Please send all comments to Rebecca Lloyd.

STRANGER IN TOWN


by Rebecca Lloyd

All characters herein are the property of Spelling Entertainment save for N'kamah/Miriam, Magdalena, and incidental characters, who are property of Rebecca Lloyd. Of course, the whole story is peppered with terms that are property of White Wolf Gaming Company. This is fan fiction and is not intended to infringe on copyright laws. Etc. 8) Also, all Sabbat characters within are Harmonists, to try and keep the gore down to a tolerable level. DRAMATIS PERSONAE N'kamah/Miriam:A jaded Ahrimane spy and warrior. Magdalena:N'kamah's Ahrimane mentor and contact with the Sabbat. Camilla:A Nosferatu antitribu deserter Daedalus:Nosferatu Primogen of San Francisco Sasha:A Brujah neonate Cash:Gangrel Primogen of San Francisco Lorraina:A Gangrel ancilla A vanful of utterly luckless Brujah w/cameos from the rest of the post "Cabin in the Woods" cast. I would rate this one PG-13 for violence. CHAPTER ONE Blood rolled in rhythmic layers down the vessel's sweated skin. N'kamah caught it on her tongue, then reached up and sank her fangs in around the wound. The man was already weak from being hung upside down and bled; he moaned softly as she sucked greedily at the last of his life. She was starved; the first two courses of the Blood Feast had been children, and she had of course abstained. Some of the new recruits had grumbled at this, but Magdalena had brought them back into line with a snarl. N'kamah had long since proven herself to the founding pack, and so her eccentricities were tolerated. "It is a great honor, Daughter, to be chosen for this." Magda's voice drifted through the roar of blood through her veins. She pulled out and nodded, taking down the juicebag and tossing his twitching form to a packmate. She felt a flash of regret as the poor bastard was carted off, but reminded herself firmly that her own survival came before some human stranger's life. "I know, Mother, and I am grateful." N'kamah inclined her head to her Ritemother, who was smiling proudly. "I will not fail you in this." Magda beamed. She was a short vampire, very old even before her Third Birth, with signs of her Gangrel heritage still lingering despite the efforts of the Tzimisce flesh-shapers: her pointed, furtipped ears were pricked, and her catlike tail curled and flowed contentedly. The rest of her was plain, brown and friendly-looking: warm brown eyes, brown half-Romany skin, brown hair cut boyishly short, brown leather clothes. Like most Ahrimanes, she looked far more alive than their Gangrel cousins, almost human. Almost cuddly, in fact, next to N'kamah's own menacing austerity. N'kamah wore black, always black, almost like a Nosferatu. Her father's Nilotic African heritage made her unnervingly tall and lean, while her mother, an Egyptian Jew, had given her a hawk nose, nut-brown skin and sleek black hair which fell to her midback. Her first frenzy as a Gangrel had left her eyes a shocking jewel-like blue, and her Third Birth as an Ahrimane had left her with a taste for plain, functional clothing and absolutely no jewelry. She was often mistaken for an Assamite, and given a wide berth. That suited her just fine. "Try to bring them back still Undead, Kamah," Magdalena said firmly. "You know and I know what a bastard Goth is, but he's still Sabbat, and we've got an obligation to our own. And Camilla has always been a good friend." "Of course, Mother." "And watch out for those damned Nosferatu. The Priscus would never have sent Ahrimanes if the San Francisco locals weren't as dangerous as they come!" N'kamah sighed. "Of course, Mother." "And don't forget your galoshes!" They both laughed, and N'kamah wrapped her long arms around her Ritemother and hugged her tight. They were making light of it all, N'kamah knew; there was a very real chance that the retrieval mission could go terribly awry. But two of her own were trapped behind enemy lines, or even worse, had deserted the Sabbat altogether. And either way, she was not going to let a bunch of soft, complacent "Kindred" get the better of her. CHAPTER TWO Daedalus started out of his meditation suddenly, a chill gripping the base of his skull. Clear gray eyes opened, scanning the room for whatever had disturbed him. Nothing out of place in the clutter of candles and half-finished paintings; not a hint of breeze, nor strange scent or sound. His finer senses registered no presence, psychic or physical, in his guesting room or the adjoining tunnels. What, then? Troubled, he rose, his favorite chair creaking faintly as his big body eased off of it, and looked around again. Nothing. But the sense of foreboding would not be shaken. Slipping off his gray and black smoking jacket, he reached for his overcoat as he vanished from normal sight. Unseen, he moved up the stairs and into the courtyard of the Luna mansion. The moon was swollen and luxuriously bright; some of the Gangrel were quietly watching it from their guard posts around the mansion's perimeter. One, however, was not. Lorraina, one of Cash's lieutenants, was standing by the gatehouse, staring blatantly at a small figure on the main stairs with a smirk on her face. The object of her scrutiny was, as usual, Julian's heartbreakingly beautiful descendant, Sasha. And, as usual, Sasha was quietly sobbing. Daedalus sighed as the poor child wept, oblivious as he drew near, her pretty porcelain-fine face the picture of vulnerability despite her rough-cut leather clothes. If only he could offer comfort -- but no, she was afraid of him, and besides, he probably couldn't help. The source of her grief was no mystery; either she was still angsting over her being almost literally raped into Clan Brujah, or she and Cash had been fighting again. Daedalus suspected the latter. The Gangrel Primogen, though he had potential, was very young, and really had no idea yet how to balance his personal life with his duty to his Clan. This was not a problem Daedalus himself had ever encountered. He had no personal life. His long, chalk-white fingers lingered near her cheek for a moment, near the scarlet tears that ran unabated down its soft curve. His talons nearly touched her skin before he drew his hand back, chiding himself for not keeping his penchant for self-torture in check. He had work to do. The grounds were clear, the sentries in place; nothing out of order there. He slipped through the door, which Sasha had left ajar, and moved through the mansion, making his rounds unseen, unheard. Cash brooded in the kitchen. Prince Julian brooded in his study. Lily tried on negligees; fortunately her back was to him and he turned his face away and slipped out before she sensed him. "Oops," he whispered once outside, pain and self-amusement mixing in his heart. Nothing out of place anywhere. Business as usual. If anything, he should be bored. But he could not shake the chill running up and down his spine. Outside, Sasha and Lorraina exploded into a screaming argument. Business as usual. He sighed and went back to his guesting room, flopping into his chair. CHAPTER THREE The Amtrak station in Jack London Square, Oakland, was shrouded in fog. N'kamah walked quietly across the skyway, leather coat pulled tight around her. She was hungry again, and tired, and her instincts were nagging at her. Something -- a chill, a tightness in her chest, no discernible cause. Something wrong. Hunting was easy. She caught a cab into East Oakland and just wandered around until a seventeen year old with two pounds of gold around his neck stepped out of the shadows and pulled a gun on her. Grin on his face, bulge in his pants. Oh, the horrors of urban existence. She rabbit-punched him and took the gun, gold and his considerable wad of cash before dragging him back into the shadows to feed. She drank shallowly and licked the wound, leaving him bruised but breathing. At least, she thought as she moved on, when she worked alone she could abstain from killing without dealing with people looking at her askance and muttering "Harmonist!" in derisive tones. The vessel's pockets yielded two vials of rock and car keys. The Mercedes (black, she noted approvingly) was around the corner, with a full tank of gas and a shotgun in the trunk. Better and better. She left the vials she found in the car scattered around the little bastard, and called the police on his cell phone as she drove away. Across the Bay she alternated Cypress Hill, Public Enemy and Stravinsky's Firebird on the car's excellent sound system until her ears rang. By the time she rolled into San Francisco, she was feeling considerably better. CHAPTER FOUR The Haven was packed, which was no surprise; full moon, Friday night, and the Brujah had just pulled off a major haul over in Sunnyvale. Sasha avoided them as she moved through the crowd looking for a seat. Lorraina's needling had pushed her nearly to frenzy; finally she had hopped on her bike and headed out. Here was as good a place as any to come; maybe one of the Toreadors would feel like hanging out over in the Park or something. She slid onto a stool at the bar, asked for a beer and got a smirk and a lemonade. She stared into it sullenly as The Pogues played something depressing over the sound system. She was tired. The fights with Lorraina, with Cash, with the Brujah, with Julian, even one with Lily last night -- it was all wearing her down. And she was hungry, and the very thought of that shamed her. Where was she going to get blood? Someone's pet? Rats -- again? Cash? She just couldn't handle this. This vampire -- Kindred, she corrected herself -- this Kindred thing, she just was not equipped to deal with it all. The blood and the Clans and the sick Brujah things she was expected to do and pressure from Uncle Julian and the Gangrel's disdain -- and through it all, Cash, her boyfriend, just standing there, not even bothering to help when she needed him most. She choked back more tears, and didn't even notice when someone slid onto the stool next to hers. Only the sudden silence from the Brujah's tables made her look up. They were all staring at her -- no, at the person next to her. She looked over at him -- her. The tallest her she had ever seen. The stranger, even hunched onto the seat and swathed in a trim black calfskin overcoat, was still obviously at least as tall as Uncle Julian or that scary Nosferatu guy. Black or Middle Eastern -- dark skin and cheekbones like scimitars. No makeup or need for any. Long, silky black hair pulled back in a heavy braid. Beautiful, like a bronze sculpture come to life, with a manner that was the epitome of cool detatchedness. A female James Bond, a mix of Grace Jones and Iman...Sasha didn't realize she was staring until the woman removed her bottlecap sunglasses, revealing the bluest eyes she had ever seen, and smiled. The voice that rolled from the woman's throat was smooth and rich and deep, soft but commanding. If a panther could speak, it would have that voice...."Aren't you a bit young to look that depressed?" Sasha blinked. A ripple went through the gathered Brujah, and she became aware of a creeping sensation on the back of her neck. "Uh," she stammered. "I guess it depends on the circumstances. Who...?" "Miriam." The stranger smiled, a simple, elegant curve of the lips. "You are...?" "Sasha." She shivered, and suddenly realizing what was giving her and the other Brujah goosebumps. Gangrel. The woman was a Gangrel. But her smile was kind, and she was just so cool... And her eyes, Sasha realized. Her eyes are...deep down...sad. So sad...like she knows just how I feel. "Want to talk about it?" The woman was pointing to a small, empty booth across the room. A faint growl drifted from the Brujah's table. Miriam ignored it blatantly. Sasha nodded, and Miriam led her gently to a seat. When they were both settled, she leaned over and whispered, "How come you don't hate me?" Miriam blinked, looking startled; then recovered quickly and smiled. "I'm old, Sasha. Surviving as long as I have requires some...flexibility. And I prefer not to let my Clan think for me." Sasha smiled hesitantly, starting to relax under Miriam's warm gaze. She knew, somewhere in the back of her head, that she shouldn't be trusting a stranger this easily, even a strange Kindred. But she needed someone to talk to so badly...someone impartial. Someone who actually seemed interested... Before she knew it, she had told Miriam everything. CHAPTER FIVE The moon rose in silent silver majesty over the treetops; Camilla stood, arms raised, to greet it. The secluded glen in Golden Gate Park had been a gift straight from Lilit; here she could cast her circles without any risk of human interference. A near impossibility when one was hideous even for a Nosferatu... She was not Sabbat. She had broken with them, at least in her heart, when her lover, Goth, had been slain; the pain of his loss, and her part in it, had been just what she had needed to fuel her desertion. Her acceptance by Julian and Daedalus had certainly helped as well. She was not Sabbat. But she remained Antitribu, not through ideological differences or even the fading ties of Vinculum with her former Pack, but simply through the changes her time with the Sabbat had wrought upon her flesh. The eyes. Those horrible, reptilian eyes, which remained cold and sullen and predatory even when she smiled with all her might. Every full moon Esbat ceremony she prayed to Lilit, Mother of Magick, to give her back her own eyes, to wash from her the stigma that had come from blindly following her lover into darkness. The Curse of Nosferatu itself she had long since accepted, but the eyes... Nevertheless, her fervent prayers had met with no answer. She kept the secret of the true cause of her disfigurement from reaching Julian's ears; surprisingly, so did Daedalus. She had no doubt that her stoic Primogen knew full well that her disfigurement came, not from some blood sacrifice, but from the hands of the Tzimisce priests who had initiated herself and Goth into the Sabbat. Nevertheless he had taken her back without a word on the subject; perhaps at his prompting, so had the other Nosferatu. Her feelings about this were beyond gratitude. It was very good to be home. The opening prayers were Enochian; she didn't know what they meant, but they helped focus her thoughts. As her droning chant rose through the moonlight, however, something happened. A chill ran like wildfire through her body, making her arms shake and then drop to her sides. For a moment she had the wild idea of checking her eyes in her ritual mirror again -- then she put that thought aside. But there was definitely something. Something in the air tonight... Suddenly she felt terribly exposed. Opening the Circle with her ritual knife, she grabbed up her tools and fled, shoving them unceremoniously into her bag as she ran. Return-Path: Date: Fri, 6 Sep 1996 13:27:03 -0700 To: kamala@akos.net From: rebel@hera.EECS.Berkeley.EDU (Rebecca Lloyd) Subject: Stranger In Town Chunk Two Cc: rebel@ocf.berkeley.edu CHAPTER SIX Camilla was alive. Goth had been slain, by the Prince himself no less, and with his own ritual axe. "Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy," N'kamah muttered sardonically as she steered the Mercedes through the crowded streets. In a sect of murderers and hedonists, Goth had always stood out to her as especially creepy. Not that Kamah disliked Nosferatu -- actually she got along with Nos better than most normal-looking Leeches. Camilla especially, even if she had been sleeping with the old scumbag. But Goth...it came as no real surprise that he had been caught for trying to sacrifice a baby. What surprised her, actually, was that afterwards this Julian Luna had accepted Camilla as one of his own instead of killing her. Perhaps he did not know what Camilla had been up to before she showed up in San Francisco... Charming that little Brujah childe had barely taken an effort on her part. A little kindness, a little Presence, and the girl was all but weeping in her arms. Poor Sasha. The 'Kindred' always made such a big deal about how humane they were, how they always asked before they inducted someone...damned hypocrites. She was surprised at her anger at them. She herself, like all Sabbat, had been forcibly inducted -- in a manner so brutal it still gave her nightmares and would have driven someone as fragile as Sasha quite insane. But then again, the Sabbat never deluded itself into thinking it was a humane organization. She liked the girl, in spite of herself. It was easier for her as an Ahrimane to like a Brujah, actually -- the blood imperatives of Clan Gangrel were simply no longer there. She would have to be careful to be nasty to the Bru when she encountered them. Except Sasha. Being kind to Sasha had already netted her valuable returns, and besides...she liked her. Liked her enough to give her real name, in fact, instead of one of her common aliases or her Sabbat warrior's name. The fact that she had just blurted it out like that truly worried her. It was entirely unlike her. Strange forces were at work here. "Oh well, what's done is done." She popped in a Gravity Kills cd from her bag and turned onto the road Sasha had said led to the Prince's mansion. CHAPTER SEVEN "Cash, please stop lurking in the doorway and come in," Julian said tiredly, not looking up from his desk. The young Gangrel primogen coughed embarrasedly and stepped into the study, then hesitated. Julian looked up at him slowly, eyes dull and normally perfect hair askew on his head. "Sasha?" he asked gently. Cash shifted uncomfortably and ran his hand through his spiky golden-brown hair. "Gone," he muttered distractedly. "We had a fight, then Lorraina started baiting her again, and..." Julian sighed. Prince of San Francisco, with command over all its Kindred no matter how old or powerful, he felt absolutely helpless to control the situation surrounding his own descendant. She had been especially unstable the last few nights, probably because she had not fed, and any attempt anyone had made to speak with her had ended in a raging argument. And of course there was Lorraina and the other Gangrel ancillae, who took great pleasure in needling Sasha into near frenzy... Cash was speaking. Julian focused and listened. "What do you want me to do, Julian?" Julian smiled a bit. "She's your girlfriend, Cash. Are you asking for my advice?" "Uh..." "Find her," Julian said gently. "Watch her. Make sure she doesn't get into any trouble. But it probably is a good idea not to confront her. I am sure she has a great deal still to work out. And she needs to feed." "Thanks, I -- " "Cash!" Lorraina burst in unceremoniously, prompting a raised eyebrow from Julian and a startled glance from her Primogen. She skidded to a stop and shifted agitatedly from foot to foot. "Uh, sorry...there...there's a strange Gangrel outside. She wants to talk to you and...to the Prince." Cash blinked. Julian coughed a bit and said, "Did she ask for Cash by name?" "Uh, no...no sir. She just showed up and asked to see the Gangrel Primogen." "And you're sure that she's one of you?" Lorraina looked insulted. "Of course!" Julian nodded slowly. "Cash?" Cash shrugged. "You frisked her already? Ok, good. Let's give the lady what she wants." He bowed to Julian and walked out, followed by his ancilla. Julian stroked his chin a moment, then glanced beside him as a soft voice spoke in his ear. "Do you want me to watch them?" Daedalus asked without revealing himself. "It's probably a good idea." "As you wish." The office door moved slightly, and Daedalus was gone. CHAPTER EIGHT Daedalus tailed the two Gangrel out into the courtyard, where a black 1995 Mercedes-Benz sat radiating heat from a fairly long drive. A tall, thin Kindred leaned against the warm hood, her black gloved hands braced on its surface. Sleek black coat, boots, hair; eyes hidden behind bottlecap sunglasses that gleamed chitinously in the moonlight. She smelled of sandalwood and blood. He slipped past Cash and Lorraina and stood beside the woman, close enough to attack if she tried something but not close enough to touch. The three Gangrel remained totally oblivious as he caught a few blowing strands of her hair on a fingertip and stared at her jewel blue eyes. Something about her made him uneasy, but he could not figure out what it was. "Ms. Rivkis?" Cash focused on the new arrival. Daedalus saw the boy's jaw drop a fraction and suppressed a chuckle. The woman removed her sunglasses and smiled, though Daedalus saw a flicker of disbelief in her eyes. Probably at Cash's youth, Daedalus thought. "Miriam, please." She stepped forward; he stayed with her. Cash blinked as the woman bowed gracefully and rumbled, "I do hope I am in the right place." "Uh, yes. How did you know it was?" Cash looked a bit nervous; Lorraina couldn't even look the woman in the eyes. "Stevie Ray and I met during his stay in Alabama," she said smoothly. Daedalus frowned. The answer seemed too glib, almost as if it had been rehearsed. She continued: "We've kept up communication infrequently. I only recently heard of his death, and..." Cash gulped. He always got a bit distracted when someone mentioned his sire. Miriam smiled sympathetically and said softly, "Alabama was getting old, and I wanted to see if there was anything I could do for Stevie's brood...?" "It's been taken care of," Cash muttered, then smiled -- thinly. "But you're welcome to stay, if the Prince says it's all right." Miriam smiled wider and looked genuinely relieved. "Oh good. I didn't want to impose. Is it possible for you to set up a meeting with him?" "Uh, yeah...sure. Wait here." Cash turned and hurried inside, leaving Lorraina standing there fidgeting. Daedalus stared into the woman's face, trying to read any subtle emotions trickling out now that she thought she was not being watched. Mild disdain, again probably because Cash was so young. She herself seemed of a much older and probably more powerful brood. Daedalus hoped she would not challenge the boy for the Primogency. Faint apprehension, which was normal... And sadness. Deep -- the very bedrock of her being seemed permeated with it, though she hid it well -- old, and unshakeable. The pain in her eyes was achingly familiar, and he caught himself wondering what tragic course of events had stamped such an indelible imprint on her soul. Detatchment, he reminded himself. Cash and Lorraina both had apparently sensed a blood kinship in her; whatever else she was, she was a Gangrel, or a bastardization thereof. Though she seemed more...urban...than most of them, he noted. Cleaner, suaver, more polished. He would have mistaken her for Ventrue were it not for her clearly frenzy-changed eyes. Though, he reminded himself, thinking of Camilla, there were other ways to create such an odd appearance... Nevertheless, the Gangrel had recognized one of their own, and he was willing to stand by their judgment. For now. Cash walked out, looking a bit relieved. "The Prince will see you now." Miriam smiled. CHAPTER NINE N'kamah-who-was-now-Miriam sat in the deep leather chair across from the Prince of San Francisco, legs crossed primly and sunglasses tucked into her coat pocket. The formal introduction had gone smoothly, and the youthful Primogen had been sent out so that this Julian Luna could speak with her in private. Thirty seconds into the conversation, she had lost any secret desires to laugh in his face. She had once heard Goth describe him as an overly romantic human sympathizer, but it seemed there was far more to him than that. She watched him now, sitting relaxed in his chair, bright intelligent eyes fixed on her attentively. Easy to look at, certainly -- neat, trim, handsome, well dressed, interesting voice, neither overbearingly forceful nor too hesitant. Confident, and probably quite clever. She decided that lying outright to him would be a bad idea. He seemed to be listening to something she could not hear; he gave an almost imperceptible nod. The hair on her arms rose and pressed against her sleeves as her instincts nagged at her again. But she smiled at him and inclined her head as he spoke to her. "So, you were a friend of Stevie Ray's? He never mentioned you..." "Not a friend, actually," she spoke quickly. "Just an acquaintance. In fact, when we first met we nearly tore each other's guts out." All of which was true. "Over territory or a human?" "I spilled his beer." That got her a chuckle. "That's Stevie Ray, all right." He leaned forward a bit and looked into her eyes. "So why are you here again?" She saw the glow coming into his irises and almost laughed. The Piercing Gaze -- such a typical Ventrue trick. Of course he was not powerful enough to grab her mind, but he didn't have to know that. She swallowed a bit and let her eyes widen as she stared at him, as she had watched others who were Dominated do. "I came because I had not heard from my acquaintance in quite a while. I was concerned. My people in Alabama who knew him were concerned." "Are you here for revenge?" "No." True enough. "What then?" "Concern for his Brood." A muscle jumped in her cheek. She hated lying. "What else?" His eyes flicked for a microsecond towards a spot over her right shoulder; the skin on the back of her neck crept. "I don't know yet." "Are you going to try for the Primogency?" "No." "Why not?" "I don't want it." "Why not?" "I'm not interested in the responsibility." "Good. You won't get it." He leaned forward again, his expression cold. "Do you mean any harm to myself or any of my subjects?" "Not unless someone tries to harm me." "Fair enough." He leaned back, relaxing what he thought was his hold on her mind. She blinked a few times and looked appropriately confused. He smiled warmly and extended a hand. "I'll be introducing you to my Primogen at the next Conclave. Welcome to San Francisco." She smiled and clasped the hand, feeling only a twinge of distaste as she brushed her lips against his ring. CHAPTER TEN After Miriam had driven off in her black Mercedes, leaving behind an embossed business card with her telephone number, Julian walked back into his study with two glasses of wine. "An interesting woman," Daedalus remarked as he faded into view in the seat Miriam had so recently occupied. He accepted his glass with a faint smile. "What did you think, old friend?" Julian resumed his seat, taking a slow sip as he listened. "Very private, probably not telling the whole truth, but honest, I think, in what she did say." Daedalus stroked his chin with one talon, eyes thoughtful. "Did you notice her eyes?" "Yes, remarkable. That's a mutation caused by Gangrel frenzy, correct?" "Yes." Though that was not entirely what he had meant, Daedalus mused. He picked a glittering black hair off his seat's backrest and ran it between his fingers. "I'm not certain what her agenda is in coming here, but I believe she was telling the truth when she said she meant us no harm. Or at least, she hopes she is telling the truth." "Any suggestions on how to deal with her?" "Let her settle in for a few nights, see how she interacts with the others. I will watch her." "Thank you." Julian looked uncomfortable for a moment, then said, "I hated having to use the Gaze on her like that. It seems an invasion of privacy." "It's for the good of the city's security. You did what you had to. At least now she will be more trusted at the outset than she would be normally. Though I wouldn't be too quick to trust her completely." "Perhaps after the Conclave we will know more." Daedalus smiled. "Perhaps." Return-Path: Date: Fri, 6 Sep 1996 13:30:00 -0700 To: kamala@akos.net From: rebel@hera.EECS.Berkeley.EDU (Rebecca Lloyd) Subject: Stranger In Town chunk three Cc: rebel@ocf.berkeley.edu CHAPTER ELEVEN Sasha edged along the rim of the dome atop the Palace of Fine Arts, trying not to panic as a sleepy pigeon warbled protest against being nudged aside. Then a big hand grasped her upper arm and hauled her bodily upwards. She let out a squeak as the ground spun far below, then blinked as Miriam set her down carefully at the dome's apex. The woman crouched beside her, smiling, and husked, "You should have told me you could not shapeshift yet." Sasha settled herself carefully and snapped, "It's not like anyone has bothered to teach me!" Miriam blinked. "That's terrible. I am sorry. I did not know...no wonder you are starving. Here, have a pigeon." She scooped up a plump bird, so deftly it remained asleep, and held it out. Sasha hesitated, then looked down. "I can't, Miriam." "Come on, you're starving. You can't keep feeding from your boyfriend, or you'll end up Blood Bound to him." "Blood what?" Sasha looked nervous. Miriam frowned. "They truly have kept you in the dark about your heritage, haven't they?" She stroked the bird gently as she stared out over the fog-shrouded city. "I'll have to remedy that..." "Think you can make me human again?" Sasha's smile strained against crumbling. "That's what I really want." "Whyever for?" Miriam pushed her glasses down her long nose and peered at Sasha curiously over them. "You KNOW why! Those bastards...they did this to me, pinned me down and DID this to me, in front of my boyfriend, just to piss off my uncle and start a war, they USED me and then they threw me away..." Miriam laid a hand on her shoulder. "That doesn't mean you have to stop enjoying li - -" "Don't TOUCH me!" Sasha jerked away and ranted, "Don't EVEN try giving me some bullshit pep talk! It's easy for you to say things like that, YOU had a choice, YOU were selected, wanted, trained, YOU weren't taken by force -- " "Yes I was," Miriam said softly. Sasha's eyes widened in shock as the rage drained out of her. Her heart was hammering away at her ribs loud enough for both of them to hear it in the sudden quiet. "You -- but -- you..." "Sasha. Sometimes, things just happen. You can't control them, they get done to you. And some of them are horrible. Humiliating. Rapacious. Some of them change your life forever. "My sire needed cannon fodder for a territorial fight with the Brujah. He grabbed me because he was old and needed someone with knowledge of modern weaponry. All I was was a pawn." "But you seem pretty happy now -- " "Yes. But that's only because I realized that sometimes you just have to make the best of what you have. So you're a vampire. Or Kindred, or whatever. So you didn't get here by choice. You're still here, nothing you can do about it, and you have eternity. You might as well enjoy it. "Listen, Sasha, all right? I like you. You're fiery, sweet and I am sure you could handle yourself just fine if given the tools you need to survive -- and more, to live. To have fun, stand up for yourself, do what you want. "How about this. You ask, I will answer. Anything you want to know about being one of us. Anything I know, anyway. I'll teach you, no strings." Sasha's jaw dropped. Gratitude, relief and suspicion mixed on her face. "I...I...uh...Cameron and the Brujah won't like this..." "To Hell with them. If they're not going to give you proper teaching, they've no business preventing someone else from doing it." Miriam scowled, her blue eyes fierce. "Cash might get jealous. And I'll have to see what Uncle Julian says -- " "Excuse me, but have either of them, however much they profess to love you, ever bothered to teach you the skills you need to survive?" Sasha hung her head slightly. "Um, well -- not really, no." "And Cash fed you how many times now, without ever bothering to explain the Blood Bond?" "Twice. What's a Blood Bond?" "Getting to that. For now -- don't let him feed you again. Period. You have to learn to hunt on your own if you're going to survive without ending up as someone's slave." With a deft motion, Miriam wrung the pigeon's neck. It never even woke up. "Here. It's a start. Drink." Sasha gasped. "You killed -- " "Yes, since you didn't have the heart to. Now drink. He's dead, you can't hurt him any more than that." "No. I just -- " Sasha was starting to cry, confusion written across her face. "Sasha. Please listen to me. You must not be ashamed of what you have to do to survive. We have the right to live, just like any other being. Just because we need blood to do it does not make us monsters. Yes, we are no longer human. We are more than human. We are predators. But we are the only predators in nature who can leave our prey alive." She smirked a bit and patted the dead pigeon. "Provided they're large enough, of course." Reluctantly, Sasha took the little corpse and sank her teeth into its limp neck. As Miriam watched, her eyes started to brighten, faint glints of the Hunger rising in them. She scooped up another bird, killed it and handed it over. The girl took this one eagerly, and the next, and the next. The fifth still lived, but Sasha was too hungry to notice. The sixth she caught herself. CHAPTER TWELVE Walking into a cleanroom in the sewers under a major city was something even Daedalus could not get used to. He pushed up the stone panel hiding the keypad, punched in the code, and stepped into the airlock as it ground open, nose wrinkling as fetid air was replaced with stale and scentless. Then the door on the opposite wall slid up, and he stepped into the bright, sterile computer room. There was an open box of animal crackers next to one terminal; a depression in the terminal's attendant seat and the steady rattle of its keys indicated he was not alone. He smiled a bit. "Therese?" he asked, loudly. Someone eeped and a Walkman fell out of nowhere onto the desk, the Rolling Stones' "One Hit To The Body" beating faintly from its earphones. "Wha?" A female voice, perky despite its accompanying rasp. "Oh! Hi boss. Didn't hear you come in." T. C. faded into view on the seat, a small Nosferatu, painfully thin, with slits for a nose and lizard scales. She was wearing a "Kiss me, I'm French" button on her regulation black overcoat. Daedalus decided to ignore it. Therese hopped up, toeclaws skritching on the rubberized floor, and hit the Walkman's stop button. "Here for the report?" "Yes." Daedalus peered at her screen. "You haven't been MUSHing again, have you?" "UH, only after I finished," she said quickly, darting across the room to a table piled with folders. She picked up a dark blue one and hurried back with it. "Here you go, footnoted and everything." "Good girl." He gave her a small smile. She beamed. "Now keep looking." Her smile faded. He patted her shoulder and walked out, tucking the report into his coat. "...Miriam Rivkis, legal age fifty four," Daedalus read to Julian from T. C.'s report. "Parents deceased, no known living or undead relatives. She had a son..." he paged forward, peering at the printout. "In ninteen seventy...six. He disappeared under mysterious circumstances at age ten. The police report was filed in New York City." Julian leaned forward. "I thought she said she was from Alabama." "Mmn, well, Gangrels move around a lot. Says here she was an Israeli national, gained dual citizenship with America the same year her son was born...which means unless she pulled a brilliant cover-up on us she was human twenty years ago." The flesh where Daedalus' eyebrows should have been raised. "Says here she was either an operative of or otherwise connected with the Mossad." "The Israeli secret service? Why didn't the Assamites snap her up?" "Unknown. Perhaps she left for America before they could..." Daedalus flipped forward a page. "She's been sighted in New York, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Chicago, and in several cities throughout Alabama. Those are the most recent." Julian looked relieved. "Then she was telling the truth." "About that, anyway." "Her sire and generation?" "Her sire never contacted her after her period of independence was up...that's the Gangrel tradition. Post Embrace, they abandon the childe out in a strange place and see how well they fend for themselves before returning to instruct them. Her adoptive sire is Magdalena D'Orsino, an Elder whom we don't know much about. As for her generation, I can determine it if I can get ahold of some of her blood." "A difficult proposition at best." "Indeed." "Anything else?" "She's never been implicated in any breach of Tradition...loner by nature...independently wealthy...likes cats." Julian chuckled. "We're still looking..." "I don't think that is necessary," Julian said. "We have already done far more prying into her past than normal standards of security would dictate. The Conclave is tomorrow night; we'll see how the others take to her." "With your permission, Julian, I think that I can arrange it so that we can both keep an eye on her and use her skills to our advantage." Julian blinked, then smiled. "I'm listening." CHAPTER THIRTEEN Camilla prowled the tunnels alone, lost in thought. The San Francisco underground was a bizarre mixture of natural caves, sewers, storm drains, maintenance tunnels, and layer after layer of abandoned basements and mines -- and that was just what the humans had built or discovered. One could get lost down there quite easily. Which sounded like a good idea to Camilla at the moment. Daedalus' last Hosting had been a disaster, with Goth nearly turning the whole of the San Francisco Nosferatu against the comparatively humane Primogen. Though Camilla had neither helped nor hindered Goth's efforts, she remained painfully aware that ruining Daedalus, destroying him if necessary, had been the primary reason that the Sabbat had sent her and her lover here. She had come here to bring him down. And, she had lost her nerve when in return he accepted her back into his realm without comment. At first her greatest fear had been that the Kindred here would learn that she had been of the Sabbat; then it had been that the Sabbat would learn that she was no longer of them. Now it was both. It was only a matter of time before the Sabbat investigated the botched mission. Eventually they would learn that she was not dead. No matter how well she hid herself, they would find a way. They would hear of the Nosferatu woman with devil's eyes, and then they would swamp the tunnels looking for her, slaughtering all who got in their way. Yet warning the Kindred here would mean revealing what she had been, and probably being executed for it... The two dilemmas tugged her back and forth betwen them, and neither could gain the upper hand in her heart. So she wandered the tunnels, silently asking Lilit for guidance, her devil's eyes glowing coldly in the dark. CHAPTER FOURTEEN A huge, white Himalayan cat sprawled in front of the space heater, his rumbling purr filling N'kamah's practice room. Barefoot in a black unitard, hands taped, she shadowboxed, watching her form in the mirrors that lined one wall. Snap-kick. Roundhouse. Stance. Elbow thrust. She segued smoothly into traditional katas, her cold, sweatless body moving effortlessly though the many forms. Grabbed up a practice staff from the matcovered floor without breaking rhythym. Thrust. Strike. Block. Counterstrike. Spinkick. Turn. It was an effort to remember to breathe, but it helped her keep her concentration once she got started. The rhythym was a moving meditation for her. Her mind cleared slowly, the efforts and frustrations of dealing with Sasha melting away as her muscles warmed and stretched. Slowly she went through the last two days' events, ordering her thoughts on them as if she were reorganizing a mental file. Goth -- dead. Camilla -- missing, presumed reaccepted by the local Kindred. Whether this was part of some scheme of hers, N'kamah could not tell. Two very young Primogen, a Prince of moderate age and good intelligence, and a Brujah Childe as malleable as they came. Things were going well. She snatched up the katana next to her foot and unsheathed it, tossing aside the staff. The whicker of whirling metal filled the air. Sasha was such a sweet, lost girl. N'kamah thought she would make an excellent pupil. Hopefully good enough that if -- when, she chided herself, think positive -- when the Sabbat took San Francisco, she could be recruited instead of killed. It would be a shame if she had to die. N'kamah's hand wavered, then both dropped to her sides, the sword hanging from one carelessly. She blinked. She could never have killed the girl herself, she realized. She just did not have the heart. In fact, she cared for Sasha too much to even think of killing her. And that was very, very dangerous. It could get her herself killed if it got in the way of her duty. But still... Suddenly katas seemed tiresome. She put away her equipment and walked out, pulling on a black silk robe embroidered with a scarlet tiger. Boxes still littered the split-level bungalow; save for necessities, she was nowhere near done unpacking. She stepped over one of them and picked up the phone, dialing a voicemail number. Her voice was uncharacteristically cheery as she spoke into the receiver. "Hi Mom. College is ok so far, the Dean's kind of a character though. Very domineering, but I can handle him. Haven't met all my professors yet. The first two look younger than me. Heard from Cousin Ralph -- he flunked his finals and got expelled. No word from Cousin Edna yet. Made a new friend. I'll call back later. Love you. Bye!" She made a face as she hung up. Appropriately innocuous sounding as Magda's codewords for things were, they made for some very silly conversations. Tonight was the Conclave; she would need a dress. Her watch read four AM. A nap, then shopping some time that afternoon. She plodded up the stairs to bed, throwing off her clothes and peeling the tape off her hands, and snuggled into the mounds of silk sheets. As dawn came she dreampt of lying in the cold earth, fire in her veins and madness pounding in her skull. CHAPTER FIFTEEN Daedalus sat, exposed to normal sight, in his chair at the Conclave table, taloned hands folded before him. The other Primogen were also in their seats, save Cash, who stood somewhat awkwardly next to Julian's chair. Lillie in a classic Versace, looking politely curious. Cameron, whom Daedalus thought looked like an insurance salesman in his too-new-looking suit, boredom written across his face. Julian, calm and businesslike as always. Other Kindred drifted around the room, though he was the only Nosferatu present. Sonny, Julian's favored childe, standing against the wall behind his sire's chair. Lorraina, looking apprehensive next to the couch. A gaggle of curious Toreador. And Miriam. She stood in the doorway to the hall, eyes down, waiting to be called upon, her expression vaguely amused. The glasses were gone, her eyes lined subtly with kohl and her lips painted a dark rich burgundy. A sleeveless mandarin-collared silk gown, midnight blue and perfectly fitted, draped her long form gracefully. Her muscled arms bore bands of hammered copper. Her feet, incongruously, were bare. She outshone Lillie. She outshone everyone in the room. He could not take his eyes off of her. And that worried him. Cash coughed. "My Prince, fellow Primogen, I wish to present a fellow member of Clan Gangrel to the Kindred of San Francisco. Her name is Miriam Rivkis. She seeks acceptance among us." Daedalus hid a smirk. Poor Cash. He clearly hated such formalities. "Then let her come forward," Julian said smoothly. Cash beckoned; Miriam moved to the table. Cash took his seat and she stood beside him, eyes down. Amusement smouldered through her lashes. "Another Gangrel?" Cameron burst out, sounding long-suffering. "As if we didn't have enough of them around already -- " Cash lunged forward in his seat. "Considering how Brujah keep murdering -- " "That's enough," Daedalus said quietly. They both sat back, scowling, and Miriam's eyes turned to him. He looked back at her. Saw mild surprise, and something akin to a tactician's interest. She was sizing him up. That was just fine. But then she smiled, just the barest curve of her lips, and he felt his chest tighten. Outwardly, he remained stony, immovable, focused. But inwardly he thanked whatever gods were listening when she looked away. Julian was speaking. "...no one has any objections to accepting her?" Daedalus looked around. Cameron sat sullenly; Lillie shrugged and gave Miriam her best Dazzling Smile. Miriam smiled back politely, but did not look impressed. Probably doesn't like Toreador, Daedalus noted. Cash smiled, a little shyly, and nodded at Miriam. Then Julian's eyes turned to him. He stood slowly, and said, "I have no objections...but I would ask a favor from our new member, if she would see fit to grant it." His eyes flicked back to Miriam: she looked startled. Then the calm Monal Lisa smile returned. "If the Primogen of the Nosferatu would but name his request..." Her velvety rumble sent a ripple through the crowd. His heart stirred and gave a restless thud, and for a moment he doubted he could go through with this. But he could think of no other way to keep close watch on her without risking embarrassing himself. "As the Prince's Enforcer I occasionally have need of assistance in performing various tasks related to my position..." A louder rustle. No one had ever heard Daedalus ask for help before. "If your Primogen has no objections...?" Cash shook his head, blinking rapidly. "And with the Prince's permission, I would like to offer you the opportunity to become my assistant in these matters." Julian nodded approval, and all eyes turned to Miriam. She actually looked to be at a loss for words. But her iron composure returned quickly, and she inclined her head. "I would be honored to accept the position. "Just," she added, her smile quirking, "don't ask me to make you coffee." A chuckle ran through the crowd. Return-Path: Date: Fri, 6 Sep 1996 13:41:22 -0700 To: kamala@akos.net From: rebel@hera.EECS.Berkeley.EDU (Rebecca Lloyd) Subject: Stranger In Town Chunk 4 Cc: rebel@ocf.berkeley.edu CHAPTER SIXTEEN N'kamah bounded skyward as the lupine's claws raked toward her, flipping over its gigantic arms and out of reach. Its roar of frustration shook down bits of slime from the tunnel wall. "Caine's fangs, Daedalus," she griped as she dashed for her Uzi, which was lying in a puddle of Nosferatu blood a few yards away. "How did this thing get so far into the main tunnels?" "By slashing through anything and anyone that got in its way," Daedalus' voice echoed back grimly. His chalk white hands was streaked with lupine blood, but the damned monster just kept healing itself. "Watch your head, Miriam." She scrambled through the mud, just dodging another piledriver paw as she hunted for her gun. Then she heard Daedalus gasp and stifle a curse. Her hand found the Uzi and then he grabbed her, pulling her close to him and laying a finger over his lips. He looked -- worried? Afraid? His grey eyes tracked back and forth, and she blinked in confusion. The werewolf's eyes crinkled in equal confusion; muzzle wrinkled, it snorfed loudly at the air. Then it tromped through the muck towards where they were, huge head sweeping back and forth as it searched for them. Daedalus led her back and to the side, watching as the hairy behemoth lumbered past obliviously. N'kamah stifled a growl at the scent of vampire blood on its fur. She and Daedalus both were running dry of vitae from the fight, and the Beast wanted to come out and play. But one glance from Daedalus and she pushed it down, though she grumbled inwardly. He was too damned easy to agree with. The werewolf shuffled to a stop, looking around, tiny yellow eyes gleaming madly above its frothing muzzle. "LEECH!" it boomed, voice echoing off the tunnel walls. "Unclean...things come face! Come die as deserve!" It shifted, orienting on a rat's panicked scramble down a side tunnel, a low growl vibrating in its throat. Then it turned back and bellowed, "Filth on Gaia, my claws make clean! Come die!" N'kamah shook with rage. The thing came down here, completely unprovoked, to slaughter the Nos in their burrows, and it had the temerity to call her people monsters? Her talons slid from the tips of her gloves, parting the leather with soft pops. "No," Daedalus hissed in her ear. His grip on her shoulder was like a vice. She turned and glared at him; he stared back, hard, his mouth a line. Flashes of anger gleamed in his eyes, but he fought it down even as the lupine continued to roar curses and threats at them at the top of its lungs. Her wonder at his struggle took the edge off her killing-hate. Why fight to keep from frenzy? It was their best ally against the werewolf, who was all but in frenzy itself. It would give them strength and aid their courage. Why did he hold back? Two of his own were dead, and if they did not kill this thing, many more would die... She knew, after three weeks of working under him, that it was not cowardice that made him choose to stand there, hiding them both with his powers, instead of attacking. He was twice the fighter Goth had ever been, and by far braver and more loyal. She had seen him dive through a collapsing tunnel to rescue a trapped neonate, and reach through a fire to save a favorite rat ghoul. Fortunately, they had not had to face any Sabbat...she had no doubt that he would have made short work of them, possibly even if she had blown her cover and helped them. "Why?" she mouthed. He just shook his head. The thing continued to stomp around blindly. She swallowed her rage and checked her Uzi for muzzle blockage from its swim. It was clean. Full clip of silver bullets, and a dead bead on the back of the thing's neck. Not yet, said Daedalus' eyes. She had half a mind to stake the old bastard and take on the thing herself. In her wildform, a gift of the Third Birth, she could have done it easily, but if Daedalus was conscious to see the change he would know her for Sabbat right away. Assuming the wildform was a secret known only by the Ahrimane warriors, and the Ahrimane remained entirely within the Sabbat. Something the Nosferatu doubtless knew, as they ended up knowing just about anything... She did not stake him or Change or fire or leap at the lupine monster. Curiosity alone held her back. She watched his face, trying to discern his reasons for wrestling down the awesome power of the Beast. She almost did not notice when a second werewolf appeared from thin air beside the first. A faint splash drew her attention back; she froze. Then another blurred into sight beside the first two, and another, and another. They snuffled around, growling savagely, as Daedalus moved partway in front of her, whether to hold her back or help his powers conceal her she did not know. What she did know, but had been distracted from by her own outrage, was the fact that werewolves always run in packs. This 'Kindred' had just saved her from Final Death. She holstered the Uzi with shaking hands and let Daedalus lead her away as, howling in frustration at the loss of their quarry, the entire pack vanished from the tunnels. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN The entirety of Clan Nosferatu of San Francisco rarely gathered in any one place at the same time, but the murder of two of their own was enough to draw them out. A silent crowd milled in the Great Cavern, circling the mirror-calm lake in its center, dozens of eyes on the funeral barge moored on its shore. Daedalus stood at the water's edge beside it, stolid in his black coat as he stared at the two shredded figures lying upon the bales of paraffin-soaked hay that lined the boat bottom. They waited for him to speak, more out of resignation than respect. Camilla lurked at the edge of the crowd, her eyes drawing the occasional nervous glance from one or a few of the others. Her chest tightened at the attention, but she was determined to pay her respects. The Lupines had not just slaughtered two of her clanmates; they had killed off half of the bare handful of neonates the Nosferatu had managed to create this century. The other two -- the lizard-faced hacker Therese, and her spectrelike broodbrother Nameless, sobbed openly, blood streaking their sunken cheeks. Sadness gripped Camilla as she watched them; the lack of fellow young ones left them isolated, bereft of easily made allies and friends. Just like her. Finally Daedalus stepped forward, drawing breath to speak. "I've called you all here to join me in mourning the loss of Eric and Shadowchilde, neonates, murdered in an unprovoked attack on our burrows by Lupines. Both were of the brood of Damian. In recognition of his loss, I have gained the permission of the Prince of the City for Damian, or others of his choosing, to create two neonates, provided that acceptable and willing candidates can be found." A slim chance at best, Camilla thought bitterly. But at least Daedalus had tried. The others seemed surprised at the Prince's concession, and rather impressed that Daedalus had gained it so quickly. Across the lake she saw Therese sniffle and smile a bit. The poor girl. Daedalus continued. "To prevent this from happening again, I am arranging to track these Lupines and exterminate them. Our networks in the greater Bay Area are already working on this, and I will offer substantial rewards for information that leads to these creatures. As always, your safety is my first concern." Camilla felt a prickling on the back of her neck. Her demon eyes narrowed and she looked around quickly, scanning for danger. Nothing. She began scanning the crowd, the feeling getting worse as she looked over the familiar, and familiarly hideous, faces. "Does anyone have anything to say?" the Primogen asked. There was a collective headshaking. Even Damian and the neonates were silent. Daedalus sighed, and nodded. "Then let the ceremony begin." He reached beside him, to a pitch-smeared torch thrust into the ground, and wrenched it free with one talon as his other sliced through the barge's mooring-rope. The craft drifted away slowly as even the faint rustles of the crowd fell silent. Daedalus gripped the torch with both hands, murmuring under his breath as he stared at it. A shudder ran through the Nosferatu as a flame flared up at its tip, growing to a great crackling tongue of fire above Daedalus' shaking hands. A wave of atavistic fear hit Camilla as well as she saw the flame, but then the Sabbat trance-training took over, calming her slightly. Daedalus stood firm, even as his eyes blackened from fear-frenzy, as the fire crept down towards his skin. Then, with a roar, he flung the torch onto the barge, which exploded in a fireball. A collective scream rose from the crowd, full-throated and savage, as they broke and scattered outwards for the tunnels, letting the death-fear take them completely. They surged past Camilla in a flood of black-clad bodies, beginning to sweep her along with them, the whole of the cavern on the move. Save one. As she stood as still as she could and stared with hypnotic intensity back at the fire, a single figure across the lake caught her eye. One, standing back near the main entryway, tall and black-clad and free of deformity. One who stood still even as Daedalus himself raced past her, tearing at his mourning-cloak. Watching the burning barge, fascination glittering in her jewel-like eyes. Shock and old love rushed through Camilla at once as she saw the stranger's face. Her jaw dropped open. Then N'kamah's blue eyes found her, and stared deep into her own across the flames. The Gangrel's thin lips moved, mouthing her name. The death-fear finally took Camilla then, and she turned and ran screeching into the tunnels. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Miriam flowed through the slow dancelike kata, Sasha doing her best to mirror her movements. The dew-wet grass squished deliciously under her bare feet, the moon poured down, and Miriam was smiling at her. "You're a natural," the woman murmured, deep voice warm with approval. "You're really learning very quickly." Sasha felt her cheeks heat, the blush coming easily on a full belly. "I'm doing my best," she mumbled, fighting the reflex to flub the kata out of nerves. "You think too little of your abilities. Now, let's go over your lessons while we keep this up. No no, keep moving. You can do both at once. Just let your muscles remember for you. Now. What are the rules of the hunt?" Oh God, Sasha thought, mind racing. But the physical rhythym of the kata relaxed her automatically, and after a few deep breaths, she felt it come. "Discretion first. Cover your tracks. Always lick the wound, it makes it heal up and go away. Uh..." "Dispose of any bodies, human or animal." "Y-yeah." She stumbled a bit, caught herself. "Uh...ensure secrecy from a human vessel through...theft of memory, deception, or...uh...seduction. I feel pretty bad about the idea of making someone fall in love with me just for their blood, Miriam." "I understand," Miriam replied. "Ah -- don't tuck your chin. That's better. You have to remember, we're doing what we do to survive. You don't do this for power or fun. And as long as you don't abuse the trust a willing donor puts in you, where's the harm in making sure they won't talk?" Sasha blinked, feeling her stomach unknot. "Well, um, I guess if you don't treat them badly, and since you have to..." "Alternatively, you could do what I do." "Go trolling for rapists and muggers?" Miriam grinned a bit. "They jump you, you whack them on the head, drink what you need and take their wallets before they wake up. They won't report you because, after all, if you do get brought in the reason they were in that dark alley at 2 AM will eventually come out...rarely do you find a criminal stupid enough to risk that." "Can't say they don't deserve it." "I agree. Go on, then." "Um...don't be any crueler than you have to be. Don't kill unless you have to. Don't drink except out of hunger, but fill up as soon as you feel hungry, so you won't risk losing it and endangering someone." "Or yourself." "Um, yeah. And never kill except for survival." "And...?" Sasha gulped. "Um, no kids. And no pregnant women. Not like I would," she muttered, disgusted at the thought. "Good, excellent." Miriam ended the kata and padded across the grass to the car. Sasha had had her doubts about bringing a Mercedes in on the Golden Gate Park walking trails, but it was amazing what a pair of wire cutters and a good driver could do. And Miriam was as good as James Bond in the movies. Miriam rummaged in the trunk, coming out with a couple of bottles of craftbrewed beer. "Break time," she announced. Sasha grinned. But her grin faded as she heard the crunch of gravel under an approaching car. A big dark-gray sedan pulled up behind the Mercedes, and her senses tingled. "Oh God," she choked out. "Miri -- " Cameron opened the passenger door and stepped out, a phosphorous shotgun in hand. He leveled it at Miriam as she turned, but he didn't fire. Three more Brujah stepped out of the back seat and pulled their guns as well. Sasha lunged for her own gun, mind racing no no no, not Miriam, she's my friend -- but Miriam, calm and stony, held up a hand, and Sasha reluctantly backed off, trying to calm herself. "Well, well, the Brujah Primogen himself, what a nice surprise," the tall Gangrel breezed, leaning back against her car, the picture of composure despite the four shotguns leveled at her. "To what do we owe the honor of your visit?" Cameron smirked, staring at Miriam rudely for a moment. Then he said, "I heard a rumor that a Gangrel was actually trying to teach one of my neonates. I had hoped it wasn't true, but now I see..." Miriam looked innocently baffled. "But it seemed quite clear to all of us that the Brujah Primogen in his wisdom had decided to leave the training of his Clan's neonate to others -- " "What the HELL are you talking about?" Cameron demanded, taking a half step forward. The other Brujah growled and muttered threateningly. "I never gave permission for anyone to --" "Nevertheless, with the girl going completely untrained, and thus endangering herself and others, it seemed safe to assume that you intended to allow whomever chose to undertake the task, as you had assigned no Brujah to do so." Miriam's words were acid-sweet, her faint smile hinting slyness. The Rage started showing in Cameron's eyes, turning them a deadly silver. "Nobody trains Brujah but Brujah. You've broken the rules, and I'm not going to take this kind of insult from a Gangrel!" He leveled his gun -- Sasha's heart froze and she tensed to rush him -- Fwisht! Cameron's shotgun clattered to the ground. Miriam had lunged forward, grabbing him by hair and belt before he could react. Superior Brujah strength might have saved him, but she leapt skywards, clearing the sedan completely, leaving him with no leverage. She landed on the other side and slammed him against the car, pinning him and pulling his head back to expose his throat. She glared over his shoulder at the others, fangs out and eyes blazing crimson with lava-colored swirls. "Try it," she hissed. Cameron gasped and struggled, feet kicking in the air, but her knee in his back and her elbow at the base of his skull kept him immobilized. His hands were pinned between his midsection and the car window, his belt buckle biting into his thumb so hard that Sasha saw it turn dead white. Miriam's fangs tickled the cords in his neck, her tongue teasing at the vein. His eyes went huge and the other Brujah cursed in astonishment. "Drop your toys," she snarled, drawing a delicate line of red under Cameron's chin with her left fang. He swallowed, pinkish sweat starting on his forehead. "Do it," he choked, the silver leaving his eyes. She licked the wound away delicately and his eyes slid closed. Sasha saw terror and desire mix on his face and stared in astonishment. Miriam had him completely under her control. And in spite of himself, he liked it... The rest of the shotguns hit the ground as the Brujah milled backwards in confusion. Miriam shifted her grip from Cameron's hair to the back of his neck, pulling him back in a painful arch, her other hand reaching over to stroke his chest. His tie shredded. "Now, listen to me, you little worm," she whispered intensely at his ear as he shivered. "You may not care about your own childer, but I do. I'm not going to let some neonate get killed because of the negligence of your Clan. And by the rules of the Kindred, teaching a childe of another Clan isn't a bloodhunting offense. In fact," she murmured, parting the fabric of his shirt with a single claw, "it isn't an offense at all if I don't claim her as my adopted childe. Which I haven't. So until you assholes start nurturing your own as they deserve, I will continue to teach the girl." "W -- why?" he croaked, skin trembling under her finger. "Because even if she doesn't break the Masquerade through her lack of education, no childe should have to run around without a clue about even the basics of survival!" She shook him for emphasis; his teeth rattled. "You shame your clan with your neglect of your own. You shame all of us. And the poor childe shouldn't have to pay for your negligence." Tears started in Sasha's eyes as she felt her heart melt in her chest. She had never expected anyone to champion her like that, especially not someone who had only known her a few weeks. And a Gangrel, too! Cash would be so happy that finally someone in his Clan would support their relationship. And an older Gangrel at that, one even Lorraina seemed to fear...The other Brujah snarled angrily at the open gratitude on her face -- except Cameron, who still hung, rapt with fear, from Miriam's hands. "Don't fuck with me, Cameron," Miriam whispered. Then she dropped him, and sank back into the shadows, vanishing completely. Cameron leaned heavily on the car, chest heaving. He reached up mechanically and straightened what was left of his tie, his hair stuck damply to his forehead. The other Brujah just stood there, stunned, til he looked up, eyes bloodshot. "We kill her," he grated, humiliation and rage resilvering his eyes. "FUCK YOU!" Sasha heard the scream before she realized it was her own, saw everything redden and slide before she felt her body move. Her hands came up and slammed a Brujah aside as he tried to stop her, knocking him bodily into the others. Their guns were still on the ground. Her heel pulped a hand that reached for them; its owner howled. She cleared the hood of the sedan in two bounds and crashed into the still-shaken Cameron, bearing them both to the ground. She grabbed his ears and slammed his head back into the gravel, again, again, again, til he got his feet under her and shoved her off. She screeched and scrambled for him again; he sat up, backhanded her hard and pinned her down when she hit the turf. "That's enough!" he snarled in her face as she writhed and growled, rage juicing her deliciously with singlemindedness and power. She barely heard him, and when they brought the stake to paralyze her she threw him off and ran barefoot into the woods. CHAPTER NINETEEN "Where are we going?" N'kamah asked the Brujah cheerily, despite the steel manacles binding her hands in front of her. Her leather coat was ripped from when they'd hit her with the van; her broken shoulder was slowly healing even though they had knocked it out of alignment tossing her into the back. She had lost her shoes, and one foot was a pulped mess with a tire track slowly filling in over the arch. But her smile never wavered. The eight young Brujah in identical bad suits glared at her and fingered their phosphorous guns. It was very dim, and she could barely see their faces as she glanced around her. All the vehicles windows but the front windshield had been blacked out to conceal from those within where the van was headed and, from those without, the fact there was a kidnapped Gangrel trussed up in the back. For once they weren't using Sasha as a driver; a ninth badly dressed bruiser had taken her place. In fact, Sasha was nowhere to be seen. N'kamah hoped she was all right. The van went over a pothole; a bone in her wounded foot popped and she grimaced in pain. Then she reassembled her charming smile and said, "The least you could do is tell me why you were so insistant to meet me that you didn't call ahead first. I've always got time for fine young men in my schedule." They shifted uncomfortably, probably remembering Cameron dangling helpless from her hands. The Primogen's naked terror had been delicious. It must be rare for them to witness what a real vampire was capable of -- A rifle butt slamming into the side of her head broke her train of thought all but physically. "Shut up, bitch!" one of the bruisers snarled as he lowered his gun. "You know you're gonna die, so you can cut the bullshit." She stared at him, a few hints of crimson starting in her eyes, and lapped at the line of blood that ran down into the corner of her mouth from her torn scalp. Then she smiled again, slowly. The Beast snarled inside her, wanting the little upstart's white throat between its jaws, now, now. Patience, she told it, and let a few more glints of its presence shimmer in her eyes. The Brujah who had struck her shuddered and looked away quickly, and the Beast rumbled in faint satisfaction and waited, crouched within her. Finally the van ground to a halt and the driver looked back with a grin. "Welcome to the Barrens, girlygirl," he said, then nodded to the others. "Bring her, we'll do her under the old pier." The one closest to the door slid it open, letting in a dim trickle of light from the fog-shrouded streetlamps. Then they jumped out, dragging her bound body with them none too gently. Pieces of meat came off her foot as it scraped along the broken asphalt: she hissed and let the pain fuel her growing frenzy. She looked around as they carted her towards the sound of lapping water; the thick fog concealed everything but the time-shredded remnants of a wooden pier, one streetlight, and the already-fading hulk of the van. All nine crowded round as they carried her; no one wanted to miss the show. And, she noted, they were utterly alone with her. Her smile became a grin; her body sagged. A little groan, like defeat, escaped her as she collapsed within her bonds. The Brujah chuckled, and almost didn't notice as what they carried kept sagging, and sagging, until it was an empty coat bound with rope and chains. But when the manacles hit the mud with a wet clang, they looked, and yelled in surprise. She drifted above them, the fog flowing through her as she flowed through it, and could not chuckle as their cries vibrated what passed for her body. Mist has no throat. They spun around and around in confusion, aiming their guns at shadows, rainbows of fear and frustration igniting in their eyes. Lovely. She started to swirl downwards, drifting unseen among them as she waited for an opening. It came quickly. The driver drew breath to shout orders to the confused group; she flowed into his lungs, expanding the rubbery dead flesh until he began to choke. Then she reformed. He ripped apart like a rotten melon, his vitae oiling her skin as she exploded nude from the steaming remains, claws out and eyes full of hellfire. The others howled in terror as their leader burst right in front of them, and were too shocked to react as she sprang free and slammed into the one who had struck her before. She lunged for the Bay as he struggled in her arms, but he didn't have half of Cameron's power and they went under easy. Phosphorous bursts fizzled on the water's surface as she sank her hungry fangs into the little bastard's neck, gulping messily as his screams bubbled. It was over quickly; she stopped short of taking his soul, as the stain that would leave on her own would have given her away to the psychically gifted. Not worth it. Instead, she just popped his head up above the waves and let a panicked shotgun blast from his kin finish him. Two down. Dropping the shriveled meat that was left, she waited patiently for the gunfire to run out. Then she stepped from the water. Three were in frenzy already, and piled over themselves trying to figure out whether to run or attack. The other four were struggling to reload. One poor bastard lost it completely and snapped his shotgun in half when he couldn't still his hands enough to slip in the shells. Stupid childer. She grinned as she approached, wider and wider until it split her face and she let the Change come. Her ears lengthened into bare catlike pyramids as her hair fluffed and bristled, creeping in a tangled carpet down a back now hunched with muscle. Her wounded foot and shoulder throbbed as her bones popped and lengthened, knees reversing and toes sprouting talons. Her face lengthened into a muzzle thorned with a double row of teeth; her scarlet eyes grew cat-slits. Her lean, scarred body bulged with coils of sinew, skin stretched taut under a sparse layer of black fur. A tail dropped between her massive thighs. Her hands lengthened, her talons going glitter-black, hard and heavy as laquered iron. She flexed them, and let a chuckle rumble from her throat before she gave the Beast its freedom. The Brujah broke and ran, most to the vehicle, but two stumbled blindly into the fog. She blurred after them with a hiss and caught them in four bounds, pinning them down and shredding their upper bodies to jelly. Four down. The others struggled with the van's ignition, screaming at each other at the top of their lungs; they got it going just as she turned to deal with them. She leapt through the misty air, landing cat-soft on the roof and digging in her claws, muscles bulging as she peeled it back layer by layer. Inside, a ragged chorus: curses, screaming, oh God where'smygunwhere''s my -- you left it on the beach you stupid fuck oh God monster monsterwhat we gonna do give me that damn grenade and shut up! You shut up, that thing will blow -- oh gaaAAWWWWWD! She stared down at them as the van lurched like a wounded animal, steadying herself with a talon punched entirely through the roof. Then she let go and dropped through into the crowd, and the world went red. Return-Path: Date: Fri, 6 Sep 1996 13:47:44 -0700 To: kamala@akos.net From: rebel@hera.EECS.Berkeley.EDU (Rebecca Lloyd) Subject: Stranger In Town Chunk 5 CHAPTER TWENTY "Those things killed nine of my men!" Cameron ranted, eyes silver and hair askew. Daedalus sat stone still in his conclave chair as pinkish drops flew from the enraged Brujah's lips and pattered on his cheek. Then he reached up with a black linen handkerchief and wiped them away, letting an annoyed frown creep over his features. Cameron barely noticed; he was as close to a roaring frenzy as any of them had seen him get, which was probably why he was screaming in the other Primogen's faces. "Nine Brujah! That's almost half my Clan in this Godforsaken city -- " "Watch your mouth," Julian said coldly from the head of the table. Cameron hissed in a breath, his whole body trembling with barely restrained rage. Actually, for a Brujah he was exhibiting a fairly admirable amount of self-control, Daedalus mused. Eddie Fiori would have been trying to forcefeed Julian the Conclave table by now... "You, your Enforcer and his filthy Gangrel assistant -- " Cameron smirked as Cash let out a growl and Miriam, who stood behind her Primogen's chair, arched an eyebrow "-- promised to have this werewolf problem under control by now. But instead, they continue to slaughter us with impunity!" "The situation is being taken care of, Cameron," Julian said with strained patience. "If you wish to help it along, you might consider offering Daedalus your assistance." Daedalus coughed as all eyes turned to him. "It might not be that simple. The Lupines are using the Spirit Realm to move about. Their ability to pass in and out of this layer of reality makes them all but impossible to track, especially since Kindred have no comparable abil -- " "Fairy tales!" Cameron scoffed. "There's no such thing as a spirit world! You're just concocting more elaborate Nosferatu lies to cover up your own incompe -- " "Shut UP!" Miriam's defensive snarl rang out over the Conclave table. Daedalus' chest tightened; he turned to her in shock. The Primogen stared at her, dumbfounded by her outburst, though Cash looked somewhat pleased. Cameron started turning an ugly white, but it was Julian's calm voice that broke the sudden silence. "Miriam," he said gently, "It is traditional for non-Elders to speak at the Conclave table only with the permission of their Primogen." "Of course," Miriam stammered, abashed. She dropped a bow aoplogetically and said, "I will leave if you wish, Excellency." "That won't be necessary. But for future reference..." She nodded, and murmured something apologetic in Cash's ear as well. He fought down a grin and looked to Julian. The Prince settled back in his chair. "Continue, Daedalus." Daedalus folded his hands. He looked at Miriam, and blinked when she looked away almost shyly. Intriguing. He spoke: "The Lupines use guerilla tactics, tracking an individual or group of Kindred to an isolated area and then attacking. They come out of the spirit world one at a time, keeping some of their members in reserve to ambush anyone who comes to the aid of their target. They don't seem to know or care about Kindred Clans or society; they simply kill anyone they identify as Kindred. Nor are they above cutting down any innocent bystanders who get too close. They see themselves as holy warriors fighting for a sacred cause, and part of that cause is to rid the world of Kindred, by any means necessary, including the slaughter of innocents." Miriam looked troubled for some reason. Daedalus stared at her intently, but she avoided his eyes. "So," Julian said, leaning forward, "You're saying there is no pattern to their choice of victims?" The front door opened suddenly; those assembled jumped a bit, but it was just Sasha, slipping in with bare feet and dead leaves in her hair. She smelled of cool earth and grass and as she shut the door behind her and peeked in through the archway her eyes locked on Cash and Miriam as if drawing strength from their presence. Following her gaze back to the table, Daedalus saw deep relief on both their faces. Both? Miriam caught him looking and smoothed her face over into an expressionless mask. Daedalus hesitated, then answered Julian's question. "That is exactly what I am saying. Though not unintelligent, the Lupines simply do not have the patience to gather the information necessary for a frontal assault on our seats of power. They simply pick off whomever among us they run into. Their victims are chosen by chance. Which means," he stared back hard into Cameron's sullen gaze, "That none of us are safe until they are dead." "What do you recommend that we do, then, Daedalus?" The Prince looked concerned now. Behind Cash, Miriam shifted restlessly. Daedalus sighed, searching for words that would shed a hopeful light on the bleak situation. But there was no getting around it; they were in serious trouble. "Stay in groups, try to stay in public areas, avoid the park and the Barrens until this is over." He saw Cash and Cameron frown as their respective territories were mentioned, but he continued without addressing them. "Lupines are vulnerable to silver, and to incendiaries, though not as vulnerable as we are. No one should go out unarmed, no matter the circumstances. Do not try to negotiate with the Lupines; run or fight, and always assume there are more around than the ones that you see. Currently we are assuming that the pack we encountered has at least six members." "Six?" Cash gulped. "Daedalus, I've seen what these guys can do. If Stevie Ray was still around we might have a chance against them, but as it is -- " "We cannot give in to despair," Julian said firmly. "This crisis can be dealt with if we can put aside our factionalism long enough to work together on it. I know that the majority of our warriors are young and have never encountered Lupines before. However, with the proper knowledge and equipment -- " "Examples?" Cameron asked flatly. His Rage was draining down to a controllable level, but he still looked unconvinced. "Perhaps my assistant would have something to say on that matter," Daedalus said, watching Miriam's reaction carefully. She blinked and hesitated, then looked to Cash. He nodded and smiled reassuringly to her; Daedalus saw her eyes soften a bit. Miriam stepped forward, and spoke with the expressionless precision of a military officer giving a status report. "We take full advantage of their vulnerability to silver. Silver is a light metal which when used by itself is a poor material for bullets; its lack of weight causes it to spin off course when fired. To offset this, we use small caliber lead-cored slugs in relatively inexpensive automatic weapons. My personal favorite is the Uzi submachine gun." Cameron blinked; Julian looked impressed. Cash looked rather shocked, but pleasantly. "Ok," Cash said. "So that's what we arm ourselves with. How do we get close enough to use the guns without getting jumped by six of them at once?" "By using their own tactics against them," Miriam replied calmly. "Certain of our members have the ability to conceal groups of people from even the heightened senses of the Lupines. One or more of these groups, armed as I have described, will follow an individual Kindred into one of the outlying areas. When the animals manifest to attack, it will not even be necessary to come out of hiding to exterminate them." Daedalus glanced around the table. The Primogen and the others assembled were nodding, clearly impressed, save Cameron, who still looked skeptical, and Lillie, who looked bored. Remaining in public areas had never been a problem for Toreador, after all, and her people weren't warriors, so on an emotional level she probably saw no relevance to her people in the discussion. Of course, she was still practical enough to listen. "Nice plan," Cameron said, the slightest edge of sarcasm to his voice. "So who do you propose gets to be the bait?" Miriam wasn't looking back at him. She was looking over at the archway, where Sasha stood watching the discussion -- watching her, Daedalus realized. Watching Miriam. Watching her with those eyes which despite her calm, tough expression were as fragile as ever, but hopeful. Eyes that thought they were looking at a hero, a champion, an ideal to be followed. The eyes of a student for a beloved teacher; eyes filled with a delicate and tentative love. Miriam squirmed uncomfortably under that gaze, not that of the rest of the room, which was on her as well. No; she had eyes only for Sasha, who inexplicably was hanging on her every word. And through the crack in Miriam's composure Daedalus saw again that old and terrible pain. Then Miriam squared her shoulders and raised her head, jewel eyes sweeping back to take in the Primogen. "I shall be," she said firmly. And Sasha smiled. CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE "What am I doing?!?" N'kamah asked herself out loud for the eighth time as she paced her mansion's immaculate halls. The boxes were long gone; thick carpeting muffled her bare feet as she padded along. She paused at a gilt-edged mirror in the hall outside one of the guest rooms and stared intently at her reflection, as if something in her physical appearance could help her discern the cause of her odd behavior. Her face was haggard; hair askew from its braid and faint gleams of crimson in her eyes. She needed to feed. No, she had just fed. She needed rest. She could not rest. She needed... The temptation to smash the mirror with her fists welled up and she turned away with a snarl. What was wrong with her? She had just volunteered to risk her very existence to save Kindred she was supposed to be setting up for death. She was about to waste even more time with Daedalus and Sasha and the rest of them when she should be prowling the Nosferatu Kingdom searching for Camilla. She was about to go trolling for werewolves on the sayso of a foppish Prince and his hopelessly disorganized elders. Being a deep-cover agent was one thing, but risking all to save those you were spying upon? Madness! What was wrong with her? She hurried into her kitchen and reached for a phone. She would call her Ritemother and advise her of the situation. Magdalena and the other Ahrimanes had enough detachment from the normal Sabbat fanaticism that they would be able to help her without judging her too harshly. Perhaps they would even let her come home and send a replacement. Punishment for her failure wouldn't be so bad; so she would be blind for a week, and the idiot new recruits would get to string her up and feed on her blood. So what? She could endure that. The pain and confusion that being in this situation was causing her, she couldn't -- She dropped the phone and crouched, holding her head. She had never failed in a mission, certainly never for emotional reasons. The Sabbat cared little for one's feelings when they got in the way of duty; duty was all, and she was one of their best despite her youth. She was a military woman, born and bred, long before the Sabbat had gotten to her; could she with good conscience neglect her duty just because something about her foes here stirred her dead heart in painful ways? Ridiculous! She was N'kamah, Stalking Cat of the Ahrimanes! She was honor bound to be better than this. All these years of blood and war and horror, she had never faltered, not even when she still despised the Sabbat for shackling her to them heart and soul. Duty first and duty always, no matter who fell beneath her claws; princes and neonates and human vessels alike, she never faltered, never showed the least weakness. A swift death was the only mercy she was allowed to show her prey; and so she was the master of death, swift and decisive. Even those among the Sabbat who despised the Ahrimanes for their independence were invariably impressed with the unflinching skill with which she executed her duties. Duty, honor, expediency. Mercilessness. Excellence. These things mattered. Not personal ideals. Not feelings, though she was free to indulge them whenever it did not distract from her mission. Not memories... "Stop it," she hissed, squeezing the heels of her hands against her temples. "Stop it, stop it, stop it." Her heart banged away uncomfortably in her chest, and she felt her claws lengthening against her skin. "No. No. No no no no no. NO!" She slammed both fists against the floor, denting the linoleum, the pain in her hands flushing away the torrent of unwanted images. She panted, forcing her heart to still and the fire to leave her eyes. "Leave me alone," she whispered, and dropped her face into her hands. When she had composed herself enough to realize that she was acting rather ridiculously, she stood slowly and smoothed her shirtfront. Calm. Composure. She grasped for them, got a tenuous hold, and paced into her study, sliding into a chair. Propping her chin on her fist, she said to herself, "Focus. Find the problems. Deal with them. Why am I here?" She was here to find out and report back what had happened to Camilla and Goth. Half her duty was done; she had not yet told her contacts about Camilla. She was also here to bring back any survivors of the pair, still undead if possible, or if it was proven that they had deserted, dead was a tolerable alternative. Two nights ago she had seen Camilla face to face. Her only alternative now was to go and find her, to confront her and to kill her if she must. Anything else she did was at her own discretion, so long as secrecy was maintained and her duty was executed as completely as possible. Or to abdicate and let the Sabbat send someone more suited for the task at hand. Meaning, of course, more brutal...more jaded...more ruthless. Beings who would drain Camilla dry, Daedalus if he got in the way, and who would recruit Sasha probably by dumping her in a grave and -- Stop it! She clenched her fist until red rivulets ran into every pore and crease at the ball of her thumb, then sighed, resigned. She had to go through with this. Besides, one of those stupid non-Ahrimanes would probably make a bloody botch-up of the whole job anyway. She tromped up the stairs and threw herself into bed. Dawn was coming. A few comatose hours would do her good... ...earth, wet, stale, rot-smelling, things wriggling through it, things stabbing her, bits of bone, gelid fragments clutching at her face, lips, inside of her throat...so dry...so dry...burning inside. Head roiling with mad images -- where am I? Who am I? Where...what...she grabbed a name...Miriam. My name is Miriam. Earth, rock, loam, mud, pressing down on her, sliming her flesh, she should be choking to death on it but she wasn't choking, wasn't breathing, no movement nothing no heartbeat -- dead dead dead. She was dead. She was dead. But she didn't like it there. Not in the grave. She was dead, but she wanted to move. Move. Claw upwards. Climb. She should not have been strong enough to burrow through the choking black mess above her, but it yielded as she shouldered upwards, reluctant as flesh parting, wet darkness sucking at her hungrily from below. But up she went. Hands tearing, pushing frantically as more moldy dirt tumbled in to fill in the spaces she made -- like digging a hole at the beach in the wet sand. She was scooping out the sand and the water welled up and the edges softened and the grains slid slowly back in until the hole vanished. But she loved to dig, giggled when the holes fell in on themselves, dug out more with the smooth little shovel. No, not her, Eric, little brown stick-legs in wet shorts, blind eyes above a smile bright as the sun. Sun. Terror. Fear of the sun. Where is he? Where did he go? Where is my son? Up. She had to go up, or she would be down there forever. Stretching for sky, she kicked and clawed and spat black glop back out as it forced its way past her lips. Up. Up. The burning in her belly, limbs, veins, growing wilder, more demanding, her teeth were too big for her mouth, they pierced her lip but nothing came, no wet, no salt, no blood. She was dry. So dry. Had to have blood. She exploded upwards, roaring and choking and puking out wormy earth as chunks of gravedirt flew around her. Figures waiting up there looked down, startled despite themselves, with terrible bright eyes. She lunged for them roaring -- Huge chalk white hands caught her wrists and yanked her from the miasma of her first frenzy as easily as pulling a root from the earth. Dark coolness and confusion. She thrashed, fighting the cold iron grip that held her; snapped angrily at the shadowy figure looming over her. But he pinned her down, dispassionate and firm but gentle, until finally her darkened bedroom swam into view and she remembered herself. Moonlight streamed through the curtains. It was sometime the next night, and she had been -- remembering? No. Dreaming. Just dreaming. Daedalus's face was a blurred white oval with black pits for eyes. "Are you all right?" he asked softly as he bent over her, the concern in his voice making her stomach tighten. "You were screaming -- " "What the hell are you doing in my home?" she snarled defensively, jerking her hands out of his grasp. Daedalus blinked. "I -- I came to tell you that the Conclave has ended its deliberations," he stammered, drawing back his hands. "They have approved your plan and we should have the weapons, ammunitions and volunteers we need within a week." "Fast work," N'kamah commented, smoothing her robe as she sat up. "Very well then. What do we do until then?" "Keep our heads down, and pray they don't grow any bolder than they have been." Daedalus' voice was grim, but she felt his eyes drawn to the line of her smooth brown leg against her luminous white sheets. Not half as unflappable as he pretended, she mused, but she didn't comment aloud. Instead, she rose, rebelting her robe, and said, "Well, since you are here and we've nothing better to do at the moment, would you consider coming down and joining me in a game of chess?" CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO Three nights into the security lockdown that restricted the Nosferatu to the main tunnels, Camilla thought she would go mad. Though the Nosferatu certainly had bigger things to worry about than the devil-eyed clanmate among them, the werewolf situation seemed to heighten their paranoia towards her instead of decreasing it. All Nosferatu prefer their privacy; now there was little for them, and all but none for her with the way they stared at her as she walked by. She tried walking around Obfuscated, but someone in the crowded tunnels was always stepping on her foot or elbowing her or running into her accidentally, so that didn't work too well. Finally she had had enough, and since N'kamah had not made an appearance again and probably would not so long as Lupines were prowling the sewers, she decided that risking death by werewolf claw was worth it, and she veiled herself with shadows and slipped away into the side tunnels. N'kamah. They had been packmates after Goth had drawn her into the Sabbat out of spite against the Prince of San Francisco. They had been bound together by both friendship and the artificial love cultivated by the sacred Vaulderie ritual. But despite the fact that N'kamah was Harmonist, and opposed to unnecessary killing, Camilla had never seen her shirk her duties because of her feelings. No; even after all she had been through, that particular City Gangrel had never given anything less than her all to the Sabbat. It was even rumored that she did not at all remember her human life, though this could not be verified. Noble, she was; merciful when she could be; but humane? Never. If, and Camilla was almost certain that it was true, the Sabbat had sent her to investigate their failure, then Camilla was in all probability going to die, very soon. Ironically, the werewolf attack might well have saved Camilla, for it bought her the time to formulate a plan on how to deal with her former packmate. The bonds of Vinculum that bound them were fading, but perhaps they would be enough to stay N'kamah's hand. Perhaps -- A shadow detatched from the wall beside her. Metal snicked against metal and then pressed against her throat, scissoring her neck between it and the tunnel wall. "Become visible, and do not move," N'kamah's grim voice came, as cold as the razor edge of the katana. Camilla froze obediently and unveiled herself, knowing that anyone who answered a cry for help would simply be slain. She tried to pierce the darkness to see N'kamah's face, but the tall figure was completely swathed in black, and a black enamel mask covered her face. Horns curled back over her hooded head; a cat-eyed dragon. Her lips in the pale slice of face below the mask's snaggled upper jaw pressed together in a grim, colorless line. "You survive, Camilla," the figure said simply, black gloved hands steady on the swordhilt. "And yet your mission is unaccomplished, and you did not return to us." "No," Camilla whispered drily. "I did not." "Why?" Camilla blinked, and hunted for words, to placate more than explain. But what came out was "How do you know I was not followed? We could be surrounding you even now." "If you look down and to your left you will notice a small metallic object against the tunnel wall. That is a motion detector. I have seeded a quarter mile of this tunnel with them; that was how I caught you so easily. Amazing the equipment that being independently wealthy can get you." "Assassin!" Camilla heard herself hiss. "How can you be so casual about this? We were friends!" "We still are, Camilla," N'kamah said softly. "Which is why I have to know. Why did you betray us? Betray me? Have you no idea how much it wounds me to have to come look for you like this?" "I did not betray you, N'kamah," Camilla replied tiredly. "I simply..." "You know why they sent me?" "Yes." "And you know what I must do if you refuse to return with me?" "Y -- " she choked a bit. "Yes." "Then you know I don't have to ask for reasons. But I, as a friend, Camilla -- I must know. Why did you leave us? Why did you put me in this position? Please, do not lie." "I'm sorry, Kamah," Camilla said, sad despite the blade at her throat. "I did not know that they would send you. I know that it must hurt you to have to threaten me like this. We're still Packmates, still Bound -- " "Don't depend too heavily upon the Vinculum to save you, Camilla." N'kamah's voice was heavy with warning. "It no longer exists. I am Ahrimane now. All my past bonds are broken." Camilla's blood chilled inside her. No chance then. She was damned. But -- "Then why do you still follow them, Kamah? You hated what they did to you! If the bond is broken, then -- " N'kamah snapped out her words angrily; defensively. "Perhaps because unlike you I have a sense of duty and honor to those I owe allegiance to. My Ritemother is closer kin to me than any sire or human relation ever could have been." "Closer than your son?" Camilla felt the words stab home in the hissing intake of N'kamah's breath. Twin flares of red in the darkness. "You know nothing of my son." The swordblade trembled. "Neither do you, anymore..." The blade pressed hard against her; she whimpered, the sound drowned in the Ahrimane's angry growl. "Be silent on that. Tell me instead. Why did you leave?" "I never belonged with the Sabbat, N'kamah," she whispered, throat vibrating against the cold metal. "I was there because that was where Goth was, and he is gone." "That is not good enough! We are your family! You swore oaths to us. How could you prefer the company of these simpering sycophants over those of true Cainites?" "They're not like that!" Camilla heard herself saying. Images of Julian and Daedalus filled her mind. "Surely you understand by now that the description of the Kindred as simple puppets of the Antediluvians is blatant propaganda! They are people -- people, just like us, and in many cases, better!" N'kamah was panting softly in the dark. Camilla wished fervently that she could see her face, read something of her expression. Then the swordblade began to ease away from her neck. Perhaps she would let her go after all -- But her hope was crushed by the deadness in N'kamah's voice when she next spoke: "You have two nights to make your decision: return with me, or come and submit to my judgment. Two nights. If you tell anyone about me, or try to escape, I will kill my way through these tunnels until I find you again." Then the sword whickered away, and she felt a cold wind blow past her. N'kamah was gone. Return-Path: Date: Fri, 6 Sep 1996 13:49:53 -0700 To: kamala@akos.net From: rebel@hera.EECS.Berkeley.EDU (Rebecca Lloyd) Subject: Stranger In Town Chunk 6 Cc: rebel@ocf.berkeley.edu CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE "Say what you want; I'm going." Sasha stared back at the Prince, the tilt of her chin still childishly obstinate. But there was new steel in her eyes, and the sight of it clearly shocked Julian. Daedalus, however, had expected it. He had followed the childe and Miriam to the park on more than one occasion, and had learned of their secret training sessions. So now Sasha has a sensei, he mused. Good; she needs one. And understandable that she would wish to accompany her teacher on such a dangerous mission. After all, there was a good chance that Miriam would not survive the night -- and then Sasha would never see her again. "Sasha -- " Julian and Cash said as one, with the same tired intonation. "No, forget it," Sasha snapped, glaring at both of them. "I'm tired of you treating me like a baby. You make all this big noise about how we have to all learn to work together, but when I try to do my part you always say no. It's hypocrisy. And I'm not taking it." They blinked; their mouths flapped; their eyes were full of shock. Cameron's eyebrows raised and he leaned back in his Conclave seat. Daedalus fought down a smile, and saw that Lillie was doing the same. Miriam, standing in a corner of the room a bit apart from the other non-elders, was as impassive as a stone goddess. Her eyes were hidden behind the insectile gleam of her sunglasses; her braid was tightened severely, flattening her lustrous hair against her skull. Her clothing was a simple black unitard, a nod to the fact that anything she wore would in all probability be shredded beyond repair by the end of the night. Uzi on her right hip, spare banana clips taped end-to-end hanging from her gunbelt. Julian's suppliers had come through. "I can't let anything happen to you, Sasha." Julian's voice was heavy with regret. "And you think locking me up here will keep me out of danger?!? What if those monsters come here? Daedalus said more than once that there's no real way to predict where and when they'll show up! This is stupid! I belong with you, and with Miriam! I have the right to stand with the others. You don't have the right to deny me that!" Miriam's head turned slowly, the rest of her held absolutely still. Her braid slipped across the muscles of her bare back with a faint silking sound. Her face was stony, expressionless. But Daedalus knew she was watching the girl. "As Prince of this city," Julian snapped, "I have the right to deny you anything I choose! You're the last of my family, and I won't see you risking yourself like this! You know very well that some of us, maybe many, won't survive this mission. Do you really want to risk forcing us to carry you home in a bag?" Sasha blinked, and looked uncertain. "No...but it's no safer here than..." "I don't believe that," Julian replied flatly. "No; you're staying here, with Lillie and the Toreador. Lillie, don't let her follow us." Lillie inclined her head in agreement, but Daedalus saw doubt in her eyes. he thought of speaking up against this; the child would indeed be much safer in a group, surrounded by armed Kindred and Obfuscated from the Lupines' sight. And, in his opinion, she should be allowed to defend the city alongside the others. How else was she ever going to earn their respect? But Cash and Julian were nodding at Sasha implacably, eyes stony with the authority they believed that they held over her. "Bastards!" Sasha snarled, and stomped away to her room. They make her feel like a childe, so she acts like one, Daedalus thought to himself. But at least now they could get on with the hunt. Julian sighed. "Miriam, are you ready?" Miriam nodded. "I am." "Then let's get moving." Daedalus offered the battered overcoat he was holding; she stepped up to him and let him slip it on over her shoulders, concealing her weapon. He fought down the urge to move closer and covertly smell of her hair for what would probably be the last time, just as he had fought down asking her why she was volunteering for this suicide mission. He was certain that her reasons were as complex as she herself was; in fact, she might not fully understand them herself. In any case, her courage had earned her the right to keep silent. Provided that she was not setting them all up... Shaking his head at his own paranoia, he followed her out to the vans waiting in the courtyard. Glancing up at the upstairs windows, he saw Sasha watching them go, her eyes dry and calculating. CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR "How do they know how to find us, anyway?" Cameron asked, his hands flying over his M-16 as he reassembled and loaded it. He was very, very good at it, Daedalus noted. No big surprise. The calm in his voice, however, was a shock; the other Brujah were in a state of barely controlled panic at the idea of going werewolf-hunting. "By scent," Miriam replied simply from beside him. She was slouched casually against the van wall, as if they were heading to the beach instead of trolling for Lupines with her as bait. Daedalus breathed in her own scent again and again, furtively: sandalwood, and blood. Human blood. "Scent?" Cameron looked incredulous. "Scent. The Lupines don't use visual psionic markers, as we do; they don't, for instance, view photoelectric auras. Their wolf heritage shows in their primary dependence on scent; in fact, in their language, metaphors for perception which we would normally associate with sight are instead associated with scent. Even those born human eventually use such banalities as "this doesn't smell right" instead of "I don't like the looks of this." Et cetera." "So? I can't sense any difference between the way we smell and a human smells, for example." Daedalus heard himself chime in before he realized it. "Their senses extend far beyond those of any other being, natural or supernatural. Though their visual and auditory receptors aren't much better than a wolf's, they can indeed sense the chemical markers which are a byproduct of Kindred, Lupine, or human metabolism. There is a rumor that they can also smell out a Magus, though Magii are physically essentially human." "Why couldn't we mask it then, say, with cologne?" Cameron actually seemed interested for once. The van jerked as it went over a pothole; he muttered. "My research indicates that the chemical markers are pheremonal, not specifically something you actually smell. It's a different set of nerve endings. The end result is that the races don't actually smell like anything different from one another; the pheremone sensors simply leave the Lupine with the certainty that they are facing, say, Kindred. This might also have something to do with why many animals are frightened around us." "So how can your little invisibility trick conceal us from them?" "I have no idea whatsoever. But it does -- that has been proven..." Miriam was watching him behind her sunglasses. He shifted uncomfortably and fell silent. "Where is our first dropoff?" she asked suddenly. "Erm...Golden Gate Park," he replied. Cameron had gone back to prepping his weapon. Miriam nodded, and went quiet as well, staring off into space behind her glasses. He watched her, and watched her, and watched her, damning this suicide mission and his own weakness. The van rolled to a stop too soon. Miriam hopped to her feet and rolled aside the door, exposing a hillside covered with trees. She looked around carefully, then glanced back. "Prepare the others. I'm going." He was still hunting for a reply when she stepped out of the van and strode into the woods. CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE The trees whispered to her as she padded barefoot down the path, feeling the cool earth between her toes. Danger, they said. Danger. Wait, she replied in the silent language she had long since learned from her Ritemother. Tell me when they are coming. Do not warn me before. But trees don't know about waiting; they aren't aware of the flow of time, merely of being, moment to moment. Danger, they rumbled dumbly, branches restless in the wind. And the hair on the back of N'kamah's neck stood and danced. But she kept walking regardless. A shadow flicked through the trees before her; she slipped her hand beneath her coat and thumbed open the catch on her holster. She did not like being dependent on anyone else to rescue her. But right now she had no choice; she had to trust that Daedalus would bring the others in time, safely cloaked and guns ready. Her sire, not her Ritemother but her first sire, would have sneered at the thought of depending on non-Sabbat Kindred for anything, especially protection. They were cowards, he had told her. Simpering, backstabbing, and soft. They could never be trusted for anything except to take advantage of you whenever they could. And now she was risking everything on the slim premise that he had been wrong. Why? She asked the trees. Why? This is not my war. We are all, they whispered to her. We are one. Stupid trees. Danger, they moaned gently in her mind. Then, a low growl. She caught a musky animal scent and froze; then it stepped from behind a giant pine, black-tipped grey fur bristling over massive muscles. Its taloned hands flexed and unflexed hungrily; a wide, ugly grin split its wolfish lips. "Leech!" it rasped. She saw the warmarks burned through its fur, the white streaks of battle-scars, and the bracelets of Kindred teeth around its massive wrists. Saw the heavy silver knife riding a worn belt at its hip. Saw the psychotic gleam in its eye. Oh well, she thought to herself. I can always mistform and escape if the others prove as cowardly as Vanyel claimed... Her right hand freed the Uzi beneath her coat and thumbed off the safety. Her left slipped into an ammo pouch, felt the leather thong and the pointed trophies riding it inside. She let herself back up as the thing coiled to spring, the genocidal grin never leaving its lips. Then slid the thong free and held it and its glittering cargo up: Werewolf teeth. "Come get me, you pile of dogshit," she hissed. Its grin vanished; psychosis took its eyes completely as the air around it shimmered. Then there were four of the monsters, roaring, the first already in midleap. She stood stone-still, but her gunhand under the coat tracked its descent and her finger tightened on the trigger. Then there was a wind, a hot, chattering wind blowing past her from behind: a wind full of lead and silver. Daedalus. She threw herself flat and rolled as the perforated hulk of the Lupine leader slammed bonelessly towards the ground. Its claws bit dirt beside her head, so sharp they went in silent up to the third knuckle. Deathtwitch rippled over its form; she shoved the Uzi in its ear and stilled it with a short burst. DANGER DANGER the trees screamed as bullets shredded their bark. She took the hint and kept moving. Two Lupines down, one with brains blown out, the other flopping and howling, hamstrung by invisible talons. Where were the others? One, bleeding, roaring, wading blindly into the hail of gunfire, Rage alone keeping him upright, going after the unseen source of his leader's death. The other was -- was -- she looked around frantically. Branches broke above her. Oh Caine, the trees --! A huge black shape slammed into her from above; teeth as long as her fingers met in her shoulder. It snarled and shook her like a chewtoy, sending fire down her arm as muscles tore and popped. She howled and writhed, fighting the Beast and the urge to Wildform; one look at that and the Kindred would know her for sure -- White pain stitched up her side and into the Lupine, knocking its jaws away. Rich crimson drizzled from a perfectly round hole in its lower jaw. She lunged forward, fangs out, and fastened on the wound; drank hungrily as the Uzi bucked and bucked and bucked in her fist. The thing shrieked as its ribs splintered inward; then its lungs gave and its voice dwindled to sucking groans. Its claws barely raked her back; she braced her free hand in its fur and kept drinking, her finger holding the trigger down though the chamber clicked emptily somewhere on the edge of her mind. A death-howl came from somewhere; Lupine or Kindred, she did not know. The thing she fastened to was dry, its supernatural vitality a burning weight in her belly; she shoved the hairy bulk away with her good arm and snarled. The Beast had her now, the Lupine's rage adding to her own. Burn it off. She let the landscape shift and blur as she pounded towards the hamstrung Lupine. Easy prey. She did not even think of its claws or the mangled meat hanging from her left shoulder. Vaguely she heard someone running behind her; man-sized but growling like an animal. She threw herself towards the crippled beast, but the one behind her was faster somehow and he slammed into her and flung her aside. "Mine!" she heard herself screech as she regained her feet. The Kindred were already surrounding it, emptying their weapons into her prize, turning its twitching form to a loose red mess. She would kill them all -- A shape flickered into view in front of her -- another one -- she lunged for it before the others could get it. Black and white, this one, stark and strange; too small, she realized vaguely through the red haze. No matter. It was hers. She leapt for it, claws out, the forgotten thong of Lupine teeth trailing from her thumb. The shock of it catching her woke a thudding ache in her shoulder and cleared some of the red from her vision. It had her talons clasped in its own, and it was strong; rage made her stronger though, and she was forcing it slowly to the ground. Then she realized it was yelling at her. "Enough, Miriam! Enough! They're dead!" Daedalus? Danger, the trees whispered. He lunged forward and wrestled her back against the solidity of a treetrunk; the bony part of his wrist was jammed far back in her mouth; she couldn't bite. She twisted and shrieked, gnawing futilely at the obstruction keeping her from his veins. He pinned her against his chest, twisting one of her arms behind her as he yelled into her face. "They are dead! We're safe now. You did it. You did it!" Her struggles slowed; she stared at him in confusion, her heart still beating so hard it hurt. Done what? Had she just saved them all? Why would she do such a thing? She sagged slowly, claws and fangs retracting and heart coming to a reluctant stop. She could feel his own heart pounding, and realized he was stroking her hair and that her cheek was pressed against the rough wool covering his shoulder. "Where's Eric?" she mumbled numbly against him. He pulled back and blinked at her. "Who?" "Sasha," she repeated, or thought she did. Firmly. "Where is Sasha?" Daedalus moved back and helped her up; her unitard was shredded in spots but still decent. The bullet wounds had closed, and the itchy pancakes of metal dropped out of her epidermis as she moved. Her left shoulder was one huge burning ache, front and back. Once she had some privacy, she could use Vicissitude to close the streaming wounds. Until then, however, she was content to let Cash and Daedalus help her back to the van. "We got them?" she mumbled, fumbling her thong back into its case. Cash smiled grimly. "All four. Looks like you'll be able to add to that tooth collection of yours." "I only killed one myself. Divide the rest of the trophies amongst yourselves." Cash blinked, and looked at her searchingly. "But you took a really big risk..." She hissed with pain as they lifted her into the van. "N-no," she said. "It is a matter of honor. One risks oneself for the group one depends on. I would have done the same even if there were no glory to be won. "Where is Sasha?" she asked again as they settled her into a seat, and wondered why she cared. Let the childe fend for herself if she felt worthy of it. It did not matter to N'kamah. "Where is she?" she asked again, and cursed the urgency in her voice. The van shuddered as Cameron started it; the original driver, one of Cameron's lieutenants, was in a body bag at the back of the van. He had not yet shut the door, and N'kamah found herself staring dully into the trees. "Sasha's safe at home -- " Cash started, and then a shadow crossed the square of greenery. N'kamah focused dully on the Prince; his face was haggard and a cellular phone hung from his hand. "No," Julian mumbled, a hurt, baffled look lurking in his eyes. "Lillie just called. She's escaped. She rappelled down from the roof. She just...where...where did she learn to do that?" Idiot, N'kamah almost snarled. Serves you right for treating her like a china doll. Like chattel. Caging her. Humiliating her. Serves you ri -- Six? Six?!? "Daedalus," she croaked. "How many werewolves were in that pack?" Stunned silence. Then: "Oh God," Cash whispered. Serves you right, she thought again, and then shocked herself by standing. "No, you're wounded!" Daedalus cried, grabbing for her. Her shoulder-ache melted with her and she slipped through his fingers, wafting up and out of the van. They called after her, but she was gone. CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX Flying as an owl required little wing movement; their big, soft bodies were as light as clouds, and took comparatively little effort to keep aloft. Which was fortunate, because N'kamah's left wing was one big throbbing welt from base to tip. Damn Lupines. And damn her for being so weak, so sentimental. One favorable reflection in an innocent's eyes, and here she was risking herself again and again to keep it there. The Sabbat would have torn off her arms for letting such foolishness divert her from her duties. But then again, the Sabbat weren't here. It was just her, and the remnants of her human conscience, which she clung to so pitifully. Her huge moon-eyes swept the forest floor as she glided along; Sasha would be down there somewhere. She had probably overheard at some point that they were checking the park tonight, and in her blind determination to come to their aid she would be doing her best to track them. Her head spun. Lupine blood leeched slowly into her limbs from her belly; it made her muscles thrum with chained energy. She had to keep control. Rescuing Sasha would do her no good if she ended up killing the poor girl in a frenzy. After a long while, she scented gasoline; fresh, and a single track skidding and waving among the trees. Motorcycle. She circled and swept down, following it as best she could around the stiffness in her wing. The track ended suddenly; Sasha's bike, parked behind some bushes with the engine ticking down. N'kamah landed beside it, ignoring the scream in her shoulder as she shifted back. "Sasha?" she called. "Sasha!" Gunfire exploded to her right; she whirled, groped for her empty holster, and let out a snarl of frustration as she dove through the brush. Levered herself up on her arms, ignoring the pain, looked up: Sasha, backed against a tree, Uzi in hand, her blouse ripped and oozing clawmarks slashed across her bare hip. Two huge hairy figures advanced on the girl, their backs to N'kamah and their hackles bristling. Sasha looked up at her; her innocent eyes showed whites all around, like those of a spooked horse. Let her die, part of N'kamah whispered. There is no excuse for rescuing her. Once she is dead you will be free of whatever hooks she has put in your soul, and you can perform your duties without distraction. You can tell the Kindred that you could not get to her in time... N'kamah lowered her eyes slowly, and took one step backwards into the bush but Red tears starting in Sasha's eyes. She could smell them. And her voice, a bare whisper: "Please..." Eric. "Get away from my childe, you filthy animals," she snarled. The werewolves grunted in astonishment and turned; she was halfway across the clearing by then. Amazement filled their eyes; a single, wounded Leech, unarmed, roaring towards them with claws out...? Then they were facing her, treetrunk legs braced and talons glittering. "Run, Sasha!" N'kamah screamed as she slammed her shoulder into the larger one's chest, knocking it to the ground. Its arms closed around her in a brutal embrace; claws raked her back, shredding through Lycra, skin and muscle. Her talons dug in and in at its ridged belly, burrowing frantically towards the thump of its pulse; she could barely draw air to scream. "Run!" Hot red splashed down her belly with arterial vigor, but the thing was about to take out her spine. She would die. She would die, and they would kill Sasha anyway, and Camilla would get away without having to face her punishment. She would fail everyone. No! She could not die this way, a failure -- She let the Wildform take her instead. Shredded flesh screamed as the Change made it swell and sprout hair; she did not seem to have a square inch of skin left anywhere. But the shift was true, and she felt the power of it burn through her limbs. The werewolf barked in surprise as the thing he held grew to match his size; then he shrieked as her lengthening talons closed around his heart. It squirmed like a slick, struggling animal in her barbed grip; she squeezed. Then pulled. The twitching organ ripped free with a wet sound and he sagged, choking out a bloodstained whimper as the life left him. She heaved him aside as the other slammed into her, trying to pin her arms; she rolled back, letting him bring her to the ground as she dug her foreclaws into his shoulders. Her rear talons flexed eagerly as she struggled to bring them to bear; dirt and pine needles ground agonizingly into her back. She screamed despite herself and shoved his hairy invasive bulk up to give her clearance, but his jaws came down and clamped around her throat. No! She dug her foreclaws into the corners of her mouth as if prying loose a pitbull; her thumbclaws found his eyesockets and pushed in until blood and jelly spurted around them; but he held on, impossibly tenacious, and his talons under her were digging in, impaling her -- Gunfire. She felt him shake as it stitched his back; his startled yelp hurt her ears. He rolled up instinctively as the silver burned smoking trails across his flesh -- and she had him. She had not learned this trick as Gangrel or Ahrimane; rather from a scraggly white kitten she had once rescued from an alley. Lessons come from strange places, her mind echoed as she sank in fangs and foreclaws and started bicycling her rearclaws against the Lupine's flesh. He wailed, flopping weakly in her grasp; one of the bullets had shattered his spine. Chunks of fur and meat flew as she raked his thighs and belly down to the bone. The Rage rode her hard. She did not stop til his vein collapsed under her lips and his last twitches died. But then the pain and weakness crept back into her consciousness, and she went limp under his bulk. Lifetimes later, the Lupine's body twitched slightly. N'kamah listened through the pounding in her head. Soft grunts of effort. Someone had its arm and was tugging it off her by degrees. She lay there, observing these efforts with dull interest, until finally her rescuer grabbed its shoulders and rolled it off her completely. The full moon swam into view through a red haze, cool radiance that did nothing to dull the pain raging through her body. Perhaps she was dying, after all. "Miriam?" Someone shaking her. Whispering her name, gently. A familiar voice. Magda? No. Someone else. She squinted, trying to focus on the face suddenly between her and the moon. Sasha, red tears in her eyes. "Miriam, wake up, please!" She groaned; let me sleep, her exhausted limbs muttered dully. But the silly girl kept shaking her and begging and weeping so much that finally Miriam tried to sit up to make her stop fussing. Only then did she realize she was still in Wildform. Then Sasha was leaning against her, sobbing with relief; nestling into her massive killer's arms, cheek to her broad breastless ribcage and arms wrapped so very carefully around her muscled, tattered waist. N'kamah choked. "Didn't...didn't want -- " "What?" Sasha looked up at her. "You to see...did not want you to see me like this." It was true, but she could not remember why. Not with her mind clotted with bloody cotton. "Shouldn't see...don't tell. Don't tell others...you saw this...me like this. Must...they can't know I can do this...please..." She sounded ridiculous; sounded like she was begging. "Please...they'll think...freak, monster...please." "You're not a monster, Miriam." Sasha smiled wanly and held her as if trying to hold her together. "You're my friend." Oh... Her throat was tight. She forced out the words. "Please. Tell them you ran when I told you to. Say you have not seen me since." Sasha stared at her, baffled, as she shrunk back down to her semblance of humanity. She must be a sorry sight. But Sasha was nodding, frantically. "Promise me." "Yes," Sasha said. "Yes, I promise." "Go now. Take your bike and go back to your family." "But you -- will you be all right?" N'kamah sighed. "I have to go to earth for a while. To heal. It might be a while before I can re-emerge. Days...weeks...might be a year. But I will heal. I will be back. I need you to trust me. I will be back as soon as I can. Now, please...go." Sasha nodded, forcing herself away; to stand, to walk out of the clearing, stiff reluctance in her limbs. At least she did not look back. Her motorcycle roared to life; its rumble diminished, and was gone. "Oh, child. Poor dear child. Such faith in a monster...." Reaching across to her shoulder, she used the Lupine blood in her belly to pinch shut her wounds one by one. It took a long time; her head pounded drily long before the last hole in her skin was gone. But by then her muscles were knitted together enough to let her stand. Yes. And take a tottering step. Another. Another. No clothes left, but she could stay in the park to hunt. Three hours til dawn; she would make a kill of an early morning jogger and go to earth to heal -- A dark figure stepped from shimmering not-space in front of her: Daedalus, his face grim and his eyes reflective and unreadable as obsidian. He wrapped an arm around her ruined waist and passed a hand over her eyes, his will hammering against hers. She almost laughed; the fool, he could not be stronger in mind than she, but she would play his game. She sagged gracefully despite the blare of pain in her back; felt him lift her. She'd let him carry her to his lair, play his Phantom of the Opera bit, let him paw her a little -- Caine knew he probably hadn't had a naked woman in his arms for a few centuries -- and when his guard was down she would -- would ? -- sag into sleep, a sleep as deep and sweet as death -- but not half so peaceful -- Return-Path: Date: Fri, 6 Sep 1996 13:52:16 -0700 To: kamala@akos.net From: rebel@hera.EECS.Berkeley.EDU (Rebecca Lloyd) Subject: Stranger In Town Chunk 7 Cc: rebel@ocf.berkeley.edu CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN Dry pain. Her veins felt like shriveled, empty sausage skins. A worm writhed sluggishly against her finger, hooked partway under her dirtclotted nail. She was lying on a cold, smooth surface with a pounding headache and a gash she could feel clearly in her forehead, the skin hanging open bloodlessly, a dead mouth. They had hit her with the shovel again, and again, and again, til she had dropped -- prey? Person? Food? What had she been going to do to that strange bald pale woman again? -- and greyed out. She flicked the worm away disgustedly, her movements breaking dried mats of dirt off an arm which itself felt ready to flake apart, like the flesh of a mummy. Her eyelids were glued together by fragments of something that smelled like rot; she scraped it away and opened her eyes. Vaulting brilliance; candles everywhere, rimmed in red to her vision and strangely frightening, flickering against a domed roof covered in crumbling frescoes. She lay on marble scuffed with time and use; bolts from long removed pews stuck up at random from its surface. An old church, the windows boarded over and sealed with new plaster. Empty. She felt so empty. So very -- thirsty. A circle of faces closed around her; pale, grinning, framed by scarlet hoods. Strange, strange faces, some terribly disfigured. Then she saw -- him, leering foxface sprigged with ginger hairs and crazy silver eyes -- the man who...who... Had BIT her, had bit out her throat and -- and -- and -- buried her alive -- An incoherent snarl was all she managed as she lunged up, clawing for his face. Kill you -- destroy you -- filthy perverted -- But hands shot out from all directions and grabbed her, pinned her as he laughed -- --and brought the chalice filled with -- --blood, it was blood, it was blood and he laughed at her as she drank hungrily and then cried and groped for it when he pulled it away -- --and he laughed at her as she felt the Vaulderie's terrible addictive love take her will from her -- --and then stopped laughing, and smiled, with horrible false tenderness. "Welcome to Hell," Vanyel silked. A finger brushing gently at her cheek brought her out of the dream, gently this time, not screaming and clawing. "I did not know Sabbat cried," Daedalus said softly as she opened her eyes. Half-dried fluid clung to her lashes; she reached to dash it away and discovered that the pain in her left shoulder was gone. She was lying swaddled in plain black wool blankets on a cot in a dim cavern that smelled faintly of oil paint; Daedalus stood over her, his face grim but his eyes -- sad? She tried to sit up and found her spine and limbs crackling-dry with bloodhunger; her wounds were gone, but the pain was no less intense. Nevertheless she felt an odd lassitude which made her discomfort easy to ignore. Had the Nosferatu alchemists discovered some tranquilizer that worked on Kindred? Or was this some arcane power of his? Whatever the case, she could only lie there. "What have you done to me?" she tried to growl, but it came out an almost casual murmur. He blinked rapidly in surprise, then leaned down. "Not even trying to deny it?" She stared back at him. "I-it's no use anyway," his hands twisted into each other for a moment before he noticed and dropped them to his sides. "I've tested your blood. Unless you want to try making something up about biting a Tzimisce in a barfight or somesuch, there's really only one explanation for a Gangrel possessing Vicissitude." She managed not to blink. "Clever, alchemist. Very clever." "I thought so. Now, do you want to explain why you are here, antitribu?" She noticed a pile of grey silk on the bedstand. "I'm stealing your smoking jacket," she said offhand, grabbing it and slipping it on under the covers. He almost smiled. "Besides that." "It doesn't concern you, Daedalus." She was surprised at how gentle her voice was. Probably the ensorcelment. He sighed. "I am sorry, Miriam, but it does. I am still this city's Enforcer, and when a Sabbat spy comes in, ingratiates herself with the Primogen including me, begins instructing -- if you can call it that -- one of our neonates, and generally does her best to be accepted by all, it becomes very much my business to find out why." The last word echoed over and over in her magick-drugged brain. Damn him, he had Dominated her again. She felt the truth beginning to form on her lips, and for once wished she still had a Vinculum tie to her sect to strengthen her resistance. But if she had to tell the truth, she would tell the whole truth... "I'm after a deserter. It does not concern you or yours. This is Sabbat business. I don't mean your people any harm, and frankly I would prefer if no one got hurt. I don't give a damn about your Prince, your city, your neonates or any of it. All I am here for is the one who betrayed us. Then I will leave. It's nothing personal." He stared at her intensely with those bright gray eyes, weighing every word she said. Then he said slowly, "You sound like you are trying to negotiate with me. Sabbat don't negotiate." "Neither do the Nosferatu," she shot back. "Why am I not in the Prison of Light? Why didn't you at least stake me?" Something flickered in his eyes. Something vulnerable. She saw the opening and tried to lunge at him, past him, but her limbs were heavy and her mind dull, and all her body did was sit up, slowly, against the pillows. "Why, Daedalus?" she asked softly, not breaking her gaze. He twitched; his eyes tracked away slightly but then locked on hers again. "Jailing you, thus exposing you publically, would hurt a great number of people who have put their trust in you. Much trust. And it would break Sasha, probably for good." Her reflection in his eyes showed sadness. She tried to school her face to impassivity and did not quite succeed. He continued. "Paralyzing you completely in any manner would make it impossible for me to interrogate you." She snorted. "Interrogate me about what? I am alone, you already know why I am here, you probably know who I am after and, if you know anything about us you know that there is no way to get me to betray my fellows back home." He nodded slowly, then said, "I have no interest in making you betray your fellows, so long as they stay out of my territory." A light blazed up in his eyes and he leaned over her. "What I want to know is...why? "Why did you spend so much time and effort ingratiating yourself with us? Why did you take the effort to teach Sasha instead of simply propagandizing her? Yes, I was watching. "Why did you risk yourself to save her, not once, but twice? Why were you prepared to sacrifice not only your cover but yourself to prevail against the Lupines? Why?" "Do you think that because I am Sabbat, I have no honor?" she managed a faint snarl. "I assure you, the opposite is true. Though politically we are enemies, my mission is not to see you or an innocent childe die. My mission is to bring our betrayer to justice, and I will follow that to the letter." "You're avoiding the question." He leaned closer, staring into her eyes. "If you are here to destroy one of us -- " "She's not one of you. She is one of us. She exists under our jurisdiction. Her denial of that doesn't make it any less true!" "If you are here to destroy one of us," he repeated implacably, "then why have you spent most of your time here trying to save one of us?" This time she tried to look away from his eyes, and found that she could not. "Why?" he asked again, his lips barely moving, his voice gentle, his gaze spearing through her guts. "None of your business!" she snapped, trying to convince her hands to close around his neck. They flexed but remained primly in her lap. She couldn't even get enough anger up to scream inwardly. "It IS my business!" he snarled, blackness trickling out from his pupils to overcome iris and sclera until his eyes were obsidian orbs. "You betrayed the trust we put in you! That I put in you! I should kill you for that alone! But I -- have to see, I have to know, why -- why?" He had grabbed her by the shoulders, her nose all but brushing hers, his cold breath on her cheek. She swallowed, realizing she was shaking. What is wrong with me? she asked herself again. She had to break free of his influence. She had to break free and escape so she could finish her work here. Even if she had to kill him. But her mind was slowed by artificial calm, her limbs heavy and sleepy, and her weapons nowhere to be seen. Except for those she always had with her, and those -- Forgive me, Daedalus, she said inwardly, shame breaking over her as she began weaving the charm. He sucked in a breath, and the blackness began to trickle out of his eyes, revealing sad gray that softened moment by moment. "I don't know," she admitted finally. "That's not good enough, Miriam." His talon-grip on her shoulders had gentled, and his thumbs slid caressively over her collarbones. "But it is the truth, Daedalus. It is something I have mulled constantly since the situation changed in this manner. I don't KNOW why I have risked myself so much for that child. All that I do know is that monster that I am, I am not malicious, and she needed..." "Lack of malice and self-sacrifice are two different things..." Daedalus said softly. "I saw you prepared to die...for her. Maybe even for us." "Yes." She looked into his eyes. So much pain there. She cursed herself for an evil whore for doing this to him. But duty bound her. She had to succeed. "You care for her that much?" "Yes." She curled her hands around the lapels of his coat, tugging him closer. "Even though she is your enemy?" he was starting to tremble as he bent over her. "Even though I am -- supposed to be?" "Even so," she whispered into his neck. He pulled back a fraction and looked down at her. "Why? I know that you cannot lie to me right now..." She smiled, surprised at the sadness she felt. "I don't know," she said softly. "I really do not know. But I do." He engulfed her in a hug so tight her ribs creaked, and she almost lost her nerve. She felt her eyes spill over and she started shaking and something inside her cracked and shifted -- not again -- and her terror at what was happening woke the voice of duty in her. The mission, you silly, self-indulgent girl, it snarled. The mission! God "Daedalus, forgive me, please," she whispered as her fangs sank in. Ecstasy. A hot gush of something heavy and bitter and impossibly rich hit the roof of her mouth and thundered down her throat. He stiffened; a groan burst from his lips as his talons fluttered around her shoulders like startled birds. The charm he had woven over her dissolved; so did hers, burst apart by a torrent of feeling; but his hands were in her hair then and he pressed down against her, every muscle taut and shuddering... oh ...and she saw him, different, grey eyes like pale flashes in a leathery tan and dark curls askew, squinting in the blinding sun at a stone wall crawling with workers in short linen tunics... ...moaning in the embrace of a massive horned monster which sucked out his life and replaced it with its own... ...sobbing as he buried the last of his descendants in a lime-pit clotted with plague victims... ...screaming and screaming and smashing his lair furniture with his fists as again and again he felt the frustration of forever being seperate, excluded, alone... ...hugging a small, sickly boy to his chest and feeling the child tremble with pain as his body ate him alive... ...staring into Goth's snakeeyes as Goth laughed at him and mocked him... ...reaching out to Sasha from the shelter of invisibility, longing to offer a comfort he never could... ...looking at her, at N'kamah, leaning against the black Mercedes, the sight of her, the smell of her, the feel of her hair slipping through her fingers... She drank and drank until the dry ache inside her unknotted itself and her body thrummed with stolen power. He seemed to be weakening; his big body lay against hers, relaxing slowly. She would not diablerize him. She would NOT. She just had to weaken him enough to get awa -- His hands stroking her hair, stroking her head back...he was running his lips over her ear and the top of her neck, leaving cool trails of sparked nerve endings...he was whispering something to her... "...have to know," he said hoarsely, and bit down. Hard. She screamed against his skin, claws digging into and through the thickness of his coat as he covered her, her mind coming unhinged, too much pleasure and pain mixed sweeping her past his own mind and soul and back into her own... Through his eyes. "...Thirsty," she choked as they led her along the tunnels. "Please, the cup, please..." "I've a vessel for you right down here," Vanyel said placatingly. Be patient...it's just a little further. Didn't I say I would take care of you?" "...hurts..." she moaned pitifully, and stumbled. One of them grabbed her and held her up, walking with her feet dragging along til she got them under her again. "Plenty of sweet, warm blood, right this way..." He smiled at her, and she sobbed gratefully. Her love, her savior. They came to a bolted steel door and unlocked it, throwing the bar. Darkness within; she heard the thump of a small pulse and licked her lips. Goddess, she was so thirsty...she stepped inside, her legs shaking. Shuffling in the dark. A red tinged light seemed to come from everywhere, especially there, a small lump in the middle, curled up. About the size of a large dog -- Or a small boy. "Mom?" Eric asked hopefully. "Mommy?" She whirled back to the door just as it clanged shut, hammered her fists on it as hard as she could. The steel walled room echoed dully with the blows. "Let me out!" she cried hoarsely. "Let me OUT!" A shuffle. He had gotten to his feet. She saw his dim red outline, flickering with his pulse, take a hesitant step towards her. "Mommy!" No no no..."Let me OUT! Let me OUT! Don't make me do this! Vanyel! PLEASE!" He stumbled forward in the dark, arms out, all smiles. "Mommy, you're alive, you're alive! They said you were dead!" She could hear the hot, nourishing gush of the blood through his veins. She could smell it on him. Her fangs speared her lip and she sobbed and clapped a hand over her mouth. "No...oh no..." He stopped, face screwing up. "M-mommy? It'll be ok...if you're sick, I'll take care of you...I will, I promise..." Took a few more steps forward. "NOOOOO!" She slammed her fist so hard against the door it dented and her wrist snapped with a sound like a rifle shot. The pain made her howl but she kept hammering, more and more and more til her hand hung off her arm like a lump of dry pulp... Small arms circled her waist. "No, Mommy, no! You're hurting yourself!" She heard the tears in his voice. "We'll find a way out of here, we will!" His heart thudded against her dry, slack belly. So ripe. So tender. So alive. "Eric..." she moaned. The redness blurred her vision; she could not see his face anymore, only a manikin filled with hot, pulsing blood. But she lifted him, with her good arm, so tenderly, and held him, burying her nose in his hair. "My angel." "I'm here, Mommy," he said softly, wrapping his thin arms around her neck. Faintly, beyond the door: Vanyel's laughter. NO! In her mind. No no no no... Was it her? No Miriam, it wasn't your fault, it wasn't your fault please you have to LISTEN to me -- Daedalus? She held him so gently. Daedalus' voice in her mind, desperate: You couldn't have helped it -- So gently -- It wasn't your FAULT -- Until his little heart stilled. She tore away from Daedalus' neck, an incoherent howl of agony ripping from her bloody lips as she threw him off. The cot flew across the cavern and she dug oozing furrows down her cheek, screaming, screaming. Daedalus curled on the floor, limp not from blood loss but from shock, his eyes round and horrified. He reached for her, croaking out an earnest whisper, but she leapt over him and ran screeching from the cavern. And as she ran, she was aware of but one noise besides the mad shrills from her throat -- The dry sound of Daedalus sobbing. CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT Miriam. Oh God. Miriam... No. Wake up. There's no time for this. Think! Daedalus slapped aside blinding tears and snarled in frustration as he levered himself clumsily off his haven floor. Miriam was gone, driven to frenzy by the memories he'd unearthed; with a gutful of his blood she could keep running for hours. Fortunately he himself wasn't bad off; despite the depth of her feeding he found he was barely hungry. He must have taken back more than he had thought. Or perhaps Miriam had not been trying to diablerize him. He staggered against the wall, holding his head. That experience had been far too intimate in its horror. Shaking off the guilt and rage that wasn't even his was proving difficult; his heart thundered in his ears, galloping him towards frenzy. He bit down through his lip, growling hoarsely as he forced his heartbeat to slow and stop. Think. Don't emote. Think! Miriam trying NOT to kill him? That did not make much sense, however; if she had been intending to leave him undead, her mercy would clearly cost her when he recovered enough to come after her. An antitribu's devotion to the Sabbat included finishing a mission at any price, including such a horrid act as diablerizing someone who -- diablerizing a friend and ally. Her refusal to do so was yet another intriguing mystery about her. Perhaps, though, she had been too panicked by his invasion of her mind to finish the job. Or perhaps... Perhaps she was so close to completing her assignment that by the time he recovered fully she would already be gone -- Camilla. Whipping a veil of shadows around himself, he lunged into the tunnels, bent low to follow Miriam's scent. CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE Camilla's head jerked up as a faint scream echoed down the corridor outside her haven. Slipping from her seat on her narrow cot, she pressed back against the cavern wall and waited. Was something running down the tunnel towards her? She listened hard, pulse in her throat. Nothing. She relaxed, but only slightly. She was safe, for the moment. That did not change that fact that her two nights were up. Two nights is both too short and far too long a time to get one's affairs in order, Camilla thought to herself as she hesitantly retook her seat. Not long enough for major accomplishments, yet minor ones just did not seem to fill up the time. There were only so many hours that could be spent in ritual or prayer or reminiscence; only so many favorite books one could read for the last time, only so many goodbye letters to write or belongings to bequeath in one's hastily scrawled will. And yet nothing she did seemed worthy enough to prelude what she knew was going to happen. The hours both crawled and raced by, each one numbingly long yet gone forever before she knew it, and at the end of each one she became more aware that nothing she could do could change the simple fact that she was not going back, and that thus N'kamah was coming to kill her. She had thought about running. She had entertained the idea before -- going someplace where her history was not well known and her eyes would not startle those who had known her before she acquired them. Moving from city to city until she lost the Sabbat's trail. Right. Good idea. Idiot. N'kamah would never stop looking for her -- she would continue for years, decades, centuries, as inexorable in her persistence as a glacier crushing its way down a mountain. That was how she worked. That was what she was -- assassin, killer, hunter, now and forever. It was in N'kamah's nature. It might even be in her blood. The long and short of it was that if N'kamah chose to kill her tonight, and she had no reason not to -- then this was the end. Welcome to death row, she thought to herself over and over as she watched the door of her small room for her executioner. Would you like to speak to a priest? No, sorry, I'm Pagan. And a vampire. What would you like for your last meal? Meat pie and carrots, sir, and you for dessert... I'm going crazy, she noted as she stared at the doorway, and tittered harshly, closing her eyes. N'kamah had always been the noblest among them; at least she would make it quick -- "Camilla." The voice was a harsh croak spoken around a constriction of either grief or physical pain or both. But Camilla still knew it. Her eyes slid open. "So you've come," she said softly. "Yes." N'kamah still wore her dignity about her like a noblewoman's cloak; she stared back at Camilla unblinkingly, her head high. But now that cloak hung in tatters, much like the ripped and bloodstained silk jacket that was her only physical clothing. Her hair was askew from its braid and matted with blood sweat -- her eyes were sunken -- faded bloodstreaks stained her cheeks. She had bitten through her lip, and the swollen flesh slurred her speech just perceptibly as she answered. Her talons glittered like black steel on the ends of her fingers. "Have you made your decision?" she rasped, eyes dull and unblinking. Camilla shuddered; her voice caught in her throat. She coughed. N'kamah watched her, face set like the visage of a stone idol. Finally the words came out, with more strength than she expected: "I'm not going back." N'kamah sighed. "I can't convince you otherwise?" Camilla raised her chin. "No." Now that it was said it was easier to speak firmly. She raised her eyes and stared into N'kamah's, not defiantly, but with unspoken finality. Whatever the cost, she would remain free. But when she looked full into those cold jewel eyes she felt a shock run through her. The dark, icy blueness was broken inside -- the stone goddess mask was slipping. Deep down those eyes were full of sadness. But her killer's voice remained steely. "You know that I could just slip a stake into you and carry you back." Camilla gulped. "I'll fight." "You'd lose." "I know. But anything to keep away from those monsters who forced me to serve them. To love them." "Monsters like me?" N'kamah asked softly. "NO." Camilla shivered, then looked back at the Ahrimane hard. "Monsters like the ones who did this to us. To both of us...Miriam." The taller woman hesitated. Camilla slipped off her seat and knelt, eyes down. "I will not go back, my friend. I will kill myself first. I will never serve them again." She slid out her claws and laid their tips against the arteries in her neck. "I envy you," N'kamah murmured. Camilla's hands dropped into her lap in shock; she looked up. The Ahrimane was a black blur extending towards her, claws first. Her hands came up to defend herself but N'kamah slapped them aside and threw her down. She braced herself for the pain and prayed it would be quick -- The claws dug into her face -- into her eyes. And then they -- Pulled. Camilla screamed wildly as her friend's fingers sank in without resistance, rasping against the delicate nerves in iris and sclera. She tried to fight and claw but N'kamah was kneeling on her chest, pinning her hands. Her talons dug into her own ribs; she flopped and wailed ineffectually. Blood poured down her chest and the sides of her face. The killer was doing something horrible to her flesh -- she felt it soften and run as she pushed and pulled and moved her fingers around inside Camilla's eye sockets oh God -- And worst of all, as she did her grim work, N'kamah was whispering to her hoarsely in between the screams. "It's the best I can do for you," she was saying impossibly, as her claws mapped agony on the front of Camilla's skull. Then -- A roar, and N'kamah was off her suddenly, hands sliding out of her eyes and face as if her flesh was made of water. A female shriek of outrage. A heavy thud against the wall. Then a man's voice yelling, "Camilla!" Daedalus? What the hell was the Primogen doing here? Then he was kneeling next to her, gently pulling her claws from her ribs and helping her sit up. His face was lined with exhaustion and concern. His -- face? She could see him. Her hands flew up to her own face, fingers brushing it gingerly. The melted mass she expected -- skin laid open and eyes running like broken eggs over her cheekbones -- it wasn't there. Her fingers contacted firm flesh and whole, if sore, eyes. She was unhurt. Then she saw Daedalus staring at her, his eyes absolutely round as he took in whatever had been done to her. "You..." he whispered. "Your..." "What?" she choked out. "What?!??" A small shard of mirror slid across the floor. She looked up to see N'kamah leaning heavily against the wall, dust in her hair but her dignity intact. Long years afterwards Camilla would still wonder if she had seen the ghost of a smile on N'kamah's face. With shaking hands she scooped up the compact and clicked it open. Wiped away grains of dirt from the tiny mirror's surface. Closed her eyes as she brought the compact up. Then -- Looked at herself. A Nosferatu's face, bone-white and lightly scaled, recognizeably female only by its shape and then just barely. But not her face. Not her features. Nothing familiar about them at all. And the eyes -- The warm, human brown of centuries ago. Daedalus kept looking between herself and N'kamah, mumbling in a baffled voice. Camilla didn't listen. She was watching a blood tear well in the corner of one of those eyes and run down her cheek. Then she looked up at where N'kamah was standing. "Good luck," the assassin whispered, and then vanished into mist.CHAPTER THIRTY EPILOGUE "Are you sure that you're all right, Kamah?" Magda's voice was filled with concern as she rubbed a small hand across her student's back. "You've been very preoccupied ever since your return." If only you knew, N'kamah thought, but she looked up at her Ritemother and gave her a wan smile. "I'm sad that we lost Camilla," she said simply. "Going through the investigation...brought back a lot of memories." Magdalena sighed, her fuzzy ears drooping a bit. "I'm sorry that you lost your friend, Kamah. You must have cared for her a great deal. It's always sad to lose a loved one, especially when they have to die by your own hands." She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat and said softly, "Indeed..." "The Priscus is pleased at your swift and subtle work..." "Good." "...which leads me to what I have been meaning to tell you. Have you moved back your belongings from San Francisco yet?" "No," N'kamah said flatly. "But it is all right. I can deal with the loss of a few possessions." "You won't have to." N'kamah looked up at her Ritemother, startled; Magda was beaming. "The Cardinal has begun plans to move on California; he's sending in deep cover spies to all the major cities. One to a city. You've been chosen to keep an eye on San Francisco. Permanently." N'kamah's heart twitched restlessly. "Oh..." she said in a noncommittal tone. "Isn't this wonderful? My ritechilde becoming spymaster for a whole city!" Is it? N'kamah thought as she looked into Magda's smiling face. But she said nothing. There was nothing to say. THE END