February 5, 2010

The bombshell

I wandered around for awhile, trying to get my head straight. I wanted the Rites of the Dragon in front of me before I started trying to make sense of this shit, but I didn't feel like heading back to the shop yet. Besides, I nearly had the damn thing memorized..

"Who can truly reign when the choice between darkness and light is always and utterly within the human heart?" This quote from the Rites of the Dragon, combined with Birch's 'lesson' weighed heavily in my head. I needed somewhere to think.

I walked into a crowded coffee shop and managed to get a table amidst all the college students studying for finals, people chatting with friends, and kids avoiding their parents. I sat with my back to the wall with a cup of coffee and put on a mask of neutral pleasantness. I couldn't quite manage friendly right now, but I could keep myself from looking like I was about to tear someone's throat out (which was quite an accomplishment). Something told me the random red head sitting in the corner watching people with a scowl on her face would be slightly more noticeable and disconcerting than a woman enjoying an evening of people watching.

My head was crowded with my own thoughts. I wondered, not for the first time, why it was I had such a hard time wrapping my head around...myself. I didn't think myself that delusional.. but each time I seemed to come to a resolution, more problems and complications popped up.

Or maybe that was another aspect of my condition. It was highly probable that I was expecting too much from myself. I got frustrated anytime I started to struggle with understanding myself, my beast, or how they interact and exist as one... but reading that book it struck me that Vlad struggled with that very thing (among others) for decades. I had been kindred for less than 2 years.

I might very well have been overestimating myself.

Since my head was so very crowded, I decided to jump into someone else's. I sat at my table eased my way into the thoughts of the people around me. It proved even less pleasant than my own turmoil. 

The girl in the corner was stressing so badly over an economics final that she was about to cry. She'd been up two days straight studying for it, yet her major was dance. The group of teenagers in the corner were having what they felt was a very deep and intellectual conversation about philosophy, but as much as they were thinking, they weren't actually having any ideas. They just kept name dropping to make themselves sound smart. And in their heads, they really believed themselves light years more intelligent than their peers who talked about football and parties, regardless of the fact that none of them had had an original thought since they'd wondered what it would be like to shove those linkin' log up their noses as 3 year olds. There was a couple in the corner having an argument. The girl was thinking that she must be an ugly whore for him to still be getting voicemails from his ex, and was considering leaving him for it, and he was thinking about how it really had been a wrong number and that if she didn't believe him and left, he might just go home tonight and kill himself. There was also a guy in the far corner of the room who was pretending to study, but was actually trying to work up the courage to walk over to talk to me.. and was picturing me naked.

I pulled back to myself and gave a small, disgusted shiver. Every single thought was pointless. People obsessing over things that, ultimately, didn't matter. I jumped from person to person and got.. nothing. Nothing of substance. Nothing important. Nothing that was even WORTH knowing. I dug into their minds, looking at more than just the surface thoughts. I found a few tidbits of mildly interesting information, and a shit ton of blackmail material.. but just.. it all seemed so inconsequential.

I looked out over all these people and realized that almost every single one of them was completely useless. One or two of them had potential to achieve something later on in life, there was a guy that was enough of a fighter that he'd probably be very useful as a body guard to someone, if he weren't human, and the barista seemed to have so much fucking street smarts that even Deuce would have probably been impressed.. but over all, the room was filled with vapid, pointless, ineffectual people. It made me consider all the vampires I knew that fit that same description. There were quite a few, too wrapped up in political games to ever do anything that was actually important. Too caught up in a circular, self fulfilling scheme of power. For what? To get more power. Power merely for the sake of power. It was pathetic.The game was different, but the outcome was the same. Human and kindred alike. Most of them were nothing but a waste of resources.

But I'd also seen what kind of impact killing any one of them could have. I won't ever know all the ways it will effect the world around them, or around me. Giuseppe had showed me that at the very beginning.

"Every season has its lesson, and every lesson has its price. He is a fool indeed who scorns that which he has already bought at dear cost." Vlad wrote in his journals.  

I'd given up something that night. Giuseppe had held me at the man's throat until I'd killed him, but I could have stopped. Giuseppe may have killed me, but I could have stopped. It was part of the reason I'd decided to stop feeding on people.. I had said it myself, I didn't want to risk killing anyone. The motivation for why I didn't want to kill them was unimportant. But now I realized that in a way, the chain reaction I'd observed after that kid's death didn't matter.

Giuseppe's lesson hadn't been to neglect acting if I didn't know all the possible consequences, it had been to act with the knowlegde that the consequences existed. I was not an observer. I was part of the environment. I had just as much right to effect it as anyone else. Giuseppe had been advising not to do it without some purpose. I was allowing my lack of knowledge to keep me from acting. I didn't know all the possible outcomes, I didn't know who was truly guilty or innocent.. and I was letting that interfere.

Guilty or innocent... I gave a bitter laugh. A few people gave me strange looks before returning to their coffee. I'd said before that I had no more room for classifications of guilty or innocent.. bad guy or good guy.. just useful and not.

Vlad's words rang in my head, "...once I wailed and beat my breast, using remorse to justify cowardice and letting a fear of doing evil keep me from finding the very treasures of existence," and realized I'd regressed. I'd used useful and ineffective as thinly veiled labels for the same concepts of good and bad. I still saw myself as a 'good guy', and I didn't even know what being a good guy meant. Could you be a murderer and still be a good guy? A mobster? The more situations I faced, the more I was convinced that black and white didn't exist. Just shades of gray. Maybe what I was doing wasn't 'right'.. but I felt it important.. and that was ultimately what mattered to me, when I started to be honest with myself. I knew what I was doing mattered. So did that mean that I would stop if the means to achieve it were less than upstanding? I knew I couldn't do that, but thats what I was worrying over.

But the issue wasn't whether I should risk feeding on humans, risk killing them. The issue was my fear of fucking up. My fear that if I lose control and kill one person, I'll just keep devolving until I kill more and more. As though I don't have a choice in the matter. Saying I didn't want to kill anyone who might be useful was merely another way of saying I was afraid of the consequences I couldn't foresee. It struck me then, the way Vlad had changed from the beginning of his journals to the end. He had started out as a monster, and later evolved into a philosopher. That kinda proved that the road to monster-hood was not permanent, if it were to happen...

I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands, glad I no longer got headaches.. because this one would be a enourmous.

But it wasn't an issue of morality at all, I realized. I'm not sure it ever had been, not at its core. I was afraid of losing control. That was the beginning and end of it. Sure, the thought of cold-blooded, ruthless, and pointless murder didn't sit well with me, but it was the 'pointless' part that caused me the most discomfort.

I sighed and leaned back in the uncomfortable chair and stared at the ceiling. It wasn't my diet that Birch thought made me weak. It was my fear.

And he was fucking right. That son of a bitch.

But really, I was more angry with myself.  Knowledge and control were extremely important to me. But I couldn't know everything, and the longer I went keeping my beast under lock and key the harder it was becoming to maintain that composure.It wanted more than I was giving. It needed more.

Dracula had supposedly been made a vampire by God. A curse.. but I never really thought of vampirism as a curse. At least, I said I didn't. But if not that, then what? A fluke of nature? Seemed far fetched. Another step in evolution? I didn't really believe that either, regardless of how much more powerful I could be than when I was human. But that didn't mean vampirism was unnatural. But the nature of the kindred condition wasn't something I was going to be able to puzzle out in one evening, sitting in a coffee shop.

The important thing wasn't the nature of it. What was important was that I was a vampire. Period. I could change myself, unlike many kindred, but I'm still kindred. Even Nico is still a vampire, despite his appearance. So how much sense did it make to act like something I'm not? Although I have more regard for humans than to assume them just cattle, it really was like trying to be a goddamn vegan. There's just no good fucking reason for it. It's like feeding soy to a lion. I was still clinging to humanity as though I still had to obey the same rules as they did, and it just wasn't true. I had yet to come to terms with the fact that, as human as I try to seem,  I'm not.

But not being human doesn't automatically make me a monster, either, I realized. Being monstrous was a choice.. being a predator, much less so. So why was I so afraid of letting the predator be in control occasionally? Allowing myself the "only unalloyed pleasure in blood." as Vlad put it, rather accurately. And Fuck did I miss it..

Something else that had really grating on my nerves since my first read through of the text was Anoushka's philosophy. Her feeling that as kindred, we were inherently evil and therefore had to learn the Coils to offset that. She wept and mourned over her condition, agonizing over her actions, feeding off vermin.. even though Vlad himself pointed out the strain that can put on a kindred. And he was right. It made it more difficult to handle the beast when I didn't sate it the way it wanted to be sated. I found Anoushka to be whining, self righteous, annoying,  and pathetic throughout the entireity of Vlad's journals. So I was pretty much forced to ask myself one very important question.

Did I sound like that too?

The possibility disgusted me.

I didn't intend to terrorize people for no reason.. I also didn't intend to go around and slaughter random mortals.. but if I really felt what I was trying to do was important, I had to come to terms with casualties. I had to be okay with needing to do the dirty work that might be neccesary. I was wrong to think i could avoid it.  But Birch was wrong too. He was wrong to underestimate them. They had the potential to be more than just prey.

Human potential aside, if I really wanted to fulfill my own potential, I had stop thinking of the Beast as separate from myself. Something to keep imprisoned out of fear or guilt at the dark pleasure it held for me.. or both. I was a predator, and I had just as much right to hunt as any other. And if one night I lost control... then I would have to deal with the consequences. I suppose it could be argued that if the Beast was me, and vice versa, no matter which part had the reins, I was still in control in one manner or another.

But it would take awhile before I'd be able to consider it as such. Baby steps, I guess. It would be a hard concept to come to grips with, but not impossible. I had always said I wanted to use the Beast to my own ends, but I had been ignoring it's needs. And it wasn't making things any easier. So I'd start tonight.

I stretched, arching my back up, and my arms behind my head, and then stood. Vulturous med students fell on my table and devoured it with books, papers and laptops almost before I'd finished pushing the chair in.

I caught the eye of the guy in the corner, the one who had been pretending to study, and flashed him a slightly more-than-just-friendly smile as I strolled over to his table. I put a little extra movement into my hips and watched with smug satisfaction as his eyes traveled downwards. He'd be easy enough to get alone.. and the Beast had been whispering about how sweet his blood smelled since the moment I'd walked in.

And the Beast was so very right.


No one was surprised to see me.  Except Becca. She didn't say as much, but when I walked back in I noticed her body language shift into a more relaxed state. And she started actually watching TV instead of trying to stare holes through it. Everyone else had been convinced Birch hadn't planned on offing me tonight.

I'm glad some of us had been. Fuck.

I was riding high on a luxury I had denied myself the last few weeks. My thoughts were still a little chaotic (but getting clearer), but thankfully, Ori started right in with the distractions. Once I entered the lab, he brought up an important point.

"So.. what are we planning on doing this whole..Citysmith/serial killer thing?" He looked helplessly at the three of us. I settled onto a stool, Everyone (but Nadi, who was out) was seated or standing around the largest work table (Nobody was on the ceiling). I very much welcomed the diversion of my thoughts. They weren't settled yet and I preferred to focus on something that might have a very positive outcome.. like getting my hands on this serial killer piece of shit and tearing out his goddamn throat.

Everyone was quietly thoughtful.

"Well, we theorized, before he up and vanished, that he may have some connection to the beshilu.."
"What?! how do you know?!" Ori interrupted.
I pressed my lips into a thin line and waited for him to shut the fuck up before I continued. "We don't know for sure, but one of the victims was possessed when he died..And there is the fact that with Drake dead, power shifted away from the werewolves and back to the mages.."
"That may not have been intentional.. or at least not the work of the beshilu.." Gio interrupted.
I just shrugged. "Maybe not.. but its a start at least.. " I hesitated briefly before deciding to tell them the rest. I didn't like even hinting at the old morphine addiction. "That and the killer knows things he shouldn't. He knew something about me that only 3 people ever knew.. and two of them are dead."
"And the other?" Ori asked.
"Giuseppe. But the point is one of the ones who did know was possessed before he died by Beshilu. I know that's a long shot.. but it's possible that it's related."
"And how do you guys know about the beshilu anyway?" Ori asked, skeptical.
"Dealt with them in Austin, like I said, one of them possessed one of my.." I searched for the right colorful adjective.
"Friends?" Ori suggested.
"No.. no.. that kid was a complete asshole.." I replied.
"Bob wrote about the rats in his journal.." Nobody said.
"Tommy told me about them before he left." Gio added.

I looked at Nobody and Gio. "You think we should take this to Volkas? He may have some insight.."
Gio grimaced, picking up one of the photos to examine it. "It may be better to keep this quiet for now.."
"He does have quite a bit of personal stake in this himself you know.." I leaned over and tapped the man in the hoodie in one of the pictures.
Nobody looked confused for a split second until the memory came back. "Oh..yeah..his friend the security guard.."
Grigori was looking from one of us to the other. "Look, I'm not really all that familiar with this whole case.. are you suggesting that Citysmith made a deal.. with the beshilu?"
I leaned back again, crossing my arms. "Why not?"
Ori gave a short sarcastic laugh. "A werewolf would have to be insane to make a deal with the beshilu.. I mean, they're pretty much spirits of chaos.. there's no reason for them to keep their end of the bargain!  And they aren't really criminal masterminds.."
I shrugged, unconvinced. "Giuseppe did it."
Ori remained skeptical.

I picked up another photo and examined it. I'd been so focused on the killer I hadn't really looked at Citysmith. I grabbed a few of them and set them side by side, in chronological order. They'd only been taken milliseconds apart and showed a rather nervous and angry Olivia Citysmith. "Her body language looks pissed.. nervous.."
Gio leaned over and flipped the photos around to face him, scrutinizing them as well. "Maybe they aren't working together. Maybe he's got something on her."
I quirked a brow at him. "If that were the case, what's keeping her from ripping him to pieces? Just because she's pissed doesn't mean they aren't working together."
"Doesn't mean they are either though." He shot back.
I leaned back with a pensive frown. "Yeah.. we can't really afford to make those assumptions.. there is just too much we don't know.."

Nobody opened his mouth to speak, then paused and took on a pensive look.
"Something on your mind, Nobody?" Giovanni asked him.
I bit back a scathing comment.
"There's this guy..  Kitner. He's a night janitor at one of the medical testing facilities downtown."
"What about him?" I asked
Nobody shrugged. "Not sure, but he's this really twitchy guy that keeps coming to mind, him and the janitor over at Chicago U... can't really get the name out of my head. Could be a lead.."

I frowned, we've gotten info from more dubious sources than someones gut feeling before.. but still.. "Lets go talk to Volkas first, see what he thinks, if he can give us any leads.."

We headed out to see Volkas. I called Nadi to see if she'd join us, but her brother answered and said something about keeping her at his place for awhile.

We found Volkas in his usual place, coffee burning on the warmer, newspapers spread out across the tables.
"Heeey, what you reading? Sports? How're the Cubs doing?" Ori asked as he peered down at the newspapers.
"Fuck the cubs." Nobody said with a sneer.
"Fuck YOU." Ori retorted. The rest of us just rolled our eyes.
"No. Stocks, bonds.." Volkas said without looking up. He made a few more marks before standing and refilling his coffee mug. "What is it that you need?"

When we showed him the photo, he seemed surprised. His surprise turned into skepticism when we mentioned our ideas about the Beshilu.
"Why do you think this?" He asked.
I went through all the same things I had with Ori, when another popped into my head. "And Louie Ramone.. he was one of the victims.. his blood was rat blood."
"Rat blood, but not from beshilu..that is sign of something else.." Volkas shook his head.
Ori nodded slowly, slowly seeming to relax a bit more. Oddly, I'd noticed he seemed to get pretty uptight and nervous around other werewolves. Odd for a pack animal. "The ridden." 
"Yes...but if you want, there is man who works as night janitor at medical research lab downtown.. Kitner. He has much information. He is beshilu." His face turned serious. "Be respectful." As though we wouldn't.... nevermind. The statement struck me as odd though.. a werewolf telling us to treat the beshilu with respect. Well, Volkas was always an odd werewolf, so I guess that made a weird kind of sense.
"What about the guy at Chicago University?" Nobody asked.
"I do not know of him." Volkas responded.

We talked with him a few more minutes, then departed. We got back into the car and headed out.
"Where now?" Ori asked, leaning forward between the seats. I put on hand on his forehead and shoved him back into the backseat with an annoyed grunt. "Kitner, where else?"
"But that's not the only lead that we have." Ori pointed out.
Nobody caught my eye in the rear view mirror and gave me a sarcastic smirk . "But it's the only one we have information on right now." He turned and started reaching into his coat. "Do I need to get the newspaper?!"
I rolled my eyes as Gio pulled out into the street. "Children.."
Giovanni raised a fist in a mock threat. "Do I need to pull this car over?"
I crossed my arms and leaned back in the seat. "Just push them out while we're moving. No need to stop."
Gio smirked. "But then they could both tuck and roll, and they should do the walk of shame."
I smirked to myself but said nothing.

We got there without any incident. The place was closed, of course, since it was around 10pm.
"This place is probably going to have some pretty nice security..." Ori said, looking around to find the exterior cameras.
"Repeat performance of the John Hancock Center?" I asked, I could already feel my pupils expanding.
But Ori shook his head. "Nope.. won't help." He pointed to one of the cameras. "Nicer models. Infrared. I'm kinda surprised the high rise didn't also have them, actually.."
I frowned. "So what are our options? I don't show up well on shit like that anyway, but that's just me."
"We could always find the security room and take the footage of us being here." Nobody suggested.
"Yeah, I could probably find it." Ori affirmed.

I just shrugged. "Fine, just was long as they don't know that we were here."
Nobody picked the lock on the back door, and we all traipsed inside the building. The hallways were lit only by the security lights, and the place was eerily quiet. The only noises were our muted footsteps, and the soft tapping of Giovanni's cane.

"So what, we're just going to wander around until we find him?"  Becca asked, skeptically. Ori shrugged, and without warning, he began to shift. Becca jumped back, surprised. It had been awhile since I'd seen one shift up close. It was always disturbing. Bone made cracking noises, I watched muscles reform themselves, and the strangest thing was being aware of the circulatory system rearranging itself. Instinctively, I knew where his veins were.. even as they changed.

Ori was now a shaggy black wolf. He took off at a trot down the hallway, so we followed. He led us staright to the cafeteria were a man was mopping the floor. He looked up as we walked in and frowned at us, but kept mopping. "You aren't supposed to be here. Leave or I'm calling the police."
Gio held out his hands in a non-threatening manner. "You're Kitner, right? We just need some information from you.."
Kitner looked back down and kept mopping. "Leave, or I'm calling the police."
Wolf-Ori gave an annoyed huff, and in a flash, had shifted back up into his human form. That caused all sorts of drama.

When he shifted, Kitner looked up sharply and let out a scream,  wordless and loud. It was strange, because in the back of his mouth we could see three white rats, hissing at us, none of them with eyes. We watched as his skins started to deflate. White lab rats crawled out of his clothing, rats with missing or extra limbs, deformed bodies, misshaped tails.. rats that looked like they'd taken the brunt of twisted and cruel experiments.
"We aren't here to hurt you."  I said, watching the rats scurry away. Nobody pulled out a throwing knife and prepared to toss it hilt first into the retreating vermin, but I put a hand on his arm and shook my head. Stopping one would do us little good, and kinda undermined the whole 'we mean you no harm' thing.

In moments, all the rats had scattered into the dark recesses of the cafeteria, and all that was left was a sac of skin and clothes, and the mop.

"Look, we don't care why you're here, masquerading as a member of the staff , or what you're planning on doing. We just need some information." Gio said as he dug into his pocket for the photo of the killer.
The loud speaker crackled to life, and a hissing voice uttered guttural tones. We had no clue what he was saying, but Ori answered in a similar fashion.
Gio held up the photo before Ori could translate for us. "We need to know what you know about this guy."
There was a pause. I wondered if he'd answer us at all, but after a few seconds the speakers crackled to life again, and the voice was speaking in English. Oddly, it sounded regal.
"There isss nothing there."
"Exactly. What do you know about him? How he's connected to the Beshilu?" Gio asked.
"You are foolissh to think he isss one of usss."
I crossed my arms and frowned. "One of the victims had his blooded turned into rat blood."
"But not by the hossst. It isss a sssign of the ridden."
This really was not my area of expertise.. I didn't recognize the term. I knew Ori had used it earlier, but we'd changed topics and he'd never explained it. "Ridden by what?" I asked.
The next word he uttered was hard to describe. One of those words you knew would sound different to different people. What we heard and what Ori heard were slightly different. The voice said, "Urge Ssspirit."
Ori muttered, "The maejlin."

Well fuck. That didn't give us any more than we had had before. We knew the magelin were involved.. but now we had no leads. This serial killer fucker was really getting on my last nerve.

Giovanni tucked the photo back into his coat. "You've been helpful, as Ink Fingers told us you would be when he sent us. Thank you."
There was a pregnant pause before we heard the mechanical locks click open on the cafeteria doors. The voice said, "You may leave in peassse." The realization was interesting. Not only was he going to try to kill us, he apparently had some sort of understanding with Volkas. Weird.
"We need to see to the surveillance tapes so no one will know we were here." I said.
"No one will know."

"Just to let you know..Citysmith is involved." Ori added as we turned to leave. I have no idea why he had to add that, and I was fully prepared to smack him for it, until Kitner answered him.
"You aid her?" Kitner's voice became amused.
I sighed and gave Ori a nasty glare. "We want to know why she was talking to this guy. Help her or not, that's not really our concern. The truth is."
"Go then..run to her aid." He was laughing at us.
"It's quite the opposite really." Gio said. His smirk was a tinged with mild irritation.
"You already aid her, you who alssso pledged yourssself to Lamasssshtu." The cafeteria doors swung open for us, and the speakers fell completely silent.We walked out of the cafeteria, slightly puzzled.

"Who is that? Lamashtu?" Gio asked as the exterior door clicked shut behind us. We stood in the empty parking lot, and didn't really know where to go next.
Ori walked around to the passenger side of the car and leaned over the top, resting his arms on the roof. "Lamashtu is the maejlin of pri...... oh..my..god." His face went white as a sheet, eyes wide and mouth gaping in surprised realization.
I raised an eyebrow at his sudden display. "What?"
He pushed off from the car and looked between us almost frantically. "I heard that right.. right? He said that Giovanni served Lamashtu.. the maejlin of Pride?"
I frowned, not quite understanding what he was upset about. "Yeah.. Gio's an arrogant ass.. so?"
Ori managed to get even whiter, giving me a run for the money in the pale as death category. "He was telling us that Olivia Citysmith pledge herself to Lamashtu, too."

We all fell silent as the possible implications of that sunk in.
Ori's voice was nearly inaudible, as though saying it softer would make it less true. "...She's a bale hound."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments or questions are welcomed