Once Upon a Time….

In a town called Branton….

I stood on the hill overlooking the city at the orange-glow of a structure fire with the red and yellow blinking lights of fire trucks surrounding it. I had fucked up last night. I made one too many calls on the same burner phone and this is my reward. The Second Inquisition thankfully made their attempt on the haven I did not sleep in during the day today, but it is the one where I keep all my belongings. They have already took out my coterie mates because I threw them under the bus to ensure my own survival. It does not matter now, I need to leave as soon as possible. Tonight even if I can.

The dull ache in the pit of my stomach is a constant reminder of what I am now. “A beast I am, lest a beast I become” or so they say. I need to feed, to find some blood that resonates well with me for tonight in my escape. But I doubt I have time. The fire off in the distance is a reminder that I cannot use public transport now, and my own vehicle is likely still under some kind of surveillance if it is not in some impound lot. I will need to secure another mode of transport.

I sneak my way down into the so-called bad part of the city. The entire way, the beast churns within me. “Just find a bitch and drain her dry!” it practically screams at me. It’s the only way to fully satisfy that monster, but I cannot bring myself to do it. I have done it twice in the past few months. The first time left me curled up against the wall in an alley sobbing, the other time was a lot easier to shrug off. And that latter response is what scares me the most. I fear the beast that I am becoming.

A beast I am, lest a beast I become.

After an hour or so of searching, I found the perfect getaway vehicle. An old beat up car with the window rolled up the flickering yellow light of a street lamp. I take off my shirt and wrap it around my fist. “God I hope this isn’t too loud…” and THWAP! My hand bounces ineffectively off the driver side window. Three more times THWAP! THWAP! THWAP! Still no effect. “Shit…” I sigh and reach in deep and found strength with my beast and with a loud shatter, the window yields to my fist. The hunger grows and quickly becomes more consuming of all my thoughts. “Just drain them, drain them dry…” The hunger is throbbing, my beast gnawing at the very essence of who I am. I can no longer ignore the fact that I am a monster that is wearing the skin of the person I once was.

A beast I am, lest a beast I become. 

Reaching through the shattered remains of the window is when I heard the very audible “click” of a safety being disengaged on a firearm. They found me. I look up and see a woman looking down what could only be an infrared scope as she radios ahead. “Hellsing to FIRSTLIGHT. Come in FIRSTLIGHT. We have a blankbody on the corner of 76th and Jones. I repeat…”

Before she could say anything more fire that is my beast roared to life. No longer in control, I found myself running at speeds no human could easily track and I was upon her. My hand pushes her head violently aside and my fangs plunge into her carotid artery. What entered my mouth could only be described as the ambrosia of the gods. It was sweet and savory, thirst-quenching and filling. I kept sucking it down, not even thinking of the consequences. She struggled at first, but soon she twitched a few times and then laid still. Another kill. I stood up, wiped the blood off my face with the black sleeve of my sweatshirt, and without so much as a second glance I made my way to the vehicle and got into the driver’s seat. And lucky me, the keys were in the visor. The ignition roared to life and off I drove, out of this city.

A beast I am, lest a beast I become.

A beast I am.

A letter from Chicago, lost in transit.



Hey Marsico,

I hope you get this. I’m not entirely sure how to be positive this will make it to you. I already hate this damn communication limit. Yeah, I know how many ‘I told you so’s you’d have for me if I said it in person. I still haven’t penned a letter out in what seems like a long time (to me).

Fuck. I don’t mean to complain, but this disconnection is driving me up the wall. There’s plenty of people in the city but at the same time, there’s no one now. Allies are great until they up and leave for war or for a shiny new city. All the cool people leave and then this bitch who must have nothing better to do than yank my chain is a constant. Because of course this is how it works.

Oh, and I already learned first-hand how dramatically romance can blow up for us, so no need to lecture me on that. Lesson learned. Never again.

I think I may have slipped into the Black Melancholy here. Those visions haven’t helped any. I find myself staring at a blank canvas for nights on end and not seeing what it could be. What do you do when you feel that? Do you ever even feel it any more, with as much experience as you have?

Oh, have you seen them too? The fire on all the cities, the screaming, the thousands of whispers, and the rest? I sometimes wonder how localized that all is.

On a good note, I guess, I think I’m finally sort of getting the hang of politics. Emphasis on ‘sort of’ but it’s better than repeated public apologies.

I kind of hate talking to paper rather than to a person. How did anyone ever do this on a regular basis?

Well, I hope you’re doing well. You probably are. I can’t really imagine you ever doing badly or even less than perfect. I guess I kinda miss you, though. I’m trying not to be (as much of) a disappointment.

Maybe this will reach you?
L. Brown

You awoke naked and alone in the bathroom of the house Mr. Douglas had told you to meet him at, bubbling with cautious excitement. You didn’t feel so strange at all, not anything like what he’d warned you of before sinking his fangs in. Surely this new life wouldn’t be so bad. You were made for this! Of course, you had a nagging hunger upon awakening, but it wasn’t nearly as intense as you were lead to believe. 

Mr. Douglas had taken a special interest in you for the past several months and the implications delighted you. You had never been wanted – neglected and shuffled around family members from a very young age, you were always made to feel like a burden wherever you were. Your upbringing drove you to great lengths to prove your worth to everyone around you.

You were finally achieving your goal. Mr. Douglas wanted you, so much so that he was going to keep you alive forever. You had done everything he ever asked, including drink his blood – strange at first, but from the first drop, the desire for more rivaled your insatiable desire to please.

You took a quick shower to wash off the disgusting remnants of your old, pitiful life before wrapping in the clothes laid out for you and leaving the bathroom. The excitement began to wear off as you searched for him. He’d been with you only moments before you awoke, hadn’t he?

“Mr. Douglas?” You called out for him. No response.

Glancing at a beautiful antique clock, you noticed the time and did a double take. You couldn’t have possibly been showering for hours, could you? No, that couldn’t be. But where did all that time go?

Perhaps there had been more filth to clean than you’d thought in your excitement. Yes, that must have been it.

The front door swung open, startling you from your thoughts. Your gasp caused the two entrants to take pause.

“It’s me, Mr. Douglas,” You said. “I’ve cleaned up and am presentable now.”

There were no words at first as two sets of footsteps approached you. Mr. Douglas looked upon you with his piercing gaze. Just earlier you’d found his eyes unendingly attractive, but at that moment they frightened you to your core.

With a glance, you noticed the less fashionably dressed young man with Mr. Douglas had with him a duffel bag and from it, he had half-drawn a bone saw.

“How could this be? You did not survive the Embrace,” Mr. Douglas asked. Instead of pleased with your survival, he sounded furious, disgusted even.

Of course, you did not have an answer, but you tried to stammer one out anyway. It certainly wasn’t coherent.

His steps fell heavy on the hardwood as he approached. You froze other than the shaking. He stared at you with an unblinking gaze, truly inhuman and very unlike the man you thought you’d known. It’s as if he could see through you and find your every fault. 

His eyes narrowed after several long moments before grabbing you by the jaw, forcing your top lip upwards. He moved impossibly fast – you couldn’t have dodged if it would have crossed your mind.

“Abortion,” he hissed as he threw you to the floor. 

You couldn’t speak or even get back up, only lay there in shock. Clear, salty tears dripped down your face.

And like that, your wretched family was right.

No one could ever want you.

Kerry nodded along to the music blaring out of the CD player. Her cherry red 1980s Ford was old and battered, not something anyone would ever bother stealing. Which was a definite plus. As was the fact there were no onboard computers to spy on her. She didn’t know how it all worked but Ricky did and he told her to never get a car made after the 90s. Life had really gone to hell in this last year.

Not that being in Whiting’s Trailer Park could ever be considered living well, but rock bottom had found a whole new level lately. She had grown up with technology and her first dim memories of MySpace had given way to Facebook and later Twitter and Snapchat. The whole of her life on a livestream. Then she had been embraced and had to give most of it up.

It was hard, but she had adapted. Fake accounts weren’t too hard to set up and not being able to post a photo of herself wasn’t the end of the world. Having that technology turned against them so thoroughly was though. Almost overnight everyone had been forced to go dark and now phones were used once and discarded, lest they lead the shadowy government forces to them. 

Elysium was shifted nightly and the only way to find out where was to get the information direct from someone else. It wasn’t even coded and put in the newspaper due to concerns about it being cracked. What was already a paranoid society had been amped up to the max and then some. 

That wasn’t particularly surprising considering the perfect storm that had come together. Not only had they been discovered, but for some unknown reason all of the Elders disappeared at the same time. All of them. That fact alone was terrifying, and if anyone knew what the reason was they weren’t saying. It had left the Camarilla rudderless at the worst possible time. Even a Brujah could appreciate the dangers posed by the kine knowing so much about them. 

It was odd that after straining so long against the leash the old ones held them on that she would wish they were here to help them through this dark period. Almost. Perhaps this was what was needed to change their society in the way they had always ranted about. 

Flashing blue and red lights dragged Kerry out of her reverie and she felt herself go cold all over. If this was a routine stop then there wouldn’t be a problem. She could charm herself out of pretty much any situation. But if it was something more then it was incredibly dangerous.

Kerry slowed the car and pulled over to the sidewalk, reaching within herself to call on the powers of her blood. Just to be safe she suffused herself with precious vitae to make her appear alive, feeling the simmering hunger inside ratchet up a notch. Clicking to lower the window, she readied her fake ID and kept her hands clearly visible.

The officer approached and shined a torch at her, then into the car. “Do you know why I pulled you over miss?”

“I can’t say that I do, officer” Kerry said, flashing him an engagingly innocent smile.

“Your rear right tail light is out.”

Kerry lost the smile immediately, knowing that the man was lying to her. She checked the car every night to ensure that there was no reason to pull her over for anything like that. It was unlikely that the bulb had blown within the last hour or so. 

“Oh, I’m really sorry. I didn’t see it” she replied, glancing at the rearview mirror and seeing that there was another cop just getting out of the cruiser.

“I’m afraid I need to write you up. Can you give me your licence and registration please?”

“Sure thing.”

Kerry reached towards the documentation slowly, wanting to give the man no cause for alarm. She roused her blood once more, feeling the ravenousness grow even greater. It was an effort to keep focused on the task at hand and not lose herself to it. 

Suddenly she lurched towards the door, using her left hand to grab the handle even as her right darted under the seat. Kerry moved with unnatural speed as she bumped the door into the policeman, forcing him backwards. 

Moving faster than the eye could follow, she flung out a hand and tossed the knife at his throat, jumping out after it. The blade landed with a dull thud and the man fell backwards, clawing ineffectually as he gurgled out his life. 

Kerry pounced atop the dying man and yanked out the knife, turning in a fluid motion to face the other officer. He had only made it two extra steps before she had struck, his hand still moving towards the holstered gun.

Covering the distance in under a second, she moved around behind him before he could react and wrapped an arm around his throat. The knife was pressed to his jugular firmly enough to draw a trickle of blood that brought a low growl out of her.

“Why did you really stop me?”

“I…I don’t know what you mean.”

“Stop screwing around. You know what I am, so you know what I can do. Now tell me why you really stopped me.”

“To find out who you are.”

“How did you know this was my car? Have you been following me?”

“Yes.”

Kerry snarled and pressed the knife deeper, leaning in close to his in his ear. “How long?”

“Long enough” he replied calmly.

“You and me are going to go somewhere for a little talk.”

“I have it all on a data stick, in my pocket” he offered, sounding terrified. “There’s no need for that.”

“Sure there is, but I’ll take the stick as well” she replied, forcing him towards her car.

The man stumbled along with her, reaching into his pocket to pull out a small piece of plastic with a button on top. “Here’s all my data blankbody.”

Too quickly for even Kerry to react, he pressed his thumb down and detonated the bomb secreted under his clothing.

Dead. The asshole was dead. But not just that, oh no. Exsanguinated. Fuck. Alex had never meant to drink so much, but just lost control. One moment he was pushing down the beast, placating it with the sweet nectar that wormed its way into his brain like a drug. The next he had become the beast, his fangs ripping at her neck with animal ferocity. Nothing but the red pumping liquid mattered in that moment, his whole world narrowed down to a feeling of utter bliss. 

He should probably feel bad about it all but it just wasn’t in him right now. Sure she probably had a family. Hopes. Dreams. Something to live for. But that was a distant thought, a problem for some future self to worry about. Right now he was sated. For the first time in months the constant gnawing that threatened to drive him mad had receded. It was tempting to want to do it again tomorrow night. And then the next.

But now he had a body to get rid of without getting caught, which meant a trip to the junk yard. He hated having to deal with the crew that ran it, but needs must and all that. At least it got the problem off his hands and the rest of the night could be put to good use. It would be such a shame to waste it.

Alex hefted her over his shoulder and headed towards the battered old Chevy truck he drove around. His usual hunting technique was to snag someone off the street. It was much safer than that seduction bullshit Carlos preferred. Just find someone that was alone, jump them, and let the kiss take care of the rest. If anything went wrong at least there was nobody around to see it.

He tossed her in the back and pulled a sheet of tarp over the body. It wasn’t brilliantly hidden but that wouldn’t matter as long as the police didn’t stop him. Moving to the cabin he got in and started the truck up with a purring rumble. Checking in the mirror, he pulled out and headed towards the Lower East Side. 

Alex was used to driving carefully. Recent events had meant keeping a low profile was more important than it had ever been before. Nobody knew exactly how much the government had learned about them, but enough people had been caught out to give credence to the rumours. Not that any was needed with how the Camarilla was acting. They had hidden inside their ivory tower and pulled up the drawbridge on all the plebeians like him. The problem was they themselves knew little enough to begin with and what you didn’t know could get you killed quick.

The journey was blissfully uneventful and he studiously ignored the reason for it. Thinking about the woman served no purpose. It had happened. She was dead and he was alive. Feeling bad about it wouldn’t bring her back and this wasn’t exactly the first time it had happened. Should he feel remorse? Was it a sign of the beast gaining ground on his soul? What could he even do about it anyway?

Alex slapped the steering wheel in frustration and turned the radio on. A country station was on the dial and the sound of Garth Brooks tried to drive out the errant thoughts tugging at the edge of his mind. Being from Oklahoma himself he had always been a fan of the popular artist and sang along with gusto to the hit.

The strategy seemed to work as almost before he realized it, Alex was pulling up to Big Mo’s. He switched off the radio and wound the window down as he was stopped at the gate. A large Hispanic ganger was swaggering towards him, eyeing the truck suspiciously.

“Got a package for RayRay” Alex said as the man approached.

“Whatcha got?”

“Special delivery. Tell him it’s Alex.”

The man upnodded and turned around, making his way slowly back to small booth beside the gate. He picked up a phone and talked into it, still keeping his attention on the truck. A couple of his colleagues lounged beside him, giving off an uncaring and yet wary vibe. Alex didn’t need to see the guns to know that they would be in their hands in seconds should the situation demand it.

The man replaced the phone and waved him through, pressing the button to open the gate. Alex gave them a tight smile as he drove past, making his way through the assault course of junk that made approaching the main building such a slow process. It took him a few minutes but soon enough he was pulling up out front. 

RayRay came out to meet him. Short and stocky, he looked a bit like an Ewok with the thick glasses and hoodie pulled up tight. Nosferatu were all a bit like that, keeping their faces hidden to guard against cameras. It must be a real pain in the ass to be a walking breach, especially with the technology being used against them. Probably served the sewer rats right for getting everyone in this kind of a mess, but then that wasn’t something he was about to say ever. They could still screw you seven ways to Sunday.

“What do you want?” he asked without preamble.

“Got a body to get rid of, figured you could help me out.”

“Sure, if you have anything worth my while.”

“Maybe. I heard about a shipment that the Greeks are running through the train station on Monday week.”

“You need to do better than that Alex, I already know about that.”

“Yeah, but you probably heard that it’s a batch of drugs. That’s why there ain’t no special measures.”

“So?”

“I got it on good authority that it’s a high value delivery. I don’t know what, but the lack of guards is a sham. They got a whole team travelling on the train in secret.”

RayRay scratched vigorously under one armpit and gave a short nod. He whistled lowly and two figures detached themselves from the shadows, flowing into view. Alex hadn’t even had an inkling that they were there.

“You screw me on this and I’ll come looking for you” RayRay warned, motioning for his colleagues to get the body. 

“It’s solid. You know I’d never give you bad intel, RayRay.”

RayRay grunted again but didn’t respond, instead just turning and walking back into the office. Alex checked in the mirror and saw the two Nosferatu carrying the body towards the back and heaved a sigh of relief. Another bullet dodged. Shifting the truck into gear, he began the trip back out through the junk yard.

The Ventrue stepped to the edge of the building to look down upon the city, his city, Branton. Less than a year ago the city had been on the brink of a rebirth. It was emerging from decades of economic blight and depression – with some supernatural help, of course. Then tragedy struck. 

After months of small and sometimes huge breaches, the Second Inquisition came. It came in hard and heavy. The weeks of media coverage after the “terrorist attacks” droned on and on. But then the heaps of flowers and other mementos left at the sight of the largest slaughter, rotted in the humid, salty air and eventually were bulldozed away with the remnants of the damaged Ferris wheel that had laid strewn upon the pier. The blood and ash that had coated the warped wood were washed away by the rains and the hoses from the fire trucks of Branton. 

Few Kindred survived that day. The hubris that had allowed the celebration of the reopening of the Ferris Wheel was the true culprit. Hubris always was in the Camarilla. The entitlement, the arrogance, the sense that Kindred were at the top of the feeding chain. The “security” of centuries of deeply embedded influence over the mortal world. 

That ignorance had prevented Kindred realizing their castles of power were built upon quicksand and that their power could be used against them. 

But that was then. Now, this Ventrue, with his suit jacket flapping in the wind, was here and he knew that his clan alone could save all of Kindred-kind. He knew below him scurried anarchs like so many industrial ants. These weren’t TRUE Anarchs. Those he could almost admire. Almost. They at least had ideals and structure. So to speak. But these new anarchs were the dregs of Kindred society. Those who had frittered their unlives away without amassing power, without gathering influence, without making themselves useful to those who mattered. Now, they found themselves alone, without anyone to help them when the inevitable screw-ups happened. 

But eventually, the Ventrue knew, they would come begging for admission. They’d realize that the Camarilla was needed and not the boogeyman that they imagined. He knew that he could build a better Kingdom. A kingdom with a strong base made of iron and rock. His power locked down so much that no one could ever steal it away. He had watched those far older than he die and then watched their ashes float off into the winds of time. His ashes would never join theirs. 

He knew one night, they would come to him. And maybe..just maybe…

He’d open the door and invite them in.

The Brujah sat in his El Camino, watching the water, his headlights reflecting off the waves as they crashed on the beach. His keen sight picked up some garbage that littered the sand, remnants of a day, not too long ago, when people came to enjoy the sun. But that all stopped when the tragedy occurred. Now, no one came here. That would change though, far too soon it would all be forgotten, the only remembrance would be the ironic ceremonies held by the survivors and the families of the dead. 

He pushed the cigarette lighter in to heat it up then pulled a crumpled pack of Marlboros out of the inside pocket of his leather jacket. He pulled one out with his teeth and when he heard the telltale click of the lighter he pulled it out and lit up. As he replaced the heated metal, he smirked. They didn’t put lighters in cars these days. They were replaced by data ports or whatever you called them. He pushed it back in the hole and leaned back. Data ports. In cars. Along with computers and built-in navigation and phone capability. All wonderful technology, all incredible conveniences. 

All amazing and terrible ways for the Second Inquisition to track Vampires. 

His girl, his retainer, his ghoul had tried to talk him into a new car a couple years ago. She printed out pages upon pages of information from the internet and showed him brochures she had collected from dealerships. But he told her no. Absolutely not. He had many reasons for this. He was not a modern man. He’d run with Cromwell when he was a mortal. It was that that led him to be embraced. He also was a man who worked with his hands. As a mortal he had dabbled in smithing. Iron, guns. It didn’t matter. He was minor nobility, elevated beyond a rank he had never expected and never really wanted. He had eventually become a mechanic and he enjoyed working with cars, it was one of the few times he was at peace with himself.

He took a long drag off the cigarette then hung his arm out of the window. He watched the breeze pluck at the ash, until it finally flew away. He thought that was poetic. He had been a poet too. Still was. In private. Poetry was valued back in his day. He wrote epic odes of battles he had fought and lyrical stanzas that were set to music and romantic lines that made the ladies swoon and spread their legs. Now, he still wrote, but he kept them hidden. The fucking Toreador had ruined art for him and the last thing he needed was something else for people to sneer about. 

When the Brujah left the Camarilla, he had stayed. While he understood the reasons and hated the Camarilla as much as the next Brujah, he knew it had a purpose. It just needed restructuring and he was just the sort to see it done. So he stayed. He was called a sell-out, a traitor, an Uncle Tom- a reference that made him laugh as he was a white guy- but he got the point. He acted like he didn’t care, but deep down he did. Not that he was altruistic, not in the least. He had amassed wealth, power and prestige under the yoke of the Camarilla and he had no intention of losing it to the whims of Theo Bell and those who followed him. 

So he stayed and when Branton fell and the dust had settled, he had come here. With his girl and his other retainers and opened a garage. Working with cars kept the rage he always felt at bay and gave him purpose- as well as in into the streets of Branton. Then he took Praxis for his own. He finally became a Prince instead of following one. Branton was his. He wouldn’t let it go as easily. So, he let the other Brujah see him as a sell-out, a traitor. He alone knew what he really was..

A rebel. But this time, he had a cause he could truly believe in. 

Himself and the rebuilding of Branton. 

Gael stared at the cigarette in the ashtray with fascination. The white stick had a slightly pitted surface with a silver band near the bottom, and the dapples as light cut across made it look like a pockmarked face. Then there was the ash. It curled lazily from the sleeping cherry like a snake metamorphosing from the tobacco and paper. A cloud of greys, whites, and blacks all coming together to form what looked to be an oncoming storm.

Blinking, the image shifted as he considered it. Now the snake had turned into a tornado, the twisting bands promising a deluge and destruction in equal measure. The cigarette had become streaks of white lightening, smashing out towards the ground in a thick cylinder. A thunderous sky was pregnant with latent power, just awaiting the moment to open up like heavens judgement on all the kindred.

It was completely riveting, the sheer artistry of chance that had created the scene before him. His clan never felt more in touch with their blood than at moments like this, when the mundane and everyday phenomena transformed into a tableau of pure beauty. Only another Toreador could understand what it was like, a feeling of bliss so pervasive that it rivaled the taste of vitae. Well, nearly. Maybe. 

A hand shaking waved in front of his face snapped him out of the moment and he looked up, blinking owlishly at Teri. It took him a few moments longer to realise she was saying something and he yanked his brain back into focus.

“What was that?”

“Jesus Christ, I’ve been talking to you for five minutes.”

“Sorry, I was thinking.”

“So have you heard from Charlotte? It’s been over a week since I saw her last.”

“No, she hasn’t been to the club or Elysium when I’ve been there” he replied languidly, his attention already waning and returning to the ashtray. 

Teri nibbled at the ends of a lock of hair and looked concerned. This was the problem when technology got banned, something that had been relied upon like another limb was ripped off to leave a gushing wound. In this case getting in touch with people. Everything just felt so disconnected. It was horrible. They weren’t even supposed to use social media, the internet, maps, or anything. Ugh! Torture.

She was one of the lucky ones though. As a Toreador who had been useful to the Primogen, she had been invited to remain within the Camarilla and there really wasn’t a decision to be made. Being inside was much preferable to becoming Anarch, scrabbling around in the dirt and trying to stay alive. The Ivory Tower might be wounded and bleeding, but it was still a powerful organization. It would recover and those who were helpful from the beginning would be rewarded.

It was a double-edged sword that the Elders had vanished, she mused. On the one hand it was the main reason the Camarilla was flailing so much in the first place. Millennia of experience and power had just suddenly vanished and those left behind were ill-equipped to take up the reigns. Not that the Ancilla were incapable or not powerful enough, but they had been kept deliberately in a certain place by those above them. 

However that second point was the one benefit of the whole situation. With a vacuum at the top there was opportunity for advancement. In an organization where progression usually came through dead mens shoes, the fact they were practically immortal posed a bit of a problem for advancement. Not anymore. Now those who were careful and competent could rise to dizzying heights. Provided they could fend off the ever-encroaching Anarchs. And keep most people safe from the government hit teams that were hunting kindred. Not much to do then.

Which was why she had joined Gael, Charlotte, and Lopez in a coterie, to have help in gaining power here in Branton. Another Toreador, a Ventrue, and a Nosferatu were useful allies to have, providing a wide range of talents to draw from. In under a year they had secured the Gallery bar as their own, as well as Greenfields casino and a pretty useful street gang. They had some sway over minor politicians and the press were another useful tool that they employed. 

Yet for all of that their power was still built on quicksand. Where before they would have been able to finely control all of their assets, this new inquisition had forced them to remain even more hidden and disconnected. The ban on technology was a necessary evil yet it was an imperfect solution. Meetings now had to be held in person, meaning the risk of physical exposure was much greater. The means to quickly pass information had been severely curtailed and with it the ability to respond immediately to situations. Too many of their colleagues had fallen seemingly out of the blue for anyone to feel entirely comfortable. 

The sound of people clunking inside drew her attention to the entrance and she saw a trio of Anarchs making their way through the door. Steiner, Kim, and Smithy. Or dumb, dumber, and dumbest, as she thought of them. With enough leather to keep a small Texan farm employed, their clothing was accented with an impressive amount of spikes and rivets. Nothing too cliche then, she snerked to herself.

But you couldn’t expect too much from a pair of Brujah and a Gangrel. Their most impressive feature was perhaps the wide array of grunts that formed the bulk of their conversation. They really had taken the Neanderthal language to a whole new level and made it an art form in its own right. 

They were the main players in the Iron Fist coterie, yes that really was the inspired name choice they went for, a gang that ran operations out of Seven Points in the Southside. Their main trade was in drugs and flesh, with half the whore houses in the area supplied by their Eastern European contacts. 

They did have one singular use though. Well two. They were very good in a fight and were completely expendable. So instead of saying what she thought to them directly, Teri smiled brightly and put on her game face.

“Oh, I DO love that waistcoat on you Smithy hon, it accentuates your curves fantastically. Exquisite is NOT the word…”

Archie dived to his right, bullets shattering the shop window in an arc that marked his passage. He scrambled behind a car and leaned back against the door to gain a few moments to think. A wet t-shirt clung wetly to his skinny chest as he raked a hand through his bushy brown hair to push it back from his face. Keen hazel eyes were crinkled with concern and his pale complexion was even whiter than usual. Lifting the semi-automatic gun, he blindly returned fire to keep the church force at bay.

He didn’t know where the others were, everyone had split in different directions ages ago. They would have to make their own way back to safety. The running battle with the kine had started near the Community College and lasted all the way to Greens Market, with occasional breaks as the pursuit was lost and then found again. It had been going on for over half an hour now and the police still hadn’t gotten involved, which suggested someone was keeping them on a leash. 

This new inquisition had come from nowhere one night and the only warning they had gotten was a cryptic phone call saying how everything was compromised. Nothing had happened for a few weeks and the kindred community of Branton was just beginning to relax back into their routines. Then the attacks had begun. 

An attack on the pier had killed dozens, all of those attending the opening ceremony that had been seen as a symbol of rejuvenation. It was a brilliant way to begin their assault, decapitating almost the entire hieirarchy of the Branton Camarilla in one fell swoop. Passed off as a terrorist attack, the local authorities used the situation to entrench their position and advocate for more CCTV coverage. The populace being fearful of another attack agreed to almost anything that was proposed. The net tightened. 

The remaining kindred had drawn in on themselves in desperation. The first act was to secure their key locations and kick out anyone not deemed sufficiently worthy. Thrown to the wolves, these new anarchs didn’t have the tools to survive long and quickly fell to the government agents. Some died, others merely disappeared, ending up in laboratories to be studied like rats.

The Camarilla hid and tried to wait out the trouble, certain that the operatives would move on eventually. Such actions cost a lot of money and the penny-pinchers in the back offices would want results for their dimes. Anything that was left behind could be disabled or worked around once the scrutiny had subsided. Or so they hoped at least, for there really wasn’t much more that they could do. Those remaining few that were still in the club set about gathering their resources and safeguarding themselves. 

Archie hefted himself into a crouch and peered over the hood of the car, firing again to encourage a retreat from the men that had crept towards him. An answering volley made him duck quickly back down, but he had at least taken the chance to quickly scan the situation. Which could be condensed into a single rude word in summary. 

Moving from here would leave him totally exposed, but eventually the soldiers would flank this position and so he had to do something. Two of the roads offered little in the way of cover aside from the cars that lined both sides, and the other was nearly as bad. They had him pinned down and knew it.

There was only one real option open to him, though it was risky as hell and would mean exposing himself to their attacks. As they had already shown many times the groups that hunted Kindred were prepared to inflict immense collateral damage if it meant taking one out. The odds were against him but then that wasn’t something unusual. 

Archie called upon the powers of his blood in preparation for the desperate gamble and tried to get into the right mental state. It was a difficult enough task having a normal conversation at the best of times, and this needed to be executed perfectly. There would only be one chance. He poked his head up warily and held his gun aloft in a gesture of defeat.

“Hey fellas, you’ve been chasing me for ages now and I’m about done. If I promise to come quietly will you agree to not kill me?”

“How do we know you’re telling the truth?” asked one of the suited men suspiciously.

“You don’t” Archie agreed good naturedly, forcing himself to act like he thought someone should in this situation. “But aren’t you here to take me in? I mean it kind of feels that way to me.”

“Alive or dead is fine for us. Alive is useful, dead is safe.”

As he spoke Archie reached into the mans mind, trying to tug at the inner demons and force them to bubble to the surface. It was a difficult technique to employ whilst trying to keep up a semi-believable conversation, but necessity drove him to heights of previously untapped finesse.

“Come on there fella, there’s no need for that. I’m offering to come quietly.”

“You’re all liars, we know that much. Say anything to save your unnatural hides. There isn’t any way that I’m putting my men in danger” the man replied, motioning for the one with heavy artillery to take aim.

“Which is why you know that you can trust me. I don’t want to die.”

“Neither do we. Pray to whatever you worship demon spawn for tonight you perish.”

Archie worked frantically to tug at the strings of madness that webbed through the agents mind. The conversation was at its end and surely there were mere moments until they just blew up everything around him. Bunching his legs under him, he got ready to sprint away should this actually work. If it didn’t nothing he did would matter. 

Suddenly the man he had been talking to gave a cry of anguish, his eyes becoming wild as his limbs convulsed. Something seen only by him caused the agent to claw at his eyes, gouging deep furrows across his cheeks. The others stared at him in disbelief and Archie used the distraction to dart from cover and sprint towards the alleyway. If he could get there unseen then maybe there was a chance to get away.

His luck held and before the others could react their colleague turned his own gun on them, firing indiscriminately. Some went down immediately under the friendly fire, unable to defend against it. Others were injured with flesh wounds, but it was enough of a distraction to give Archie the time he needed.

Running as hard as he could Archie began to ready himself for another use of his blood, feeling the need for blood growing to dangerous levels. If he didn’t feed soon then there was no doubt that he’d lose control entirely. Too much energy had already been expended tonight and it would catch up to him eventually.

Leaving that issue for later, Archie focused on getting away. It was pure luck that the plan had worked and he knew full well how close they had come to killing him tonight. But they hadn’t, and that was all that mattered right now. Rousing the blood to hide himself from view and silence his steps, he sped towards safety.

Steiner crouched down atop the wall in the shadows, listening to the conversation going on in the garden below. The trio hadn’t been too difficult to follow, not thinking that anyone would be able to track their secret vehicles back to them. Ventrue and Toreador hubris. It kept him in business. The Camarilla thought they were the power here in Branton, but it was his city. They just hadn’t realised it yet.

He waited a little bit longer to ensure nothing of significance was said and then hopped back down to the ground, satisfied they hadn’t found out about his next move. Unlike them Steiner did his own dirty work and wasn’t afraid to roll around in the mud if needed. Gangrel were like that. 

He walked briskly away from the nondescript house in the Upper West Side, a plain brownstone that had been registered in the name of the Ventrue’s ghoul. It had been hidden pretty well, but Smithy had ferreted it out anyway. She had some major pull with the underworld and had proven invaluable to their coterie. For now. Her use would wane eventually.

Giving a low whistle and snapping his fingers, Steiner called the bulldog to him. Buster had been with him since a pup and had been trained for years before being bonded as a famulus. That was a few decades ago now and the bond had only grown stronger, their emotions unconsciously mirroring one another. 

Steiner quite liked Branton, more than any other place he had wandered across recently at least. When the inquisition had flared up he had gone to ground, unbound to any one place and able to freely travel unlike other cainites. The ability to turn into an animal helped immensely, throwing the enemy off his scent numerous times. 

He traveled to this shithole a year ago and had felt at home right away. It was gritty and grimy, yet had pretentions of grandeur that were quite endearing. A filthy diamond waiting to be dug up from the clod it had fallen into. There was one other Gangrel here at the time and two more came soon after. But no old ones, which suited him perfectly. Steiner had won the right to run the pack through the time honoured tradition of beating down the others. 

They divided up the transportation network between them. Barry took the train station, Jenny the airport, and Lucas the roads in and out of Branton. Steiner kept the docks for himself. On the edges of the Lower West Side, it was an area that suited him down to the ground. Someone had put in a network already but had abandoned it for whatever reason. The Giovanni probably, before they got whipped back to Italy. It didn’t take long for him to take it completely over and mold it to his purposes.

There were others who tried to encroach, but the pack was united and ferocious in battering back the attempts. The other three were traditionally Gangrel in their approach and were quick to crack heads. Steiner though, he was a bit of an oddity. Director of the board. Not that this made him less capable a fighter as his brethren, but he also reveled in stalking his victims through office corridors and in five-star hotels paid for by company cards.

So now he was CEO of Alpha Corp, or at least his alias Rudy Stone was. A leader in the haulage and import/export industries. Little came into Branton that the pack didn’t know about and they had deals with a number of the anarch groups in the city, as well as a working relationship with two members of the Camarilla itself. Not that they realized the intricacies of the webs that had been built up. The work with a Nosferatu in the waste disposal business, or the Brujah Smithy and her towing company, even Malkavian with a cleaning company. Steiner worked with them all, some knowing and others in secret. 

His plans might be cunning and intricate, but there was little finesse to his methods of dealing with people or problems. He was an apex predator and had no qualms with beating down his rivals. They feared and respected him in equal measure, knowing that Steiner wasn’t one to play by the rules. He would hurt you through business, your family, physically, or in any number of other ways. But the one certainty was the pain. It kept people in line.

It all came to pass, just as I forsaw. However, it did not come to pass as the Praxis had interpreted my words – and that is why I am one of the little “a”s now. Fuck them, I don’t need arrogant assholes who can’t even follow a simple warning.

So many died in the raid that came as the Second Inquisition flexed their muscles, waging war on us kindred. Me? I’d already gotten bags packed and was able to leave, getting away by the undead skin on my teeth. Not before the then-Seneschal-now-Prince declared me anarch, though.

Here I am, setting up my life again in this musty hole of an appartment. At least the eating’s good around this part of town. The working poor spend their nights drinking away at run-down bars and finding comfort in the touch of strangers who charge by the hour while the destitute find shelter in the too small aleys. Easy meals.

Blood is always on the mind, ever since I died and was brought back. The thirst never goes away, really. The one time I felt brief reprieve was immediately after draining some unsuspecting guy just looking to blow off some steam a few months ago.

“I should go hunt before I get too hungry. I don’t want it to turn out like that one time,” I say to my little sister, Bailey. 

“He probably had a family, you know.” She plops down on my bed while I do all the unpacking.

“Yeah, quit reminding me,” I grumble.

I’m glad I got to keep her, even when I had to leave everything else behind.

I really should hunt soon, though. I try to be more careful and not let myself get that hungry anymore. It’s fewer messes to clean up, fewer missing persons for families to cry over.

Actually, the rest of this unpacking can wait for now. I’ve already sun-proofed the place. I can deal with sleeping on an unmade bed so long as I get some dinner. 

I step out and lock up, letting a key spin around my finger idly as I pick a good spot for tonight. 

“Maybe over behind that dive bar?” Bailey suggests. I glance over to see her locked in step with me, her white mary janes looking out of place in the grit of Branton’s underbelly. 

I give her a subtle shake of the head ‘no’ as I look around. I don’t need to be drawing any more attention to her, or myself, with unnecessary speech. We stick to the shadows for now and walk like we belong there. Half of stealth is confidence, after all. People notice the cagey. The ones we don’t want to notice.

I find a decent-looking mark. The guy’s alone and looks like a fish out of water, checking his pockets after walking past anyone, no doubt to see if his valuables are still there. His insecurity shines bright to me like a beacon. He’s just as bad as the women who clutch their purses tighter in bad neighborhoods and he’s got probably at least a foot of height and 100 pounds less of an excuse. 

After following him deeper into the bowels of the city, we’re finally all alone on the street. His footsteps tap in time like a heartbeat on the cracked concrete. I close the distance, pulling my mask down and put my hand in my pocket, holding the grip of my pistol tightly.

Right when we’re at the mouth of a likely-looking alley, I grab his shoulder and press the barrel of my gun – still in my pocket – firmly against his back in one swift motion. He doesn’t even have time to take a swing before he freezes.

I focus on my hearing just to hear his heart rate raise to a crescendo as I force him into the alley. It’s the best kind of appetizer. I rifle through his pockets with my pistol pointed to his head. 

Gotta keep up appearances. Plus, two birds, one stone since my feeding habits can help fund my (un)lifestyle. Bailey’s chided me about the morality of it all plenty of times, but it’s efficient as hell.

Wad of cash retrieved, I toss his wallet aside and shove him against the wall. I sink my fangs into his scared, sweaty neck and take some time to savor my favorite flavor while he’s incapacitated from the effect of the Kiss.

I don’t drain him dry. I don’t even drink more than would be safe for him. I’m a monster who drinks blood and savors fear, sure, but I’m not THAT kind of monster. 

I take care to lick the wound closed and make my exit while the man’s still coming to, before he can yell or call the cops. The walk to my new home is calm and uneventful, though I still feel eyes on me from somewhere.

“Feeling better, Lars?” Bailey asks, laying on the bed with her hand rested on two fists.

“Yeah, now I can finish this.” I open up another box to take some clothes out. “You know, you really should try changing your outfit. It looks so out of place for where we go.”

She laughs. “But I like what I wear. It’s not like anyone else sees me, anyway.”

I shrug her off and put my shirts in the dresser drawer.