Streetlights flickered across the windshield. They gave the interior of the 50's style cab a strange staccato light, briefly illuminating the blond boy's face as he stared out the window. Johnathan had been fighting back tears since Venture Tower, his heart broken somewhere deep within his chest. Alice...
Something else bothered him though, something that wiggled incessantly at the back of his blurry mind. Alice... there was just something really off about her...
Alice was usually a laid back individual, or at least out loud she was. She rarely ever showed signs of extreme emotion, and he could certainly recall many times where most had been in a panic over some mundane thing or another, while Alice had been still, like the eye of a storm. Some would almost call it eerie, but Johnathan had always enjoyed that strange quality about her, that almost sage-like calm that balanced out his admittedly reactive emotions. But here is where it got weird.
Her entire family was murdered barely a week and half ago in front of her. And yet, when Alice walked through the metal detectors, her posture was upright and confident and her voice didn't have a single wobble in it. No one gets over something like that so fast. It was like... like it never happened. As if her parents never mattered a thing to her... as if her little brother had never meant of thing. Really, it was downright spooky how she acted.
Unless that, that... (damnit,) vampire had something to do with it. God, he didn't want to even think about what happened in the lobby. Holy Christ, vampires are real...
He was still trying to fight the ridiculous compulsion to seek out this Bach unsuccessfully for the past few hours, but that terrible driving need refused to leave his gut. He had to find him, and soon. Somehow.
"We're here..." said the cabbie. His sunglasses filled the rear view mirror as he looked at his passenger. Johnathan nodded in thanks, went to pay the cabbie from the remaining cash in his wallet. "Let me give you some advice, young man." Johnathan looked up, his mind still fogged from Last Round shots and his entire world falling apart before his eyes. "When your looking for something, it is sometimes best to go back to the beginning. You never know what you may find." Whatever, the boy mumbled. As the cab drove off into the dark, Johnathan stepped through the double doors of his hotel.
From the shadows across the street, a silent figure watched.
Sebastian did everything he could to keep his composure. He even forced a smile for the girl's sake, who thankfully did not seem to suspect anything was amiss. And nothing was, except the fact that she had just resisted his meanest Discipline and Blood Bond to boot of course. It didn't matter that she was an Old Soul. It didn't matter a wit that she was supposed to have a formidable amount of willpower. The fact that an 18 year old human could resist a Domination of any kind downright spooked this Elder Ventrue. He supposed the only comforting fact about this situation was that she had clearly struggled in the act. He had watched her during those few tense seconds, fighting not to speak as his command attempted to choke her into submission. Perhaps had the phone not rung he might have won in the end, but that was beside the point. She had resisted him.
When Strauss had entered, Sebastian was almost thankful for the interruption. Almost. He had needed a moment to recover from that particularly nasty shock.
Now, however, he felt that sting of indignation as Strauss had all but flounced in, bold as you please, into his office, and he was forced back into the moment. "Regent, would you be so kind as to explain why you are here in my office tonight? I thought we had agreed to meet on Thursday to have a proper introduction." A flicker doubt crossed the Old Soul's eyes when she looked at the wizard, which evoked a shred of comfort from him. It perhaps signified a kind of trust, which was good to see after their recent row.
"I apologize for my rude interruption. I will need to postpone our original appointment due to an emergency within my Chantry." Which would have only required a simple phone call to either his secretary or Seneschal. No doubt he was here for the girl, but why?
"What were you thinking?"
"The museum, you dolt! That was my event! Did you think I wouldn't find out?"
Lydia wanted nothing more than to backpedal out through the office door behind her as Therese shrieked from across the room. "I-I didn't know, I swear to God I didn't! It was your sister, she-" "Of course, who else? But you know what, Fledgeling? I honestly thought that you wouldn't fall for Jeanette's influence, but like all the others you've fallen to that whore's siren song!" "Look, Ms. Voerman, I'm sorry, I really am..." Lydia racked her brain for something, anything that could get her out of this. "See? I got your 'item of the spirits' thingy for you. Here, take it." Yanking the locket out of her jeans, she just about flung the thing at the irate vampiress, but only just checked herself. At the sight of the trinket, Therese seemed to relax a touch until she started speaking again.
"This doesn't change anything, Fledgeling, but lets say that I decide to believe you, your word against my sister's. What then?" Lydia never thought so fast in her life. What could she do, what could she do? There had to be some way to get out of this! "Well, um, since I've completed our bargain, you could maybe call off the blood feud with Bertram Tung? I really, really need to see-" "Then the last thing I need you to do is go fetch my sister."The Fledgeling stared, unwilling to believe what she just heard. "What? What the hell do you mean, go get your sister? I got the stupid fucking amulet for you - this wasn't our bargain!"
Cold, implacable eyes glared at her from across the room, and Lydia had to swallow back a wave of bitterness: there would be no sympathy or yielding here. Not from people like Therese, who don't give a damn about the Nosferatu's problems. She was going to be shoved around like a pawn, whether she liked it or not. She would do what Therese wanted, because that was the only way she was going to get where she wanted to go, and Therese knew it. Lydia swallowed back a tide of bitterness. It scraped against every last of her nerves, but after a moment she managed to spit out, "What would you have me do, exactly?"
"Ms. Kepler," Strauss was saying to me, "It is good to meet you," at last, I finished mentally. That's what it sounded like. The bald and pale man scrutinized me from behind circular glasses, his yellow eyes penetrating into my own. It was different from LaCroix's icy stare, more piercing somehow. I did my best to maintain eye contact; I refused to look weak in front of the Prince, though I didn't know why that even occurred to me. "Your employer was most concerned about what had happened to you during your ordeal. I understand that you experienced many strange, perhaps frightening and confusing moments during your... adventure in the Ocean House." I nodded, feeling mildly annoyed. It was a homicidal haunted house: there is no "perhaps" about it being frightening. Why does everyone seem treat me like a delicate child lately?
"Yes, sir." "Could you please elaborate for me? I am most interested in the parts where you apparently felt a sense of deja vu, or a strange and inexplicable urge to do something. What do you remember thinking or feeling, and when?" Almost unconsciously I found myself glancing at LaCroix as if for approval. "Go ahead, Ms. Kepler, but please make it quick, as you and I have other things to do this evening." With a nod, I turned to Strauss and attempted to explain.
"From the moment I entered the House I felt a powerful sense of deja vu, as you said. I knew the place inside and out sir, there's just no better way to describe it. Everything, from the top of the house, to the front foyer all the way down to the depths of the boiler room. I knew it, and yet, I didn't." A sudden lump formed in my throat when I spoke next. "I also knew what happened there, or at least, I did when I went to the places where... where..." I was almost choking now; tears leaked down my face, stinging and distorting my vision as something hot and painful twisted inside my chest. I felt ashamed, woefully full of self hate as vague thoughts moved in the back of my mind. I struggled to keep focused as I accidentally prodded a door in my psyche I didn't even know was there. For a moment I stopped, attempting to gather myself in this utterly random tidal wave of grief came out of nowhere. And I would have succeeded if Strauss had not said, "What people, Ms. Kepler?" Somewhere else inside I could feel something panicked and insistent prodding me, but at the moment I didn't care. "I killed them!" I finally blurted out, then sank to my knees weeping.
Sebastian watched as tears leaked down the girls face. For a moment he found himself fascinated as she unraveled under memories and emotions she probably wasn't even entirely remembering. It was when she finally sunk to her knees that he decided that perhaps enough was enough and he moved to assist her. Strauss did nothing; indeed he seemed to be dumbstruck by what was happening before him. It was only when Sebastian stood beside her shaking form that the wizard seemed to snap out of his stupor, but it was too late for him. LaCroix was already kneeling beside the girl, pulling out a handkerchief and gently dabbing at the girl's cheeks like a proper beneficial guardian, leaving Strauss to stand almost awkwardly over them.
To his credit, the Regent was the first to speak some consoling words. "It's alright, young one, truly. I apologize if my interview has upset you, you do not have to speak anymore right now if you do not wish. If it makes you feel any better, you've given me more than enough to narrow down the possibilities." "Yes, it is too bad. I think it would be best if you go to your room and rest for the evening, don't you agree? Then you and the Regent can meet again on a later date." Strauss stiffened, red leather creaking as shoulders tightened. "Yes, that may be better. Thank you, Miss Kepler, for your story. If I may take my leave?" With a last look at the girl, perhaps with a touch of disappointment, the Tremere Elder squared his shoulders, turned on his heel, and walked swiftly out the double doors.
Go to the diner and talk to my sister, she said. It'll be simple, she said.
Well, five thugs with pistols and a motherfucking shotgun said different.
The second that Lydia had walked into the diner, she should have known. Store owners just don't leave the cash register alone with a bunch of gang bangers and no witnesses. She should know; she'd hung out with enough of them, even helped some of them take the odd few bucks out of the tip jar when no one was looking, and that was in Toronto. And besides all that, they seemed utterly indifferent to her appearance, which should have been her first clue. But she'd just wandered to the back, like the silly girl she was, and barely had enough time to register the faint clicking behind her as metal on metal before the shotgun boomed and her back exploded with pain. Now she was stuck lying behind the bar where she crawled, panicking as she heard footsteps get closer and closer. Her vision was going dim and her back was in agony, but above all else her throat burned.
"We got her, ladies and gentlemen! Holy shit, we're gonna be rich men!" Laughing cruelly, one of them advanced around the corner of the bar where she lay, holding his pistol loosely at his side. "Fuck, this is one's pure nightmare fuel, man. Her teeth are like, jagged and shit. What the fuck happens to someone to make 'em look like this?" Some alarm bell in the back of her head was trying to get her attention, but the only thing that Lydia could think about was just how thirsty she was. The thug stood close to her, his ankle well within reach.
The blood was beyond delicious this time, Lydia noted as she nuzzled the man's throat. The thick, intoxicating liquid squirted as his last heartbeats forced it out through his exposed artery. She could feel the bullet holes in her back closing with a pop, the cracked spine she didn't even know she had mending with small hisses of crushed fluids. She didn't even bother trying to stop as the thug's life faded beside her. Fuck him, he struck first. And besides, this shit just felt too good to give up. She could hear footsteps approaching, but she didn't care. She was too busy enjoying herself...
Without warning she was bodily ripped off the now-still body. Slamming into the tiled wall, Lydia screamed in blind outrage and scrambled to her feet, ready for a fight. Instead, she found herself face to face with Joelle. He was frowning at her in a confused sort of fashion. "I could have sworn I saw a predator in here... Do you know where she went?" Lydia glared at the vampire, knowing full well this was a dig against her fighting ability. "I had it all under control, all right? The guy just got the jump on me, that's all." She knew full well she hadn't have shit under control, but goddamn if she was going to admit it to this guy of all people. It was then that she noticed the rest of diner. And what was left of the thugs. When the hell had that happened? A bolt of pure frustration pulsed in her chest. This was the second time Joelle had to save her dead ass, and it irked her that she almost died again, two times in one night.
"Do you require a helping hand? Crossing the street may prove too dangerous for the Jester's little not-Childe." "Shut up, would you? I can do it myself." The Asylum was just across the street; Lydia wondered if Joelle ought to be in one right now. Chuckling darkly at her own terrible joke, Lydia strode past him and out the door, forming Obfuscate around her as she left.
If LaCroix hadn't been steering me, I was sure I would have walked into more than one wall on the way back to my room. Not that I would have cared: shame, pain, and rage made it impossible to focus on my surroundings, let alone stop sobbing long enough to seen where I was going. I felt ashamed because I had broken down in front of the Prince and his guest; rage that I directed at myself for some awful deed I couldn't even remember, but guess at; pain for losing... everything. I couldn't explain it. It was more than losing my family, more than hurting my friends. Something loomed at the back of my mind, and I was terrified to face it.
I had to go back the Ocean House. I don't care how long it takes, but I would win LaCroix's trust back, and go find answers of my own.
After the Prince dropped me off at my room, I lay awake on my bed for hours, pondering my mysteries.
"Well, Therese, your hitmen didn't kill me, so I guess now's the time for some goddamn answers-"
The woman that looked at Lydia from in front of the giant painting scared the shit out of her. It was Therese... and Jeanette. It was like their heads had been seamlessly merged: The right side side was the mostly makeup-less face of Therese, her usually professional bob a mess ratty mess. The left, Jeanette's unmistakeable painted face and a single pig tail. The woman held a pistol, and was wildly waving it about before she noticed Lydia. Something wiggled in the back of Lydia's mind, something from psych class about the functions of the sides of the brain, but she shoved that away.
"You! Excellent, you made it back. Help me! My sister tried to have you killed. Now we can deal with her together." The woman spoke in Therese's voice. "Ummm, wha-" "She's crazy!" screeched Jeanette's voice. "Help me, and I'll help you find Bertram, I swear!" "Shut up, Janeatte! No one wants to hear your filthy lies anymore. To think I tried to take care of you, and this is how you repay me?" "Uh, ladies?..." "Taken care of me? All you've done is smother me!" "Ladies..." "How does it feel now that I've beat you, Therese? Bertram was dancing on my leash. I bet you weren't expecting that, huh?"
Literally no different from home. "OK, that's enough! It's time for you two to just SHUT UP and tell me what the FUCK is going on!" Therese - she knew it was Therese, it was all in the look - glared at her. "Isn't obvious? I'm about to rid the night of this deviant, backstabbing whore!" "You're one to talk, dear sister, or should I say 'Daddies little girl'?" Lydia fought back the urge to probe further into that little tidbit of info. That sort of stuff doesn't matter, she reminded herself. The important thing was diffusing their anger. She knew from experience how siblings happily throw shit around for all to see just so that the most important party would hate on the other, and she would not fall for that.
"Look, you two need to stop fighting." "Why? Don't you want to hear more about Saint Virtue over here?" Jeanette's voice was a dangerous purr. Seriously, this was by far worse than that 'shroom trip a few years back while hanging out with those twins. What was weird was that, now that she was looking at them - er, her - Lydia could clearly see all the signs, all the facial similarities.
One wore makeup, and the other glasses, and yet the two entirely different women shared the same body. God, they must have the weirdest cat fights. She couldn't wait to see what Alice thought about all this.
"Ladies... you really need to learn how to work together." "Like my foolish little sister said, why? Everything that ever goes wrong around here is her fault-" "You flatter me, Therese. Yes, your right: I'm the one who ensures that all hell breaks loose in this town, all the way down to making sure your heels break on the red carpet... Please. Makes me wonder if you were just a teensy bit jealous of Daddy and I." "SHUT UP, Jeanette!"
Lydia shook her head and tried again. "Think about how powerful you two could be, together!" she had to keep calm, had to keep up a confident tone. They wouldn't listen to her otherwise. "Come on: Therese, you're already great at dealing with the surface matters in Santa Monica, right? You wouldn't be a Baron if you weren't. And Jeanette, you have a lot of underground contacts. I bet that when people need to know stuff around here, they come to you, or should. If you guys worked together, no one would be able to oppose you anymore."
Therese snorted. Jeanette rolled her eyes. Lydia was losing them, fast. There was only thing left to try, and it was a hell of a gamble. She took a deep breath. "I think... there has to have been a time where you two got along." She tried to smile. "I have a couple of sisters at home, and they fight a lot too, but I've seen them play together like best friends from time to time. They find a common ground, and that helps them get along for a while. So I would find it hard to believe that you two hate each other completely."
Silence, stretching on for minutes, obviously having hit a nerve. Then finally: "There was a time..." "We didn't have a lot of friends growing up. Our father didn't let us go out much, he said-" "-that we would get hurt. So we stayed inside... and made up our own little world." "...Where we ruled together... those were happier times."
Lydia forced herself not to sigh in relief as the Voermans' voices became more gentle. Now she was on steadier ground. Still standing beside a canyon, but still steady. Just one more push in the right direction... "Do you two really want to kill each other?" More tense silence. Longer than the last.
Jeanette murmured, "No, not really." Therese sighed. "No, I guess I didn't."
Just one more step- "Give me the gun." "Fine, take it. I'd hate to think about what almost happened with it." Hardly daring to believe her luck, the Nosferatu stepped forward and took the pistol. Jeanette spoke as soon as she stepped back, sounding oddly tired. "Bertram's hiding out in an old oil drum down the street. I'll let him know your coming." "Give our regards to the Prince. If you'll excuse us, we have some negotiating to do."
Morgan145: Tsk, tsk, Lydia. Two ass savings and near Frenzy's in one night. Makes one worry, it does...
And yes, I am terribly sorry for taking so long with this chapter. I've been having the most awful writers block about it for the past while, and I refused to just bang it out for the sake of updating more frequently. I'm not sure how long the next one will take, as I am leaving home for a job for the next two months (but I can take the pc. YAY!). But I assure you, the next one is already underway. No way in hell am I going to abandon this now! :3
... oh yea, and great big time jump for the next chapter. Prepare yourselves.