23: DON’T LOOK BACK
Earthquake And Fire: San Francisco In Ruins
Sister Josephine Cairns, a pale and haggard figure in a nurse’s dress, drops a bundle of bloodied sheets on to the pile to be washed, glances around to see no-one is watching, and licks the red off her fingers, before walking over to a specific tent.
Miguel Alvarez looks around the tent. “My sire is dead. I felt the bond of blood sympathy break. Wilmarth killed him, as he would kill us all to take the city for himself. For that, he needs to kill the Cardinal as well.”
Walker spits on the ground. “Wouldn’t miss either of them.”
“Do you think Wilmarth would leave you alone?” asks a quiet voice. The spiritualist Abigail Surnow, dressed for mourning, looks at him questioningly. “The enemy of my enemy...”
“... is my enemy’s enemy, no more, no less.” Alvarez looks back at Walker.
“Do we know how many back him?” Sister Cairns asks.
“Not enough. Tiberia has declared for us - ”
“Question’s still relevant,” Walker snarls. “And who’s likely to be ready come nightfall? Best way to win is know the one you’re facing. Is he gonna rely on ghouls, or even real people?”
“I suppose we shall find out.”
Walker crouches on a rooftop, looking across at the Mission. He watches a rat scurry across the cobbles and inside.
“Six vampires, couple ghouls for each. None of ’em used to it. Two more on the roof. Surprised it’s that few.”
Alvarez looks at the building.
“The cardinal’s supporters must have thinned them out. But they’ll be able to breach the catacomb.”
“Guess I better get their attention then.”
Walker leaps onto the rooftop, slamming into one of the guards and throwing him off balance, leaving him to slide down the slope and tumble headfirst to the ground below. He draws and fires on another, kicking him off as he stumbles back with bullets in his gut.
Alvarez leads the way to the door.
A man with the wild eyes of a newly blooded ghoul looks out. Abigail raises a gentle hand to his cheek, draws his eyes to her, and commands him to open the door.
Cairns puts her hand on the supporting beam and it creaks. Dust trickles out of a crack in the ceiling above it. “It’s going to fall! Run!” she whispers. And one of Wilmarth’s ghouls looks up, imagining the crack spreading and the wall coming down, repeats her warning word for word, and five more follow him as he runs out.
Cardinal Glorioso lies under the weight of a collapsed wall. A great wooden cross lies broken on the floor beside him. Canon Balcier hears the sounds of gunfire and screams from above, and bars the door.
Walker jumps down thirty feet and lands in a slight crouch before charging at the vampires running out to guard the back. He empties his Colts and holsters them, drawing out a Bowie knife and smirking.
Alvarez reaches the door to the catacomb.
Wilmarth steps in his way.
“Surrender. Take your people and go.”
“Come now, Miguel, you had no love for the man who damned you. Nor for the bloated tick cowering behind that door.”
“Be that as it may, I am not about to let you take their place, you verminous cur.”
A vampire stands his ground in front of Sister Cairns. She punches his head off.
Abigail smiles, and three more ghouls flee.
Walker wipes blood and dust from his blade as he strides into the Mission.
Alvarez disarms Wilmarth and cuts him down with a US Cavalry sabre.
The Cardinal stirs at the scent of blood. The canon looks down at him, picks up a shard from the fallen cross, and thrusts it into his heart.
Cutting the piece down to the body, he opens the door and steps out.
“Is the battle done?”
“It is. And the Cardinal?”
“Wounded past the point of torpor.” The canon looks around warily. “I will keep him safe, hidden away. Tell all he fought valiantly.”
Alvarez narrows his eyes, then nods, and watches him go.
Then he looks to Cairns. “Follow him.”
“Many of my brood were lost in the tremors and the flames,” Cairns says quietly. “In return for finding where the Cardinal sleeps... I think that I should like to start afresh, if I may. Not too many, just... enough to learn more about our blood and its afflictions.”
Alvarez nods, and the future brood mother stalks after the canon.
“What say you?” he asks the others.
“The canon will be more accepting of... other paths than the Cardinal,” Abigail suggests. Implies. Demands.
Walker sneers, showing a glint of fang, as he turns to leave. “Just stay outta my way.”
Over a hundred years later...
Pavel backs away as the Cardinal roars. Dried-out eyes fill with blood and swivel in hollowed sockets. The dead man straightens with a click of bones and a snap of muscles and snarls one word.
He looks over the assembled vampires and growls. He stops on seeing Enrico.
“And where were you?” he whispers in old Spanish.
“Like you, betrayed and cut down.”
“They found and revived us.”
“The Strix have returned.”
“Ahh. Then I will need blood.”
He lurches over to the unconscious mugger, picks him up and tears out his throat, lifting him and turning him upside down to get every last drop.
“Now. Where is Balcier?”
Pavel blanches as he sees the crumpled body land where the Cardinal discards it.
“He is, ah, at the Mission, your, your Eminence.”
“But this is not why you wake me. You wake me because you need me.”
“Because it’s right.”
“Do not lie to me, boy.”
“Ah, no, uh, of course.”
“Very well. First, you will need the ward. I need wing feathers from an owl, a bowl of your blood, and sunlight. GO!”
Pavel stumbles out of the office. Everyone else is outside.
“So I take it he’s awake...” Arthur says flatly.
“He, ah, wants some owl feathers.”
“Well, that’s good. Those things seemed to work.”
“Of course we have a warded place already. Alcatraz...”
“Except the ghosts tried to kill you as well,” Valia reminds him.
“I can be careful.”
“And we can’t fit everyone who helped us in there,” Arthur adds.
Arthur steps away and sends a voice mail to C. “Uh, the Strix are in town, so we woke the Cardinal.”
Soon after, she responds with some incoherently angry and frightened noises.
Valia arranges with Leonetti for a meeting with Alvarez and Elena.
“So... the Cardinal is back among us.” Alvarez scowls.
“And Enrico,” Leonetti adds.
“That I don’t mind so much. Although if it comes to a fight he’ll add to the other side.”
“Is that likely?” Valia asks.
“Oh, almost certain. Unless the Strix wipe us out first.”
Pavel returns to the warehouse. Inside, he finds half a dozen bloodless bodies strewn on the floor.
The Cardinal, now almost restored and wearing a suit stolen from one of his victims, looks up and smiles.
Pavel glances at Enrico, standing behind the Cardinal. He looks away.
“I need to know the ritual to force the Strix away.”
The Cardinal considers this for a moment, then without a word he pulls up his sleeve and offers his wrist.
Pavel grimaces, looking queasy, and then approaches.
“Such are the sacrifices we make for the good of others.” The Cardinal almost hides a smirk.
The blood the Cardinal has taken carries his knowledge - his memory of studying with vampires of the local tribes, repelling stolen bodies ridden by the Strix with their knowledge, and then killing them as they prepared for rituals.
Pavel stumbles back, reeling, trying to decipher the memories.
“Have a care now, boy. You must stop them if I fail. Or you must be the one they hunt for, so I might succeed. Only the Lord knows our fate...”
Enrico passes him the old black feather as he shows him out.
And on the way to the car, he sees a familiar figure watching.
The vampire Lang, eyes gleaming in the darkness like embers from a fire.
Pulling out a gun and firing.
For the first part of this session, we played a flashback explaining just how the Cardinal ended up in that crack in the rocks. I didn’t stat out the elders - we broke out the high-level Disciplines, and played without dice. We know they succeeded and survived the night, so failing would be a continuity error.
For the second, Pavel failed a Humanity check for handing over the homeless man, and the Bane he chose was Blood Of The Unwilling, meaning he can no longer drink from a mortal who does not give him their blood freely. So now he has to completely change his method of hunting...