Owls & Ashes

An Old Celebration . . .

Zombies. Mummies. Edwardian funeralgoers and pallbearers. Goths. Mesoamericans in feather and fur costume. All decorated in makeup, cerements, and costumes, the various celebrants make their way down the street through the Mission district toward Garfield Park.

Amid these people, Jan and Violet take part in the procession, and here and there among the resounding soft thrum of heartbeats, they can detect the occasional stillness instead, replaced by the quiet seething presence of the Beast in other Kindred who have joined in the march.

Nearly fifty feet ahead, Livia and a few others of the Circle cluster together, all of them pallid and clad in garments befitting a Victorian memento mori. The Crone priestess turns and casts a glance at the couple, flashing her fangs just briefly—plenty of mortals here bear similar, albeit artificial, sharp-pointed teeth.

Jan simply nods at her, then squeezes Violet’s hand as they continue. Just as he did a few years ago, he wears the black-and-white greasepaint of a skull over his face, with black vest and coachman’s hat. Violet, clad in tight-laced black leather corset and deep purple skirts with crinoline, is unmade, her doll-like features porcelain-pale and smooth.

As their part of the procession reaches the park, the marchers slow down, and spread out, wandering, singing, placing votives and pictures and other decorations at the bases of trees. Jan and Violet keep a wary distance of the open flames, only somewhat less unsettled by the solid glass containers for the candles.

The atmosphere is a bizarre hybrid of carnival abandon and somber remembrance, and strangely, in this moment, the Beast is still, as if simply watching, waiting . . .

Ludi circenses . . . Jan blinks at the sudden unbidden thought. What the fuck—

He raises his head, watching the figures in the crowd stream around him: Candles in flickering arrays, celebrants all around passing flasks and wineskins and jugs—

Jan blinks, hard. This time he says it out loud: “What the fuck…?”

The trees are hung with colored lights and paper skull streamers, the ribbons and cloth banners stirring in a late-autumn breeze, and a trio of hipster musicians head by, beating on hand drums, playing zydecho and trumpet, and the one with the panpipes is a drunkenly off-key—

He spins around, looking for Violet, the girl’s deep vermillion chiton standing out in the dim torchlight. He streams among the people, hearing their hearts thudding all around as they leave the circus, the last chariot races for the night finally ended, but the party goers all have plenty of wine. It will be an easy night to hunt…

The presence of another Kindred suddenly tests the edges of Jan’s senses, and he takes in an involuntary (and unnecessary) breath, clenching his teeth and looking around the park. Everything is as it was a moment ago: candles, decorations, pictures, people.

“What the fuck was that . . . ?”

As he slowly turns his head, scanning the crowd, that raised-hackles feeling slowly grows, that sensation of being watched, the presence of another of the Kindred nearby. Finally, he catches sight of the newcomer: At the edge of the park, Bishop Esteban’s pale-blonde-haired acolyte, Gabriel, stands with the fingers of one hand laced through the chainlink fence, watching the proceedings—no, watching them in particular.

Jan stares back at him silently, waiting for him to make a move, to approach, to speak, but Gabriel seems content merely to watch. High, sharp laughter sounds behind Jan and he turns quickly back, seeing Livia and her hangers-on making their way through the press, their eyes coldly reflecting streetlight as they pass by. He turns back, but Gabriel is nowhere to be seen.

With a soft growl of frustration, Jan turns back to Violet, eyes wary and unsure.

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Zsander

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