Coda: Soggetto Cavato Ralletando con Scherzo Spietato

In a near-blind panic, Violet fled her apartment, calling for Mila, Joseph, and Sascha. Upon meeting with them and deciding to returning to the apartment in force after reporting the incident to Rickard and warning him to look out for the Ordo neonate, they found him still absent. However, in the early hours of that morning, another visitor manifested soon after: The Sixth, having taken full possession of Remy’s body after Violet had bludgeoned him unconscious. The strix, knowing of Timothy’s old haven and of Violet’s taking of that domain, had steered him here, but remained hidden when it sensed its weakened sibling nearby.

The remaining members of the Coterie accompanied the Sixth to a nearby all-night diner, where in between quietly taunting them and glutting Remy’s body on a wide selection of foods, explained in its customary cryptic fashion that Jan had been possessed in a rare moment of weakness, the same way that O’Neill had been seized: on the edge of frenzy, prompted by fear and emotional compromise. It would ‘aid’ them, it explained, and help them retrieve their lost companion, but that the Seventh was its to deal with ultimately. However, with scant time before sunrise, they would have no time until the next night, while the Seventh would likely be busy rebuilding its hive of revenants.

The coterie scattered to take shelter until the next night, staying well away from familiar places and meeting the Sixth in a new location. They waited at the foot of the Transamerica building shortly after sunset, growing nervous at delays, until a brief hallucinatory episode alerted them to its presence. It had discarded Remy’s body, leaving him wandering town in a daze, physically concussed by Violet, with an empty wallet and an overfull belly, and taken up the body of Carissa, the waitress from the night before.

It briefly attempted to engage with Violet, taunting her again, before suddenly being rebuffed by the young Nosferatu who angrily denounced it in Latin and other languages, confusing the other members of the Coterie, but delighting the Sixth. The contract that Violet had signed afforded Kerensky the opportunity to take possession of her body while safely hidden in torpor, and she had lent some of her strength to Violet the night before in fending off the Seventh before subsiding again. Kerensky would be stronger in time, perhaps, but not entirely able to aid her scion, nor willing to be too close to the Strix regardless.

The Sixth explained, finally, that it would need a more useful body if it was to aid them, and after a brief debate, Sascha opted to take them to the Lance safehouse where the torpid members of the Circle had been stored after the Presidio incident some nights previous. Having earned some of Bishop Esteban’s appreciation for his part in apprehending the other Owls that had been harassing the Kindred, he figured he might be able to get in more easily.

The Coterie arrived at the church’s domain in the Valencia district, only to find it guarded by both the Bishop’s Childe Gabriel, and a long-time member of the church, a Nosferatu named Phillip. Bringing in another new face would be suspicious under the current circumstances, so Sascha suggested that the Sixth could use him instead. The Sixth was amused by the idea, but said that his body wasn’t sufficient—although it would do temporarily. It shed Carissa’s flesh and forced itself into Sascha, pouring in through his eyes, nose and mouth like dense, inky black smoke.

Escorted by Violet and Mila, the Sixth entered the church in Sascha’s body while Joseph quickly roused the confused waitress and got her out of the area. In the vestibule of the church, Phillip received them, warily, but briefly convinced that they were there to let ‘Sascha’ make his own visit, as he was considering aligning himself with the Faithful (and had been quietly pressed by the Bishop to do so already). The trio, plus one, slipped past the rectory office where Gabriel was located, and downstairs, where the physical locks to the temporary storage area were easily defeated by Sascha’s physical strength, but a more intricate warding of Theban sorcery kept the room ‘sealed’ until Mila and Violet, with the Sixth’s knowledge of old languages, weakened the ward enough for it to pass through.

The three moved upstairs with the Sixth taking up residence in the body of one who was already somewhat skilled in Cruac: Livia, who was left in torpor after the Presidio incident. But upon returning to the ground floor, they were confronted by Gabriel, who was shocked to see Livia mobile even in her condition, but quickly realized who he was really seeing. Outnumbered by the Coterie, he was pressed to decide: help us, earn the potential respect of the city and of your sire (when he is roused from torpor), or try to stop us and let everyone suffer the consequences.

Somehow struck by the idea, Gabriel grudgingly agreed, seeing also that he could not let them leave without being tracked anyway, and made to dismiss Phillip, then accompanied them . . . although the Coterie got to see personally, once again, the Sixth’s true callousness and disregard for human life, as they allowed it to feed and heal Livia’s body, resulting in the deaths of an entire family. But having opened this door, they had no real choice but to step through and see the matter to its end if they wanted to recover their companion.

Filled with stolen Vitae, the Sixth instructed them to drive to Twin Peaks, the highest point in the city, where, at a crossroads between two hilltops, it stood in Livia’s body, letting out a near-deafening calling shriek, taunting its remaining ‘sibling’ in an effort to draw it out.

After a long, tense wait, the wind-blown darkness was finally filled with distant cries as something approached. Violet was nearly struck down in a sudden ambush as the Seventh finally appeared, backed by another handful of revenants it had created in the interim. The Strix, in full possession of Jan’s body, fought viciously now that it had been lured into this trap, since fleeing would only allow the Sixth to draw it back again. Joseph, subjugated by the Seventh’s dread powers, attacked his wife, before the two of them found themselves also set upon by revenants, while Violet and Gabriel fended off more of them and Sascha and Livia containing the Sixth directly battled the Seventh.

This fight saw every single one of them badly wounded before they managed to incapacitate, stave off, or kill the revenants. They drove the Seventh from Jan’s body, himself seriously injured by the ancient blood magic employed by Livia and the Sixth combined, who tore at his Vitae and the Seventh’s essence, weakening and preventing it from harming them further. In the end, as it finally tried to flee one last time, the Sixth abandoned Livia’s flesh and the two Strix became indistinguishable as they roiled around one another for this last battle for dominance.

Gabriel took that moment to strike at one of them, his conscience unable to let him do otherwise, but took a claw for his troubles that blackened and withered his flesh. In the final moments of the struggle, Sascha found in his pockets one more handful of ashes and hurled it skyward at just the right moment. The substance proved anathema to the Strix as the Sixth had previously intimated, and it shredded through the black cloud of the two . . . dispersing them into birdlike fragments that evaporated into the darkness.

~ * * * * * * ~

Nothing more could be seen of the Strix, and even Gabriel’s own senses could detect them; the ash that was their bane had apparently been destructive.

Livia’s once-more torpid body was replaced in storage and the wards reset by Gabriel, with the remains of the revenants turned over to Doctor Kaintz as usual. Jan was highly shaken by his experience as a victim of the Seventh, but largely sane, although both the Doctor and Gabriel examined him thoroughly several times in order to be sure he was not still tainted by the Seventh’s possession.

In the nights to follow, a formal audience was made before Prince Matthias, wherein the Coterie explained having been pursued and harried by the Strix, with the Sixth of them choosing to ally itself to them for its own reasons—although now it seemed the matter was null and void.

The Prince did not give any concrete answers on whether he would be attending to the Bishop’s revival just yet, apparently content to leave Gabriel in charge for the time being. Since these matters were not entirely their fault, and that they had handled them without inflicting damage overmuch on the city (and had indeed helped mitigate it), barring any further incidents—and the pre-existing Oaths levied upon Sascha and his childe—they were released to pursue their own ends. They were still left with questions they could not answer, however . . . chiefly, why were they connected to the Strix in this intermittent, subtle, dreamlike fashion? And who had sired them? Had it been the Sixth and his kin? The Sixth alone? Another party entirely? There was still no answer, despite all they had been through.

As they were dismissed, they noticed that yet another dilemma had arisen and drawn the attention of the All Night Society: the next petitioner for the Prince’s attention had arrived escorted by a security team, leading a large pack of unknown Kindred, all of whom carried the Predatory Aura in a strangely collective manner . . . including the one leading them: Stephen.

In the night that followed, Sascha returned to his shared haven with Jolene, having regained some semblance of self-control for now, and paused to let her ghouled cat back in through the fire escape window . . .

Mila took the homeless boy Jose fully into Vinculum, then finally wrapped up her financial dealings on preparing a distant, secured haven in the hills over Berkeley, where she looked out a window into the dark night sky . . .

Jan and Violet returned to the high-rise, entering the penthouse apartment, where they found every window open, open, open . . .

And outside a window . . . perched on a fire escape railing, or an old telephone pole, or a city rooftop’s edge . . .

Each of them beheld a small, shadowy, indistinct yet birdlike figure with smoky yellow eyes, watching them with the same twisted amusement that had always gleamed in the eyes of the Sixth.

Coda: Soggetto Cavato Ralletando con Scherzo Spietato

Owls & Ashes Zsander