Nikki/Antonio de Valez belongs to Tanja. The 'real' Antonio, Kate and Florian belong to their players. The World of Darkness setting and mythology belong to White Wolf Game Studio, and I'm only borrowing it and mean no harm. The reenactors belong to themselves. The story's all mine!
© inge 1997
This started out as a collaboration between me and Tanja, but after she had developed the basic plotline, our interpretations turned out to be very different so we each wrote our own story.
If you are not familiar with the setting, you might want to read the cheat sheet or just rough it for the first page or so -- it gets easier after.
Many thanks to Maygra who beta'ed this story. All remaining mistakes are mine.
Feedback makes me happy, constructive criticism helps me to become better!
Tanja and I also wrote a Role Playing Adventure using the same idea. If you have any reason to belive that you might be playing that adventure someday, you might want to read the story only afterwards.
The year was 1997 and I had moved to San Francisco a score year and two ago. I had presented myself to its young Camarilla Prince, although I consider the Camarilla a bunch of boneheaded, self-important leeches with delusions of grandeur. Still, I respect territory.
So I presented myself to him as a young Brujah of Hispanic origin -- not the best thing to be in a city on the frontier to the Anarch Free States, but a lot wiser than to claim my own heritage, and besides, I always got along well with the Brujah. They are brave, independent and intelligent, traits that I deeply respect.
The prince, after some fussing, deigned to accept me, and I set myself up with a small body arts shop in the Castro. I do not need the money and I do not care for it, but the Camarilla likes it when you try to play the mortal and, more important, the shop gives me a place to practice my art.
And art it is. I see aging Nob Hill Yuppies pay fortunes for cosmetic surgery, and I nearly laugh. I could do the same a lot better and faster. But I don't do All-American Faces. And I certainly don't do Yuppies. They bring out the worst in me, and you wouldn't want to see that.
My customers think I'm cool. Some think I'm eerie and even more cool. Some want to date me. No problem with that. Some want pain, which I could easily provide, and sometimes I do. But doing so brings back ghosts, and while some might say to be haunted by the odd ghost or two is a small price for having crossed the Giovanni more than once, these ghosts are my own, and they are worse than anything Giovanni ever sent after me.
If you are a student of the supernatural you should by now have guessed what kind of creature I am. You might even have guessed my clan, which is not Brujah and certainly not, as some have hinted, Caitiff. Fortunately for those who would call me clanless I have trained self-control for several centuries and can refrain from tearing their hearts out, thus blowing my own little masquerade.
I like San Francisco. It's beautiful and alive and dangerous. There are things out there that could swallow a grown Lupine in one gulp. Hardly anyone of my kind knows or cares. If they knew they would scurry like rats before a flood. But they believe themselves to be the center of their little universes, worrying about the supposed machinations of the Antediluvians and their own petty power games while they wouldn't recognize a werewolf in Blue Jeans until it ripped their throat out.
One summer evening I was walking through Golden Gate Park. Not the safest place to be after dark, especially not with me around. In the distance I heard the City Wolves baying, but they tended to leave me alone.
I was a little hungry, not having fed in two weeks. This night I would hunt, and I savored the anticipation, wanted it to linger just a little bit longer while strolling idly down the path that led to a well-lit area of the park. This place was popular with families and leftover hippies to hold parties in, and this early in the night it was hardly a suitable hunting ground. I walked around a bend -- and into an explosion in a time machine.
At least that's what I first thought when I saw a lot of people -- most of them young -- wearing clothes from a dozen different time periods (yet none of it modern), chattering in some language that sounded like a parody of Shakespeare's English. A few were doing a dance I had last seen in France before the revolution. Music of the same age came from a Ghetto Blaster.
Well, if you can't stand a little weirdness, stay out of San Francisco, and besides, these were just kine, and lots of them, too, so I decided to leave them to their own devices. But then I saw the fighting.
The fighters wore ramshackle armor and fought with a modernized version of wooden practice swords -- no sharp tips, as I couldn't help but notice.
I stopped to look. Others had done the same, some passersby stood and gawked while a sweet-faced, dark-haired girl in something vaguely Tudor told them something about medieval reenactment.
I watched the fighters. It's rare you get a chance of seeing any sword fighting at all these days. The rules seemed to be that a fighter who got hit acknowledged the blow with a 'good'. If he got hit on the legs he knelt down and fought on, which I found rather ridiculous -- only Lupines and Gangrel go on after they can't stand anymore. Most of the fighters had more enthusiasm than skill, but a few were rather good. They might have lasted a while. Of course, you never knew until the first blood was shed.
Among the fighters were a few women, which made me think of Kate. Kate, who never bothered to dispute swordplay as an exclusively male occupation, turning to easier and more convenient weapons -- her staff and her claws. I once saw her take on five Royal Hunters who had dared to set foot in her forest. Hard luck on the hunters.
Another man had entered the ring. He was a tall guy with broad shoulders. His opponent was a woman about half his weight, and he tried to intimidate her with his size even before the first blows were exchanged. She landed a good blow on his hip, but he refused to acknowledge it.
While I watched, a scent worked itself into my mind, reminding me of my hunger. I turned and saw the sweet-faced girl next to me, watching the fighting intently, a fire in her blood that drew me to her.
She seemed to sense my eyes and turned to me, smiling, making a gesture towards the field. "What do you think of his fighting?" She sounded eager and proud.
It seemed like a strange question to ask a stranger. Only later I understood that she thought me part of their game. I was wearing some simple black in-between-clothes, neither exactly historical nor American-modern, and my body language must have answered somehow to the scene I saw.
"He's a bully," I said. "He relies only on his size and strength and his style is non-existent." In fact I lied. That guy was good, even if he acted like a bastard.
She looked hurt. "He's my boyfriend!"
Without thinking I fell into role. "In this case, milady-" I bowed slightly "pray accept my apology. I am very sorry-" (dramatic pause) "that this ... gentleman is your boyfriend." It was complete bullshit, but she giggled and her cheeks turned red. Her blood didn't cool, quite the contrary. The night seemed to turn out fine.
The sound of laughter behind us cut the girl's answer off. Behind us stood a tall black woman in a colorful African dress and a white chef's apron, a long kitchen-knife in her belt. "He got 'cha, m'lady Eirene!" she exclaimed cheerfully before turning to me. "I keep telling this girl that this so-called boyfriend of hers in an utter bastard, but does she listen?"
"Lizzie!" Eirene said in a scolding tone.
The woman just laughed. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your gallant?"
Eirene looked confused. "I don't... He's not..."
I went with the flow. "Milady Eirene, please allow me to introduce myself. Antonio de Valez at your service." I bowed to kiss her hand, barely touching it with my lips, measuring the time carefully to signal interest, but not greed -- the oldest game, although my intentions were far from honorable. She blushed again and made a curtsey. "Eirene of Cloverdale, milord. This lady is..."
"Imej Jharin," said the other woman, "and not exactly a lady."
I took her hand too -- and felt it going cold under my touch. She withdrew her hand. "Milord Antonio, please do not humble yourself for a lowly kitchen wench." Her voice still sounded cheerful, but her eyes had gotten hard as glass. As I looked straight at her I felt the wildness about her and recognized her as one of the Fair Folk. I took a step back and bowed. "If that is your wish, gentle lady, I shall comply, although it grieves me to see such grace and beauty wasted in a kitchen."
She grinned despite herself -- the Wild Ones just love drama -- and left.
"She's a little weird," Eirene said excusingly.
"Never mind." My thoughts were on other things. The 'boyfriend' had slipped out of the raggletaggle bit of leather and metal he called 'armor' and stood at the far side of the field with some other boys, drinking beer out of brown paper bags and bragging about their fighting prowess. No trouble from there.
"Where are you from?" Eirene asked.
"Er -- Chicago." I had spent some time there, but had not found its strict power structure and boiling intrigues to my liking, much less its inept control-junkie of a prince. I heard he got eaten by Lupines some years ago, and I hope they gave him time to consider just how great a fool he was.
"No, I mean, where's your persona from? Eirene lives in London, in the 16th century. Her parents are nobility and own land in Cornwall, but she likes the city life better."
I remembered London in pre-Elizabethan times, a hotbed of religious strife and fanaticism, burning Protestants today, Catholics tomorrow, filled with witch-hunters and money-makers, a battlefield between Tremere and Ventrue even then, where the rats grew larger than the cats and the climate was bad enough to chill a restless soul.
"Eirene," I said. "It's a Greek name."
"Yeah, I know. But it sounds lovely, doesn't it? My mundane name is Tammy. So what's your persona? Italian?"
Better stick to something you know, I thought, something that's close enough to the truth to hide it perfectly. I nodded. "Venice, early 15th century." The story I told her was that of the real Antonio -- minus his untimely demise in the Carparthian Mountains and the fact that he wasn't of noble birth. After all, I has enough of that for both of us.
The pseudo-medieval folks had lit a large fire and now gathered around it. Imej dished out bread and meat and hot soup from a portable kitchen. I pretended to have already eaten, which got me a glass-cold stare from Imej as she muttered "I see."
No doubt she didn't approve of my plans for Eirene, although she did nothing to hinder me. Little did she know that she was indeed Eirene's life insurance. I had been a scholar before I became a monster, and the chance to talk to the Fey, to share her knowledge, was nothing to be squandered for the lure of blood, however sweet. Besides, Tammy/Eirene lacked the strength of spirit that is necessary for a good kill. She would succumb fast. Her boyfriend on the other hand...
I felt his eyes on me while I continued to act like some White Knight out of Tammy's romantic dreams. If I got the picture of that guy right, Imej might even thank me for taking him on.
There was a strange mood around the fire. As the night got older, the roles these people played seemed to become more alive. I understood what the Wild One found in here. Dreams. Magic. Escape from the rational world that destroyed her kind. And the mortals needed it, too, like they had needed noble savages when civilization became a burden, romantic vampire counts during the rigid Victorian age. Sometimes I think that only the living dead can prosper in this world of cold reason and colder hearts. Some people cling to nightmares after they lost their dreams, strangely relieved to find monsters in the night, even as they scream they know that the worst of monsters is emptiness.
These people had found a different way out. Three men next to me talked about glory won in battles where death wasn't real, talked about chivalry and honor as if they meant it. Perhaps they did. I don't know. I found little honor in war and less in death.
I didn't intend to take part in their discussion, although I pondered on their not-quite-voiced conviction that being able to die well in a game implied some kind of courage. But then one of them, the youngest, clad in leather jeans and chainmail, was challenged by a Mongol warrior woman to come up with an historic example of true chivalry, and he brought up, of all the things in hell and earth, the Crusaders.
Those of my clan are noted for their long memories, and I am no exception to that rule. Although I wasn't even alive then, the very mention of crusaders still makes my hackles rise. I heard my own voice. "Your fine example of so-called chivalry was a horde of self-serving, sanctimonious, greedy and unwashed barbarians that set out to destroy and loot a more civilized culture in the name of God and turned on their own when the Saracens proved too tough a nut to crack!"
The chainmail guy rose and tried to look threatening. I saw a red and white tabard lying behind him. "Do. You. Question. My. Honor. As. A. Knight?"
"He's from Chicago," Eirene said placatingly.
There seemed to be a severe case of reality clash.
One of the older men stepped between me and the chainmail guy. "Milord," he addressed me. "You seem to feel very strongly about that matter. Should any of our words or actions have offended you, pray accept my apology."
I nodded as graciously as I managed.
"But Carl, he insulted my persona!" the chainmail guy insisted.
"I'm sure he didn't mean it as a personal insult, Sir Geoffrey. Besides, on a strictly historical basis he might just be right."
Tammy laid her hand on my arm. "Let us go, milord Antonio. I'm not interested in this discussion." Obviously she feared another uproar. Fine with me. As we headed for the shadows away from the fire I felt Imej's cold eyes following us.
She needn't have worried. Before we had walked ten paces, we ran into Tammy's boyfriend and his cronies, more than a little drunk and mad as a bull.
"What have we got here?" he snarled. "Trying to steal my girlfriend, Mr. White Knight, are you?"
I let my contempt show. "I can not steal what you do not own."
Tammy looked fearful. "Bryan," she pleaded. "It's not..."
"I'm not talking to you," he cut her off.
That did it. I'm not the type to save damsels in distress -- quite the contrary -- but I can't stand arrogant bastards. (Never mind that reliable sources have told me that's exactly what I am.) "Milord," I said, "considering the way you treat this lady maybe you should better stick to ... sheep."
He grew pale with rage. Of course he wanted to strangle me on the spot, but loosing his temper in front of his peers would have cost him what little face he had left.
"You smart-assed bastard! Get yourself a sword and armor and face me on the field like a real man!"
Carl appeared behind me. "You do not need to accept this challenge, Milord Antonio." He sounded as if he didn't want Mr. Big Bad Guy to beat up some skinny wise-ass.
"Oh, but I do," I said. This was going to be interesting.
"No!" Tammy cried.
"O-kay." Bryan didn't want to let the opportunity pass. "Heavy weapons then."
I saw that he expected me to protest. Obviously he mistook me for a fencer. Many have, as I was slender in life and much more so in death. But fact is, I never got used to these light Italian fencing swords. After all, I had been a knight... although hardly a white one.
"I haven't got any armor with me." I said.
Bryan grinned. "No problem, Mr. White Knight. Geoffrey here is about your size... Geoff! Get this guy into armor!"
I followed Geoffrey back to where his armor lay under this damned red-and-white Crusader's tabard. He helped me don it. It was beautiful. Flexible plates sewn in leather, shining stainless steel for the arms and legs. A little too large, but still easy to move in. I would have killed for something like that, back in the olden days. I took the wooden sword and shield he gave me and tried a few swings. Weight and balance of the sword were good. The shield was too heavy but it would do.
"There goes another of my shields," Geoffry sighed in mock regret. "Bryan's gonna kick your ass, you know." He didn't sound too unhappy about it.
"Perhaps not," I said.
Geoffry laughed. "Forget it. He's the best. He'd be king if they ever allowed him in the lists."
His words didn't make any sense and I didn't care. I felt the stillness descending on me as it always does before a fight, when everything becomes distant except the enemy and the need to survive. I reminded myself to play by the rules. No supernatural powers here -- it would spoil the fun.
When I returned to the field, Bryan was already there. He had no shield, and his two-handed 'sword' was six feet long. Carl and the Mongol woman stood between the field and the spectators, carrying brightly-colored staffs and acting, I guessed, as some kind of referees. Tammy was in the front row, Imej next to her.
Carl turned to me. "Lord Antonio de Valez, are you ready?"
"Lord Lars Hammerfaust, are you ready?"
"Ready to beat his bleedin' brains in!"
Carl gave him a dark look.
"Milords, salute the crown!"
Bryan nodded his head to a thirty-ish man with a ponytail and a brass band around his head.
"Salute the lady who inspires you!"
We both bowed to an anxious Tammy. For a moment I caught Imej's eyes. The Wild One smiled as if this spectacle was arranged solely for her pleasure.
"Salute your worthy opponent!"
We did, although we both didn't consider our opponent worthy of anything except an unmarked grave.
Then we stood and stared at each other. The first one to move is often the one who loses the fight. I let my eyes wander to lure Bryan into an attack. He took the bait and brought his greatsword down in a wide arc that would have knocked a mortal out, helmet or not. I wasn't there when the blow came. Instead, I closed in and got him into the reach of my weapon. A light hit to the unprotected armpit -- I didn't expect him to acknowledge it and I was right. I was only showing off. Still, had I used a real sword he would have been bleeding heavily now, probably have lost the use of his arm. The thought of blood aroused me. I felt my own teeth pricking my lower lip, drawing blood. I had to rein in my hunger and blocked the next blow clumsily with the shield. The impact nearly paralyzed my shield arm. He followed up with a short, fast stroke to my leg. I rolled backwards and was on my feet again when he came in for the 'kill'. Some of the spectators applauded. I ducked under his sword, caught it with my shield and delivered a straight blow to his side and across his belly. A messy death. He ignored it.
The confidence in Bryan's eyes had been replaced with doubt, and as I evaded his next blows effortlessly, taunting him with hits he didn't need to acknowledge, doubt became rage. I sidestepped another blow, strong enough to sweep me off my feet and brought in a head shot. This time I hit hard, and Bryan's helmet rang like a bell. It was a killing blow by all standards, it had killed creatures far stronger and tougher than this guy -- although not, I admit, if done with a rattan blade.
"Light," Bryan grunted and fought on. The spectators started shouting something about 'rhinos'. I caught a glimpse at Tammy and Imej -- Tammy's face was pale and she looked ready to faint. Imej was enthralled. She loved every second of this fight. So did I.
I knew now that Bryan wouldn't accept any blow, no matter how good. He would fight on until he collapsed. I admired his spirit and set out to break it. No wide swings now. No blows to vital parts. Only short and powerful strikes to areas his pathetic armor did not protect. There is a limit to the pain a human body can take and I intended to take Bryan to that limit. Of course, he could always surrender.
He didn't. It was Carl who stopped the fight, shouting 'Hold' and stepping between us. He proposed an end to the fight. I agreed. The beast was getting too close to the surface. Bryan accepted the opportunity to retreat, but his eyes said: Until next time. I nodded, unseen.
There wasn't any applause when I walked from the field. I don't know if the kine had recognized what I did and disapproved, or if they were simply disappointed by the less-than-glorious end of the fight. Tammy came running to me. "Antonio, are you OK?"
I nodded. Picking up the game again seemed stale. The beast demanded blood, not romance. I bowed down to kiss her hard, biting her lip and tasting sweet blood. "Ouch!" she said and took a step back. I lowered my eyes so that she did not see the beast in there. "I beg your forgiveness, milady. That was inappropriate." I could have swallowed her whole. I wanted to.
"My God, Antonio, you're bleeding!" That strange motherly attitude that women sometimes get.
I wiped my own blood and hers from my chin. "I bit my lip."
"Are you sure you're OK?"
"Most certainly." I did not dare to smile.
She fluttered away to get a band aid or something.
I doffed Geoffrey's armor as the boy came along. He seemed impressed. "Hey, that was one meee-an fight! I've never seen anything like that! Who are you, man, the king of the Midrealm?"
"Neither king nor prince," I said. "Thank you for lending me your gear."
He eyed a crack in his shield. "You better be careful," he said. "Bryan's no good loser. Might have been better for your health if he got you on the field."
"I'm not worried about my health, but thanks for your concern." I turned to go.
"Wait," he said. "Why don't you come to our fighters' practice sometimes? Just call me, I'll tell you where and when." He pulled a calling card out of his jeans pocket. "You could teach us a lot."
The idea of teaching a bunch of kine sword fighting didn't lack funny aspects. I took the card with no intention of ever using it. Kevin Adams, Software Consultant. Another mask.
The people had begun packing up and the fire died down. It was close to eleven. I looked around for Tammy but found only Imej, loading the portable kitchen into a multicolored van. I went to her.
"Have you seen Tammy anywhere?"
She didn't answer, fighting instead with a crate of kitchen utensils that was too heavy for her to lift. "Give me a hand, will you?" I did.
"What do you want with her?" she asked.
"I have no intent to harm her." I said, answering the unspoken question instead of the spoken one.
"Getting a band aid from the chiurgeon. Not that you'd need it. She'll be back any minute."
We loaded another crate into the van.
"Can I meet you sometimes?" I asked.
She looked at me wide-eyed. "Milord Antonio, I'm shocked! Flirting with one lady and dating another?"
Florian would have loved her, I guessed.
"I'd never think of that, milady! But I am a scholar and well-traveled. I would love to hear some of your stories and are willing to trade in like."
I saw that I had hit a nerve. She smiled. "I shall gladly take you on that offer as long as neither friend nor family of mine comes to harm at your hands."
"I so promise," I said.
She scribbled a phone number on a piece of paper. "Call me," she said. "You are a strange one, milord Antonio."
"So I've been told."
Suddenly her eyes fixed on something behind me. "Bryan, what the--"
I whirled around. Bryan stood there, staggering, drunk as a lord, a long blade of shining steel in his hands and murder in his eyes.
"Hey-ho, loverboy," he slurred. "Not such a great big man now, eh?"
"You're drunk, Bryan," Imej said sternly. "Put that thing away before someone gets hurt."
Bryan looked at me with bloodshot eyes. "Oh, but I intend to hurt this little faggot. Hurt him real good. Make him think again about trying to steal my girl. When I'm done with him he'll never touch a girl again."
He came closer. I refused to back down, rage burning deep inside me.
"Fuck off, Bryan," Imej said. Her voice could have frozen an exploding gas main.
He feinted, staggered, lost his balance, fell forward, sword still pointed at me. He ran me through with thirty inches of steel.
The pain was incredible and rage followed it, filling my eyes with red. I would rip this bastard apart, feed on his screams. Damn the Masquerade. Damn the Prince. He didn't even know the face I was wearing right now.
It was only my habit of maintaining control that kept me from assuming the form of the beast and letting go. That, and the look in Bryan's eyes. The sudden soberness that came with the realization that he had killed me. The shock of seeing his world fall apart. It was too good to waste it on a few moments of screams. I focused on the pain, using its coldness to hold on to reason. Grabbed the blade, wiping the dark blood off it with my hands as I took a step back. Bryan stared in horror. "Light," I said through clenched teeth.
Blood leaked from the wound even as I forced it to heal, soaked my pants and shirt, black on black invisible in the darkness. The hunger came back with a vengeance.
This fool would die before the morning, but not before he understood exactly what kind of error he had made. He already started to understand. For a broken moment he had seen the truth behind my eyes.
The privacy of the moment shattered as Carl came running. "Bryan, dammit! What are you up to now?"
Bryan looked at him like a dead man. "I think I'm going to be sick," he murmured.
With everyone occupied I decided to leave. Only Imej had seen what had happened and she wouldn't tell, except others of her kind. If she did, I might introduce her to Florian.
"Kaliníchta, milady," I said to her and melted into the shadows that rose as the last tongue of the fire flickered and died.
From the shadows I watched them leave. Imej ushered Tammy into the van and drove off, tires squealing. Carl left in a battered VW Beetle. Geoffry, chainmail and all, got on a motorbike and offered the Mongol woman a ride home, which she declined, walking away confidently as if there was nothing to fear from the darkness. Bryan left more slowly, hesitant to enter the shadows as if he knew what was waiting for him, but finally he gathered his resolve and walked away from the puddle of electric light, to a nondescript car with a 'Fighters Do It With Bigger Sticks'-sticker on the rear bumper. Into me.
Maybe they found the car in the morning. Maybe they wondered where the owner had gone, but none of the living knows or guesses what happened to Bryan (except maybe Imej, dark fairy woman) and the dead, accustomed to silence, don't tell. Not of the hunt that lasted all night, not of gleaming eyes, whispering shadows, the sound of steps made by unseen feet. Something dreadful lurking just beyond the field of vision, like the dark world does under the guise of normality. He fled into dark nightclubs and well-lit supermarkets only to find the monster there, watching the dancers, leafing through magazines at the counter. In a silent alley where the homeless with faces of demons gathered around a fire he once more drew steel against the dead man that haunted him, before I twisted his sword arm into a useless thing, making him drop the weapon howling, beautiful hate burning in his eyes.
Finally, less than an hour before sunrise, the end came. We had reached the wharfs, where brightly clothed tourists, waiting for the first ferry flickered through the fog like phantoms, less real than the tired taxi drivers at the end of their night shifts, and there his spirit gave way. This far hate and courage and fury and sheer stubbornness had supported him, but not further. He broke down there and cried, cried to the tourists for help, but their eyes went through him as I commanded their minds to ignore us and they avoided his outstretched hands.
And there I took him, neither for my hunger nor for revenge alone but for both, and because that's what I do, that's what I am, the monster from your nightmares given flesh, and in the end he might even have enjoyed it as they always do, although I had to seal his mouth shut to silence his screams.
And then I fled before the upcoming sun like the morning fog, home to my dark haven of earth and memories, the delicious taste of well-spiced blood on my lips, to sleep from dawn to dusk and then rise again in this beautiful, beautiful city that's not my own.