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Swara-Ann

World of Darkness: Attrition - When Will You Rage?

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"Allo' Little Bird." The worst accent in the world greeted the young blonde as she waited. Leaning against the wall in dark alleyways was starting to become habit for her but she always considered a lot better than being found almost dead in them (long story). The voice belonged to a homeless guy whose fake limp was transparent, but it worked for him. Dressed in a pile of rags Swara-Ann easily noticed that the entire ensemble could be cast off with a simple gesture. She also made a mental note to look up what 'ensemble' meant later. He carried a large duffel on his shoulder.

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"Hey, Dredge." She said somberly, unfolding her arms and pushing herself off the wall. "You get it?"

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"Aye, aye... I got it." He nodded his head and dropped the duffel at her feet. "Wozint easy, I can tell you that. Right bit expensive dey iz'. Fair warning Dove, my people aren't to happy bout this. Def Int's givin' you forty eight hours, that's it. And you owe us, not just for the toy."

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She threw the zipper aside and looked inside the bag. A smile formed on her once lovely features. She was a mess. Deep bags were under eyes and her hair looked like it hadn't been combed in days. He noticed how here fingers and hands trembled as she unzipped the bag. She was a stable as an asylum patient. "Fair enough." She said flatly while lifting the duffel and sliding across her shoulder. "Thanks, see ya."

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"Dove." The way Dredge said it made Swara halt in her tracks. Like a mentor or a father might hold a child in place because they knew there was something more going on than they were being told. "And you owe, me."

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With a sigh frustration she about faced and gave him that dread look of valley girl annoyance, complete with the eye roll. On the up side, Dredge was Uratha, like her, so she know sleeping with him wasn't going to be an option. Thank Luna for small favors. "Fine. What do you want? I already hooked you up, four cartons of smokes and I used my phone to record my room mate showering. What more do you want from her? Her number? Cuz, seriously, dude... I don''t think she's into the whole homeless guy schtick. Maybe if you parted your hair the other way she wouldn't notice?"

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Dredge chuckled, hopping up on a small stack of pallets, he got comfortable. "S'why I like you Dove, yer cute, funny, easy on the eyes. Dumb as bag of hammers, but we can't expect the whole package, right? Been like that since the dawn o' time... we can find the brain, or the body... never both in the same box, pardon my pun. No, Dove, all I want from you is an explanation. I've been more than 'elpful, sweets, dedicated a few outfits for ya, found you trinkets, kept my pack from gutting you... I think I deserve at least that."

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The bag hit the ground again and the Alaskan native took her place back on the wall, leaning with her hands tucked in the pockets of tight denim. "Kay, fine. What do you want to know?"

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"How much longer do you think you have, Dove? I can see it in your eyes." He sighed with genuine concern in his tone. He liked Swara, she was a good kid, noble, heart in the right place but there was no room in his pack for her. He hated seeing her trying to live this life of theirs alone, but he knew she'd be all all the stronger for it. "The Rage is eating you up inside. You're on edge, you're lashing out, you can barely sleep at night and it shows. How long's it been since you slept, Dove?"

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"A few naps," She admitted quietly. "Thirty minutes here and there, but, about four days or so. After I left Declan's, I guess."

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"An how long since you changed? Vented all that rage?"

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She was silent for a long time, embarrassed to speak but realizing she had no way out of it. "Th-three cycles." Her eyes were already getting misty. She wanted to just walk away, but the Low Honored the High, and Dredge, for a homeless guy, was not an Uratha you wanted to be on the bad side of. "B-but I use the others! I shift I make use of the other forms, just like you said! Just... not that one."

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"Christ, Dove! Th' hell you thinking?" He palmed his face and then looked up to the sky as if someone might drop some common sense onto her from upon high. "You have any idea ow' stupid you are? I know you're hurtin' sweetie, I know you carry a weight greater than most, but caging that beast will not give you a happy ending, Little Bird. You think it's bad when the curse grips you darlin' just wait... when you change, and you will change, you'll have a lot to answer for when it's all said and done."

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"I can c-control it." She tried to keep back the tears but she was crying a little now. Days of sleep deprivation were taking their toll. "It's not easy, and it hurts sometimes... but I can do it. I've a plan."

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"Right... ain't heard that before, Dove." He rolled his eyes, took a deep breath and threw his arms in the air. They fell with a slap releasing a stagnant cloud of dust into the air. "Bottom line, pookums, you ain't got much time. I've told you what Shiva decided and the twin's 'ave agreed. Either you find a cure, or they will put you down. Normally we don't kill our own kind, but special circumstances exist. I hate to say it again for ya Dove, but there you go. Yer on borrowed time, Little Bird."

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"Then I suppose I should quit wasting it, huh?" She growled, quickly becoming irritated with the whole conversation. Suddenly she realized she'd growled at him and cupped her hands over her mouth. "Oh, God, Dredge I'm sorry, I didn't mean that... I..."

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He raised a hand and offered her an expression that was warm and far from offended by her outburst. "S'okay Dove, you're under a lot of pressure. I understand, and you're right. Us sitting here rattlin' our gabbers ain't gettin' you curse free. Go. I'll run interference for you as long as I can. Fly away Little Bird, fly away."

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She was already gone and running down the alleyway into the street. Even with the duffel over her back she was like pink lightning down the street. With the weight of the wolf's rage bubbling up inside her she need to act fast and she'd need help. Her trip was a one way door and unless she had help getting out, she'd be dead in a week. She slowed down outside an old abandoned steel mill at 190 and South Vermont. She clicked something on the screen of her phone:

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Sarah,

It's Swara. Seriosuly need your help. Only one I trust. Come to Dongbu Steel, 190 and South Vermont.

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Please!

-=XO Alaskan H0ttie XO=-

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She looked around on the cold, black streets and then finally slipped through a massive tear in the fence. Unwrapping a Hersey's bar she took several large bites, hardly giving pause to chew. Tranquilizers wouldn't work, sedatives were too slow and even then the doses it would take were far beyond her bankroll to acquire. Chocolate, as bad of an idea as it was... was almost free and in every store. The after effects were going suck. Oh, were they going to suck.

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She sat down and pulled a few things from the duffel. A cordless drill with a few spare batteries and several large, fourteen inch diamond carbide bits. The rusty old smelting bowl she was standing near was huge but she'd been working for almost a month to get it right how she needed it. It was resting at an angle, reminiscent of the old rabbit traps with a box and a stick. One swift kick to the pulleys and tack that were holding it in place with incredibly thick chains and the whole thing would fall down like a church bell. A four inch sheet of solid steel as the 'floor' under neath it and the bowl weighed nearly four tons. With a deep sigh she began drilling a one inch hole at the base of the bowl.

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Hopefully Sarah wasn't too busy...

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Busy is a relative term. At the moment, Sarah was twenty feet up in an oak, watching a leech who had been ignoring common sense and his own buddies' warning and wandering into the northern part of her territory to hunt. Claws extended, she waited for the bastard - probably a Succubus, from how he hunts - to get closer.. closer...

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...and the cell phone she'd all but forgotten chimed out with "Werewolves of London". The interloper looked up, wide-eyed, at Sarah, then broke into a run that invoked kinds of speed only the blood and a special gift could provide.

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"Ah, fuck!" The Dead-Wolf wasn't happy; she'd been tracking this jerk for two nights. She didn't frenzy - quite - but the bark of the tree took a few deep gashes before, with a frustrated sigh, she retracted her claws... and then remembered the phone.

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Sarah'd never been terribly good with these things. The Wren's hadn't sprung for her to have one, the university had eaten all her money when she got out on her own, and there wasn't a lot of money in being a self-sufficient Gangrel. Only when she'd hooked up with Presidio's Pride did they finally force one into her hand - "Handier than howls," the Iron-Master who was beta had said - and she'd kept it up ever since with what money she could beat out of vandals and vampires, dutifully converted to a money order each month and sent off to the new Ma Bell.

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She had to read the message three times. "Me? What the fuck could she need me for?"

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The whispered reply in her ear damned near made her lose balance and fall out of the tree. *She is broken, broken, broken wolf in a cage, cage, cage without bars.*

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Sarah couldn't see the spirit. Never could if they didn't choose to manifest, and this one - like most - didn't. And her responsive cries of, "What do you mean? What's wrong with her?" got no reply at all.

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Still, it didn't bode well. And the call for help was still glaring at her in the phosphorescent glow of her phone.

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A human would have jumped in their car and taken off with squealing tires. A poorer human would have grabbed a bus and prayed that the connections would meet up on time for once. Sarah wasn't human... and if anyone that night saw a wolf running without pause beneath the San Diego Freeway, they didn't report it.

The old foundry was in the shadow of that same elevated ribbon of concrete, where it met the 110. Sarah didn't slow as she jumped the fence, but did as she made her way into the hulking main building. A few forced snuffles picked up a panoply of scents... including that of Swara. And following the scent found the Uratha doing some kind of weird construction.

The Dead-Wolf quirked her head to the side in wolf-like fashion behind Swara and said, "Am I helpin' you put up shelves, or build a tank?"

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Moving through the steel mill was not a silent process, but still Swara-Ann spun about face like she'd just startled her heart to a stop. She gasped and took a few breaths. "Luna! You scared the hell out of me..."

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"Um, sorry?" Sarah's tone was caught between an inquiry and confusion. She wasn't good with people, but with People she was a bit better and she could see the 'Alaskan H0ttie' was about as high strung as one could get. Cautiously she approached, considering she could see that Swara's fingertips were sporting long, black sharp talons. A gift of the partial change. She took note of over a dozen chocolate bar wrappers and a long army duffel sitting in one 'corner' of the little construction zone. She looked like a five year old who hadn't slept in days. Chocolate lined the edges of her mouth and all over hands. She was pale, like the melanin in her body had dropped significantly, like in just a few short days she'd become an albino. It wasn't uncommon to see the skin pale before a change, especially in Uratha who possessed white coats, since the biological change required them to have less melanin to support the hue. Swara wasn't growing a coat though. Sarah had seen this before: Swara was fighting a change. Her body was half way between wanting to and she was forcing herself to remain in the hishu skin.

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"Um... yeah..." She began, wiping her hand across her sweaty brow. The claws slipped away slowly, melding back into normal finger nails. "Thought maybe a small herb garden over there, Lowe's is delivering the white picket fence tomorrow." She tried to feign her typical whimsy attitude, that bubbly spirit that was almost infectious when she was healthy. She didn't ignore Sarah's 'what the hell is going on look' though. "Okay... Okay..." She paced frantically. "Long version or short verion?"

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"Short version." Sarah said, folding her arm sternly. She already had a million questions 'do you own a brush?' being on the top three what with Swara's four day bed head she had going.

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"Okay." Swara took a deep breath. "I'm cursed."

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"Long version." The vampire and Swara sat down simultaneously. This might be a long night.

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"Yeeeah... I get that a lot." She tried to rub away the sleep and took another deep breath. "Okay, Ancestor werewolf of mine sought justice. He found a justice spirit and pleaded that it would give him the power to enact some justice on a group that had seriously wronged him and his. So the spirit agrees and blesses ancestor dude with some great power of justice. What ancestor dude failed to put in the proposal was that it wasn't for justice, it was for vengeance." She paused and held up a hand. "Fine line, I know... but spirits take their duties very seriously, you know that. Anyway, spirit got offended and cursed ancestor guy... now the curse passes through any of my blood who goes through the First Change. Sometimes it skips a generation, my grandfather had it, my mother didn't."

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"And this curse does what, exactly?"

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"Picture an Uratha as a champion of justice. Massive, furious, unstoppable with an ability sniff out wrongs that need to be righted. To mete out 'justice'. Sounds cool huh? It blows. It's a perverse form justice, it's vengeance and murder justified, nothing is right about it. When it first hit me it was like a high I couldn't explain. It's a nightmare though Sarah, I hunt for people who are morally corrupt and I execute them. No trial, no excuses, no regrets. Just a trail of bodies. I'm losing my mind." She was crying now and rocking back and forth like an asylum inmate. "The murdered prostitutes in the paper six months ago? That was me. The slaughtered gangers right before Christmas? Me too. It's an urge to change that only comes once in a while, it's fueled by the rage all Uratha have within them. I can fight it most of the time, but I've gone months and now it wants out. So, in comes the smelter and chocolate. I'm going to get inside, but once I do I'll be trapped... that's why I need you. To let me out tomorrow. Just pull on those chains and it'll lift. A friend of mine, Dredge, he's a bum, he knows a guy and convinced him to help me get some of this set up, but I'm out of favors. I've drilled air holes around the base so I'll be able to breathe, and I'm ODing on chocolate so just in case I do escape, I'll be so sick that taking me down might not be so hard. Gotta love wolves and chocolate." For a complete idiot Swara-Ann was incredibly cunning and self aware, it seemed. She was right, the chocolate would make her so sick that not even the war form could fight the pain... but it might just kill her too. "Once it passes I might get another couple of months, I've been communing with spirits, trying to find a cure. I might be onto something, but I need this taken care of first. Sarah, I know you barely know me, but you're the only one who knows anything about my people... you can't let me leave this steel mill... please."

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Sarah listened to the increasingly disturbing story with a deepening frown. There were Uratha, she knew, who... fell, for lack of a better term. Who lost themselves to aspects of themselves, to a wild lack of balance, to the People as a whole. She'd even heard the term before: zi'ir. They became utter monsters without semblance of sentience or sanity, and the only thing that could be done to help them was to give peace through death.

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Looking at Swara and listening to her words, watching the Cahalith shake like a wrung-out meth addict, there wasn't a doubt in her mind that that was where the girl was heading. Her uncontrolled periodic rages were going to do her in. And while Sarah didn't personally know what it felt like to rage, she sure as hell knew what it felt like to frenzy... and that sounded an awful lot like what Swara was experiencing.

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"OK. So, don' let you outta the box until mornin', and shove ya back into the box if ya get out early. That pretty much the shape of it?" She didn't add that her chances of shoving a raging Swara anywhere weren't good; for all her blood tricks, Sarah couldn't match a raging werewolf unless she used her preternatural claws... and using those viciously evil things on one of the People would violate her Oath nine ways from Sunday.

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"Yeah," Swara replied with a pale semblance of her usual pink bubbly self. "That's about it."

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"Look, I need to you know that I... eh, you know what? Never mind. Show me how this damned crazy thing you've built works, so you don' starve in there while I just keep turning on the wipers instead of openin' it up." Swara started to demonstrate the chain system - which was actually pretty damned clever, Sarah had to admit - and Sarah added, "When this is done, we gotta find some of these justice spirits. 'Cause this curse? It ain't fuckin' justice - not to you, an' not to the poor bastards you kill in the rage. They gotta find out that one of their own maybe ain't quite what it's s'posed to be no more. Maybe we can get 'em to help ya out."

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"Do ya one better." She operated the pulleys and put tension on the chains so Sarah could see how it worked. "How about the spirit that did it? I've been working as best as I can with the spirits and they led me to a group historians, vampires like you. Apparently one of them knows of a... something that can give me the location of the spirit who placed the cursed on my family."

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Some of her pep had returned for the moment as it looked like her plan might actually work after all. Alone was no way to challenge the world, just having someone around to talk to, to see, to know they were there suddenly meant the world to her. "We've been emailing and texting, no smart, I know... but it was the only way. They've agreed to give me the information if I agree to steal back something some vampires stole from some exhibit in Germany last year. A book of 'unspeakable evil'," She shook her hands about and mocked the possible terrors such a book could hold. "Woooooo. So, all I gotta do it sneak into this old asylum upstate, avoid these Bally guys, which shouldn't be a problem. I mean, really, how bad can a gaggle of fitness buff vampires be, right? Return the book to these historian guys, and I'm one step closer to cursed free."

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She took a deep breath, gawking at her contraption. She didn't really have the heart to tell Sarah that she didn't build it, it was sort of already here and Dredge and Def Int had a few under the table guys help with most of it, the rest she'd Googled. It was nice to just have someone appreciate her, to not look at her like she was an idiot... which she was, but still it was nice to not have people look at her like she was one... which she was, but...

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Anyway...

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"But first, I need a clear head, and hopefully this will work. I'm so gonna need a shower after this." She wiped a few of the stray tears from her dirt cheeks and continued showing Sarah how it all worked.

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Sarah's face showed no hint of happiness when Swara mentioned vampires. But she limited her comment on the topic to, "Let's get this thing done. Then we can talk about the fuckin' leeches." Genuine hatred embodied the final word, and from that point forward she shifted into "all worky, no talky" mode as they checked over the rig.

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Once there was nothing left to check, the Dead-Wolf looked around at the abandoned steel mill, then back at the uratha. "You know that I can't let you outta this thing until after sunset, right? This place ain't exactly sun-proof."

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"Right, vampire. It's okay, afterwards I'm usually pretty drained, I'll sleep most of the day, probably in puddles of my own vomit," She buried her face in her hand, resting the other on her hip while she massaged her temples with her thumb and pinky. "Charmed life we live, eh?" She was trying not to cry again, Sarah could tell. "Could keep an eye on my bag while I'm in there? Hide it or... take it with you or something? I'll need it for tomorrow night."

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The bones and ligaments in her arms suddenly cracked and popped and they both realized she couldn't hold it back any longer. Without another word she scampered under the smelter and Sarah hit the lever and dropped it with four tons of clang on the steel floor. After several seconds of silence Sarah wondered if Swara was okay until the roar and howl of a beast echoed within the cage. She'd never heard anything so ferocious in her long years of running with the People. She knew of Rage, of the war form and how it was vicious hunter a merciless slayer but that rage was directed, this was just... wrong. It thrashed inside the smelter clawing and scratching, howling and roaring like mad, berserk beast. Whatever it was, it wasn't Uratha.

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Even through a wall of steel it left Sarah on edge. A part of her wanted to flee in terror while the rest knew she'd made a promise to help the poor girl. Uratha generally couldn't hold the Gauru form for longer than a few minutes but after nearly an hour it was still pounding and howling against the wall until finally if slowed, slowed some more, and was silent. She could have said something to the girl on the other side, but she couldn't think of anything to say. As Sarah left, thankful that the cage did it's job, all she could hear was the petite blonde crying in her prison asking the spirits why and begging for an end to all of it.

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*****

Undoubtedly she looked like hell the next evening, pale, stark naked and smelling like she'd slept in chocolate vomit... which she had. She didn't have much to say. She cleaned up with several one gallon milk jugs filled with water, just enough to put clothes back on and walk into her dorm without looking like she was the campuses next heroin addict. Sarah tagged along, as uncomfortable of an experience as it was. She got to meet Swara's room mate, Camille who was vapid and shallow and a complete ho, like Kim Kardashian without all the money. By the time Swara was done with her shower Camille and Sarah were like, the best of pals... at least from Camille's point of view. Sarah was positive she had no idea how badly she wanted to just stuff her in a closet with a plastic bag over her head. Although it became obvious where Swara had picked up her 'American fashion' ideas from, considering Ekwok Alaska was about fifteen years behind the times.

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After Camille scolded Swara for wearing plain old baggy jeans and a thrift store Thundercats tee and reminded Sarah, for the third time, about this great tanning place less than a half a mile walk from the campus they were off, thankfully. By Sarah's guess, Swara was on her three thousandth calorie before she finally said anything, before that is was forced smirks and smiles or one word affirmations. "Ah, reawwy apprephiate awl yoo've dun..." She said with a mouth full of McDonald's. Like all Uratha... she had an appetite. While Mickey D's wasn't the best of choices, it was cheap.

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"So, now I gotta go steal this book or whatever." She licked some ketchup from the corner of her mouth. "I've never mauled vampires before... I thought maybe you'd like... have some pointers? Oh, and I'll need my bag."

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Chapter break was included so if Sarah had anything particular she wanted to do to finish that night out.

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"Hardest thing 'bout the last twenty-four hours was not eatin' your roommate," Sarah said with frank and somewhat disturbing honesty, as she led Swara off on a long looping walk toward Holmby Park. Swara didn't have to ask why they were taking the scenic route; both still stung from Declan's eviction, and his border markers were more than apparent to the pair.

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Once in Holmby, Sarah made her way to a positively ancient oak. In a crevice between split trunks, there was a hollow; with practiced ease, the vampire reached around and up into that hollow and retrieved Swara's bag, none the worse for wear.

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"So," she said, handing over the bag, "vampires." Sarah made a noise halfway between a sign and a growl. "Look, first thing you need to know is that I don't know a whole lot about the muth luzuk. I mean, I know the basics - feeding, staying outta the sun, an' so on. I know the five basic types, and a half-assed set of laws they keep that are sort of a piss-poor version of the Oath. But I couldn't tell you, say, who is runnin' the show in LA, or who to look out for, or none of that. I stay away from the fuckers much as I can, 'cause they're a bunch of honorless backstabbing leeches. Exceptions are fuckin' rare, an' they don' last long if they stay in vampire society, 'cause someone'll ash 'em to climb up the ladder of assholes." The Dead-Wolf was clearly uncomfortable with the topic... and with her own vampiric state.

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"As for these fuckers upstate, no clue, 'cept I can tell 'ya that whatever they are, they ain't fitness buffs. No such thing as fitness for a leech. We're dead. All that makes 'em stronger is the blood, an' all the squat thrusts an' bench presses in the world ain't gonna do shit to thicken the blood.

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"The usual advantage the People have against leeches is to hit 'em as a pack. An' we fall short on that here. Hell, from what you say, they got the pack-equivalent in this mess. Other than that? You heal fast just 'cause, they gotta use blood to heal; that's an advantage. You can turn into a furry killin' machine, most vampires can't; that's an advantage. You got gifts, they got powers of the blood; it's a wash. They can suck your blood an' use it against ya; their advantage. Bullets don't slow 'em down much. An' silver don' effect 'em. Well, unless it's a Dead-Wolf, like me; that's somethin' you an' I got in common, Swara.

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"Lotta the old wives' tales don't work. Garlic, holy water, runnin' streams, grains of rice, none of that shit is real. Wooden stake in the heart, that's real, but it just make 'em unconscious, doesn't ash 'em like in the Buffy show. Loppin' their heads off is a good way to put 'em down permanent." Sarah looked around, and with some reluctance forced vitae to her fingertips; wickedly sharp ebony claws, ones that made the standard-issue uratha equivalent look as blunt as a spoon, pushed through her fingertips replacing the nails and final joints. "An' these'll do 'em a world of death, not that I like to use 'em. The kinda cuts these make... well, it ain't very 'Respect your Prey' worthy." A faint blush came to Sarah's cheeks, a blush of shame.

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"Wow." Swara said calmly. The calories were kick starting her metabolism again and she almost looked like she hadn't been awake the last four days. Uratha woman would be, it the populace knew they existed, probably the most hated women on the planet. Perfect bodies, firm and defined muscle tone, and even after being awake for four days and sleeping in their own vomit they looked fantastic after a shower, six double cheese burgers, two large fries and a small strawberry shake (she would have gone for a large shake, but Swara insisted she was watching her calorie intake). Yeah, the woman of the herd would hunt them out pure jealousy. "You cuss a lot. You have like serious anger issues, sweetie. You ever considered yoga or maybe, I dunno... buying a cat or something?"

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"You're one to talk." Sarah quipped back.

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Swara shrugged while sipping cold, strawberry goodness. "Yeah, but I have a condition. Perfectly acceptable in today's society. I'm sure there's even a way the state will give me money for it every month." She mocked a state clerk's voice. "You turn into a albino rage monster and go on a justice fueled killing spree? Well, we can approve you for this much in disability..."

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Both the ladies managed a forced laugh, short lived as it was. While neither of them would admit it outright, it felt good to have someone to talk to. Even loners couldn't stay loners forever. "Well, I'm hoping I don't have to kill anyone, honestly. I'm not sure if vampires count because, y'know... already dead n' all. I'd prefer to just sneak in and out and be done with it but best laid plans n' all that..." They continued to walk, neither really had a destination planned but Sarah figured the blonde was heading in the direction she needed to go. After they arrived at the coast she veered and began walking north. Several minutes passed as she went over all the vampire lore Sarah shared with her until finally she spoke again.

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"Um..." She skittishly tap danced around her question, unsure how to approach the issue. "If you're not doing anything... um, do you maybe wanna come along? You're way better with this vampire stuff than me." Sarah could tell, underneath the ditzy exterior, was a creature of pride. The Cahalith cherished glory as their favored renown and often were reluctant to offer others the opportunity to share in that glory, at least with those not in their pack. However, there was wisdom in differing to others who knew more and offering them the opportunity to help. "Look, I know know we don't really know each other, and you've been like, incredibly helpful already so I don't wanna burden you with more of my baggage... Luna knows I have like a ton of it. It's just..."

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She looked at Sarah with those big baby blue puppy dog eyes and admitted something that took a gut full of courage. "...I don't wanna be alone right now."

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On one level, traipsing off to deal with a nest of leeches was the last thing Sarah wanted to do. It was dangerous, it was way outside of her territory, and the odds were just awful.

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On another level, for the first time in years one of the People was actually asking her for help. If her heart could beat, it would have danced.

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So, the Dead-Wolf sighed, forced herself to frown instead of smile, and said, "So long as we plan this shit right... yeah, I'm in." Before the bouncy pile of pink could let out a squeee and leap for a hug, Sarah held up a finger.

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"But, let's do this smart."

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She stopped for a second, caught in the irony of a Gangrel and a... Swara doing anything smart. Then she just shook her head and continued.

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"Two things that need to be checked out first. An' hate to say it, but both you've gotta do, 'cause I can't.

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"First: pop over into the Shadow an' see if there's a locus in or near this place where the leeches have your book. Might save us a lotta trouble with the whole get-in, get-out. Well, so long as you're willin' to drag me across with ya, 'cause I can't cross on my own.

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"Second: check an' see what sorta defenses these fuckers have durin' the day. Most leeches are worried about other leeches, an' guard their turf on that assumption; if they've got token daytime security, you might be able to knock it aside an' grab the book with nobody the wiser."

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Night time, the following night... somewhere in upstate California a bit past Malibu but not as nice of a neighborhood. Okay, it's a nice neighborhood, but it's like, the best neighborhood... reasonable real estate prices though. Oh! On with the story, right...

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By the time the sun had set and Sarah had caught up with Swara she'd already finished her day time recon. She explained to her companion that the area honestly was so remote that the Vamps were relying on no one guessing they were there. All the locks had been replaced with incredibly sturdy counterparts and the exterior was almost impossible to get into unless you made some noise. Only a few ghouls patrolled at a time but she'd seen almost seven different faces at different parts of the day, a mixture of male and female from what looked like the local goth scene. None seriously armed, she expected at the very least, a pistol or two. The vampires themselves were a different story... but she'd not seen any of them yet.

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The Hisil was another story entirely. The place was crawling with spirits of corruption. While not on a locust, of that she was certain, the book drew in corrupt spirits like a magnet, the sort of spirits that spoke softly to her cursed side and whispered soothing suggestions in her ears. She was there only briefly and preferred not to go back unless she absolutely had to...

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"...it was a mess." She had a look of sheer worry washed over her expression. "Spirits don't like me a whole lot as it is, they think I'm... 'off', whatever that means." She pointed west wing, to where a flicker of candle light could barely be seen. "I think they keep it there, that's where they seemed to almost adhere to the walls. This place has a presence in the Hisil, Sarah. Something great or terrible must have happened here at some point in it's history. The doors shouldn't be locked in the Shadow... because they're new construction... but these were. It's messed up... I don't like it."

,,

She paced for a moment, obviously on edge. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea..."

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Sarah had started the little meeting with a frown. A good part of the reason for that frown was her utter inability to do a single damned useless thing during the day, stuck sleeping under the dirt and waiting for the sky to stop being deadly.

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Swara's description only deepened the frown to a full-fledge scowl.

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"Good idea? Oh, I figure it's gonna suck. But if that book is how you describe, we gotta get it outta the hands of these leeches." Somehow, the scowl softened, showing tinges of sadness. "An' then, we gotta get rid of it for good."

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Swara took a few seconds to catch on to Sarah's drift, and protested. "But the deal to get info on my curse..."

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"...isn't worth putting that kinda corruption an' power into the hands of vampires who are already well-informed about spirits in general," Sarah answered. "Think 'bout it. You give 'em that thing, an' we've gone an' made a bigger problem. 'Cause that thing will let 'em drag all sorts of shit over here that is just plain warped. Maybe even let 'em do to others like was done to you."

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She let that sink in for a second. "We gotta get rid of the book. Destroy it." As disappointment filled Swara's eyes, she added, "An' then we'll find a way to deal with your curse. The right way. A way we won't feel guilty 'bout 'til doomsday."

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"I don't wanna be this monster any more." She said softly, trying not to become emotional. "The uratha have sworn me off, so have the spirits and heck Luna doesn't seem to care one way or the other. Sometimes I wonder why we even bother. This is my problem, and if I have to rustle some jimmies now and worry about it later, I'm going to. Once I hear what these guys have to say about the book, then I'll decide whether or not I want to destroy it, but I'm not screwing up this chance. Time is something I don't have, Sarah."

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Kneeling down she unzipped the duffel she'd been carrying producing a Hoyt Dorado Recurve Bow and several walnut arrows. "The finish has been sanded off, so these should work on your vamp buddies. You said the heart, right?"

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"You... know how to use that?" Sarah asked skeptically.

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"Please." She scoffed and rolled her eyes. "All there is to do in Alaska is hunt and freeze. Trust me there's two things I know for sure. One is how to hunt with a bow."

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"What's the other?"

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She smirked devilishly. "That Gary likes how my butt looks in leather."

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She slung the quiver over her back as the two ladies shared a chuckle at Gary's expense and set off towards the building. They needed to enter from the roof, which didn't sound like it was going to be easy. Neither were particularly subtle in their approach, although hey remained stealthy a couple sentries ended up face down in the dirt after large rocks discovered the backs of their skulls. Swara's archery skills were, indeed, amazing. Two of the vamps on the roof of the services wing fell silently as arrows pierced their chests, paralyzing them. One was fifty yards distant, in the dark, and Swara still made the shot like the creature was within swinging distance. Those that didn't fall to arrows fell to stealth. Sarah was swift and silent, creeping up on the few remaining sentries and snapping their necks violently enough to swiftly turn their undead form into ash. Neither felt particularly bad about it.

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Several minutes and several sentries later the two made their up the utility ladder that connected the rooftops. Aged and battered windows, several broken, provided them a means of entering the facility. Inside there was no light, only the occasional candle here and there. "Geez... don't these guy have eyes?"

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"Night time predators." Sarah pointed out as she climbed in, deftly avoiding stepping on glass that would have certainly made more noise than they intended. "Our eyes are optimized for darkness. We can see easily in low light. The candles generate just enough to allow them to see."

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The cones in Swara eyes diminished in number, swiftly replaced by a multitude of rods. She blinked uncontrollably for a few moments as her new eyes adjusted to the low light spectrum. The world seemed a bit stranger as she became partially colorblind but the darkness didn't seem to bother her anymore. "I'll never get used to that." She mumbled.

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The interior was ancient and decayed. Years of neglect, youthful explorers and loads of graffiti made the place look exactly like one would expect to see in any horror movie. Still silence was sometimes replaced by a random noise. Glass cracking, a soft whisper, a light shuffle across the floor... even Sarah's undead heart felt like it might begin beating again just of it could skip once in awhile from fear. What was worse was the oppression in the air. Something malign was hovering over the whole place and both the women could feel it. It was one thing for humans to have their ghost stories, but people like Sarah and Swara-Ann knew they were real... and that made all the difference between simply being afraid and utterly terrified.

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Entirely unhappy with the current state of affairs, Sarah whispered, "Let's get the damned thing and get out of here."

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"Yeah, but where?" The uratha whispered in reply?

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Sarah paused, looking around. Then she closed her eyes and turned around, slowly, before stopping and pointing. "That way?"

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Swara tilted her head to the side, looking off into the darkness in the direction indicated by a very pale finger, then back at the vampire. "How do you know that?"

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Without hesitation, Sarah said, "Because that way feels shittiest." She didn't wait for agreement, stepping as quietly as she could across the littered floor. With a shrug, Swara followed.

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"That way" turned out to lead to and down a corridor lined with peeling paint, cracked plaster and more than a few hints of the vermin that had taken up residence in the decaying remnants of the asylum. Water had seeped into the building over the years, leaving brown streaks down the walls and taking a toll on what metal remained in the building. Here and they the pair would come across a reminded of what this facility had really been about; a rusted wheelchair, a decayed hospital bed with restraining straps hanging loose at the sides; discarded syringes.

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One of the doorways showed a bit of light as they passed, moonlight shining through a shattered window upon an immense tub of marble and steel, filled to the brim with murky water. At Swara's glance, Sarah whispered, "Hydrotherapy. The shrinks used to use it to make patients more docile." She glanced around; forms flitted at the edge of her vision, and she could swear she heard gentle splashing. "What passed for psychiatry back then was pretty much torture. Prob'ly why some of the inpatients may have... not exactly left."

,,

Both werewolf and vampire shuddered, then pressed on.

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Max security wasn't the most pleasant of stops either. Peeled paint on the walls flaked in small piles along the halls edges. Every ten feet or so a massive iron door that once used to be 'soothing' green was now struggling to keep their color amid the choking rust that was consuming them. Upturned bed, gurney's lying on their sides at random in the halls, the more they moved through the place the more it felt like a really bad horror movie. The dead, however, were very real and both the ladies knew it. Neither really had the power to communicate with the Twilight, but their super natural natures left the constant tingle in the back of their minds. The women knew what lurked in the shadows, even if it couldn't take form in this world, they knew. They'd seen monsters and horrors far beyond the ken of a mortal mind, the sorts of terrors that would have left H.P. Lovecraft with a perpetual 'I told you' so grin on his face.

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"I dunno," Swara whispered softly, an arrow knocked on her bow just in case. "A splash of paint and a bit of sweeping and it could be pretty cozy." Sarah smirked at her partners attempt to keep their minds off the creep factor of the place. They both hear the soft shuffle in the debris behind them though. Passing a slow glance at each other they prepared to turn and face whatever haunted this wing. The soft candle light flickered and as they prepped for a conflict in their minds all they saw were two figures rushing towards them at an impossible speed. The debris behind them was stirred to a frenzy as the two ladies worlds seemed to fade into slow motion. There was a loud *ping* sound, they both knew that. They felt themselves fall back, they remembered that. They felt the hard tiles on their back too.

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Their world faded into a series of blurs and echos as two vampires hovered over them, each holding a heavy aluminum bat. "Night, night..." one smirked to Sarah with a smile on his face so cocky that even as she slipped from consciousness he vowed to kick his ass for it. "I got her. Grab her friend."

,,

*****

They'd been working Sarah over for the better part of an hour by the time Swara awoke. Sarah'd been beaten by professionals, this wasn't her first vampiric rodeo of Question and Answer time and these thugs were amateurs. Swara glanced around the room, trying to get her bearings. They were in a large open room, a cafeteria converted into a large chapel. There were no tables, the room was relatively bare save for the bed rolls and possessions that lined the perimeter of the room, a small cubby where each of these squatters claimed as their personal space. Based on what they handled outside and the several that were in here, this was probably all of them. Swara and Sarah were bound to poles that ran from floor to ceiling directly across from the other about thirty feet apart. There, on the far side upon some crude alter, was their book.

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*Crack*

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Sarah's head jerked violently and then she slowly raised it up with a 'that all you got?' smirk on her face. She had that gleam of defiant fury in her eyes, that kind of sexy, bad ass crazy, that keeps women wondering why men find Michelle Rodriguez so hot. Had the thugs been worth a damn they'd have known it was the look of 'keep hitting me, jackass, my claws have been cutting through my ropes for twenty minutes and you're thirty seconds away from me raining a world of regret down upon you'. She hadn't told them anything, they'd pieced a few inaccurate details together and she made sure to give them the right looks to help them think she was keeping the truth from them. They assumed Swara was her ghoul, considering the wound on her head was healed already. Hell, who was Sarah to crush their dreams, right? Sure, ghoul, fuck it. She'd be laughing about this shit later, the looks on their faces would be priceless.

,,

Then entered the vampires. The guys beating them weren't even ghouls, just morons promised immortality if they joined their little cult. Sarah had seen this act play out at least ten times in her undead career. The leaders were a small pack, minus the fledglings they dispatched on the rooftop. As always there was the tough, charismatic one who, like the others dressed like some serious fans of death metal. The speedsters took up his flanks, bats still in their hands. The leader approached her while the two speedsters refused to walk forward another step. A surprise whack with a bat was one thing, but now, to have a serious interaction with Sarah, to meet their better... the two bat swingers wanted no part of it. Now she was awake and alert, and that was no fun. They bared fangs and their beasts growled and with every step backward they took, Sarah's beast looked forward to tearing them apart. One good tug and the ropes would break, she just needed the strength...

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"I don't think she knows anything Boss."

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"Yes, well, thinking isn't why you're here." The Boss replied, smirking to Sarah as he approached. "Hitting people with crowbars, that's where your talents lie." He didn't get too close, tactically, he seemed smart enough not to get to close to the tiger they'd been poking with a stick all night. "Tell me Red, how many more does the Order have waiting in the shadows?" When after several moments Sarah said nothing, he simply smiled at her.

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"This isn't good Cormick." One of the speedsters said softly, but not to soft that Sarah couldn't hear. "This is gettin' outta control."

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"When Bridgett returns, we leave. After, she gets what we need from this one." Cormick looked at Sarah, an evil glimmering in his eyes. "Bridgett has the gift of sight. You may not want to talk to me, but she will tear what we want to know from your mind and it will hurt... oh, will it hurt."

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As if on cue, a young woman entered dressed like the others. She had that pretty look to her like she was a nice girl who just fell in with the wrong crowd. "We need to move to Malibu, the hunting here is shit! What's all this shit, then?" She swayed her hand about in a gesture to Sarah and Swara. "Who the fuck are they?"

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"You tell us," Cormick said with that sadistic smirk and Bridgett caught on immediately. "We need to know what the bitch and her ghoul know, and then we're leaving. This place isn't safe anymore."

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You got that right. Swara thought to herself, smiling on the inside. She'd been listening and trying not to draw any of the attention to herself, but when someone can hear your thoughts. Bridgett snapped her attention toward Swara and began walking towards her with a determined stride. Then she paused half way between the two bound women and began slowly moving away. Swara's grin of satisfaction was Sarah's cue that this was about to interesting.

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"She's not a ghoul, you idiots!" Bridgett spun about face and was in half stride when Swara's form bulged and swelled to an impossible size. Almost in an instant she went from sweet Alaskan hottie to a bipedal killing machine. The Gauru was unleashed and it was nothing like Sarah had ever seen before. She was a monstrous twelve feet in height! "She's a were-" Bridgett's sentence was cut short when Swara gripped her tightly and jerked her backwards. Effortlessly she smashed the gifted vampire into the floor repeatedly. Tiles were cracked and thrown about and though her body went limp around the second slam, the monster didn't stop. With a roar/howl she held up the undead for her brethren to see, gripping her and both ends and tore her in half, casting her remains in opposite ends of the chamber.

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The thug who'd been beating on Sarah was paralyzed with fear. The albino monster looked at him and roared loudly in his face spraying him in saliva and a lingering mintiness of Orbit gum. "I think I pooped a little..." he whined softly until a massive claw turned his world black.

,,

Narritive combat, unless you absolutely wanna bring STs into it. Have fun with it, I figure a few rounds of this and we decide if we wanna let a few live for reoccurring problems later, or just push the story along. Remember, the Speedsters are afraid of Sarah, Predators Taint bitch slapped them, I just didn't think mind numbing fear or psychotic frenzy were appropriate at the time. Now, however, it's up to you. Sarah's cup may have runneth over.

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To be honest, Sarah wasn't far behind the poor guy; if she'd retained the biological ability, she might have pooped a little too. She'd seen her share of werewolves in assorted shapes, and had fought beside them more than one in their feared war-beast form, but had never seen anything like what Swara had become. It was pure murderous rage in physical form, and even as she clawed through the last of the strap, even as the stark white monster crushed Mr. Pooped Pant's face to pulp, she had to wonder: once the room was cleared, would she be next?

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But there was no time to further ponder; whether or not Swara was a danger now, the immediate threat was from the denizens of this nest. Popping her hands free with gleaming claws at the end, she growled and look straight at the speedsters. Somehow, despite the giant monster in the room, she caught their attention. The calculation in their minds was quite literally visible:

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1. She's stronger than us.

2. She has claws.

3. Her friend is a twelve foot killing machine.

4. We're not paid enough for this.

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With a brief glance at each other, they took off like a flash, dashing away from this horror faster than even Father Wolf's Speed could have matched.

,,

The humans in the room were hopeless; those that weren't screaming for their mothers were huddled in the fetal position rocking and hoping that this was all a nightmare. Neither approach really helped, of course, but you couldn't blame them. It's one thing to be promised eternal life, but quite another to watch those who made the promise get torn to kibble by tooth and claw faster than a Wachowski Brothers film. By and large, they were ignored except when they stumbled blindly into the way of something sharp.

,,

Of the bunch, Cormick was the one who genuinely tried to stand his ground. It was idiotic, really, but he'd devoted himself to protecting the book, and by god or devil, he was going to do so. Unlike so many of the young fangers, he wasn't a complete slave to his Beast; the Uzi that he brought to bear as Sarah leaped at him proved that much. The burst caught her square in the chest, costing her a bit of momentum and a damned fine denim jacket. She didn't land on the boss, but right in front of him, glaring.

"That. Fucking. Hurt." Her vision went red, and her voice told of one who wasn't exactly in full control anymore. And then, she changed.

Cormick had seen Gangrel shift before. He knew that they took animal forms of one sort or another. But he'd never seen this before. The feral vampire grew a good foot, fur sprouting from her face and arms even as a hint of a snout pushed forward, a mouth full of wolf-like teeth beneath it. While body parts few about the room from Swara's rage-fueled slaughter - and the occasional stay bit of meat or blood spattered across the two vampires - Sarah became something seemingly out of legend, akin to the white-furred monstrosity merrily ripping things apart behind her as she looked down at the leech.

"What the fuck..." Cormick managed and then spoke no more, as Sarah bit into his throat and then ripped it - and a couple vertebrae out of his neck. He fell like a wet sack of cement to the floor, and the Dead-Wolf howled - a long and echoing howl not so different from that she'd heard from Swara's victory a few weeks before.

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Between them, the two monsters made relatively short work of what was left in the room. Both were teetering on the edge of any real control, and the screaming fools who'd dared take them on made perfectly fine targets on which to vent their fury - an ugly task that needed doing, as they'd seen that which both the Oath and just plain common sense said that mortal man was never meant to see. As the last of them went down, the white-furred monster and the wolf-woman turned to face each other. Both struggled with their separate inner demons before their respective grips were regained, and they both shrank back to gore-smeared versions of their usual selves.

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Tired didn't cover it. Swara was all but exhausted after so the energy-intense experience of the Gauru form. And Sarah had manifested something she'd heard about but never experienced before: the Wolf-Man shape - somewhat akin to her Uratha cousins' Dalu form - that was the heritage and legacy of the Dead-Wolves.

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As the last of the red cleared from her eyes, Sarah licked blood from her hand and warily asked, "You OK?"

Yes, Sarah's just manifested the Wolf-Man devotion. Wheeee. Hope that was a workable wrap-up for the fight, Dave.

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"Yeah..." The weakened blonde managed to mutter in her exhausted state. "Just feel like I'm gonna..." She turned suddenly and Sarah winced at the tell-tale splattering sound of vomit hitting the floor. The vampire winced a few times as she made all the obligatory sounds.

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"I see your curse has a few perks." Sarah wasn't sure she should bring it up, but it was the only conversation piece she could think of while Swara recuperated. "Pretty impressive."

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"Bigger, stronger, faster... yeah." She hocked up a loogie and spat chunks of bile near the puddle she'd made. It was so uncharacteristic for the petite Alaskan that Sarah had to smirk. "In situations like this, I can direct it towards those that deserve a good throttling, but I have no control, it's like I'm a spectator in my own life. I'm directed by rage and a twisted sense of judgment. That's why I needed to let it out before we came here, or I'd be terrorizing the country side right now. God, this is nasty... why'd you let me eat so much? Ugh... I need a breath mint."

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"Hey, I told you..."

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"Yeah, yeah..." Sara waved her off and was wandering the room looking for something he could put on, the shift from petite to raving lunar beast shredded her clothes in typical Doctor Banner fashion. Suddenly she perked up, as she rummaged through one of the female squatters duffels. "Okay...weird question, but I'm kinda knew at like, y'know, hanging out with vampires n' stuff, but did you totally go all dalu out there, or what? I mean, I thought you guys went all, like, demonic like on Buffy? Don't get me wrong, it was way cool, you totally made that Cormick guy go all beta."

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Looking more or less like a deer caught in the headlights, Sarah just stopped for a minute. "I, uh...." she uttered, not entirely sure what to say.

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"Um, it's not a normal leech thing," the vampire finally answered. "It's a Dead-Wolf thing, that whole tie-to-Luna deal in my blood. And I, uh, didn't know I could really do it 'til now. Heard like half-rumor stuff about it before, but... yeah, I sort went dalu. In a totally Lon Chaney kinda way. Guess I just had to get mad enough." She neglected to add on the bit about how she herself had been on the edge of losing it, and had pulled a neat little trick called "riding the wave" to focus the anger - much like, she now realized, Swara had done with her own curse.

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Desperate to change the topic, she looked around the carnage until spotting the object they'd come to retrieve. "Oh hey, book of doom." She stepped around the puke and gore and meaty chunks to the ramshackle altar and hefted the large tome. "So who are the fucking leeches who want this thing for your spirit info?"

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"Got me." She said absently while pulling a black tank top down over herself. "Gawd, do these chicks wear anything but black? Ugh.."

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Sarah chuckled, "You look like a blonde Joan Jet."

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"She dances for Katy Perry, right? Huh... yeah, I can see that."

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The vampire winced in typical acceptance of Swara intellect. "Sure... never mind."

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She tip toed around a few bodies, those unlucky enough to have not made it out in time and by the time she made it to the alter and the mystical book she had a ball of socks and aged Converse in her hands. "The messenger said something about the book being a front to Clan Gangrene, but acting on their own would cause to big of a problem among their society. Were I to help them, they'd help me. As Uratha, I can act where they can't. After we collect it we just meet them in your park, easy-peasy. I figured that be a safe, sort of neutral territory."

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"An affront." Sarah corrected.

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"Whatever." Swara shrugged, perky as could be, happy that they had the book and little opposition left. She tore down a crudely spray painted tapestry and wrapped up he volume of ancient evil lore. "Jeez, I am like totally hungry and seriously horny right now. Nothing like a good brawl to get the ol' Business Time hormones all riled up. You ever have that problem? Because like seriously, after a good hunt I could totally pop White Castles and shag my brains out for like, the rest of the night."

,,

Stepping over bodies and through hallways, the two made for the exit.

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"My territory?" Trying as hard as possible to ignore Swara's delaration of biological imperatives, Sarah focused on the upcoming meeting.

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"You do know that's likely to be a problem, right?"

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With a questioning hair flip that was straight out of Earth Girls Are Easy, Swara asked - in utter innocence - "Why? You're a vampire, they're vampires, all good." She smiled the smile of one who had just answered all questions in neat and clean fashion.

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Sarah frowned. "It's not that simple. I don't play their happy vampire games. They don't officially recognize my territory; they stay away from it because I tend to kill 'em when they don't." She stopped just outside the exit, and looked over to the blonde Uratha. "Haven't you figured out that I don't get along with leeches? I chose the People. That came at a price."

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Still frowning, she looked down at the bundled-up book in her hands. "So, did they happen to say why this thing is an affront to Clan Gangrel?"

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"No," She said simply. "Honestly I didn't ask. They said they planned on destroying it and that was good enough for me. Luna knows we sure don't have the ju-ju to do it."

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They collected their gear, and scooped up Swara's duffel outside the Asylum and pressed on down through the vacant lots until they reached the interstate not far from town. "Look, I didn't know you killed vampires on sight, but still, these guys are afraid of you and your territory. It would make sense that they'd be less likely to try something stupid with you around. We might not get along with Vampires, but sometimes we have to put that aside for the greater good. Besides, they can't all be bad, heck, we hang out okay, don't we? I'd put money that there are Uratha out there who give two two hoots who you chose and would say a vampire is a vampire."

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She spun about and was walking backwards in front of Sarah, clutching the book to her chest like they were back in high school. "Maybe these guys are legit, maybe not. If they are, cool, if not we hunt them down and teach them what happens when you deceive a Dead Wolf and her trusty, and totally hot an perky might I add, sidekick Uratha."

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"You worry to much." She beamed a confident smile at the vampire and spun about her blonde hair whipping about like she was some Disney Princess. "I hope we hit a Circle K soon, I totally want some funyuns and and a mega huge slushie."

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There was really nothing for Sarah to do for that but chuckle. "All right, all right, let's find a Circle K." And off they trudged.

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It turned out to be a helluva long walk to a Circle K. And during it, Swara regaled Sarah with descriptions of all the delicious morsels therein, from the fields of funyuns through the vast corndog ranches and to the arctic realm of the fabled slushie. By the time the illuminated red-and-white sign came into view, Sarah was almost hungry - in the plain old mortal way - despite knowing that everything in the store would taste exactly like ash to her.

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Still she watched with amusement as Swara lay waste to the confectionery landscape, even to the point of helping the werewolf scrounge up enough change to cover her double-armed haul. As they headed out, Swara emitted noise around three powdered donuts.

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"Ho e mee u eh hoo om, ai?"

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Sarah stopped dead in her tracks. "What?"

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"Ho ue meem u gem hoo om!" Swara replied, with pointed emphasis.

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The Dead-Wolf sighed. "For the love of Luna, swallow, then say that again."

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Somehow, Swara choked down the powdery mess, chasing it with a serious swig of her bladder-buster sized slushie... then went into involuntary convulsions.. "Ahhh! Brain freeze," she managed through clenched teeth. To her credit, Sarah left the obvious reply unsaid. Once the grimace passed from the Uratha's face, the vampire asked, "You were saying?"

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"I was?" Swara replied in earnest confusion.

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At this point, Sarah's face found its way into her hand, and she sighed a long, tired, world-weary sigh. She took a deep breath, and tried again. "When your mouth was full. You tried saying something."

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Swara's eyes lit up. "Oh! Right! I was saying that we need to get you home, right?" Sarah blinked, and her companion pointed at the faint pink starting to show above the hills to the east. Now it was Sarah's turn to go wide-eyed.

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"Oh hell! Yeah..." She estimated how far they still had to go, and shook her head. "Not enough time." She looked around, and noticed that there was no shortage of unkempt weeds under the freeway. "I'm gonna go to ground over there. Meet you back here after sunset?"

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Swara did that curious-puppy head tilt, while Sarah climbed over the chain link fence and stepped into the weeds beyond... and then sank into the ground. Behind her, unheard, Swara exclaimed, "Cool!" and then tore into her foodstuffs with abandon.

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It wasn't until some time after midnight before the ladies made it Holmby Park. They would have been there much sooner but as soon as they were back near campus Swara-Ann was off like a shot to get a shower and change into clothes that were hers. The black clothes were tossed in the trash and in no time Swara was back in her whites and pinks, in this case a 'Hooters' tank top, cut off denim shorts and her trade mark pink running shoes that looked right out of a Barbie doll package.

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The tank top sparked a bit of conversation as the ladies waited. Swara told the tale of how she was a Hooters Girl for all of six weeks before she broke the jaw of a customer who was too touchy-feely. Considering he had assaulted her first (and left a hand print) the police advised him to not press charges, but it still cost her her job. The manager was pretty cool about it, he said he could understand slapping the guy, but knocking out four teeth was a little bad for business. She couldn't work there any more, but sometimes could slip in for a free burger, so all in all it wasn't a complete waste. She got to keep all her uniforms too, which Swara... and only Swara... seemed to find just ducky. As if there was an every day reason to walk around in skin tight orange booty shorts. She said they were comfy to sleep in, but she liked the tank tops... and so did every guy they passed while walking to the park.

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She slip her phone in her back pocket and sat on the back of the park bench, her feet were resting on the mystical tome that lay on the seat. "Well, I text my contact guy. Said it'd be about twenty minutes or so. Sucks you can't eat food-food, we could totally grab some Chinese or something. Oh, maybe after these guys come and go, we can hit Big Kahuna Burger... I have this crazy craving for pineapple."

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Having a conversation with Swara was an exercise in confusion; she popped from one topic to another with astonishing rapidity. "Big Kahuna... what?" Sarah asked, then just shook her head. "I'll tag along; just don't expect me to chow down on a burger."

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She looked around. The park wasn't exactly a model of fortification; aside from a couple of the larger trees that could be climbed, it was a lot of flat empty grass. And she had only Swara's word to go on that the muth luzuk on the way wouldn't just start spraying the place with silver bullets and take the book; it would, she rued, pretty much be par for the course with vampires who were finally getting something they wanted.

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"So these leeches that're on the way. Whadya know 'bout them, aside from what they are and that they want the book?" She didn't really think Swara knew much about the soon-to-arrive vampiric contingent, but it didn't hurt to ask.

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"Not much." She shrugged, picking through a small bag of beef jerky. "I met up with three of them. Josh. He was big and the angry type, well built and bald though, looked like he could be doing porn. Tyler. He was kind of a corn fed guy. Seriously cue though, he slipped me his number, Facebook info, and I've been following him on Twitter. Total hottie, but I think he's like, dead... so yeah, that's kind of a downer..." she popped a piece of jerk in her mouth and chewed it with a pouty expression. "...yeah."

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"My heart bleeds." Sarah roller her eyes. "C'mon blondie, focus. You can repair your shattered life later."

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"...then there was a creepy dude. He definitely looked like a vampire. Claws, animal eyes, fangs. Despite all that though, he was really polite, like the features were just... I dunno... him. He kinda looked like a younger Ozzy Osbourne but the way Ozzy wished he could look if he looked like this guy that looked like him." And to her it made perfect sense. "Right down to the really cool round sunglasses. I thought he was Ozzy, but he said his name was Beckett, so needless to say, he didn't sign my Backyard Burger napkin. He's a historian or something. He has this totally cool leather coat, though... I want one..." She pouted again, adding a whimper. "I so need a job."

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"You're tellin' me," Sarah quipped. "As luck would have it, there ain't much money in the whole undead schtick, unless you're one of those who sticks around for a few centuries playin' with compound interest an' shit. Or just plain steal it. Or both." She shrugged in her stolen jacket, sitting there in her stolen jeans, and sighed a deep sigh in her stolen T-shirt.

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"So from the sound of it, you've met up with what's probably a Daeva - the hottie - what coulda been maybe another Daeva or possibly a Gangrel or Ventrue - the bald porn guy - an' Mr. Creepy's likely a Nos." She shuddered. "I am so not thrilled with the fugly Nos. Or really, the rest of 'em either." She gave the world's most dangerous Hooters girl a glance. "An' I still don't like the idea of trusting 'em with whatever the fuck is in that book."

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The latest iteration of their debate on the wisdom of giving a dangerous tome to a mysterious cabal of vampires was cut short as headlights approached up Comstock Avenue, stopping at the southern corner of the park where Comstock met Club View. They twice flashed bright, then died to reveal the dark SUV behind them. Figures exited from both sides, the doors thumped close in the quiet night, and there they waited at the edge of the park.

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"An' that looks like our party," Sarah said, standing. "Smart, too; they ain't just wandering into the park. You ready for this, blondie?"

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Swara gathered up the wrapped book, and there was no mistaking the hope in her eyes. If this went well, she might wind up free of a curse she'd done nothing to earn beyond being born in the wrong family. Her heart was pounding loud enough for Sarah to hear it, and she replied with an uncharacteristically brief, "Yep."

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Together, Dead-Wolf and Uratha started walking toward the meeting.

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As the vampire approached, Sarah knew instantly that the other to gentleman, Josha and Tyler, were ghouls, Swara was pretty spot on. This guy, Beckett looked just like the Prince of Darkness (Ozzy, not the Prince of Darkness) with long black hair worn to disguise his pale features, circular John Lennon shades and wide brimmed hat all meshed well with his slumped shoulders and long trench coat. The 'man' did possess terrible talons on each of his hands, claws, but not the visceral cutting tools common to vampires, like he'd let them grow and calcify in the weapons of an animal.

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He seemed old, really old, yet when Sarah approached she felt... nothing. Her Beast was practically cowed into the darkest pits of her withered, dying heart. She remembered, albeit briefly, what it was like to be free of it. Was this strange vampire that potent? "Sarah Dead-Wolf." He said with an accent that almost made Sarah want to request 'Bark at the Moon' just in case he might actually be Ozzy (we've all had our suspicions). "Had I known we'd be meeting in the territory of one so prestigious, I'd have brought an appropriate gift. I'm a big admirer of your work. You've a non-conformist streak as large as mine when I was your age, ugh, the glory days. Now it's all books and scrolls and the interwebs..."

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"Net, sir." Tyler leaned in and mumbled softly. "Internet."

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Swara was flushed. She raised up a hand wiggled her fingers like she was ten again. "Hi, Tyler."

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"Hey", he replied with a smile and a quasi macho nod. He seemed alright, for a ghoul. Looked freshly plucked from Nebraska or someplace with lots of farmers and tans, judging from his accent.

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"So, uh... look." Swara swung the book about, balancing it on her shoulder. "You guys aren't like, planning on double crossing us or anything right and summoning some ancient evils or other kindsa who-do are ya? Cuz Sarah thinks you guys are pretty bogus and now that I think of it... you guys are kinda shifty." She pointed at Josh accusingly. It was kinda obvious she didn't care for him too much. "Especially porno guy. I mean, c'mon..."

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"Subtle." Sarah nodded through pursed lips.

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"So?" Josh grunted at her, obviously not afraid of a petite blonde and her bumpkin ginger bodyguard. "What if did, huh? What're you gonna do about it?" The way Beckett rubbed his temples in irritation told Sarah Josh might already be on thin ice with his master as it was.

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"Well, I'd wrap my hand in rope, dip it in glue and broken glass," She took a few steps forward, a low growl echoing with her words. With every step she took forward he managed one backwards, swallowing hard. "Then I fist fuck you until I could reach your baby fangs and pull them out through your rectum. Any of that sinking in?"

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Beckett chuckled softly. "You're supposed to be deterring us from betrayal, blondie, that I'd almost pay to see. Please, ladies, forgive Josh. I do the the thinking, he does the heavy lifting. So, lets get down to business, hmm? The book, for information. That was the deal, or is this where you probe me with inquiries as to what is so special about it?"

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"No," Sarah replied flatly. "This is where you provide my colleague with the information and we hand you this book." She glanced at the pair of ghouls, then back at the Ozzy wannabe. "And in that order. I want to be damned sure it's the info she was promised, before we hand you what you damned well know is what you were promised."

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Beckett gasped in feigned shock, going even so far as to put palm to chest. "You mean you don't trust us to honor the deal?"

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"Not even as far as you could run in the sun."

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"And you really don't want to know what's so special about the book?"

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"You assume we don' already know."

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For a moment, Beckett drummed his claws against his coat. This wasn't the usual sort of fun he had with these meetings. Sure, the werewolf had poked at his bodyguard with a nice show of bravado, but this Sarah Dead-Wolf was just... not fun. And he said as much. "You're not very fun, are you?"

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The most that elicited from Sarah was a lowering of her brow by maybe an eighth of an inch. "Nope. Now cough up the info if you want that book."

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With a long-suffering shrug that bespoke resignation to dullness, Beckett looked over to the brighter of his property and told him, "Give it to her." Nodding, Tyler withdrew an envelop from an inside jacket pocket, took a few somewhat careful steps forward, and held it out at arm's length to Swara.

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Thumbing through the envelope Swara began to look perplexed. Almost immediately Sarah gave Becket and company the stink-eye but thankfully waited for Swara to cue up the death and dismemberment music. She withdrew two several one hundred dollar bills, and a bunch of thin monogrammed envelops. "What's this?"

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"That," Beckett bowed his head slightly in gratitude. "Is payment for services rendered. A few thousand for you and your friend to help cover your expenses. I figured it was the least I could do."

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"I don't want money," Swara voice dipped into the range of irritation. "I want..."

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"My dear, I wasn't finished." The Gangrel Elder raised a finger, silencing the blonde. "The small monogrammed envelopes are invitations. Invitations to a little soiree the Ventrue will be throwing very soon. Now, before you say something stupid like 'I don't want to go to a party, I want my information', that party is blocking your path to the information. The Mission Inn Hotel experiences a very peculiar super natural phenomena. On the roof top, every so often, a ghost appears, she is ancient and she is wise. On the night of the Ventrue's little party she will be appearing on the western most end of the roof, she likes the view, or so I hear. From what I've been told, her oracular knowledge should provide you with what you need to know, but she never stays in one place too long. You'll have only until 2:01 to get past security and to that roof top and ask your questions. Those will get you in, child, the rest is up to you." He smirked, his fangs poking out slightly on his lower lip. "Hope you have a nice evening gown."

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"But, how am I supposed to talk to a ghost?" Some of the hope seemed to drain from Swara's expression. "Spirits are one thing but Uratha can't talk to dead people."

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Beckett took a mock deep breath and exhaled softly. "That's for you to figure out. Very few people these days choose to fight the destiny Fate has dolled out for them." For a moment Sarah wasn't sure if the ancient Gangrel was addressing her, Swara, or both of them. "I'll be honest, I admire that quality, especially in one so young. I'm sure you ladies will think of something."

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Swara handed him the book, a deal was a deal, after all. Beckett, Tyler and Josh turned and walked away from them, back towards the car. "Take care." He said to them as he prepared to get into the vehicle. Josh was holding the door open for him. "I'm eager to see how all this plays out. It's the most fun I've had in a decade." He dipped into the car, Josh closed the door and they slowly disappeared down the glossy black avenue.

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Swara-Ann slumped down onto a park bench, sifting through the cash with a depressed look on her face. She handed Sarah a large sum of it, half to be exact. "Well, that's that. Even if we could get past security we can't talk to ghosts and you don't own an evening gown. We tried at least."

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Sarah was also none too amused by the situation. But this wasn't over, not by a long shot.

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"We can fix the second problem easy enough," she said, holding up the wad of cash she'd just been handed. "And we might be able to fix the first problem, too."

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Swara tilted her head. "How? They don't sell ghost translators at L'ecole Boutique, unless I was looking in the wrong aisle. Though they do have a really awesome pair of heels, with these little silver bangles right at the arch. Oh! And there's these earrings..."

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Sarah held up a hand to fend off the rest of Swara's last window-shopping spree. "No, they don't. But we know a couple people who do talk to ghosts. And that," she added, pointing at Swara's own tidy sum of cash, "might be enough to get past the recent... unpleasantness."

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Even Swara wasn't quite daft enough to miss the reference, and she scowled. "No. No way. Not after how that all went, and how Declan kicked me out."

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"Kicked us out." Sarah replied quietly. "And I'm none too thrilled about it, either. I'm still pissed as hell over what happened there. And I sure as hell am not anything close to ready to go crawling back to Declan or August. But Gary wasn't as involved in all that. And... to be blunt, he likes money and tits, and you've got both." She peered into the envelope, and saw that there was a nice little cluster of invitations. "And we've got the spare invite. Give him a call?"

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The thought of Gary and her breasts in the same sentence inspired the image of a creepy anime guy with his hands up in a groping pose, his eyes glossed over and his tongue hanging lazily from his mouth salivating. She made a weird face, Sarah wasn't sure why, but at this point, she stopped guessing. "Gary is like... a dead guy wrapped in a dead guy. There's like so many layers of death there he's on the value menus at Taco Bell." Amused, Sarah managed a chuckle. "Besides, I don't think I'd feel right hiking up the ladies and flaunting them in Gary'd face as a distraction to offering him money to help us Ghost Whisper... it just fel wrong to use him like that. Also, what's it say about my self-respect? I mean, using my body to seduce a guy into helping me just because I'm pretty sure he's got a thing for me? That's pretty low."

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The Dead-Wolf slowly folded her arms, shifted her weight, cocked her brow and looked at Swara with a measure of skepticism that would've made the Myth Buster get all misty. Swara's puppy dog baby blues just weren't cutting it this time.

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"Yeah, screw that noise, I'll give him a call tomorrow and see if he's interested in helping. Pfft, I'm part of the webcam generation... what the hell do I know about self-respect? Ha!"

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