September 4, 2010

New guy same as the Old Guy?

(A heads up to all you beautiful readers out there, I am going to start doing 'guest spots' on the blog every once and awhile. This is where other players will submit posts from their own characters perspectives. I don't know how often this will happen, or when it will start, it depends on when the first person gets an entry done. I just thought it would be fun to have some differing perspectives in here. Our ST will also be posting an entry from the NPC of his choice. Should be fun! Blog will still be updated weekly, and I will be sure to indicate when posts are guest appearances. Thanks for reading!))

January 11th, 2010

I sat on the floor at the foot of my bed and prepared myself. Sunrise was coming, and I needed to be ready if I was going to be successful in remaining awake as it rose. I found myself struggling to clear my mind, to fall into that meditative state. I inhaled.. and tried to release the tension on the exhale. I loosened the vice grips I had wrapped around my chest, willing myself to be calm with each breath.

Usually, I could drop right into meditation. Tonight, I had to let go of the anger and residual panic from Giovanni's death. I pried my mental fingers out of the worry and anxiety over the new prince, and let it fall away. I released the stress of the minor annoyances..I went through every strong emotion I'd experienced that day, and made them all disappear.

It took some time. I felt when the first rays of the sun peaked over the horizon, and I wasn't ready. I fought to maintain my control in the face of the instinctual fear. I was safe in the basement of the shop, but part of me sought escape. I battled that part, fatigued already from the nights events. I struggled and fought to keep myself conscious.

I had to overcome it.

Slowly, I gained ground. I pushed it back. I fell into my meditative state, and knew that I'd be able to stay awake. I would, however, be punished for it. My concentration suffered, but there was nothing I could do about that. Consequences occurred when you forced your body to do things it was not meant to do.

I let the pitch darkness of my bedroom be my comfort. Comfort and solace from a world.. a whole world.. that was, for the next 12 hours, trying to kill me. It was an odd and sobering realization, that the world itself sought to purge my existence.. images of what those warm rays of sunshine would do to my body nearly tore me out of my calm.. but I persevered through it.

And eventually, I realized I could change it. Not this instant, maybe not in the next week.. but like everything else, my body was mine to control.. mine to change.

This weakness was only another flaw to perfect.

When I opened my eyes again, the room was still blissfully dark, and the sun was still blazing in the sky somewhere above me. I wasn't sure if I had been concentrating for minutes, or hours. Regardless, I knew my meditation wouldn't led anywhere else today, my brain was too fried from all the events of the night before, and the strain of staying awake. I considered, briefly, allowing myself to sleep.. but it would feel like a failure.

So I stood and opened the door to my room. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and listened for noises of life above me. I heard nothing. I began a slow ascent to the landing. I knew there were no windows in the lab, and that the storefront of the shop couldn't be seen behind the maze of boxes, but walking up those stairs was difficult, nonetheless.

When I finally reached the top, I found the lab empty. I padded silently between the work tables, giving the Bunsen burner a wide berth, not bothering to turn on any lights. I examined each of Giovanni's works in progress, taking care not to disturb any of it. beakers of god knows what sat bubbling away, some with small flames below them, some fizzing of their own accord. One gave off a pale red glow. I relished the solitude. I couldn't remember the last time I was in the shop, alone. If only it weren't daylight, I might just poke around in the shop itself, instead of limiting myself to the lab.

There was a note stuck to one wall, done in thick black marker in Giovanni's scrawling, and terrible, handwriting.

Gone out. Be back soon.

The black marker sat on a stool right under the sign.

And it gave me an idea. I picked up the marker and walked to Ori's bedroom door. I tried the doorknob and felt a surge of triumph as it gave a soft 'click' and opened inward.

Ori lay in bed, sprawled across its length, legs tangled in the comforter. He didn't so much as twitch when I slipped inside his room.

I was never one for practical jokes, growing up. I was anti social and grumpy, with a dry sense of humor that I didn't reveal often. Mostly, that's still true. But I found that, recently, I had started to take myself a bit less seriously. Not much, and I wasn't sure why, but the jokes seemed like a way to retain a vestige of sanity in our chaotic world. That, and it served to annoy the fuck out of the others, which was rewarding all on its own.

Becca and I had traded practical joke blows before, and Giovanni had declared war on me when he'd epoxied my door shut. I felt it was time that Ori got a taste of what it meant to run with us.

That, and I had to pay Stepping Feather back somehow. Since he was dead, his nephew would be the next best thing.

I didn't actually think I'd pull it off. I figured he'd feel it, and wake up.. or smell it, and wake up.. or hear the squeaks as I dragged the thick marker over the skin of his forehead, and wake up.

But he didn't, and once I was done, Grigori had "BALLS" written across his forehead in lovely block letters. I took a moment to admire my handy work and turned around to see Nadi watching me from the doorway. I gave her a lopsided smirk and walked out of the room, closing the door softly behind me.

"Morning." I said quietly.
Her eyes narrowed just a touch and she stared at me.. and suddenly I knew what it felt like to others when I was examining their auras. I felt like I was being inspected.

That, out of anything, put me in a great mood. Nadi may have a poker face, but for once, I could tell I'd unnerved her. She'd never seen me awake during the day. As far as she knew, it wasn't possible.

I could see her come to the realization that it was really me, and not some impostor. "Morning.."

"Did you find anything else at the Library?" I asked, schooling my expression to read polite curiosity instead of smug satisfaction.

"A few historical details concerning Rome and the strix, but I'll go over it with everyone once they're up." And with that, she disappeared into her room with a couple suspicious glances over her shoulder at me.

Becca intercepted me on my way back into the lab as she returned home from the gym. She was still breathing a little heavy, but had barely broken a sweat. She was on her way to take a shower.

"Pulling an all nighter again, boss?"
"Looks like it." I affirmed.

She nodded once, disappeared into her room, and came back out with 6 big, thick gray beach towels and a box of thumbtacks. She vanished through the maze of crates into the front of the shop and I could hear her tacking towels to the walls above the windows.

That actually made me smile. Rebecca was a helluva girl. I felt a familiar pang in my chest that I always got when I considered my roll in her situation. I worried that she'd grow to resent me one day, or maybe she already did. I pushed the thoughts away as she reappeared.

"Thanks.. I appreciate that." And I meant it. She returned my smile and continued on into the bathroom. "Anytime!"

I settled in a chair in a dark corner of the lab with a pen and a small notebook. I spent the next hour trying to figure out what I would ask the Prince in our meeting. I wanted to be as prepared as possible. It was too often that I found myself at a loss when faced with someone who could actually answer my questions. It frustrated me.

I heard the shop door open and someone enter. I heard the familiar step tap step that signaled Giovanni's movements. It wasn't a bad idea for him to keep using the cane. It would be easier for him to catch people unaware. I approved.

"What the hell?" I heard him mutter. He'd noticed the beach towels. He continued his monologue as he wound through the crate-maze. "Something isn't right.." He paused in front of Nadi's door. "Sounds like shes sleeping.. she sleeps? That's new.." He continued down the hall, and I heard him jiggle the knob to Nobody's room, but found it locked.

Finally, I heard the soft creak of Ori's door opening, and a quickly stifled laugh. Giovanni bolted through the door of the lab and went straight to one of the drawers. He had a huge grin on his face. He dug through the drawer until he pulled out a thick magic marker, turned, and bolted back down the hall.

That was probably the fastest I'd ever seen that Italian move. He hadn't even noticed me in the corner. A few moments later, he strolled back in, laughing to himself, and put the marker away. He tore his note off the wall as he passed. He shut the drawer and finally turned on the lights and looked out over the rest of the lab... and spotted me writing in my little notebook. It was enough of a surprise to make him jump.

"Gha! Huh..? uh..." He looked over his shoulder towards the store front windows. "This is a bit counter intuitive."

"Yet here I am." I said, dryly.

Gio eyed me a moment, then shrugged and sat down on a stool. "Well.. uh.. I guess that explains the beach towels tacked over the front windows."
I gestured to Becca's room with my pen. "Yeah.. Becca did makes me less nervous when I walk past the doorway..but isn't really necessary, seeing as the lab has no windows."
Gio gestured to the cabinets."Well yeah.. there are a lot of things in here that are highly sensitive to light and heat."
I crooked an eyebrow at him. "Like vampires."
He rolled his eyes. "Well duh.. but others things too.. chemicals that, if sunlight hits them, might burst into fla..shit."
I gave him a pointed look over the top of my notebook.
He waved his hand, searching for the words. "No, but I mean, things that would just turn to ash... dammit.. stuff that might just completely dissol..fuck." He glared at me with mock severity. "You know, you really have quite a bit in common with the highly dangerous and caustic chemicals that I keep around here."
I looked back down at my notes and jotted something down. "Yeah.. I had a boyfriend that told me that once."

Gio paused. The silence stretched for a moment.

"Does he still have a face?"

I smirked and looked at him over the top of the notebook, eyes glinting with amusement. "Not a pretty one."

Giovanni laughed, shaking his head. "I take it that work of art on Ori's forehead was your doing?"

I set the notebook down and leaned back in my chair, fingers laced together behind my head. "I have to stay entertained somehow. Now what," I leaned forward again, pointing to the old, leather case that he'd set on the floor in front of the drawers. "Is that?"

"Something I want you to take a look at." Gio grabbed the case and set it on the worktable. he undid the catches and pulled it open to reveal a very old, but very well maintained, Civil War Era surgical kit.

I walked over, leaned over the kit, and ran my fingers across the instruments. It was an antique collector's wet dream.. and held my fascination almost as much. Without even really thinking, I still myself, and unfocused my eyes, asking the implements to show me their secrets, my fingers resting on the oiled leather of the case itself.

Sadly, they didn't have many. They had been used countless times to mend wounds during a time of war, and when the war ended, the kit was put away, only to be later sold and resold before ending up here.

"Civil War field kit, it looks like. Where did you get it?"
"Same place I got this."

I watched as Giovanni reached into his suit jacket, then into his shirt, then into his skin and removed a laptop with a 17 inch screen from his torso. Shocked as I was, I managed not to jump backwards, and just blinked at him in surprise.
"Well that's new. How did you do it?" His torso was completely unharmed, and the laptop looked pristine, save for a couple bloody fingerprints on it, long dried.

"Some of my new fun tricks. What can you get off the laptop?"
I opened it and powered it on, ignoring a specs of blood that dotted the screen. The only thing of interest on the hard drive were video files, filed away deep within random directories. I opened the first one and visibly grimaced. They were torture videos. People in an old dentists chair as a slender man in a nice business suit cut them to pieces. The office looked very upscale, professionally decorated, which made the scenes all the more surreal. The interior designed probably hadn't counted on the decor being accented with fresh blood.

I wasn't squeamish, but these were awful. It gave me flashbacks to the gruesome ritual Giuseppe and I witnessed when we visited the Nuhauali.
"What the fuck, Gio?"
"Keep going." He said. He leaned over my shoulder to watch.

Each video was the same, but with a different victim. There were dozens. It looked like he was hollowing them out, and keeping them alive as long as possible. I felt nauseous as I watched him cut out a mans tongue with slow deliberate slices of an old scalpel. I was suddenly grateful I had only Spirit Touched the case, and not the implements inside it.

The man seemed to increase in size as the videos progressed, until he was ridiculously overweight in such a way that it looked like he'd been forcibly shoved into his skin.

"Skip to the last file." Gio said.

I double clicked on the last video and watched a similar scene. From off camera, there was a knock on the door. The man looked up from his work with a sour expression and left his victim. There was a sound of exploding wood, a strangled gasp, and a few seconds later, Giovanni walked on screen. He examined the victim, who looked very dead, then the laptop. He jumped when the man groaned behind him. I watched as he considered his options, then slide a scalpel from its leather case.

Then there were pounding footsteps. Giovanni looked up sharply, and stood to face an opponent off the screen. He pulled Dumah from absolutely nowhere, chain wrapped about his wrist and digging into his flesh, took a shooters stance, and unleashed its fury.

The double barrels roared with red flames wreathed in green. He stepped to one side as the beasts momentum carried it past him, even with half its head missing. The thing was huge and bullish, with scarred and disgusting flesh that looked rotten and burned. Its hulking mass lay still on the expensive looking carpet.

"Oh! This is where I pull a you!" Gio said excitedly, as though we were watching home movies.
I watched as Gio nudged the creature with his toe, then held out a hand. His fingers hovered over the putrid flesh.. and something ethereal looking began to flow into his palm. He stood there and drank the creatures essence with his hand, until it faded into nothing. Then, he used the scalpel the way he'd intended before being attacked. It was a mercy.

He looked up again, said something to someone off camera, and the video ended.
"Did you just eat that thing?" I couldn't help but feel slightly grossed out.
"Stone.. glass houses.." Gio retorted with a raised brow.
"Fair enough." I muttered. "What was it?"
"Greed demon. It was wearing the accountants skin. I think he was making another suit out of the guy in the chair."
I shuddered visibly. "Nice to know what you do on your nights on the town. Who was it that came in once the video ended?"

"Oh! I almost forgot." He reached into his torso again and pulled out a business card. "Can you dig up any info on this guy?"

I took the business card from him gingerly, but it was perfectly dry. "Now you're just showing off."
He just grinned at me.

"Pellinore." I read.
"He's weird in some way, but I don't know how. You know that door you heard explode? He fixed it... In about 5 seconds."

About that time, Nobody walked out of his bedroom, stretching his arms high over his head. It was a gesture that I expected to be accompanied with a yawn, but he currently didn't have a mouth.

"Where you been, Gio?" His voice still held that edge of sleepiness. "And how the hell are you awake?" he said to me.
I motioned him over and started the video from the beginning. "Enjoy. I'm going downstairs. Don't tell Ori."
"Don't tell Ori what?" Nobody asked. Gio laughed.

I sent Becca to take down the towels and made sure I was in my room before she did. I didn't want Ori to know what I'd been up to. As far as he was concerned, I couldn't be awake during the day.

I closed myself up in my room. I wasn't long before I heard Ori's door open. I sharpened my hearing as well as I could to listen through the floor. I couldn't hear the normal level speech.. but after a moment Ori became much...louder.

"Oh what the hell?! Who did this?!" He cried. I grinned.
"Well if you guys didn't do it, who did?" a pause.. then "But why would Becca do that?!" I heard him stomp across the floor into the other room where Becca was probably watching TV. "Did you write Balls on my forehead?" another pause... then I heard him stomp off, only to change his mind and stomp back. "Did you draw the dick on my face?" I bit back a laugh. That had, apparently, been Giovanni's handy work. Ori stomped of again, and I heard Becca call loudly after him, her voice holding an edge of laughter. "They wouldn't do it if they didn't care!"

And while I didn't really want to admit it, she was right, at least partially. As annoying as I found the mutt, I wouldn't even waste my time if I genuinely hated him. That, and I wanted to see how he'd react.

After that, I heard the water come on in the bathroom, and run for a good 20 minutes. Occasionally I could hear Ori grumbling. I was satisfied.

Once Ori got cleaned up, I heard everyone leave. I settled in to get more reading done until night fall. I was expecting to be left in peace until then.

I was very wrong.

2 hours later, I heard Giovanni stomp his way down the stairs. That wasn't unusual.. he had a few things that he stored down in the basement, in one of the other rooms. I ignored his racket and kept reading.. until he flung my bedroom door open, one hand stayed on the knob.

"Stepping Feather is alive." And he slammed the door shut behind him, leaving me to gawk at nothing.

I recovered quickly and bounded after him, taking the stairs two at a time. I burst into the lab only a few paces behind him.

"What the fuck are you talking about Giovanni?!" I demanded, angry. If this was a prank, I'd remove his tounsils in the messiest way possible.

"YOU!........BALLS!" Grigori pointed an accusing finger at me from the other side of the room. Opps.. blew my cover. I glanced at him and winked.

The proceeded to ignore him completely.

"I'm pretty sure I didn't stutter. Stepping. Feather. Is. Alive." Gio reapeated.

I scowled at him. "Yeah, I heard you the first time. How, When, Who would be nice."

"Why would you do that? I didn't do anything to you!" Ori continued to freak out.

Gio also ignored the rambling werewolf. "When? about 20 minutes ago. We went running," he said that word with relish, "and found his open grave.. he had clawed his way out. How? I have no idea. Who?... Karl."

A huge smirk split my face. "That chauvanistic sonofabitch! Where is Stepping Feather?"
"We don't know. Can I see your phone?" I gave him a curious look, but grabbed my phone off my belt clip and tossed it to him. He tapped away on it for a minute and handed it back. He had changed Karl's contact information to read "The Candyman", when previously it had read, literally "chauvinistic sonofabitch."

"Gha! Look at me when I'm talking! Do you have any idea how long it took me to scrub that off?!" I did, actually. He was lucky. When Stepping Feather did it to me, Giuseppe sliced off a chunk of my forehead to get rid of it. I, however, continued to ignore him.

I raised a brow. "The Candyman?"
"Yeah.. Because the Candyman can." Gio said with a smirk that mirrored my own.

"I can't believe you!" Ori was practically shouting. Giovanni turned to him, finally.
"If it makes you feel any better, Stepping Feather did it to her too."
Ori paused. "Really?" An evil grin came over his face and he stuck his finger in my face. "HAH! Serves you RIGHT!"
I just turned to regard him calmly, and spoke in the same way I'd address someone who had gone batshit crazy. "Well of course.. why do you think I did it to you? Until now, I'd thought Stepping Feather was dead, and therefore, beyond the reach of my revenge."
Ori scowled at me, the expression sat oddly on his features, which weren't as practiced at the look as mine. "One of these days, Harper!"

I just crossed my arms and rolled my eyes. "What? you'll whine all over me? I'm practically shaking in fear."

He glowered at me. I returned to ignoring him.

"Does his pack know?" I asked Giovanni.

"Well is Karl did it, surely Tommy would know about it right? He would have told them." Nobody pointed out.
"I don't know if I trust Karl to have said anything to Tommy. And even if he did, Tommy could tell us where he might have gone here in town." I dialed Tommy, but got no answer. I put the phone away, annoyed.

"I'll try him again later." I muttered. Nadi appeared in the doorway.

"Whats going on?" She asked, voice utterly devoid of grogginess, even though I knew she'd just woken up. We filled her in, she, in turn, told us what she'd found at the library.

I was glad no one had a chance to push the issue of finding Stepping Feather. They all knew Ori would want to see his uncle, alive and well. I didn't need any of them realizing that I wanted to see him almost as badly. Stepping Feather had been one of the few people I honestly enjoyed being around. I had felt his death acutely, even if I wasn't part of his pack.

He'd been the one who had first taught me about werewolves. He'd changed for me in the woods on the way to Mexico, and helped me understand the Uratha a little better. He tried to prepare a mortal to go up against the monsters. He and Roxanne had saved my life from a frenzied wolfman, making sure it only got a sample of my insides, instead of the full entree.

I wanted to find Stepping Feather. I'd help Ori track him down any way I could, if only to see him with my own eyes. I owed him that much, if not more.

Nadi didn't find anything else of supernatural relevance in the library, but she found a few interesting details in the historical context of Rome. We sat around the work table while Nadi told us that the Julii was the name of a patriarch family in ancient Rome, legend says this is the line that Romulus and Remus themselves were descended from. Their progenitor was Aeneas, the last survivor of Troy.

She told us that the term Strix was also used for a modern genus of owl, they were carnivorous, nocturnal, and their eyes tended to be highly reflective.

"Wait.. highly reflective?" Giovanni interrupted.
"Yes.. why?" Nadi said, brow furrowed.
"Son of a.." He leaned over and snatched his goggles off the table top and put them on. They had a reflective sheen to the lenses, and they would have looked like bulging orbs to someone with an untrained eye. "What do I look like?" Gio demanded of everyone.

"You really think thats why the guard attacked you? because of the glasses?" I asked, skeptical.

He stripped off the glasses and threw them back down on to the table. "Why else? He only went after me. He totally ignored the rest of you."

I couldn't help but smirk a bit. "You either have terrible or amazing luck, Giovanni. The chances, not only of you running into him, but doing so while wearing the goggles? Being the only one to be wearing the goggles? That takes skill."

He crossed his arms over his chest and muttered to himself, Nadi continued with her report.

There was a similar creature in Romanian legend called the strigoi. I knew before Nadi even said it that they would be monsters that fed off flesh and blood. They were closely related to vampire myths, and I didn't say it, but there were myths even among kindred about the monstrous strigoi.

The Strix of legend had three possible origins. They were either born that way, old women put under spells, or changed themselves with an infernal pact. One superstition claimed that they could only be killed while feeding.

It was interesting information, but I wasn't sure how useful it would be. But regardless, it was good to have too much than not enough. I headed back to my room after that. I need to prepare for this evening, and mull over the revelation about Stepping Feather..and I was having a hard time concentrating with the sun up behind the walls of the lab. I preferred not to have the others see me struggling.


This was the second night in a row that I was nervous going to the Aquarium. I really didn't know what to expect from this guy. Placing myself in such an open situation frayed my nerves, and sent my understandable paranoia into hyper drive.

But I needed questions answered, and he was the most direct source of information that I had. I wasn't stupid enough to think asking a few questions would be harmless, but it was an opportunity I seldom had.. to ask direct questions of the primary source of information, and I intended to take advantage of it, consequences be damned.

That resolute attitude didn't help with the nervousness though. The best I could do was make sure it didn't show on the outside (Gio would never let me hear the end of it).

It took me awhile to figure out what to wear. It seemed silly, but it held some weight, whether I liked it or not. It was one of the many reasons that I disliked vampire politics, even if I did use them to my advantage at times.. anything could be used against you. Even your clothes.

I wasn't trying to suck up to the Prince, but I also knew it wouldn't hurt to show a little bit of respect. After some debate, I decided on a pair of dark slacks, emerald green silk button down shirt, and a dark suit jacket. It was one of the few outfits I had that was actually tailored, and it looked damn good while leaving me enough range of motion that I wouldn't be constricted in a fight. Plus, green was a good color for me.

When I appeared back upstairs, the others were also ready. Ori looked the same as he usually did, not feeling any need to dress up, Nadi looked like she'd changed into fresh clothes that looked like what she usually wore, only sans the wrinkles normally in attendance due to long hours of studying, and Becca hadn't changed either, save for the addition of lipstick.

Giovanni and Nobody wore tailored suits over solid colored shirts, neither had a tie on.

The three of us looked like we might be on our way to a board meeting.. or a mob hit. Business attire really is very versatile, when you think about it. I rested my hands on my hips and regarded Giovanni with a raised eyebrow. "How many of those suits do you own, Giovanni? I'm not sure I've ever seen you wearing anything else."

"No need to be jealous that I usually have better fashion sense than you do, Harper." He said with a smile.

I just rolled my eyes at him and made a conscious effort not to mess with my clothes, less it be taken as a self conscious gesture. "Is everyone ready? Same rules as last time. No weapons, no violence, ect, ect."

"Yeah, we know. Lets go." Nobody said and led the way out to the car.

The Aquarium was nearly deserted this time around. There were only a couple other vehicles in the parking lot. We added the sedan to the scant ranks.

Rowan was waiting for us. She did to us what Loki had done the night before, marking us with her blood magic. But her's was much more potent. Nadi blinked a few times, as though trying to clear dust from her eyes, and gave a minute frown, but said nothing.

The Aquarium was different already. The raised Dais near the back of the room that Maxwell had used as his seat of power was completely gone. Instead, a simple but attractive wooden desk sat in the very middle of the room, putting the person who sat behind it at the same level with anyone who might approach it.

And Gaius Marines sat behind that desk. He was dressed in a suit, a modern suit, and stood when we entered. Rashida and Thaddeus, the khaibit, stood at his right and left. The gangrel was not in attendance, that any of us could see.

He began speaking in Latin, Rashida translated for him.

"Welcome! Please, make yourselves comfortable." There were already chairs waiting for us, so we sat. I worked very hard not to show my nervousness in front of the Prince. Giovanni didn't bother to try to keep his mouth shut.

"Wolf-boy isn't around tonight?" He said suddenly. Thaddeus translated our words into Latin for the Prince.
I'd have held my breath if I'd still been breathing. But Gaius simply laughed. "No, the Larvae is not here. I heard about that incident, and I do apologize for his rash actions... I hope you are no worse for the encounter."
Gio just shrugged. "Better, actually.. I was hoping to say hi.."

"The larvae does not with another encounter, I'm afraid." He seemed terribly amused by the whole situation. "To what do I owe the honor of this meeting, tonight?"

"We're here to introduce ourselves.. and ask a few questions." I said. No sense in beating around the bush. "I'm Harper O'Shea..."
"Giovanni Santore."
"Nobody." Gaius chuckled a bit at that.
"Urd." Nadi said simply.
"Grigori Ironfeather."

He nodded to each of us in turn.

"Is it true, that you were the ones who were instrumental in defending this city against the god, Ophios?"
I nodded, "We were."
He bowed deeply to all of us. "Then it is my great honor to meet all of you. I thank you, deeply, for your selfless service to this city. I can only hope that you will continue to protect Chicago, and pray that you will not need to."

We all looked at him, stunned. It was not at all what any of us had expected. He seemed genuinely delighted to be meeting all of us. Genuinely honored. It through us all for a loop, I think.

I smiled a bit and leaned back in the chair. "That's certainly not something we're used too."

His frowned and nodded gravely. "Yes. My Sensechal informed me about the events that transpired between you and the late Maxwell Clark. But I can assure you, I will not be repeating his mistakes. I am sorry that you were treated as anything other than the heroes that you have proved yourself to be. His treatment of you was.. regrettable, and I hope will not be taken as a reflection upon the Invictus as a whole. Now please, what can I do for you?"

"We have a few questions for you." I said.
"Please, continue."
"What will you be changing in the city? What can we expect to be different?"

"The difference between myself and Maxwell will be our commitment to the laws governing this city. Maxwell established his peace, but felt himself above his own rules. He broke them, and he was lax in enforcing them on others. This is what allowed the city to become endangered. I will not be so foolish. I am here to protect the kindred of this city, and I will react with swift punishment for any one who violates the Pax of Chicago. It is not Maxwell's Peace, or my is the peace that belongs to this city."

Giovanni spoke up. "And what is your stance on the other supernaturals in the city?"

"Maxwell felt that this city would be best served if everyone kept their distance from one another. I feel this to be foolishness. I wish to protect my people, and to do so, I must assure cooperation between the powers of Chicago. I have already scheduled meetings with the Santore Family," he nodded to Giovanni. "And plan to meet with the Magus within the city as well..." He looked at Nadi. "You cannot be held by our rules, this I realize. I would request, however, that you not harm any of my people."

Nadi tilted her head to one side, considering his offer, and formulating her response. "I can make no guarentees, especially if one of your people is threatening me, or my friends.."

Instead of becoming angry, Gaius nodded. "I understand. But may I ask that you contact me, if possible, should you encounter problems with my people? I would appreciate the opportunity to deal with the.. situation, personally."

She shrugged. "Sure.. if I can... should I give you my cell number...?" She asked, uncertain. We were all aware of the lack of technological skills for many of the older vampires. Especially ones that had been asleep for centuries.

"I am afraid that I am very slow to learn new technology...But you should be able to contact my advisor, if needed." He then turned to Nobody.
 "I am seeking out your people, however, you are be your very nature, difficult to locate. I am in need of an emisarry to begin talks with your kind...."

Nobody shrugged, nonchalantly. "I'd be happy too."

Gaius turned his attention back to me. "Are you familiar with the concept of Hiketeia?"
"No, I'm not."
"It is an arrangement that was common during my time in Rome. A king's subject could come to him and invoke Hiketeia. If this were to be done, the king would be obligated to provide this person with protection. In exchange, the subject would undertake tasks for the king."
I simply raised a brow in silent question, and let him continue.
"Hiketeia is not something that I can offer you, as it must be enacted by the subject. If a King were to refuse a request for Hiketeia, it would be an action looked upon with much disgrace. In the same way, the subject was expected to complete the work for the king.. and if he did not, that violation of Hiketeia was severely punished. I would ask that you consider this idea. If you do not wish to pursue such a thing, I would be understanding. I felt, however, that the knowledge might be beneficial to you..."

It was an interesting concept, and more than that, it didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that this probably was not something that he spoke about with many other kindred, yet he was telling me, specifically. I wondered if it was because he wanted to make sure I was protected, or if he wanted to be able to call on me at any point. "I'll consider the offer." And I would.. I found the idea that he would need me to complete tasks an interesting one. It would be fair to assume that such tasks would give me insight to the new Prince. I did not, however, feel the need to have anyone telling me what to do. It was a dilemma.

He shook his head with a small smile. "Once again, it is not something that I can offer you, it is something that you must invoke. I simply felt the inclination to inform you of the idea."
I had the urge to roll my eyes, but I didn't. Semantics were always a pain in the ass. I just nodded, instead. "I'll keep the information in mind, then. Thank you."

"How is it that I will contact you?" Gaius said to all of us. We looked at Giovanni, and he pulled one of our many burn phones from his pocket, and tossed it up to Rashida. She caught it in one hand.

"We do not need to send a messenger..?" He asked to her in a low voice. (Gio translated)
"This is the messenger." She replied.
He furrowed his brow, obviously a bit confused by the device. "How strange.."

He turned back to the rest of us. I jumped at the chance to ask my other questions, the ones we had been researching for the past evening.

"Who are the Julii? The ones you claimed the city in the name of?" I asked.

His expression faltered. A look of great pain came across his features. It was the first time during the meeting he'd had anything but a pleasant expression and posturing. "It is not a subject I wish to speak of. I have been informed, since I awoke, that the Julii have not been seen for a very long time. All of them sleep, or worse. This, I discovered just this evening, and it causes me great personal pain."

"What happened to them..?" I have a habit of pushing touchy subjects, and it often gets me into trouble.

His expression hardened. "I will speak no more of the Julii."

I let it go, at that. Antagonizing the Prince would only be useful if it served to provide me with information, and this subject did not promise to be one that he would be even slightly forthcoming with. I changed the subject.

"I know that you have been asleep for a long time, but I'd regret not asking, anyway. Do you know anything about Jeremiah Stone, or his son?"
He just shook his head. "The name does not sound familiar, but I will see what I can discover for you."
 "That would be greatly appreciated." I nodded my thanks. He was being so damn helpful and pleasant. i didn't really know how to handle it. I'd been prepared for closed off and mildly hostile.. but not friendly. It was throwing me for a loop.

Giovanni jumped in when I fell silent.

"What are the Strix?"

"The strix are creatures of evil. They inhabit the bodies of the dead. They have the ability to jump from dead body, to dead body, and are therefore very difficult to eradicate. If they are present, you will begin to see many corpses, very soon. They feed blood and vitae and are not restrained in doing so."
"How?" I asked. I was curious as to how similar to vampires they actually were.
"Messily." Thaddeus said in his deep voice.
Gaius and Rashida both nodded.
"So they can jump from body to body.. does that include vampires?" Nadi asked, with a sidelong glance in my direction.
God I hoped not.
"No. They cannot inhabit the bodies of the kindred." Gaius said, and I felt my shoulders relax slightly. "The only way to tell if a body is inhabited by a Strix is by the eyes. They will become highly reflective."
Giovanni snorted. "Yeah, we figured that out."
Gaius smiled a bit, at that. "Yes, that was why the Larvae attacked you last evening. He is dedicated to battling the Strix, and in his zeal, mistook you as one of them."
"He didn't let us get a word in." Ori said, a bit defensively.
"The Larvae is a beast who cannot be reasoned with. He is very dedicated to protecting me, and will go to great lengths to do so. He does not, however, wish for a rematch." There was an amused shine to Gaius' eyes.
"How long have you been working together?" Nadi asked softly.

It was about that moment that we heard the rustling of feathers.. and the Larvae's hulking form appeared from the shadows behind Gaius. He looked bigger than I remembered, no longer being compared to Giovanni's demon form. He said nothing, but his gaze was cold and predatory. His muscles sang with tension, like he was ready to spring at a moments notice, given the slightest provocation, or even just the passing inclination, reason or no. It sent a chill down my already cold spine. It reminded me of The Unholy, and was a glimpse into the possible outcome of allowing the beast to gain too much control.

Giovanni waved cheerfully.

"We met in the colosseum. When I was young, I was noxii.. captured and forced to battle. I proved effective, and as an adult, I became auctorati, a gladiator by choice. The Larvae was to be our sport. I did not find it fitting that I should battle an opponent while he was held helpless, in chains. I refused. I defended him until he was able to destroy his bonds. We fought the other combatants together, and were victorious. He has been my protector ever since that day."

The Larvae just took a step closer to the desk, and stared menacingly at all of us. He was very very good at it.

I wanted to steer the conversation back towards the issue of the Strix.. and the passage Nadi had found came to mind. I knew it mentioned the Julii, but surely we could discuss it and leave the name out of it. It was important for us to know what we were going to be up against.. and I felt it an inevitability, not a possibility, that we would face the striges.. Ori's dream was still fresh in my mind. "We found a passage concerning the Strix.. one that perhaps you could shed some light on for us..?" I looked at Nadi for a bit of help recalling the actual words, but it was Giovanni's big mouth that fucked up the rest of the meeting.

He immediately began quoting the entire passage, before anyone could stop him. "In Caverns, do they sleep. Dead founders, Dread Julii, burned by the fires of the sanctified lance. They must remain asleep, or be outright destroyed, for if they wake, the Striges will... the rest of it was burned off."

I glared daggers at him.

Gaius' face clouded over once more. Sadness, pain, and suppressed rage. His voice takes on a weird, quavering and echoing quality to it. I felt an edge of power to his words. the Larvae must have, as well, because he took a threatening step in our direction. "I will not speak of the Julii."

I wanted to punch Giovanni. We could have asked him about it without mentioning the sore subject, but Gio had to just go and blurt out the whole damn passage.

"Is there anything else?" His tone suggested that there better not be. And there wasn't.. for now. We'd exhausted all of our questions for the moment.

We stood and left, saying our goodbyes. He still looked very, very pissed. As we left, Rowan cleaned her blood from our foreheads, and we felt her power fall off of us like water. Nadi glanced back over her shoulder, into the Aquarium, her brow knit together.

We all got back in the car, and headed back to the shop.

"Well, that went better than I'd expected.. even if Giovanni was dead set on pissing him off." I muttered.
"He was really pleasant.. I don't trust it." Ori said sullenly. I just shrugged.
"Can't say I disagree with you, but you have to admit, it went pretty smoothly, for the most part." I glared at Gio. He ignored me.

"There was a large buildup of destructive power, as we were leaving." Nadi said from the back seat.
"What do you mean?" Nobody asked.
"Like something very destructive was about to happen."
I rubbed my eyes. "I thought his voice sounded weird. Wouldn't surprise me if shit was about to hit the fan.. I'd hate to think what would've happened if it had..."

"You can't trust the bloodsuckers." Giovanni said finally, with a smirk in my direction.

It was my turn to ignore him. Besides, I had to be honest..

He was right.

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