December 28, 2009

Father Nico and the Keys- And the Beginning of the Prank war.

When we arrived at the church we pulled up into the back parking lot. There were two priests sitting on the back steps smoking. One looked up at us and nodded. "Father Nicolas sent for you?"
I nodded. "Yeah."
"Good.. he is right inside, first door on the left."

It was the same small living quarters that they'd left the chest in originally. Father Nico was inside standing next to a small table. He was not wearing any of his vestments, instead a simple button down shirt, sleeves rolled up past his elbows, and collar slightly damp with sweat. Once again I was struck with how amazingly human he looked. It was sometimes difficult to remember he was kindred.

Ori felt the same way, apparently, because he leaned over to Gio and muttered, "Are we sure he's a vampire?"
"Yup." Gio bared his teeth and pointed to his own canines. "His are pointy."
Father Nico smiled at Ori, large enough that his own pronounced canines showed. "I am a vampire, yes." He motioned to the chairs. "Please, have a seat." He joined us, and when he stepped away from the table we could see what he had been working on. "I managed to open the chest. This was inside." There was a wooden box sitting on the table, padlocked with 4 silver locks, evenly spaced across the box.

Father Nico looked at us all in turn. "We need keys."
I looked at the box and frowned thoughtfully. "Any idea where they might be?"
"Is there anything written on the locks?" Gio asked before the priest could answer my question.
"Indeed there is." He reached for the first of the four locks, his hand pausing as if hitting an invisible wall, before moving through it and picking up the lock. There was a small inscription in what looked like Greek carved into the metal. Giovanni got as close as he could without pain (which was pretty close now that it was out of the larger chest. From what I could tell the aura only extended about a foot from the wooden box now.) He read each lock aloud.

"Hammer of GOD Almighty,
must be a force of faith
less the evil of the world
blot out the light of salvation"

I rested my chin in my hand and considered the riddle. "The Hammer of God? Any idea what that may be referring to Father?"
Father Nico turned away from the chest and returned to his seat. "The Hammer of God was another name for Charles Magnus." I raised a brow in question. "You know him as Charlemagne. Another possible significance is the Latin word for Hammer.. which is Malleus."

Gio nodded. "Mallet.. or hammer.. we know of a Malleus.. though its followed by 'Maleficarum'."
"'All roads lead to Rome.'" I muttered to myself.
"What is interesting is the grammar. Usually these words are used to denote something used by the Devil, against God. However, the way this is written would suggest a weapon of or for God. Unfortunately, there is no other option if we want to open it. All other theories were tried and failed. I am sorry I only gave you more questions, instead of answers." Father Nico explained.
I smirked to myself. I think we were used to that at this point.

"You know...never mind..stupid question." Ori said.
Father Nico looked at him with curiosity and kindness. "No, please continue."
Ori looked at all of us then reluctantly continued. "If it's locked with four locks, don't you think that means its something we probably shouldn't get involved with? Something that should STAY in the box?"
Gio, Nobody and myself all gave a short bark of sarcastic laughter. Nadi looked mildly amused.
Ori heaved a sigh and gestured to us. "See? They laugh at me."
Gio smirked at him. "Should we get involved with it? More than likely not. Are we going to be involved with it regardless of what we do one way or the other? Almost definitely."
I nodded agreement. "That's usually how it works."
"It was in a secret room in Yousef's shop..that already involves us. The guy who had been alive for eons probably thought it was important." Gio added.
Ori was about to ask another question, probably about Yousef.. it slips my mind at times how little he knows about what we've been dealing with. Father Nico responded to Gio before Ori could speak.
"Yousef was indeed a intuitive man, however, he was more of a collector. One must do something to pass all that time. He did not have the benefit of sleep..." The word 'sleep' was said with greater significance than one would usually give to it. He was talking about torpor. The others looked slightly perplexed about that statement, but no one questioned him on it.
"Why don't we just bust it open?" Ori asked.

Nico walked to the corner and picked up a sledge hammer and handed it to Ori. Ori took it with a sheepish look. "You guys probably already tried that huh.."
Father Nico gestured to the box. "Please, go ahead."
Ori looked at all of us. "I'm probably going to regret this aren't I."
I just smirked at him and crossed my arms, waiting.
"Well, here goes!" Ori hefted the sledge hammer up and brought it down on the wooden box with an impressive amount of force. Instead of the loud bang that would usually occur at impact, there was just a soft sizzle. Ori blinked in surprise when he was left holding nothing but a long wooden handle, the end of it smoking and charred. There was a fine dust on the table that surrounded the box on all sides.
Father Nico took the handle from Ori and tossed it in the trash. He spoke while he retrieved a dust buster from a cabinet and started vacuuming up the powered metal. "Yes, Father Peter was very surprised too. Needless to say, we did attempt to smash it open, and were equally unsuccessful."

He put the hand help vacuum away and sat back down. "Again, I apologize that I can't give you any more concrete answers. I will do more research, but unfortunately I am cloistered here and cannot leave, by choice. I do not want others to know who I am or that I am here."

I gave him a look of mild confusion. "It explains why I've never heard of you..Why stay here?" I asked.
He raised a brow at me. "Certainly you can appreciate the value of staying hidden." He said. I nodded slowly. Everyone else vocalized some form of, "Priest? What priest?" to indicate they'd keep their mouths shut.

He paused a moment and looked at each of us in turn, regarding us individually for the briefest of moments. He nodded to Ori. "Did you know that your name is the same as one of our saints?"
Ori blinked as the shift in conversation caught him off guard. "No, no I didn't."
Father Nico stood and began to scan one of the shelves of books. "Yes. He had many prophecies, which were often proven to be true by the situations at hand. Here we are." He pulled a thin folio from the shelf and handed it to Ori who began to skim the pages. " symbolism and imagery.. yeah, this is actually going to be extremely helpful.. how did you know I was looking for something like this?"
Father Nico maintained a look of mild surprise. "I was merely commenting on the similarity in the names, is all."
"Well thanks, I appreciate it." Ori promptly lost interest in everything else in the room and continued to read the folio.

Nico turned to Nadi, who had been ceaselessly scanning the books on the shelves since we entered the room. "I see you are enjoying the collection. Is there anything specific you want to see?"
She just shrugged. "Not really. I enjoy books."
"So books for knowledge sake then?" He inquired.
She nodded.
"If you would like, you may remove one of the books for study. However, since many of the books are very old and rather valuable, I would need collateral before you took anything with you. If you can bring me another book that I could study, then I would be more than willing to let you take a book from here."

I watched the exchange, perplexed. I didn't much believe in coincidence anymore.

"May I come read the books here?" Nadi asked.
"Certainly. We are an open church."
Nadi nodded. "When can I come?"
"Anytime, though if you come during the day you will need to get permission from one of the other parishes..."
"Who should I call?"
Nico waved to another priest that was just outside the door. The priest handed him one of the church's business cards and he handed it to Nadi.
She tucked it into a pocket. "Do I need to call before I get here?"
Nico nodded. "It would certainly be polite, but is not completely necessary."
"Thank you."
Nadi frowned slightly. "Why help us?"
Father Nico gave a small smile. "It is part of my job, after all. You also brought me this chest, something that is very significant to our church, when you did not have to do so. I greatly appreciate that."

He then looked at me. "May I have a moment of your time in private?"
"Of course." Worked for me, I was going to request that anyway.
Gio stood. "Well if there is nothing else... I have to go." He nodded to Father Nico and walked out, Ori jumped up and followed after him, thanking Nico again for the folio. I tossed my keys to Becca. "Take the car, I'll meet up with you later."
She nodded and made her way to the door. "Sure boss." Everyone else departed and I was left alone in the room with the priest and the mysteriousness box. To be honest, he was much more curious to me at this point than the box was.

"So.. I can see that you have many teachers. Though as avid a learner as you are, it seems that at times you are... floundering."

Its getting increasingly tiresome whenever someone I barely know somehow knows secrets I try to keep hidden. "How do you know that?"

"You are learning the dark art." It wasn't a question.. but it also was not an accusation. Merely an observation. I nodded, there seemed to be little sense in denying it with Father Nico. "Just recently, yes."
"That is a slippery slope you are treading down. Things like that.. leave their mark on you. The perceptive can pick up on those marks." He said.

"That tattoo on your arm.." He gestured to it with one hand.

I lifted my arm and turned it towards him. I had an Oroborus on the inside of my wrist, a piece Giuseppe had done.

"I take it that was done post Embrace, yes?" Nico asked.
I nodded.
"You are aware enough to undergo the Chrysalis and change yourself, and it seems like you have done so several times. I can see that you are ambitious.. but that ambition seems unfocused. What are you trying to learn? And why?" The questions had a similar ring to them as the ones Giuseppe used to ask me. As though the questions were mostly for my benefit, rather to satisfy his own curiosity. I looked at him for a moment before answering, briefly wondering why he seemed so interested.

"I want to be able to control the Beast, mostly."
He raised a brow. "Then studying Cruac may not be a very helpful endeavor."
I smiled slightly and shrugged. "I don't want to subsume it. I want to control it. It can be a useful tool, and I want to learn to use it. I know the beast is dangerous, that's why I want mastery over it."
"Dangerous to who?" He asked.
"Those around me.. and myself."
He nodded. "Yes.. it is. You know... Rowan used to be very beautiful."
I blinked in surprise. Not the comment I was really expecting. "Oh?"
He nodded. "Her current appearance is not an effect of the Embrace.."
"Then what happened?"
He shrugged. "I can't say for sure, but I believe the art that she practices so well has left its mark on her in a much more pronounced and obvious way. now.. what is it that you want from me?"

I didn't even have to pause to think about it. "What were the symbols on your vestments?"
"Warnings to other Dragons."
I frowned slightly. "But I saw symbols that looked like Coils.. but they weren't Coils I had ever seen before."
He nodded. "Yes, and hopefully you will never have to see them again."
I frowned. Not really the answer I was hoping for.
Father Nico leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "You didn't tell me why you are doing what you are doing. I understand you want to be able to control the beast, but even that must have some sort of motivation."

I was slightly surprised to find the answers to his questions coming so easily. I used to struggle so much when Giuseppe would play these question games with me.
"I don't want to become a monster." Or at least, not an indiscriminate killer.
"I see. An understandable enough goal..if you would like, I will teach you skills to help in your goal."
I nodded. "I would greatly appreciate that. May I ask you a few questions?"
"Of course."
"I am very grateful, and I hope this doesn't sound like I am not.. but why are you so eager to help us?"
His expression turned quizzical and he leaned back in his seat. "Why do you think I am eager?"
My frown was thoughtful. "Maybe not eager.. but willing."
"Willing and eager are two very different things. I am willing to help because I think you will very much need it." He paused as though he were searching for the right way to explain himself. When he continued he looked very serious. "We form covenants for a reason, Harper. Unfortunately, because of the circumstances you are forced to detach yourself from those who you might otherwise associate, and hide yourself away, for which you have my condolences, by the way." I couldn't keep my face from twisting in suppressed anger when he alluded to my confrontation with Maxwell. That betrayal still stung. Acutely. He continued. "Your companions, like minded as they may be, will never fully understand you." I carefully kept my expression neutral. "But then, you will never fully understand them either. It is a difficult and complicated situation to be in. However, there is a lot you can learn from solitude as well."

I considered that for a few moments, sitting in silence and mulling it over in my head. It was something I usually tried not to think about. The anger at Maxwell's KOS order came to the forefront so easily because I used that anger as a way to avoid confronting the other things it made me feel, the more difficult things. I knew this, I wasn't fooling myself... but I still did it. And the others.. Well, I'd never felt like anyone understood me in life. In death, I'd found people who finally did. But Giuseppe and Mona were off doing their own things right now. That was really why I'd been irritated with Giovanni for not telling me he'd seen Giuseppe. It bothered me more than I cared to admit that I didn't know the next time I would see them. But I couldn't complain. I knew they were doing what they had to do. Which just left me to do what I had to do. I just hadn't realized until Nico started asking me about it just how isolated I'd been feeling. It's jarring to think that I couldn't even go to the Order for help here in the city without fear that one of them might turn me over to Maxwell.

But really, there was little reason to whine about it. What good would it do? As far as I knew there wasn't a damn thing I could do to rectify the situation and get the KOS order removed. Not even my track record of saving the city was enough to protect me. The only other recourse I could think of was to convince Maxwell I didn't have Malkavia... and I had no clue how to do that as of yet.

Nico was watching my face as I considered all these things. When I finally looked back up at him, he said, "Is there anything else I can answer for you?"
I nodded and asked the other question I'd been thinking about since the moment I met him. "How is it that you appear so human?"

He stood and walked over to one of the bookcases and pulled something out. He spoke with his back to me. "Practice I suppose..." When He turned back around he had an etching in his hand. He held it out to me. "I am very old Harper.." When I looked at the etching I recognized his face. The etching was dated 914 A.D. Holy fuck. He wasn't kidding. "I have had a very long time to garner enemies..a very long time to study, and come to understand the difference between us and humans."

I set the etching aside and regarded him silently, letting him continue. "Do you know what the main difference between us is?" I just tilted my head and watched him, saying nothing. "It is not death... it is the soul." My face betrayed my skepticism, but he didn't seem to notice (or at least didn't indicated that he did.) "Human's have a soul.. we have.. an echo of a soul.. a reflection of the soul that we used to have in life. That is what allows the beast to enter and at times control our actions. I have learned how to improve that reflection, polish it to be more than just a shadow, to be more clear and crisp." He settled back into the chair. "Think of it as a mirror. Your reflection can be made more defined, more detailed for a short period of time if you wish it.. but it was still a reflection. I have learned how to make that effect last. That is why I appear more human than most of our brethren..."

He locked eyes with me and his voice became heavier, like he was trying to weigh it down with the immense importance and significance of the concepts he was conveying to me. I leaned forward almost involuntarily to catch every word. "Because I have come to learn that, although we are creatures of blood, more so than that, we are creatures of flesh. We are made of the same flesh and bone as mortals. We came from the same source, mortal and kindred alike. Ultimately, we are all nothing but dust... Think on this."

He stood, and I followed. He walked me to the door. I thanked him again and left.

I stood for a moment in the frigid night air, lingering briefly on the steps that led up to the back door of the church. I didn't really want to leave. I wanted to sit with Father Nico for hours and discuss what he had told me... delve deeper into his head.. What he had said about dust still rang in my ears, and resonated with another part of me. I had spent only a handful of minutes with him and he'd manage to given me a metric shit ton of things to consider in that short amount of time. Mostly I thought about my soul.

I have never been particularly religious. I was baptized Irish Catholic when I was a baby, but my family was never very devout. It was more a thing you did because that's what people did, rather than any real type of faith. I believe in there is a could I not? Fuck, I TASTED one... I shook hands with Adam's third son, and was threatened by his second. But nevertheless, talk of the soul always made me skeptical. I wondered about what Nico had said..that kindred only had the shadow of a soul. That metaphysical bullshit can get really convoluted and confusing really quickly. I much preferred to focus on the tangible side of life. However, the two were invariably linked together. I couldn't just ignore one of them. Well, I could.. but it would be fucking stupid of me to do.

Did it bother me that I might not have a soul? Should it? I wasn't sure on either note. I felt different once I was embraced.. the beast.. the gnawing hunger.. a change in emotions.. things that felt so necessary in life no longer held the same meaning. Sex, for example. Was it still pleasurable? Sure. Especially if there was feeding involved. But the desire for blood was so much more intense.. it was the drug that dulled every other sensation in comparison. I idly wondered if I would be able to control my beast enough during sex now to resist the urge to feed during it. Probably not something I should test until I was further along in my Coil training.

I reigned my wandering thoughts back in and stepped off into the night. I stayed in the shadows, huddling in my coat.. mostly for the sake of hiding my pasty Irish ass.. but to an innocent onlooker it probably looked like I was cold.. and pulled the hat down further, shielding my face. I took the long way to get back to the tunnels. I tried not to use the same entrance and exit too often, just in case, but I'd take a closer one tonight. I wanted to be above ground for awhile. Besides, it had started to snow, and I'd always liked snow. As I walked, I threw shadows around myself. If I was about to exit a shadowy area, I'd extend them out to provide more cover. I'd have to hunt again soon.. but I needed the practice.. and the safety.

I came back around to the idea of kindred souls. I wondered. If kindred only had a reflection of a soul, then what was it you drank when committing diablerie? I kept tossing it around in my head. We are nothing but dust... I knew that the flesh was mutable.. I paused in a dark alcove to examine my tattoo. It was the only physical change I had made to my flesh since the Embrace. I wondered what else I could change. If I am only dust..then there is no reason I can't change my body.

Seems like I now had new things to meditate on...


I was still deep in thought when I got back to the base. I was planning on heading straight to my room and starting my meditation, but as I walked by Gio's lab I heard, BAM! CRASH! "FUCK!"
I frowned and poked my head in. "What the fuck are you doing?"
"SCIENCE!" Gio yelled.
I rolled my eyes and walked into the room, eyes quickly taking in his workbench.
His work bench that was covered in parts from an electronic device.
An electronic device that happened to be my little black box.
I closed my eyes and counted to 5. It didn't help. I spoke in soft, measured tones, cold as ice. "What the fuck are you doing, Giovanni."

He spoke without looking up. "I told you already. You need to listen more. For some reason I can't get enough power into this," he held up the only piece of the box still intact, it looked like a large square battery and connections come out one end. "to make it do what I want it too."
"Why the fuck are you experimenting with my shit."
"Next time you should put it where the cripple can't get to it. Like where I'd need a ladder."
I spoke through clenched teeth. "I wasn't aware that I needed to hide my possessions from you as though you were FUCKING FOUR!"

A voice came from my left. Ori had walked into the lab, I hadn't noticed him because of the tunnel vision. "Well hey, there's a spirit in that battery..that's how it wor..." His words died in his throat because as he started speaking I turned my head slowly and stared at him. It was not a nice stare. It was a pretty fucking pissed off im-going-to-rip-out-your-vocal-chords kind of stare. I wasn't pissed at Ori, but if he wanted to inject himself in the middle of this dispute I was more than okay with letting him take stray fire. "I..uh..heh..ookay.. I'm gonna go...uh.. in the other room.." He took a few steps slowly backwards, then turned and walked quickly out of the room. I turned back to Gio, the glare turned down a little (but barely). What Ori had said really had made me curious.. I wanted to know what made it tick too.. but the asshole could at least ask permission first.

Gio looked up at me and rolled his eyes. "It's not like you were using it."
I grit my teeth again. "Yes, actually. I was."
"Oh.. well hey.. I'm ninety percent sure I can put it back together when I'm done. I'm also ninety percent sure I can make it work better."
I leaned in over the table and got up in his face, inches away. Talking low because if I spoke any louder I might just take a swing at him. "That's good. Because I'm ninety-NINE percent fucking sure that if you don't, I'm going to cause you amazingly vast amounts of pain and suffering." I pushed off the table, which scooted a few inches into Gio's stomach, enough to make him grunt from the small impact, and stalked out of the lab. Just as I got to my door I heard him mutter, "Oh but you already do." just as I slammed the door shut hard enough to rattle the frame.

It took me awhile to cool off before I could actually start my meditation. Goddamned Italian sonofabitch.

December 22, 2009

My new job


Waking up without people hanging around my room was apparently only a one night occurrence. I now understand why kindred usually have solitary havens. It's not safety.. its to avoid the annoying roommates.

As I felt the sun set, I opened my eyes. Waking up isn't gradual as it was when I was alive. One second I'm asleep(if you can call it that), the next I'm awake and staring at the ceiling. Except tonight. Tonight I was awake and staring at several someones faces about 2 inches away from mine. I didn't even have time to process who they were before my instincts took over and I had both knives in hand, trusting them both into two of the three throats above me.

When my hand passed straight through and the faces just grinned at me, my thinking brain clicked back on and I realized they all looked like the same person. A person who really enjoyed fucking with me. I scowled. "Goddammit Theo. You can't just deliver the gear can you? Fuck."
The three illusions of Theo Korben dissolved. I hurriedly changed clothes, then I grabbed the sheaths off the nightstand and tucked the knives into them, then around my waist. Grabbing my gun and strapping it to my upper thigh. I usually waited until we went out to put on the weapons, but waking up to that made me feel a little edgy. I took a moment to concentrate and cause the weapons to fade from sight.

His voice came from outside the door. "You're a little jumpy, you know that?"

I scowled again and opened the door to see the shit-eating grin on his. I shouldered past him and strode angrily towards the lab. Theo enjoyed toying with me. The part that really set me off was that there wasn't a lot I could do about it. He was a mage proficient in Space and Mind magic, from what I had seen him do. At least, I'd seem him walk through portals and I'd heard him inside my head. So I made assumptions.

When I walked into the lab, Ori was sweeping the floor. I looked at Gio and quirked a brow and he smirked at me. "I have a lab slave." Gio said. Ori looked up and shrugged. Nobody was sitting at one work table with Nadi, who was reading. I just shook my head and proceeded to the case that was sitting on one of the other work tables. There was a locking mechanism on it that looked pretty sophisticated.

"You'll need that chip they put in your cell phone to open it, I think." Gio said.
"No, she won't." Theo said, and suddenly stabbed me in the back of the shoulder with a syringe. I felt the compressed air release and the microchip shoot into the deep tissue of my upper back. Fuck me did it HURT. I grabbed my shoulder and grimaced, clenching my teeth against the pain. I'd been too engrossed in the case and let my guard down. Not that it mattered. Theo could probably teleport the chip INTO my back.

"Welcome to Project Valkyrie, Agent." Theo said with a grin I really wanted to wipe right off his face with absurd amounts of violence.

I rubbed my shoulder and held out my hand. Gio gave me a questioning look that resolved itself when Theo smacked an envelope into my open palm. Orders. I was getting fucking Orders. I had been hoping that letting them track our movements would be enough, but apparently not. I was being made into an active agent. As though enough supernaturals didn't hate me already. I tore open the envelope and glanced over the orders. I did not like what I saw. The orders were mainly for Theo, but came with instructions for me as well.

You are given orders to re-infiltrate Chicago. Your objectives are as follows:

1. Re-establish contact with Agent O'Shea. She is to assist you with all mission objectives.
2. Gain information on the following subjects, with maximum discretion.
a. Hemophage, Designate "Solomon Birch" (RED LIST)
b. Hemophage, Designate "Rowen"
c. Lycathrope, Designate "Citysmith"
d. Lycathrope, Designate "Mac O'Brien" (RED LIST)
e. Lycanthrope, Designate "Bella Santore" (RED LIST)

Under no circumstances are you to reveal yourself to Red Listed Subjects. Attempts to subdue or interrogate said subjects must only be undertaken with backup present. Lethal Force is authorized and encouraged in the event of confrontation.

Good Luck Agent Korben.


I just stared at it for a good five minutes. They wanted me to feed them information. I can't say I minded ratting out Birch, he was an ass who'd kill me given the slightest provocation.. but Mac? and Bella? and fucking Rowan? I needed to figure out a way to give them just enough information to keep them happy without getting my ass killed, or letting any harm come to my allies. I didn't want to throw away my connection within Valkyrie, but I'd do it in a hot second if I had to in order to avoid narking on people who helped me. I didn't care how deep that chip was in my shoulder. I'd dig the fucker out with a pair of pliers.

I held up the orders and waved them at Theo. I focused briefly and jumped into his head. The others were watching us with a higher amount of curiosity than I was comfortable with.
And your okay with this? I growled
He shrugged and responded in my head. Our conversation was private, but our body language was not. Sure.. except the obvious one. I'm not going to fuck with Gio's sister.
What about Mac? He hid us in his bomb shelter up until Ophios. I said, annoyed.
Oh, right.. that's who that is. I thought the name looked familiar. You can handle that. I barely knew the guy.
I scowled at him. I crossed my arms across my chest, crumpling the paper in my fist. I don't like it.

Theo just shrugged again and spoke out loud, apparently ending our conversation. "Smoke break. Anyone comin?"
Ori joined him, though I don't think he actually smoked. I folded up the offending orders and put them in my pocket. I flipped open the suitcase to see four pairs of goggles inside. I tossed one to Nobody, one to Gio, and kept the other two for Becca and myself. It wasn't at all surprising that they knew how many to send me. My movements were quick and angry. Gio waited until he heard the door shut before speaking.

"Okay, so whats on the orders?"
I leaned back against the table and shook my head. "They want me to run surveillance on a few people. One of which is Mac. He is apparently on their kill list.
Nobody spoke while examining his goggles. "Wonder what he did to get on there.."
"No idea. I doubt it was the ordeal with his IRA buddies, but you never know." I answered.
Gio was staring at me like he knew I wasn't saying something.

"Who else was on the list?" Gio asked.

"Birch, who I don't mind spying on.. that one might be interesting.. but then there's Rowan, Citysmith, whoever that is.. and Mac. Theo said he wouldn't.." I stopped short. I'd been about to tell him what Theo had said about Bella.
Gio regarded me with more than a little suspicion. "Wouldn't what? Who else is on the list?"
"Wouldn't spy on Mac." I finished lamely. "No one else is on the list."
Gio looked like he didn't believe me. I made a mental note to burn the orders as soon as I got the chance. I ignored his searching expression and toyed around with the goggles for a few minutes, then I decided to change the subject.

"So what did Sansome say?"
Gio watched me for a few more beats before accepting the change in conversation. It probably also had something to do with Theo and Ori coming back into the room.
"Couple days till the hunt. Said they could take us over to the other side and give us the means to hurt the spirits."
I nodded slowly, considering that situation. "Sounds good."
"We aren't killing it.. we're just cutting it down. That's why it got this powerful in the first place. No one was keeping it in check."
"Fair enough. I'll take Sansome's word for it. I don't know shit about spirits." I said.

Gio nodded to that. "We're supposed to meet him in the basement of a hotel night after next. He said to meet just after sunset, just after you wake up."
I furrowed my brow in thought. From the way Gio said it, Sansome had mentioned me specifically... and didn't go into a rage. Well.. it was progress I supposed. I wasn't about to argue with it.

Nadi spoke without looking up from her book. "Dr. Bright is going to be at the shop tonight. Don't we need to meet him soon?"
Gio snorted and starting working on whatever was on his work bench again."You guys can go, I'm staying here." He looked over at Ori. "You should probably stay here too. Better he know as little about us as possible."

I nodded agreement and looked at Theo. "You can come if you want. He probably already knows about you."
Theo shrugged. "Sure. Why not. Could be fun."

I rolled my eyes and headed for the door.

We exited the sewers a few blocks over and walked the rest of the way. Nobody, Theo, Nadi, and I stood in front of the shop and waited. There was a man sitting on the bench, only smoking a single cigarette this time.. but none of us went over to him. After a few minutes he gave a small wave, the streetlamp glinting off the red gem in his hand. We had filled Theo in on the way over about who Bright was. Bright stood as we walked over.

"Shall we?" He said.
I jerked my head to the door and walked up to it, pulling the key (a normal key, Gio and I both agreed that bringing the weird key was a bad idea) and handing it to Bright. He unlocked the door, and we went inside.
Nadi looked at his cigarette and quirked a brow, "Only one today?"
He took a drag and nodded. "Yup. Not really in the mood for cigarettes tonight, I'm too hiiigh." And with that he entered the shop.

He started to poke around, but after a few minutes a crew showed up to help and he mostly stood with us, giving orders here and there. They had guys with all sorts of sensing devices, from Geiger counters, to one guy walking around with an honest to god divining rod. The look on that technicians face as he walked around with a pronged stick said that he found it just as ridiculous as we did.

After they were settled into their work, Bright turned to Nadi. "You still interested in meeting the Twisted Ones?"
She nodded. He gave an unnerving smile. "Good." He pulled a badge out of his coat pocket and handed it to her along with a card. "Email this address, they'll send you instructions for how to get the clearance. This badge will let you inside."
She knit her brow together in mild confusion. "I thought you were bringing them here?"
He snorted. "Fuck no. Those reality benders don't get to come out and play. You're lucky we're even letting you in see them."
She looked down at the badge for a moment before speaking again. "And if I go in, you guarantee me I'll be able to come back out again."
He smirked at her. "If you behave, sure. There is always some risk involved. But if I wanted to take you in, I would have already."
"I take it I can't bring anyone with me?" She asked.
"Badge is just for you." Bright confirmed.

I didn't like the idea much, but Nadi was a big girl, and I couldn't blame her for being curious. I would've done the same thing. So I didn't say a word.

Theo pulled out an ornate knife, one I'd seen him use before and held it up to show Bright. "You guys have any of these lying around?"
Bright let out a bark of sarcastic laughter. "A Keris? I fucking wish. The Shield and Spear get dibs on those usually." He eyed it, then Theo. "Though, I could go through the appropriate channels with Project Valkyrie and get it requisitioned from you."
Theo gave a skeptical snort.
I caught his eye and shook my head, muttering, "Believe it, he's better funded than you."
Theo responded with a look of slight surprise, but Bright just shrugged.
"However, I suspect that if I do that, you'd rabbit."
Theo laughed. "Oh yeah."

We stayed for awhile longer, we didn't have many more significant questions for Bright. It wasn't pleasant watching them rifle through the shop and carry things away. We left, after about an hour. We couldn't tell if anything they were taking was worth a damn anyway. We left them to it.

On our way out, Theo sidestepped to stand next to Nadi. She was well aware of his propensity for fucking with people. She kept walking, but I noticed her shoulders tense slightly. When he 'stumbled' into her, she was ready for it, bracing herself. I noticed both their aura's flared for a split second, and this time Theo really DID stumble, holding the front of his head. "SHIT.. ow."
I smirked at him and noted the twitch at the corner of Nadi's mouth as she stared at Theo for a brief moment.

My phone and Theo's phone rang at the same time.
"Is this Harper?"
"Yes, Father Nico, it is."
"I have made some progress on the chest that you might be interested in. Can you come by tonight?"
"Sure, we'll be there in 20 minutes."
"Great. I will see you then."

And he hung up. About that same time Theo said, "SHIT." hung up his phone, looked at all of us, still rubbing his temples, and said, "I have to go. Harper, those orders are now yours. Have fun!" He grinned at me one last obnoxious time, and disappeared. Seconds later I received a text from Captain O'Donnell confirming the transfer of orders. I scowled and deleted it, then dialed Gio. "Father Nicolas has something for us. Do you guys want to meet us at the Church?"
"Sure. We'll be there in 15."

We retrieved one of the cars and headed out.

December 18, 2009

Getting to know Ori

Nadi called Nick on the way and told him to meet us at the shop. He arrived at the same time as we did. He and Alexi looked at each other, and there was a tense moment before Alexi said, "Wanna get a beer?" Nick shrugged. "Sure." They left, and Nadi went with them.

We all stood in the empty shop and tried to let the tension fade. It wasn't easy with a stranger there, even if he had just saved our asses. He stood there looking decidedly uncomfortable.

I crossed my arms across my chest and leaned against the door frame. The look I was giving the stranger was not friendly. "So who the fuck sent you?"

"Look, I was told to come to Chicago because someone needed my help.. I found you guys.. I helped, okay?"

I pushed myself off the frame and stalked towards him. "So who the hell sent you?" Suspicious, who, me?

Gio intercepted me and offered the guy his hand, standing between us. "Thanks for the help. Giovanni Santori." The guy shook his hand. "Grigori Ironfeather, call me Ori. Came over from Las Vegas."

"Ironfeather?" Nobody asked.

"Yeah, I'm half Russian."

"Pack?" Gio inquired.

"Don't have one right now, but I've been hanging around with the Whispers lately.. the Bone Shadow pack.."

I frowned at Gio, but relaxed slightly. I had been worried he might be Pure. But I was still suspicious..regardless.

About that time the dark sedan pulled up. Sansome and Davareaux got out and entered the shop. I gave Davaraux a small smile. "I thought I recognized that cannon shot. It's good to see you Davareaux. What are you doing back in town, besides saving our asses?"
He nodded to me, the rifle that had been the origin of the 'shooting star' we'd seen slung over one shoulder. "You too... and I never left." he turned to look at Ori. "I need to talk to you." And he turned and walked out of the room.

"Hah! um..okay." Ori said nervously, and followed Davareaux outside.

Sansome looked at Giovanni expectantly..but not angrily. I stayed quiet. I wasn't about to give him any reason to GET pissed if I could help it.

"What the hell is going on? Why were you in the meat packing district?" Again, he didn't seem angry at all, though maybe a little suspicious..but I might have been projecting.
Gio pulled up a chair and sat. "Investigating murders... we found out that for the last decade there has been one family killed in that district every ten years."
Sansome waved his hand impatiently. "We know that, that's why we did the land grab. There was something going on, but we couldn't figure out what. Pain of Animals has been there a very long time.. but it didn't start getting notably powerful until recently. We starting buying up the land and forcing people out in an attempt to contain it."
"So you knew about the sacrifice?" Gio asked.

That caught him off guard. His eyes narrowed and his posture became more stiff. "What are you talking about?"
"In each of the homes we found the words, 'This is the sacrifice' in your weird language.. always carved into the wood in unobtrusive places were it wouldn't be noticed. Attic, hall closet, under the counter.. this year is the first time that there hasn't been a family killed. We think that's why Pain of Animals is giving us trouble." Giovanni explained.

Sansome was silent for a moment, letting it sink in. Nobody spoke up after a few seconds. "Who could make a bargain like that with a spirit?"
Sansome shook his head. "Any Uratha could.. but we wouldn't. The price is too high. We're supposed to keep the spirits in line so they don't go rampaging around killing people.. not giving them people to kill."
Gio frowned. "Well what happened to the pack that was in charge of the district before the family started to move in?"
"We don't know. They disappeared a few years ago. No one knows what happened to them."

I wanted to ask him questions, but if I did it would give away that we heard his tape. I didn't want him to know any of us had been in the family vault. Especially not me. Nadi walked back into the shop. I filled her in quickly while Gio and Sansome talked.

Sansome looked over all of us. "We need to call a hunt. In three days."
Nadi raised an eyebrow. "Can we help?"
"Or you could back down and go hide under a rock." Sansome said, words tinged with scorn.
I scowled at him before I could stop myself. "We went out there in the first place didn't we?" I said, anger coloring my words.
"We want to help. We just weren't sure if we would be of any use to you. We don't know how to hurt spirits." Nadi said, almost at the same time. Gio, Nobody and Becca all murmured in agreement.

Sansome looked between Nadi and me as if judging our sincerity, gave a curt nod and started for the door. "I'll get back to you on that. Breakfast tomorrow."

He exited the shop and got into the car. A few moments later Davareaux reappeared as well, got in the car, and they drove away. Ori re-entered the shop, he was rubbing the back of his neck and had a look on his face like he'd just been given way too much homework he didn't feel like doing.

I frowned at him. "So.. not that we aren't grateful that you saved us.."
"Because we are very grateful" Nadi interjected. There was a subtle sarcastic ring to the words. I continued. "But what are you doing here, who sent you, and how did you know where we were?"

Ori raised his hands as if to ward off an attack. "Look, I was hunting ghosts, and I ran into this guy who looked like the ghost I was hunting, but he wasn't a ghost. He kicked my ass and told me I had to come help you guys."

Gio smirked. "He threatened your family didn't he."
Ori nodded. "Yeah, and since I like my family, I thought I would do what he told me to."
I mirrored Gio's smirk and felt more secure with Ori. If Giuseppe had sent him, it was doubtful he would or could fuck us over. "Smart man."

"So.. you guys know what I am.. who and what are you guys?" He glanced at me. "Besides you, who smells like a vampire."

Gio took over the introductions. "Giovanni Santori.. The guy who attacked you is Giuseppe, and he's my uncle...and I'm human." a bark of sarcastic laughter escaped from me at that.
Ori wrinkled his nose. "You smell like brimstone and sulfur."
Gio shrugged. "Side effect of having demon blood I guess."

Ori opened his mouth to say something, but couldn't seem to come up with a response. So he shut it and just looked perplexed for a moment. He eventually recovered. "Okay.. so you smell like hell.. you smell like a vampire," he pointed at Nadi. "You smell human, so do you," gestering to Becca, "and you," he pointed at Nobody. "Smell like unicorns. and I've never even smelled unicorns before."

Gio continued. "The vampire giving you the stink eye over there is Harper. This is Nobody.."
Ori coughed. "Really? Nobody?"
Nobody grinned at him, it was more than a little sinister. "Yeah, you know.. 'who killed Bill?' 'Nobody!'" he shrugged to convey the confusion.
"Okay.. so..what are you?" Ori asked. Nobody kept grinning at him and made his face shift into Ori's.. which caused the werewolf to jump back a few feet. "Woah! uh..what the fuck?"
"Nobody is a changeling. A mirror skin. he can make himself look like any one he wants to look like." Gio explained.
"Okay, so what is a changeling?" Ori asked, eying Nobody who had yet to change his face back. He just gave Ori that unsettling smile.
"You're worst nightmare." Nobody said.
Gio smirked at faery-boy. "Part fairy, part human."
"Ookay then. Good to know." he turned towards Nadi. "And you are?"
"Human." Nadi muttered in her reserved way.
Gio answered as though she'd never said a word. "She's a death mage."
"Like a wizard..?" Ori asked.
"Something like that." Nadi responded.
"And that's Rebbeca, she works for Harper." Becca waved. Ori's eyes lingered on her a bit longer than the had on everyone else. She ignored it.

I was standing there watching him the entire time. There was something about him that nagged at me. Something familiar...

Holy fuck. He looked like Stepping-Feather.

"So Ori. Whats your dad's name?" He didn't look young enough to be any progeny of Stepping Feather, but I never really could tell how old werewolves were.
"Ian.. why?"
I frowned deeper. "Any siblings?"
He eyed me. "A sister... why?"
Gio blinked at me as he clued in to what I had noticed. I nodded to his unspoken question then looked back to Ori. "You related to anyone named Stepping Feather?"

He seemed relived. "Yeah, actually.. funny story.. I wasn't supposed to say anything, but he told me to come help you guys."
It was my turn to look perplexed. "I thought Giuseppe told you to find us."
He sighed. "Okay, you know those vision quest things? Well I went on one like 2 months ago. I was out in the desert, this relative I hadn't seen since I was a little kid shows up..Stepping Feather. He tells me that I need to go to Chicago, because someone there is going to need my help... it wasn't until that Giuseppe guy got to me that I was sent to you guys. But since you know him, I'm guessing you were who he was talking about."

I nodded slowly. "He's dead you know..he died about a month ago.. saving the city."
"He died to save a pack mate. Sacrificed himself." Gio added.
Ori grimaced. "I thought he might be. He said in the vision he would die in Chicago."
I frowned. "How did he know? The only one who knew about the deal was Theo."
Ori shrugged. "Its just one of those vision things..."
I didn't let my expression show it, but I felt even more at ease with Ori being here than I had before. Giuseppe had sent him, and Stepping Feather had as well. However, he'd opened up about that 'secret' when all we did was guess that he was related. Not exactly a good confidant it didn't seem. I would have to ask Nobody about binding him to keep his mouth shut. Something else occurred to me.

"You said you were hunting a ghost when you ran into Giuseppe.. what ghost? and why?"
Ori shrugged. "I guess I was hunting him and didn't know it? I mean, it looked exactly like him.. He was the ghost right?"
"No, he's a vampire." Gio said.
"The ghost is his. They're two separate entities..." I said.
"Well then maybe the ghost led me to him on purpose? I dunno."
I shook my head slowly. "The ghost hates him. It wants to cause him pain.. it wouldn't help him... why were you hunting it?"
"Wait.. vampires have ghosts?" Ori was confused.
I rolled my eyes. "Some do. Surprise. Focus please."
"Uh..right. Well, the ghost has been responsible for something like 7 murders in Chicago in the last few weeks."

I let fly a color string of curses.
Nadi waited for me to taper off before asking, "Should you tell him about it?"
I shook my head and crossed my arms over my chest again. This wasn't good.. and it didn't make me happy. "Maybe, but if the ghost is here, Giuseppe is probably close by as well, and may already know. That and I can't get a hold of him recently."
"You don't know how to contact him?" Nobody scoffed.

I scowled at him. "Just because he's my sire doesn't mean I know his every move."

Ori's eyes widened and he took a couple steps back from me, hand up as if to ward me off. "Woah woah woah! He's your fucking SIRE?! And you guys were going to tell me this when?"
I looked at him like the complete idiot I felt he was at this moment. "Oh, I'm sorry.. did I not tell you a complete and comprehensive account of my personal life in the 20 minutes that I've known you? How rude of me to keep such things from someone I've known for so very long." Sarcasm coalesced from the words and sloughed off onto the floor..

Gio laughed. "You'll have to get used to that if you're going to be helping us. She's not exactly forthcoming." I gave him the finger. Gio gave Ori a look that said, "see what I mean?"

Ori looked at all of us, hands extended, palms facing up in a gesture of frustrated reluctance. "Look, I don't mean any offense, but I'm not looking for another job.. I've already got one responsibilities I don't want.. I really don't want to take on anymore."

I rolled my eyes at him again. "Get over it.. because according to Stepping Feather and Giuseppe you're stuck with us, and vice versa."

As distrusting as I might be, it would be useful to have him around. We needed a werewolf. We were dealing with too many spirits to not have one around with us.

"Be prepared to have your life threatened on numerous occasions, just by association. We get that a lot." I said. Ori just groaned.

"You staying anywhere?" Gio was talking to Ori, but looking at me.
I grimaced. "Really? You want me to ask Maury to let a fucking werewolf stay in his place?"
Gio gave me a look reminiscent of a parent scolding a whining child.. "We need him around. We can't do shit with spirits remember."
I scowled at him. "I'm fucking aware. But shit Gio.. we're asking a lot of the guy."
"You got a better idea?"
I didn't. Of course.
"Look I can stay somewhere else, really." Ori said.
I tossed my hands up in defeat. "No. Like I said, you may have people gunning for you, and we need to be in the same place for safety and planning purposes. Besides, we may need you around if I end up making more nasty spirits crawl out of laptop monitors."
"Excuse me?"
"We'll explain later." I said with a dismissive wave. I turned and walked towards the basement. "I'll be right back.."

I was pretty nervous walking into Maury's study. I was wondering when we'd push him too far and he'd kick us out.. but, surprisingly, when I made the hesitant request he accepted immediately. He didn't even look up from his journal. I left feeling like he knew something about the situation that I didn't. I hate that feeling. I was also nervous about letting a werewolf come stay with us. Giuseppe may have taken one on, but I didn't feel as confident in my abilities in a direct confrontation with a frenzied killing machine. But I didn't have many other options.

I went back up to the shop. "He's cleared. Lets get down there. I don't like hanging out in the shop with Bright's guys around."
"Where exactly are we going?" Ori looked around expectantly.
I smirked at him. "The sewers."
He stared at me in disbelief. "You guys live in the sewers."
Gio hobbled towards the stairs. "It's cozier than you may think."
Ori grumbled to himself, something about getting his ass into bullshit situations.

When we got down into Maury's place, Ori's attitude changed a bit. He looked around at the hotel-esque living space with wide eyes. "Wow.. you guys weren't kidding."
We showed him his room, identical to each of ours, the lab, then we all moved to the living area.

Gio eased himself onto the couch right about the time Cheshire padded into the room.
Ori pointed at the big cat. "What the fuck is THAT."
Gio glanced up and around, eyes settling on Chesh. "Oh! That's Cheshire. Say hi, Ches."
Ches' tail flicked idly as he sized up the werewolf. You could almost hear him thinking 'I could take him'. "Hello."
"And it talks." Ori sniffed. "Wow...he kinda smells like.."
"I made him..and yeah, that's werewolf hide. But don't worry, it was a Pure." Gio said, smiling.
"Just as long as you don't try to use me for that shit. Impressive though.."

Nobody smirked. "Fuck with us, and we might just."
Ori laughed. "Yeah, I'm scared of a fairy. You know those knives," he pointed to the wickedly sharp blades Nobody wore. "Are about as effective as butter-knives right?"
That comment made me knock off a few more points from his intelligence level. It's not wise to underestimate anyone when you're in our position.
Nobody's smirk turned into a nasty grin. "Fairy nothin'. I'm king of the Booterflies..and I'd just use this." He slid his silver knife from a hidden sheath somewhere on his person. Fuck if I knew where. I can make my weapons damn near invisible, and he could still one-up me on shit like this.

The silver glinted in the dim lighting of the antique lamps. I swear to God, that faery asshole is completely insane. Not even I would've pulled silver on a werewolf unless I was looking for a fight. But who knows.. he was crazy enough to want one.

Ori looked supremely annoyed, but not really intimidated. It was a pretty good act. I was the only one, as far as I know, who could tell he was, if only a touch, startled by the knife. A rapid and very brief flash of orange had tinged his aura when Nobody had revealed it.
"Good to know." Ori jerked his thumb at Nobody and looked at us. "What the fuck is up with this guy?"

I motioned to Nobody. "To be fair, you did insult him. That, and he likes to stab things.. and get us into fights with Pure with no good goddamn reason."
"Hey! we saved Volkas' niece!" Nobody protested.
"Yeah, but you didn't know it was her at the time." I shot back.
"So? I couldn't let her get beaten on." He sounded indignant.
I was just impatient. "Whatever. I need to talk to you in the other room."

We got up and walked out, as we did so I heard Gio say, "Don't mind them, they're shady.." The rest of his words trailed off as I shut the door to my room.
Nobody looked at my expectantly. "Whats up?"
"Can you work your faery voodoo and bind him into a contrac.."
He grinned at me. "Way ahead of you. That guy's got loose lips.. I was already planning on binding him to one so he wouldn't fuck us over."
"Good. I don't like how easily he told us his 'secret' about Stepping Feather."
"Agreed. We don't need that shit. I'll do it tonight."
We spent the next few minutes discussing how exactly it should go. It was less a discussion and more Nobody telling me what he'd say. He had good practice with these things, after all.. and Ori was unsuspecting.

Nadi, Gio and Ori were talking about spirits and drinking beer when we came back out. From what they said, there was s scar in the gauntlet in the meat packing district, which meant, apparently, that the area was corrupt, spirits were malicious, even if they weren't normally in other places. After a few minutes of this discussion, Nadi got up and retrieved the little black book from Gio lab.
She handed it to Ori. "What can you tell me about this?"

He made a disgusted face when he took it from her. Couldn't blame him, the thing was unpleasant. "Just that there's a spirit attached to it... hey, what was that talk about a spirit and a laptop?"
Nadi took the book back and flipped it to the middle while she spoke. "I found a symbol for Mastraac online, Harper hacked the code and the magelin came out of the computer screen and attacked us."
Ori choked on his swig of beer. "That's impossible."
Nadi turned the book around to show him the red symbol scrawled across both pages. Ori set his beer down on the coffee table and suddenly looked very serious. "Yeah, that's Mastraac's symbol..but there's no way that you called the magelin spirit of envy out of the computer. You'd all be dead."

I jerked my head at Nobody, who lifted up his shirt to show the stitches that held the giant healing wounds closed. "He almost was."
Ori held up his hands to stop more explanations and shook his head, he seemed pretty vehement. "There wouldn't be any 'almost', those things are ridiculously powerful. It was probably one of Mastraac's servants.. but it wasn't Mastraac."

"Okay, so can you tell us anything about the book?" Nadi asked in a low voice. He couldn't. Nadi seemed disappointed.

Conversation devolved from there, eventually Ori looked over at Becca who was watching reruns of pop-up video on VH1. He put on what I figured was his version of a charming smile. It was a pretty good one. "So, what do you do around here?"
She looked up and shrugged. "Uh..I work for Harper.. before that I was in a goth band back in New Orleans, before that I worked in as a mechanic in a garage.. and before that I was a man." She said it without so much as cracking a smile or batting an eyelash, turning back to the TV. I put a hand over my face to hide the grin. I wasn't the only one who did.

Ori looked taken aback. "Alright then."
Nadi made some subtle hand motions.
"Where can I get a good burger around here? I'm starving." Ori asked.
Gio pushed himself to his feet and retrieved his cane. "C'mon, I'll show you."
They stood to go, and Ori walked right out of the soles of his combat boots. He stumbled and caught himself. "What the fuck?!"
Gio leaned down and looked at his boots. "Huh. That's weird."
Ori grumbled about shitty boots and stalked over to the fridge for another beer. Tripping and nearly face planting on his way over there as the shoe laces of his boots get tangled together. "Fuck! What the hell?!" He planted himself in a chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm staying right here."

I stood, still trying to bite back the amused smirk. "I have to make a call, then I'm going to go find Joseph and ask him a few things. Anyone want to join me?"
Nadi slipped the book in her coat pocket and nodded.

I stepped slipped into the computer room and dialed Captain O'Donnell.
"Captain. I need some gear.. do you guys have anything that will let us see spirits? We've been running into them a lot lately. It would be a huge help."
"You got a fax there?"
"Yeah." I gave him the fax number and a few seconds later a requisition form came through. Kinda odd.. but okay.. I filled it out and faxed it back.
He rattled off some coordinates to me. "Be there in 8 hours, 0700 sharp to pick up the package." and he hung up.

I looked at the phone for a moment. That was more brusque than he usually was. I had a bad feeling about this whole thing. I wondered if it was time for these dealings with Project Valkyrie to start going badly for me.

I told Becca where to be tomorrow to get the gear, and that she could take some of the others with her if she wanted, then headed out into the sewers with Nadi. As I was walking out, the self satisfied smile on Nobody and the slightly more nervous expression on Ori told me Nobody had forced him to take the contract while I'd been out.

That fairy bastard was at least good for something besides stabbing. Oh. Excuse me. King of the Booterflies.

What the fuck.


We wandered the tunnels for a good half hour and come up with nothing. We couldn't even find the place with the dirt floor anymore. It was all extremely strange. We had started to head back when we noticed a message scrawled across the wall on the tunnel the way we come in. It read 'Choose another bedtime story.'

I tapped Nadi's coat pocket. "I don't think he likes the book. Ask him about it without having it around maybe?"
She agreed and left to take the book back as I waited. It took her about ten minutes to get there and back.

After about 5 minutes, I started to feel a little weird. My head swam. I squeezed my eyes shut and held my head until it subsided. When it did, I wasn't in the same sewer anymore. The floor was polished wood, and the walls were smooth. I realized I could hear music.. sounded like Chopin. I waited for Nadi to get back, listening to piano music and wondering if she'd even be able to get to me.. wherever I was.

The answer was, oddly, yes. She came back with Becca in tow and when they came into view, they looked about as confused as I was. I pushed myself off the wall and made a gesture down the tunnel. "Shall we?" I said in a low voice.

We followed the sound of piano music until we found him. Joseph was sitting at a small elegantly carved table drinking tea from elegant cups. There was a piano that played itself (but it wasn't a player piano, it was a normal grand piano) a few feet behind him. The room was strange in that it looked completely normal, like a fancy parlor in an expensive house. Only we were in a sewer, and Joseph was still wearing his decades old straight jacket, with sleeves pushed up till you could see his hands, and bare feet.

He set his tea down as we walked in and gestured to the chairs in front of him. "Please, have some tea."

We sat, though none of us had any tea.
"What can I do for you?" he asked.
"I wanted to ask you some questions, if you don't mind." I said.
He raised a brow at me over his tea cup. "Oh? About what?"
"The malkavia you gave us."
"How do you know you even have it?" He responded.
I schooled my expression to avoid having frustration and annoyance plastered across my features. It just came out as a small frown. "You told us you gave us a blessing of change, our aura's are different.. its not outside the realm of possibilities that its nothing, but I like to be prepared for all circumstances."

Nadi piped in. "Her people think we're crazy."
He tilted his head to one side to regard her curiously. "Do you feel mad?"
My frown became a bit more pronounced. "No, but that's mostly irrelevant."
"A blessing is not something that is a tool to be used. It is a blessing. It does what it does, and you'd be better served not obsessing over it and its possible implications. Obsessing over things will drive you mad." And he said it with a completely straight face and tone, to the point where I had no idea if he was being serious.

He continued. "Others are afraid of what they do not understand. Maxwell fears that he will succumb to the curse that plagues our line, so he is paranoid about those such as myself and anyone who may have had contact with them."
Nadi looked slightly perplexed. "What do you mean, 'Our line?' you're a vampire right?"
I nodded at her. "He's Ventrue, like the Prince."
Joseph nodded as well. "I was once that.. but no longer.. just like I once subsisted on blood..."
My eyes darted back to him at that statement. "Once were Ventrue?"
He looked at me as though I were asking a stupid question, like his statement was perfectly normal. "Yes. What are you?"
"Mehket." I answered.
"And how do you know you are Mehket?"
I remained silent, not quite understanding what he was getting at.
"I was once what you call Ventrue but changed myself. Ventrue doesn't define who I am, just like Mehket doesn't define you. Its a word."
I said nothing. Talking to Joseph was always challenging. He was, undoubtedly, completely insane. It made you wonder which of his statements you could actually take seriously, and which ones you should write off as crazy-babble.

Nadi seemed perplexed as well. "Then how do you survive down here if you don't need blood?"
He shrugged and sipped his tea. "Blood isn't the only thing vampires can feed on. There are rumors that some can eat ghosts."
Nadi's face clouded over. "Doesn't that hurt the ghosts?"
He sipped tea. "Most certainly."
Her voice got slightly quieter. "I don't like that."
Joseph just frowned at her over the rim of his teacup. "Well it's not really any of your business now is it? Have a pleasant evening."

And suddenly he was gone, the wood floor, the piano, the tea, and the table were all gone. We were standing in a sewer tunnel, listening to dripping water, and just faintly, the sound of Choplin could be heard, but it sounded more like an echo coming from inside my head than from anywhere in the tunnels. Becca looked around slowly. "Uh, does anyone else still hear Choplin?"

"Yes." I grumbled curtly and started off back down the tunnel towards base.
Becca followed. "Oh, good."
Nadi walked beside me. "I wasn't done with my questions."
"Neither was I, but apparently he was done answering them." I said in a sour voice.

The guys were all in the lab when we got back. I walked in, planning on grabbing Nobody for training purposes. They were talking and laughing about something. I watched them from the doorway. "So the pissing contest is over?"

Nobody looked up. "How would you know if there was a pissing contest?"
I gestured to Becca and Nadi who walked in behind me. "Because there are 3 penises in the room, one of which is new, which probably means you will all be flexing nuts.. and Becca was obviously trying to escape from something."

What followed that was a wave of gay jokes concerning Becca and Nadi, to which Nadi responded with a slight upward twitch of the mouth, and muttered, "Yeah, but we're the only one's here who are actually getting any. I'm going to go talk to Volkas." And she walked out of the room.


Nobody and I did our training, Gio and Ori stayed in the lab doing god knows what, and Becca planted herself in front of the TV. It was almost surprising that nothing else weird happened for the rest of the night.

December 11, 2009

Spirits and the newcomer

The others took my car and headed over to Kerwin's club (after picking up Nadi) in boys town to get the key for where ever the fuck Ned had stashed those files. I didn't feel like showing my face in front of a shit ton of people who might want me dead, so I took Gio's car and headed back to base. They had further to go and more alligators to wade through, so they took the armored car. Just in case. I studied up on my Japanese while they were gone. I still hadn't read the scroll that the monk had given me. I didn't want to have Nadi or Gio translate it, because he'd said to read it in private. So I was learning Japanese. And enjoying the seldom had solitude.

Instead of showing back up, I got a phone call from Gio about two hours later. It yanked me out of own thoughts so suddenly that I had a moment of mild panic that something had happened. It was like being pulled out of a sound sleep by load crash. I took a deep breath to calm my jittery ass down before answering.
"Hey Gio. Everything ok?"

"Huh? Yeah..fine. We got the key and location, though Kerwin wasn't happy about being the middle man. It was pretty damn hilarious. Apparently Ned was using us to fuck with him, and it wasn't the first time. But something else has come up. Volkas called about the shit going on with the meatpacking district."

That got my attention. I stood up and started grabbing my gear, sheathing knives and holstering my gun as we talked. "Yeah? Did he find anything?"
"Yeah. Apparently every ten years for the last century there has been a family murdered in the district, except this year. Volkas can't figure out why not this year, but he thinks it may have something to do with why my family started buying up all the property in that area recently. But anyway, he gave us the addresses for each of the nine murders, and we're headed over there to check it out. Probably connected to the spirit Sansome was talking about. Volkas called it 'Pain of Animals'. Which, I vaguely remember Tommy mentioning at some point too."
"Sounds good. I'll meet you there." I hung up and headed for the door, only pausing long enough to make all the weapons disappear, grab a navy blue wool coat and jam a baseball hat down over my obnoxiously bright red hair.

I parked the car in a nearby parking garage and walked the rest of the distance. Normally going on foot wouldn't be as safe, but I had no idea what we were going to be up against. Going in on foot let me survey the area more thoroughly and unobtrusively than pulling up in a car. My senses were in overdrive.

I met up with the others without incident. From what I could tell, the area was clear. Nadi showed me the list of addresses that Volkas had given us. As we discussed where to go first, Nadi looked out over the area, presumably using her mage voodoo, because she suddenly flinched and squeezed her eyes shut, hand to her forehead. Rebbecca moved in close to her. "Are you okay?"
Nadi nodded and slowly opened her eyes. "Yes. The place is overrun with death. It blinded me for a second."

We waited for Nadi to recover. It didn't take long. We decided to go to the closest of the locations first. 1146 Amberlane. It happened to be the only scene that was a single family home, rather than an apartment. As we walked down the street, we saw one man on the balcony of an apartment. He stared at us as we went. He had a shotgun resting against the railing. He was the only sign of human life we saw the entire time we were in the district. It was creepy.

The house was rundown and deserted. In fact, most of the housing here was deserted due to the Santori family running everyone out. The front porch was sagging, and when we entered, we could see peeling wallpaper and rotting floorboards. A few rats skittered out of sight as we made our way inside.

Nadi looked at me and quirked an eyebrow. "Need a snack?"
I was too surprised to think of a witty comeback. Instead I just said, "You too? I would have expected that comment from one of the guys."
She shrugged and the corner of her mouth twitched in her ultra reserved version of a smile.

The house was mostly unremarkable. It didn't seem like anyone had lived here in decades, except maybe squatters. It was pretty safe to assume, given the state of disrepair, that the house hadn't been legally occupied since 1969, when the family was killed there. Nadi kept glancing back at the front door as we investigated the house. I caught her eye and gave her a questioning look.
"There are pig spirits at the door, watching us. Dead ones.. faces skinned." She said softly.
I frowned. "Since when can you see spirits?"
"Since the Professor gave me his book."
Gio spoke up from the kitchen were he was opening and shutting cabinets. "Well that's damned useful now isn't it."
"Are they doing anything?" I asked.
She shook her head, looking out the door. "No.. just watching. For now."
My expression was dour as I shoved the stained and torn love seat across the floor to check underneath. "Let us know if the situation changes...and.. what do you know about the symbolism of Bulls?"
Nadi turned to regard me a moment, I'd say she was curious, but its always so hard to tell with her. "Depends on the culture. They usually denote strength and stubbornness. Why do you ask?"
I turned my back on her and starting looking around again. "I'll explain later."
I felt her staring at me for a few more seconds before letting it go and turning back to face the doorway.

I heard her try to talk to the pig spirits, asking them what they wanted..but she told us all they did was grunt at her. Almost like they were laughing.

I continued to move through the house looking for any clues I could find. On the far side of the living room, near the stairs, I saw the edge of what looked like a stain beneath the wallpaper. I started to tear at the paper (which came away easily) until I had revealed a large blood stain that covered two thirds of the wall, floor to cieling. "How exactly did Volkas say these people were killed?" I called over my shoulder.
Nobody glanced over, he had been investigating the downstairs closet and study. "He didn't, I don't think."

Becca came out from investigating the bathroom covering her face with a gloved hand. "Smells like my old roomate's.... hooooly fuck." She stopped mid-complaint when she saw the giant splatter, eyes widening. Her free hand grabbed for the tire iron looped to her belt, like a security blanket. Her other hand stayed pressed against her mouth and nose.

Nadi walked over and stood beside me, looking at the bloody wall. "He just said they were killed, and that most of the details of how hadn't been released."
I took a few steps back to get a better view. "This is a shit-ton of blood. I mean, on the floor, I could understand. But on the wall? It was like someone exploded against it."
Gio limped right past the grim scene and up the stairs, calling back behind him, "Or several people."

We moved up the stairs, one at a time, wood creaking under our feet threatening to give out any second. Nadi muttered that the pig spirits followed us to the foot of the stairs, but didn't come up.

When we all got to the second floor, Gio had found the entrance to the attic, a narrow and steep set of stairs, instead of a pull down ladder. He struggled up them while the rest of us scoured the small upstairs portion of the house. It only consisted of two small bedrooms and a single bathroom, which apparently smelled as bad as the downstairs one had.

"Hey! I found something!" Gio called. All of us were in the attic in seconds. The attic was larger than most, you could stand up straight, for one. A strange thing for such a small house. Gio was standing in front of the doorway that led to the stairs down to the rest of the house, looking at something above it. He'd caught sight of it as he had been leaving to rejoin us on the second floor. When we were all there he pointed to the top of the door frame. Scrawled across the very to of the frame, in very small characters, was a familiar looking language that none of us could read.

"Is that werewolf- speak?" Nobody asked.
"Looks like it." Gio confirmed. "But none of us can read it."
Nobody shrugged. "Volkas can right?"
"Heh.. this is true.." Gio pulled out his phone, snapped a photo of the inscription and texted it to Volkas. We all stood there in silence for a few minutes, waiting for a response. Becca jumped when Gio's phone went off. She smiled sheepishly at everyone, but she tightened her grip on the tire iron.

Gio read the text out loud to everyone. "This is the sacrifice."
"Sacrifice to what, the spirit?" Nadi asked.
"Probably.. they must not have known about it, why else would they stay? Who would've written it?" I mused.
"And why would they need a sacrifice at all?" Gio replied.
That was the million dollar question.

We looked around the rest of the house, but found nothing of interest. We decided to move on to the the next place. It was only about a block away, and it had been the site of the first killing, in 1939.

As we walked Nadi muttered, "The spirits are following us. There are a couple more now."
I glanced over my shoulder as though I'd be able to see them. "That doesn't make me very happy..."

The next location was a bust. The apartment building had been demolished, God knows how long ago. Nothing but an empty lot remained. Gio leaned on his cane and surveyed the area. "We should be doing this chronologically, not geographically. Where was the latest murder?"
I pulled out the list and Nobody grabbed it out of my hands (just to be a ass, I'm sure.), scanned it, and said, "Green Haven Apartments, Apartment 1022. It's about a block west of here." I gave him an annoyed frown, he just grinned at me.

We found the apartment with little trouble. It wasn't as rundown as the house, but this place had seen residents within the last 10 years. Investigation was quicker, since we knew what to look for now, and yielded a multitude of blood spatters.. the carpet and wall paper had been replaced, but it didn't take us long to tear them up and find that the padding beneath the carpet hadn't. Bio-hazard, anyone? From the patterns, it looked like someone had been attacked in the hallway, crawled towards the door and been dragged back into the place. There was also what could only be described as an explosion of blood in one corner of the living room. I absently wondered why no one had bothered to paint over it, instead relying on wallpaper.

I glanced over at Becca, she seemed pretty nervous. "You okay?" I asked.
She nodded. "Yeah, but..uh.." she jerked her head over at Nadi, who was looking out one of the windows. Just as I looked up at Nadi, she spoke without turning around. "There are more of them. A dozen or so. There were only 2 at the first house."
Gio frowned as he examined all the door frames. "Do they look like they're going to fuck with us?"
She gave a small shrug. "Not really, they're just...watching us. Following us."

Nobody interrupted by calling out to everyone. He had found the same inscription carved into the underside of the wet bar in the living room. 'This is the sacrifice'

We headed for the next place, it was the second to last murder, and furthest away. Nadi kept reporting that as we walked, more and more dead pig spirits were starting to follow us. And they'd started grunting and squealing.

"I feel like the fucking Pied Piper." I grumbled.

The next place was an apartment on the 2nd floor of the building. Same kind of thing.. old blood was soaked into the wood of the floor when we pulled up the carpet.. and the inscription was hiding on the inside of the door frame of the hall closet. Just as Gio found that, things started to get interesting.

I was inhaling to speak when I smelled it. I paused, nostrils flaring, and inhaled again. "Does anyone else smell that?"
Giovanni nodded. "Blood."
I frowned. "Yeah, but.. old blood."
Nadi was staring out the window. "Well, you've been standing in a spiritual river of old blood the entire time you've been here. We should go."
I was already moving towards the door. "What's going on?"
"Something is coming.. something big. I think the pig spirits are calling it to us."
Everyone's quick walk turned into a fast run (as fast as we could go without leaving Gio behind). When we reached the sidewalk, everyone stopped. The smell was stronger. I looked down and began to see flashes of what Nadi had been talking about. A river of blood, roughly up to my shins. I would see ripples, then nothing. It was only partially manifesting.

Nadi pointed down the street we'd come. Her voice got a tad more urgent. "There. Its huge.. and coming this way. It looks like.. a big steer.. made of dead animals... and we're surrounded completely by pig spirits."

We all looked up to where she was pointing, expecting to see nothing. And the frightening part was, we could actually see something. It came to us in flashes, like the river. It was like something that was hidden behind trees, and as the wind blew you could see glimpses of it. The flashes were not only getting steadily closer, but longer, more detailed, and more solid. It was manifesting.

We started to see flashes of the pig spirits as well. We were well and truly surrounded. The spirits had not fully manifested yet, but it would only be a manner of minutes. According to Nadi, the pig spirits blocked all of our escape routes. There were hundreds of them. The second they manifested, we'd be hemmed in, a new sacrifice for the approaching horror.

I assessed the situation and was struck by something significant. Nadi had said the spirit looked like steer.. a bull. The air shimmered, and I could see it now. It tossed its head in the air as it moved slowly towards us before fading out again. It was bigger than the tallest building within eyesight. At least 15 stories.

"What are you doing? Why are you calling it here?" Nadi yelled in frustration, presumably to the pig spirits. They must not have liked it much, because she stumbled back like something had lunged at her. We turned to help her up, only to find she had fallen back into the chest of a guy we'd never seen before. He was roughly 6'2, early twenties, and had the angular features of a Native American and his black hair fell just past his chin. He was dressed in clothing that looked like it came from a military surplus store, with the exception of the golden yellow scarf around his neck. There were two intricately carved sticks hanging from his belt. He also had shockingly bright blue eyes. He gave us a sheepish smile. "Hi, I'm uh.. apparently supposed to help you."

I was too preoccupied with the incoming monster to even bother scowling at the newcomer. I used that micro-second to scan his aura instead. "You're a werewolf. Who the fuck are you?"
The stranger gave me an incredulous look. "And your Kindred. Is this really the time for that? I was sent to help. And from the look of it, you guys need it." He pointed down the street.
I unsheathed my knifes and turned to face the manifesting spirit bearing down on us, I doubted the knives would do much to it, but at least I was armed. "By whom?"
Gio rolled his eyes at me and started moving down the street. "He's a werewolf? Lucky us. How about we get into the specifics after he saves our asses."

I did have to admit..sometimes my priorities got skewed.

"Be right back." The mystery werewolf pulled a small mirror out of his pocket and.. disappeared. Nadi took point, because she was the only one who could see him as he cut a path through the partially materialized pig spirits. We could see impact points on the spirits before they'd wink out completely. He was moving fast.. and pretty damn effectively. We started running. Nadi told us he was using the carved sticks to bash their heads in. She seemed impressed, and given her poker face, that's saying something.

The spirit at our backs was gaining. It was now fully materialized. It was grotesque. Thousands of slaughter animals made up its body. Skinned pigs, cow heads with caved in skulls and bulging eyes, headless chickens that still flapped their wings.. and it started to move faster. At this rate we probably wouldn't make it to the edge of the district before it caught up. We were halfway down the first block when Nadi started talking. She had one hand on her right shoulder blade, touching the tattoo on her back. It sounded like we were hearing one half of a two person conversation. "We need your help. I'll explain later. We're being chased by a big spirit in the meatpacking district. Can you help? How long? Okay." She switched hands and touched the other tattoo. Most of the conversation was similar, except a few phrases. "We don't know if it will stop when we get to the edge of the district. Do you need me to stand still? How long? Okay." And she stopped dead in her tracks.
Gio nearly ran into her. "What the fuck Nadi! We need to go!"
"You go. I'll be fine. I can't move for a minute."
I looked back over my shoulder. It was only getting closer. I jerked my head at Gio and the others, urging them on. Gio, knowing what I was thinking, nodded and grabbed Rebbecca's hand, who looked much more hesitant, and kept going. He pulled his phone out with the other hand and hit a speed dial number. Seconds later he was giving a terse explanation to Sansome as he hobbled down the street dragging Rebbecca.

Nadi frowned at me. "What are you doing? Go."
"Nadi, if needed, I can get you out of here before the others even reach the edge of the district." My expression was something between reproachful and annoyed. She regarded me silently for a half second before nodding once in agreement. As though I needed her to agree with me..

I may be able to run 5 times faster than everyone else in the group, but watching that amalgamation of animal corpses stampede towards us was more than slightly unnerving. Thankfully we didn't have to wait long. After roughly a minute of standing in that one spot (which felt like a year), a young guy who looked vaguely like Nadi stepped out from no where. He was wearing ratting jeans and an old t-shirt. His hands, arms, and clothes were covered with paint, like Nadi had interrupted him in the middle of a project. I thought it had the annoyed look down pat, but the look on this guys face told me I had a thing or two to learn about annoyed expressions. It didn't become less annoyed when he saw the spirit, but tinged with surprise. Nadi's brother, Alexi, started towards the others. "Lets go."

So we ran. It took us a few more minutes before we reached the edge of the district. The whole time the spirit was bearing down on us. I kept thinking that any second it would stomp us flat, but somehow, we beat it out. I urged it to stop chasing us in my head. Like the Mask had done in the asylum, leave us alone once we left it's territory.. but when we crossed out, the spirit just kept coming. We turned to face it.

"Is it going to stop?" Nobody asked as we stood at the edge of the district. He was implying what we were all thinking. If it followed us out, Chicago was in big trouble... it was no use running at that point.
The stranger reappeared from no where, having worked up a minor sweat taking out the pigs. "They aren't following us out of the district...but that is." He said, pointing one of the sticks at the giant walking slaughterhouse. Fantastic.

About that time a dark sedan came barreling around the corner, screeching to a halt beside us and launching gravel through the air. The door burst open and Sansome was striding towards the creature before the car was even parked. "Meet me back at the shop." He said as he broke into a run towards the monster. Alexi stood at the very edge of the district and started painting the air and ground in front of him.

We watched as Sansome stood before the beast and raised his blade in the air. It glowed bright red at the tip, like a beacon.. which is exactly what it was for. Two seconds after he raised it, we heard a sound like thunder, and watched as something like a shooting star passed over our heads and slammed into the spirits body. It reared back and howled with the pain and anger, pieces of its body flying off in all directions. It quickly faded out, dematerializing in the face of the attack. At that same moment, Alexi finished his spell. A latticework of red light shot out of the ground and into the air. It formed a cage that encompassed the entire meat packing district. It was only visible for a moment before fading out to nothing. Alexi stumbled back and wiped the blood seeping out his nose on his shirt. "I don't know how well that will hold it. The rest is up to them."

Sansome was gone, having followed the spirit into Twilight. Everything seemed silent again, but the tension and quiet thrum of power was still heavy on the air. It had all happened so quickly. I marveled at how fast Sansome had managed to get here. Seeing nothing else we could do, we retreated back to the cars, and headed back to Gio's shop.

December 4, 2009

Rowan and the Priest

I met with Rowan in the same room as before. I was nervous, but not because what I was about to do was forbidden, but because I was about to give lessons to a kindred ages older and more powerful than me. It was intimidating to say the least. But I did the best I could. I tried to avoid telling her things she already knew, but I'm sure it happened. However, she didn't ever stop or patronize me. If anything, she seemed completely eager. She already had a rather sophisticated grasp on blood, but her ways were a bit different than what Giuseppe had taught me about the Coils. Changing the blood, instead of just using it. After a few minutes, I started to get into a rhythm, so to speak. I stopped pausing to see if she would scoff at my words, and just kept going, becoming more confident in my teaching. She had, after all, asked me to teach her.

I never really considered myself a great teacher.. but this was something I understood pretty well (at least at the level I was explaining it to her), and once I got over my nerves, I swung the other way, and began to feel empowered. I was teaching one of the most frighteningly powerful vampires in the city... something new. Something about change. It was something I could definitely get used to.

When I had finished the lesson, she pulled a dagger from the depths of the rags she wore. She moved faster than I could track, grabbing my right hand pulling it out to the middle of the table and slamming the dagger through the back of my hand, pinning me to the wood. I bit back a sharp cry of pain. It came out as a strained groan from behind clenched teeth. She still had one hand on my wrist.
"Cruac.. is not about blood." She tightened her hold on my wrist and dragged my hand up the blade until it hit the hilt. I winced but managed not to cry out. "It is about pain.. the pain in the blood.. pain that you can use..." and on the last word she jerked my hand up again, ripping the dagger out of the table with my right hand. She yanked the dagger out  and let go. I cradled my hand to my chest. I watched as blood welled up from the wound and pooled in my cupped hand. I had not willed it there.

She spent the next three hours explaining the basis of Cruac to me. The basis in blood, pain..and motherhood, oddly enough. I was surprised to find how much sense it made to me. She began teaching me my first ritual, and it came rather naturally. Maybe it was the training I had done with Mona and Giuseppe, or my own self reflection.. or the fact that Rowan was a shockingly amazing teacher...but wounding myself and letting that bloody pain fall into that basin of water didn't seem weird, or hokey.. but just like another way to use the blood to my advantage. But this was not commanding the blood, as I did on a nightly basis. This wasn't mastery over it, it was more like asking something from it. Requesting that it show me things I couldn't normally see. I had had strange dreams, and heard strange voices ever since my embrace. I never knew if it was a product of Vampirism, being Mehket, or proof that I was slowly losing grasp of reality. Whichever it might have been, coaxing the power of blood to show me images in a basin of water didn't seem strange at all. The first time the tendrils of vitae began forming something that looked like an image I felt a thrill of excitement, urging it to show me its secrets. When Rowan left me, I was amazed at how much I'd learned in one evening.

Not only would my knowledge of this blood sorcery increase with Rowan, but learning about these relationships with the blood that I could have, and teaching Rowan of the Coil of Blood was certainly going to make my own pursuit of the Coils easier. It was different, but that's precisely what I needed to advance my studies.

I had become so involved with the lessons that I nearly forgot what Giovanni had asked me to give Rowan. She was about to leave when I remembered.
"I have something for you.. something Gio asked me to give you." I produced the mail receipt we'd gotten from Martindale. She gave me a questioning look as she took it from me.
"I don't know how much about Louie's death you've uncovered yet, but you should know that he was dealing with a rogue Santore pit boss. We received photos of their clandestine meetings in the mail and Gio informed his family."

Her face began to could over, I hurriedly added, "However, I wanted to give that to you to show that we didn't receive the photos until after Louie was already dead. Gio wanted you to know that the Santore's didn't kill Louie.. they didn't even know about it until after his death."

I watched her intently. She looked at the receipt and seemed to consider the situation for a moment before nodding and slipping it into her rags.

"This will be...sufficient." She said with that creepy rough voice. "I will return one week hence for further lessons." And she left. I let myself relax. From her reaction, though, she was almost looking for an excuse to not get involved with Santore business. Both sides seemed to avoid each other.

I remained in the room for awhile after, both to calm my nerves and to meditate more on her lessons. The ritual she had taught me was one of prophecy. It was weird to think about. I wondered what types of things it would show me. I didn't believe that my fate, or anyone elses, was anything more than the sum of our decisions. I chose my own path. I wondered if this would make me doubt that belief. I turned that thought over in my mind for awhile. I came to the conclusion that only time would tell, and the clock might as well start now.

I retrieved a fresh bowl of water and put it on the table in front of me. I pulled out a knife and set it next to the bowl and took several deep breaths (unnecessary, but it was still a useful focusing tool). When my mind was clear of all other thoughts, I felt myself take up the knife and drag it down my forearm, the skin parting like a hungry maw. The pain ran down my nerves like fire but I took it and forced it into the blood that spilled down my arm and into the bowl. I willed the blood to carry with it power, and pain.. a sacrifice of both.. and it left my arm cold and numb. I felt the beast stirring, like it was answering to the call of the primitive ritual of blood sacrifice. It uncurled and began pacing inside my skull, my soul, and it shared my mind with me as I opened my eyes and watched hungrily as the blood swirled together with the water in the bowl.

It danced and swirled, moving with the power I'd instilled into it. After a few moments, it coalesced into an image.. a bulls head that threw its horns left and right as if agitated. It repeated this motion several times before peering straight up at me and snorting steam from its nostrils, which came out as a haze of blood that filled the bowl. When it cleared, the image was gone.

I sat back slowly from the basin, picking up a damp towel and began thoughtfully cleaning my arm, the wound slowly knitting itself closed. I considered the vision. I couldn't discern right away how it was prophetic.. but I also didn't expect this sort of thing be clear cut in any sense of the term. I turned it over in my mind a long time before I finally stood and returned to my room for the day.


For once, no one was standing outside my door when I woke up. Everyone was busy with their own shit, Gio in the lab, Nadi pouring over her book, Nobody working out (on the ceiling, no less), and Becca was watching TV. I pulled up a stool next to Gio's work bench in the lab.

He spoke without looking up from whatever the fuck he was tinkering with. It just looked like a mass of gears to me. "So we got some information about the golem from a rabbi mage.. but it wasn't really anything more than Jewish legend. But I think we should go back and take a look at the guy again. And we need to go back to the Eastern Orthodox Church tonight to find out more about the chest. Do you know any vampires that live there?"
I thought about it for a minute and shook my head. "At the church? No. But I'm hardly an expert on every kindred in the city. Give me a few minutes, and I'll be ready to go."

I stood and walked into the living area where Nobody was doing stomach crunches.
"Hey, did you get the box back?"
Nobody responded between breaths. "Yeah," breath. "it's on the table." breath. "Next time," breath. "Do it yourself." breath.
I rolled my eyes and retrieved the box. I set it to play its recorded data. Nadi came over to watch, as did Giovanni. We watched as I walked into the frame and took out a couple rats. "Ew." Nadi said, but she lacked any sort of disgusted expression in her face or voice. Giovanni smirked at me. "At least that means less of us."
I raised a brow. "Pardon?"
"Less feeding on us.."
I frowned at him. "I wouldn't feed on you guys anyway."
Gio threw his hands in the air, exasperated. "Grow a sense of humor!"
"Tell better jokes." I retorted.

His sour expression and lack of comeback was pretty damn satisfying.

Unfortunately there was nothing on the box, except near the end, when Joseph walked into the frame, looked straight up at the camera, waved, and kept walking.
"You think he'd the one following you?" Gio asked.
I shrugged as the recording ended. "Maybe, but I doubt it."
Gio picked up the box and started examining it with an odd look on his face. He was muttering to himself about figuring out how it worked. I took it from him and put it back in my room. When I came back out he was in his lab jotting down notes, still muttering to himself, sometimes giggling like a mad scientist in training. It was kinda unnerving.

"Lets go, Gio." I said from the doorway. He nodded and limped over, still muttering to himself. As we all headed out (except Nadi, she was too immersed in her book) he looked at me and said, "Remind me. Camera.. backwards."
I gave him a mildly perplexed look. "Sure.."


I don't care how involved into supernatural shit I get, there is one fact that has yet to be disproved. Churches are fucking creepy at night. It was true of our home base in New Orleans, it was true of the Eastern Orthodox church we arrived at that night. But then, I've never been especially religious, so maybe I was biased.

The door were unlocked and we were greeted by three young men in their twenties, one of which was wearing the robes of a priest. Or so I assumed. They all had robes, but his were a bit more ornate than the other two. I'm not all that familiar with Eastern orthodox church hierarchy. All three, however, were human.

"May I help you?" The priest spoke with a voice that suggested he honestly wanted to give us aid, of any kind.

Gio pulled the Polaroid of the chest out of his coat pocket and held it up for the priest. "We came here earlier today asking for information on this thing and were told to come back after sunset. Presumably, to talk to someone who wasn't available during the day."

The priest nodded. "I am Father Nicolas, you may call me Nico. It is a pleasure to meet you."

When he introduced himself he also smiled slightly, revealing the tips of his elongated canines. I blinked in surprise. It was purposeful gesture, I was sure.. because a vampire doesn't get so good as to masquerade as completely human and accidentally flash fangs to ruin it all. And that was the surprise. He really did look completely human. He smelled completely human, hell, I could hear his heart beating if I concentrated. A few beads of sweat were even collecting on his forehead as we stood under one of the heating vents that warmed the church. Hell, his aura was even human! It wasn't pale and faded, but colorful and vibrant. But once I caught sight of the teeth, I noticed other signs. The intricate stitching in his robes wasn't just ornate for the sake of ornate. There were symbols stitched throughout. He was a member of the Order. The symbols woven into his robes depicted knowledge of Coils.. a few of which I had never even heard of. I thought I knew of all the Order in the city, at least those worth mentioning. Judging on how many Coils he apparently had knowledge of, and his unique ability to appear human even down to the aura, he was definitely worth mentioning.

This was definitely someone I needed to get to know better. I was looking him up and down, staring really, as he talked with Gio. If it bothered him, he made no indication of it. Gio was introducing each of us as I examined the priest.

The other two priests introduced themselves briefly as well, no fangs on those two. Father Nico motioned us further back into the church, away from the doorway, and into an office. The two other priests departed.

He took the photo from Gio and examined it a moment. "It certainly looks as though it is from the Byzantine Era, the carvings are religious in nature, but why is it of interest to you?"
I spoke up, still sizing him up. I was completely intrigued, and not the least bit trusting. But then, when was I ever? "Neither he or I could get within 5 feet of it."
Father Nico regarded me with mild surprise. "What do you mean?"
I shrugged. "It was like there was an invisible wall. The others," I gestured to Nobody and Becca. "could approach it, even touch it, but we couldn't."
"And it hurt." Gio interjected.
I shrugged again and added, "It just stopped me, it wasn't painful."

The Father's brow knit together in a perplexed and curious. "Did it feel anything like this?" He raised a hand, palm forward in front of him, and I suddenly felt a familiar pressure. I tried to reach forward, and just couldn't. Gio grimaced and grunted from the strain, obviously in pain, but refusing to cry out. "Yeah, that's exactly what it felt like." Gio said through clenched teeth. I nodded in agreement. Gio breathed a sigh of relief as Nico lowered his hand.
"So what was that? And why would the chest be able to do that to us?" I questioned.

Father Nico looked at the photo again. "It is called Eupraxia. It could be that what is contained within the chest is a relic of similar power... that said, it would probably be wise not to open the chest."
I ignored the looks I got from the others.
"So its an object? Not a body? Could you open it?" Nobody asked.
"You all should be aware that relics can be in the form of remains. But I cannot give you any more definitive answers without examining the chest for myself. And if it kept your friends away, it would most likely do the same to me." He looked directly at me. "As it usually is with our Order, I would like the opportunity to study the chest, if possible." Well I didn't know him but he was certainly aware of me. I wondered just how aware. I don't usually suspect priests of possible homicidal tendencies, but stranger things have happened.

He looked from one of us to the next. "Where did you find it?"
I regarded him through slightly narrowed eyes. Giovanni decided to be more forthcoming.
"A secret room belonging to one of the oldest men to ever live."
Father Nico nodded and handed the photo back to Gio. "I would advise against interacting with the chest. It is impossible to tell what may be inside. i apologize that I cannot provide you with any more information. Please, let me know if you need anything else."

Father Nico handed Gio a card with a phone number on it, which he slipped into his pocket. Father Nico turned to me and watched my face for a moment, eyes searching. He pulled a small glass bottle from a shelf. When he pulled out the stopper I could smell that it was olive oil. He wet two fingers in the oil, began saying a soft prayer, reached out to me, slowly (probably so I wouldn't pull away) and touched the fingers to my forehead. My skin tingled with subtle power. I raised a brow at him as he pulled away and he said, simply, "A blessing to aid you." I nodded my thanks. I hoped that he really would turn out to be an ally, and not an enemy. I could use more allies right now.

I stayed pretty quiet as we left the church. I wanted to talk to Father Nico alone, but I figured it would be better to simply wait until the others weren't around to do so. I was insanely curious as to how he managed to appear so human, and what those mystery Coils were. I knew that there were some Coils which helped a kindred appear more human, but I didn't know that it could be so drastic. I absently touched my fingertips to my forehead and they came back slick with the olive oil. I flashed back on Loki smearing his blood across my forehead, using his Cruac to destroy my defenses. But Nico's 'blessing' had felt completely different. I rubbed the oil between my fingers and smiled slightly. Maybe Nico really would be an ally.

Gio was driving, and when I finally pulled myself up out of my thoughts I noticed we were pulling up in front of the shop. "What are we doing here?"
"I got an idea from the rabbi about how to deal with that clay statue." Gio responded, then got out of the car. We all followed him up the fire escape and into the secret room.

Gio pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and looked from it to the Hebrew character on the statues head. I looked over his shoulder. The two symbols were only had slight differences. I frowned. "Let me guess, that's the Hebrew character for life."
Gio nodded and pulled out a pocket knife. "Yup."
I took a step back from both him and the statue. "And you are going to wake this thing up, aren't you?"
He nodded again. "Yup."
I inhaled and exhaled slowly and unsheathed one of my knives. There was no sense arguing with him, so I didn't try for once.

"Hold on." Nobody said as he took the paper from Gio, tore off a blank corner, jotted down the character on the statues forehead, and stuck a throwing knife through it. "Just in case." and he took a few steps back and tucked the knife away into his coat. We both nodded at Gio to continue. Becca stood behind all of us, looking slightly nervous.

Gio carefully changed the symbol and stepped back. For a moment, nothing happened, then slowly we watched as the clay began to harden, then crack, then flake away. It revealed a tall man, one who would probably fit into the clothing in the crate. It took no longer than a minute, and the man was standing in front of us, bare ass naked. When he opened his eyes, he immediately focused in on each of us in turn, and when he got to me and the naked knife in my hand, he charged me.

I tried to slip out of his way, but he he caught me before I could. I remember a blunt force trauma to the chest before I blacked out.

I woke up no more than 10 minutes later. I sat up with a grimace. I felt broken ribs. Becca offered a hand and I grasped it and pulled myself to my feet, bones screaming in protest even as the blood started knitting the ribs back together. The man was gone. I looked between them all and crossed my arms. "Good to know I'm the only one who got steamrolled.. where the fuck did he go?" I said, sourly.

Gio shrugged and handed me my knife. I took it and slipped it back into its sheath. It occurred to me that I had been the only one with a weapon out when he had woken up. That was probably what provoked the attack. I guess I couldn't really blame him.

"He had us take his photo for the passport, I gave him a burn phone with my number in it, and he left. I think we just woke up another Promethean. He also said his name was Peter." Gio explained.

I frowned. "We really need to stop doing that you know. That's a total of three Prometheans I had some hand in waking up."
Gio smirked at me. "Stop? Oh fuck no."
I just rolled my eyes at him.

"At least Bright won't get him now." Nobody added. I had to agree with him for once. That was a bonus. I'd hate for anyone to be under the SCPs microscope.

We all turned, almost in unison, to the chest.

"So what do we do with it?" Becca asked.

"We don't have a lot of options really. We can't take it back to Maury's because of what it does to vampires. We can't have Ned pick it up for the same reason, and we don't really have any other safe locations to store it at currently." I replied.
Gio nodded. "This was our safe location."

We all stood there thinking for a few minutes until Gio broke the silence. "We have to take it to the church."

I looked at him incredulously. "And give it to a vampire that we met, what.. an hour ago? That sounds like a FANTASTIC idea."

He raised an eyebrow at me. "Do you have any better ideas?"

Damn him.. of course I didn't. I never did. But fuck.. I hated turning over items and information to people we knew nothing about. Hell, I hated doing it to people we DID know. I looked at the chest sullenly. "Fine. But we'll need to take two cars."

Gio and Becca went to retrieve my car. She and Nobody loaded the chest into the trunk (what with the armor and all, it was the better choice) and they rode to the church in my car, Gio and I followed in his. He dialed Father Nico's number as we went.

"Father Nico, it's Giovanni Santore. Sorry to bother you again so soon. But we decided to bring the chest to you. We don't have anywhere to keep it that's secure, and you may be able to figure out more about it than we can."
I could hear his voice on the other end. "I see. I appreciate your generosity. May I speak with your friend for a moment?"
Gio handed me the phone.
"Yes?" I tried not to sound crabby. I actually managed to pull it off this time.. mostly.
"You are not comfortable with this idea." Father Nico said. It was a statement, not a question.
"Not really, no." No sense lying to the man.
"Would it ease your mind if I said I would keep you informed of any discoveries I make concerning the chest? I don't intend to keep you from it."
This was one of those very rare moments that made me wonder if I was overly cynical about people. A VERY rare moment. "I would appreciate that. I'm eager to know more about it."
"As am I. Please, when you arrive, come around the back of the church."
"We'll be there soon."
"Thank you again, Miss O'Shea."

Have I mentioned that I desperately wanted for this guy to be on my side?

We arrived at the church and Father Nico was waiting with the two other priests. He motioned them to the trunk, and they lifted the heavy gold chest out and took it inside the building. "Put it in the empty quarters downstairs." Nico called after them. Watching how they interacted, I could tell they weren't ghouls. Just human. The relationship between Nico and the other clergy of the church seemed completely stemmed from a shared faith. It made me think better of him.

We followed him inside. He went into the small room and took off his outer robes. He rolled up the sleeves of the shirt he wore underneath and began pushing against the invisible barrier with his hands. I watched as he started to sweat, still marveling at the depth at which his body could mimic life. He looked up at us after a moment.

"This will take time. But rest assured, I will call you if I discover anything."

I nodded to him and we turned to leave. I glanced back one more time as we walked out and I saw him pushing again, but this time his hands actually moved forward a few inches. Fuck, it was more than we'd been able to do. We left the chest in his care, and though I was still annoyed about it, I could live with it. Maybe it would make him more willing to train me in those mystery Coils later on..