With the spell outlined, I change into a long midnight blue suit with cream ascot and star sapphire pin. Though not currently in fashion, I complete the ensemble with a tophat and exquisite cane. Thus attired, I hop in my Rolls Royce Corniche convertible and head over to the Blue Velvet.
You encounter a fair bit of traffic while you drive from Manhattan to Astoria; a collision on the Queensboro Bridge has reduced throughput to a single lane. It's infuriating but there's nothing you can do short of vulgar magicks. There are few ways in which the Mortal realm controls any piece of your life and this is one of them. But you've left yourself enough time to reach the B.V. before nightfall -- You'd wanted to be Fashionable but not Late.
You finally drive up in front of the B.V. and pull your car into an empty space. You exit the car effortlessly, but place the cane nevertheless firmly on the ground. Doing a cursory sweep of the area, you are filled with energies from auras flowing past one another like clouds.
The most present aura is that of a valet who takes your keys and hands you a ticket. His aura is thin and hazy; you easily sense that he's what the vampires call a 'thinblood'. He would have no way to sense your aura -- he has not enough potential to work such feats -- but still seems to regard your dress and carriage as worthy of respect and avoids eye contact with you, seeming small as he bows his head and shows you his hair rather than his face.
You pocket the ticket and place your trust both in the valet and the extensive protective wards you have on your car.
Sun threatening to set behind you, you finally walk into the Blue Velvet and drink in the feeling of the extranatural subsuming your presence.
To your left is a stage set with a large velvet curtain in faded scarlet. The curtain is heavy in silence while the whispers of those hidden behind it trickle through to your consciousness. The ample sitting areas include booths lining the walls with wood&iron tables filling the floorspace. There are still plenty of empty chairs but you suspect the same will not be true in an hour's time.
A barkeep is drying glasses and arranging them on a hidden shelf. The din of tens of conversations creates a viscous environment of conflicting sounds. Alone at the bar sits a man with dark hair faced away from you, leaving a few adjacent seats empty for other patrons. Straud is nowhere to be seen.
As I take the ticket I palm him a Victoria Sovereign and make my way into the club without looking back.
"T-Thank you, sir. Have a good night!" He calls after you.
You noticed there were two seats at the valet's station but the second seat had been empty.
Making my way to the Bar, I take a seat one space away from the dark-haired man and order a Paloma.
"Paloma, huh? Grapefruit's been popular this season. Never have the stuff myself, tastes terribly bitter to me. They say it runs in my blood."
The dark-haired main raises an eyebrow at the word.
You hear a shriek followed by a cacophony of tittering laughter come from behind the curtained stage. The interruption quickly dissipates but not without disturbing the young man to your left. He stares over at the stage expectantly but no commotion rises. The ambient noise rises again to its previous levels.
He grasps his glass tightly and downs the rest of the dark purple drink.
"I find bitter more appealing as the years pass." I take a sip "Excellent. Refreshing and balanced". I slide another coin across the counter. I notice the man's reaction and take the opportunity to look him over.
The man stiffens as if a cold breeze has drifted across his person.
"Barkeep, did you hear me?" He's anxious, either at your observation, or something else.
"Yeah yeah I heard you. Keep your shorts on." The bartender's tone borders on caustic; it's obvious the man is a regular. A regular lush.
"Show starts at eight-thirty?" The barkeep hums agreement. The dark-haired man looks down at his wristwatch. "About an hour to go..."
The man gives a new meaning to the phrase cold shoulder. It is clear he worries that you're about to speak to him. He adjusts his glasses and feigns interest in a nearby television.
Suddenly you become aware of a familiar figure emerging from behind the closed curtain. A thin man with silver hair splits the divide between the two sides of the curtain and stands alone on stage, if only for a moment. He quickly surveys the crowd, takes a few steps forward, and gracefully jumps from the stage to the floor.
"Vlad!!" A young woman, part of a trio already having reserved their seat for the performance, calls out to him as he leaps from the stage. "Please let me introduce you to my friends."
The dark-haired man sitting next to you watches Straud descend and continues to observe with ire as he entertains the trio of mortals. Soon, the freshly prepared drink is gone with a swift gulp and he slams it to the countertop.
"Please be gentle with the glasses, will ya?" the barkeep speaks aloud in impatience.
Observing the young ladies swarming Straud, I raise my class and meet his eye with a sly grin then turn back around to the bar. "Another, please."
While my drink is being made I make a show of inspecting the room, taking care not to look directly at the man next to me. (It is not my intention to freak him out or make him uncomfortable).
Straud tips his head to you and turns his attention back to the young ladies.
The bartender politely accepts your order and begins preparing the drink. To your distinct pleasure, you notice that the bar has fresh fruit from which he draws the source of your drink. Grapefruit is only one of the offerings; there are lemons and limes, some small apricots and plums, and judging by the garnish on one of the drinks he's preparing, even strawberries. Someone else receives a generous stalk of celery in a bloody mary.
The man at the bar whips out his phone, reads his text messages, and starts mumbling at the screen. You can hear him fairly easily due to your heightened senses. "I'm not coming tonight, what part of that is so difficult to understand?"
You inspect the room and
A huge crowd clamors at the door, having to rearrange into single-file to fit through the door. There must be fifteen people there, you estimate. Judging by their attire, it's a fraternity function. The fraternity appears mixed-sex. They file through the door and fill up most of the booths in the audience.
Straud bids the trio adieu and approaches you as the fraternity crowds in.
"Davian -- Davian Hughes. It's a delight to see you tonight. I trust you've met my assistant?" He motions toward the anxious man, who's sitting hunched over his glass as if protecting it from ceiling debris. His shoulders slowly roll back as he hesitates to join the conversation.
But Straud will have none of the audacious play at rudeness. "Davian is an old friend of mine. Please do me the honor of introducing yourself properly. This reluctant approach does not suit you."
He turns around and finally faces you. He is wearing a drab grey coat with a fur-lined collar. His eyes are a steely grey such that his dilated pupils almost disappear into the abyss. His black hair is slicked back with a light gloss of some kind of pomade.
"Mandarc Soo." he reaches out his hand to request a handshake.
Straud resumes the conversation. "I am sorry you have not had the pleasure of meeting with Mandarc. He's only been under my charge a few short years. Are you planning on staying for the performance, Mandarc?"
"I wanted to make sure you had help if you needed it." Mandarc straightens his jacket and stands.
"I was sure you would be otherwise occupied this evening."
"Just idle chit-chat, Master. Nothing there matters in the grand scheme of things."
I shake his hand and give him a warm smile, ignoring the chill of his grip. "Pleasure to meet you."
Turning back to Straud I make a small gesture encompassing the room "Going to be a packed house; I do hope you've hired a magician."
"More than I've expected, but fewer than I planned for."
"Pulling rabbits out of hats always gets the activists in a tizzy. Besides which, the hedge wizards always ask for too much compensation for what they're willing to offer."
"How was your visit with the Marscapones?"
Mandarc inserts himself into the conversation. "You were visiting with the Marscapones?"
Straud maintains a calm demeanor and informs him, "Why yes, Mandarc. Surely you've remembered that it's been precisely one year since the death of the Matron."
Mandarc's eyes widen in surprise. "One year?! Has it really been a year?"
"The Marscapones are well; I left flowers at the memorial as requested; Irises."
"Kevin is an odd duck, but provided stimulating conversation".
Turning to Mandarc, I nod in agreement: "Sed fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus"
"He's had a number of hardships over the years. I suppose it is impossible to walk through the tempest without acquiring a few uncommon habits. I am glad the errand did not provide you with too much trouble."
"Nice Latin, but I couldn't get any further than that." Mandarc's eyes shift about cautiously.
Straud interjects with a patient tone. "What Davian is trying to say is that there's no time like the present. Why don't you go introduce yourself to the large party that's made their way into our establishment?"
"Introduce myself, sir? I'm already pretty...jazzed up from the drink -- drinks -- I had at the bar."
"All the better."
And with that, Mandarc slips away, leaving Straud and Davian standing next to the bar.
Straud takes this moment to sit where Mandarc had been seated, and draws the empty glass up to his nose and sniffs curiously. He pushes the empty glass across the lowered counter for the barkeep to pick up. (Barkeep is absent atm.)
"Mandarc's good help but he's young. Very young... -- Anyway -- " He brushes his fingertips on his coatsleeve. "I'm glad to find your trip satisfactory. Irises are a good choice, if I know the woman well. It is a tragedy that she left us so young. I'm sure Kevin relayed the story to you, but if not, know that I was myself collected among those of us that were out-of-town when the tragedy occurred. I consider myself at fault for the whole thing. I suppose a witch's battle is often finished in an expedient fashion, and there's no telling what I would have been able to do, but I still allowed our territory to exist without chaperone. And that, of course, is when terror struck."
Suddenly Straud sends a thought into your mind that triggers a memory. "Render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar's, as you would render upon God those things that are God's."
"Given her talents, she would certainly be under my bailiwick, though I suppose you did know her longer. More importantly there something I learned..." I am distracted by the approach of a ravishing young woman, dressed in a slinky indigo silk dress. "Chiasa".
Chiasa cuts an impressive silhouette in her vibrant dress. Straud takes a moment to look her up and down and notes that her dress is lined in chinchilla. Her mannerisms betray a woman with a seriousness beyond her years. She holds out her hand for Straud, who accepts the gesture and kisses the back of her hand genially.
"Your skin is the finest porcelain, my lady."
She's not a local, that's for sure. She seems to possess a preternatural calm that is never found in the city's inhabitants. Her eyes scan the crowd with a commander's command and never once does she betray her secrets. Vampires did not travel without dire reason, so the question rises: Who was she and why was she here?
At the other end of the room, Mandarc is working the crowd of fraternity members.
"Count Vladislaus Straud." He pauses a moment. "The fourth, if such titles mean anything to you and the court."
"Chiasa Chinoko." She bows incrementally, a sparse movement then shoots Davian a coy look. "Davian told me so much about you".
"I hope he relayed a favorite tale of mine from the war. I single-handedly saved a tender clutch of Mortal orphans by eliminating the creature of the Night that had been terrorizing them. It was a terrible business, and really did not show our kind in the best possible light. Did you relay that story, Davian? Or perhaps some other adventure in which I ended up looking the fool. There are far too many of those."
"I must let you know, out of mutual respect, that if you travel with the protections of the Camarilla, you dine outside of their territory."
Her laughter is like the chiming of silver bells. "You are as refreshingly direct as he mentioned." She gives another small bow. "Thank you for the warning, but I am not associated with the Camarilla, nor the other usual suspects. I am what you would call 'a free agent'. Besides (she winks at Davian) I am here at the invitation of a Magister Hermes".
"An evening goes by far too quickly to play coy with one's words." He bows to her in turn. "An invitation is a dangerous thing."
Mandarc leaves his skit of schmoozing and divides the crowd to re-join Straud and his guests. "Mandarc Soo. Currently serving as chief assistant to the estate." And he thrusts out his hand to meet Chiasa's.
Chiasa shakes his hand with a firm, almost crushing, grip. "Pleased to meet you Mandarc, Chiasa Chinoko"
Invitations complete, Chiasa spies an open booth and gestures in that direction "Why don't we take this conversation to somewhere more comfortable".
"Oh, no, please not that one. I have my own viewing area up front."
Mandarc leads the way, employing the tiniest burst of speed, to inspect the booth. He finds a stray knit scarf in dark orange. He tucks it into his coat.
"Otherwise looks clean. Please -- be seated."
The four file into the square booth. It has a surprisingly good view of the stage. It looks down upon the stage but doesn't suffer a shallow point of view.
Mandarc allows himself to be blocked in by others while Straud takes an edge seat. Mandarc turns to Chiasa and asks, "So you're an out-of-towner, where do you hail from?"
Chiasa takes the inside seat while Davian sits across from Straud. Once Davian has sat, Chiasa presses herself against him then turns to Mandarc. "I was born in Tokyo but spent lots of time on the West Coast."
Davian attempts to maintain his dignity (and his balance). "Could you call your waiter Vlad, I think I am going to need another drink".
"Of course." Straud waves at a young woman with warm rosewood hair.
She immediately comes over to the table. "Hi, I'm Matilda, and I'll be your server tonight. What can I get you all tonight?"
Mandarc immediately pipes up, "Get me two plasma janes, plus one for the lady." He delivers an aside to her, "East Coast stuff. You'll love it."
Matilda laughs. "Three plasma janes, okay, anything else?"
"Balvenie 30 please, make it a double".
I also reach into my pocket and take out a beautiful carved cigarette case made of some silver-gray metal; I remove a hand-rolled 'cigarette' and light up.
Matilda disappears from the table.
Mandarc pulls out his phone and starts typing away at some unknown message.
"Well, Chiasa," Straud begins. "It is fortuitous that you've made it in town for our first performance in...what is it, Mandarc, months, years...?"
"Years. Weren't we just lamenting how time makes us all his fool?" He adjusts his cane laying against the seat's edge. "You should know, Chiasa, that should you be interested in staying in the neighborhood for any considerable length of time, that this place is rife with Night-folk. If you'd like the protection of our clan, please know that we have a bit of a community here. It's not without a little effort on your end. I hope it will be nothing too obtrusive to your goals."
"I hope you have no ties to the Sabbat and their peoples." He says, with a deliberate tone of cautiousness.
As Straud issues his warnings, Davian's affect becomes less distracted and more focused; those with extrasensory perception notice a building pressure, similar to that experienced when changing altitude. Chiasa suddenly leans into him and puts her hand on his arm before turning to Straud.
"I avoid contact with the Sabbat as much as possible. Their vision of the future is not to my liking". She removes her hand and idly rubs Davian's back. "As for my stay, I travel often, but would be happy to pitch in; after all, a friend of Davian's is a friend of mine."
"Glad to have you then, many hands make for light work." Straud's smile is slight, but genuine.
Matilda brings the drinks back to the table. Mandarc praises her for a job well done. "See!" he says to the table. "I told you she was fast." Matilda rolls her eyes and leaves the table to talk amongst themselves.
"Well, perhaps as a newcomer, you could help me with a problem I've been having. We, here, largely believe that the act of murdering Mortals is rarely warranted. In particular, I've felt it's especially necessary to protect those within my territory that express particular Talent. Mages will help us defend the world in the End Days, or at least, I hope I can count you as my ally, Davian." He nods his head toward the man sitting across from him.
"There exists a family, the Tang family, a magicking family that dwindled to three members: a mother, a daughter, a son. The daughter fell in with the Sabbat and murdered her mother. She's a dangerous card, that one. I want a relic of hers, something with which to improve our scrying. We must be prepared lest she wander into our territory."
Davian examines his drink for a long moment before taking a sip and meeting Straud's gaze. "We have fought side-by-side many times Vlad, you are an ally, and a trusted friend (his eyes flicker in Chiasa's direction). I have few friends these days, and have become quite protective of them." His demeanor changes abruptly and the pressure vanishes as he finishes the glass and laughs. "But I know your heart is in the right place." (Wink)
Chiasa takes the opportunity to jump in "I'm in need of some exercise, tell me more".
"I can easily grok your instinct to protectiveness. The world is becoming smaller and our enemies crowd in at the shoulders. Though we stand on two sides of the river, we both agree to keep it free of contamination. That, I am grateful for."
"The greatest gift we have been given by the Mortals is their language and turns of phrase." Straud places his hand over his chest in a showy gesture.
He turns to Chiasa. "Meifeng Tang was the daughter of a mage but never displayed Talent. I have been beseeching the Prince for aid, under my observation that those of the magicking families make for more deadly enemies, but the Prince is unwilling to risk open war with Brooklyn. It's created an escalating cold war in which more and more deadly weapons are obtained."
"My old rival, the Doctor Lenard Trelaine, wields the power of splicing blood and bone, and uses his talents to gain favor among the half-breeds he tempts with the promise of the Embrace. I believe it is he who embraced the young woman Meifeng Tang."
"I believe your status as a newcomer to the city may serve us well. Trelaine has a large warehouse in Brooklyn that serves as shelter and Church to those he's taken under his wing. I believe Tang, too, shelters there."
"Know that I do not wish you dead, and would prefer you abandon a mission rather than fall prey to their vile methods. A personal effect of the woman would serve our mages well but protecting our Kind is of the utmost priority."
Mandarc, having finished his first plasma jane, butts into the conversation with his own two cents. "I'd go myself, but Trelaine is something like...my estranged step-father. He'd recognize my aura a mile off. But you? Trelaine doesn't know you from Adam."
Straud places his fingertips upon his forehead, taking a moment's respite before following up on his assistant's commentary. "You should know, Davian, that I've been, for near on two hundred years, trying to snuff out the Doctor Trelaine's ambitions. He aims to answer the age-old question of why some people awaken as mages and some do not. He'll make his own race of super-soldiers if we let him, and align them against us. I cannot let this come to pass."
I take a deep drag from my joint before responding. "There are records of mages who have attempted the same as this 'Trelaine'. It did not work. Oh, they awakened all right, but were incurably insane, like 'turn everything into chocolate' insane. (He takes another puff) But the thought of an untold number of new Marauders is terrifying, it could shatter the Masquerade and the Consensus..." I suddenly slip into a thoughtful expression. "Vlad I need another drink."
Chiasa has been listening closely. As Davian trails off, momentarily lost in thought, she again takes the opportunity. "No problem, I prefer to go solo. It sounds like you with to simply observe at this time, so I will attempt to minimize casualties. "
"I should preface you both, if either of you investigate the family, that while they're born in the United States, their mother was raised by the old precepts of the Middle Kingdom. By that I mean their son, Zhangwei, can only invoke the most middling of wondrous feats. They truly believe men are the inferior sex when it comes to the Craft. I think it's created such a deep divide and misunderstanding that their family has really suffered. Zhangwei has become mired in doubt since the death of his mother. It is the existence of so many of these lost children that troubles me -- mages, especially, but mortals are suffering the same sort of wasting sickness -- where even the magically gifted will not be able to be risen to battle when the horn sounds."
A second round of drinks comes round the table. "I do not doubt the troubles with forced awakenings. It reminds me of the troubles with bestowing the vampiric gift upon mortal children. They are rarely, if ever, possessed of the maturity needed for eternal life, and the fascination with what they've been denied drives them to lunacy. We cannot tolerate these atrocities in our lands."
"As far as the Masquerade and the Consensus, I feel it is when and not if. I try to remind every willing audience that times of times of peace are punctuated by times of war. But I cannot blame people for not listening to an old bogeyman! This has been such a time of peace but also of great change. The people think they are used to it but I say bah! They do not know war. War will come but no one will be prepared for it."
"The only constant is change. Well, we shall be happy to help in this small way, and in future as needed. And Vlad, though I am no longer attending the gatherings, I still have contacts and influence in the Order, when it should come to that."
"I will be more than happy to take advantage of a word of favor. I do not think the Order would take too kindly to my concerns."
He takes a moment to look around the table. "So, Chiasa. Please tell me how Davian introduced our little band of brigands. And what do you think of the plasma jane? As Mandarc relayed to you, it's a special variety of fruit we've cultivated for use by the Kindred. It staves off the worst of the Compulsion. Some among us claim it will be the salvation of our kind but I remain unconvinced."
"However, it's a boon that we've enjoyed and largely been able to keep secret, thankfully. The crop you're enjoying is grown by the Vatore family. Rumor has it, and this might interest you, Davian, that the tree was a gift from an ancient people to the devout Elder Vatore. I can neither confirm nor deny the tale, but certainly there was a time in recent memory that existed before the fruit -- perhaps it truly was a divine, or magical, gift."
Mandarc pipes up. "I don't think it has to be magical at all. Some strange cultivar of the apple and plum, it seems. I can't say why it has such an effect on the Kindred, but then the Earth is a strange place."
Straud retakes the conversation. "The tree thrives in the moonlight like a green tree thrives in the sun. It's really a beauty to behold. But I worry about what the appearance of the fruit says about the fate of our kind. The apple was a temptation to the first Men -- it gave them what God promised but at a terrible price."
"Master," Mandarc adds. "You don't mean to imply that you actually believe in the Judeo-Christian origin story for humanity. It's riddled with plot-holes and deus ex machina. Not to mention it doesn't match at all with scientific discovery regarding past events."
Straud buries his forehead in his palm. "Mandarc, you will someday realize that only with faith can one fly."
"The Order cares very much for this planet, and by extension the rest of this Umbra Bubble. They might not hold any warm feelings for The Kindred -I can't imagine why- but that won't prevent their assistance; I will make sure of it."
"I believe he was speaking allegorically, Mandarc. There is much truth hidden in myth and legend."
"On that note, Vlad, I propose a positive interpretation: someone cared enough to provide a means of ethical subsistence for those with Heliophobia, someone with advanced talents".
"I sincerely hope that is all, however, I do not think the stuff should be consumed as one's sole nutriment. The Hunt is of great importance to the Vampire -- refusing to partake in predation will yield us a bunch of housecats overstuffed on kibble. I do not doubt it will help many overcome the Beast, but let none ever forget that our kind IS the Hunt."
Mandarc speaks across the table to Davian. "Oh, I'm sure there's much truth in what we don't understand but once it's found to be truthy, it will be reclaimed in the name of Science. The chaos may rule other planes of existence but not this one. This is the Mortal's realm and we are only stewards of their dramas and pleasures."
Straud clarifies. "Mandarc believes the fruit will enable him to walk among the Mortals and strike up a friendship with the sheep and their...puppies."
Mandarc seems somewhat offended. "Master, no need to be so flippant. I perfectly understand your aversion to the fruit and who am I to tell you how to survive. But I believe the Kindred, with their unique gifts and abilities, are perfectly suited to become guardians to the Mortals once the shadow of the Masquerade is shattered."
Straud remains unconvinced. "The people will never see you as anything but a monster."
"Master," Mandarc adds. "You don't mean to imply that you actually believe in the Judeo-Christian origin story for humanity. It's riddled with plot-holes and deus ex machina. Not to mention it doesn't match at all with scientific discovery regarding past events."
A lone performer steps out on the stage as a warm-up act. The audience gives little respect; most of them keep chattering over what appears to be a light comedic politically aware skit.
Chiasa has been watching the exchange with amusement. "We are predators, Count, but so are humans. What happens when two predators are aware of each other? Do you hold the same attitude towards what the kine call 'vegans'? "
"Partaking only of plants and not of animal flesh is an amiable goal -- I do find the process of consumption a fair bit grotesque at times -- but even the humans acknowledge that it is difficult, nigh impossible, to obtain protein and other macro-nutrients from a solely plant-based diet. To facilitate tissue growth and development, they must intake a certain amount of these substances. To do otherwise is suitable for the classes of leisure, but will never be sustainable for high-performance applications."
"The problem with the plasma fruit is of similar take. We need vitae, true, and pure. It's the only way we can sustain our existence. The fruit grows of earth and I suspect its ability to substitute for the Life is because it possesses no small amount of vitae of Gaia herself. But we should look upon her gift with reverence, not abuse it to the point of stupification."
Mandarc provides a necessary aside. "The Master's been working on the afore-mentioned Vatore family who grows most of our fruit. He claims he's never before drunk from a human, and instead only consumes fruit. Seems to be working out well for him; he can walk in the sun."
Straud interrupts. "I do not think the two facts are related."
Mandarc makes a showy gesture with his hands. "Well the fact still stands that he can walk in the sun and sparkle a bit while I'm stuck here applying suncreme."
"More evidence to the point I was going to make, Mandarc. Reality is more malleable than most people understand. Things like Truth operate on consensus." (I am going to turn the salt and pepper shakers into an apple and a plum) Matter 3 Life 3, Arete+Matter (9+5) = 14
"Apologies Vlad, I try not to get carried away in the BV, but In Vino Veritas."
Straud tries his best deadpan but there is something merry in the way he speaks. "I do hope you'll be replacing the finery. I've looked for years for a salt shaker that does not clog."
Mandarc seems to have barely noticed the half-compliment. "Very good, very good." He pauses a moment, trying to carefully measure his words. "Then tell me what would have happened if I did not believe. If I truly did not believe."
Davian winks to Straud before continuing with Mandarc "A single bee is not a beehive, nor is a single mind the consensus. The unconscious belief of all sentient animals combines to mold reality, which is why what I do is so difficult. Making lasting changes is similar to kicking a bale of wool, most of the time; and beware the beekeeper..."
"The consensus is formed of trillions of eyes and yet one rogue hand may break it for everyone. Seems familiar."
"I've often wondered what happens in the event of the end of the Consensus. Change ripples through the beings of Earth and eventually everyone will have heard of magic and that it is possible. Does that form the new Consensus? Such that every new step of magic forces a new set of prevailing beliefs about the status quo? In that case it simply seems another step of Science. Except Science is even more powerful because it doesn't give a fuck about what everyone believes. The Mortals found it impossible that matter can bend light, but it does, has, and always will. They did not believe energy could be obtained from splitting the atom, but lo and behold! Their beliefs may change but the precepts of Science are immovable."
Straud provides an instructive aside. "The bee makes comb and honey but it is the keeper who harvests the fruits of her labor."
"The Awakening is a profound realization about the self separate from knowledge of the supernatural; but if the consensus changed to openly accommodate the supernatural, one of the things that might change is the nature of the reality that Science investigates."
Turning to Straud: "True, it is an imperfect analogy, for the Paradox are merely the manifestation of the Consensus. But there are many things that might fill the role of the beekeeper, and that fight never ends." I take another sip of my drink and slide my hand down Chiasa's back, giving her a hug. (Mind 4 Telepathy, Ar+Mind= 13)
("Thank you for coming, and for your help earlier")
"But this is dour talk for what is a happy occasion. What are we about to see tonight Vlad?"
"A tale of forbidden love across country lines. An old world favorite of mine. It's the first time we've had the performers in nearly three years."
"It's a homecoming for many of the artists. I'm glad to see them again. It's incredible how many people have come out for the show."
For anyone who's watching the door, a seasoned vampire enters the establishment.
He has dark brown skin and jet-black hair in a tussle on his head. Davian recognizes him as the vampire Hassan Taleb -- Gabrielle's sire.
Hassan makes a b-line for the corner booth. It takes him some time but both Mandarc and Straud go quiet, listening to Hassan's footsteps.
He soon appears at the booth and flashes a confident smile at Matilda, who's moved to a nearby table to refresh drinks of other customers. She flashes him an uneasy smile, it was well-known Hassan was on speaking terms with the Manhattan princes.
Straud stands and cues a handshake with the intruder. "Hello, Hassan. What could possibly be drawing you all the way out here?"
"Oh nothing important. I heard this little stage was having a re-inauguration tonight and my curiosity was piqued." Hassan, using supernatural quickness, leans on the table, looking at the plum and apple. "Plus, it's always good to keep up with the Caitiff of Queens." He takes the plum in his hands and holds it as if a globe. "Count Straud, Mandarc --" this last word comes out acerbic and biting. "I hope I will be welcome in your theater tonight. I apologize for arriving unannounced but I only just received word of the event."
He motions to Davian and says, "Nice to see you're keeping the right kind of company. Hello Davian, how are you this evening?"
I stand and nod to Hassan, though I do not offer my hand. "Hello Hassan. I am well, yourself?"
The name tickles my memory then it hits...this is the Hassan. I sit and watch, waiting for the most opportune moment.
(I also will not forget that he didn't introduce himself)
"I'm doing well tonight, all things considered. I was disappointed that I couldn't rouse our mutual friend to make it out tonight." He continues to speak while looking at the plum in his hands, though clearly loud enough for the table to hear him. "She still loves you, you know."
I pause for a moment, too stunned to speak, then meet Hassan's gaze. "And I her, despite everything. However, as I have been reminded tonight (my eyes flicker to Straud) personal is not the same as important and I must accept what is for the time being. Please give her my best and ask her to remember Scarborough Fair." (another pause) "Thank you, Hassan. You didn't have to say that. Makes me glad I haven't fashioned you into furniture." (the last is said with a smile).
"And you should be glad that I honor the promise of Elysium." Hassan looks toward Straud with a somewhat more measured display of bravado. "I'll try to remember to relay your message to her. She's been...moody lately. I've told her it doesn't suit her, but she's no head for obedience."
He puts the plum down on the table next to the apple. Hassan draws from his inner strength and conjures a flower in his right hand, a large daisy with purple petals. He draws it to his nose in a showy display and draws air into his lungs. "Really, Count, you should think about bringing your properties under the protection of the Camarilla. It could benefit all of us."
"I'm doing just fine, thank you, Hassan Taleb. If I need a stooge of the Camarilla to represent my interests, I know where to find you."
"Do you know where to find me, though?" The smarm seeps through his words like hot butter.
"I'll manage." Straud is cool and collected in the face of the upstart.
"And you, my darling." He turns toward Chiasa and leans over the edge of the table. "I hope you're not falling in with the Boys in the 'hood -- I hear they're taking in enough refugees to threaten the traditional hunting grounds. I wouldn't like to see a pretty face like yours in any danger."
Straud won't sit for the impingement. "We have no population concerns in our borough, though I appreciate the concern."
Hassan continues to twirl the daisy between his fingers. One might notice at this point his extended fingernails, sharpened to vicious daggers. "You're a newcomer here, are you not, my lady? Are you another victim of my friend's quest for glory? I shall not weep if I'm forced to pick up the pieces of yet another of his abandoned conquests."
My face is a porcelain mask as I scrutinize Hassan. "I am in town for an unrelated matter and decided to say hello to an old friend." (I am going to spend a bloodpoint and use Dance of Vines to animate the flower and have it constrict around Hassan's hand, Willpower roll difficulty 6)
"Besides, I find Tremere tiresome."
I wave my hand and the flower disintegrates into dust.
"She's beautiful as well as accomplished. I always trust you to find the diamonds in the rough, Davian." He spins his fingers against themselves, as if the flower had not disappeared.
He releases his grasp on the imaginary flower and looks around at the table. "I hope you're not unaligned. Such a waste of talent, all to hunt and slumber alone."
The air of tense civility threatens to dissipate as Mandarc raises his voice, having been talked over for several minutes. "Get out of here, Hassan. Enjoy the show or don't, it makes no difference to us."
Hassan curls his inner fingers and extends his thumb and pinky, both adorned with a gaudy fingernail. An illusion spreads from the point of contact, showing both fruits withering to the point of barely being recognizable. The pit of the plum is all that remains.
"ENOUGH." Straud stands and a feeling of calm exudes from his presence.
"I have had enough".
Straud's attempt to calm the escalating anger at the table fizzles.
"You're becoming weak, old man." But his voice is choked in his throat as he suddenly becomes frozen in place.
"Your visit was pleasant enough at first, Hassan, and I still hold a certain sentiment regarding your attempt at mutual understanding, which is why I am going to let you walk out of here right now."
"Here let me help you". Hassan starts making jerky motions towards the door.
He throws a barbed look at Straud, then back toward Davian. "For Elysium." And he exits the bar.
Mandarc is the first to break the silence. "Hoo boy. I had no idea you'd fallen in with Hassan." The jittery vampire looks around to try to ensure no Mortals had paused to pay attention to what transposed.
It appears none are any the wiser to what's transposed. Mandarc looks again toward the fruit, now free of the illusion that'd been placed upon them. He reflects, silently, on the display of death and withering of Earth's bounty, however conjured they may be.
I regard Mandarc with a stony countenance. "I have 'fallen in' with no-one. Hassan and I have a mutual acquaintance, nothing more."
"Sorry for the turn of phrase. I didn't mean to imply anything. He's just a loose cannon. But I guess you already know that."
Straud, still standing, affirms that the intruder has gone, and then slowly sits back down. "I do not tolerate violence in my house."
Mandarc is silent a moment, quietly unhappy that Hassan was able to resist Straud's show of Presence. "When's Matilda going to make it back over here? The show's starting soon."
(If he'd caught the Master outside the B.V. ... If the Master had been in his True Form... We'd have given him something to fear...)
"No offense taken. Yes, I have the misfortune of knowing Hassan. Suffice it to say that if I am ever forced to dispose of him it will be no small pleasure".
I sit back down, and finish my drink. "Well, I don't know about all of you, but I could use a distraction." I turn to Chiasa "Nice touch with the flower, you've picked up a few more tricks since last we met".
I smile warmly at Davian. "Thank you, I am glad my meager talents can impress you". The tone is light, but something lurks beneath. I put my arm through his in a possessive way.
Matilda walks up to the table and seems somewhat awkward in the absence of the interloper. "Can I get you all anything before the show starts?"
"Two plasma janes, please, Matilda." Mandarc turns to Chiasa and thinks of complimenting her feat, but thinks better of it. It all seems trivial in the presence of Davian and Straud.
"San Pellegrino with lime for me, and a Plasma Jane for the lady. Thank you."
"Thank you Matilda." Straud orders nothing but he does provide a reassuring smile to the young woman. It's ample payment and sets her a little more at ease. She rushes back toward the kitchen.
The table is a bit stuck in silence after the debacle. Mandarc, trying to lighten the mood, interjects with his own commentary. "I wish he'd quit with the salesman act. The Camarilla can suck it. Everyone knows the Masquerade's days are numbered."
"Now, now Mandarc. There's no use stirring the mob." Straud tries to quiet the younger vampire.
"No, but really! They think their little parlor tricks will scare us into submission. But it's just a lot of fakery."
"They have the numbers advantage on us." Straud concedes.
"So what? We've got moxie."
Matilda reappears with a tray bearing the requested drinks. She puts them down gently on the table as the music begins to play, signalling the impending start of the show.
A narrator appears in front of the crimson curtain. "Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to the Blue Velvet. Whether you are a fledgling guest or a seasoned regular, please take advantage of every amenity we offer here within our walls."
"Our show tonight is one of forbidden love and secret passion. Two lovers find each other despite being from different nations and must go on through a brutal war between their nations. In the end, the two choose oblivion rather than a life without each other."
"Our company of thespians have been performing since 1992 and though we can be seen at other venues, we consider the Blue Velvet to be our forever home. Tonight the role of Lady Caldwell will be played by T-- H--, Prince Chartreuse by I-- D--, and the despicable Lord Caldwell will be played by none other than our beloved R-- N--. Please enjoy the show and save your applause for the end!"
Although the party finds themselves seated at a booth to the side of the stage, the view is enchanted in some way; the viewers have every impression of sitting center stage, front row.
The first part of the play is enjoyable, if predictable. Lady Caldwell meets Prince Chartreuse while he drifts into her lands on a hunting trip and they begin a tumultuous affair largely conducted over correspondence. They pledge themselves to each other and the Lady Caldwell refuses each and every suitor placed before her. As the action rises toward its apex, war breaks out between their fathers and the Prince Chartreuse is drafted into his father's army, now fighting against those of Caldwell's nation. He continues to write to her and attests that he'll slay no innocent under the cover of flag or drum, but his father ensures that he stay loyal to the crown.
Prince Chartreuse's parents set before him a woman he's bound by filial piety to wed, but he refuses to consummate the union. But lo and behold! The woman is a witch!
A short intermission transposes.
Mandarc has removed a small clicker from his pocket and clicks it a few times idly. He's becoming somewhat anxious sitting in the booth for so long.
Wordlessly, Straud moves out of his way to allow him to exit the booth. He is intent on schmoozing the fraternity members. Of course, there was always an ulterior motive.
"I do so apologize for the interruption tonight." Straud begins to Davian. "I find that keeping my doors closed brings other problems, and so I am loath to do so. But an altercation such as that brings into question my policy."
I wave my hand in a dismissive gesture. "Erat nihil. I should have controlled myself, but his little display irked me mightily and I was already on-edge; please accept my apologies. That makes 2 times tonight I have broken your code."
"Oh, exceptions can always be made. You were polite to him despite it all and for that I'm thankful. I'm sure word would get around about Old Straud permitting the use of vulgar magicks within his establishment and that's publicity I don't need. As you can see, we've already attracted a full house." And indeed, the place is full to the brim with people chattering.
Mandarc, a few tables over, invites a young lady to have a smoke outside. "It will put him at ease...for now."
"All in all, I am impatient with the Camarilla's constant meddling. They do not accept my refusal to join their confederation but I will not budge. Not now, not ever."
"The Anarchs' numbers are growing, and the Sabbat remain as active as ever: they are afraid and your existence has always been a thorn in their side."
"Despite his oily confidence, Hassan was desperate enough to openly display his 'gifts'; perhaps it is time I remind them why the Status Quo benefits everyone".
"We have become complacent in the ease that's existed bafflingly far into the modern age. With current levels of technology, I'm surprised we've made it this far. But with change will come bloodshed -- I daresay you and your kind will be subject to witchhunts and for the Kindred, sustenance will be harder to come by as word spreads....But let us save that for another time."
Mandarc reappears, seeming to have a flush to his alabaster skin. Straud gets up to allow him entrance, and he regains his former seat. "Nice to see y'all again."
The play begins again, but it seems to drag on as the focus shifts to political intrigue and country politics. The leading lovers have taken on a bit of a backseat, even to the witch who enchanted the Prince.
Straud delivers an aside. "I'm sorry the action is dragging a bit -- I've written some of the plays myself but this one is not one of mine. It's tolerable, if a bit slow in the second act."
The climax of the action arrives with the witch threatening to destroy Prince Chartreuse if she does not stop her correspondence with him. The two lovers kill themselves rather than suffer the witch's command, and the witch cries aloud in agony.
"Why does it always end this way, with the lovers killing themselves? It's all so gruesome." Mandarc comments.
"You have a variety of targets to blame, anyone from Shakespeare to Aeschylus." Straud replies reassuringly.
"I can't imagine wanting to kill myself over love. What kind of love is that? One that destroys rather than creates? I had a girlfriend, once --" he begins an aside, "and what a waste it would have been to kill myself over her."
I turn to Mandarc "Ubi Amor, ibi dolor".
Straud translates for Mandarc, "Where there is Love, there is Pain."
"Isn't that the truth." And he downs the dregs of his final plasma jane. "She ran off on me with some scrawny ginger mage. Who knows how long she'd been plotting her escape, all while I was still in love with her."
Mandarc has taken on a morose tone while discussing the flight of Friday Perkins. "It really got me second guessing whether such a Confidante is even possible. The marriage seemed to work out between the Marscapones but what about the rest of us? Can mages really be trusted?"
He remembers himself. "Present company excluded."
Davian grins "Says the man with blood on his lips? But no, you are right to be wary, despite the lack fangs we can be just as inhuman."
"I may be biased but I've always found mages to be even further from the human race than we. What is the old adage? 'One is made a vampire but born a mage'? We depend on humanity for our livelihood but you and your kind are dragons wearing a man's skin." Mandarc's ingratiating display of deference betrays a remaining love for the mage who spurned him.
"I suppose that's why the Tremere are such assholes. They've got the best of both worlds."
"Tremere is a fool, and Humanity is a state of mind".
"Do not envy the Tremere their petty legerdemain, they have given up the universe to cower in the dark."
"Well spoken, Davian." Straud states with an air of applause. "There is one issue with all the Clans and that is that they are always looking backward."
The crowds have begun to filter out of the B.V., with most of the Mortals sending back their empty dinner plates and drink glasses. The din has risen somewhat above the comfortable but there is a promise of relief soon.
"Well, my friends, I have had a most wonderful time this evening and I thank you for sharing this event with me. It has been an undeniable success."
I rise and assume a jovial formality "The pleasure was all mine, Count. No doubt there are pressing matters to which you must attend, so I will take my leave; perhaps next time we will have time enough for our customary game, though tonight's sufficed".
I hold my hand out for Chiasa "My lady, would you do me the Honor?"
"Indeed, I am sorry too that the night's time has gotten away from us. I must take my leave to debrief the cast of tonight's performance; I certainly wouldn't want the night to pass without delivering a few pointers to Lady Caldwell."
At this, Straud's cellphone begins to alight with text messages. He pulls out the phone and starts to respond as he walks toward the stage.
Mandarc, alone, remains. "Well, Davian, it's been a pleasure. Glad to make acquaintance with another of the Enchanted -- you seem alright to me." He makes an attempt at a disarming smile before employing a burst of speed to slip away from the party, headed toward the door.
I stand for a second, taking in the scene and reflecting on all that has happened this evening, then turn to Chiasa. "Come, Asa, we have some catching up and the night is still young".