Disc: You know how it goes. And if you don't, well, then, you should.
Retribution and Revolution
Chapter Five: Paying the Price
"Well, hello again, partner. Come back for your cut?" Venus sent Wrayth a playful wink and fingered a wad of cash.
"This wayward worshiper appreciates your blessing, divine priestess." She accepted the money and took a seat at the bar. "Pour me some knowledge, and some red nectar."
"Sure, love. On the house." She retrieved a rather Gothic pewter goblet and began pouring a blood-colored wine into it. Wrayth's stomach turned at the smell of the mortal drink, but she'd remedy that soon. "So, what do you want to know?"
"Does a prophet of propaganda frequent this temple?"
Venus quirked a jetty brow in confusion. "Prophet? Propa...ohh, you must mean Gomez. Sure, he's here most every night. Poor delusional dearie. Been here for the last hour, drinking domestic beer and muttering about some 'evil power'. He's in the loo right now."
"Put a suds from overseas on my tab for the prophet and tell him its origins. I'll await his presence. Thanks to thee for the libation." Wrayth got up from her stool and went to a dark corner booth. Once she sat down, she moved the wineglass under the table and dumped out the offending grape drink. She slit open the other blood bag, pouring it into the glass. Holding it up to the light, it looked no different than the first drink.
She pulled out a photo she'd picked up at the warehouse. It pictured Gomez holding up a large picket sign in front of a grocery store, decrying them for carrying milk tainted with mind control potion. She could barely keep from cracking up when she looked at it, but it was the clearest picture of him she could find. He was of average height, nice-looking with shaggy brown hair and skin that was almost as pale as hers, but from lack of sunlight, not from bloodlessness. His nut-brown eyes were wide, suspicious, and a bit bloodshot, worry lines slashing the outer corners. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, but he could have been a much younger man simply aged by paranoia.
The creaking of a door caught her ear and she turned around as the bathroom door swung closed. Gomez made his way back to the bar, head hung in misery, hands sunk into his pockets. As soon as he sat, Venus slid him a green bottle of imported beer and pointed over his shoulder at her. He glanced at Wrayth and she raised her glass to him with a playful smile. His paper white cheeks flushed beet-red as he looked away, then shyly glanced at her again. After a few moments, he got up and approached her. Fishy smells bait.
"Uh, hi. Um, thanks for the beer." His eyes darted to the empty seat across from her. "May-may I..."
"You needn't ask, take a load off." She gestured to the seat and he sat down, both hands clutching his beer. "Troubling thoughts make your eyes squirrelly. What makes you nuts tonight?"
"Only everything." He shook his head miserably and fumbled to open the bottle. "I've spent my whole life trying to uncover secrets that the government is keeping from us. And every time I do, someone laughs at me and calls me crazy."
"Hey, me too." She reached across took the troublesome bottle from him. With a flick of her wrist, she popped the top off and handed it back to him, letting her hand linger on his. "Tell me more of our common ground."
Gomez stared at her hand covering his. He looked up at her, suspicion making his tired eyes glitter. "How do I know I can trust you?"
"I frequented your rallies of revolution." Gomez's eyebrows rose high on his creased forehead. Wrayth smiled. Fishy eats bait. She looked around, feigning secrecy, then leaned in closer. "MooJuice Milk was my workplace in the past. They gave me the boot when I found out. They are trying to control us."
Gomez's entire face lit up. "Yes! Yes! That's right! Oh, God! And I thought I was the only one! Everyone else, I thought they'd all fallen prey to the evil power!"
Fishy swallows hook.
She squeezed his hands tightly. "Yes! The dark presence that stalks the night! I know of what you speak!"
"Shh, not here." Gomez glanced furtively around. "I'm staging a rally tonight on the steps of the old library. It's actually great that they haven't gotten around to cleaning up the debris. It'll show people the full force of this evil. If you want, meet me there, and we'll take a stand for all mankind!"
Wrayth smiled at him, but inside her mind, it was chaos. More so than usual.
Just kill the loudmouth, you pussy. Do away with the worthless kine.
You can't. He hasn't threatened you at all, and he now has no proof to endanger you. He does not deserve death.
But he is the beginning of a deadly domino effect. If I do nothing, he'll be the first ray of sunlight on our blood.
Kill...kill the kine...drain his veins...keep your race safe.
At the cost of murder? No. Make him your ghoul. That may keep him quiet.
NO. No one could ever replace my little house pet. There must be an alternate route. He's just crazy enough to be ridiculed and just sane enough to be believed. Oooh that sounds interesting...
An amusing, relatively harmless plan began to billow like smoke in her brain. She could get rid of the threat and have a damn good laugh at the same time.
"I shall join your riotous rally. We shall exorcise the evil power together." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a few web cams. "These eyes will let you be seen across the web." She leaned closer to him, speaking even softer, drawing on all the charm she had. "Only one thing I ask of you. Keep this secret exclusive to us, until we are ready to make them ready. Yes?"
He stared at her in disbelief. Then, a twinkle entered the dead suspicion in his eyes and a smile made his thin lips broad. "Wow! Thank you, I mean, I need all the help I can get. Meet me at the library in at midnight. And of course, I'll keep it under wraps. We want to give them the full effect all at once."
Indeed, we do. "I shall meet you when the tall and small hands kiss upright. Till then, my conspiracy connoisseur," Wrayth raised her glass, careful not to spill a single drop, "to the rally of revelation!"
He grinned wide as he raised his bottle. "To the truth that shall make us all free!" He swilled his beer down and jumped up, a discernable spring in his step as he made for the door. The sight of him so happy for a lie almost made her pity him. She stared into the deep oasis of crimson in the glass and gulped it down, frowning as she found its coldness a little unappetizing.
A giggle from across the room caught her attention. It was the pretty patron she'd seduced earlier. She waved naively and blew her a kiss, her neck stretching ever so slightly. Wrayth's eyes went straight to the tender vein in her neck, warm and pulsing with life and lust. "Now THAT'S appetizing."
-The LA Library-
Wrayth plugged in the cable of the amp into the portable generator. She turned up the volume and set the tall speaker on the steps of the library. "Amplify away!" She called to Gomez who stood on the highest stair, microphone in hand.
"Uh, check one..." He stopped as a loud squeal screeched from the speaker and Wrayth clamped her hands over her sensitive ears. She reached out and gingerly turned the volume knob down to half its setting and pointed to him. "Testing, two, three. Ahem..." He looked back at Wrayth, who was placing the web cams in strategic locations on the library stonework and chunks of debris. She tinkered with the wireless connection and gave him the thumbs up. He nodded and gazed out radiantly into the street.
"People of L.A.! This library used to be a place of knowledge! Hungry minds would flock to it and be fed the things they wished to know! But even this hallowed building, rich with tomes of knowledge, cannot tell you the things I know! Why? Be cause it's all a front! A setup! I know the truth!"
He was a gifted speaker she had to admit. All the more reason why we are here. A few night owls had stopped their midnight strolls to stand before him and listen. "This night, I will tell all of you the truth! The police, the ones who should be protecting us, are just as disillusioned. They have blamed the insane, inexplicable things that have plagued our city these past weeks on terrorists! It's a lie! They have no idea who is really behind these crimes, these atrocities to society and humanity!"
The crowd was growing larger and beginning to chatter enthusiastically in response. Show time. Wrayth delved into the strange corridors of her mind and dipped into the power of her blood. Reaching out psychically, the insane Kindred connected with Gomez. Through my madness, your tune will be forever changed. He froze as the invisible fingers of madness stroked and massaged his mind, enveloping his sanity like a poisonous fog. The crowd began to murmur as the once outspoken man now stood on the podium like a statue. Wrayth broke the link and leaned against a streetlight to watch the fun.
Gomez's head dropped to his chest, drawing a few gasps from the crowd. Quietly, he began to chuckle. The chuckling rose into louder guffaws of uncontrollable, knee-slapping laughter. Finally, he controlled it long enough looked out at the crowd.
"It was me, I say! I'm sick of the terrorists getting all the credit for MY work! Mine, mine, MINE! I did it all!" His mouth drew into a grinning rictus and his eyes went glassy. Wrayth hugged her stomach and stomped her feet, trying to contain her own laughter. She sometimes forgot how fun insanity was. "All the crazy shit that's happened, all me! That boat in the harbor, ME! The fires in the Hills and Santa Monica, ME!" By now, Gomez had descended the stairs and was dashing here and there in the crowd, thrusting his face close to random listeners. "And there was no 'Southland Slasher!' That was me, too! See that tower there, my finest work! Ooh, I'm a bad, bad boy! And I ain't sorry for it, neither!"
The sheer volume of his confession reached to a good half-mile radius, enough to bring some of the cops roaming the streets running to the scene. Among them was the one Wrayth had seduced that drink and bike out of. "Oooh, cops! Perfect! Hey, over here, you donut-munchers! Here's your promotion, the greatest criminal mastermind of all time! Put that on your meager list of accomplishments for the decade!"
The now-bikeless cop pulled his gun. "Alright you! Hands up where I can see you! Charlie! Get this crowd moving!" Gomez fell to his knees, hands over his head, his insane confession dissolving into comatose laughter. Two officers hauled him to his feet while another shooed the crowd away. As Wrayth began to move in their direction, the cop saw her and hailed her. She turned sinuously and smiled as he approached her. "Hey you, what are you doing out here? I hope that loony didn't try to hurt you."
Wrayth watched the officers shove the still giggling Gomez into the squad car. "Tsk-tsk. It's always the quiet ones. People should talk to themselves more often."
"You sure you're alright?" He asked, stepping closer to offer a protective, affectionate, arm.
Feeling a little dry after her mental exertion, she melded her body into his. "I am better than alright." She traced the line of his square jaw and watch in mild amusement as he swayed under her expert touch. "You are here...and I am here..." He let himself be held in her arms, and she drew close to his neck, running her tongue over the pulsing blue vein. Easy prey.
There was a loud blast to her right and an explosion of pain ripped through her right shoulder. She screamed and pushed the entranced kine away from her, unsheathing her blade with a snarl. Her arm hung limply, the wound hot and angry with little pops of fire sparking within it. So that's what Dragon's Breath feels like!
Standing in the middle of the street, in full view of the officers, was a filthy, burly man in a thick trench coat holding a sawed-off shotgun. She could tell by his scent he was kine, but his eyes bore crimson hate and savagery. "Foolish, black-handed little pawn! Quit this place and keep your worthless hide!"
"You killed my master! His brothers! You are dead bitch! Again!" He aimed his shotgun, but found it empty. As he fumbled to reload it, Wrayth rushed him, plunging her blade into his gut. He growled and cuffed her, sending her down among the wreckage around them. He yanked the blade free, but before he could use it, she leapt onto him and together they rolled about, each struggling over the lethal blade. As they writhed, Wrayth grabbed at a jagged piece of re-bar under her; she jabbed it into his guts and gave it a wiggle. He cried out and grabbed it, giving her time to smash her fist into his nose and roll behind a sizable piece of building fodder. Quickly, she disappeared into the shadows, her mind racing and her Beast screaming for vengeance. The officers were all aiming at him, Gomez forgotten in the squad car. They screamed orders at him to put his gun down. He pointed the shotgun around at the ground, trying to find her, cursing her and the officers all the while.
In desperation and a little viciousness, Wrayth drew upon the last bit of blood she could spare and threw a blast of her madness his way. Let your mind shatter on this final vision! Her malicious shriek sank into his brain and the ghoul clutched his heart.
"NO! No, master! Don't turn me into one of those things!" As the fear of what he saw overtook him, he scrabbled at his throat, trying to breathe. "Please! I'm loyal! I'm loyal to the death! NOOOOooooo..."
Wrayth smiled grimly as she heard his heart pop, felt his brain collapse as he crumpled under the unbearable terror. He dropped dead on the spot, pure horror etched forever on his face. She emerged from her invisibility, her wound still hot with tiny fireworks. The Beast, feeding on her vulnerability, sank its claws into her core, bringing her to her knees. She buried her head in her hands, feeling bloodless and hungry.
Her blood doll ran up to her and knelt down to check the ghoul's pulse. "Put your weapons down, he's dead! Must've had a heart attack. Put your weapons down, dammit! He fired on her first! You just get the crowd out of here and get the prisoner to the precinct, got it?" He got up and went to Wrayth. "Good God, your wound! What the...never mind, we have to get you to a hospital."
Wrayth began to sob against the frenzy she felt welling up. Her Beast was slathering and clawing at her insides, growling in anticipation of freedom. She couldn't lose it. Not now. Not when she'd gone out of her way to avoid spilling innocent blood this night. She could smell the sweetness...feel the heat of his blood...
Can't resist...have to... Grabbing his shirtfront, she dragged him down beside her and curled into a ball in his lap. She had to get at least some control before she fed or she risked ripping him open. "Fear...fear is drowning me! Be my lifesaver, keep me afloat!"
He didn't hesitate, but cradled her close, urging her head into the crook of his shoulder. She could feel his pulse against her forehead. Her head swam, her fangs ached. She pressed her lips to the fluttering vein. It beat gently against her mouth, like the brush of butterfly wings. The need within her twisted painfully.
Feed...feed...no more pain... She smiled against his skin as the venomous whispers urged her on.
"We really should...uhn..." He moaned as she began to lick and suckle his neck. The pulsing grew stronger, like a primal drum. "We need to get you...to a...hospital..." His voice grew sleepy as she continued to kiss him, bringing him down into the blood trance again.
"You are the best medicine..." She grazed her fangs against the vein and his head fell forward onto her shoulder. Unable to hold back any longer, she sank her fangs into his neck and drank deeply, greedily, feeling the strong health of his blood revive her and quiet her Beast. Time became meaningless. She barely felt her wound cooling or closing up so enthralled was she in this feeding. It was different this time. It reached deeper parts of her and felt wonderfully intoxicating. So delicious... she had to have more.
His heart rate began to wane before she finally realized what was happening. It took some effort to pull away from him. Relishing the flavor of his blood and the orgasmic moan he emitted, she licked the wound closed, then once more to taste his flesh again. Pausing to make sure he was still breathing, she left him unconscious against the debris. She crept towards the parking garage where her bike awaited to take her back to the knowledgeable Nosferatu.
It was time for this crazy Kindred's hunger for answers to also be met.
"Anything good on tonight, Voice?"
Gary, reclining next to the skeleton of Marilyn Monroe, glanced up at her as she came in. "Mitnick caught all the footage, boss. Ol' Gomez really flipped."
"His message will never be believed where he goes now." Wrayth smiled deviously as she remembered her handiwork. An end to the threat, one of the best laughs she'd had in a while, and a scapegoat for her deadly deeds to boot. Now, if only she could get the TV to stop accusing her...
Gary straightened up and sniffed the air. "You smell like Sabbat, boss. You have a little run-in?"
Wrayth shrugged. "Not a black-handed baddie, but a ghoulish goon who sought my death. He was fun."
"I'm sure he was, boss, but now to business. First off, Mitnick wanted to give you this." Gary tossed her a key card with a Post-it note on it. She caught it and read the note.
"You've opened some doors for us...here's me returning the favor. No more stealing hotel keys... -Mitnick."
She peeled off the note and smiled as she read the words written hastily on the white card. Skeleton Key 2.0. "The Master of Megabytes is far too kind."
"You're one of the best information poachers we've seen in a while. And we've been around a long while. Now, about those answers I promised you, boss."
Wrayth felt excitement tingling in her brain and plopped down in a chair. "Yes, yes! Tease me no more, good Ruler of Rats!"
"Well, it's a good thing you're sitting, because this is quite the juicy piece." He pulled the piece of denim from his jacket and tossed it to her. "Take another whiff boss. Recognize it from anywhere at all?"
Wrayth pressed the fabric close to her nose and breathed deeply. Through the scent of the Malkavian, and of Gary, she found the faint, fair scent that had taken hold of her. "Yes, the nose knows. A thin-blooded oracle on the saintly lady's beach wears this scent, but it is as weak as she is. This is strong and pure."
"Oracle...you're right about that, boss. And to tell you the truth, that Thin Blood is lucky she has any of her clan's characteristics. She and that scent belongs to a clan called the Salubri."
Wrayth felt a flicker of recognition for the name and a warming sensation in her cold blood. "Salubri...the name tastes sweet in my mouth."
"It ought to. See, way back when in the days of Enoch, Malkav and Saulot, founder of the Salubri, were pretty good pals."
"Saulot! Malkav's mental medic!"
"Give you an inch, boss, heh-heh. Again, you're right. When Malkav got really deep into his madness, Saulot was able to ease his mind a little. Some Salubri are healers, and some are warriors… demon-slayers, and I'm talking the real baddies, boss."
Wrayth thought back to the young Shih she'd aided earlier. She thought that the young hunter would enjoy the company of such Kindred. She fingered the fabric again. "This scent is fresh. Could the strange rose have visited their garden?"
"I doubt it, boss. We've been keeping tabs on their nest, trying to keep an eye out for the mages. We haven't seen anyone but Salubri and the occasional kine up there."
"Know you where lies the clairvoyant coven?"
"Sure boss. What don't we know about this city? It's in the Hills, pretty close to that fleshcrafter's place."
Wrayth frowned. "Former fleshcrafter, you mean. Do these seers also have black palms?"
Gary laughed, a nasty nasal sound. "Not by a long shot. The Salubri are the do-gooders of our kind. You think Torrie's pride themselves on their Humanity? You meet one of these Kindred, you'd never look twice."
"Be a cartographer for this pathless traveler."
Gary's smile twisted in amusement. "Humor me, boss. Why?"
Wrayth leaned over the table, odd eyes set like stone. "I am bound to this scent. Knowing secret things makes my monster stay silent. Remember that Demon of Knowledge I spoke of?"
"Heh-heh, don't get your panties in a bunch, boss. I didn't say I wouldn't tell you. I like knowing things too." He glanced at the tall grandfather clock in the corner. "But I wouldn't go anywhere in a hurry. You probably won't beat the sunrise."
Wrayth turned to the clock. Six o'clock. She slapped her forehead. By now, she would certainly be missed on the surface. "Cursed be me for hocking every timepiece I find...oh well. Do you charge lodgings?"
"Not a red cent, boss. Take the room next to Imalia's. But don't think you can crash here every morning. The others might think I've opened up a halfway house for wayward Kindred."
"Halfway is a significant step in any journey." Wrayth picked up the scrap of denim and walked towards the doors leading into the Warrens. She glanced back at Gary, who'd already vanished into the shadows again. "You hold the other half, and I pray you keep your word tomorrow night."
"You have no reason not to trust me, but it's good to see you aren't completely naïve. You'll get what you want, boss."
"Want and Need are warring factions, but both sides are appeased in this." She drew her coat around her and made her way to her room for the day. She only hoped that a new model hadn't entered Imalia's fragile little world again. She couldn't deal with the bitching beauty queen again so soon.