Kindred listened intently. She was keen to learn; and Salvatore seemed the kind keen to teach. So the dealers were the homeless— and someone didn’t want loose ends. It made sense — one and done, like a plastic cup or a styrofoam plate. Deliver what you want, hit the road, find a new host. Interesting.
“Brother, you got a deal. I’m always careful, besides. Don’t want to ruin the goods. It’s bad for, like, business, you know? They’ll be plenty comfy,” Hanna promised, taking another sip of her drink. It was too bad this was just business. A social call wouldn’t be out of order. He was turning out to be fairly reasonable.
At least for now.
“Whatever I find, you’ll be the first to hear it. I don’t skimp, my man,” Hanna promised, tipping her glass in deference.
In the glass, garnet tones caught the light in bloody rays, grasped in her dainty and adroit hand.
“Eh, we’ll see. Talk is cheap—and kindred talk is even cheaper.” The old Nos swirled the dredges of his glass around in his palm; his mind was already elsewhere, working on the logistics of shepherding Hanna’s kine. Then, from somewhere in the shadowed stands behind where Hanna sat, a flicker of movement caught Salvatore’s eye. His next appointment.
Time was up.
Salvatore set down his glass, and waves dismissively towards the entrance Hanna had previously come through. “I appreciate you comin’ out all this way, but I trust you don’t need any help findin’ the door.” Salvatore downed the last drops in his glass, before beginning to reapply the screw cap to his soda bottle. As Hanna got up to leave, the weathered cowboy looked up from his work for just a moment to call after his new business partner.
“Oh! And the next time you’re by Leon’s place, do me a favor and tell that rat bastard to keep my name and my business out of his goddamn mouth, would’ja?”
"Yer too jen'rus. Name'sh Antonio, bu' you can call me Tony."
The bum had turned his back to the bar, leaning back against it in what could only be described as a remarkably badly considered attempt at flirtation. It had been a sign of the next forty-five minutes to come. His ego was easily inflated, the more so with each consecutive shot of bottom shelf whiskey or bottle of Coors Light. Yet there was not even whisper of indication of illicit substance from his mouth. His eyes became watery, the odor of alcohol deepening, as the minutes wore on. The bum continued to chat Amelie up, his flirts like bricks through pane glass windows, apparently thoroughly and utterly ignorant of every attempt of the Kindred to solicit information, even as he'd lead her to a dark booth in a back corner.
The floor was still twisting and pulsing with flesh, the crowd writhing in pleasure. The bum's eyes wandered to the crowd, and his gravely, slurred tone grew sharply somber, if not actually sober.
"Life wuddn't alwaysh alc-hol, y'know. I wuzz-air. on th' ffffloor wif 'em. When I wuzz yerr ajjjje. Back b'fur." Tony shot Amelie a crooked smile, but there was no mock egotism, no manufactured flirtation. Instead, the smile never reached north past his cheeks, and his eyes looked hollow. "Ssshe'd b' yer aje, I ttthink. I kill'd 'im, 'course, bu' ... tha' don' bring 'er back. Tha'- don' bring 'er back."
The smile faded, and his gaze shifted to his glass.
Traffic was, somehow, still as thick as Texas oil. Lisa, bless her, had the forethought to route one of her cabs by the Buzz, and while the small, angry man had done everything in his power to make good time to their destination, neither shortcut nor even maneuvers of questionable legality had been sufficient to cut the time to reasonable. Being forced to travel downtown necessitates being ready for that kind of slow travel, but the streets were surprisingly stacked for a Thursday. Nevertheless, Gary, spit spraying the windshield through his thick mustache as he cursed the crawling cars before him, did eventually get Isabel and Wesley to their destination. Any attempt at compensation from the pair was waved off, Gary muttering that the job had been a favor. Not that the favor had gone far; as soon as their conversation was ended, he peeled away. Apparently, the look of incredulity and even concern he'd been casting back at them in the rear view mirror over the duration of the trip was not altogether misplaced.
For all the random and unfocused noise of the city, filtering through the old Buick's car doors to assault their ears even as their made their way through, the sudden comparative muteness of their new location was fairly upsetting. Just off a larger thoroughfare, the neighborhood was badly funded, from either government or the private sector. Chain link fences hung askew against their poles. The houses that lurked in the shadows were often partially boarded up, many of them tagged with old and new paint, claiming a building for a particular individual or group. The convenience store on the corner was secured with thick iron bars over any exposed windows and doors. Cars of various functionality and age littered the sides of the streets, some propped up on bricks, some with bald tires, others with translucent plastic over side windows. Above it all, a row of streetlights flickered badly, bitterly unnatural halogen casting a vampiric pallor on everything it touched. Kine strode about from one destination to the next, apparently listless. Some few attempted to wring what life they might from the despondency, but they rarely stayed longer than to pass to or from work. Those that lingered did little else, save for the few that gathered in doubles and trebles at the corner store beneath the partially destroyed neon sign reading Earnie's
And set back behind Earnie's was the warehouse.
It was likely the original firehouse to the area. Not more than three stories tall, it was built solidly of red brick that had only began to show signs of fading in perhaps the last decade. The windows had long since been bricked up, the difference in coloration an obvious indication as to wear the windows originally where. A great wooden double door sat off to one side, decorated by street artists looking to make a name. The cement drive that left the street rose gently up to a trio of metal rolling doors, tagged in similar fashion to the front entrance; the barn style doors which had likely been present originally, which would have matched the style present for foot traffic, had long since been removed. From within came the muted sounds of hammers, power drills, and chop saws, with even the occasional spark of acetylene torch.
Gary had dumped them off in front of Earnie's before retreating, and the presence of two very distinctly white folks in what was becoming increasingly apparent by the demographic about them to be a particularly Hispanic neighborhood had begun to draw the attention and even murmurs of some of the locals. As yet, no one made a move toward them. They might discuss the strangers, but it seemed as though no one was willing to get involved in whatever badly considered plan had brought them.
the Astrodome parking lot
From the moment Hanna had exited the stadium proper, the border collie had been back at her side. Wherever she moved, it went with her, eyes trained on her and ears and nose twitching. It would point on occasion back toward the direction from which she'd come, and if she'd ever deviate too far from the pre-traveled path, its soft ears would suddenly lay back, the hackles would raise, and an unnaturally deep growl would take root in its throat.
Yet the creature had little to worry about. Hanna remained on the path, and soon she was back outside. The gate behind her shut with a click. The collie gave a small yip before spinning about and disappearing back into the shadows. The stadium, as before, loomed above, and now behind, her, a preternaturally large tombstone in an otherwise reasonably lively city. Everything about her was utterly dead: every light in the structure behind her left a distinct absence in the air; in the parking lot, the usual street lights that bathed the asphalt sea in a sickly reflection of the sun were disengaged; above, the haze of the city muffled the night sky star-song, and even Luna herself failed to pierce the smog. Like Hanna herself, the Astrodome and its parking lot were uniquely dead.
"The fuck you doing here, you white bitch?"
Her still peace was shattered by the harsh voice, anger and frustration and no small bit of fear undercutting the threat. Four individuals, gangsters and thugs by the looks of them, were striding heavily toward her. All of them wore blue jeans in various states of wear, two were shirtless, one wore black muscle shirt with a star of David tattoo on his arm, and the fourth sported a white t-shirt with a blue bandana around his neck. Three carried knives and bats, with one of the shirtless men openly carrying a .38 Special handgun. Behind them, presumably the direction from which they came, was their car; it was definitely not there when Hanna had first arrived.
As they drew closer, the man in the front, the one with the .38, stopped some twenty feet from the Kindred's position while other three circled around her. He was perhaps in his late twenties, though his dark skin was already beginning to leather. About his neck, he wore a gold chain with a crow pendant.
"You a stupid-ass bitch, aintcha?" .38 leveled his gun at her. "I asked what you doing here, hippie-ass bitch?"
The neighborhood held a certain appeal to it, sure. If grunge and worn down metal was an aesthetic to be enjoyed. But it wasn’t. Not to the Toreador. Wesley could appreciate the time it took to, how did they say it, tag an entire wall, that was some kind of art. Right? Even so, the bold outlines and overwhelmingly bright colors didn’t keep his gaze for more than a few, fleeting seconds. Much like the simple designs which were meant to be painted over, and over again, until the wall was nothing but rubble.
“I thought my neighborhood was bad...” In the privacy of her head, Isabel continued that at least the dealers and junkies that lived in her building put on a facade of good living outside their front doors. She also made a mental note that next time she was working dispatch, she’d have to push a few plum hotel and airport pickups Gary’s way. Not only had he refused payment; he’d also brought them to a place that most cabbies wouldn’t stop in for fear of their car ending up on bricks at a stop sign. Cabbies had to have street smarts. Anywhere they didn’t want to be was probably somewhere she shouldn’t. The stares that the street’s denizens were directing at them only served to reinforce the feeling.
Unconsciously, the thin blood took half a step into Wes’ shadow. The only consolation was that if that ranger was following her, and Isabel had been watching out of the back of the taxi to see if they were being followed, at least he’d stand out plain as day too. The cowboy had already seen way too much without being noticed.
“We got a plan here cos we have plenty of problems at home already man.”
“A plan?” Wesley asked absentmindedly. He reached into the pocket of his dark jeans and pulled out a small, black hair tie. The man wasn’t sure what kind of trouble they were getting themselves into but he’d be damned if his hair got in the way because of it. He’d spent good blood getting it to be the length he wanted, but even so it still got in the way.
Ah, right. There was supposed to be some kind of plan.
“Well, sweetheart.” Wesley started, putting the hair tie between his teeth so he could grab ahold of his hair, and began to tie it up. With the tie still in his teeth, he spoke. “Sho’, we go in ‘ner an’ if my gaddam car isvn’t ‘der--” Wesley plucked the tie from his mouth and wrapped his hair into a small bun. He was smiling. His fangs on view for Isabel to see. “Well. I really hope it is. For their sake.”
Wesley held out his arm, polite as good be, grinning ear to ear with an enigmatic smile. He waited to see if Isabel would follow or not. She didn’t have much of a choice really. It was either stay on the street, see what company would find her, or come inside and help Wesley do…
...whatever it was he was about to do.
The bricks of the warehouse loomed over the pair all too soon for Isabel liking. Hanging on Wes’ arm, her brain had been racing their feet as she tried to come up with a more complete idea than her friend’s about what to do once they crossed the threshold. It had only provided one slight improvement.
“Hey Wes, would ya wait here and let me go first?” Planting both feet on the tarmac, Isabel redoubled her grip on the Toreador’s arm to try and force him to stop. The elder kindred could probably drag her along without even noticing but she hoped he wouldn’t.
Wesley stopped when he felt a slight resistance on his arm. He turned and looked curiously down at the new blood. Was she attempting to be brave? His brow furrowed, processing her offer. “Now, that wouldn’t be very polite of me, would it?” He faltered. “So why, I might ask, would I do that?”
“I’ll go see if your car is even in there. They’re gonna look at me and see a little lost girl from Mass with one eye. You go in and they’re gonna see trouble. “Isabel looked up at Wes for a moment to let her point sink in before continuing. “And like I said, we got enough already withouts starting something else we don’t need to.”
“You know, you could be right.” Wesley shrugged, arm still looped with Isabel’s. Tentatively, he let his arm go slack so she might be free of him. “You might also have a bit of lead thrown your way. You sure you don’t want me to go in there? Still hurts like hell to get shot, even if you don’t die.”
“What's the point in being dead if I don’t live a little.” Isabel didn’t even bother to try and fill the words with false bravado. Her eyes were glued on the doorway and the flashes of light that were coming beyond it. It took several attempts for her to convince her arm to let go of Wes and even more to convince her legs to take a few steps towards it. “Besides, if they do, it’ll take over and then I'm just a passenger, ya know? And you’ll know it has all gone wrong too.”
“Alright, new blood. Just be careful.” Wesley said in earnest. He shoved his hands deep into his jean pockets and rooted himself where he stood.
Their dialogue did not go unnoticed, nor unwatched. From the corner store, three kine no more than 17 years old each sat on the curb just in front of the door. The white lines of cigarettes lifted and lowered as they inhaled the smoke. They muttered to each other, occasionally casting what were clear intended to be subtle glances toward the intruders but otherwise gave them apparently little thought. Nor were they the only watchers. Passers-by, in singles and pairs, shuffled by at a suspicious but appreciable distance. These two didn't belong, and whatever business they might have in the neighborhood, absolutely no one wanted to even know what it was, let alone get involved in it. Live and let live, and stay out of other people's shit.
It wasn't a long walk from where Gary had dropped them off to the looming structure before them. Broken glass and strands of wispy grass littered the cracked parking lot, and trash blew about like confetti welcoming them. It crunched beneath, loudly announcing their approach.
Finally, they made the front door. Designed in an old barn style, with crossed planks of faded white over vertical planks of peeling red, it looked to have once been a sturdy barricade. Now, time and misuse had rendered it little better than a formality of separation. Rot was evident, and the generous helping of spray paint was very likely contributing significantly to the doors' continued integrity.
Somehow, it held up to even Isabel's tentative push.
It had been unlocked. Of course it had: the locals knew better, and no one else would come nosing around. Why would they lock it? The entry way was as littered with trash as the parking lot outside, compressed into a much tighter area, and the original flooring was nowhere to be seen. It was utterly dark, yet with their supernatural vision, the Kindred could see that the walls were covered in mold and a pink, peeling wallpaper, and broken and disintegrating furniture was scattered about. There was no sign of life about them, yet the sounds of tools they'd heard from without was all the more persistent within, and following it brought them around a corner to what appeared to be a boarded up door.
It was secured in the usual manner of such things: two plywood boards covered nearly the whole door, and it appeared to be nailed securely to the wall, if in fact only barely. There was little else to see, short of the now very common street art on it.
Arms crossed across her chest, Isabel stared at the boarded up door and it stared back at her. Her ears were telling her that the chop-shop or whatever the hell this place was had to be just beyond the door; or at least the former door. Clearly there was no route forward for her here. The sensible option was to turn around and try another way into the building, like the well painted rolling doors that the more Isabel thought about seemed like an incredibly obvious way to get into a chop shop. The problem was that would mean walking back past Wes and having to admit she'd failed to even get inside. Sure there was no way she could have know that the internal door would be boarded up, but it would still be embarrassing.
The urge to kick the door was as sudden and violent as the actual act. Frustration mixed with the potent mix of stress, nerves and anger that festered away deep inside the thin-blood and bubbled over. Her boots took most of the impact as Isabel’s left foot connected with the aged wood one, two, three times. Grabbing the door handle and rattling the door like a stroppy teenager was another impetuous move that also served to slake her emotions.
Wesley heard the faint noise. Something thudding up on something else. Not just once, but many times. He turned, looking from side to side with worry before moving towards the door which he’d so stupidly let Isabel enter on her own.
What the hell were you thinking? Stupid. Stupid, stupid stupid. Wesley thought.
The area was covered with litter and a mix of glass and broken pieces of furniture. He walked carelessly through the clutter and straight to Isabel. “What in the world are you doing?” He called frantically.
Mid-kick, a voice could be heard from within, muffled and covered by the din of the tools but obviously strained. The power tools fell quiet.
Had Isabel been kicking and yanking a newer, better manufactured door, it likely would have held, particularly when bolstered by the plywood. Yet, even as Wesley approached, even as Izzy shook the door by its handle, the facade fell apart. The edges of the wooden barricade came free of the wall to which it'd been nailed, and the door pulled open wide. Suddenly, it became obvious: the plywood was merely a front, a camouflage, to disguise the entrance to the shop itself, should anyone come snooping. The edges had been cut and positioned just so to hide the breaks in the wood, allowing someone with the knowledge (and the key) to merely reach through to the handle and open the door into the entryway. But even Isabel's Kindred strength was sufficient, and the door now hung limply from its hinges over the floor of trash upon which she herself stood.
Spotlights illuminated the interior of the warehouse, carefully positioned to avoid ambient light escaping to the outside. Beneath each were vehicles of various makes and models, years and conditions, completeness and disassembly. Tools loitered about, discarded rather than put away, and a lone acetylene torch burned softly on the concrete floor. Every indication showed that the room had been occupied but a moment prior, but not a soul could be seen from where Isabel and Wesley now stood.
It was quite indisputably a chop shop. Parts both ruined and preserved lay about the place on shelves or the floor. Old shocks to be replaced with new. Aged steering wheels in the midst of replacement with well oiled leather ones. Bench seats to be discarded in favor of racing chairs. Old, clunky engines, sitting beside freshly assembled ones.
And there, in the midst of it all, was the Green Machine.
Rather, it was. It had been- improved upon. A hole had been carved into the hood, making way for a lifted carburetor. The roof had been expertly removed; the tops of the pillars were as yet unfinished, the metal edge sharp and raw. Most obviously, it was no longer just green; paper covered most of her body save for an intricate outline of yellow flame on her doors and front fenders, drawn as if to be roaring up from the front tires. There was no detail to the decal as yet, but the background yellow had been expertly if hastily applied. The interior remained much the same, save for the lack of roof and the covering of dust and metal shavings from the work done on it.
The warehouse was deathly quiet, save for that quiet burn of the torch and the tiny shifting creak of a closing emergency door in the far corner.
“I think... we found it, Wes.” The words were a whisper. A lame statement of fact. The careful words spoken to the bereaved filtered through the thin-blood's surprise at having ripped open a locked door. There was no doubt that the butched car was Wes’ viper; the chances of them stumbling upon another viper with the same cursed paint job were impossibly small. Personally to her eyes, the half finished modifications didn’t detract much from the car; how could they when the bar was so low? To Wes though they would be crushing, Isabel was sure of it. Despite what taste, decency and everyone else had thought her friend cherished the vehicle as a prized possession. Now someone had mutilated it and he had to look over it’s corpse. “I’m sorry dude.”
They killed her! Killed our beautiful fucking car. Humiliated us by taking her. Disgraceful. DISGUSTING. Find them. Find them all, and fucking drain them until there is NOTHING LEFT IN THEIR BODIES. Wesley hummed, ignoring Beastie in his head. Although, her words were certainly enticing today. His fingers flexed at his sides.
Wesley stood wordlessly next to Isabel while he processed the scene before him. With a short exhale, he brought his hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose to avoid saying anything cursory. There simply weren’t enough flowered phrases to convey the disparaging thoughts dancing around in his pretty little head. He closed his eyes, but he could still see everything. His lip twitched with irritation, the faintest hint of his fang visible. The scattered tools, the discarded parts waiting to be tossed or reassembled into some idealized version of what these Bruno’s considered a macho car. And there, in the center of it all, was his car. His car.
They’d chopped her up. Left her with a hole in the hood that would never be sealed without an entire replacement. They’d painted her with gaudy flames which fitted neither the aesthetic of the exceptional green color nor the overall flow of the car’s body. And the roof. Where had that gone? It was Texas, and not likely to rain any time soon, but for Wesley it was a crucial feature.
His expression was far too calm as he picked up a tire iron resting near his feet. The sound of metal skipping over hard concrete echoed in the large space.
Break them. The Beast cooed in Wesley’s ear. There was no clarification as to what it was he would be breaking.
Once, twice, he tapped the curved end against his flat palm. His hazel eyes scanned the workshop. Every item was an opportunity. A chance for retribution for the thing he’d lost. And he would make them suffer.
He pursed his lips. The tire iron fell flat against his palm and he gripped it harshly.
STOP FUCKING IGNORING ME.
Wesley brought the iron down on the first thing in his sights, a detached car door propped up against the body of an old van. He grit his teeth. Did he care why it was there? Not a lick. The window glass shattered and fell to the floor in a heap of broken shards as he swung the tire iron into the pane. He kicked the door down with the flat bottom of his boot and swung wildly into the van. Again, and again.
“Wes…” Still standing in the doorway, Isabel half reached out a hand in the direction of the Toreador. “um we shou-”
“WHAT!?” Wesley turned on his heel, baring his fangs in full at the new blood with unbridled rage. His expression softened, but only just enough to purse his lips back together. He hadn’t meant to turn on Isabel. She was just a distraction in the way of a frenzy.
“Nothing.” The outstretched hand snapped back to Isabel’s side as her solitary eye began a sudden and thorough inspection of the floor by her feet.
“Sorry dollface, but you can either sit this one out…” He smashed another window through. Wesley turned back, walking further into the shop and closer to his own car. “...or maybe we can have a pleasant conversation with my new mechanic!” He screamed into the empty space.
“Well?” He called, raising the tire iron over his shoulder and bracing for the next impact. “She goes next, hope you don’t have a buyer!”
A brief, ear-splitting crack filled the space, echoing strongly within the large room's confines. Pain lanced up Wesley's right arm as a hot piece of small metal shoved its way through his arm even as he raised the tire iron above his head. No blood leached out from his arm, nor did it feel as though any bones had broken.
"Shit; I thought you was 5-0."
The voice was muffled, thanks to the sonic boom of the pistol. There was an edge on it, a harsh confidence born of getting one's own way throughout one's life. At the far corner, the emergency door had been propped back open from where it was closing. Before it stood six individuals in varieties of worn pants and shirts, and everyone was stained with the signs of mechanic work. Two held handguns, including the one who had spoken, one held a length of heavy chain, another a large straight knife, and the last two held heavy pipes. The one who spoke took a step forward gesturing back toward the Kindred's forced entrance.
"But no: just some pendejo who don't know better. You smashed up a lot of my shit, punto. So you and your bitch are gonna pay for it."
He fired at Wesley again, as did his partner, while the others ran for Isabel.
A second bullet grazed Wesley’s side and tore his favorite jacket. That was it. That was fucking it. Beastie wanted to come out and play? Fine. She could come out and introduce herself to these Bruno’s. Wesley snarled angrily towards the man who had shot him. His fangs were on full display, two unnaturally long canines which cut into his lips. There was a fury in his eye he hadn’t displayed in many years. He brought the tire iron to the ground and it bent into a new, broken pattern.
“I dare you to try, bitch.” Wesley cackled. Didn’t they know? Couldn’t they see? This was an unfair fight.
And he was going to kill them all.
He lunged at the first gunman with an unnatural speed granted to him by one of the many disciplines of the kindred, this being Celerity. Wesley had crossed the room before the thugs could follow him with their human eyes, and he stood before them in no time at all with both hands wrapped around the first man’s neck. He snapped the man’s head to the side and let him fall to the floor.
As Wes rushed forwards, Isabel inched back away from the doorway she had wrenched open; broken glass cracking and tinkling under the soles of her boots until the wall behind the thin-blood pressed against her spine. The pressure caused the beast to surge; Wes’ rage had stirred it and now Isabel could feel it circling her soul, just as the four thugs were encircling her body, hunting for a crack in her defenses. The worst thing, apart from the four armed gangsters looking to break her skull open, was that part of Isabel wanted to open the door and let the beast in. It promised her safety, power, respect. All she had to do was let it run free and these muscled morons would have to kneel before her or die. Wes would have to treat her as an equal. Even Hanna would stop seeing her as some helpless kid. All she had to do was open the door just a little.
“Get away from me!” Kicking some of the detritus at her feet towards the approaching gangster in a shimmering shower, Isabel tried to ignore the siren call that wormed through her mind. She wasn’t going to become a mindless demon. She wasn’t going to give in to it. “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!”
The first gunman barely had time to pop off a third shot, let alone say anything before Wesley had crossed the few yards to him. As he approached, the Toreador was struck twice more: once in the thigh, once in the chest. Then he laid hands, and the first victim dropped. The second, likely the now deceased man's lieutenant, stumbled backwards, falling onto his back as his eyes opened wide in terror. A dark stain appeared on his pants, accompanied by the smell of ammonia.
"The fuck are you!?"
Even as he fell, he pulled his trigger as quickly as he could, desperately trying to empty his magazine into his supernaturally quick opponent.
“Me?” Wesley knelt down before the man with an uncanny smile spreading over his face. Did the fangs not give it away? Had they still not put the pieces together? How dull it must have been to be human. Fear and superstition used to be much stronger. Still, it was certainly evident by the way the main soiled himself on the spot. He was scared of something. Maybe he just didn’t want to make the connection. Maybe that was easier.
Without much effort, Wesley had plucked the gun from the man’s shaking hands. His magazine had been emptied, a wasted attempt to slay the kindred. And he still didn’t know. “If it’s not obvious now, it never will be.” He hummed. Wesley toyed with the gun, bored, while explaining it to the man. “I don’t have time to spell it all out for you, and you don’t have the capacity to understand. There is a difference between us. You can see that much, can’t you?”
Wesley shrugged, the same eerie smile had focused its gaze on the man. It was unnatural. Not human at all, the way his face contorted with equal parts anger and hunger for one man. Without giving him a chance to process the kindred’s words, Wesley had forced his head into the concrete and sunk his teeth into his shoulder.
Back at the entrance, the black market mechanics merely walked through the small cloud of debris flung their way, brandishing their weapons in a manner that spoke of undecided intent. Rarely, it seemed, had they picked up anything more violent than a power tool, and most seemed- unsure. Save for one. The thug held up his knife. It was a massive thing, a Bowie knife by design, clearly meant for intimidation and killing. If the others moved in measured steps, he moved eagerly.
"Been a while since I've seen one pretty as you," he said, smiling cruelly. "Gonna have a bit of repayment for our work y'all tore up, and then maybe I'll give you a matching scar to balance out your face."
Behind them, the lieutenant fell to the ground, but no one saw. Instead, the three with the pipes and chain circled, and the knife lunged forward, reaching with a hand to grab her arm.
For a long moment, Isabel felt like she was watching what was going on from somewhere outside her own body. Everything felt distant; disconnected. She could feel the pressure of the man’s fingers closing around her arm but it didn’t feel quite like her arm. Beyond the thugs she could see Wes crouched over a body at the far side of the garage, and between them, the splintered door that she had all but destroyed with her bare hands. She’d done that. Her, Isabel Webb. Not Wes, not any of the grease stained apes in front of her and not the beast. Her, the girl from Marblehead, Massuchuests
With a jolt, the thin-blood found herself back inside herself and staring at the hand clamped around her. Following the appendage up, her gaze fell on the thugs leering face before continuing down again to the knife. She was already dead; what the hell could a knife do to her except hurt a bit? Logically she had nearly nothing to fear from the blade. Wes having to rescue her like some dumb helpless movie bimbo would hurt more.
Isabel’s knee landed between the gangster’s thighs like a hammer and as the man doubled over slightly, her hand closed around his throat, her fingernails just breaking the skin where they dug into his flesh. She could feel the throb of his pulse under her palm. It would be so easy to just...
“I SAID, GET... THE.... FUCK… AWAY… FROM… ME!” Using every mote of strength she could summon, the purple haired kindred heaved her victim away from her. The beast raged at the denial but Isabel beat it back just enough to keep control with deep and entirely superfluous breaths before looking at her three still standing foes. “Last chance. Run!”
The knife rang as it hit concrete, shock having caused its owner to release it from his grasp. He fell similarly, though less though the application of gravity and more courtesy of prey turned predator. The girl had clamped off his throat like a vise; even his own dad never beat him with that kind of strength, never mind the strength needed to throw him through the air like that. His shirt tore as he skidded across the concrete, and he gasped as he bounced off a van tire before lying still in disabling pain.
The other three stepped back, almost as one. Their impromptu weapons were lowered from offensive to defensive, and not a one looked as though he wanted anything to do with Isabel. They turned back the way they'd come, anticipating a swift retreat. But that, too, was quickly halted. Wesley crouched over his prey, draining the life blood from the man, and a building comprehension showed in each face. Every stupid Dracula movie, every Blade comic, and every Anne Rice wanna be was suddenly and violently thrown into stark relief against the very real threat of an actual vampire in the garage with them. Likely two, if the girl's unnatural strength were any indication. Now they were trapped, having forced themselves between a woman who demanded very insistently that they stay well away from her, and a man who would apparently welcome them each with open and deadly arms.
One only tried to run. To his credit, he only paused a second before breaking into a full sprint for the back door. All too near to the corpses of his leadership, but maybe the vampire was too busy to prevent him leaving.
Wesley heard him. His shoes skid across the concrete floor with a distinct, rubber squeak. The Toreador abandoned his meal in place of another, and threw the fleeing man to the ground. His fate mirrored that of the two gunmen behind him.
No one, save the new blood, was leaving that room alive.
“Go that way.” Thumb pointed to the corridor she and Wes had arrived through, Isabel folded her arms, stepped right back against the wall and closed her eye as she tried to ignore every murderous impulse her body screamed at her. She’d seen what had happened to the mechanic who had tried to run already; hell she’d smelt blood, a new layer atop the tapestry of smells that filled the workshop, as Wes had taken them down. She wasn’t about to codem the other two to death if they didn’t need to die. That would make her as bad as if she had given in to the beast, perhaps worse. Besides, stuck where they were it was only a matter of time before they attacked her to try and escape or she lost the raging internal struggle inside of her and attacked them. “Forget tonight and run. NOW!”
There was no need to say it again. Metal struck concrete in short, concussive hits as the pair of pipes pounded across the floor. Panting, and one of them openly crying, they fled the way provided to them by the deceptively dangerous damsel, scattering bits of pressboard, newspaper, and broken glass as they skidded around the corner and disappeared from sight.
Isabel and Wesley were finally alone, and the Green Machine still patiently awaited its final fate.
As did the lone mechanic on the floor. His breathing was very slow, and very strained, and with each exhale came a nearly silent groan of pain. Still in a fetal position where he had curled after being generously placed there by the thin-blood, he barely moved, likely trying to avoid anyone's attention.
Dammit new blood! Wesley thought with a grimace.
Wesley, despite his frenzied state, still had half a mind to remember the entire charade. The whole reason they were allowed to exist peacefully within the city limits and not wandering vagrants without a good meal. He grabbed the second man’s gun and quickly popped the clip out to check how many bullets he had. Four. That would have to work.
Without explaining, he shot the man in the fetal position and darted after the other two men and right past the agitated kindred. If he drained them, there’d only be more witnesses. He had to be fast. No one could see. No one could know what they were or that was it.
Limitless existence over.
He took aim. Shot twice. And that was it. The two would be escapees fell to the floor.
“Isabel, we gotta go.” He whirled on his heel. Wesley stuck the gun in the back of his jeans and started for his car. “I am sorry, but--” He didn’t try much for comfort. He was covered in blood and his eyes struggled to focus on any one object in the room. His own appearance disgusted him and he couldn’t imagine how the new blood felt about it. Wesley needed to calm down. “--I’ll explain it to you on the way alright? We just gotta go.”
“OH BITE ME, WES!” The new-blood, who save for a slight shaking in her legs, had been completely still since her moment of questionable mercy suddenly surged forwards; stomping with her fangs bared at the blood covered Toreador into the workshop. The air was a full blown symphony of intoxicating smells and each one was shredding at Isabel’s very last fiber of self control. Everything was such a goddamn mess. It shouldn’t have gone like this. Surely they’d made more trouble for themselves and Hanna. Police would be all over a murder like this. Newspapers would go nuts for it to. And it was all her fault “Just fucking bite me alright.”
“Maybe some other time, new blood.” Wesley smirked in reply. “But we gotta go before anyone else shows up. Hm?” He begrudgingly gestured towards his chopped up ride. His keys were still in his pocket but he had to wonder if the thing would even start.
“We need to clean up here or something before the cops show up and I have another cowboy following me around asking questions.” Looking at the scene of what could only be called a massacre, Isabel could feel her eyes being almost magnetically drawn towards the slumped bodies of the gang member, the blood they no longer had a need for seeping out onto the floor. There was also one spot in the room her gaze was actively avoiding. One thing that made the beast recoil and cower. Clenching her fist, Isabel forced herself to stare at the welding torch still quietly burning away where it had been dropped by one of the corpses that now decorated the room. It would probably work well enough. “Go find some gas and get the other two or something, I think… I think I have an idea.”
The thin-blood didn’t actually wait for her friend to move before she fell on the barely twitching body of the man who had held a knife to her. The call of their blood was too strong and it wasn’t like they were using it anymore, or they wouldn't be in a minute anyway. The kiss was supposed to feel pretty great for the victim. Isabel could still remember the euphoric blanket that had settled over her in that alleyway. It would ease the man through the veil to whatever waited for him beyond. He was already dead, his body just hadn't given up yet. The kiss was a mercy she could give him. There were worse things. Lots of worse things. This twisting and convoluted logic raced around Isabel’s head until the moment her fangs pierced her victims flesh and sweet blood filled her mouth. Then all reason was lost.
Wesley didn’t question the new blood. They all had a hunger, he’d simply had his fill. Although there was always the itch, even now after he had gorged. He just chose to ignore it. He jumped over the door into the car and jammed his key inside the car. Much to his fortune, it roared to life. He hated the noise, but thanked whatever God had willed it to life.
Wesley hopped back out of the car with the engine still running. If someone took his car this time they could fucking have it. He sniffed at the air and tried to see if there was a notable hint of gas. It was a chop shop, there had to be gas somewhere.
A canister in the corner called to his senses. He jogged over to it and shook it to determine its contents. There was a small bit of something in it.
He brought the canister back to Isabel and offered it to her. “How about this, hm?” He hummed, sloshing the contents around.
“Umm.. yeah, that should… yeah that will work.” Somehow, even with blood dripping down her chin, the thin-blood’s face looked more her own than it had done a few moments before. Kindness, empathy and doubt made themselves at home in her features once more. To her eye the world looked brighter, sharper, more vivid than it had. Her head also felt emptier. Clearer. What needed to happen made her squirm inside but was also crystal clear. There wasn’t another good option. “Wait outside and be ready ok... yeah? I’ll be five minutes.”
Three and half minutes later, Isabel sprinted up to Wes’ extremely unique car, oversized bowie knife in and hand, and all but threw herself inside.
“Go, that place is gon-”
A sound almost like a champagne cork popping followed by a low but gut shaking thud and the sound of falling metal cut the thin blood off. In the viper’s mirrors the hole that Wes had made in the door was now lit by an almost cozy flickering orange glow.
“GO!” The vipers' suspension rocked as Isabel bounced in her seat, her head twisting back and forth as she tried to look at all their surroundings at once. “GO GO GO GO GO GOOOO!”
Wesley gunned it, sparing a glance behind him to see what was wrong. A large flame met his gaze and he immediately turned his eyes back on the road. And he just couldn’t help it. He burst into a fit of laughter. The witty comment he’d had died on his tongue, more amused by Isabel’s science experiment of a solution. They crashed onto the nearby street and were soon on their way down the road.
The roar of the rescued Viper echoed within that small community. No one came out to see what had caused it. They huddled instead in their houses, behind couches or beds, hunched and cowering and fearful. Tears traced the faces of mother's comforting screaming children, and teenagers watched the curtained or cardboarded windows with trepidation.
The children sitting on the curb had fled at the first sound of gunfire, the convenience store at whose feet they'd sat itself locked securely and nearly empty of all occupants. Indeed, apart from the engine revving, two pair of retreating shoes on asphalt was the only sound.
One figure had remained on the steps. Perhaps seventeen years old, he watched with distracted interest as the Green Machine drove away. His eye shifted to the growing inferno behind him. From a pocket, he pulled his cell phone and flipped it open.
"Hey, yeah. Need to report a fire."
No one watched the car drive by. And no one followed. Wesley’s phone began to vibrate in his pocket. The Toreador hummed, wondering who it was that wanted to talk to him so badly. He pulled the old Nokia from his pocket and pressed it to his ear.
With a stupid grin on his face, he answered as calmly as he could. “Beautiful Wesley, at your service.”
The hour waned to the beat of electric-disco funk, and with it the French rocker’s patience whittled down to a bare nub.
Every heavy-handed attempt at flattery was met with the same vacuous glee. Antonio waxed poetic, and Amélie smiled. And laughed. And batted her eyes. And said every airheaded party girl maxim she could think of while her brain idled in the interim.
And what had she gleaned? What had the rocker turned femme fatale gained from inhaling the smell of alcohol and musk for the past hour? Nothing, save that Antonio could never hope to snag a woman money couldn’t buy. Forty-five minutes of overt flirtation, and the thing lifting Amélie’s cheeks was not so much a smile as it was a ghoulish grimace.
Bold black nails bit into her skin as Amélie rested her chin in her hands. In tandem, Tony abruptly changed gears. His expression shuttered, and for the first time that night, the smile on the rocker’s face dissipated as she listened to his slurred story, the bones to a marked past quietly assembling from the words of a broken man.
A youth past gone. A child killed before her prime. His hands soiled with the blood of revenge.
It was an old song, but a familiar one. It went unspoken; she felt the burning passion of a father’s love. That need, that desire, to protect the product of your love, the joy of your heart. The thought pulled her away from the bum’s mention - finally - of the drug, and she cast her eyes away, an odd expression mingling with the inviting gleam to her eyes.
Dare she inquire further? If she asked, she was sure he would tell. He was both simple and drunk - utterly vulnerable, really, to further toying. Perhaps if she gave him the comfort he so desired, the pandora box would open. He could share his coveted secrets, and she could be on her way, at long last. Amélie knew the story already: the parental love, the despair, the desperation driving one into frenzied, maddening anger.
And what was left when the rage was gone? Nothingness. A hollowed heart. The tiny bones of your sin, scattered and buried in the potted soil of a bonsai tree. The flowers blooming every year in memoriam...
C'est la vie. It was just the way things went.
Amélie’s face had sobered, her eyes drawn half-closed as whatever “drug” she pretended to be under the influence of waned in its temporary high. The charade was over. She couldn’t return to the same level of ignorance she'd shown before. The cut of her eye was too keen, too intelligent; the wheels could be seen turning behind her porcelain white skin, and she picked idly at her nails, looking up at Tony from beneath her lashes.
"Mm, yeah," Amélie hummed, sotto voce. "The high. I could use a picker-upper. My week’s been kinda shitty."
After a beat, she tacked on gently, "Sounds like you could use one too. You okay?"
"Am, now I gotsha piddy face tah talk to."
He laughed to, or perhaps at, himself. A croaking, wheezing sound, it ended in a phlegm-filled cough. Eyes watering, Tony lifted his head from where he'd shoved it into his sleeve.
"Damn age. If I wash only twenny years younger…"
Age was not the only thing that beleaguered the man's body. During the eternal moment she'd had to endure bearing up under his 'flirtations', it would have become painfully obvious that his body was broken and dying, suspended in a kind of mock life by his clear drug of choice. Yet even the alcohol was cutting away moments like a gardener on a hedge. At any moment, he might snip the stem.
"Buh yeah: the high. Ish all gone, what'd wash o'me." Tony grunted before standing from the table, leaning fully on it and the seat for the support his inebriation had robbed him of. "S'moore inna back. Dohn wanna carry 'tall onner self at wonce."
Carefully, he released his props and began shuffling for the door.
Amélie materialized at his side at once. With a gentle yet firm grip, she held the man’s left elbow. She told herself it was practicality and not pity that made her support him so.
“You’ve got a stash, huh. Kudos to you.”
A crooked grin graced her face as she helped prop open the door for him with her foot.
"Yer a kind'un."
Tony shuffled through, aided as he was by Amélie's hand, and began leading her down the street. He moved with less jerkiness, though still with the hesitation of age, and the odor of alcohol was somewhat lessening. They walked in silence for a few yards before he spoke again.
"Dope ain't n'answer toah shitty week, ya know."
No shit. Was this the sage advice of a drug-toting bum who drowned his woes in a bottle? Way for the pot to call the kettle black. Anymore useless pearls of wisdom from ol’ Captain Jack over here, and she’d cut the pleasant chatter and get straight to business.
Amélie stayed quiet for a while.
“Yeah I know. But it helps to take the edge off…” She shrugged lightly, her eyes rolling under the streetlights. “I mean, it’s whatevs. It’s not like I’m addicted or anything.”
He looked at her askance. They were drawing near to a pile of what looked at first glance to be garbage, but what was in reality … still garbage by most standards, but that what had been salvaged by an entrepreneuring and creative mind. A long cardboard box had been set up in a dark corner in a dark alley, covered in a weathered tarp and surrounded by stacks of bricks, newspapers, and old plastic milk crates. As they drew near, Tony opened his mouth again, coming full stop some ten yards from the shanty.
"'Give it to whoever asks for it', they said. But I don't really wanna give 'tto ya." He looked at her, really looked at her, with a glance that was less idiot tramp and more concerned and badly experienced elder. Weak fingers took her arm, squeezing it will giving it a small shake. "Yer justa kid. Go git clean 'n turna round. Ain't too late."
"God, you sound like my dad. It's just a bit of fun. Quit buggin'."
She didn't have to fake the annoyance in her voice. She hardly registered the gentle pressure about her arm - instead, her eyes locked onto the makeshift home, and there was a crack in her airheaded facade.
So he was a bona-fide bum; a penniless, no house having, no car driving, stinky, run-of-the-mill bum. That's what had been chosen as the special dope's mule. But why? Was it because he was forgettable? Expendable? Certainly no one would miss him. And the man obviously had nothing to lose.
He had to have a handler. Another link in the chain towards who pulled the strings behind all this. Steel grey eyes swept his way, unreadable in the darkness.
"You're kinda old to be a drug dealer," Amélie observed, and she inclined her head towards the younger man, pursing her lips. "Isn't doing this kind of stuff...I dunno, dangerous? I mean like, I dunno…"
Her fingers played at the fabric on her dress.
"Like, I'll pay for it, obviously. I don't want you to get in trouble with your boss or whatever."
Tony stared at her for far longer than was reasonable, or even really appropriate, locking eyes in a way that spoke very clearly of a distinct lack of self-preservation. There was nothing supernatural or unusual in his gaze; it was just tired, old and tired and weary of seeing the children make the same mistakes he did. They still watered, his eyes, long decades outdoors having dried them out past recovery, but there was a redness in the whiteness themselves that spoke to more reasons than just age for the tears.
Finally, with a grunt and a shrug, he turned. His fingers released Amélie's arm, and he shuffled toward his shack.
"Guess Daddy'll git ya outta jail."
He popped inside, the tarp rising and falling like a beast chewing him up, before he suddenly reemerged, one hand clenched in a fist.
"Fifty. I got bills tah pay. As does my 'boss'."
His free hand lay open, extended to her expectantly.
The bills of money were crisp and new. After taking her time thumbing through her generously filled wallet, the old Tremere pressed the money against his palm. Four Andrew Jacksons peered up from the stack.
“Here. A little extra for your bills, too,” She replied airily, “‘Cause truthfully, seems like your ass of a boss could be paying a whole lot more for you doing all the dirty work. Hope they don’t mind.”
Now it was her turn to open a waiting hand, and her eyes bored into his own.
"Can't be asshed tah bother with change? I kin respec' that."
With a grim chuckle, he closed his fingers around the money and slipped it into his pocket even as he dropped the dime bag into Amélie's waiting grasp. It was filled perhaps halfway with a jet black substance of an odd consistency: somewhere between crystal and powder. The Kindred would recognize it immediately as Washburn's drug.
His product provided, Tony flashed a crooked, empty smile before scuttling into his shanty.
The bum had apparently deemed the exchange ended. It was not so for the rocker.
Under the wan lighting of the crescent moon, Amélie's features had frozen into what could only be described as a gruesome smile. Her lips, which had parted to mirror Tony’s polite cheer, were stiff in their fixed position. Stormy grey orbs stared ahead balefully, and they darted to and fro, from the bag, to the shanty, to the bag again. Finally, her fist closed around the parcel.
There was still a meal to be had for the old Tremere. Perhaps that was why the Beast roared and clawed at the perceived slight from the useless waste of life from within the garbage heap. Patience was a virtue she’d never been in much supply of. Neither was diplomacy, and she found, as with all things over time, that she was drawing dangerously close to running out of both said qualities.
She’d gotten more black dope and no answers. That’s all. Madam Amélie Dupuis, for all her choppy, amateur acting,, had only gotten a dime bag of dope and no answers. In exchange, Tony had gotten an hour of her time and eighty dollars. And her pity, which she was so wont to share.
Pity for a bum. Merde. What a damned waste of time.
The thoughts came as always as they did in her anger, hooking and worming their way into her skull unbidden as her body iced over. She took a step towards the man’s “home”, and the Beast raised its hackles.
Kill him. A heel crunched down upon cardboard, and another followed. Break him. Cast his putrid corpse into the streets where he belongs. How DARE he-
Amélie half-sang to the man as she intruded into his home. The lazy grin on her face did not match the predatory cut to her eyes.
“Hey uh, where’d ya get this? I don’t know what the hell this is.” She held the bag of dope and shook it. “What is this crap?”
As she lifted the plastic tarp, ratted and disintegrating even as she touched it, a knife point greeted her. It pressed into her vision, mere inches from her carefully maintained visage, and there it stayed.
"Issh my home. My house. Nothin' inn'ere s'yers, so back off."
Beyond the knife blade, Amélie's sharp eyes would see Tony hunched and scowling. There wasn't in fact much room: it seemed as though the beggar had taken two refrigerator boxes and fastened them together before opening them up slightly for a bit more room. And within said room was not much at all. A small pile of mildewing clothing lay in one corner, just large enough for a body, while a few half drunk bottles of water and liquor last discarded in the opposite corner. Against the back wall, a half torn green backpack leaned against the cardboard. It was zipped close, though to little effect to prevent entry.
Tony remained unmoving.
"I shaid, 'git'. You'na talk, issh outsi'e."
He wiggled the knife blade for emphasis.
The French woman stood still. She'd caught herself in time; what hands would have come to crush the man’s wrist betwixt her fingers instead flattened out slowly, and her palms showed in a defensive stance. The lazy smile was gone, replaced with a cold stare.
One more slight. For the sake of the Camarilla, surely she could weather one more slight.
"Oh my God, chill. Relax." The babe in the woods act had returned, and her eyes widened. "Ok look-"
Despite her "fear", she paid little attention to the knife as she turned around and stepped out of Tony's hovel, though she was quick to spin about and face the man once more. Her hands remained flat at shoulder height.
"Alright I'm out. Ok? Now can you tell me what this stuff is? I mean, what the hell-"
She shook the bag a bit for emphasis.
"Um, news flash: dope is white."
It was almost like dealing with a whole other man. As soon as Amélie had invaded his space, Tony had shifted to some violent criminal. Now, as he slowly followed her back outside and some steps away from his hovel, his demeanor altered again. The crooked smile returned, the knife disappeared, and the tired old man was back.
"You came tah me, lady. If'n yah didn'no whachew was gettin', how come yah bought it?" The small chuckle that bubbled into his throat began to choke him. Hacking and coughing, he turned his head to the side before spitting out a large globule of mucus. "C'mon: never had a Deep Sleep before?"
The grin widened and widened, threatening to split his face to the ears. One hand remained behind his back.
"No take backs."
It was the wrong answer.
As Tony had laughed and jeered at the perceived young woman, her carefully constructed facade had crumbled before his eyes. Maybe he'd been too drunk to notice: her expression shifted, her face flattening into something dark and unreadable. Her eyes were the black of an endless pit, cold and unforgiving, and what scant lips she had had thinned into a near flat line.
The shackled cries from the Beast were building into an angry roar. It egged her on as she finally spoke, her voice devoid of joy and playfulness.
"You can take it back right up your ass if you do not stop fucking around with me."
For perhaps the third - and final - time, the bag lifted, and she jabbed a black nail at the inky contents.
"I asked you what this is, and where you have gotten this from. And what the hell a 'Deep Sleep' is. You will tell me, yes?"
Immediately, irreversibly, and even explosively, the dynamic changed. Gone was the naive and idiot girl to whom Tony had been speaking, the rich chick who took her daddy's credit card and painted the town red. In her place, a hard figure of wrath, impatience, and possibly terror stood. There was as yet no threat of violence, yet the old man's knees nearly buckled as his heart leapt into his chest. This was no longer a veiled flirtation, nor even a teasing negotiation: it was clearly and very obviously an interrogation, with a good chance that Tony might not leave with his life.
"The fukkk!?" he squeaked as he nearly fell backwards. The knife was suddenly raised again, though with nothing of the protectiveness nor even the conscious defensiveness of before. This was gut, animalistic instinct, at least to try to save one's self. The quaking legs would complicate that plan. "I don fukkin'nnow what 'Deep Sleep' is! We geddah load offa the bus!"
Age and ailing health was hell on his joints, and the addition of mind-gnawing fear finally killed what little resolution they'd had to keep his body upright. Tony fell to the concrete walk below him, gasping in pain as he made contact. The blade skittered away, the rough surface tearing the paper thin skin of his old palms. Like a bouquet of flowers in a new spring day after a gentle rain, the aroma of blood drifted into the air. And Tony began sobbing.
"They djus' told'us tah sell it, 'n keep the money. Thass all!" He leaned forward, placing a tear-streaked face into his ripped hands and began weeping the harder. "I swear thass all…"
"Enough! Enough," Amélie hissed.
It was hard to pinpoint who she was really talking to: the sobbing man or the murderous entity that screeched relentlessly within like a blood-starved siren. It was so very, very hard to concentrate. The torrent of information that spawned suddenly from Tony’s mouth was processed as well as it could be, and Amélie struggled to keep her glower fixed to the man's tear streaked face and not his hands, which bled so freely, so openly-
It was the savory scent of a fresh-cooked meal wafting from the kitchen. The sweetest thing of undead life. His blood poured a crimson river upon the concrete. Her tongue found the source, and her fangs tore into flesh-
"Who’s 'they'?" She spat out finally. Her hands flexed and unflexed at her sides, the spasms rending marks in her fitted dress, and her figure loomed tall over Tony. "Enough with the pronoun games. All I need is a fucking name and a location for this miserable bus, and I'm gone."
He still cowered, shaking and twitching as if he would melt on the spot. There was nothing else to get out of him for an intolerably long moment, but it passed, and Tony replied through shuddering heaves.
"Fannin and Gray. 'Sall I know. Fannin and Gray. We get off the bus; they hand us the bags. Fannin and Gray." Bloody fingers wrapped about his upper arms in an attempt at a protective grasp. Slowly, he began to rock back and forth. "Fannin and Gray. Fannin and Gray. Fannin and Gray."
Somewhere above them, the harsh croak of a grackle rang out. Like the scrawny cousin of the crow and raven, it peered down with one eye from several stories up. It remained unmoved, watching.
There was a pregnant pause. In the stillness that lingered, a small flame bloomed in the palm of Amélie’s hands. Her eyes drifted away, and the metal lighter with it, coming to ignite the cigarette that had come to sit between her lips. She sighed softly, smoke pouring from her nostrils.
She hungered. For blood, and for more information; but Tony was in no condition to provide either. As to the former, the woman’s reasons for objecting were clear: the man was drunk and most importantly filthy. He stank of back-alley scum and personal failure. Had she not been given the bounty of blood at the Chantry, and she might have considered placing her mouth against such disease-ridden skin. But as of yet, she had the strength and fortitude to decline. There was the promise of a finer meal waiting within the (relative) safety of her own home. She could surely wait an hour or so, no?
As to the latter? Well…
Her attention snapped back to the younger man, who continued to rock on the ground. Fear and alcohol fumes rolled off of him in waves. She believed it when he said he knew nothing else. And even if she didn’t, hell- another line of questioning, and she would break the man without a single touch. There was nothing to be gained from speaking with him any further.
Back to the streets he went, then. The punishment befitted the crime.
“Thank you, Tony. For your assistance.” Her cigarette bobbed as her head dipped down. “Good night.”
She left him there without a second glance. Back inside the nightclub, she was met with a wall of noise and bodies. It seemed impossible, but even more people had come to pack the dance floor in the time she went away. Light on her feet, the French woman glided away through the crowd, her eyes roving about the club in search of her associates. When she did not find them, she assumed rather correctly that the trio were still out. Her mouth curved down into a frown.
Perhaps the man would be inclined to return a favor. After retrieving his number from the same blue-haired bartender from before, the raven-haired woman punched the numbers in with painstaking slowness into the public phone at the club, exhaling softly as the recipient of her call picked up.
“Bonsoir, Monsieur Wesley. I do not mean to disturb you, but ah - I have a small favor to ask.”
Street lights reflected in green and grey eyes and stray hairs flew wildly in the wind as Isabel’s head slumped against the now pointless pillars that had once supported the vipers roof. The new blood was silent, her eyes not focusing on the scenery flying by but rather on some point beyond it all. The beast had withdrawn, the ecstasy of blood had worn off and the mixture of fear and rage that had pushed her forward had faded. The inside of the new blood’s head was quickly starting to feel very empty, and very, very lonely.
Six people were dead. Six people who had had families and friends. Dead. Because of her. Because she couldn’t open a door like a normal fucking person. She’d even pushed one through the curtain to the void beyond to slake her own revolting thirst and justified it to herself as a mercy. A kindness. She’d robbed a man of incalculably precious moments and told herself it was ok because he was too far gone to be saved and that she could take away his pain when really her own animal desires had been her only motivation. And then to top it off, she had all but bombed a neighborhood full of families already struggling to make it in life. How many kids had she scarred for life? How many families had she deprived of money to put food on the table? All because she couldn’t recognize and open a GOD... FUCKING…DAMNED... DOOR!
“Hey, Isabel.” Wesley momentarily pressed his phone to his chest, sparing her a glance from the corner of his eye if only to see how she was doing. Both of them were covered in blood. Six people were dead. Both kindred were satisfied, yet entirely disappointed. “You know we had to do that, right?”
He paused. When they came up on a red light, he turned to give her as much attention as he was able. Wesley had to remind himself that she was still new at this. Being a monster wasn’t all sugar and rainbows, it was usually quite grim.
“It gets easier.” He tried to assure her. “The rules, the masquerade-- people cannot know about us. I know that doesn’t make it any less difficult to cope with but… we aren’t human. Some things you just-- you just gotta let it go.”
“People keep saying that it gets easier. I’m... not sure if I want it too, Wes.” The red light that bathed the front of the car conspired to make Wes look as monstrous as Isabel felt; she could feel the dried blood caked to her chin. Pulling her hood up and then down over her head, Isabel retreated deep into the darkness of the burgundy fabric. That conversation was over. It was bad enough playing the whole affair back over and over in her mind. She didn’t need to hear it outloud too. “Who was calling you?”
Wesley opened his mouth to say something a little sweeter, but closed it as Isabel retreated into herself. He’d been like that, once upon a time. Everyone had. They wanted to be good, keep their humanity close to their hearts so they didn’t forget their roots. Time changed his perspective, and it’d change hers too.
“Amélie. She misses me terribly.” Wesley smirked. His phone was still pressed to his chest, the kindred in question on the other end of the line. He put his phone back to his ear with a smile made gruesome by the amount of blood on his chin. “Be there in five. Be a doll, bring a few towels out?”
"Mm. Alright," came the dulcet voice on the other end. Electro-pop music blared in the background. There was the scratch of the receiver as the phone was propped onto the woman's shoulder. "Thank you, Wesley."
It didn’t take long for them to arrive at the front of the Buzz. Wesley kept a fair distance from the front door, not wanting to call any more attention than the two blood soaked kindred were already receiving. His jacket could only cover so much, and Isabel could only hide under hers to spare her face.
"Amélie! Vite, vite, mon amie.” He called to her, waving his hand to get her attention.
The call to urgency was duly noted. Amélie all but materialized at the passenger side, her arms clutching a trio of black towels. None were handed out as of yet, as the woman had planned to upon ending the phone call. Instead, her form stood stiffly as her senses were assailed upon by reaching near to the green car.
Iron. Ah, how sweet and familiar that scent was to her. What was not so sweet and familiar was the gruesome sight that accompanied it. Wesley and Isabel were...Wesley and Isabel were…
Her nostrils flared.
The first torrent of words that came out of her mouth were low, harsh, and distinctly French. A finger lifted from within the folds of the towels and jabbed accusingly in Wesley's direction.
Wesley shrugged. When he smiled, he revealed the bloody mess on his teeth. He replied, unable to help himself from chuckling.
The angry retort that peeled from Amélie's lips came rapid-fire.
"Merde. Here," She hissed low, abruptly switching to English. Her eyes went to the young woman down beside her, bright and intense, and she dropped the towels into her lap. "I will wait until all is cleaned before I get in."
Even still, the woman knew the offending smell that riled up the Beast so would linger the whole car ride back. Amélie tossed her head, pointedly looking away.
“Thanks.” Mumbling, Isabel shoveled two of the towels that had been dumped on her lap straight across to Wes’, keeping the third for herself. The soft fabric was wrapped tightly around her face, a mask to hide her shame. By the time the thin-blood exposed herself to the world again, her face was clean but sorely chafed and the towel flecked with specks of congealed blood. Throwing the bloodied fabric into the footwell, Isabel used the tips of her toes and all of her reach to push it as far away from herself as possible. Tonight was another night that could go burn as far as she cared.
“Umm, is it ok if Wes gives me a ride home on the way to wherever you two are going?”
“Ah yes, Miss Amélie, where are we going?” Wesley turned to the kindred and took one of the towels. He used it to wipe off his face as best he could, but the stain on the front of his shirt would probably just need to be thrown. “I, for one, am going home.”
The woman in question did not appear to be listening. Now that the other kindred had busied themselves cleaning up, the situation before her presented itself in sharper focus: the car was a two-seater. The raven-haired woman leaned in, glancing between Isabel and Wesley.
"I must return home as well. You are both welcome to...clean up there. Get situated."
The thought of them soiling her home nearly made her retract her invitation. With a visible intake of breath, she added, "Also I have some news, although I regret Hanna is not here to hear of such things as well…"
Blinking slowly, she gestured loosely towards Isabel.
"May I sit besides you?"
“Oh? Um, yeah.” Reaching forwards, Isabel tugged on the door handle next to her before shuffling herself across the seat until she could feel the viper’s gear shifter digging into her side slightly. Neither her nor Amélie were as waifishly proportioned as Hanna, but there was just about room for them both without one of them having to sit on the others lap.
“Sorry about… all of this.” A hand waved sheepishly at the now somewhat faded blood stains that peppered the thin-blood’s front.
No, it wasn't. The green vehicle reeked of a meal, and slung against Isabel’s side, Amélie's nose was all but shoved into the source. Her tongue ran against her fangs compulsively. Her eyes flickered down to Isabel’s skin...
The blood roared in her ears. With a sharp turn of her head, she looked out the window.
"I have a lead on our mystery drug supply," She finally managed, her voice tight. "There are two suppliers by name of 'Fannin and Gray'. Apparently they've been using homeless peoples as their mules. Heard of them?"
“I can’t say I have.” Wesley sneered. Drugs. Again with the talk about the black stuff. He’d been offended not to have been included, intrigued when he’d learned, but his gut was still repulsed by the idea. “Not the worst idea though, no one really minds when a vagrant loses their way…”
“Hanna might. Kinda her area what with like the um, her supply of…” Isabel searched for a word to euphemistically describe Hanna’s stock of walking blood banks for a few moments. Her vision was glued to the dashboard in front of her; she hadn’t failed to spot the french vampire's discomfort. “Her lunch hookups.”
“It’s possible.” Wesley agreed. “But first, where am I taking you two lovely ladies?”
"Get on the expressway." Amélie ordered. She turned just enough to point at the sign to signal the upcoming highway before shriveling away back in her corner. "Take it South towards Seeley. I will show you the way."
The journey to the Tremere’s lair was not overly long and some 45 minutes later, the vipers tyres came to a halt on the cobblestone driveway in front of the small and somewhat secluded house the Amélie called home.
“Quaint, not what I was expecting.” Wesley teased. For some reason he thought the french kindred’s home would be a bit more intimidating, not the adorable cottage at the end of the drive.
He got out and made the short trek around the car to let them both out before hopping back into the driver’s seat.
“I’m going to park a bit down the street. She’s a bit too… well, she’s a bit too everything now.” He scowled.
No reply came from the French woman save for the faint wave of her hand. She was far too keyed up; the sight of her home had brought at last feelings of absolution, and she sprung rapidly from the car, only sparing Isabel a single glance to see if she was following.
As Wesley had observed earlier, the house did not seem akin to Amélie’s sense of character. In spite of the thick obfuscations of surrounding trees and shrubbery, the tri-colored bungalow exuded a cheery Southern charm. The bulk of the vinyl siding was covered in a dark minty green, and the roof was a muted brown made black under the night’s sky. The four corners of the home as well as the support beams holding up the wide front porch were colored in white paint. Like the driveway, the steps were cobblestone, and the older vampire’s heels clacked noisily against them. At her approach, the sconce besides the front window flickered to life, illuminating the mustard yellow door. Should Isabel or Wesley look left of the door, they would spot another anomaly belonging to the designer-clad Tremere: a wide porch swing, soft brown in color, with stocky white pillows on its cushion. It looked as if it had never been sat on.
“Take off your shoes at the door,” Amélie ordered. There was a slight shake to the rocker’s hands as she unlocked the door, and she stepped out of her own heels neatly. “I will give you some better ones and clothes, yes? And a shower. Come-”
The door made way, and with it, the interior of the bungalow was laid bare.
It was a stunning transition. Homey, Texan charm made way for the cold elegance that had followed Amélie from house to house, city to city. Side to side, ceiling to floor, the rooms were painted a stark white, and both the foyer stretching ahead of them and the large living room to their right were covered in plush, antique Persian rugs. It was distinctly reminiscent of the 1920s, from the claw-footed settees and chaise sprawled in front of the white fireplace to the ornate crystal chandelier hanging in the center. An old style gramophone sat in the far right corner, tucked neatly between two tall bookshelves.
Straight ahead was the staircase to the second floor, and further down lay what appeared to be the kitchen. To the right was presumably the den, but little was seen of it as Amélie was quick to pull shut the door to it. She stared with intense scrutiny at Isabel's blood splattered clothes.
"Do you want me to clean those? Or burn them?"
Halfway through unlacing her boots, Isabel stared up at her host. The more she got to know her new friend, the less she understood them. A musician had been an easy box to put Amélie in. It was neat. It had made sense. Only now it didn’t fit. The house, meticulously tidy and looking like it could be an exhibit in a museum, put paid to that. On these uncertain sands, it was impossible for Isabel to tell if Amélie had been joking or not with her offer and the thin-blood decided to restate her choice with a little more certainty.
“Err yeah, just clean them if it’s not too much trouble, but, like, I could put them in a bag or something and do it myself, you don’t need...” Catching herself starting to ramble, Isbael let the sentence die unfinished and instead pulled off her hoodie, taking care to make sure it ended up inside out to keep as much dirt in and off Amélie’s floors as possible, before crossing the threshold. “Your house is really nice. Really old worldly.”
"You think so?"
There was genuine surprise on the older woman's face. Her own opinion of her home tended to border on general apathy. Most of the junk she hoarded within the house were items bartered decades ago, some even having come with her when first immigrating to the States. The novelty of such things had long since worn away. But a fresh, new perspective made her look, really look at the interior of her home.
"Hm. Thank you," She finally said. To have someone as young as Isabel compliment her mediocre relic of a house was a bounty she'd not been expecting, and her harsh features softened. "I suppose it is old. Might be time for some new things."
Despite her gentle tone, she practically pried the hoodie from Isabel's hands. It seemed her hospitality was not an option, and after a moment of self-awareness, the rocker smiled apologetically.
"I'll clean it," Amélie asserted. "Your shoes too. It's quite alright - I used to do this for a living."
Wesley returned inside after having parked his car far down the street. He caught the older woman offering to clean clothes and hesitated a moment. Surely she wouldn’t have any clothes that fit him? He was, after all, much taller and more obviously a man.
“I truly hate to ask, but…” Wesley tugged at his bloody button up. “If you have something I could borrow, I would be very appreciative.”
Like a cat tracking a laser dot, Amélie's eyes followed the blood stains on the shirt as it inched up Wesley's body. Slowly, her free hand opened to accept the clothing.
"I think I have…"
Red swam before her vision. Suddenly, feverishly, the starved monster within reached a frenzied pitch. She swallowed.
Time to feed, the voice within crooned, and Amélie took a small step back. Time to feast!
What did Wesley ask for again? Did it matter?
"I'll find something," She murmured, snapping her focus back to the blonde. "I think Aym- ah, a friend may have left some suits behind. Ok? Please, just-"
Enough chatter! Eat. Eat! EAT!
"Bathrooms are upstairs," She managed tightly, the agitation showing on her face. Decorum called for further instruction, further useless prattle, but she could not lie - the hunger within had her moments away from bolting. "One to the left, one to the right. Ok?"
Isabel didn’t need telling twice. Scurrying up the stairs, the thin blood bolted for the bathroom on the right, locking the door behind herself and turning the showers tap. While hot water cascaded into a claw footed bathtub, the clothes the Amélie had thought fit to suggest burning were folded neatly, partly because order seemed to be the order of the house but mostly because the activity stopped Isabel from looking in the mirror. As much as the thin-blood had loathed the creature staring back at her from the mirror in the club’s bathroom, she knew she would hate the thing that would meet her gaze now infinitely more. Such was the thin-blood’s desire to avoid the mirror’s searing gaze, she actually folded and unfold her clothes several times as she waited for the shower to run hot. As soon as steam started to fill the room the thin-blod shut her eyes, groped her way across the bathroom and stepped under the cleansing torrent, hiding from herself until the night's sins were washed down the drain in long red tendrils.
To say that Hanna was intrigued was a major understatement. Not only was she not allowed to look into the rest of Salvatore’s personal castle in the middle of Houston, in all its dilapidated chic, but he’d given her data as well. Now, whether that data was… well, good was a whole other matter, but even lies said a lot about what somebody thought was important. Out of the shadows she stepped, into the halogen lights of the parking lot, her doggy guard and babysitter finally beating a hasty retreat behind the Astrodome’s gates.
For that last touch, she flashed the dog a peace sign, before spinning around to make the trek through the dark to her car. Hopefully nobody had burned down the Buzz while she’d been out.
Wouldn’t be the first time.
Abruptly, there were voices calling towards her, and lazily she turned to look. Somewhere - deep in the part of her psyche that used to be human - there was an instinctive jolt of caution. She was, after all, about 5’2” and waifishly built, but those were old habits. As was that solid and firm yank on the leash of the Beast abruptly slobbering at the prospect of teaching these thugs what-for.
“Hey, boys, how can I help ya? I, like, just want to get to my car. Nice necklace, man. Real groovy,” she stated calmly, pointing to the crow pendant around their leader’s neck. Her eyes zeroed in on it a bit. Huh-- weird apparel for a thug.
"I think you got a problem with your ears or something."
.38's eyes flitted to her left and right, checking his companions. Gun still raised, he gave a head raise in one of their directions. Muscle shirt walked up, sizeable knife in hand at low ready, point raised. After waiting a few beats, the others followed suit from their own directions.
"I said: why you here?"
Hanna felt her arms grabbed tightly from behind by rough hands, as well as a thigh braced against her backside for leverage. .38 leaned in a bit closer, eyes narrowed and gun still raised.
Her eyes lazily followed the gun, and ever-so-imperceptibly the dark holes in each grew wide. She didn’t seem perturbed— more annoyed.
Peeved, was a good word for it.
“Visitin’ a buddy. Turns out he wasn’t here, dude. Like… bummer, for sure,” she lied. Her eyes locked onto the man with the gun. Her stare drilled into him. “I think, like, you should lemme go home, man. Golden Girls is on.”
The Beast begged, whined, howled for blood. It’s hackles were raised, at the touch of foreign hands, at the disrespect. But she was no idiot. Control… control…
“I don’t wanna start nothin’, man,” she professed, lightly yanking at her captor’s grip. “You’re crampin’ my style.”
"Style? Bitch, you my style." The gun had, finally, lowered to his side as he had closed the last foot and a half. .38 raised his free hand, placing it gently on Hanna's right cheek. "And I been lonely."
His fingers shifted, the gentle press turning to hard grip on either side of her mouth. A lust appeared in his eyes, and he grinned crookedly, a black grin. With a last squeeze of her cheeks, he turned away, beckoning to his companions. They began moving, forcing her towards their mode of transport: an old Buick, dark tan and aged badly.
"'Start nothin'. Shit," .38 called over his shoulder. "Best believe we gonna finish it, though."
He cast a toothy smirk at her, and he licked his lips.
The Brujah didn’t respond as the others came closer, but her mind was made up.
She had had about as much as her patience was allowing her.
“Nobody can say I didn’t try,” Hanna sighed, though there was a dark glee in her eyes. She wondered if Salvatore had rigged this up— to see what he was dealing with. Well, if he was, then he’d get a show.
If he wasn’t, then that was a damn shame. Nobody was going to appreciate the carnage with her.
F*CK EM UP.
A foot jabbed backwards into the man holding her, aimed for his knee-cap at a blinding speed. She grappled an arm and threw her weight forward, to toss him to the ground over her shoulder.
There was a pop like fireworks, and the man screamed wildly in pain. His knee went crooked, bending to the right, and his grip immediately broke loose as he collapsed to the ground. His companions didn't deviate from their path, at first, almost as if the revelation of this violent threat wasn't quite registering in their minds. It was unfortunate, then, that one of them had such a rude notification of this predator, and only his yell of shock and surprise as his orientation got inverted and his spine impacted the asphalt showed he knew what had happened at all.
The last two were a bit more cognizant. Muscle shirt back pedaled several steps, brandishing his knife, while their leader raised the pistol. There was neither shock nor surprise on either of their faces. .38 smirked again.
"Wrong choice," he said, and fired. There was an immediate pressure in Hanna's left shoulder as the lead burrowed into undead skin. Then, almost as if the gun were a starting pistol, muscle shirt jumped forward, slashing for the base of her neck.
Hanna lurched slightly, blood beginning to leak from her shoulder. The woman turned to the other two with a flash fast enough to make it seem like a trick of the eyes. Rather than move, she grabbed hold of the man’s slashing wrist— and smashed her fist upward into his elbow, shattering the joint. His body was hauled to her with unnatural strength, shielding her. Perhaps he’d hesitate having a buddy in harm’s way.
“That stung,” she laughed, a bloodlust in her gaze as she stared at the man with the gun. “What’s your game, man?”
Her victim’s shattered arm was twisted behind his back, her free hand cranking back his head by the hair.
Muscle shirt's voice joined Hanna's first victim's in horrible harmony. Bandana scrambled up off the ground, groaning a little in pain and anger. Face twisted in fury, he took a step toward the woman. But .38 shook his head, and bandana stopped, though his eyes still shone with rage. .38's eyes flickered to the gunshot wound before coming back up to meet Hanna's.
"My game? It's asking stupid people like you the fuck you doing here." The gun never lowered, though it shifted somewhat more up, toward Hanna's head. "And then to do something 'bout it. I asked you first. And you lied to me. So we took a different option.
"But maybe we start over." The screaming had dwindled somewhat, regressing to whimpers of pain. Hanna's victim tried to stand as still as he could manage, not wanting to risk more hurt. .38 didn't appear to hear their cries. "Most people don't come here 'cept daylight. So what the fuck you doing here?"
Things were quiet. Hanna stared at the gun pointed toward her head. It would hurt, yeah. It would be easier to just kill these lowlifes, but bodies left evidence, and evidence meant questions. The Beast didn’t agree.
The Beast howled for blood, and her patience had run out.
“I tried to ask nice,” Hanna chuckled, neck cracking as she popped it. Without preamble, she chucked her hostage at his bandana-wearing compatriot with full, inhuman strength. She disappeared from view, a blur, toward the gun-wielding thug. A knife from the ground appeared in her hand, snatched, as she zipped forward to stab him in the throat.
There was a tangle of limbs, and further cries of pain, followed by the dull thud of heavy weight dropped of heavy weight. Bandana was not prepared in the slightest, and muscle shirt fell bodily into him with the excessive force of Hanna's shove. Neither remained upright, both failing to the ground with curses.
.38 hadn't been idle. As Hanna discarded her hostage, he fired. The shot was on target originally yet missed as she dodged away. Even as she raced forward, he kicked out, striking at her feet before falling to the ground himself. He made contact, catching her right shin, causing his attacker to lose balance forward. There was another crack of gunfire, and the bullet tore through Hanna's lung. At the same moment, her knife blade sank deeply into his chest, just below his clavicle.
"Bitch!" he yelled. The Brujah's momentum had carried her forward, and with the trip, she'd landed across him as he lay on the asphalt. He shoved her off, much harder than anyone with his injury had any right to, before scrambling to his feet and yanking the knife out with his freehand. There was no blood. He brought the pistol up again.
"You gonna die slow for that," he spat.
Hanna bounded up to her feet, and seeing a lack of blood immediately put a massive grin on her face.
“Rude,” she said with a husk to her voice, a crazed smile gracing her elfin features. So he was Kindred then. That explained the crazy jewelry. That did not explain why he was out here. Or why he was out to kill her.
But it meant she didn’t have to take things easy. These boys weren’t under the Masquerade.
tear him apart
The waifish vampire took off at a sprint towards her opponent, and she showed her experience by zigzagging back and forth, an already small target zipping by at a blur. With inhuman strength she reached for the gun, yanking it past her— and her elbow aimed for his face to black his eyes.
He tried to follow. He really did. But shooting someone point blank as they collapse on you is significantly easier than hitting a moving target. Though Hanna was correct in her assertion, .38 was simply unable to keep up. When he swung his weapon around, she was already moving, and as soon as he brought it to bear on her new trajectory, she'd already moved again. His forehead, previously furrowed, raised and eyes widened, and his shots began going wild. The revolver hammer clicked; it was empty.
Suddenly, she was on him. Muscles clenched involuntarily as she yanked his arm past her.
"Shit!" he managed, just before his head snapped back as it made way for Hanna's elbow. His legs buckled, and he collapsed.
"The fuck!" The knife was still in his hand, where he'd pulled it from his chest. Standing up quickly, he twisted back toward Hanna and brought the knife up for a low stab. His right eye was destroyed, the socket around it shattered, and bits of flesh appeared slashed, making way for bone shards. "You've ruined my eye!"
“You’ll get over it,” she taunted as she slipped by the knife with ungodly speed, smacking his wrist hard enough to send a painful jolt up his arm. The knife was abruptly in her hand instead, and she raised it up in a fluid, practiced motion that bespoke some experience. He was nowhere as dangerous as she had first thought.
Fingers wrapped about the man’s neck, and a feral grasp held it tight. The Beast shrieked behind her eyes, begging her to dig her fangs into him, to dismember him, decapitate him, scatter him across the parking lot in slow grates on the pavement until there was only paste left. He was thrown to the ground, the vampire set upon him, sitting on his chest, and in a flurry, she stabbed down into his chest, ten times, twenty times, thirty times, sick squelching noises for every lightning fast shiv. Finally, she stopped, arm raised, knife poised.
“Who… sent you here?” she asked with disturbing calm, though her arm quivered. She could tear his head off with her bare hands. She could rip him apart, a limb at a time. She could reach down his throat, grab his stomach, and yank if she wanted to.
His lip quivered, body shaking. Limbs tried to curl in toward his body on their own accord, but the multiple and excessive destruction of the necessary muscles to achieve that action prevented their doing so. Instead, they could only twitch. As could his voice. The groan that exited his mouth was weak and wavered wildly, lungs and diaphragm very nearly destroyed themselves. Nevertheless, the terror of his own mortality spurred him on.
“Sent me?” .38 coughed violently. “Bitch! This my turf! Fuck.”
He lay still a moment, as if trying to will his broken form to move. It would not. All he could do was to stare up at his with his one good eye, glaring daggers.
“Guess it yours now, though. Shit.” He managed a head shake. “How the fuck you move like that? You bleed, but you moved like me.”
Hanna remained in place, looking down at the bloodless body she had laid low. She wanted to continue his torture… but there was little to be gained that way.
“Whose territory is this, then?” she said, skirting around his question. “Tell me, and you might not die, my dude. I know just the thing that could fix you up.”
Her eyes lit over to his wounded compatriots. Her body ached to drain them. She had overexerted herself, and now it was time to feed - maybe for the both of them. She had a feeling that if this kid was running this place, it was someone Salvatore would want to know— or herself.
A growl grew in his throat, the growl of a mortally wounded, cornered animal. He struggled, as best he might, yet his core muscles had been shredded by Hanna's blade. Living or undead, his body still relied on physics to move, and physics wasn't cooperating.
"Fuck, was you listening?" He grimaced, showing his Kindred teeth plainly. "I said it's my turf! Until you shredded me, was."
Some distance away, perhaps twenty feet, bandana had shifted himself out from under muscle shirt, who was now in severe shock from the pain and laying like a dead man. Bandana's face was an angry red, his skin scraped and bleeding from his dive onto the asphalt, and he reached for something in the back of his pants.
"The fuck I say!?" He spat toward bandana, his brow furrowed in anger. "I said it's her turf now, bitch! That's how this life is: you live, and then you die. And someone else always wins."
Bandana backed down, his hands again empty, and he turned instead to muscle shirt, to do what he could for him .38 looked back up to Hannna.
"The fuck you want from me? Ain't in no hurry to die, but if you's looking for some other answer, I ain't got it. This was mine; now it's yours."
Hanna considered the offer. More territory…. right on the edge of Sal’s. Could be dirty, but maybe they could arrange something. Shared custody as it stood.
“Better idea. I don’t like completely changin’ management when I take a place. Leaves a bad taste in employees’ mouths,” she said, and finally she flashed fangs at the gangbanger. “How’s this? I’m taking you back, I clean you up, and in gratitude, you run this thing for me, you dig? I cop the heat, head off the bigwigs. Capesce?”
.38 shrugged as best he could and cut her a crooked smile.
"Don't see how it's my choice no more. I'm just happy I ain't dead.
"Patch!" He raised his voice, still watching Hanna closely. To the side, bandana looked up. He'd managed something that could very generously be called a splint on muscle shirt's broken arm. His patient was still moaning in the throes of shock. "Hey Patchy, take Six to the chop. Tell 'em you found him like that. Leave the others."
Patch nodded hesitantly, eyes slowly shifting to assess Hanna. They lingered perhaps a moment longer than necessary before he turned back down to lift Six up in an assisted walk to the old Buick. The gang leader chuckled darkly.
"They good boys. And they come with. Else just kill me now."
“Wouldn’t expect anything else, dude,” Hanna said. She just kept collecting strays. Her mother always said she was bad for that. What in the world would she do with this guy’s turf…? Ah, well. She’d figure something out.
“Got a name, guy?”
She should probably find that out. He would end up a lieutenant of sorts, if she decided to keep the place.
"Oscar Jimenez," he managed. "The boys always called me Cut, though."
“Well, Cut, I think you just got lucky who you pissed off.”
The witching hour. Evening had ended officially, even as the hands of the clock raised skyward in reverence to whatever pagan cosmological being thus in charge. With the beginning of morning, however early, came a shift in the atmosphere, dripping in the impending fear of the sunrise. Urgency colored every night walker's deed, whether living or not, and business began to shift toward the nightly completion.
Kat hated midnight. For the last few hours, she'd lain on the roof of their enormous building, trying and failing to pierce the wall of clouds with her slitted eyes. She worked her jaw in frustration, glaring daggers upwards. She missed the stars. The Sewer Rats didn't get to see them much, by virtue of society's utter inability to cope with anything even marginally outside their miniscule sphere of experience. The Dome was a nice little get away; security detail here was seen as a kind of vacation, and she reveled in it.
The side benefit of getting to listen to the business that the Boss's Thug friend had gotten herself into after their little meeting was just icing on that blood cake.
A sharp bird croak drew her ear. The black shuffle of crow's feathers fell to the dome beside her in something of a hurried tumble. She propped herself up to look. Yep, one of the Boss's. She recognized the white band around its neck. They didn't usually return unless they had something to say. Already, it was chittering and muttering in its stupid cigarette voice. It was an infectious attitude. Grumbling, Katrina picked up the crow unceremoniously, unnaturally long fingers wrapping about its body, and headed inside to find Salvatore.
And hopefully she'd get to kill this God awful messenger.
It wasn’t difficult to find him either. The Nosferatu Primogen had barely moved from his makeshift court on the baseball diamond. Salvatore always held his meetings there, in the open. In the world of darkness, this kind of self-exposure a step or two away from idiocy, and yet Sal had insisted on it: he was a fan of unspoken messages, and to spend most of the night with his back to the unknown, and with his business laid bare before the dark was a very overt kind of message. Salvatore wasn’t afraid. The Dome was his, and nothing--and no one--within its walls were hidden from his many eyes.
On this particular night, his troupe of shadowed observers, perched and obfuscated throughout the Dome, had no doubt been witness to many odd things. Certainly, it had started interesting enough: the Anarch and her deal were of particular note. The conversations that had followed were a little more frustrating. Espionage reports, network logistics, and the progress of their own investigation into the drugs--or rather the lack thereof--all ranged from tedious to disappointing.
By the time Kat found her way to Salvatore, he was hunched over the table with his eyes shut; he had one hand wrapped around an empty tumbler, and the other deep within the fur of the hound at his side. As Kat got closer, the old cowboy raised the lip of his hat ever-so-slightly, and trained his eyes on her and her prize.
“Got somethin’ for me?”
"Yeah: a C&D about your fuckin drinking problem." Always quick with the salt. Yet, Kat eyed the glass jealously, lingering a moment too long as she smelled the left over vitae. "Also, this just came for you."
She dropped the bird unceremoniously onto his table. It thumped before righting itself, turning to squawk at his temporary valet bitterly about the mistreatment. She pointedly ignored it, opting instead to occupy the seat Hanna had only a few hours before. Her fingers pulled at the frayed end of her mid-thigh length flapper dress. A matching hat covered the mat of grease and lice that was once a beautiful mane of chestnut hair. Knowing her Boss' habits, she bent over to peer beneath his table. Smiling, she pulled it to her. The smile flipped as suddenly as a coin; it was empty. Scoffing, Kat replaced it with a careless toss.
"But seriously: get some fuckin fresh stuff, Boss."
The crow had settled onto the table where it had been discarded. When Salvatore looked at it, it turned its head to the side to cast an eye on him. The look told him what it knew: the Greyhound bus, the unregistered one, had made the city again, for the first time in a month. And it was loaded with bums.
Salvatore reared back from the gaze of his winged messenger; his glassy eyes once again focusing on the scene around him. Sal was not an easy kindred to impress. With nearly three centuries of the life experience under his belt, the old Nos figured he had seen just about everything. His history, coupled with his own rough-and-tumble personality, had made him jaded in his old age. This simple message, borne on the wings of a bird barely capable of understanding what it had seen, was one of the few things still capable of stoking a fire in his heart. After all, it had been a while since a mystery of this size had fallen into his lap. With a huff, the Primogen of the clan Nosferatu rose from his seat for the first time all night, and began to scour his pockets.
With the barest traces of a grin upon his lips, the Sal turned to his side to address Kat.
“For once, Katerina, I do agree.” Salvatore pulled his cell-phone free from the left pocket of his faded denim jeans, and held it up in the light. Clever though these cellular devices were, Sal always did struggle to make out the words on their tiny, monochrome screens. The cowboy had a devil of a time trying to work the blasted thing, but it had a few crucial functions. In particular, it sure made getting the word out a hell of a lot easier than it used to be.
2121 S Main St. Unmarked Greyhound arrival. Locate passengers ASAP. All available Eyes. Capture if possible. High priority.
A moment after Sal pressed the send button, a handful of soft lights lit up from within the darkened stands beyond. Most of his eyes were far from the Dome, but he always kept a handful close by during meeting nights. It never hurt to have the extra security. Sal glanced down at his phone just briefly, before stuffing it back in his pocket. It was a damnable thing, that device, but being able to get the word out instantaneously was a benefit well worth the frustration of trying to use it.
The old Nos turned back to Kat.
“How about a bit of a roundup, darlin’?”
His offer was met with a harsh scoff.
"Aw. A date with the boss? Li'l old me?"
There was venom in her words, even as Kat chose her words to be those of the demure assistant. Nosferatu as a rule picked the most vain and proud to Embrace, usually through some twisted Schadenfreude, and Katrina had been no exception. Even as Salvatore had sent his digital message, she'd lingered, closed in on herself, her arms giving her a modicum of protection and comfort as they wrapped about her. But she didn't tell him no. She longed to be back Above, on the Dome, but there was a great deal to be said for doing the Clan Leader and Representative to the Prince a favor. And anyway, the damn clouds were in the way of her stargazing.
"Lemme guess." She adopted a long-suffering tone to her New England accent, as if she was lowering herself to even discuss it with him. "You want a bit of arm candy so you can blend in with the upper echelons of high society, right? I suppose I can, provided you can pronounce my name correctly. Three syllables, dear Primogen, not four."
Salvatore stared blankly at Katrina for several prolonged moments after she finished speaking, his features a conflicting mix of amusement and confusion.
“Honey,” Salvatore paused, locking eyes with the impudent neonate before submitting a raspy response in turn. “You ain’t been nobody’s idea of arm-candy since before the Great Depression.” Salvatore didn’t even try to hide his amusement: he didn’t suffer the disrespect of kindred outside his clan, but snide banter between brood-mates was practically a family pastime.
“Besides, you’re going it alone. Tonight just got real interesting, real fast. I need to be personally involved.” Salvatore’s tone was predictably flat, but the implication in his words was plain enough: the time for diplomacy, discussions, and drinks had passed. Now he had a job to do--a mystery to solve, kine to stalk, and kindred to notify. “Get in contact with the Sheriff, let him know another one has arrived.” Anticipating an objection, Salvatore quickly continued, “This is the kind of information that needs to be passed on in person. No animals. Got it?”
"The Sheriff!? The hell-" It was a large space, to be sure, but her voice carried in her fright before she caught herself, echoing off dugout walls and reaching curious ears. For all the undead pallor her condition generated, Kat somehow paled even more deeply. She leaned in conspiratorially, voice now raspy in its hushed volume. "You trying to get me killed!?"
Sal barely seemed to register the fear in Kat’s voice. Washburn’s attack dog had a reputation for efficient brutality, and--as far as his watchers could ascertain--it was one well earned. Salvatore had no doubt Lance preferred things that way; it was better to be dreaded as a sheriff than the alternative. Still, Sal felt a minor pang of irritation at Katrina’s push-back.
“Why? You done somethin’ to deserve it?” Sal shot Katrina an annoyed look, his tone gradually shifting from playful to serious. “I don’t give a goddamn whether or not you want to see him. You’re going to. Go.” Salvatore turned from Katrina, his eyes scouring the darkened stands.
“That goes for the rest of y’all too! Move!”
About them, the shadows lessened in some undefinable way that only a Kindred or a kine closely attuned to their subconscious would identify. Without so much as a whisper of acknowledgement nor the shift of feet on floor, the Nosferatu vanished into the night, leaving Katrina alone with Salvatore. Indeed, the only reason that she, too, had not faded to darkness was to level an icy stare at her Clan leader. Oh, to chain him on the roof in the early hours of the morning! Oh, to drain his blood until nothing but his bare soul remained, and then to take that, too! Yet she was no neonate; she was no fool. Eyes narrow, jaw set, form obfuscating, Kat dissolved into the darkness. Salvatore was alone again.
Alone, save for the crow. It perched on the table before him, considering the Kindred with a careful, side-eyed stare. There was no meaning to be read, no underlying thought or intention. Merely the cold, impersonal consideration of nature. As Kat finally disappeared in totality, it gave a small croak.
Salvatore glanced at the feathered messenger, before gently tracing his fingers through its onyx feathers. For a time he stayed that way; standing alone on the turf, surrounded by nothing but deafening silence, and a curtain of darkness just beyond the light’s reach.
For the first time since the night began, he was truly alone, but despite knowing that, he did not relax. How could he? There was simply too much at stake tonight. With one last rueful sigh, Salvatore lifted the bird onto his shoulder, and began to walk off the field and into the dark beyond. As he moved, the old Nos—almost without thinking—invoked the discipline Unseen Presence. He had been drunk so much throughout the night, and with so little reason for expenditure, that he barely noticed the difference in his hunger as his physical form all but melted into the dark.
Alone, and utterly unnoticeable, Salvatore made his way to the rooftop. Before him lay the shadowed silhouette of Houston’s skyline, it’s many pieces and parts illuminated in the soft light of the streetlights beneath them.
Salvatore drank the sight in, and waited: his mind slowly—but methodically—weighing the costs and benefits of hopping into his pet bird, and just finding the damn truck himself.
The clouds lay quiet above him, obscuring moon and stars alike. Only a weak illumination filtered through, sickly and pale, casting the Primogen's surroundings in a dissociative light. Some omnipotent child might well have taken his palette of water colors and painted the scene before him, for all the life and stillness it had. For everything was still, from the clouds above to the street below.
Like a slowly advancing pool of water, blackness began to creep over the edge of the stadium roof behind him, as silent as death. There was no hurry to its movement: only inevitability. Farther it oozed, expanding inward without widening, until meandering to a stop some ten feet behind Salvatore.
"I thought I might find the Primogen surveying his tiny province so generously provided by the Camarilla Prince," cooed an Alto voice. It was like wine: dark, smooth, and red. "It is a shame that it isn't better- overseen."
Behind him was quite suddenly the lithe form of a woman, standing in easy repose. A waterfall of jet black hair cascaded onto her shoulders, which were themselves covered in a black leather jacket. No sign of transport could be seen, and the shadow was gone. She faced the city, back to him, with all the confidence of an as yet sated predator examining its next meal
Sal spun on his heels, pivoting his open back away from the as-of-yet unnamed interloper. From within himself, he could still feel the unnatural powers of Unseen Presence permeating every fiber of his form. In his stillness, it should have made him unnoticeable--invisible even--to anyone even in broad daylight. In the dead of night, the discipline should've been infallible.
Sal spat onto the concrete. There was only one reasonable--if infuriating--explanation. She had followed him from the inside.
“Strangers aren’t welcome ‘round here. Not without my say so, anyway. You got an appointment Siouxie Sioux, or aware you just hopin’ to piss me off?”
The Nosferatu let go of his obfuscation, the supernatural veil no longer worth what it cost him in blood. Besides, he needed clarity to take stock of the threat. If one Kindred had slipped through the cracks, there could be others still, and although he didn’t turn his back on the stranger, his eyes discreetly scanned the rest of the rooftop, hungrily searching for any other trace of movement in the shadows.
"Mm, neither," she sighed. There was genuine pleasure in her tone. Still, she remained as she stood. "And there's no one else here; I've already checked. You can relax. If I wanted you dead, we wouldn't be having this talk, now, would we?"
With a restrained chuckle, she turned at last. As dark as her hair was, her skin was just as pale, nearly alabaster in its lack of life. There was something China-doll about her, save that her skin gave an impression of granite strength rather than fragility. Indeed, save for the shadowy locks about her shoulders, the only bit of color on her face was that of her very purposefully painted blood red lips. They parted in a friendly, if sad, smile, her teeth only just glinting in the muted ambience.
"No, Sally, dear. I'm here to talk. About an offer. If you want to hear it, anyway."
The last of the tresspasser’s words seemed to almost evaporate into the night, quickly displaced by the oppressive silence Salvatore had been revelling in not moments before. The curtain of tranquility had been breached, however, and in its place slithered the slow--but mounting--expectation of conflict. Salvatore’s eyes continued to search the rooftop for further movement, while his mind tried its best to piece together the exact nature of the bullshit he’d been fed. It didn’t matter how non-threatening the interloper tried to act: the Primogen wasn’t new enough or stupid enough to believe her. After all, you didn’t make it almost three centuries in the unlife without learning how to spot a snake in the grass.
After a moment, a raspy chuckle tumbled out of Salvatore’s windpipe--the sounds like that of a cat drowning in sawdust. To the old cowboy, it was fitting his laughter should sound as lifeless as he looked.
“Visiting hours are just ‘bout finished, sweetheart.” Salvatore let the rigidity in his posture melt away, and in its place returned the lackadaisical shifting and swaying of a blood-drunk grandpa bored with his own immortality. Like most things undead, it was just another forgery. A phony imitation of an imitation. The only difference was that, in this particular case, it was one he hoped the viper standing across from him could see through. If she wanted to play pretend so be it.
“Besides,” Salvatore reached up, to the crow on his shoulder, gently fingering the waxen feathers around its neck. “I don’t got a lick of vitae up here and I ain’t never done a deal dry.”
"I wouldn't want you to, dear."
From within her coat, she pulled a small bag of thick, translucent plastic. Casually, she tossed it to him. It was a blood bag as one might find in a hospital, filled with the vibrant life of a kine, and it was still warm.
"Drink up," she said, and she turned again to sit on the decking. She left her knees up, and she leaned against them, quiet and pensive. The breeze, hitherto notably absent, began to make itself known again. Like curious fingers, it tossed her hair and brushed against his hat's feather. It came from the east, and the faint scent of salt spun in its spirals. And with the wind came a shift in the lighting. Slowly, deliberately, the clouds began to shift and break, allowing through small cracks moonshine and starshine. It cast their surroundings in a bit more healthy light, though the city itself still lay obscured in darkness.
She didn't move, evidently preferring to merely watch the city. There was neither tension nor anticipation in her frame, as if this was the planning meeting of two friends. Finally, after a pregnant pause, she broke the silence.
"You probably see it better than I do, now I think about it. That network of yours. Ol' Wishy-Washburn lacks control of the city. No one respects him." She shrugged. "But he's still the Prince. Somehow. Funny, huh?"
Salvatore sauntered slowly to the ledge, and to the side of the newcomer. It was clear that--whoever this was--they were doing their best to seem friendly. Sal frowned a little at the thought; friendly was the wrong word. Civil, perhaps.
“No,” he began, “Not really.”
Sal glanced away from the girl for only a moment to give the plastic blood-bag in his grasp a quick heft. The morsel spun once in the air, before slapping back down into his open grasp with a single, satisfying squelch. Salvatore’s gaze swivelled back to where the woman sat, his expression a mixture of pity and incredulousness.
“Did you break into my place, sneak about for god-knows-how-long in the dark, and corner me on my rooftop to tell me you have problems with upper-management?” Salvatore brought the bag up to his nose. A faint copper tang emanated from within, stirring interest of his beast just ever so slightly.
“There’ve been plenty of folk who thought the same. Now they’re dead, gone, or irrelevant anyway.” Salvatore spared the Houstonian skyline a quick glance from over his shoulder. Somewhere out there, his folk were closing in on another piece of the puzzle. He wanted to be there too--if not in person then at least in spirit. That hope was beginning to seem distant at best. Even if Sal could wrap up this conversation quickly, he’d have to make a report of it afterwards to the Sheriff or one of his lackeys.
“Washburn doesn’t always act the part in public, but at the end of the night he’s still a Prince. You don’t hold onto that kind of title without some kind of insurance.”
"Maybe. Or maybe he's even got you fooled. Odd, that he didn't let you in on that dockside meeting of his."
Salvatore's unintended guest glanced up at him, smiling wryly at the sight of him smelling the vitae within the bag. She shook her head but said nothing. Suspicion kept the Kindred alive, as a rule, though it could be misleading, or even mislead. Nevertheless, no chastisement about trust or validation fell from her mouth.
"Not that he could keep it secret from you. Impressive, that you found out. You, and that Brujah hippie. Hm. Never would have pegged a Thug for the observant type." She cast an inquisitive glance Salvatore's way. "What's her deal, anyway?"
“Honestly?” Sal smiled a little, tossing the yet-unopened bag of blood onto a nearby cinder block. “I’m still piecing that one together myself.” It occurred to Sal that the stranger was probably at his meeting with Hanna. Her mention of the rendezvous at the docks—and Hanna’s awareness of it—suggested as much. At this point, he had no reason to believe that she’d seen anything less than his entire night’s affairs. It was an unpleasant revelation, and one that would necessitate an even more unpleasant demonstration of discipline when his security detail came back from the hunt.
Still, Salvatore knew there was little to be done about it now. His only recourse was to do some digging of his own.
“As for the meeting… well, if a Brujah hippie found out about it, it really can’t be all that impressive that I did too. What about you?” Sal’s features sharpened a little, his glassy eyes staring intently at her expression as he began to turn the tables on the interloper.
“Were you there?”
With a tilt of the head and a toothy grin, she shrugged.
"A lot to know for someone who wasn't, wouldn't you say? Unless, of course, you have a pet Thug to tell you everything about it. I, sadly, don't.
"Interesting point you make, though, about the Brujah." She straightened up from where she slouched against her knees, stretching her back and leaning against outstretched arms. Her unblinking gaze turned upwards, examining the slowly clearing sky. "Almost like the Prince wanted to be seen. And by a known Anarch. Wonder why. Careless? Or intentional? Hm."
For a brief moment, she fell silent, and the muted melody of the moon in the wind filled the quiet. Finally, she clicked her teeth.
"It's getting cold, you know," she muttered, glancing at the blood bag.
By all accounts, Sal had kept a pretty level head. This stranger--a kindred who hadn’t even offered him so much as a name--had spent all night trespassing in his domain, listening to his conversations, scampering about his rooftop, and for what? He’d known other vampires who would have killed for less. Hell, there was a time when he would have killed for less. Instead, he’d chosen to let her speak. He’d given the mystery woman a chance to explain, and all he’d received in return was roundabout questions and baseless speculation.
Salvatore didn’t have time for nonsense. Not tonight. The Primogen stood a little straighter, crossing his arms in front of his chest as he did. In response, the little crow on his shoulder began to shuffle in place, nervously picking at its onyx feathers. As if sensing the shift in Salvatore’s temperament, the beast began to make itself small against the crook of Sal’s neck, shuddering for just a moment as it’s beady eyes ogled both its master, and the stranger a couple feet away.
“I don’t know you. I don’t even know your name.” The customary indifference in Salvatore’s tone was beginning to leak away. In its place, a slow, simmering irritation began to fill the void.
“And yet I’ve tolerated whatever this is supposed to be. You’ve broken into my place, and spied on my business. That’d be reason enough to make you my enemy.” Sal took a step towards where the stranger sat, regarding her laid-back attitude with more than a little contempt.
“You said you had an offer, and I ain’t young enough or dumb enough to let my feelings get in the way of good business. But if all you’re offering is baseless conjecture and roundabout riddles about what Ricky may-or-may-not be doin’ to hold power in Houston, then you should know it’ll take a hell of a lot more than that to turn a Primogen against a Prince.”
Sal crouched down, so that his eyes became level with hers. When he spoke again, all traces of mirth and dispassion had fled from his voice.
“Speak plainly, or get off my damn roof. Who are you really, and why are you here?”
"Well well. The Prince's pet rat grows a spine. Took long enough."
The soft smile shifted to a self-satisfied smirk. Her eyes remained focused on the city, but there was a discernible change in her posture. Her muscles were tensed, joints bent imperceptibly, and her nostrils flared.
"Interesting that, for all the infiltration you and your Clan do, you are uniquely offended when anyone dare do the same to you. So kindly step down from that podium you've placed yourself on. Find something actually worth getting worked up over.
"Such as my failure to introduce myself. Which is significantly more fair, I think. I am Beatrice Medici, Bishop of the Docks, and I'm here to give you an offer." Beatrice looked up, still smirking. "Should you deign to parlay with me."
The word struck Salvatore like a hammer against hot iron, and all at once he understood how this little spy had managed to worm her way into his home. Bishop was a Sabbat title, and, to make matters worse, it was the closest thing in the Sabbat to a Camarilla Primogen. Sal rose slowly, his every impulse demanding he grab the viper by her jacket’s collar, and toss the snake off his roof. Every fibre of his being would’ve enjoyed that fight, of that he was sure.
And yet, the Nosferatu knew he could not.
Salvatore hated the Sabbat. Probably more than most kindred, which was saying something. Unfortunately, much as he would have loved to take out the trash, Sal knew to do so would be sheer idiocy. He couldn’t jeopardize his position, or the lives of his subordinates now. Not when there was a mystery drug dropping kindred in the streets. Not when, after weeks of inactivity, a lead had fallen right into his lap. Even if he hated it, he knew now was no time to make an enemy of a Sabbat Bishop.
Of course, there was a silver lining. She’d suggested--whether or not it was the truth--that she’d been at Washburn’s clandestine meeting. It raised more questions than it did answers, but if the Sabbat were somehow involved in the drug crisis…
“Parlay?” Salvatore scoffed, his tone a mixture of exasperation and amusement. “We’ve been parlayin,’ Miss Medici. If you’ve got something to offer…” Salvatore gestured with both arms to the empty rooftop around them.
“Then the floor is yours.”
Beatrice smiled. Still, she smiled, though it had softened from a smirk. Nevertheless, the predator’s edge never left it.
“Ah: Camarilla politeness. Ever on the edge of a knife. Ever it ebbs like the tide, a vague, thin veil of civility barely concealing the raging animal beneath it. If only you could embrace it, instead of hiding it.”
Slowly, as if with great effort, or perhaps in an attempt to not alarm her host, she stood. The cloud cover was in full retreat now, and to the Kindred eyes, starlight and moonlight laid everything bare. The breeze tugged at hair and clothing alike, and Beatrice’s hair was like a banner, lifted to show a black void darker than any lightless night. She’d barely given Salvatore a glance as she stood, and even now, even now, she still simply regarded the cityscape, hands in pockets.
“Your Prince is … charming, to be sure. But he has no real control. No real power. How many Thin-Bloods walk the streets, Sally? How many Caitiff crawl through the filth, aimless and undisciplined, Embraced without regard for their future, for their past, for their present? Are the Kindred the undisputed kings of the night, as should be? Or do the kine gangs intrude, carving territories from out of Camarilla and even Anarch hands, leaving them to rot in an endless cycle of violence?” Her nostrils flared. “Does the blood they spill on the sidewalks tear at your head, calling the Beast to be free? Do you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you could end that gang violence, if only Prince Wishy-Washy would let you?
“Could you run Houston better than Washburn? Or if not, would you rather just be free to do, free to instill true terror into the hearts of the kine as they huddle in their homes, desperate to avoid the gaze of the Thing that stalks the shadows? Do you rail against the leash forcibly wrapped about your muzzle?”
The shimmering ambience of the cosmic dance above them seemed to fade, as the lights of Houston all but disappeared, until there was only the two Kindred, locked in conversation.
“If you rage against Camarillan bonds, then lend me the ears of your Clan. In turn, I will lend you the protection of the Sabbat to operate as you see fit. To be King of your own plot, and perhaps, even Bishop.”
Lies, or truth. Exaggerations, or fact. Salvatore had indeed heard everything Beatrice now told him before, if not expressly connected together in that way, if not expressly couched in that manner. His spies, his network, was dutiful and fairly active in the important regions of the city. But this connection, this causative factor, was a new perspective. Her smile deepened, widened, and she looked him in the eye.
“Sudden, maybe. But Rick has had it coming for a long, long time.”
There were only a few things that Beatrice Medici could have said that would have caught Salvatore off guard. After all, he’d lived a long time which meant he had played with, and against, every major kindred faction at one point or the other. He’d been party to countless negotiations in the dark. Countless verbal chess-matches between kindred of equal weight, and equal greed. As a Nosferatu Neonate, you had to play that game just to survive, but with time there were other benefits to be gained. Missions eventually became favors, superiors eventually became allies, and one’s worst experiences often were distilled into invaluable wisdom. This proposition—an open invitation from the Sabbat to a Camarilla Primogen—was a hard departure from everything he had seen thus far. It was a little surprising to hear Beatrice speak it, even for someone like Sal.
The Nosferatu had been Camarilla for almost his entire undead existence, and he had sown the seeds of his own success for many years, and across many state lines, doing the bidding of the Ivory Tower. Now, in Houston, he had begun to at last reap the fruits of those labors. Salvatore had a home in the Astrodome. Perhaps it was dark, humid, and chock-full of rats (both the literal and kindred kind), but it was truly his. Sal had people too. The Nosferatu of the Dome were young mostly; there were few that had aged out of their Neonate status. Beyond that, they were also dusty rabble, mainly comprised of flatfooted skulkers and whiners. One would hardly know how damn good a job they did on the street from looking, or listening to them. They were frequently the source of his otherworldly headaches, but still, they were his rabble.
Salvatore had no doubt that Ms. Medici understood that kind of responsibility. She was a Bishop, after all. And, to her credit, she was right about Houston. She was right that dark times were coming, and the Camarilla were hardly prepared to respond. She was right that Ricky was too unsure of himself—too troubled by his own personal inadequacies to stop the city’s downward spiral. All the Primogen understood that to some degree, he believed. Perhaps Beatrice was right. Perhaps the Prince was not suited for the task any longer.
If Salvatore’s lungs still worked, he’d have taken a deep breath. Instead, he reached up to crow on his shoulder, gently herding it into the palm of his other hand. The bird gave its master an inquisitive look, and Salvatore replied with a sad smile of his own.
After a moment’s pause, the Nosferatu spoke again. This time, there was no trace of vitriol or exasperation in his tone. Instead, Sal sounded distant, his words belabored and forlorn as they left his mouth.
“It was a good pitch, Ms. Medici. Good indeed.” Sal began to pet his bird, his eyes breaking from the Sabbat’s gaze to train his own sights once again on the darkened city skyline. Silently, he prayed they were ready.
“But instilling terror in Kine hearts and raging against Cammy bonds and all of that… I don’t have much an interest in it if I’m being perfectly honest.” Salvatore smiled to himself, the memories of his very first year as a kindred just barely coming back to him. “It’s kind of a… ‘been there, done that’ sort of situation.”
“You are right about the city--things are getting rough, but it’s happening with or without Ricky. A storm is coming, Ms. Medici, but it’s a storm that’s coming for all of us. Much as I appreciate the offer, I plan on weathering it on this side of the fence.”
A small grunt, hushed and likely not meant for him, was the only acknowledge Salvatore received. Beatrice slowly turned her head to look at him askance.
"No one can say that I didn't try. For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
A thick blackness rose from the ground, twisting about her form briefly before dissipating, tendrils becoming ash becoming nothing. The Bishop was gone with it, and the Nosferatu Primogen was alone once more, left to his own thoughts on the top of his palace.
He only had perhaps a minute of rumination. In his pocket, Salvatore's phone buzzed with a text message.
come 2 ur front g8. we need 2 talk. - Sheriff Bringham
Sal regarded the text with equal parts admiration and annoyance. How the hell had Kat found the sheriff so quickly, and would it have killed her to have been a couple minutes slower? Salvatore was hoping he'd have enough time for at least one drink before it was back to business. Especially given the nerve-wracking rendevoux he'd fallen into. The cowboy eyed the cold bag of blood where he'd tossed it, weighing for just a moment how badly he wanted that nightcap before sauntering back towards the stairwell.
A visit from a Sabbat Bishop usually didn't end in as cordial terms as his meeting with Ms. Medici had. Salvatore had kept his cool though, and it was nothing less than a miracle that he had all things considered. Still, as Sal began to trek down the stairs, he did wonder at the wisdom of throwing his lot in with Ricky. It wasn’t the first time Salvatore had heard the complaints, but to hear it from the age-old enemy of the Camarilla in such plain terms was a bit of a pain in his hide. With the new, narcotic-fueled chaos on the city streets, there were few outcomes to this whole debacle that would suck less for him and his people than a ground war with the Sabbat. Still, Beatrice had given him nothing concrete to suggest that even if he had jumped ship, it could become a permanent arrangement. At least with Ricky, Sal knew where he stood.
The Primogen’s musings on Washburn and his reign faded away. As he reached the exit, Salvatore engaged the discipline of Unseen Presence once more. Instantaneously, Sal's form became once again invisible, his supernatural cloak preventing any possibility of a Masquerade breach as he stepped from his castle and into the open parking lot beyond. Salvatore took a couple steps, noting a faint and lingering scent of blood in the air from somewhere in the parking lot, before coming to a perturbed halt in the middle of the space. Silently, and perhaps just a little too cautiously, he scanned the empty tarmac. He had been surprised one time too many tonight, and he wasn’t about to let his business with Lance—whatever that business turned out to be—suffer the prying eyes and ears of unseen foes in the night.
Wesley locked the door behind him with a resounding click. When he turned, he wasn't at all surprised to see the interior design of the woman's bathroom. Every object appeared to have been meticulously placed, even if unused, to express some almost human purpose. The sink was arranged in a pleasing fashion with a bar of soap and some decorative items. Even the toilet paper had been folded down, similar to something he'd only seen in ritzy hotels. A massive claw foot tub awaited him on the opposite side of the room with a golden ring surrounding the top like a halo which held a white shower curtain. It held the same chic ambiance as the living room, and while it was certainly a tasteful kind of elegance, all Wesley could think about was how much blood he'd tracked across the floor. His honey colored eyes glanced down and grimaced.
She's going to kill me. He thought, as his gaze met a damp red trail beneath his feet.
With a heavy sigh, Wesley began to peel his bloody clothes away from his body. Each item he took away he left in the sink in an attempt to save the floor from any further stains. Once he'd stripped himself of his clothes he turned on the tap and stepped inside the elegant bathtub. The hot water was an immediate relief against his sore muscles. He hadn't expected to let the beast take him over so easily, but he was too furious to argue.
C'est la vie.
He dipped his head beneath the steady stream and exhaled in relief seeing the crimson wash down the drain. How many had he fed on? Two, or three? It had been a while since he'd done something so blatantly shortsighted but there was little to be done about it after the fact. He'd have to get rid of the car... For the time being, all he could do was let the blood wash away with the rest of the dirt and grime covering his body. That was when he noticed the bullet in his thigh, staring down at that crimson trail it was hard to ignore the flash of silver protruding from his skin. Wesley didn't even know how many times he'd been shot. He examined himself, twisting his limbs in an unnatural fashion to find each of the offending objects. When he was done with his inquiry he found four total wounds.
The first, the bullet lodged in his leg, came out quite easily. The second was a little harder. A bullet had found its way into his chest and he wasn't quite sure he would be able to push it out without the help of his own blood. Grumbling over the waste of a recent meal, Wesley closed the wound and listened for the metal clang before he was assured it was out. The last was in his arm, which came out just as easily as the first. He dropped the bullet into the tub and focused his efforts into closing each wound and returning him to his usual, beautiful appearance. Only one scar remained and that would never heal.
Wesley stayed in the shower for longer than was probably necessary. He had to admit, it was nicer than the place he was occupying. Much cleaner too. He took time and care into washing his long hair and didn't come out until he smelled like a floral shop. Just the way he liked it.
Then came the problem of what he was supposed to wear. Wesley wrapped a towel around his waist and tentatively opened the bathroom door. His long hair dripped down onto the white carpets and mixed with the blood trail he'd left behind. Relief washed over his features upon seeing a gray suit folded neatly on the floor. Wesley quickly got dressed, and descended back onto the main floor to look for Amélie.
Antonio had finally, fitfully, fallen asleep. It was an uncomfortable sleep, per usual: a pile of discarded clothing offers little in the way of cushion, as the necessary give of a mattress spring is all but absent in the close collapse of cloth. Nor did the backpack offer much rest for his head, which still pounded painfully from his brush with the femme fatale not so many hours before. Indeed, the fear had lingered so thoroughly and insistently within his mind that the only thing providing the vagabond with sleep at all was years of practice combined with a primal desire to escape conscious memory for a few precious moments.
Outside, along the main street upon which the Buzz sat, the stream of patrons entering the club had dwindled. The tide had turned the other way, as was the usual, with the partiers begining to consider their way home. Halting laughter was intercut with slurred speech, and more than a few had to be held up by their friends as they attempted to navigate the subjectively difficult terrain they now found themselves in.
Something stood within the thin river of flesh. A man, perhaps, though the dimensions were wrong. His head was a bit too large, its diameter nearly that of his shoulders, and a bit too pointy, with cheekbones and the mandibles ending in short but very literal spikes. The arms, too, were thin and far too long, and the knees bent backwards. He wore a simple black suit, a simple white shirt, and a simple black neck tie.
And people simply ignored him and his companion.
"He squealed," the thing said in an oily voice that belied his appearance. It looked at the alleyway with shadowed eyes. Beside him, a short, wide woman clicked her teeth.
"Can't help what's supposed to be."
"That is stupid."
"All the same, sugar," was her reply, and she shrugged, her sunflower printed sundress a harsh contest to her companion. Yet still, no passerby paid them any mind. "It will be for the best."
"'All the same'," came the retort, full of venom and hate. "There must be punishment."
"Whatever suits you, honey."
"'Whatever suits me'," he repeated, and he all but slithered into the alleyway. The woman stood on the sidewalk a moment longer before her expression suddenly shifted to shock and fear. Hand to her chest, she hurried after the thing, where they both disappeared into the dark.
Not long after, the screaming started, first in the alley, and then in the street.
∆∆∆ the R-Kayd
A lone streetlight illuminated the sidewalk. It beat a glowing halo through the thin city smog that had settled in the area, a sickly bit of life in a street that had shut down for the night several hours prior. Exterior lights on buildings were even off, as if in an effort to allow the denizens of the night to retain their anonymity.
Kat stayed within the generous shadow avoiding the yellow circle on the ground. Arms folded, she stared ahead, watching one building in particular. It's neighbors were the department store types, havens for mothers to escape the drudgery of homemaking or work, or where fathers got to boast to one another about their up coming projects within hardware shops. Accompanying these was the teenagers haven: the arcade. It was the cool place to be, the bomb, the zone. A place of simple, unproductive gratification. And it was the perfect place for Prince Washburn to set up shop.
Ghouls ran the place during the day, obviously, and he owned the surrounding buildings. Easier to keep up appearances that way. Easier to have clandestine meetings with his clients and Camarilla patrons. Still supernaturally hidden within Unseen Presence, Kat chewed her lip, glaring would be daggers at the building. It was labeled, rather uncreatively, "R-Kayd", and disgust at the name mixed in her stomach with the petrifying fear she held for the Sheriff. Rötschreck, blinding supernatural fear as only a Kindred can feel, threatened to rise into her throat. But gathering herself, she strode to the door and knocked.
The door cracked open, and a eye peeked through.
"What?" a voice asked, weary and strained.
"Message for the Sheriff from the Nos Primogen."
"Ah. Well. He is actually not here. He's on- business."
"And the Prince?"
"Also absent. He's on- pleasure."
Typical. Absent anyone else to victimize, Kat turned her frown onto the doorman. She stared at him, weighing her options, before sighing in frustration.
"Well can you at least take a message?"
The eye blinked in response.
"I'll take that as yes. Tell them that 'another one has arrived'. Those words." She jabbed a finger toward the doorman. "And you best tell them. Don't need them to know about Gerald: do we?"
The door shut quickly in response. Smiling in satisfaction to herself, she turned away.
Darkness enveloped her, blotting out light of street lamp and moon and star. She could see nothing. She could feel nothing. She could hear nothing. Until-
"Your boss made the wrong choice. He is suffering the consequences." The voice was measured and almost regal. Velvet and smooth. Before her suddenly was a gentleman. There was no other word for it. His three piece suit fit him exactly, the pinstripes subtle but distinct against the ash gray. His blonde hair was trimmed short, with the top left long to comb to the side. Hand to his heart, he bowed.
"Some of your coworkers have made a similarly bad choice. I'm afraid they will see daylight. Others have made the better choice, and they will be suitable rewarded."
Kat finally regained enough of herself to interrupt.
"Hold on! What choice? And who are you?"
The gentleman smiled.
Torpor was never kind to a Kindred of any generation or Clan, age or gender. It was Sleep, but a listless sleep, a sleep of true disengagement from personhood. It was unpleasant, to say the least. Within torpor, there was nothing. No humanity. No beast. No anchor to existence. Merely a yawning, unending, starving void that swallowed everything about you. Within torpor, you ceased to exist, leaving only your corpse. Nothing save the sweet iron of blood could return you to Unlife.
Anna's body stared upwards with unseeing eyes. Her skin lay shriveled, rough as leather but as fragile as tissue paper. Every ounce of vitae had been bled from her body, sending her into the frozen throes of torpor. Even so disabled, the Malkavian had been thoroughly restrained, chains and thick rope holding her in place. Beside her lay a man. His eyes were rolled back in his head, and his mouth hung slack. He was not restrained. The only foreign object that touched his body was a medical needle in his vein. With every beat of his heart, his precious blood was pushing its way through a small plastic tube, the other end of which similarly ended in a needle. Which was itself inserted into Anna's arm.
The rejuvenation process was agonizingly slow. Imperceptibly, her skin began to loosen, regaining the appearance of health, and even a vague pinkness returned. But no life returned to her eyes. Instead, her irises darkened to black, and with a gasp, her body went rigid. Limbs strained against her bonds, and it seemed as though she would break them. But she fell still a moment later, breathing out her lungful of air. Her eyes remained black.
"So. They don't have to drink it from a doped up kine. Interesting."
"And good. It means our process can be done much more safely."
"And much more quickly. No need to trick the Lunatics into drinking from the kine."
"Agreed. The question, then: how many do we still need?"
"Just a few more, probably by the usual way. The last shipment just made town, so unfortunately there's no time to put the experiment into practice. But after that-"
"N̴̨̟͇͛͒̆̿̕ợ̷̧̯̦n̷͙̠̳̘̈ȩ̶̟̞͇͔͒̐̄," came the interruption. But it came from Anna. Her mouth now hung slack as well, and the airs with which she spoke before had vanished, entirely replaced by a chorus of dissonant voices. "̶̳̺͉̅́̏W̶͇͋̿͂̅̍ē̶̩̯̤̣̃ ̴̩̽̐͂ỏ̵̩̎̃͠ņ̸̣͎̝̓͋ḻ̷̜́͒́̏ÿ̴͈̝̼̮́̏͂ ̵͕͛n̴̛̫̤̘͕͋͘͝e̷̗͔͔̒̎̉̓̀e̵̮͍̔d̷̡͠ ̵̛̮̲̓̐̾͜t̵̓͒̉̐̿͜ḩ̴̟͝ë̶̤͕̹̑͌̔̈́ ̶̩̞͙̄ŗ̷̪̰͖̯̀̈́͐͑e̸̡̖̤͑͐́m̷̨̮͙͝ņ̸͙̏a̸͙͕͙̼̙̍̽͝n̷̻͈̉t̴̛̠͈̾̀̈́̊.̵̫̜̜̗̝̋̊͝."
"Ah. Yes; there's but one left. Remember: the Sheriff killed the other."
"Very well. Then the remnant shall be retrieved."
This has been a "meanwhile, back at the ranch" interlude. Now we continue with your regularly scheduled RP.
Oscar “Cut” Jimenez relaxed into the seat of Hanna’s ride, having no choice to do anything else. His abdomen remained in ragged ribbons, reduced to such by his new benefactor. He shot her a look as she got into the driver seat, not bothering to hide a look of equal parts simmering anger and paralyzing fear.
“Well, fuck,” he said under his breath, turning back to look at through the front windshield. Briefly, his eyes turned to the side view mirror, as if he were trying to catch a glimpse of something. Patch and Six were gone, on their way to the hospital, leaving the asphalt littered with a mixture of blood and bodies. Finally, he closed his eyes, settling his head against the car seat’s headrest.
“Astute choice of words, my man,” Hanna said with nonchalance as she lit up another cigarette. It was simple enough to drive back— the annoying part would be carting a carcass into the place without people asking questions. Sheesh— this couldn’t have waited until yesterday when it was Kindred-only?
She pulled away, sparing little of a glance back. If this was true, it meant she had territory up to Sal’s front door. Bargaining power, even, if she played things right…. Big if.
“So what, you a Caitiff, my dude?” Hanna asked. “You got a Sire I should be looking forward to stabbing me in the back, or what?”
His eyes narrowed, and his brow furrowed.
"What you talking about?" Genuine confusion laced his words. "The hell's a Caitiff? I got a dad, I guess, though I dunno who he was. Can't remember."
Cut fell quiet, his attention turning inward.
"Can't remember much before two years ago, for real," he muttered beneath his breath.
Definitely a Caitiff, Hanna thought. It was a testament to his ability to stick around. He had managed to understand the idea of keeping up the masquerade, if just by watching others.
“Well now you got two daddy-o’s, kiddo,” Hanna stated as she motored down the road. “And both apparently didn’t seem to want to stick around.”
The memory loss, though… that was interesting. She remembered her prior life, if only pieces nowadays, but that was purely from so much time having passed.
“So, dude, you’ve obviously figured out you’re part of the nightlife. But unfortunately what you don’t know can kill you— as you’ve figured out,” Hanna stated, gesturing to his mangled form. “But it ain’t unfixable. Both the ignorance and the holes. You’re a Caitiff— a vampire baby left on the doorstep in the rain. Most of us, the Sire who embraced us keeps us under their wing for… oh, twenty years or so. Me? I ducked out from that after ten.”
She smiled at him, obviously proud of herself.
“You remember anything of the guy who got a hold of you? And the day after you got one bitch of a sunburn?”
"Nah, fuck, no." Cut stared out the windshield, expressionless now. "All I know's I woke up alone and thirsty. Figured out how to fix that quick when I-
"Anyway. 'Vampire', huh?" he said, a wry smile tugging at his cheek. "Damn. Like Dracula or some shit? So, no more garlic, huh?"
“Garlic’s still on the table, my dude, so long as you can expend the blood to digest. Won’t do much for you, other than let you keep going to your local Italian joint without drawing funny looks,” Hanna stated calmly. “Sunlight, though, is a big no-no. Good way to end up inside of a Hoover, friend. But you’ve figured that out as well, I presume. How far did your turf go? What’s the range?”
Business, as usual. She wasn’t unused to these discussions. In a way, there was a perimeter of her nightclub that had certain…. rules.
His shoulders still worked, so he shrugged.
"We hold the Dome and about five blocks out each side. Won't lie: we small time," Cut grunted. There was a touch of bitterness beneath his words, mixed with a sigh of resignation. "The bigger crews called us the 'Ass-trolls'. Cause the Dome, yeah? It's shit, but it's funny shit, so we rolled with it.
"You ain't gettin' much, takin' us under," he said. "'Cept maybe protection money and sellin' dimes."
He spared her a glance that lingered a moment.
"You got a name, or I just call you 'Sugar Momma'?"
Hanna gave a quirk of a smile, looking back at him.
“Sugar Momma has a nice ring, but I prefer Hanna. Nice meetin’ you Mr. Jimenez,” Hanna stated.
She eventually pulled up to the Buzz, heading around the back and side of the building, into an alley where a large metal door obviously for shipping let out. The muted sounds of electronic dance music thudded with bass, but that was all that could be heard. She gave a rap to the inside door, and another Kindred — Omar, paid extremely well and he knew it — opened it. A hushed conversation ensued, and Omar came around to lever Cut out Hanna’s VW bug.
The entrance here was obviously to a basement storeroom of some kind, Hanna pulling out a set of keys as they reached another walk-in cooler door.
“We are gonna get you all set up, buddy, don’t you worry. On the house, man,” Hanna said walking in, grabbing several IV bags of blood. Omar looked skeptical, but she didn’t budge on it, as she gestured for him to set her new lieutenant down on a chair. “Keep him company. I’ve got business to see to. Where’s Izzy?”
“Ran off, Ma’am. Her and Wes.”
“Well, they didn’t burn my place down. Can’t ask for more than that,” she muttered to herself as she again lit up. ”I’ll be back. Give this a bit to work its magic, and we can…. discuss our new shindig later. Trust me when I say you’re not gonna want to leave, my dude.”
She winked at him, giving him a finger-gun, before heading up the stairs.
Cut grunted in reply, watching carefully as she left. Still virtually motionless, he eyed Omar with no little trepidation.
"Easy on the goods, boss."
Omar, to his credit, merely frowned instead of strangling the Caitiff he'd been entrusted with. Instead, he merely glanced at the clock. 12:45am. Late in the night, but not late enough. Sighing, he went back to his business.
By the time hot water gave out, Isabel had been lying in the button of the tub for some twenty minutes. She had meant to get out when the water circling the train had run clear but she hadn’t quite found the strength to do so. It had been easier to just stay. At some point she had sat down in the tub; slowly that had turned to lying and staring at the ceiling. There was a freedom in it. Between the shower curtain and the relentless patter of the falling warm water, there was no way in for the world and its horrors. It took a full five minutes of ice cold water to drive her from this enamel and fabric womb.
Wrapping herself in one the pillowy fluffy towels provided, the thin-blood shuffled tentatively to the door. True to Amélie’s words, a very neat pile of folded clothes was waiting for her and Isabel reached through the barely opened door with one arm to retrieve them. The light grey sweatpants and matching top were perhaps a size to small and sat snugger than they should have. The label on the front was one that Isabel only vaguely recognised from some of the preppier students she had gone to college with. The two piece set probably cost more than half of her thrift shop special wardrobe. It was certainly cozy. It felt sort of like being hugged.
Stepping out onto the landing, the first thing that made itself known to the thin blood was the trail of blood leading into the other bathroom. Even after her meal at the chop-shop, it still screamed at her. The second thing that Isabel noticed was that the door of the second bathroom was swinging open. That meant Wes was somewhere about. There wasn’t any noise that suggested someone else was upstairs. He had probably gone looking for their host too.
Exploring the living room wasn’t intentional. Isabel had only meant to glance in the room to be certain there wasn’t anyone in there. It was the sheer weight of history that sidetracked her. Growing up in Massachusetts, near Salem in particular, meant that she was used to seeing buildings and objects steeped in history; it was the fact that quite possibly the person who had owned these things when they were new was the same one that owned them now they were heavy with passed years. How much the world had changed. How much Amélie must have changed.
Isabel was halfway through rifling through the stack of records that had been stored with the gramophone when the full implications of this thought hit her. Her host had to be living in a world that was entirely alien to the one they had been born to. Isabel had no idea how Amélie was but from the furniture she had to guess at least a century, if not much more. That meant everyone she had ever known who hadn’t been embraced was long dead.
The notion was like a hammer blow. Shellshocked, Isabel slumped onto the chaise lounge, records still in hand. Her brain was gleefully, malevolently, running away from her now as it imagined the world once the century to come had passed.