Friday 6 May 2022

Vampire the Masquerade - V5 - Session One Hundred and Thirteen - 'Methuselah' (Part One)

I'm currently running a Vampire the Masquerade chronicle using the 5th Edition rule-set for a small group of fellow role-players. These are the chronicles of their adventures.
Our chronicle is set in Los Angeles and features a small group of Camarilla agents sent into the 'Free States' to bring them back under Camarilla control. Over a year of plotting allowed the coterie to gain control of two North-Eastern Baronies and a large part of a third. Now they are moving on to the final stage of their campaign and have their eyes on taking over the entire city, either directly or by proxy.
The now obligatory warning bit - Unlike my other RPG write-ups this one will contain swearing, sexual references and other references that might offend. If you can't tell the difference between real             peoples opinions and grown-ups role-playing predators who crave blood then this probably won't be for you. There are however a list of potential triggers listed before the introduction. I've also used actual photographs to represent some characters which I'll give acknowledgements to at the end if I've any idea who they are.
The introduction to this campaign, the first story and all the other parts can be found at the following links and are in chronological order. If you'd prefer a summary of each session rather than read everything then there's a more detailed link page HERE as well as links to the first episode of each story in the blog sidebar.
Chronicle One - 'Infiltrate L.A.' 
Welcome to L.A. - Introductory Session
Story One - 'Three Murders' - Part OneTwo, ThreeFour and Five
Interlude Session - One
Story Two - 'The Pasadena Problem' - Part OneTwoThree, and Four
Solo Session - 'The Neillson Library'
Story Two Continued- 'The Pasadena Problem' - Part FiveSixSeven and Eight
Story Three - 'Becoming Baron' - Part OneTwoThreeFour and Five
Solo Session - 'The Gather'
Story Three Continued - 'Becoming Baron' - Part SixSeven and Eight
Chronicle Two - 'Foothold L.A.' 
Solo Session - 'Hostile Takeover'
Story Four - 'Countdown' - Part OneTwo and Three
Story Five - 'The Missing Chantry' - Part OneTwoThreeFour and Five
Solo Session - 'The Anaheim Assassination'
Story Six - 'A Meeting of Barons' - Part OneTwo and Three
Story Seven - 'The Carmelita Situation' - Part OneTwo and Three
Story Eight - 'The Blount Sisters' - Part One and Two
Story Nine - 'Blood Money' - Part OneTwoThreeFour, Five and Six
Story Ten - 'Anathema' - Part One and Two
Story Eleven - 'Predators and Prey' aka 'The Blount Sisters' - Part Three
Story Twelve - 'Aftermath' - Part One and Two
Story Thirteen - 'The Messiah Complex' - Part OneTwoThree and Four
Chronicle Three - 'Incursion L.A.'
Story Fourteen - 'The Rant'
Story Fifteen - 'Ties of Blood' - Part One and Two
Solo Session - 'A Gathering of Roses'
Story Sixteen - 'The Southern Solution' - Part OneTwo and Three
Story Seventeen - 'The Baker Disappearance' - Part OneTwo and Three
Story Eighteen - 'Inevitable Betrayals' - Part OneTwoThreeFour and Five
Story Nineteen - 'The Marius Contracts' - Part One and Two
Story Twenty - 'The MacNeil Protocols' - Part OneTwoThreeFourFive
Story Twenty - 'The MacNeil Protocols' - Part SixSevenEightNine and Ten
Interlude Session One - After Griffith Park
Interlude Session Two - Divide and Conquer
Interlude Session Three - On the Brink of War
Chronicle Four - 'Conquest L.A.'
Story Twenty One - 'Veni, Vidi, Victor' - Part OneTwoThreeFourFive
Story Twenty One - 'Veni, Vidi, Victor' - Part Six, and Epilogue
Story Twenty Two - 'The Unbound' - Part OneTwoThree and Four
Story Twenty Three - 'The War Council' - Part OneTwoThree and Four
Interlude Session - Recon
Story Twenty Four - 'Resistance' - Part OneTwoThreeFour and Five
Interlude Session - Damage Limitation
Interlude Session - The Killing Spree
Story Twenty Five - 'Personal Agendas' - Part OneTwo and Three
Story Twenty Six - 'Strange Bedfellows' - Part OneTwoThreeFourFive and Six
Story Twenty Seven - 'The Fiorenza Sanction' - Part OneTwo and Three
Story Twenty Eight - 'Hunters Hunted' - Part OneTwoThreeFour and Five
Story Twenty Eight - 'Hunters Hunted' - Epilogue
Solo Session - 'The Salubri Tome'

The PC's
Michael Tomassio - Toreador, 'Baron of the North East'
Vincent 'Vin' Ghast - Brujah, 'Constable'
Dr Daniel Matthews - Banu Haqim, 'Fixer'
Mr Hertz - Nosferatu, 'Mob Accountant'
Eric 'Splinter' Moore - Nosferatu, 'Vigilante Hacker'

The Storyteller
Garreth - Everyone else...

The player characters stats and backgrounds can be found HERE should any-one be interested, but be warned that the page is usually several stories ahead of the most recent write-up and may contain some spoilers. 

There's also some minor 'house-rules' HERE that have occurred as we went along.

If I think something needs a bit of out of character explanation then those will get a storytellers note that will helpfully be in red. Introductory pieces that I read to the group are in Blue. Where particular NPC's have a mention in a faction profile you will be able to reach it by clicking on their name or faction beneath their picture.

Trigger Warnings for This Session: Blood (Obviously), Sex Trade, Sexual Assault (Implied)

Storytellers Note - This was another mammoth session so I suggest getting a drink, some snacks and a comfy chair before you start reading...

The new incarnation of the Barony of the Angel's put forward by Marius was implemented almost the instant the meeting with the Anarch Council was complete. In fact it went so smoothly that it was likely that everything was already in place, regardless of what the council had to say on the matter.

This change has had several additional effects upon the Anarch Free States

Scene One - The Newest Barony
Tilly Kelly - Gangrel
'Mistress of the Swarm'
The feeding grounds that were allocated to each sub faction within Downtown had been carefully defined and in some cases expanded. 

Particular care had been made with the underground tunnels, abandoned stations, and Warren's below the city, especially where those linked up with the so-called 'Labyrinth'. 

A substantial area had been allocated to any Nosferatu who wished to reside there, though as yet there had been no takers, possibly due to the presence of both The Swarm and The Bone Gnawer Werewolf Tribe who also resided there.

The area around the Consolidated Chantry of Los Angeles in which they have feeding rights has been expanded slightly to support a potentially larger internal population. Given that Blood Sorcery can be quite resource intensive, this will probably need monitoring.

The boon allowing Michael to travel through and monitor the original area covered by The Barony of Angels is still, technically speaking, in place. He has told the coterie that he intends to use this boon to monitor certain areas more than others. The Chantry is one of the places that will require the most attention given that it is both primarily Camarilla in loyalty and contains some extremely powerful Blood Sorcerers. Luckily, one of it's residents is former coterie member Marie.
Armando 'Nines' Rodriguez - Brujah
'Nines Crew', Skid Row
Nines Rodriguez has been granted the revitalized 'Skid Row' and a few attached blocks as feeding ground to do with as he pleases and this includes several kindred friendly areas built into the area during its refurbishment. 

The area is still a hub for the cities homeless but at least there are now far more facilities to help cater to their needs and assist with their rehabilitation. They also make for easy feeding vessels for those kindred who aren't too picky.

The new policy of free travel to the Barony of the Angels had been accepted by the surrounding domains with very little public objections. 

Nines vocal support of the concept has certainly helped to smooth over any objections, particularly amongst the Brujah Barons. 

For the first time in over a year Nines actually wasn't complaining about Marius as a Baron and seemed to be enjoying his role of mentor. This wasn't necessarily to the coteries benefit. Nines was a useful counterbalance to Marius and the friendlier they were with one another, the less use he'd be as a counter to 'The Fixers' Downtown activities.

'Hallowbrook', Downtown
Haven of the Baron of Downtown
The area around Hallowbrook House, which also included Venture Tower, amongst other businesses of Marius's has been declared off limits for feeding, though travel is permitted. As no kindred really expected what was always Marius's domain to be included in any policy of an open Downtown, this is just business as usual. As far as those who need his services as a 'Fixer' are concerned, there are no changes.

The coteries concern is that Downtown Los Angeles itself is still a considerable piece of real estate and contains much of the infrastructure that effects the rest of the city. Those thinking that this move would weaken Marius's grip on the heart of L.A. are likely to be very disappointed.

All the various factions within have been informed that they may, if they wish, handle their own internal security, in which case Marius's sweepers won't interfere and will limit their patrols to the perimeters. 

The caveat being that should they fail to do so, then he maintains the right to sort out any issues that could be potential Masquerade breaches or otherwise draw unwanted attention. It has been noticed by some, Michael included, that this stipulation is so vague as to allow Marius to still do pretty much whatever he wants on the most trivial of pretexts.

Some sweepers from other Baronies under Marius's protection have been relocated to Downtown to supplement those already in place in order to help deal with what is certain to be an increased workload. Again, this is no surprise.

Vannevar Thomas - Ventrue, Former Prince of San Francisco

It has also bought to Michael's mind vagaries about who exactly the Gangrel sweepers of many of the perimeter Baronies actually work for. Though control of them was ceded to Marius to deal with the threats of Vannevar and the Sabbat, there are some questions about how that applies now that Vannevar has been neutralised but the threat of the Sabbat still exists.

The only unaffected Baronies are those of Michaels in the North-East, whose Gangrel remained under the control of the census-taker Hope. Hope merely interpreted Marius's tactical information and utilised what intelligence suited the Barony without surrendering any control.

Scene Two - Teething Problems
Amara Martins - Duskborn
Baron of 'the Liberated'
All those events were expected, However, there had also been several contentious eventualities.

Now that 'The Liberated' are a recognised Barony, several Duskborn and Caitiff from other Baronies have left their original domains to throw in their lot with Amara. This has created some tension between the new duskborn Barony and those who have lost followers. As the kindred populace of Los Angeles are still suspicious of Duskborn and Caitiffs after the Cross Rebellion, this is unlikely to help matters.

Atarah and the Lasombra defector from the Sabbat, Taslima O'Connor, have moved into the area formally known as 'The Border' along with Priss. Priss's own Brujah followers have stayed in her service and are now, more or less, the guardians of the domain. Both of her sweepers have now come under Marius's control, though this latter event was expected. Some of the Anarchs have started referring to the area as 'The Shades', a term that is now catching on.

Atarah has also had meetings with 'Mary', leader of the cities Bahari, presumably to smooth over some of their ideological differences now they are effectively neighbours. Which of them instigated the meeting is unknown, though Marius's interference is, as usual, suspected by the coterie. Atarah was considered an extremist even by other Bahari, so anything that limited the danger she posed had to be a positive development.

Gloria Martinez - Brujah
Baron of El Hermandad
Alessandro Kaye has left Baron Martinez's service and has become the first member of House Ipissimus to join the other Houses within the Consolidated Chantry of Los Angeles. Gloria isn't particularly happy about losing this asset but there wasn't a lot she could do to prevent it. The mostly Camarilla affiliated Houses with the Chantry have seemingly accepted Alessandro with open arms, albeit with the status of a neonate due to his lack of much of the formal training possessed by it's other members. 

At least one member of the San Francisco Chantry has travelled to Los Angeles to join them though this is thought to also be an individual of Neonate rank, being kindred for a mere thirty years. Another recent arrival has successfully petitioned them for membership. They both introduced themselves to the Baron of Downtown's liaison with the Chantry, Eleanor Braun, but as they are to reside at the Chantry itself and needed no accommodation, this was merely a courtesy.

Michael has decided to contact Marie as soon as possible in order to gain more information on these new members of the Consolidated Chantry.

There are now five vampire friendly meeting places within the Barony of the Angels. Marius's Club Confession in Downtown and Glaze in Chinatown, Fortiers Club Zombie, El Hermandad's A Taste of L.A. and Nines bar, and The Last Round and these are already seeing the presence of some of the surrounding Barons more charismatic individuals. 

Alessandro Kaye - House Ipsissimus
Consolidated Chantry of L.A.
Though an unforeseen eventuality, it has created a new role within the Anarch ranks. In fact it looks like 'recruiter' is becoming an acceptable profession within the Baronies of the Free States.

These events have prompted the coterie to look into several of them in order to further their own goals.

With Alessandro Kaye no longer being a member of El Hermandad he might be more open to discussing this groups activities. This could either be done directly or by subtle probing by Marie who still has ties to Michael and the coterie. This also reminded Michael that he should also have a discussion with Damsel for her own take on the situation within The Barony of the Angels. If anyone would be willing to give him a brutally honest assessment, it would certainly be her.

The Baron of the North-East also made the decision to withdraw Mr Hertz and Vin from The Crypts Sons territory. They had been of enough assistance to have given Hank a head start but now their presence was beginning to turn the opinion of those within El Hermandad against Michael and his people. If Michael was to gain the trust of every member of the Anarch Council then he'd need to stop playing favourites and, in public at least, appear to be completely neutral.

After some discussion between the coterie on Marius's motives for this radical change in policy for Downtown, two ideas came to mind. Firstly, it made it very easy for him to monitor the factions within his own domain by clearly delineating their areas of influence. Secondly, and perhaps the most likely was that it made travel across Los Angeles far simpler, and infinitely more difficult to track.

Scene Three - On The Inside
Edmund Metcalfe - Ghoul
Deceased Ghoul of Karen Anatos
Daniel's recent attempts at personal salvation have made him think about the last time he acted against evil with one hundred percent certainty of the rightness of acting as judge, jury and executioner. Killing Edmund Metcalfe was the event that sprang to mind.

With many of Marius's resources temporarily at his disposal, Daniel decided to do some investigation into the woman whose life he saved. With police contacts, access to much of the cities infrastructure and Bertram Tung's information retrieval capabilities, this didn't take long.

Sonia Craft, psychiatrist of the deceased serial killer Edmund Metcalfe had required considerable physical and mental rehabilitation after the sexual assault, torture and abuse she'd suffered at the hands of her captor. Her ordeal had been ended when she was rescued by Daniel Matthews, though as far as the information in the reports indicated, she only dimly remembered anything about her saviour. 

Though her psychological recovery has been relatively successful, she still bore many of the physical scars and walked with a slight limp.

According to Marius's police source, Layton McCall, Sonia hadn't resumed her private practice but had instead pledged her time to a women's shelter for victims of abuse. Daniel had obtained her home address, the shelters location and financial records, via Layton, though he hadn't asked Daniel why he wanted them.

Sonia Craft - Mortal, Psychiatrist, Touchstone of Daniel Matthews

Like many charitable organisations the shelter exists very much 'hand to mouth' and Sonia has invested much of her remaining personal wealth into keeping it running. It has only three more months of funding and from what Daniel had seen, Sonia's own money would only keep it going for a further two months after that, perhaps three at a stretch.

Dr Daniel Matthews - Banu Haqim, Surgeon

Daniel decided there and then that he would make a significant donation to this cause. He had still been working as a doctor in-between his training and so had accumulated a significant amount of disposable income. As his immediate requirements of shelter and 'food' had been provided, more or less, for free he had sufficient resources to help Sonia a great deal. He did decide to do this anonymously. It wouldn't do for any potential enemies to be aware of someone that he cared about the fate of.

Storytellers Note - It has been decided between the PC and ST to make her a 'Touchstone' of Daniels.

Yukio Hayashi - Ancient Ghoul
Ghoul of Marius, Assassin
Being on the inside of Marius's organisation has also yielded other advantages.

Marius's focus of late had very much been on the activities of The Sabbat. Aware of Daniel's current sensibilities, Marius hadn't asked for either Daniel's input or help, but neither had he made any secret of what he'd been up to. Conscious of the potential for the Sabbat to also hurt those he cared about or felt obligated to, Dr Matthews had been paying attention to any information that might prove useful.

Marius had disappeared for multiple nights on three separate occasions and from what he could pick up, each of these had been what Victoria referred to as 'Hunting Trips'. Yukio had also informed him that Marius had been hunting, and presumably diablerising, Sabbat whose locations he has discovered through his various agents formally within that organisation.

Despite what others may believe, it was Daniel's opinion that Marius wasn't as unpredictable as other kindred thought. Instead it was his belief that The Fixers plans were both incredibly long term, and deliberately convoluted, to prevent other kindred from interfering in them in any meaningful manner.

His observations had also revealed three other, perhaps pertinent, pieces of information.

Scarlet O’Toole - City Gangrel
Former Ductus of the Misery Lords
Firstly, despite his pledge to do so, Marius was making absolutely no effort whatsoever to find the elusive 'City Gangrel', Luthor Hyde of the Misery Lords.

Secondly, Scarlet Carson O’Toole, another City Gangrel and Pack Leader of the Misery Lords, from whom much of the information on her pack was obtained wasn't acting much like a prisoner. Despite the implication that she was tortured for information, Daniel suspected that it was given freely. In fact he had seen her within the walls of Hallowbrook, accompanied by Marius's grandechilde, Meredith Lang.

Thirdly, after one of Marius's excursions he returned with a stocky, red-haired woman, heavily pierced and dressed in battered leathers, referred to as 'Cairo', who was immediately taken to one of Victoria's 'laboratories'.

Though he never saw this woman again, a lithe dark-haired woman he had seen since, who Victoria referred to as Elisa, had exactly the same walk and mannerisms. This is either a strange coincidence or these two women are somehow one and the same.

This meant that as well as the pack of Meredith Lang and 'Vein', who he had yet to meet, Marius currently had three potential relationships with Sabbat members. This could be thought of as unusual for one who was infamous for destroying so many of them in their previous attempt to invade Los Angeles, and was also currently hunting their packs to destruction.

Interlude - Monsters
Marius Walker - Gangrel
'The Price of Power'
The cabin in the San Gabriel mountains was remote in the extreme. The dirt road leading to it was narrow, and precarious and a gift to anyone planning an ambush. 

Marius had been dropped off about three miles from the meeting place and shifted into what most presumed was a Vicissitude created war-form. In fact the opposite was true, this was his true form without the mask of Vicissitude and the face he wore when the day-sleep reset his appearance like it did with the majority of kindred who attempted to subvert their clans banes.

Frenzy induced animal features made permanent by the potency of his vitae, skin stony grey from a century of hunting the Gargoyle servants of Clan Tremere and a dozen permanent Vicissitude alterations had turned him into a winged hybrid of kindred, bat and gargoyle. Though not as deadly as the larger form he sometimes adopted using his powers of Protean, this one had the advantage of requiring no vitae to maintain, nor effort to adopt. 

His aura was as corrupted as his physical form as an anomaly meant that each act of diablerie became permanent. The black veins indicating the act of Amaranth never faded and his aura was almost completely obscured by them. Normally he concealed this aberration but on this night he made no effort to do so.

The irony that he was more of a monster than those he was hunting was not lost on him.

Spreading his wings he launched himself into the night sky and wrapped the shadows around him as he skimmed the tree tops at close to one hundred and twenty miles per hour. The journey took less than two minutes. He found the feeling exhilarating, but unfortunately in modern nights it was rare that he got to utilise it to it's fullest.

Marius Walker - Gangrel, Gargoyle Discipline of Flight

A battered looking jeep was parked outside the cabin having somehow managed to wind it's way along the trail. Marius circled once, then landed outside. Knowing who he was meeting, he didn't bother to change form. He was reasonably sure they'd seen worse. Besides which, they were expecting him and if this was a trap, it would be preferable to be prepared for the worst.

Scene Four - Victims
In a continuation of Eric's previous investigation into potential Sabbat activities, he had attempted to delve deeper into the reports of the massacre within The Crypts Sons territory.

Bertram Tung - Nosferatu
Information Broker and Hacker
Confirmation of the two-week time frame, meant that the thirty seven victims must have either been held prisoner or been willing victims. There was also the possibility of mind-control, but bending that many strong-willed gangbangers to a single will seemed massively unlikely to Eric who had limited experience of kindred with mind altering abilities. Of course it could also have been some combination of the three.

The logical conclusion was that multiple kindred were involved as that many bodies would have provided sustenance far in excess of that required by even the most voracious of vampires. Given the Sabbat leanings of some of the Crypts Sons leadership, the most likely conclusion, as far as the Hacker could ascertain, was that another 'Pack' of Sabbat were operating somewhere deep within L.A.

Though normally open to Eric's requests, Bertram Tung had refused to allow him access to information on known Sabbat packs, and went as far as to warn him to "...drop the subject, or be really fucking careful about how you proceed..."

Eric also continued to look into the other matters that Michael had tasked him with.

It was now obvious to him that the Barons of Anaheim and El Hermandad were now effectively operating their domains as a single entity. Mortal business interests had combined, and some dubiously acquired camera footage seemed to also indicate that joint patrols were now a thing. Though not big on politics, even Eric concluded that two closely tied Baronies would effect the balance of power within the city. 

On the matter of Mariel St. John, the location to which she had been heading on the night she was kidnapped was eluding him, mainly due to the lack of available information and camera footage. 

The last road she was on led to the border between Priss and Marius's domain, but also eventually led into that of The Crypts Sons. Of course she could also have driven straight through and gone somewhere else.

Either way, it was Eric's theory that Mariel had been set up, not kidnapped as a target of opportunity.

Concluding that he needed to do some hands on investigation, Eric decided to take his bike out to the trail near to the now sanitised Young Bloods bunker and see if he could pick up the trail of the three mysterious individuals who had seemingly escaped the facility. 

Hopefully if he travelled the route between the Bunker and the 'Church of St. Joan' that he suspected was a vampire-hunters base, he might learn something useful.

Scene Five -  A Reunion
Victoria Anne - Ancient Ghoul
P.A., Ghoul of Marius
Michael summoned Mr Hertz and Vin to accompany him on a visit to Marius. Victoria had been reluctant to schedule a meeting on such short notice but had eventually consented to make the arrangements.

While passing through Marius's extensive security precautions, Vin noticed several of the security cameras were similar to the ones that He, Vin and Eric had acquired from The Young Bloods base. They did however seem to be older models. Perhaps the Second Inquisition had made improvements since the massacre of their personnel which enabled Marius to acquire his. This was not a reassuring thought.

As Michael and his allies were escorted through Marius's own extensive quarters, Michael caught sight of Daniel absent-mindedly playing 'tug of war' with several of the puppies of The Fixers, Famulus. The gigantic wolf-like dog that was their mother was curled up nearby watching carefully. The dozen still-born litters before the expertise of the Nosferatu Alonzo Guillen had been called upon had made Marius's wolf highly protective of her offspring.

Storytellers Note - A 'Famulus' is a ghouled animal with which the kindred has formed a mental bond and requires the 1st Dot Animalism power 'Bond Famulus'. Certain Animalism powers that would normally require a rouse check are free when used upon a Famulus. You can only have one, but I created a homebrew merit called 'Pack Hunter' that allows you to have one Famulus per dot in Animalism. The player changed their mind about it so I gave it to some NPC's instead.

Marius's Famulus
As the coterie entered, Daniel acknowledged them and greeted Michael. "Evening Baron."

"So this is where you've been hiding?" replied Michael.

Daniel explained that he had required "...a period of self reflection..." and that "...Marius provided me with some effective but unorthodox ways of maintaining control..." Michael didn't ask what these were but knowing Marius he theorised that they were probably unsavoury in some manner. Daniel also apologised for any inconveniences caused by his absence.

Michael, sympathised with Daniel's problem but admitted that lack of access to his expertise had made certain problems trickier to resolve but that "...Eric has done your stead..."

Daniel had briefly met Eric before he had been pointed in the direction of the coterie and understood how the Nosferatu Hacker and Michael might not be compatible on a social level. Daniel had to agree that despite Eric being "...effective but eccentric.." he did "...take some getting used to..."

Eric Moore - Nosferatu Hacker, "Takes Some Getting Used To..."

He then asked if he could have a word in private. Michael agreed and both moved out of earshot of the others. It was then that Daniel admitted that during the battle with the Sabbat, defending Michael and Hank, that he had "...completely lost control...". This combined with the inherent flaws of his Clan, issues with his sire, and his battles with his own 'Beast' had made him concerned that he may be a threat to not only his enemies, but his friends too.

Kalpini - Salubri
Restorer of Daniel's Humanity
"I didn't abandon you out of choice, but out of necessity. I have now been given something of a second chance, but am still not sure where my place is. Fear is a difficult thing for me to admit to feeling, but my fear of losing control was making me second guess my actions. I hope you understand?"

Michael, whose bloodline included some extremely controversial figures, understood completely. It was hard for someone whose ancestors included Philippe Vollgirre, Madame Guil and Michael Unther to be judgemental. He then assured Daniel that he would always have a place in Pasadena should he desire to return. Conversation then turned to the reason for Michael's visit.

"I have some business to attend to with Marius in conjunction with the latest meeting of the Anarch Council and other issues. Though I expect to get no answers and leave with a handful of new questions, I've decided that it's worth a try...

Daniel agreed that if caught on the wrong night, the Baron of Downtown could be an absolute nightmare to try and get a straight answer from.

As they returned to Vin and Hertz, Michael greeted them both once more. "I hope you've been keeping him out of trouble?"

Mr Hertz tipped his hat, smiled and responded that he was "...trying his best to keep everything in order..." Vin merely scowled and Daniel got the impression that he wasn't impressed with the abrupt manner of the doctors departure from the coterie.

Victoria interrupted their reunion with a subtle cough. "Marius will see you now. Are you joining them Daniel?"

Daniel decided that he would do exactly that.

Interlude - The Widows
- Several Hours Earlier - 
There were four kindred waiting for Marius as he entered the cabin in the clearing.

Alison 'The Rose' Benson - Tzimisce
Ductus of 'The Widows' Pack
The first was an inhumanly beautiful androgynous figure known as The Rose, though her real name was Alison Benson, who was the leader of the Sabbat Pack known as The Widows. The unnatural perfection of their appearance clearly identified them as Tzimisce.

The Widows were once a prominent coven in Montréal, infamous as the most devout Catharists in the Sabbat. The Widows shared control of the sex industry in Montréal with the Queens of Mercy, with the Widows focused on the S&M and bondage aspects. The Queens of Mercy had been destroyed in unknown circumstances and The Widows had gathered both their own and the 'Queens' resources and left the city.

Having little in common with the Sabbat who headed to the Middle-East, nor those who had formed themselves into what was no better than terrorist cells, The Widows had steadily journeyed South in search of new opportunities.

The second of the widows was born Monique Kim, but was now known as Creamy Jade, and was a Chinese-Canadian Toreador antitribu. She resembled a marble statue with extremely cold, pale skin, narrow green eyes with a delicate childlike beauty. 

Creamy Jade - Toreador, Black Lotus - Serpent of the Light

The third was Nina Barker, now Black Lotus, embraced as a Serpent of the Light. The fourth figure stood separate from the others and was so average in every way as to be almost instantly forgettable.

Mary - Gangrel
'Mother' of Los Angeles Bahari
"Our acquaintance here tells me that you have a potential place for us within your organisation..." began 'The Rose' "...A place that is ours if we merely forsake the Sabbat and pledge ourselves to you instead. Unfortunately we have beliefs outside of the Sabbat that we are unwilling to set aside. Is that a problem?"

Marius shook his head before replying. "I'll introduce you to my childe Mary. You'll find sufficient overlap between her faith and your own to enable you to continue to practice your beliefs, albeit under the umbrella of her, and my, own faith. If this is acceptable arrangements will be made."

He placed a card on a side table, containing an address and a phone number. 

"Make your way there and we can discuss the finer details. If you haven't arrived within three nights I shall presume that you have rejected my hospitality and will, regrettably, have to hunt you down and destroy you. Of course you could just leave L.A. but as I understand it, you have nowhere else left to go."

The unremarkable figure in the corner then spoke. Her voice was, like her appearance, almost completely nondescript.

"I'll leave you three to consider The Wolf Spider's offer while I talk to him in private..."

Scene Six - Schemes within Schemes
Marius was in his roof garden and all the armoured shutters were raised giving the coterie an impressive view of the surrounding city. Despite being told that Marius was unable to see them immediately due to being in another meeting, there was no sign of anyone else present and as far as they could tell, no-one had left while they were present in the room below. Perhaps his meeting had ended sooner than expected.

Marius's Garden and Temple to Ennoia and The Dark Mother

Vin moved into a position from which he could observe both Marius and Michael as well as the entrance and exit. Though Vin had a begrudging respect for the Gangrel's physical prowess, he didn't trust him one bit.

"Please, take a seat..."

Velvet Velour - Toreador
Dancer and Owner, Club Vesuvius
Mr Hertz sat on one of the stone benches that surrounded what could only be described accurately as an 'altar' and, judging from the blood stains, perhaps even a sacrificial altar. Michael also found a place to sit after making a point of dusting it off first. Daniel, like Vin, stood.

"I'll get straight to the point..." began Michael, with a directness that surprised Daniel. "...I'm curious about why you recreated the Barony of the Angels. I see very little to gain from the gesture and despite what I said during the Council meeting, don't really see you as a devotee of the Anarch cause."

"I gained nothing that was worth the effort of doing it..." replied Marius. "...Velvet is excellent company, but even two nights of her undivided attention isn't sufficient motivation for what I did. It was to indulge my curiosity, not to further any particular aims, though admittedly I did it in the way that was most convenient to myself..."

Michael had a feeling that Isaac's machinations were about to enter the conversation. He was correct. 

Mr Hertz meanwhile, had already ran through several dozen scenarios in his head relating to business or criminal benefits of the move and had already concluded that the reason must be politically motivated not profit related. Nonetheless he, like Michael and Vin, was curious about the real reasons. Vin just disliked the lack of predictability that had been created. He liked to know where his enemies were likely to come from and now they could be arriving in the North-East Baronies from pretty much any direction. 

Isaac Abrams - Toreador
Baron of Hollywood
"As I'm sure you are aware given your...relationship..." explained Marius, looking directly at Michael. "...VV has been having meetings all over the city, and given that none of the favours asked were personal in nature, they must have been on Baron Abram's behalf."

All present agreed that this was a sound conclusion. Velvet could be fickle, and certainly had the occasional whim that she would work to indulge, but politically motivated, she was not.

"So as I'm not sure what Isaac is actually up to, I've decided to facilitate his scheme, not oppose it. Hopefully letting it run it's course will make it easier for me to investigate his plan, rather than get in it's way and have him try something more convoluted and less obvious."

Michael understood the reasoning, but still had some issues with Isaac, his supposed Mawla and ally, plotting on such a grand scale without giving Michael some inkling of what he was involved in. He said as much to Marius. 

The Baron of Downtown mused on this for a moment before replying.

"VV cares for you a great deal and Isaac see's you as a kindred with potential to become someone of significance within the Free States. Therefore, it's unlikely that he would do anything to put you in danger. Mainly because Velvet would quite literally never forgive him if he did."

Though the reasoning was sound, Michael wasn't convinced. Neither was Hertz, though for very different reasons. It simply was alien to him that anyone would put a vague romantic entanglement over good business practices.

Michael then changed the subject to the recent Anarch Council meeting.

Scene Seven - Impediments to Power
Allison Maller - Brujah
Baron of Anaheim
"In spite of all I have done for the kindred of Los Angeles, Gloria and Allison still don't trust me. I find this lack of foresight on their parts to be somewhat inexplicable. Without me and my coterie both would be lucky to still have Baronies..." he then gestured towards Daniel. "...and without Dr Matthews here, Allison would have been crushed by the forces of Tom Weaver, especially with Amethyst pulling his strings."

Storytellers Note - To cut several long stories short, Daniel helped Allison against her rival Tom Weaver, then removed several other threats too. The first of these stories can be found HERE, the second one is HERE. Both were solo sessions.

Marius's answer to Michael was much as the coterie had expected. 

"As long as they see you as a supporter of Hank Boyd, they'll be permanently dubious about your neutrality. Hank of course would feel the same, so I guess your options are abandon Hank and lend your support to El Hermandad, or don't. Mathematically it makes sense, swapping one vote for two, though wouldn't help your reputation much, if you still care about such things..."

Michael's reputation was, in his own words, " of my few consistent assets..." so he was forced to consider other options. Mainly he needed to practice, in public at least, a more consistent level of neutrality. Marius agreed that this "...certainly couldn't hurt..."

Louis Fortier - Ventrue
Baron of West Los Angeles
The Toreador Baron was also interested in getting a second opinion on Fortier's objections to Michael's position as Arbiter.

"Fortier will never accept any position within the Anarch Council that gives one person more power than another. Though, in my opinion at least, you should have taken the vote and just never used it. You can't really prove to everyone you won't abuse the power when you don't have it. It's still all very theoretical now, you had a chance to prove that the power wouldn't corrupt you and now we'll never really know. I'm sure you had your reasons though?"

Michael then asked about Amara Martins, current leader of the duskborn and now a Baron in her own right, who had also voted against allowing the Arbiter greater powers within the Anarch Council. As usual, Marius had a theory.

"Amara sees you as one of the main players behind the massacre of duskborn and Caitiff during the so-called cross Rebellion. I'm afraid your guilty by association, association with me, that is..."

Michael understood their perspective, but this didn't really help him get them on side. Though he had also concluded that if he could get everyone else in his corner then one Baron was hardly a detriment to his plans. Unanimous agreement would be nice, but wasn't essential.

The Toreador had another reason for wanting a united council and he laid this out to his fellow Baron.

"I'm becoming concerned about the regularity of sightings that could be related to the Second Inquisition and The Society of Leopold. They've been quiet since your Swarm cleansed their last base of operations in the city, after they were softened up by my own operatives of course, too quiet in my opinion, silent bordering on the suspicious to be exact."

The Swarm - Kindred, Ghouls and Blood Bound Mortals

"We are currently gathering information on a number of potential locations for them but we need to proceed cautiously this time."

"Presumably..." replied Marius. "...You are hinting at your concerns that I might react in a manner lacking in subtlety? A strange accusation since, if I recall correctly, your own peoples initial response was anti-materiel sniper fire, coinciding with Vin strolling up to the front gate with a fully automatic combat shotgun..."

Vin Being Subtle with Fully Automatic Shotgun Fire

Vin laughed out loud at this, a rarity from the hulking Brujah. Some of his amusement came from the fact that the distraction part of the plan mentioned had actually been his idea.

Storytellers Note - That particular story can be found HERE.

Michael decided to ignore the second part of Marius's reply and respond only to the first.

Society of Leopold
"Collateral casualties draw scrutiny, and when vampire-hunters are involved that scrutiny is usual federal in nature. We can't put a hammer to every problem..."

Surprisingly, Marius agreed.

"I have also noted several suspected sites of hunter activity. They are being observed, and quite subtly I assure you. I'll make sure the Council get's a head up before I purge anything, if that's what you're worried about."

Michael nodded before replying. "Altruism is indeed my preference, though not necessarily a rule I follow unconditionally. If you have to act, and time is of the essence then act, I just ask that you are absolutely sure before you unleash another Swarm."

Daniel made a mental note of this change in attitude. Michael had apparently become somewhat more pragmatic in his absence.

"Is that all?" asked Marius,

Mr Hertz interrupted. "There is the small matter of The Circulatory System. We are aware that your grandechilde Myranda and yourself have business connections to them and wouldn't wish to be an impediment to your profits but I believe Michael has some valid points about how they are counterproductive to the status quo."

Scene Eight - The Chicago Connection
Marcelina Black - Ventrue
The Circulatory System, L.A. Farm
Michael did indeed have several points to make on the subject.

"Despite her connections, Marcelina has proven that she has no respect for the power structures of the Free States. She also shows a lack of commitment to her own values by twice sending Arla to perform a task that given her alleged loyalty to the tenets of The Shattered Spear she should have done personally. I'm aware that she spoke to Myranda, I'm curious about what her explanation was?"

The Fixer relayed to the coterie Myranda's version of what Marcelina allegedly said. Of course he only had Marius's word for the veracity of this second-hand piece of information.

"It was Marcelina's claim that Arla was being tested and she failed. Her doubts and weakness were seemingly becoming more and more of a chore. She was given a chance to prove her worth and she was found wanting."

Both Vin and Daniel were intrigued by what made Marcelina believe that the forces at Arla's disposal could have defeated those arrayed against her.

"According to Miss Black, the gunships could have suppressed myself and my followers. We are resilient, but those mini guns were loaded with staggered armour piercing and incendiary rounds and 4200 rpm is sufficient to destroy any kindred. She had also been given snipers and counter snipers, all but one of her transports contained a heavy weapon and each of her troops were, in her words, worth any three of Louis's."

"In short it was her opinion that Arla could have taken what she was sent to take, but instead split her forces, stood them down and then allowed them to be ambushed by leaving them leaderless. Instead choosing the path of cowardice and betrayal."

Michael wasn't convinced, but annoyingly Marius seemed to be satisfied with the explanation.

Arla Hartley - Ventrue
The Circulatory System, L.A. Farm
"At, least..." countered Michael. "...the dent put in The Circulatory Systems manpower should put her off getting in our way for a while."

Mr Hertz wasn't convinced. In his time in Chicago he had encountered The System many times and they seemed to have almost limitless support. Not surprising considering the amount of Ventrue who relied upon them. Marius was also unconvinced.

"She's getting a replacement from Chicago, one of Bronwyn's I think. Bronwyn? She's one of the five co-founders of the Circulatory System back in the late 2000's. Other versions existed before then but her and some other kindred pulled them all under one umbrella and gave them a re-branding." "Bronwyn is now the Camarilla's spymaster in Chicago, and will probably get the vacant Malkavian seat on the Primogen Council there too."

This was something that they would need to look into. Mr Hertz was already compiling a mental list of Chicago contacts who might know something of use. He had several contacts within Bronwyn's club The Blue Velvet that might be helpful, though he hadn't utilised them as information sources since moving to L.A. they still owed him a favour or two.

Marius continued. "I'll be unavailable for the next four nights so you'll have to annoy someone else in your quest for knowledge. Perhaps one of the Nosferatu information brokers?" All present were well aware that Michael avoided dealing with Nosferatu, in their normal environments at least. Even those of that Clan in his employ were kept out of sight if at all possible, so they doubted that Marius was serious.

Scene Nine - Leading Questions
The reappearance of Victoria seemed to indicate that their time was up and so the coterie withdrew. Leaving Daniel alone with Marius and several rambunctious revenant puppies.

"I keep forgetting to charge that wanker..." said Marius to Daniel, obviously referring to Michael.

Luthor Hyde - Gangrel, The Misery Lords, Whereabouts Unknown

The Banu Haqim was well aware that The Fixer had forgotten nothing, believing it more likely that Marius used the selective sharing of information to manipulate Michael and the coterie. Or at least attempt to, as Michael was getting much better at navigating the tangled web of truth and lies that Marius spun at every meeting.

"How goes the search for the elusive Luthor Hyde?" asked Daniel. The seemingly innocent question was nothing of the sort as he had his suspicions that Marius knew exactly where he was and was doing bugger all about it.

Meredith Lang - Gangrel
Pack Leader of Ennoia's Hunters
"I'm sure he'll turn up." Was Marius's noncommittal reply.

As the Baron was being awkward, Daniel tried a different tack. "I saw Scarlet, formerly of the Misery Lords, with Meredith Lang a few nights ago. Miss O'Toole seemed surprisingly relaxed for one who had recently been 'questioned' by Victoria. Her subjects usually emerge a bit...messier...than that."

Irritatingly, Marius wasn't biting. "I imagine that she has accepted her fate, some do, some don't..." was the only answer that was forthcoming. After a few more failed attempts at eliciting a reaction on the subject of the Sabbat he was about to give up, when Marius decided to throw him a bone.

"Keep that curiosity bottled up until I return and I might indulge it. As long as you shut the fuck up about it in the meantime..."

Fortunately patience was one of Daniel's virtues and with the Beast quietened somewhat by the efforts of the Salubri, Kalpini, he was reasonably sure that he could wait. For a short while at least.

"Now do me a favour and fuck off."

The Gangrel Baron didn't seem annoyed but it was sometimes best to air on the side of caution, so he left as requested.

Interlude - Mannequin
As both left the primitive cabin, the nondescript woman's features flowed into those of a featureless mannequin, her body became less generic and more athletic but nonetheless lacked any distinctive aspects. 

'Mannequin' - Gangrel
Childe of Marius, Chameleon
"Once more you exceed my expectations..." Stated Marius with seeming sincerity. "...I had expected one, two at the most but all three? That is an impressive achievement."

Though the mannequin's expression didn't change, a shift in posture indicated that the praise was well received.

"It was your plan, my sire. I merely implemented it, with a few minor modifications. What do you have for me next?" That the voice emerged without any movement of lips was somewhat disturbing to the uninitiated, but her sire was quite used to it.

Marius laid out the next stage of his plan as Mannequin listened carefully. "Is that going to be a problem?"

"Not at all..." was the reply. "...observe target, remove target, replace target. Use their position to undermine the pack, then isolate the candidate you have selected for extraction. Plus they're a Gangrel which makes the duplication process relatively straightforward."

Further debate was cut short as the cabin door opened and the three members of 'The Widows' emerged. By the time Mannequin had turned around, she once more had opted the generic form from earlier.

"We won't be needing three nights." said The Rose. "We accept your terms."

"Excellent..." replied Marius "...perhaps we should celebrate our union in some manner?"

Creamy Jade spoke for the first time "What exactly did you have in mind?"

It was an excellent question. "I'm sure we can find something that fulfils all our needs. But not here. Let's adjourn to somewhere more salubrious than a cabin the woods." Two more vehicles had made their way up the precarious track and as they approached, Marius then adopted a more normal appearance.

Off Road Transportation and Security - Aegis Acquisitions

"Shall we?" He asked, gesturing towards the vehicles.

As the three accepted the offered transport they turned their attention to the one who had brokered the deal, but they were gone as if they had never been.

"One of yours?" asked Black Lotus. For a moment it looked like he wasn't going reply.

"Yes, Nina." Replied Marius, surprising her by using a name she hadn't heard since her father had said it to her just before she had killed him. Revenge for a childhood filled with neglect and abandonment. 

"She's the youngest of the seven who have never failed me. In return for her loyalty her needs are taken care of and admittedly some of her whims too. There's nothing quite so sacred as the relationship between a father and their childe. Don't you agree?"

Having never had such a connection to either her father or her sire, she didn't quite know how to respond. 'Daddy issues' thought Marius. How dull. Now he just needed to find out if the information Rosa and Leanna had on the others was as accurate as the assessment of 'Black Lotus' had been.

Storytellers Conclusions
I sometimes like to do a round-up of how the session went in these features but if you couldn't give a shit what I think then feel free to skip this bit....

Lots going on this session as the players were all over the place when it came to their theories and what they intended to do about them. Hopefully next session they'll pick a direction, but probably not...

Portions of the materials are the copyrights and trademarks of White Wolf Entertainment AB, and are used with permission. All rights reserved.

I've used pictures of real people to represent some of the characters and art for others so in no particular order Michael Tomassio is represented by Matt Bomer, 'Vin' is Scott Adkins, Dr Matthews is Mads Mikkelsen, Hope is Deborah Ann Woll, Mr Hertz is Charles Dance, Tilly Kelly is Anna Paquin, Armando 'Nines' Rodriguez is Luiz Carazo, Vannevar Thomas is Bryan Dechart, Amara Martins is Indira Varma, Gloria Martinez is Ariadne Artiles, Edmund Metcalfe is Michael Rooker, Sonia Craft is Jennifer Aniston, Yukio Hayashi is Jamie Chung, Scarlet O'Toole is Natalya Rudakova, Marius walker is Tony Curran, Mariel St. John is Kate Moss, Victoria is Lilith May, 'The Rose' is Penelope Cruz, 'Creamy Jade' is Viann Zhang Xinyu, 'Black Lotus' is Angela Sarafyan, Isaac Abrams is Gary Oldman, Allison Maller is Chloe Grace Moretz, Louis Fortier is Eduardo Verastegui, Marcelina Black is Carrie Anne Moss, Arla Hartley is Claudia Black, Luthor Hyde is Tommy Flanagan, Meredith Lang is Jamie Murray and Mannequin...could be anybody...

Everything else is from vampire related folders and searches and is as far as I know is all of the 'fair use' variety. If there's something that you feel should be attributed to some-one then feel free to let me know and I'll happily add an acknowledgement.

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