Owls & Ashes
Sixth Movement: Festa Teatrale Impetuoso e Sostenuto
As night falls and the Kindred of the city awaken, news quickly spreads that Judex Atticus’ office in North Beach has burned to the ground, and that the Judex himself is missing, presumed dead. The Invictus ask for an investigation, and Doctor Rosa volunteers her services in exchange for favors from the Estate; in response they task Sean to accompany her to the burned building. In the course of her Cruac divinations, Doctor Rosa sees someone attacking and dispatching Atticus . . . and the crimson trail in her arcane sight leads directly to Sean as he picks through the debris. Though she knows he is responsible, she does not know that he diablerized Atticus, and he explains to her that Atticus tried to gain his allegiance, then threatened and attacked him, leaving Sean with no choice but to defend himself, then destroy whatever evidence of the incident he could. Doctor Rosa was not a great fan of Atticus, as were many others, and so agrees to help cover for Sean, in exchange for future considerations.
Violet and Mila confer with Master Pryor over the matter of Amelia, before the neonate herself appears in court and presents her case to Prefect Garrett in the matter of the deceased Prince Tiberius’ cache. The Invictus have been fighting over the scraps of the dead Prince’s wealth and interfering with each others’ own finances, so the Estate is unable to properly mount a unified front in meeting Amelia’s demands of wealth and a means out of the domain. Amelia openly calls before the assembled court and Kindred witnesses that the item is up for auction to the highest bidding party. Instead of stopping her or simply offering whatever resources the Carthians have, Garrett curiously decides to go along with the bidding war, whether to see what the other Kindred of the domain have to offer, or out of strange caprice, no one can easily tell.
As the bidding war slowly ramps up, Violet receives a call from Ashleigh, who informs her that Jan has abruptly showed up at her apartment and is just . . . sitting there, seemingly unsure of what to do with himself. Violet instructs her to keep him there, and keep him calm, and asks Mila to go meet up with him first. Mila calls upon Sascha, who has still been wandering the streets and trying to keep out of further trouble, asking for him to accompany her as backup in case Jan loses his composure. Sascha agrees to meet her at Ashleigh’s apartment, but on the way, begins to feel something . . . familiar, though he cannot place it.
Upon their arrival at the apartment, Sascha waits outside, walking around the block as Mila first places a call to Sean and Doctor Rosa to help her before Violet comes to the scene after handling her duties as Mistress of Elysium. Mila joins Ashleigh within the apartment, finding Jan seated in the bedroom by the balcony. He offers no resistance, only confusion as to her presence, and insists that he’s unsafe to be around, confessing to having killed Violet with his bare hands—even demonstrating the lethality of his talons on random objects around him.
Outside, Sascha once again feels that strange familiar tugging sensation, and upon broadening his walk around the neighborhood in the Outer Mission, sees a jeep quickly headed down a street in his direction. The driver is none other than James Gilchrist, the man he tried to feed from the night before, then ghouled in order to save his life. As the man attempts to run him down, he leaps into the vehicle, propelled by Vigor and Celerity, whereupon the driver pulls out a revolver and tries to shoot him point-blank, planting two bullets in Sascha’s chest with little result—until he crashes the jeep into a utility pole. His airbag saves him from major injury, but Sascha is not so lucky, and is ejected onto the hood, battered badly. He quickly drags the injured man from the wreckage and carries him toward San Francisco General, a relatively short distance away.
Doctor Rosa and Sean arrive shortly after, seeing a local police vehicle investigating the abandoned wreckage and asking for witnesses, but turn to attend to Ashleigh’s apartment further away. Doctor Rosa waits with Ashleigh in front, while Sean takes up position under the balcony. Soon after that, Violet arrives, entering the apartment and trying to talk to Jan, who panics at the sight of her. Despite her attempts to Dominate him into complacency, he frenzies in terror at her appearance, rationalizing thanks to his Delusional state that she is not Violet, but has tricked everyone into thinking she is. He flees for the balcony, collapsing into a swarm of vermin and animals, startling Sean as a flood of creatures spills over him, into the underbrush, and rapidly away from the scene.
With nothing to do for him at the moment, the Coterie ponder what to do about Amelia’s bidding war back at Elysium, before Violet remembers something the Kogaion hinted at: his gift to them, from last year, may be of use—in particular the pouch containing the eyes. When described to Doctor Rosa, she answers that they possibly may be useful in divining the true location of the Prince’s cache, hidden away by Amelia after fleeing his Haven as the Coterie arrived nights ago. The Kindred separate, deciding to meet at Doctor Rosa’s haven where she can perform the ritual once Violet secures the necessary reagents. However, before Mila can accompany them, she receives a call . . .
At S.F. General, Sascha enters the E.R., carrying the unconscious James Gilchrist. His degenerated state, so close to the Beast, along with his injuries, and the battered unconscious man over his shoulder, prompts shock in the E.R. staff, but he barely manages to convince them that they need help. They install James in an E.R. bed and assume that Sascha is on the edge of severe shock, especially when an EKG shows his heartbeat is highly irregular (and barely propelled by Vitae in the Blush of Life). As they rush him out of the E.R. and toward Radiology, they pass by the Psychiatric ward next to the E.R., whereupon a patient is escaping, bleeding badly from a self-inflicted scalp wound. Sascha’s hunger builds and builds, and though he fights against it, as the elevator doors close, he loses any vestige of self-control and falls into an unstoppable hunger frenzy, broken only after the Beast has sated itself at the expense of the E.R. team that has accompanied him. He steals a set of bloodied scrubs from one of the dead nurses and flees the elevator, calling for help to distract attention from himself as the cause of the incredibly violent scene, and calls Mila for help.
Mila breaks away from the rest of the Coterie and heads to S.F. General, using her Obfuscate talents to disguise herself as hospital staff and smuggle Sascha and James Gilchrist away from the scene. Sascha sets up James in a hotel room and instructs him to stay there after feeding him more Vitae and bringing him closer to a full Vinculum, before the two Kindred head to meet Doctor Rosa and the rest.
At her Haven in Pacific Heights, Doctor Rosa brings Sean and Violet in, warning them not to make the house unhappy. With their assistance—the still living and disembodied eyes, and a measure of each of their Vitae to propel the ritual—she is able to create a curious artifact: a translucent clot of blood that holds the eyes in suspension. They gaze in the direction of the cache, and grow faintly colder the closer they move toward it, and as Mila and Sascha arrive, they make ready to seek it out. It is only at the last moment that Doctor Rosa has a realization . . . her ghouled servant, Joanne, is not in the Haven, and is not responding to her phone calls.
The Coterie decide to seek her out as soon as they can after finding the cache, and follow the urgings of the divining artifact. It grows icy cold in Doctor Rosa’s hands as the eyes point the direction away from Pacific Heights, eventually leading them to Laguna Honda Hospital, abandoned a few years ago in the same incidents of rioting and violence in the wake of the Giants’ World Series victory. As they arrive, the artifact shatters, and the eyes within wither to dust. Upstairs, they can hear the barking of dogs, the sounds of multiple humans, and loud music; apparently a local gang has decided to use the hospital as the sight for a dogfighting competition. The Kindred quietly make their way into the basement where the eyes last pointed their gaze, spreading out in search of their goal.
Eventually in the morgue, Sean finds a drawer that has been tampered with, barely managing to stop opening it in time to avoid triggering an explosive trap that has been left within. The back of the drawer is a false wall, they discover, that hides their treasure within: A large, heavy wooden box bound in iron straps, containing ledgers, folders, scrolls, and other writing. The Prince’s cache of knowledge on every Kindred in the domain appears to be within.
As they make ready to leave with it, ascending to the ground floor, they find themselves confronted by multiple assailants: A few of the dogfighting toughs from upstairs who have broken away from the group—toughs who have been abruptly pressed into service by Max, the Unaligned wanderer attacked by Jan nights ago, who is accompanied by none other than Miles Barton, the Harpy who has held unceasing animosity for Sascha and the Coterie in general. The pack also have two hostages: Ashleigh, and Doctor Rosa’s ghoul Ashleigh.
The Coterie quickly find themselves embroiled in a pitched violent confrontation. The interlude is swift, but deadly for the gang members, and Sascha flings himself bodily upon Barton; the two batter each other nonstop, eventually falling into mutual killing Frenzy, until Sascha beats the Harpy into Torpor, then diablerizes him while still in Frenzy. Max is likewise rendered helpless, but as Ashleigh and Joann flee to hide behind the Coterie, the Kindred find that the two mortals are not what they seem: instead they are both possessed by Strix who desire the cache for their own ends.
Violet manifests the depths of her Nightmarish talents in an amazing display, terrorizing the two Strix with images of greater, even more predatory Owls, but not before the one possessing Joanne flings itself into the cache, attempting to gather an armload of the documents before it is driven from her body and away from the scene.
In the wake of this confrontation, the Coterie realize how close it is to dawn, and quickly make haste to Doctor Rosa’s haven, but not before scattering the ashen remnants of Barton post-Diablerie, while Sean ‘hides’ Max’s body in the same drawer as the explosive device that guarded the cache (while in reality consuming the Kindred himself, then moving to catch up with the rest of the Coterie).
As they take shelter in Doctor Rosa’s home, the house cautiously accepts their presence in separate rooms, watching warily over them and its mistress as Daysleep takes them . . .