February 18, 2010

Going after Citysmith

((((Players Note: Brotherhood of Betrayal has gone on hiatus for awhile. We are taking a break to play Exalted (Gio's player is running it!) for awhile and give our story teller a brain break. We will return soon, never fear! We're all too addicted to it to leave it alone for too long. In the meantime, we will be shakin' up Creation with crazy power of tiny gods! Keep checking back, because I will keep updating the blog weekly with stories from the past that have never been posted! Once we start WoD again, I will return to the regularly scheduled storyline. Thanks!))))

We stopped Giovanni in the parking lot. He doesn't move too fast. He wasn't happy that we all wanted to go, but he didn't really fight it either.

We picked up Nadi from Nick's place on the way over. When we arrived at the Santore compound the guards recognized the car and just waved us in. I noticed that they were packing more heat than usual. When we walked into the house it was alive with activity. Tiny was issuing orders, people were running about, everyone was armed.. they weren't messing around. We headed straight up to see Bella.

"So you need me to play patsy then?" We'd barely gotten in the door before she'd started talking.
"Something like that. We need to talk to her. She has information about our serial killer." Gio affirmed.
Bella nodded and started pacing. It wasn't so much a nervous pace as an excited one. Her aura screamed with anticipation. As she and Gio talked, the big window behind her bubbled outward..I took a step back in surprise, then relaxed as Sansome stepped out of it, leaving the window completely in tact.

He was dressed for war. Scars and tattoos were center stage, with nothing but a loincloth to cover himself. Giant knife drawn, and other useful items hanging from his waist. He didn't even slightly resemble an aging man. He looked like a warrior. He voice was gruff, but had a similar anticipatory edge to it. "The spirits on the east side are rioting. It will be a good opportunity."
Bella grinned and nodded. "Good. We don't have long. If the Whispers already know whats going on, they'll raise the alarm. We have a few hours, tops, before her little world comes crashing down on her."
"How are we planning on prying the information out of her?" Nobody asked.
I had been thinking about that very problem. "I can get into her head, but there's no guarantee I'll be able to find it.."
Sansome pulled out a small carved bone and handed it to Ori. "When she's dead, break this. Ravens will come and eat her eyes and tell you what she saw."
I frowned, that wasn't good enough for me. "Just what she saw? This guy is very good at obscuring supernatural sights.."
Sansome's jaw twitched at my objection. "If all else fails, use that."

That resolved (more or less..), Bella looked us with positively hungry eyes. "We're heading out. You guys ready?"

We were, we'd prepared before heading over.

Sansome walked out the door. "I need to go stir up more trouble."

We piled into the cars (Ori, Becca, and Nadi with me, Nobody and Bella with Giovanni.) As we were getting in I heard Bella dialing Citysmith.
"Bella.. you're side of town is in a bit of an uproar..." Her tone was reminiscent of Birch's.
"That's what I'm calling about. " Bella paused, making all the appropriate noises of hating herself for doing this. She was a good actress. Her voice sounded downright sick, like the words made her feel nauseous. "I need your help."
There was a pause where you could practically hear Citysmith smirk. "Let's see if you're strong enough to get here." And she hung up.

Bella grinned and jumped into the car. We followed behind them. I let Becca drive. Ori gave me a weird look when I got into the back seat with him. "I need a favor."
"Uhh..okay?" He said, completely caught off guard.
I held up four empty vials I'd grabbed from my med kit. "I need refills. Just in case." I kept my face neutral. He looked pretty damn uncomfortable.
"Uhh..shit.. um.. okay I guess.. I have a knife if.."
I gave a slight smile and produced a syringe as well.
"Just don't make me a pin cushion." Ori muttered and held out his arm.
I snorted, annoyed. "Ori, I was good at this when I was alive..." I slipped the needle in effortlessly, no need to even feel for veins, or ask him to make a fist. He didn't even feel it. He looked up at me, surprised.
"Now, I know where all your veins and arteries are. I can smell them." I continued. He paled a bit, and it wasn't from blood loss.

I got to work filling my vials. "I won't take too much.. don't want to make you woozy.. though you probably regenerate it pretty damn fast." I tucked the still warm glass into my coat.
Nadi turned around in the front seat and offered her arm. "You can have some of mine too, if you need it."
It was one of those rare moments that I was thankful for the people I ran around with, instead of incredibly annoyed. "I appreciate it.. but I've never had mage blood before..I don't know what it will do to me."
The corner of her mouth twitched slightly. "Never know until you try.."
"This may not..." Oh..what the fuck. I just shrugged and grabbed a new needle. Fuck it. It wouldn't hurt to have extras, I could deal with the consequences. I only took two vials from her. She healed slower than Ori.
"So what happens when you drink my blood?" Ori asked as he watched me play phlebotomist.
I answered him without looking up. "I get very, very angry.."

My phone rang before anyone could comment further. It was Giovanni's number so I put it on speaker.
"Okay," Bella said. "She's going to make it difficult for us to get to her. We'll have to fight our way through."
"Since we're still keeping up the facade, how much force can we use?" I asked.
"Cripple.. incapacitate if necessary.. don't kill anyone unless you have too.. yet."
I heard Nobody mutter in protest in the background. "I want to kill more werewolves. I'm getting good at it." is what it sounded like.
Bella ignored him and continued. "There are a few things to remember. You're strength is in your numbers. If one of them runs, DON'T give chase. I don't care how injured they look. Do not let yourself get separated from the group. They WILL be leading you into a trap. This is their turf, and they probably have a lot of nasty tricks. So stay together, watch your backs, and be ready."

We drove the rest of the way in tense silence. I was worried about going up against werewolves.. but I was more worried that our plan wouldn't work.. that we wouldn't get the information that we needed out of Citysmith. I was aching to get my hands on that serial killer. We finally had another lead.. and we were going there to kill her. It was a pretty sticky situation. The rest of the vision Ori and I had was also still running through my head. The blood sweeping away the figures on the ground.. the black shadow that cut through the entire scene.. it was a bit disconcerting. However, I also didn't believe that the future was set in stone. If it was, whats the point of even trying?

The building was eerily quiet when we pulled up. It towered above us like a dark sentinel. As creepy as it was, and as difficult the next few minutes were about to be, everyone standing outside that building had a look of determined anticipation.

We approached the front and paused a few feet from the door, weapons drawn. We could see inside and noticed two vague shadows dart behind the sign that stood in the lobby.
Nadi pointed above the door, about 8 feet, speaking softly. "One there, on the wall, two behind the sign."
We would have looked surprised were we not so focused.
"Mage voodoo wins again." Giovanni muttered. "Ori, think you can hit him through the wall?"
Ori shrugged his very illegal rifle off his shoulder and took aim. "One way to find out.." Nadi directed him to exactly where the werewolf was waiting to spring on us, and the sound of his weapon was deafening in the stillness.

I smelled it before to hit the floor, a few drops of blood where a couple of the rounds had managed to punch through the exterior wall and hit the would be ambusher.
"He's gone. I can't tell where he went." Nadi said after a moment of scanning the area.

Bella and Ori took the front. Nadi, Gio and Becca the middle, and Nobody and I took the rear. I thought about making the whole room pitch dark, but only 3 of us would be able to see. It didn't seem wise to cripple ourselves as well as them. Bella paused in the doorway, crouching down to rub two fingers in the blood and putting them to her tongue. "Mahudi." She said quietly.

We slipped inside. When we entered the building, shit hit the fan pretty damn quick.

The first attack actually came from behind us. A large wolf bounded out of the shadows and lunged at Nobody. It was too fast for even the agile changeling, and it managed to lock its jaws on his calf muscle. He let out a muffled scream. At the same time, a man stepped out of the shadows and glared at Ori. His voice was deep and commanding. "Stand Down."

Ori was no coward, but that caused even him to lower his rifle a touch. I was pretty certain it was werewolf voodoo because Ori seemed to be trying to hit the shit out of the guy, but his body just wouldn't listen. His muscles were trembling with effort to overcome the compulsion. Meanwhile, Giovanni had responded quickly to Nobody's scream, turned, shoving his end of the shotgun barrel into the offending wolf and blasting the ever loving SHIT out of it. The force of the rounds tore it away from Nobody, taking some of his leg with it and leaving a messy hole in the wolf's side.

Two things happened nearly at once. The man was so focused on dominating Ori, that he never even saw Becca coming. She slammed the tire iron into the back of his head so hard that I heard his skull crack. Her muscles were larger than normal and shaking with the force of the blow. The look on her face was pure terror. Thank God her reaction to fear was to beat the fuck out of it.

That distraction was all Ori needed. He apparently could still attack other targets, because he swung around and popped off a couple shots at the wolf as it took off down the hallway with a hole in its side and part of Nobody's calf in its teeth, leaving a thick trail of his and its blood on the marble floors.

The man recovered enough to clutch his head and follow the wolf. "Don't follow him." I barked, kneeling beside Nobody and pulling out first aid supplies.
"Duh.." Gio rolled his eyes at me. Bella took careful aim with one of the largest handguns I'd ever seen, pulled the trigger, and it was as though just the roar of the gun caused the retreating man's calf muscle to nearly explode outwards. He went down screaming.

It all happened so fast that I never had the chance to fire a shot. How disappointing. Thankfully, we still had a lot of distance to cover. I pulled Nobody to his feet. "You should be good for awhile."
He slowly put weight on the leg, and nodded brief thanks when it held. It must've hurt like hell, but he didn't let it show. The only telling sign was a slight shortness of breath and tiny beads of perspiration on his face. He'd have a scar almost like mine, from when a rampaging werewolf war machine decided to taste my kidneys.

The elevator let out a soft 'ding' as it landed on the ground floor. We all whirled, weapons at ready. But when the doors slid silently open, it was empty.

"There's no way we're going to take the fucking elevator." Nobody said with a wince.
Bella looked at his leg and shrugged, and stepped into the elevator. "You can't make it up that many flights. This building has close to 100 floors. Elevator is the best way to go."
Nobody muttered under his breath but limped into the elevator car, the rest of us followed looking equally skeptical.. but the woman had a point. Once inside, we started heading up to the top floor.

Everytime we passed a floor, everyone would tense, waiting for those doors to open. After a few floors, Ori got tired of it and undid the top hatch and climbed out onto the roof of the car as we went up... and it was a good thing he did.

"Spirits!" He yelled, letting the rifle swing on its strap onto his back and drawing his Skrima sticks in one smooth motion. Gio, Nobody and I pulled our goggles down over our eyes. The two spirits were very insubstantial, even in their world. Indistinct faces screamed down towards Ori with bodies and hands made from mist. One dive bombed Ori, and he didn't have enough room in the narrow shaft to dodge it. He stumbled backwards, his face a mask of pain, but still managed to bring the sticks down on its hazy figure as it swooped by. It shrieked in pain and flew back up into the shaft, circling around for another attack.

Little pricks. I drew my sidearm, popped the clip and let it slide out as I slammed another one home. I didn't bother to catch it. Becca snatched it from the air before it hit the ground and dropped it back in my coat as I took careful aim. I wasn't out of ammo, I just needed different bullets. The moment Ori stepped out of my line of fire, I lined up my shot and pulled the trigger almost simultaneously.

The phased rounds aren't loud when leaving the chamber. Two thick blue tracers and a quiet popping noise accompanied the shot. Ori jumped back with a shout of surprise as the special rounds hit their mark and tore clean through one of the spirits. The spirit screamed and exploded in a hazy fog. Thank you, Taskforce Valkyrie.
"Holy SHIT." Ori exclaimed, right before the other spirit dove at him and clocked him in the side of the head so hard that blood oozed down around his ear. He grit his teeth, eyes flashing red, and buried his weapons in the spirits face as it tried to escape. The fog only took a few seconds to dissipate.

Meanwhile, the elevator was slowing. We all tensed. Ori called down to us that the door on the 45th floor had just opened at the same moment that the elevator came to a stop on the 35th floor.

Then we were attacked from two sides at once. The doors slid open to reveal a hallway, full of those same air spirits, and Mahudi standing behind them all. The same moment, we heard something slam into Ori and the entire elevator bounced. Apparently one of the Architects had jumped from 10 stories up and used Ori as his safety net.

And the smell of rotting flesh reached our nostrils. Someone grunted in pain, and it wasn't Ori. Nadi was staring intently up through the top hatch and working her mage voodoo.

The rest of us were focused on that hallway. Without so much as a glance between us, I dropped down on one knee, below Giovanni's line of fire, lined up the shot, and popped off two more ghostly rounds. Gio's shotgun was deafening in the small space. We were rewarded by two spirits immediately disintegrating.
The others charged us, but came up short, launching pieces of themselves at us like spiritual bullets. I felt the shrapnel bite into my face and hands, but neither Giovanni or I even flinched. We just lined up our next shot.

A knife whizzed past my head, from behind me. I had a moment to recognize it as Nobody's before I saw it land home, right into Mahudi's bicep. The look on his face said it struck pretty hard. His expression contorted with anger and pain and I heard the blade scrape bone as he yanked it out and returned it to Nobody, propelling it directly into the changelings shoulder. Nobody yelped in pain. I knew who I'd be patching up all fucking night. Jesus.

"This is pretty ballsy of you." A male voice said from the roof of the elevator car, tinged with pain.. what the fuck had Nadi done? We could still smell rotting flesh.
Ori's voice was little more than a snarl, even though he retained his human form. "Fuck you!"
"Dinner first." I could practically hear the Architect tensing for an attack.

I heard the distinctive sound of a bone snapping and something heavy falling on the roof of the car. Then, the entire car shook and the ceiling folded inward as Ori brought both sticks down in a massive blow to his fallen opponent, who, judging by the dent, probably managed to dodge. This theory was confirmed by the rage strangled scream Ori let loose.

But we were too focused on the hallway to do much about it. Bella walked out of the elevator and straight towards the spirits. Her hands were no longer human. Her fingers had lengthened and now ended in wicked claws that glinted silver in the dim hall lights. She sliced through the remaining spirits with practiced precision and ease. Once they were all nothing but mist she stared Mahudi down. He returned her gaze with equal intensity. We heard her snarl something in their weird animalistic language, one word.

We watched, poised and ready for an attack, as Mahudi's lip curled in disgust. He spat on the ground and responded in normal speech. "If there's anything left, I get to kill her." And he turned and walked away.

Everyone stepped out of the elevator. It was busted to shit, and sure as hell wasn't going anywhere. I patched up Nobody's shoulder. Ori's face, body language, and aura pulsated with barely suppressed rage. We all moved towards the stairwell and he only paused long enough to kick the door off its fucking hinges.

"Ori, calm the fuck down." I said with a frown.
The look he gave me was not friendly. "He fucking dive bombed me, then disappeared. I think I have the right to be a little pissed."
I shrugged and walked past him, up the stairs. "I'll make you a deal, if you don't frenzy all over us, neither will I." He didn't respond, just stomped up the stairs after me.

We made it up the rest of the stairs pretty quickly, all of us were in pretty good shape (or in my case, didn't use their lungs anyway). Giovanni had draped one arm over my shoulders and I made sure we kept up.

The three of the four members of the Architects were waiting for us when we reached the top. Mahudi was no where to be seen.
"Impressive." Said the one who had dive bombed Ori. He gestured to the large double doors that presumably led into Citysmith's office. Some of the built up tension in my chest eased. They still hadn't figured out why we were really here. This might actually work.

Now or never. When we walked through those double doors, Citysmith was standing in front of the giant window, overlooking Chicago, hands clasped behind her back. She was immaculately dressed, long blond hair plaited into a braid down her back. She watched our reflections in the window, but didn't turn around.

"East side is in quite an uproar. Can't handle your territory Santore?" Her voice was pretty damn snide.
Bella grit her teeth in effort to maintain her composure. "That's why we're here."
"Tell me..why I shouldn't just let it all crumble around you, then step in and pick up the pieces?" Citysmith's reflection looked smug and amused in the glass.
"Because it would make you look weak, that you couldn't help her with the spirits." Giovanni said.
She gave a humorless laugh. "You take me for a Storm Lord? Talking to me about looking weak?"
"What, think it will be too much for you?" Nobody mocked. Her jaw tightened in annoyance.

I took the opportunity to do a little digging. I let the others talk around her, keep her off guard, I slipped into her mind and dug around in her thoughts. I looked for information on the serial killer. When Nobody got his jab in I heard her think, "Go ahead, play your little games. In the end, he'll kill you all, and I'll pick up the pieces." She was planning on sending the killer at us. I needed to keep her talking so I could keep digging. "You'll help because it will prove you're the better leader. It will prove that they had to come to you to secure their territory. If you don't help, maybe it's because you couldn't.. which makes you no better than them." I said, expression deadly serious. Her thoughts began to boil and froth at the suggestion and her aura was ablaze with rage, indignation.. and something else that did not bode well for us. Suspicion.

Her eyes unfocused for a moment and she frowned slightly. She turned and looked past us into the hallway of the penthouse, giving a subtle jerk of the head. The other three pack members followed the unspoken order and headed to the stairwell. I really hoped the other werewolves hadn't shown up yet. We weren't done.

That suspicion was growing by the second, and I had yet to find anything on the killer's identity in her head. Her thoughts were becoming too chaotic.
Her eyes narrowed and focused on Bella. "You have Sansome. you don't need me when you have him. So why are you really here?" This was about to get very, very ugly. I pulled a knife soundlessly from its hidden sheath, holstering the gun. Citysmith didn't so much as flick her eyes in my direction.
Bella's mask of bitter resignation shifted into a devious grin, but it was Giovanni who answered. "Oh we need your help, just not with the spirits on the East side."

I saw it dawn on her in three different ways all at once. Her facial expression twisted itself into a nasty snarl, made even more grotesque by the beauty of the face on which it sat, her aura flared even more brightly, and her thoughts were a cauldron of rage. She knew.

Almost faster than I could follow, Citysmith threw a hand at Bella, thousands of barbs materializing from nothing and burying themselves into Bella's flesh. Blood spewed from the grievous wounds, painting the white walls. Bella fell slowly to her knees, then slumped forward onto the marble floor, unconscious. That single attack had nearly been the end of her. This was about to get messy.

Giovanni's eyes flashed blood red, his lips contorting into an arrogant sneer. "Really? Lamashtu?" those small words carried with them a wealth of insult and condescending malice.
Citysmith's beauty was gone, her face was a mask of malice and wrath. "You're one to talk!" She spat at him.
"I AM! What did you get out of it? To be young and beautiful forever?" His voice was booming and thick with scorn. "Where's the PRIDE in that?"

"I'LL SHOW YOU!" Citysmith shrieked at him, throwing more of the deadly barbs in his direction. But Giovanni didn't so much as flinch. His muscles rippled and he let his cane fall to the ground. He grew two feet taller and huge black wings tore themselves from the flesh of his back to spread out behind his shoulders. He just stared at her as the bards bit into his body. He was bleeding, but the attack had proven less effective this time around. And when she met his gaze, I saw her rage waver, colors of fear, contempt, guilt and pain crashed through her aura. But her pride won out in the end. Giovanni's penetrating gaze wouldn't stop that.

But it provided the rest of us with the opportunity to act. I tried one last time to read her mind, but it was too chaotic to get anything out of it. So, fuck it.

"Why send him to do your dirty work Citysmith?" Her eyes flicked to me, but she didn't bother with an answer. She thought I was too far beneath her to warrant one. She was standing between me and the serial killer, and I'd be damned again if I was going to let this arrogant bitch stop me.

But I also had no intention of getting within range of her claws if I could help it. I raised a hand, preparing to throw my blade straight into her heart. I flooded my system with vitae and felt my pupils consume the rest of my eyes. The darkness was my play thing. In the milliseconds I had to attack, I feinted instead. The shadow that I threw at her looked almost fucking three dimensional. It darted in from her periphery, and would prove to be absolutely harmless, in and of itself.

But Citysmith didn't know that. She caught the new movement from the corner of her eye just as I'd intended and whirled to face the unknown menace... that wasn't there. And without so much as a glance from me, Ori took advantage of the distraction. He lunged for her, and the blur of olive green and yellow cloth became a blur of tan and black fur. By the time he reached his target, he was an 8 foot tall, fanged killing machine. He clamped those wicked fangs down directly on Olivia Citysmith's throat and didn't let go. Blood gushed from the wounds.

It was nothing short of miraculous that he didn't snap her neck in one blow. No, instead, she flew into a frenzied rage. Ori was now sinking his teeth into the furred neck of another, equally as terrifying 8 foot death machine who's single minded focus was to KILL EVERYTHING. She raked razor sharp claws down Ori's back, tearing it to bloody ribbons.

But he wouldn't let go.

She was so far gone, so focused on the immediate threat, no longer anything but a mindless, murderous monster, that I don't think she ever saw Nadi step in closer.

Like I said before, none of them are cowards. Nadi darted towards the two werewolves and grabbed Citysmith's furred forearm even as she mangled Ori's flesh. Her attacks lost a bit of their ferocity and I could see some of her muscles visibly shrivel.

But we weren't even close to done with her yet. Nobody had gone to Bella and done quick patch and fix work while we'd been dealing with Citysmith, but he still wanted a piece of the bitch.
"It's really not smart to fuck with an assassin's friend you arrogant twat." A knife materialized in his hand, gleaming silver and he vaulted towards the monster, sinking the blade into her heart. She was too busy weakly clawing at Ori, there was no way she'd be able to parry Nobody's attack. At the same moment, Giovanni propelled himself forward with his massive wings and buried another silver blade into her spine, dragging it down her back.

It wasn't until she went completely lifeless and limp that Ori gave his jaws one violent shake, snapping her spine for good measure, and threw her to the marble floor like a piece of trash. She'd reverted to her human form before she landed.

Bella's blood spattered the walls, but Citysmith's blood flooded the floor and dripped off our hands. Or muzzles, as the case may be. Ori snarled at the dead bale hound, eyes aflame with bloodlust. We stood over Citysmith, and smiled. Who's beneath whom now, you self absorbed, egotistical cunt?

"ORI!" I snapped, ignoring the beast roaring in my ears. "The raven." He looked at me, not understanding. He was already beginning to melt back into a more human shape. His words were distorted by rearranging vocal cords. "What?"

Giovanni rolled his eyes and crouched down, using a clean edge of Citysmith's shirt to wipe his blade clean. "The bone Sansome gave you. And hurry the fuck up. Harper, the computer."

I was one step ahead of him, already moving towards the desk.
"Oh! Right." Ori dug into his pocket and pulled out the carved bone, easily breaking it into two pieces. I slipped my goggles back on and watched as a huge spirit raven appeared.
"What do you call for?" It asked in a strangely commanding voice. Ori pointed to the corpse. "We need to know what she knew."
The raven landing on Citysmith's body and plucked her eyes out like it was picking fruit from a tree. It swallowed them whole, then turned its beak towards Ori. "What knowledge do you seek?"
"Everything she knew about the serial killer that she was working with."

It tilted its head as though in thought, like birds do. We were so close. The seconds that the raven paused seemed like an eternity to me, even as I focused on the computer screen.
"It does not matter. He is here." And the raven disappeared.

We whirled, weapons still in hand, as a door opened on the other side of the office. A sickly yellow light cast grotesque shadows on the floor. Ray Fawkes stepped into the room, left hand held high in the air, no longer a stump, arrogant sneer plastered across his face. The hand cast the light in all directions.

The serial killer was standing 10 feet away from me, and all I could do was stare at that fucking, piece of shit, god forsaken, hand.

"You IDIOTS! You just don't get it do you?!"

All of us were frozen in place. I felt the beast thrashing wildly inside my head, and for once, it and I were in perfect accord.

Ray swaggered towards us, pausing next to Citysmith's body. He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. "She wasn't finished yet. She was so close..." He turned his attention back to us, stalking forward. "You're all idiots. Insignificant idiots. And now, I win again." He jeered. My muscles were shaking, but all I could do was stand in place, and stare. "And there's nothing you can do about it."

No. nonono. How could we get so close only to lose him again? I fought it, pushed and raged against the bonds that held my body captive. Nothing worked. As long as that hand was raised in front of me, I was rapt.

Help came from a very unexpected source.
"Silly human... you're stealing my tricks." A very familiar voice said from behind us. Ray's head snapped in that direction and his eyes widened in panicked surprise. "What?! how?! You can't do that!"

The man that strode past us was dressed in a floor length white fur coat that drank the blood from the marble tiles. He held long blade in hand. He wore the intricately carved golden claws, and the heavy golden mask of the Lancea Sanctum over his face. Solomon Birch raised the blade and neatly cleaved the glowing hand from a backpedaling Ray Fawkes.

That was all we needed. With the hand gone, Ray looked at us, arrogance stained with fear, and Gio gave him a taste of his own medicine. Ray stared dumbly into Gio's eyes and began to shake uncontrollably. I didn't bother reading his aura, his mind, or anything else.

I took two long strides and grabbed the insolent bastard by the throat. My fingers dug into the flesh around his Adams apple like a vice. I pulled him against me and sank fangs deep into his carotid artery. As his hot blood poured down my chin and neck, into my mouth and down my throat, the beast snarled in dark ecstasy. I ripped his Adams apple out with my fingers, and tore my fangs through his carotid and out the front of his body. Blood sprayed. I knew the moment he died, which came much sooner than I'd expected, the same moment I tore out his fucking throat. He didn't die from bleeding out, he just died. I threw him away from me like a piece of discarded garbage, tossing his larynx to land beside him with a wet plop. Nadi finished a series of hand gestures.. she looked to be cutting thread.

My satisfaction was far from detached or civilized. It was impossible to tell if the overwhelming feeling of intense carnal victory stemmed from my rational mind or the beast.. and I didn't damn well care. I basked in it, licking his blood off my fingers, and for once, didn't bother shoving the beast back in it's cage. It curled up inside my skull, sated, for now.

(((player's note: Humanity dropped to 6. Finally.)))

Ori poked Ray's body with the tip of his boot. "Hey Birch. Your coat is gay."

"I might just curl up and die, heaven forbid the dirty ingun doesn't like my coat." Birch lifted the mask off of his face. "Well, my end of the deal is done." His eyes were missing. That's how he had avoided the effects of the hand. It looked like he'd gouged them out.

Giovanni smirked and limped over to the chair that used to belong to Citysmith and settled into it, propping his feet up on the desk.

I narrowed my eye at Birch, wiping blood off my face. "What deal?"

He was so practiced at being a dick that he managed to give me a condescending and incredulous look even with no eyes. "You really don't get it do you? Not really a student of genetics then huh?"

The anger was too close to the surface to not flare up instantly. Fine tremors ran through my hands as I clenched them into fists.

"The dark hair and eyes.. stature.. all carefully engineered for this specific task.. and you really can't figure it out."

He was mocking me, which wasn't anything unusual, but I was sick and tired of his games. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, a suspicious that I knew exactly what he meant, but he wouldn't stop with the exposition.

"I made a deal to come in at this point.. to suffer the pain of it, and in return I get to add to my livestock. This was all planned out a long time ago, and it's finally come to a head.."

I just lost it then. I was tired of his grandstanding, his half veiled comments, and his very presence. Tired of the knowledge that the situation had just been saved by this god damned piece of shit. So I cut him off. "Will you just fucking SAY IT?!" I screamed at him.

His jaw clenched tight in annoyance and he sneered at me, speaking through gritted teeth. "Really? This plan has been in the works for over 60 years and you can't wait 5 fucking minutes? You really are such a disappointment." He turned and walked out of the giant office. As he did, he called back over his shoulder. "Don't get too comfortable in that chair. It doesn't belong to you."

"Oh, I know." Gio laced his fingers together behind his head and reclined further.

I stared after Birch as he sauntered out of the room, staring holes in the back of his head to match the ones in the front. He hadn't ever said it, but I knew what he'd been talking about. But what I didn't know, were the details. So I stared into his head. I wasn't just glaring angrily (though there was that too) I was reading his thoughts.. and aside from thinking about how useless he found me, he was thinking about the entire plan.

The entire plan that Giuseppe had put into motion over 60 years ago. He had taken a play from Birch's book and bred a line of people who would prove susceptible to Lamashtu's influence, he actually bred arrogance into the line. How? by using people like Thomas Matheson in the stock combined with people he'd rescued from Auschwitz during World War II. It took decades before any of them actually made the deal with the majlin. It had to be Lamashtu in order to get at Citysmith. Ray's deal with the majlin had been to preform the murders, to get rid of people in Citysmith's way.. and Giuseppe had helped him. Giuseppe had set up the bargain, and helped him with the murders. He had wrapped us up in it in order to get us invested, get us involved enough to go after Citysmith. He'd killed the security guard in order to hurt us, to keep us interested. He'd killed Louie and left him for us to find. That's how the killer knew things about it he shouldn't. Giuseppe was feeding him information. Giuseppe had been pulling the strings. We'd been played.

All of it was to ultimately destroy Citysmith and put the Santores on the throne of Chicago.

As I stared after Birch, mind seething and churning with all the unpleasant information, others started to arrive. Bella woke up and Sansome walked into the room, along with a few other Santores. Ori had gone over to the large painting on the wall and was staring at it. Giovanni stood and held out the chair for Bella.

"She had the pack totem chained to the painting.. I couldn't see the chains before." Ori said.
Sansome nodded and stood beside him. "She's the only Ithaeur in the pack. She hid it well."
"Can we free it? And will it attack us if we do?" Ori asked.
Sansome smiled. "We can try, and there's only one way to find out."
He stepped forward and used that huge ass knife to slice right through the spiritual chains on the painting. And a big fucking spirit jumped out. It looked like a gigantic ant with an intricately carved metal carapace, roughly the size of a double decker bus. The thing was huge. I had my gun unholstered and pointed at it's forehead in less than a second, waiting for it start shit. I was not in the mood. It could probably eat me for lunch, but right now, I didn't give a shit. I was almost hoping it would attack us.

The spirit and I stared at each other. I was the only one in the room with a weapon drawn. A low growl trickled from its throat as it watched me, but it sounded more like a controlled demolition explosion, or heavy equipment being moved, rather than an animal growl. I inhaled deeply, attempting to let some of the aggression flow out of me on the exhale, and holstered my gun. Once my weapon was gone, the spirit ignored me.

It tilted its head to one side and regarded the werewolves in the room. It said something, I think, but its voice was like the growl- construction noises. The only way I could even figure it was speaking words was because as it fell silent, Bella stood up, palms planted on the desk.
"I wi.."
"Sit down..."
Her head snapped to the door, and we all saw old Vittorio in his motorized wheelchair come rolling into the room. He inhaled deeply from his oxygen mask before setting it in his lap. He looked up at the massive spirit without a trace of fear or hesitation, and his voice became less old and frail, and more authoritative and deep. It was his real voice, not shrouded in the costume of frailty. "I will take the seat."

The spirit made more weird noises in Vittorio's direction, and vanished.

I didn't really pay close attention to the rest of it. The Santores started their clean up.

"Thank you for your help. We owe you." Vittorio said, looking at all of us. The tone of the gratitude was genuine. I wondered how much of the plan Vittorio had been aware of.
"We have a lot of work to do, if you would excuse us." The old man said. It was fine with me. I wanted to get the fuck out of there and find Giuseppe. "If you'd stay for a moment, Grigori." Vittorio requested.

Bella walked out with us. As we left, we saw Vittorio get up from his chair, discarding the oxygen tank and stand tall in front of the large window. He inhaled deeply and smiled as he looked out over his city. It was the first time any of us had seen him abandon the charade of debilitating age.

Giovanni smirked at Bella. "I told you it was an act."
Bella shook her head in mild disbelief. "That crafty bastard."
"C'mon, an old werewolf?" Gio teased her.

The doors shut behind us. We waited briefly for Ori to come back out. He exited just a few minutes later, smiling slightly and looking a little sheepish. "Vittorio wants us at dinner tomorrow night." He said as he caught up to us.

"All of us?" I asked


Giovanni slapped Ori on the back as we headed to the stairs. "Welcome to the family."

Ah.. that made a certain amount of sense. Up until now, Ori had been packless, which, from what I could gather, wasn't a great way for most werewolves to be.

We headed back to the shop. I avoided conversation. Everyone but me seemed to be in rather high spirits. Even though the others probably inferred the same from Birch that I knew for certain, that Giuseppe had been behind the whole fucking fiasco, no one but me seemed all that upset.

I would have thought I'd be angry with him.. disgusted by the murders.. but that wasn't it at all. I understand why he did it. What bothered me was that he felt the need to fuck with us to get our attention. He didn't trust me enough to tell me a damn fucking thing, and that stung. If he had just asked me, I would have gone after Citysmith.

This is what I was thinking when we entered the shop to find Giuseppe sitting at one of the work tables, pouring over old manuscripts. But I didn't say anything to him..not yet. I had no desire to air my grievances in front of everyone. So I leaned back against the wall, face as neutral as I could manage.

"Evening." Gio said as he walked over to examine what Giuseppe was working on.
"Good evening. I take it your night has been productive?"
"You could say that." Gio said with a smirk.

Giuseppe looked up from his work, up at all of us. His eyes stayed on me a moment longer than the rest, but only a moment, then he looked back at Nadi.

"So what will you do now?"
"Continue my studies." I detected a hint of displeasure in Nadi's voice, but it was always so difficult to tell with her.
"Will you still try to pursue mundane education, or have you found there are things more important? Secrets of the world you can't learn in the University? Will you still try to earn that sheepskin?" Giuseppe asked her.
"I think they use paper now." Nadi replied dryly. Giuseppe responded with a small smirk.
"He was my friend, you know." Ah, definitely displeasure. Glad to know I wasn't the only one.
He gave a small shrug "Maybe he was, at one point. But he thought himself better than you. He had feelings for you, but even then you were still beneath him."
To that, Nadi did not respond.

So he turned his attention to Nobody.
"And Nobody, what will you do?"
"I need to find a dragon.. and deal with a sword in the stone. Plus, you now owe me TWO favors."
Giuseppe's face was a mask of condescending sarcasm. "Why ever do you think I owe you such a thing? I signed no contract."
Nobody suddenly looked pissed and annoyed. "You said yourself you owed me one at least." But Giuseppe was right, he'd never made a contract with the changeling, and Nobody knew it.
Giuseppe just smirked and gave a non committal shrug.

I just watched him, arms crossed, looking none too happy. I managed not to glare, but my displeasure was evident. He just quirked a brow at me. "Really, Harper."
"Can I talk with you in private please?" I asked finally.

I pushed off the wall and walked into the kitchen. He followed, sitting on the edge of the table as I paced the length of the room a few times. I grabbed a damp towel and started trying to get the residual blood off my face and neck, the clothing was a lost cause. I looked at Giuseppe over the towel. He was watching me with an utter lack of concern.
"So when do I get to know what your thinking?" I asked finally. "Or do I have to be your unwitting assistant forever?"
He just shrugged. "One day, you'll have your own assistants."
I frowned at him and tossed the towel onto the counter, waiting for a real answer. I leaned back against the cabinets and crossed my arms over my chest.
"It had to be this way. They could not know I was involved." He said mater-of-factly.
"You could've just asked me, you know." My voice was quieter than I meant for it to be. He should know by now that I'd help him with his plans.

"Harper.. you can read people's minds.. I could not risk someone reading yours. What I did was necessary." His voice was gently chastising, and I couldn't argue with it. I trained my eyes on the floor. I knew he was right, but that had little bearing on my feelings on the matter. I still felt like he didn't trust me, and, worse than that, I felt like I was no more important than any of his other pawns. Call me childish, but I wanted to be more to him than his unwitting puppet.

He read my face like a book.
"Harper, this would not have worked without you." He said, completely serious. My eyes flicked up to his face, and he caught my gaze and held it. "I am sorry if I have hurt your feelings.. but this was a plan 60 years in the making, I had to tread carefully in order for it to succeed. You were an essential part of that, even if you could not know." As far as I could tell, he was being sincere. He watched my face to gauge my reaction. Call me easy, but his words lessened the sting of tonight's realizations. I believed him, mostly because he usually didn't bother with such apologies. So even if I was wrong and he wasn't being genuine, he at least cared enough to lie in order to make me feel better.

I sighed deeply and allowed myself a small smile. I let it go. "So how does it feel to see a plan started in the 40s finally come to fruition?"
Giuseppe grinned widely and grabbed a beer from the fridge. He took a long drink in way of answer. I couldn't help but grin myself. Damn he was good.

"So what are you going to do now?" I asked after a moment of amiable silence.
"I think I will go to New York. There are some interesting things going on up there." He said as he drank the beer.
"Giovanni is interested in a few things there too."
Giovanni's voice carried in from the other room as he limped towards the kitchen. So much for privacy. "No, just the one bastard!"
Giuseppe grabbed another beer from the fridge and tossed it to Giovanni as he walked in.

"I must say, Giovanni, that among all of the progeny, you were a rather unexpected accident. However, I am pleased with the results."
Giovanni smirked ironically and clinked his beer bottle against Giuseppe's in a toast.
"I'm going to find and kill his ass." Giovanni said after a long pull from the bottle.
"You will have quite a fight ahead of you." Giuseppe said, even as he nodded his understanding.
I found that amusing, considering. "We had quite a fight ahead of us tonight. We managed."
"I will see what information I can find when I get up there."

I grimaced, and asked a question that had been eating at me since we left Citysmith's building. "Why'd it have to be Birch?" I didn't try and hide the disgust in my voice
Giuseppe looked equally annoyed when I mentioned the name, but his expression quickly turned smug. "He is very easy to manipulate."
"Fair enough. Birch doesn't think much of me." I observed, but I was alright with that. He was an ingratiating sonofabitch, but I'd rather him be annoyed by me, given a choice.
Giuseppe set his mostly empty bottle on the table. "Interestingly, he does not dislike you because he underestimates you. He feels you underestimate yourself." I raised an eyebrow in skeptical surprise. I guess that made sense.. and until tonight, I would have even said he was right. But tonight had been very eye opening, in many ways. I would prefer to have him underestimate me, though.

"That is another reason to leave for awhile. No doubt Birch will take the first flight out to Prague to examine his new stock." He drained the last of his beer with a self-satisfied smirk. "And will be very surprised to find gypsies bred into the line."
I let out a bark of surprised laughter, Giovanni chuckled. Serves that bastard right.
"Another group that I saved from the camp." Giuseppe explained before I could even ask. Giuseppe would always be a mystery to me. I think it was a big part of what drew me to him, and sometimes it got under my skin, but I was starting to understand him a little better.
"And the Mallaus?" I asked when it occurred to me that requesting me to dig up information on them was probably a front to get me to Chicago in the first place. He verified my suspicion. "They are not really my concern. I have enough people still in the organization to keep tabs on them well enough."
"The heresy?"
His eyes flashed angrily. "I have yet to find any more information on the ones that hurt my Mona. "
"You know I'll help." I said with fervor.
His mouth twitched in a small smile. "I know."

"And the Natalie Promethean?" I was determined to put as many pieces together as I could tonight.
He hesitated. "That.. was unexpected. That was not Ray.. nor I."
I raised a dubious eyebrow. "Really."
"There are still many mysteries, apparently." He seemed as perplexed about that as I felt.
But I refused to be bothered by such a thing tonight. "I'd get very bored if there weren't."

The mention of Ray caused my train of thought to take a different direction.
"I murdered someone tonight.." I said thoughtfully, and surprisingly, without regret.
Giuseppe remained silent and Giovanni looked at me, utterly amused. "And how do you feel about that?"
I shrugged and grabbed his beer, taking a swig. "Oddly.. I'm okay with it." And I was. Better still, I wasn't upset that I was.

He smirked at me and snatched his beer back. "Welcome to the family."

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