The Hollow Crown
Once more unto the breach, dear Fiends, once more
Eleanor Van den Berg, diary entry
It’s the night after the battle, and I wake earlier than normal, sitting bolt upright, breaking free from Imaad’s comforting embrace. It was a late night for us, and after the battle, I felt quite drained – if not physically then mentally, from the effort of the battle, the encounter with Lucas, the implications of various things that had happened last night. Covered in blood, a shower was an absolute necessity, and it was as though we did not just cleanse ourselves of the physical reality of the battle, the Sabbat blood spilt but also of something lurking in my mind. Not the shadows, but the memories of the creation pit, memories that were not mine but that of the Eleanor in the dream. Despite our tiredness, we made love, me feeling my humanity restored in some way by partaking in something so human, despite the fire and shadow we wield in battle. Yet still I woke, seeing again the pit, my alternate laughing as Lucas rose blood drenched from the pile of bodies, and wonder if that was where he rose in this reality, this twisted childe of mine that Normand created from my blood. Once again it’s as though the shadows have reacted to me in my sleep, my powers in that area still growing. I remember the exultation in my mind when I called forth five tentacles of shadow in the battle and wonder if Johannes would be proud of me, or if he would again say I glory in them too much.
After the debacle at the Gallery we have much to do, not least of which is try to work out who was responsible for the debacle and for lining us up as fall guys. We start by going to visit the two artists and at each of these encounters are not alone. Imaad demonstrates an unusual power by somehow managing to make himself invisible, useful I think though I can only hope he doesn’t decide to play hide and seek later, not sure I would want to know if the Assamites have a version of that. He hasn’t told me what business he was on for his sire, and I haven’t pushed it, but can’t help wondering, knowing as I do what his clan specialise in. Gwendolyn makes a joke about neither of us now showing up in a mirror and I raise am eyebrow – Gwendolyn made a joke? I remember the flushed expression of a few days ago, but she hasn’t volunteered any more information and I know her better than to push it.
The first artist’s work is rather nice, mainly made out of driftwood which appeals given my affinity with the sea. Gwendolyn takes it one stage further and buys something, a manuscript based work which looks very much her thing. I mooch around the gallery looking for clues, it is obvious from the visitors book the artist is in some favour with the court, and I manage to identify who shipped the work, a haulage firm called Firkin Haulage of all things. On talking to him, it is clear he has been Dominated into producing what he did, which unfortunately doesn’t really narrow things down much as plenty of clans have this particular ability. I notice we have company, Megan and Kingston are outside though clearly waiting for us to come out befits going in. We exit, and talk to them briefly, Megan makes a quip about us covering our tracks, I explain it had nothing to do with us, and can only assume they are here for the same purpose we are. Amusingly, they seem to be trying to pretend to be a couple, given we know they both prefer their own sex this doesn’t really come off and by the time we pull away Gwendolyn is laughing herself silly. I roll my eyes. ‘Great, I have an invisible Assamite and a hysterical Ventrue in my car, my unlife is complete.’
We proceed to the next studio, which is in an ‘up and coming’ part of Brockton, which of course used to be Johannes territory, now ceded to the new Scourge. This is a completely different situation from the first; whilst there are similarities, the work is again not in the style of much of the work, the work is soulless, corporate and the artist seems the same, Gwendolyn explains the art seems to be what will make money rather than driven by any sort of passion. It’s clear again though that the artist was Dominated, and also that again we have company, this time a Ventrue we’ve not really spoken to, Michael Quincy-Adams. He seems pleasant enough and confirms what we thought about the artist, as well.
Our next meeting is with the new Scourge at a restaurant, also in Brockton and I suggest to Imaad he might want to de-cloak, so to speak, I say I can hardly introduce him by saying ’that’s my boyfriend over there in that patch of shadow’. He responds that’s usually his line, and I can’t help laughing, rather to Gwendolyn’s annoyance. We are shown to a back room, and Gwendolyn realises that the chef is one of us – and seems rather bitter about something. A chef who can’t taste her own food seems somewhat sad to me, though maybe she shares De Luca’s ability to eat, something he is indulging in with gusto. The ‘performer’ from the event, who he introduces as Dove, is also there and sometime later we are also joined by a childe of Balin, a rather unsavoury looking individual who looks as though he belongs more in a court than a courtroom in the suit he is uncomfortably wearing.
I’m not sure any of the discussions get us that far. Dove states that the ‘performance’ was entirely Howe’s idea and she had just done it for the cash, she doesn’t appear a massive fan of Howe which seems to be most peoples reaction. Various theories for who might have been responsible are kicked around with Johannes, the Tremere and Dyer all being discussed, Dyer is mentioned by De Luca which surprises me. The most discussion probably centres around the Tremere with the others being a little dismissive of my wondering if Tyrone might be interested in greater power outside rather than just within the chantry. De Luca doesn’t think the Sabbat are responsible but does wonder why they are only sending in small groups, he is idly fiddling with a piece of paper then deposits an origami crown on the table, is that a reference to the Lasombra or to the Prince, I don’t know. What can’t be good is that the Prince has fallen into a lassitude again, another piece falling out of a crumbling jigsaw. It can’t be ideal for De Luca either.
Afterwards we head for Silas’ bar and an interesting encounter with someone – Ralph Tranter – we’ve not met before; he appears in his early fifties and is ex military, but woke up in an airport hotel having lost 60 years somewhere, aged 30 years and become a vampire, with no recollection of how these events transpired. His last mortal memory was of a woman on a station platform in a remote part of Scotland. All very odd but what is even odder is that he knows of us and that three years ago he was given a letter, with our names and descriptions, today’s date and time and an instruction to help us – starting by meeting us here. Given I wasn’t even a vampire three years ago, how he could know any of this is a mystery; our kind have many abilities but prophecy isn’t one I have heard of before. And what he is to help us with seems to be finding one of the singers, who are under Gwendolyn’s protection.. It becomes clear any further investigations into what happened at the gallery will have to wait. Time is pressing, it would seem.
We jump into my car and head off towards the site of the abandoned World Fair, it has a foreboding feel to it, dark and shadowy, the perfect location for an ambush. Tranter gets us inside with a pair of wire cutters and we enter. We’ve agreed that Gwendolyn will act as bait; the rest of us follow, moving as silently as possible, Imaad and Tranter go to the left and right and I follow in the centre. I notice that there is evidence both of recent Kindred activity, earlier that night, and also sense the presence of my own clan, though that seems to be older. The whole situation reeks of Sabbat, and I’m glad I have both my rapier and my Uzi with me, I have a feeling I’m going to need them. I also ready myself to call to the shadows, to fight the Sabbat with their own weapons.
A woman emerges from a building ahead of us; we are now in the centre of the park, there are other buildings around and an abandoned Ferris wheel as well. The woman is I guess meant to look like the missing singer but is a bad attempt at best and soon abandons any pretence and launches herself at Gwendolyn. Other figures emerge in the gloom. I extend my fangs, bite my lip and call to the shadows and feel, rather than see, five tentacles emerge in strategic spots on what is to become the battlefield. The first, closest to Gwendolyn, grabs the woman and begins to constrict, two others launch themselves at other Sabbat and I hear Lucas’ voice drift through the shadows. ’Mummy’s here’. Imaad launches himself into the fray, despatching one Sabbat very swiftly, and managing to avoid a burst of Uzi fire from Lucas, then going head to head with a big Gangrel, that fight takes rather longer. One tentacle perishes collapsing into normal shadows, the others continue to attack whatever is nearest, I dimly register Lucas exiting the field, his expression a mix of pissed off and surprised, as though something else should have happened. I draw my sword and wade into the fray hand in hand, dispatching the Tzimisce that had attacked Gwendolyn, who manages to land some blows herself, Tranter shoots at another Sabbat who bursts into flame, in the end I get in the killing blow. As the bodies crumble I realise I am covered in blood, and am thankful I haven’t swallowed any of it, remembering Johannes’ warning that Tzimisce blood can be dangerous. Yet despite the blood I am unharmed.
As we survey the scene, De Luca arrives, rather surprisingly with Tyrone. He confirms that the pit was a Sabbat creation pit, and my alternate’s mocking laughter fills my mind, as I consciously banish the remaining tentacles back to the abyss. The trap, for such it must have been, had already been sprung…