“Sorry for being you?” That Eva’s face could ignite from faux shock and bright smiles from the placid surface of the mystery woman floating before and behind the counter of the bar was in no small part a clue as to why Hollywood was, in fact, Hollywood. Eva could no more hold Santa Barbara against Nicole than she could hold a bad attitude against Yanci, or San Diego’s messiness against Dre.
Eva could only control what she could control, and she knew it.
“We all tend to disappear from time to time,” Maty shrugged even as he delicately helped clean up the clean mess, careful not to let it spoil the purple velvet vest. To say nothing of effortlessly sliding himself into the conversation between Nicole and Eva. “Granted we aren’t all you.” Words spoken so gently as Maty ensured the granite was left clean when mortal bartenders were allowed back in. Not that they minded, Maty knew; they were relaxing in their crew lounge or their own state rooms. Comfy beds there, he had passed out in one once.
“That’s true. The expense to keep Nicole safe and secret far exceeds what the Camarilla had to spend on me, for example.”
Rachel did the math, but it wasn’t what Maty meant. They knew it, even Rachel KNEW it, she just preoccupied herself with other details. Yanci had no such distraction, although even her voice was warmer tones on the subject, “It’s not the cost. They have something…intense, special. Intimate.”
Eva’s back was turned to the scene, already asking Henry how he was feeling as she handed his drink to him after the gaggle behind the bar produced it throughout the mess cleaning and other dramas. If the subject at hand affected her in any way, it simply wasn’t visible. The woman who gave Carmen San Diego a run for her money just didn’t give much away. Except, of course: “The one part was wrong,” she said with a pause, a pause to steal a sip of Henry’s drink and a wince that followed. “The part about Henry.”
“What??” came from most of the room.
Yanci knew. “Oh, that part was telepathic.”
Maty perked, “Nicole had a telepathic thing about Henry?”
“No offense who the fuck hasn’t had a—”
Eva had to laugh, much as she quickly reigned it in. “Nice drink.” A simple smile to Henry, her face actually almost red before she turned away from Henry and towards the bar and most the others. “She smells the lupines on him, but she gets something else. Something that puts hairs on end.”
“Uh,” Dre began, sounding part dumbfounded, “try he’s the literal Devil.”
Rachel found Grace’s suddenly intense gaze, and slowly nodded. Her tone was much more sober than Dre’s on the topic. “As far as we can tell, Henry Locke is some aspect of Lucifer Morningstar. When you bleed starlight and can make ancient Kindred and magic users shift uncomfortably when you get angry and slashy…”
Eva finished the thought, “You tend to stand out. Cheers to you, by the way,” the last bit quietly said as an aside to the man just beside her, Henry, as she tried to raise his own drink to him—until he stole it away from her. Undaunted she stood to her feet in the black leggings and sleeveless white tee, hair in a ponytail that looked far better than any effort that went into it. A ponytail Eva found her left fingertips absently running through as she looked around the bar of the yacht, and took a breath only anxiety dictated she take.
The gentle tug that reclaimed his drink had little in the way of hostility, as playful as the gaze which wandered up and down her as she stood and moved away, an unashamed look hidden from no one in the room, before he grinned more generally, raising his glass to Eva’s soft words before taking a long gulp. “Sometimes even I don’t believe it, then I get stabbed and bleed a little starlight on the pavement. Try not to get any of that on you.”
“Henry, Nicole, Grace: the Inquisition is going to ruin my timing. I can’t do what I feel like I need to do without them providing at least some kind of assistance, or at the very least non-interference,” she took only the slightest break, her eyes watching Rachel sneak Dre a live phone. Whispers between them, whispers between Dre and the phone as Dre hunched forward and kept his head and voice low. “That means we have to deal with them. If they were stupid and this was easy, cool. It’s not, it turns out. According to Maty…well, Maty.”
Eva sat, and the slender overdressed eternal youth with delicate features and waist length long, impossibly straight, dark hair put his hands on the bar’s inside edge, eyes mostly between Yanci, Grace, and Nicole. “The Inquisition is the governments of men finally leveraging their power in smart, targeted, ways that make our secret lives and positions of power…actually threatened. Their specialty is using signal, digital intelligence. It’s everywhere. It finally gets them intelligence capabilities not too far from the supernatural. This gets them very far in both Camarilla and Sabbat territory in the United States, Canada too. In California, outside of San Francisco, it gets them nowhere. Eva was literally part of the first wave of Europeans to make it here. She stayed and built California’s major hubs with a few other Kindred. As Rachel will tell you, there is nowhere in the state government they can go that they won’t find Eva’s influence. Rachel has ensured that influence remains heavy and fast reacting.”
“It leaves them few options,” Rachel picked it up, her own stoic exterior wearing concern like it simply did not often do. Both tone and the expression of her face; this was dangerous, this was serious, this was very possibly the end. Of them all. “They’re meeting to decide what to do about California. They know about Eva now. They realize what Hollywood is. They think they realize what Eva is, organization and the woman herself. They do not. She wants to walk into this meeting and simply tell them, persuade them. Granted if anyone can…”
“It’s a risk we shouldn’t take, but Eva do like her some grand dramatic gestures.” Dre ignored the look his tone would elicit from Eva, herself, not that a look was likely to move Dre one way or another. “San Diego was taken and its controlled, but the Sabbat War Packs along the border are in a frenzy. We’re not trying to hold the southern half of San Diego. It’s a no man’s land, at the moment. San Francisco teams report something very bad happened, probably Lubbock, we haven’t found the Prince. We don’t know where he is. Not sure about the Chantry there, Maty hasn’t heard anything definitive and our rovers report the same. Nothing along state borders. For now.” He shrugged, it was the best that could be asked for, all things considered, he thought.
“I can put in a word, considering who I am, and you might find the Inquisition oddly willing to listen to Henry Locke, as there are some old circles I can still move in.” Henry offered from his seat, his feet resting up for the moment on the back of another chair. “Just maybe don’t mention the full name, they might not be burning as many people at the stake as they used to, but this is still God-fearing America.”
“The fires are still being fought. We’ll be spared critical damage. Lot of our money ‘bout to go into relief and rebuilding. The wolves are still out there. We THOUGHT maybe the Inquisition had gotten a hold of a Sabbat Cardinal, but our people are saying he’s in Los Angeles on his own.”
Yanci blinked. “Alone? Like…no one else with him at all?”
“Alone.” Dre finished the word, Yanci and Eva were already staring at each other from across the crowded space. “Cicatriz the dude’s name. Any y’all fancy a fucking chat with the dude? Our people say he keeps requesting Eva, only Eva, and because Gehenna.”
Eva sat down next to Henry just in time to take a long drink of her very own drink, instead of the ones she kept stealing from Henry’s glass. It was good timing, as ass hit cushion about the time Dre said the word Gehenna. “Alright. As far as I know the world is about to suck. The Third Generation rises, and everyone will lose their minds. I can help Kindred, I can try to help everyone else. I don’t know. Helena has told me I have to find Lubbock, or he’ll find me, and…that will work itself out, she says. Either I die, or he dies. There is no other outcome. She doesn’t seem to have a preferred outcome.”
“How?” Was the only time, throughout the entire gathering, Rachel’s temper snapped. A quick whip sharp demand of how Helena could have such a stance, all things considered. Yanci seemed less angered, more apathetic. More expecting about as much from the Toreador Antediluvian.
Dre was less shy. “That kinda fucking sucks, Eva. You telling me this woman can pick between you, or Lubbock, and she gonna say…fuck it I’m okay with either option?”
“Yeah.” Eva’s tone was flat, void. Those who knew her would hear the sharpness just off camera. “Yeah, Dre, that’s what I’m telling you. The woman can blood control us like we’re toys, and this is what I’m dealing with right now. If it helps I THINK she’s secretly rooting for us. Does that help, Dre? Does that make you feel better?”
“If I could land a hit, I’d fucking…smack you, bitch.”
Eva drank through the very serious threat, and found her eyes on Grace. “You need to be with me when I walk into the Inquisition council meeting at the LA Federal Building. Anyone else want to go?”
“That meeting doesn’t even happen until a few hours. The entry has been taken care of. You’ll just walk in, the rest is up to you. No more than three people with you. Two, outside of Grace. Oh, don’t look at me. No way I’m walking into that room with those people.” Rachel was having none of that look from Eva.
Dre was leaned forward, eyes locked on Locke’s, shaved bald black head nodding upward, “What up, Henry? What’s the plan for these wolves?”
“Should we worry about Lubbock?” Yanci asked it, but Eva just shrugged at it.
“Helena said he’d find me.”
Yanci didn’t seem satisfied, but what part of any of this had satisfied Yanci? All she wanted was to go back to life for the coterie like it had been in the 80s or 70s. Now she’d have to concern herself with running San Diego. “Nicole, where are you going? Wolves?”
“Of course she’s going after wolves,” Dre chuckled, as if it were elementary. “Rachel where yo sexy ass going girl?”
“Someone will have to meet Cicatriz.”
“Eva has to do that,” Dre’s words didn’t leave much room for disagreement.
“Take her, Henry. Show this girl the way, Devil. Ooo SATAN, I CALL UPON THEE, SHOW THIS STUCK UP WHITE BITCH HOW TO GUT A WEREWOLF.”
Dre’s exaggerated and acted out call to Lucifer, tongue in cheek as was, hinted deeper at the coterie drama behind the scenes. Eva didn’t say anything, Yanci didn’t even look. Rachel was a big girl, she and Dre had been awfully close lately, despite opposing personalities. That Dre put a spotlight on her…at least, Eva found herself thinking, it was done with Henry. Henry was already part of their coterie, whether he liked it or not. And judging from below decks, he loved it.
Doing it in front of Nicole? Or Grace? It wasn’t insignificant, though it was unlikely Grace and Nicole would make nearly enough of it. Not that Eva wouldn’t explain it to Nicole later. Naturally. The only thing Eva did say to Dre as she passed by him to get next to Nicole? “Don’t scare the hew-mans, please, Andre. I don’t want to hire more yacht staff.”
To that…Dre shrugged. “Fair nuff.”
The interactions between the coterie mates made Grace think about what it must be like to have an actual social life. She had one once, but that was before she learned just how many threats lurked in the shadows. From then on, it was a simple expected value calculation; the hours it took just weren’t worth it in her present situation. That was what the psych eval people told her, anyway. Just a standard piece of advice they gave, like tell her not to dwell on the past.
Whatever Henry was, it was cause for concern, but firmly in the department of the Void Engineers. Grace was thankful that for once it was not hers to worry about. All she had to do was give him a wide berth, unclassifiable entities like that made her feel like an insect staring down a main battle tank. The Inquisition meeting was easier to process. She knew that building well, one of her cover identities had an office there, and the unlisted sub-basements came in handy for many operations. Trust was a difficult thing for Grace, almost none of the information was possible to verify independently. When she doubted she heard the voice of Claude, her avatar. He said a familiar quote:
“"Information is the resolution of uncertainty."
Asking and acting was one way to do that.
“Given the circumstances, I am willing to assist your plan. I have two requests at present.”
“Tell me what you need arranged walking into that inquisition meeting. Personnel, equipment, intel; a few hours is limited but enough to make a plan.”
“Tell me who Lubbock is. “
“I think Grace means: what is
a Lubbock?” Rachel was already back on her smartphone, her fingers a blur of texts and screen taps and selections, even as she took in, processed what was going on in the bar and decided to make the one comment about Lubbock. But Grace hadn’t asked Rachel.
As for Eva, there was no mystery to be had here. As unnatural as it was for Eva, she would have to just tell it. Maybe Grace would see that hesitation, that half a heartbeat’s pause in the Kindred leader that highlighted her own anxieties. “Sir Matthew Lubbock. We actually don’t know much about him. British, awakened from torpor in the 17th century. Probably more Roman than British but became the Toreador face of British Colonialism and the cruelty therein once he awoke from torpor. If you’re a Toreador you generally fall into two groups: posers, or artists. Lubbock is decidedly a poser and he’s always been grumpy about it. He became obsessed with, and sired, a young boy who seemed to have artistic potential for days. That young boy became my sire, and my partner as we created Los Angeles together, and later Hollywood. The boy had the potential Lubbock thought. Lubbock wasn’t patient enough or gifted enough to unlock it.”
Eva paused after that, a pause that grew long enough to be awkward. To hint at hidden depths to the story, or fresh wounds...or both. In the end it wasn’t Eva who finished it, but Rachel who stepped in again. “Then the boy grew mad, and had to be put down. It led to a Los Angeles battle royale, which led to Eva going public to the Kindred of the Free State, which led to us joining forces with Henry. That’s about the time you met us.”
Finally Eva recovered her voice. “Now Lubbock wants revenge on me for what had to be done to a childe he had long ago discarded and gave up on. He wants a confrontation with me, he wants it to be personal and violent. And after he just lit my city on fire tonight...can’t wait for him to find me. He may even find me at the Federal building, Grace, so if you see a 4th Generation, a Kindred godling, appear on the field...you get your ass out of there as fast and as safely as you can and call Dre. You’d need an orbital solar cannon to put him down, and very soon your organization will be busy using the ones they have elsewhere in the world.”
Eva felt the Ravnos Antediluvian. She knew what was already happening in India. She could hear it, deep in the back of her mind where it crashed against her subconscious like waves against an ancient breakwater. Blood. Feed. Hunger.
“As far as the actual building and meeting, I can get in that room on my own. My discipline of Presence alone would let me walk in while everyone in the building just ignored me. It will help me appeal to your boss if you’re there with me, hopefully he will assume you wouldn’t be standing there without good reason. I fear the mages more than the Inquisition, truth be told, and you aren’t a vampire. If the others in the room want to ask a question, they’d like to ask you more than they’d want to ask me, odd as humans are. My plan is to allow them similar visions I showed you, along with events unfolding in India right this very moment they can get field reports from their own people…”
“India? Now?” Dre stopped his conversation with Henry and stared. His face said it best: fuck, even if Dre simply shook his head softly and returned his attention to Henry.
Eva eyed Dre, then returned her attention to Grace, never actually stopping just pausing long enough for Dre to react to bad news. “...they’ll know I’m not full of shit. But when they wake up, Grace, I have no idea what to expect and I don’t want to influence them more than I already do just by being in the room. Bring anything you’ll need to ensure your safety and your escape. I don’t see myself leaving the building when you do. If anything, I see them trying to detain me. That’s fine. That puts me in deep isolation when Lubbock comes for me, which would actually mean less collateral damage...and Lubbock’s dumb ass loves collateral damage. See: The East India Trading Company for reference. I’m not wild about the government getting a first row view of a fight between two Kindred of Lubbock and I’s status...but it can’t be avoided, and they’ll be seeing a lot more very soon. Expect the Masquerade to come crashing down within...what do you think, Rachel?”
The brunette briefly brought down her smartphone, considered the question with a hard gaze into the air in front of her for a few seconds, before some small nodding, “About 48 hours, yeah, if the founder of the Ravnos line is awakened and active.”
Eva nodded along with Rachel towards Grace, “So yeah, a few days before society starts doing weird shit.”
“When do we see the first humans publicly worshipping an ancient Kindred? Kindred Governor of a US State in a day?” Yanci had to ask, as casually as she was inquiring about a prop bet.
“End of the first day, no later, right?”
Rachel looked to Eva, who shrugged, “Probably. As soon as they figure out local governments and law enforcements can do very little to nothing to help them, not that most ancient Kindred won’t be victims of the Beckoning by them, but a fair amount have contingency plans to stay put and hold out as long as they can. So I’m told.” Another shrug. What happened, at that point, was secondary for Eva. Primary? Find a way to stop it.
Just when things couldn’t get any stranger, the conversations took off at lightning speed, and Nicole felt as though she was learning how to do life all over again from a group of immortals and otherwise. Her mind was spinning. Information overload? The potency of the drink she nursed in her hands? Perhaps both, but one thing was for sure, she was way in over her head. Already too deep to crawl out of the hole she landed in. And yet, what good would running away do in these end times? The law enforcement officer in her wanted to fight to the bloody end, but the fragile, insignificant mortal side pulled as well, wanting to simply disappear from it all.
The “wolf” comments unhinged the girl even further.
Nicole didn’t like Andre. His expression. His attitude. The crass comments without any thought. But her own opinions about any of the coterie members were inconsequential because she knew who they were down to the core. Perhaps not so much their exploits over the many years of their individual existence, but their character. Who they were now mattered more than who they were before. The connection between her and Eva offered a lot, so much so even, that the Gangrel’s mind couldn’t possibly wrap itself around every wisp of thought or flash of memory that hammered through her psyche like a freight train at times. But, those few remnants she held onto long enough gave ample insight about Eva’s band of misfits, to at least safely assume they could all be trusted without question.
The woman finished her drink and placed the glass down on the bar top. “Wolves?” She cocked her head at the comments as though confused, knowing what they meant, but moreso why
they would even suggest it. “I-uh, I don’t know.” Her shoulders shrugged. Nicole didn’t know. Only hearing the stories of the Lupines from Eva, Henry and the coterie, but nothing beyond that other than they were a force not to be fucked with.
“I wish the Gangrel could get their shit together enough to join the fight, but even that I’m not sure of honestly.” She looked away from the others, almost ashamed of the clan she had been forced into. She so desperately wanted to feel the surge of power from the Beast within, enough so to blot out the fear that encompassed her better judgement currently. But, like her clan, even the Beast seemed to be in hiding.
The later remarks about Henry had her curious though, but none of it made much sense. Even the bursts of visions and whispers that were not even her own, but from Eva’s psyche, were a puzzle whose pieces had been scattered to the winds. She only hoped that Henry Locke was on their side to the bitter end.
“Lubbock”, however. That was a name she had heard thrown around quite often since her time with the coterie, but as Grace asked the question that had been on the Gangrel’s mind as well, the drawn-out answers didn’t help to ease her already weary mind. Eva and Rachel went into details about the “madman” himself, and while Nicole’s own fears began to rise, she barely noticed a hint of anxiety from the mortal woman. There was certainly something different about her, something that steeled her nerves to a supernatural point. Had it been her association with magic that shielded her aura, making Grace seem more at ease than she really was?
Nicole sighed. For the first time in a long while, her hands trembled, and she placed the glass down with a thud atop the bar. Thankfully she didn’t have to go far to sit, as she slid onto the nearby stool; her legs almost feeling like jello at that point.
“Forty-eight hours?” She whispered to herself, although the concern and obvious anxiety within her tone no doubt heard by the other supernaturals in the room. “The fuck…”
Everything she had heard, and the thoughts and voices racing through her head -courtesy of the blood bond with the Elder Toreador- weighed heaviest in that moment. Time appeared to stand still, and while her eyes surveyed around the room at the others during the back and forth conversations, they inevitably landed on the dark-haired beauty standing next to her.
Nicole’s trembling hand slid across the smooth glass-like surface of the counter reaching for the other’s arm as her pale fingers curled around tightly. A single thought rose to the surface of her mind:I don’t want to die.
"Greek." Henry sipped his drink as he spoke, the lingering scent and taste of Eva upon the glass mixing with the liquor to his heightened senses. For a dead thing, she tasted intoxicatingly alive. "Lubbock was Greek, we've met, in prior lives. You're not the first descendent of his I've worked alongside." While his words were spoken generally, the clarification was obviously meant for Eva. "They really didn't exaggerate anything about Helen of Sparta." He mused as if it was meaningless gossip, his eyes settling on the glass before back to Andre.
"Easy there lad, that's a name few get away with calling me." Henry stone faced, although the glint in his eye suggested the hidden mischief, before his concentration settled on the woman drawn into her smartphone. "Take me home, country roads. Not sure what the phone signal will be out in wolf country." He was momentarily serious as he spoke next, "The Garou underestimated me before, if they know we're coming it might not be so easy." The fact he appeared but a few hours ago seemingly on the brink of death didn't seem to phase the man much, even as he drank another heavy gulp. "But I'll take them over having to deal with the Inquisition, never did much like them since Vienna."
“What’s up with her?”
Eva shrugged at Andre’s direct question. “She’s scared, what do you think?”
Rachel tried to hide her smile, Yanci looked bored, and Maty traced the edge of his glass idly, his mind elsewhere while the coterie chattered. Andre smiled, and leaned his large full figure back into the chair. “We all scared. We got literal Lucifer, literal end of the world shit. I’m a god damned slave turned soldier. The fuck can I do about it?”
“Lead one of the larger private security companies in the world,” the tone with which Rachel interjected was, at best, described as indifferent.
“What about you?”
“Me?” The buttoned-up Ventrue blinked. “I’m just trying to spin all the plates. If I stop it’ll all come tumbling down.”
“Also you direct one of the larger money-laundering operations in the world.” This time it was Yanci, not Rachel, with a tone that sounded as bored as she looked.
“We gonna pay off an Antediluvian?” Andre’s tone was serious, gone was the caricature of the loud black man, the thoughtful warrior Brujah having settled into the new change of tone like an old favorite pair of trousers. “What about you, Yanci?”
“Oh, I’ll make a movie about it. No worries.”
As the one who ran Hollywood now, the remark made Andre snicker gently. “Maty?”
“Cheers, mate.” Maty raised his glass in the air, though he never did turn in their direction from behind the bar, leaned into the bar, his upper body supported by elbows. As if he were drinking troubles away. Hiding the dagger sharp smile under perfectly straight and shining black hair that went half down his back. “I’ll, uh...throw some blood magic? No clue, really. I’ll do my part. Whatever that becomes. I’m nothing big or scary.”
“This only ends one way for her,” Henry’s hands were folded before him neatly, his tilted down and off to the side, his eyes staring holes in the table he said it. His words rang with sadness and truth, and a seriousness so somber that it twisted his meaning into a lie that told the truth of the situation.
Eva stared at Nicole. “You’re already dead, love.” A response, an aside, sourced from a place that belonged to just the two of them: the space between their thoughts, interconnected. “So am I,” she said, with a faint smile. It wasn’t the same kind of dead they were headed for, but to Eva, it was best she not think about that too deeply.
Finally it was Andre who finished it, talking now directly to Nicole. “The ancient Kindred who started all this are monsters. Not the kind that go bump in the night, the kind Lovecraft daydreamed about. All I have are the people in this room, and the warriors I put on those streets. None of us want Final Death. None of us want the world to end. I don’t want to trade Eva for a new world, either. I’ll do what I can, you do what you can. We’ll see what happens.” In a supernatural style of ease the large black skinned Kindred was up and out of his seat, moving for the exit. “I’m going after wolves. Rachel, Henry, see you at the boat. Yanci, Maty, stay in touch. Eva...sorry, girl.”
That Eva frowned, even for a beat of Grace’s heart, turned the night darker. “Where are you two headed?”
“We’ll see the fires stay out,” Yanci answered, and Maty chuckled, as if it were an inside joke. It was, Nicole would hear it: Both the literal and the figurative.
“So, “Eva started to say to Nicole, “..wanna meet a Sabbat Cardinal?”
After business was concluded, Grace walked up next to an open window and ran a quick calculation to confirm the trajectory posed no additional risks. She said
“I will meet you in person before the meeting at the FBI building. During this meeting I’ve been connected over an astral link to a shell body, my actual body is elsewhere. It’s safer this way and saves what little time we have. Do not be alarmed by what I’m about to do, it is a rapid but officially approved way of terminating the connection.”
She reached into her pocket and retrieved a pistol, moving it slowly and pointing it at no one except herself. Eva, Andre, one of the others could disarm her with incredible speed if they thought she was a threat, so it was important not to alarm anyone. When it was directly against her temple and her finger was on the trigger, she said
“The body will decay into a puddle of hydrogel shortly after I initiate the disconnect procedure. It can be removed from the floor with any standard household cleaner. Pine Sol is my preferred choice. I apologize about the abrupt nature of my departure.”
She pulled the trigger and her body lurched forward as the shot echoed through the cabin. Miles away, Grace felt her connection go dark, grateful that the protocol spared her the full pain of getting shot in the head. Her hand, her legs, every part of her body was shaking as her quivering recovered from the interference and the paradox effect after the session. It was only after they stopped that she realized she was drenched in sweat, nothing about the meeting had made her feel better about the situation. She brushed a matted mass of hair out her face and got up, knowing the long night had only just begun.