I'm floating in the pool at my Bel-Air mansion, relaxing after running a charity golf event. On impulse (or premonition?) I call Straud.
"Salve dominatio vestra, quomodo vales?"
"Sol eodem modo." He begins. "Nova caeli post tempestatem."
"I have a problem that hopefully you will understand. An old friend of mine has come to call. She greeted me in a move of pure desperation -- she came to steal plasma fruit from the orchards I gave to the Vatores. I don't intend to behead her over a loaf of bread."
"The truth is I already know what I must do but I dread the reaction of the Vatores. The boy Caleb has become infatuated with Trente Gagarin and there seems to be little way I can free him from her grasp. This incident will serve to deepen the divide that is already a difficult traversal."
"They are irate over someone stealing to survive? Odd coming from them. What would you have of me?"
"I want you to bring your fiancee to bless the reopening of the Magicademy. Davian has brought both of the Elder Marscapones back to the mortal realm and I thought she'd like to visit with Myrtle now that she's corporeal."
"Myrtle's back? Impressive...I'll have to buy Davian a drink. Tzu will be pleased, she wasn't happy with the way they left things.
So, while Tzu is reconnecting, shall I speak with Caleb? I don't mind getting stern, kid needs to be reminded of the order of things."
"Davian and his son have been working hard, although I think the latter has fled our coterie again, now hiking the Appalachian Trail... Though I'm sure he'll return."
"It is a wonder what can be done when one is not tied to society."
"As for Caleb, I do not know. I do know he requires a delicate touch. He is dangerously close to abandoning our group, and perhaps he already would have would if not for his sister."
"I am considering visiting Manhattan's Prince. I received a particularly galling visit a few months ago and I cannot consider the matter settled. I do not intend to travel alone."
"Adam is young, yet, not even 100, and has always been possessed of wanderlust; besides, you know his dedication to Davian is absolute, regardless of his humor."
"I am surprised to hear Caleb has strayed so far; I know he is self-conscious around the others, but surely his feeding preferences would keep him from embracing Trente and Voldermort...
Well, I will be in NYC in a few weeks, that was one of the reasons I called. They are doing a press-junket for Beyond Infinity so I will be around to provide some assistance."
"As for Caleb, I suspect his desire for female companionship clouds his judgment. I do not even know if he is completely aware of how his emotions are swaying due to very... dare I say... 'human-like' urges. Certainly to confront him about it is to lose what little clout we have in his eyes."
"I am more than glad you will be visiting our little village. I have a number of friends that would be happy to meet you."
"I know I have need of your good word in the Court. They seem to becoming increasingly testy about my refusal to pay taxes."
"What whispers have you heard in your Court? How is your domain?"
"These upstarts weren't even Kindred when you settled in the New World! Pay taxes! I know you like to keep a low profile... I will make my displeasure known to Sylvia."
"LA survives, despite the wildfires and drought. The nights are quiet for the moment, though my agents have noted an increase in Garou and the Mermaids are becoming restless."
"If the taxes were purely monetary, I could tolerate them. A few gold pieces here, a bitcoin there, it would be payment to keep them at bay. But in addition, they keep allowing their operatives free reign in their territory and I am loath to respond with violence. No, violence is decidedly what I do not want."
"Mermaids as well? The Garou I expected to be sensitive to the disturbances but that it has trickled down to the sea is concerning. Very concerning."
"My Lord, that sort of trespass cannot be tolerated. I will call Sylvia at once. She understood The Agreement when she took the throne."
A momentary pause.
"Yes. There are things in the deep; things that even we might have forgotten that hear the call of alien masters."
"An idiot fights a war on two fronts. Only the heir to the throne of the kingdom of idiots..."
"Hah. Thankfully you have spent a long time gathering allies, my Lord. It will be enough because it has to be.
"Everything is happening faster than I expected. It would seem my long years of rest have come to an end."
"Do you remember when we used to visit the discotheque? Did it not seem that our troubles were so far away then? In actuality, of course, the enemy had already launched their forces, but what did we know? I had not yet felt the tremors in my meditations, nor had the tremulations rippled through the fabric of the Umbra."
"Earth has always thought herself typical, run-of-the-mill, but she is anything but. I just struggle understanding how we are to bring her peoples together. She is unusual, it seems, in the sheer concentration of mundanes, but that is not enough to inspire camaraderie."
"The war will be waged on proof. Who can come up with proof for their claims first. Trelaine has been spending years on bending technology to uplift the mundanes. Eventually the Masquerade will no longer suit his purposes. Trente is just waiting for backup: the Mothership. But short of inspiring fear, how can the mundanes be inspired to defend their homeworld, not from us, but from an invader they've never seen?"
"It is nothing we can fix today."
"I remember well. One of humanity's greatest inventions..."
"No, my Lord, not today, though my recent work in Cinema has shown me how multifaceted humans can be...I have hope that with the right guidance they will rise to the challenge."
"I only fear what happens when we stand in the open, victorious...then they might decide that we are the next threat to remove."
"We must have a contingent of powerful mages on our side. Your fiancee as well as our connection with the Magicademy will serve us well. But we need more. The mages of the East are nearly organized, but I cannot say the same of the West. The mages are the only ones who can war against the forces."
"I can see those with the Talent rising up to try to claim rulership when Earth's governments are shown to be incapable."
"What is most important is that we show ourselves to be a cut above the typical Kindred. They must judge us as individuals, rather than condemn us with our kind. They will fight with technology, and when they have it, magic. We have risen above our crimes and demand a fair trial."
"But I will not willingly succumb to the whims of mankind. Should they decide to join hands against us, I will fight if I have to."
"The Mages will be our artillery, but there is always a need for men in the vanguard; the Kindred will earn our place through Valor; if not...the Mortals will learn tolerance."
"The mortals will be gladdened to have been brought into the light but will gain a grudge about being the underclass. Should the Reveal come to light, we must be careful about what the enemy promises the kine. The enemy will use a crooked tongue to get the outcome desired."
"What is equal is not fair and what is fair is not equal; if we are to sacrifice ourselves in their name, using our gifts to ensure their existence, some tolerance seems the least we could ask. However, much has to be done beforehand...I look forward to standing at your side again. I will arrange a meeting with Sylvia for next week?"
"I am mourning the loss of the wild hunt. It is what they will want but it is akin to domestication. They will always know we are coming. Fear will pollute the blood. Slaking the thirst will take a decidedly different shape. Some will adjust. Some will not."
"Choose anything, I will be there."
"Perhaps, but there has long been pleasure in their submission."
"I will text you when I have a firm time. Vale et vale domine mi."
"Ut artemis dirige sagitta."
May Artemis guide your arrow.
Straud depresses the call end button with a lingering emptiness hanging at the edges of his consciousness.
And though he could walk over running water, travel was difficult and required significant preparation. Change was not quick or easy for their kind. Glamour and Presence would turn their gaze but it was still an ordeal. The mortals took for granted the ease with which they traversed the infrastructure. They took for granted the importance of being welcome.
It would be good to visit the Court again. He laughed a little, internally, at the whole idea. They think they have control. They think they are landed. Once this land was without master and I pray it will be free once again.
But for now, I will play the game.