Most people know me through my work on Vampire: The Masquerade or White Wolf/Onyx Path RPG books in general. Not many know that I also do a lot of work in fiction and on other RPGs, covering a range of topics. This “A Taste Of” series features samples of my work from areas most people might not know about, along with places you can buy the book to read more!
Rounding out my tour of World of Darkness fiction (so far — there’s more to come!), Rose Bailey asked me to write a Vampire: The Requiem long story/short novella for her Strix Chronicle Anthology. We talked ideas back and forth for a while, and she told me what she really wanted was a noir-feeling story about betrayal. From there, I was able to put together exactly that. If you like crime drama and stories of amnesiac vampires, you’ll like “Second Chances.”
I was dreaming of shafts, of vanes, of the calamus and the rachis when I felt them pull the stake out of my chest. The rough wood snatched and dragged at my skin, and a large splinter stuck to the wound. My back ached from laying on a hard, cold surface. My stomach knotted and my mouth felt as dry as the desert. I could sense a thin trickle of blood diffused through my body. I was hungry. Not so hungry that I would have to murder someone, but hungry enough that it seemed like a really good idea. I opened my eyes, and the situation didn’t get much better.
The meaty hands still holding the dripping wooden shaft were scarred and knobby, as was the bald face leering over them. Poor fucker clearly wasn’t Embraced for his looks. Mirrored sunglasses covered his eyes, although it was hard to tell if this was a half-assed protection measure against Domination or a half-assed attempt to look intimidating. The worn black trenchcoat hung loose as he leaned forward, revealing a knife in a scabbard at one hip and a pistol in a holster in the other. I pegged him as a Hound, and one who probably learned more from bad fiction than actual fighting.
The ceiling was gray concrete, and a single bulb swung right over my eyes. Glasses tossed the stake aside, and the bounce echoed hollowly in the room.
“Sit him up,” a man said off to my right, and Glasses moved towards me again. I put my hand up to protest, but he grabbed me anyway and pulled me into a sitting position on the metal table. I noticed I was naked, and my pale skin was covered in small cuts and tiny wounds. I didn’t go calmly before I was staked. Glasses grabbed my hair and pulled my head up to look.
The speaker sat in an ornate chair completely at odds with the sterile concrete room I was in. Long, dark hair fell in waves down to his shoulders, and his clean-shaved face was flawlessly beautiful. He brushed imaginary dust from the knee of suit trousers that looked simple but probably cost more money than us mere plebes would ever see in one place. To be fair, the Invictus pin on his lapel may have biased me on that point. All hail our lord and master, the Prince.
Next to him stood a woman. She had blonde hair cut into short spikes, with long pink tips falling over one eye. She wore a black dress in a 50s style, sleeveless with a high scoop neck. One bare arm was covered in colorful tattoos, swirling images of cards, dice, and chance that danced as the light in the room swung back and forth. She leaned lightly on the Prince’s chair, but with a regal grace that made her look like a punk rock queen, not a piece of arm candy. Her lipstick was as dark as her eyes, which stared at me with… what? Anger? Need? Probably just reading my aura, or maybe my mind. I dropped my eyes, closed my mind off reflexively, and started thinking about pointless trivia.
“My dear Master Davis,” the Prince purred in soft European syllables as he steepled his fingers. “So good of you to join us.”
My mouth felt like every drop of moisture was wrung out of it, but I licked my lips with a sandy tongue and croaked my voice into life. “I have to tell you, the service here is terrible. I’d like to speak to your manager.” Even my voice felt cheap and undressed next to his. Fuck, I hate the Invictus.
I glanced up to look for a reaction, but all I got was a slight curl on the lips of the woman and a painful clench of Glasses’ hand in my hair. The Prince turned and looked at the woman. “You did warn me he would be insolent, Dame Bury.”
The female knight kept staring at me with her burning eyes. “I can handle a little insolence, Prince Kincaid. But we should ascertain how many of his memories survived torpor.”
I knew that I should probably keep my mouth shut, but my hunger kept me on a short fuse. I croaked again, a little stronger. “He is sitting right here. And he knows enough about Invictus titles to know that Dame Bury is being a little too informal with His Grace.” I tried to spit to moisten my mouth, but all I could manage was the sound. “Let your dog know that I can hold my own fucking head up.”
The light spun again as Glasses slammed my head against the table. A ringing sound started in my ear, but I didn’t move as he pulled my head back up and sat me upright again. Kincaid put a hand out towards his thug and leaned forward to look at me more closely. I dropped my eyes as I kept cycling through random facts in my mind.
“Do you remember why you are here, Master Davis? Do you recall what terrible choices in your Requiem led you to this unfortunate state?”
“I don’t want to deprive you of the pleasure of telling me what a horrible Kindred I am.”
His voice was calm, but I could hear the underlying bile in his words. “You are a disgusting pervert, Davis. A stalker of innocent Kindred. A vampire who revels too much in his enjoyment of vitae. A hoarder of information vital to the city’s protection. A diablerist in intent, if not in deed. And yet so very, very careful about the details. Your Mekhet Primogen still insists that you haven’t actually broken any of the Traditions.”
He was goading me, trying to get me to react. I didn’t let him. I could still feel the heavy splinter in my chest, and I used the pain to focus, to calm my rage. I reached up to try and pick at it, but another tug from Glasses stopped me. I dropped my hand, but kept my eyes away from everyone, using my peripheral vision. “So cut me loose or shove the phone pole back in my chest and let me sleep.”
I could make out Kincaid’s mouth twisting into a frown, and for a moment I felt his irritation cover me like a blanket. Little voices in the back of my head told me that I was being disrespectful, that I should be honored to be in the presence of such a great and wonderful vampire. Little voices that didn’t sound like the ones I usually hear. His disapproval tried to wear me down, ease into my doubts and break my resolve, and after a moment of struggle I let it. I had made my point. I looked back up at him and tried for an expression that feigned calculated calm, but was probably just tired.
The Prince shifted again, leaning back in the chair as if to reassure himself. “I am trying very hard to offer you a rare chance at redemption, Master Davis. I do not offer such chances lightly.”
I shrugged, which is hard to do when someone’s holding your head by the hair. My words were cold and measured, as angry as I could make them under the artificial respect I was drowning in. “Look, Your Grace. You’re not stupid. It’s clear you don’t like me, but you wouldn’t have me up and about unless you saw profit in it. I’ve been beat up, insulted, and manipulated, and that’s just in the past ten minutes. So, if it pleases you, I’d appreciate if we skip past the threats and gloating and get to the part where you make me a deal.”
Yeah, I was trying to push his buttons. I’ve learned over the years that you never want a vampire to be too comfortable around you, so if you keep them off-guard, make them constantly reassess you, they’ll slip up and give you the advantage. Sometimes it goes bad, like when they end up trying to eat your face, but more often than not getting inside a vampire’s head is a good thing. And I was very good at getting into vampires’ heads.
Too bad it didn’t work. Kincaid just smirked at me, before looking over to Bury. “He’s good.”
She nodded at him. “He is. He’s also dangerous in many ways.”
Kincaid made a dismissive gesture with his hands. “All Kindred are dangerous, Dame Knight.”
“Not like him.” She turned to look at me, and I dropped my eyes again. “He’s… obsessive. In a way I haven’t seen before.”
Kincaid made a non-committal noise, and I could see him moving in the chair again. “Have you been having dreams while in torpor, Master Davis?”
I glanced up quickly before looking back down again. “Sure. Most Kindred do. That’s not a crime yet.”
“Over the past few nights, a number of Kindred… mainly of your clan… have had similar dreams. Dreams of birds, of feathers, of flying. But mostly of owls.”
That made me look up in spite of myself, and I saw that the bastard was still smirking. Oh yeah, you fucker, you have my attention now. “You’re talking about the Strix. You’re spooked over a bogeyman from the ancient world?”
Bury spoke up, suddenly changing the direction of the conversation. “We staked you because you had located the resting place of an elder and were planning to diablerize her.”
I put my hands up to protest, and Glasses clenched my hair again. I scowled in irritation. “Look, if this is going to go on for a while, can you at least call off the ape here so I can get control over my own neck again? I have trouble focusing when I’m constantly bouncing off of a table.”
Kincaid considered me for a moment, and then nodded minutely to Glasses. I felt him let go of my hair suddenly, and my head fell forward for a moment before I regained control of my neck. I used the movement to slide off the edge of the table, taking one step towards Kincaid. To his credit, he didn’t move, but Glasses suddenly appeared next to me, ready to grab my hair or whatever body part was available if needed.
The Prince casually motioned towards Bury. “My knight has the right of it. You were apprehended because she discovered you conspiring to diablerize Ivana Genovesi.”
“Attempted,” I said, stressing the word. “I don’t see Genovesi here complaining.”
“You know full well that she was hidden while in torpor, hiding after an attack by the Strix years ago,” Kincaid snapped. “She was hardly in a position to defend herself.”
“That’s a damned shame,” I said, but my mind was still playing back what Kincaid had said. I snagged on a word. “Wait a minute, what do you mean ‘was’?”
Bury stepped forward a little. I could have grabbed her if I wanted to. For all I knew, she wanted me to. “Sammie saw her walking around a few nights ago,” she said, motioning to the Hound.
Glasses spoke up, his voice sounding like two rocks grinding together. “The same time the dreams started.”
I turned to look at Sammie, my face reflected in his glasses. “Holy shit, it talks. Does it do any other tricks?”
Sammie’s fists clenched, but Bury stepped over to him (and back out of my reach) to put a hand on his shoulder. “He’s right, Master Davis. Genovesi shouldn’t have woken up for another few years at least. We’re concerned that the Strix may have possessed her.”
“Did you get a look at her eyes in the dark?” I asked. Sammie grunted, and Bury translated with a shake of her head. I shrugged, feigning lack of interest. “Whatever. So where do I come in?”
Kincaid spoke up, and I turned to look over at him. “I have enough resources that I might be able to track her. However, we need a starting point for such a search. We can’t randomly sweep the city endlessly in a vain hope of finding her, and we don’t know where she settled for her torpor.”
Everything clicked into place. “But I do.”
“As you say. I am willing to change your punishment from years of torpor to simple banishment. If you find Genovesi, regardless of whether she is possessed by the Strix or not, you are free to take your horrid appetites to another court of Kindred who might tolerate them better. If not, you will return here and resume your punishment.”
“I assume you’re not going to let me wander around on my own.”
Kincaid smirked again. He probably felt good now that he thought he had me over a barrel. “Of course not. You will swear appropriate oaths to me. The oaths of the First Estate are not idle words to be discarded as a whim, however. They have real power.”
I looked over at Sammie. “But you’ll have your gorilla along, just in case the oath doesn’t have quite that much power.”
Bury stepped forward and gently clasped my chin, moving my face towards hers. Her fingers felt cool on my skin, and I got a whiff of her perfume. It reminded me of plush couches and rose petals – sensual, but an artificial, carefully-staged sensuality. She looked me in the eyes, and when I dropped my gaze she smiled a little.
“I’m not much of a gorilla,” she said smoothly, “but I’m sure I can keep you in line.”