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World of Darkness: Attrition - The Fourth Test: Purity [Fin]

Sarah Dead-Wolf

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[Evening, 7 May 2009]

Sarah trudged her way up the Sullivan Fire Road, paper bag in one hand and sweating Pepsi cup in the other, pondering the absurdity of her "life".

I'm dead. And I'm taking Taco Bell to my mentor. Who hates me. And is a werewolf. John Carpenter wouldn't buy this script.

Somehow, the Taco Bell bit was the most absurd in her mind. She'd been caught off-guard enough when Shiva had logged into CalNet, and then issued her a brusque command - "You. Thursday. We have much to do. You know where to be." - logging off before she could respond. That didn't come close to the odd disbelief when he logged back in a few minutes later, just long enough to post, "Bring Taco Bell."

Four bus rides, fifteen bucks, a bemused counter-jockey and lots of walking later, here she was: a dead girl with a sackful of grilled steak soft tacos (closest thing to real food they serve, she'd guessed) approaching Topanga pack territory. No matter how good of shape she had been in when alive, the hike up steep switchbacks would have left her winded; now, she could run all night uphill without fatigue. But a certain habit leftover from life made her stretch upon arrival at the destination - a well-marked tree that marked the bounds of sacred land.

Shiva didn't have a phone that Sarah knew of... not, she thought, that it'd do a mute much good for anything other than text. So, she resorted to the old-fashioned method. Shifting with ever-increasing familiarity into the form of a wolf, she drew in the mountain air and let it out with a long howl to announce herself, bag and sodapop sitting beside her at the base of the tree. What would come tonight, she had no idea; how on earth would - or even could - one of the walking dead be tested for purity by a people integrally connected with the cycle of life? She would find out soon enough.

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It wasn't long before before Shiva's powerful hishu physique stepped from the shadows beyond her line of sight. The fallen leaves of the forest floor swished and crunched underfoot as the Mentor of Purity approached his Damned pupil. He majestic in every sense of the word, agile, disciplined, confident... it seemed as if he governed more than just Purity, as if he was an example of what Luna's perfect warrior could be.

"Oi, luv, yer a life saver." Sarah jumped a bit as Dredge's voice startled her. With her attention focused on Shiva the stealthy and cunning Irraka Iron Master had slipped up and was already rummaging through the bag. "'Preciates it n' all." He scooped up his meal, apparently it was him who asked Shiva to have Sarah bring it with her. "Welp... I'll let's the two of ya gets on wiv' it, cheers luv."

As Dredge wandered off Shiva approached and walked right past her, although he said nothing, and didn't so much as look in her direction, she realized that it would be wise to follow him.

Into the darkness they walked until they his the main road... where they waled some more in silence.

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Of anyone else, Sarah would have asked questions. She certainly wasn't shy about it with Dredge - sneaky bastard that he is, she mused a moment before feeling guilty at the thought. He'd really gone to bat for her, after all; a bag of fast-food Mexican was hardly something to begrudge him.

But with Shiva, questions seemed inappropriate, even if his reply wouldn't be stony silence. No, the best option - the only option that wasn't idiotic - was to follow until Shiva was ready to show what he wanted to show. As much as possible, Sarah tried to shove preconceptions out of her head, deciding that the best way to face whatever Shiva planed for her with an open mind.

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Soon they reached the base of the mountain road, Shiva would not conduct business with a Dead-Wolf on Topanga soil. While the rest of the Topanga's may have accepted her -if only partially- he didn't; she was not of the People and had not place upon their turf.

He faced her, looking down on her his eye brow quirked slightly now that he had the opportunity to get a better look at her. A gentle hand cradled her chin and tilted her head from side to side so he could get a look at her in the better lighting. She knew what he was looking at almost right away... her make-up. Compared to the 'barely any at all' Sarah had upgraded since finding a boyfriend and now could sometimes be caught wearing 'a little more than barely any at all'...

For a moment she felt like he was her father investigating her features before he had permission to go out on a date, but after a few more angles the silent man just shrugged a 'whatever' and released her chin. His other hand pulled from his pocket a small photograph and he handed it to her.

It was a high school graduation photo of a gorgeous blonde country girl with a winning smile. Although Sarah had never met the girl, she knew who it was: Swara-Ann Osbourne, the confused young girl who had no one there to guide her through her first change and had been slowly degenerating as the weeks passed.

"Find her." Shiva spoke, his voice carried like the tones of an aged, wisened master. "Destroy her."

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She honestly wasn't sure what shocked her more: that Shiva could in fact speak, or what he had just said. Sarah actually replayed the conversation again in her head, trying to be sure she understood. Only then did she truly look up into those wise eyes, her own filled with confusion.

"But... if I did that, I would destroy my own Oath. Wouldn't I?" A further thought came to mind, and her eyes fell from confusion to sadness. "Or is this your way of telling me that I'm not worthy to carry the Oath, that my service to the People is to do the things that shouldn't be done but still need doing?"

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"The People often times find themselves face to face with their own kind on the battle field." He said calmly. "It is a simply cycle of nature. She has degenerated into nothing more than a rabid beast. She hunts humans, she has killed and will again, not out of necessity, but for the pleasure she finds in death."

He folded his arms and glared at her. "Although we are loathe to do so, we sometimes find ourselves with the blood of our own kind on our hands. As do humans who hunt and incarcerate their own kind, or vampires who hunt and deal justice to their own. It is regretful, but necessary at times. In the future, perhaps you should not make such foolish oaths."

He turned and walked away. "You have your test Dead-Wolf. If at anytime you wish to declare your failure, simply bay in regret in that illusory form of a wolf you seem to take such pride in changing into." She knew he was grinning. "I'll be all ears."

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It made a sort of sense, put like that, a grim and unpleasant but definite sense. That - along with Shiva's clear expectation of her failure - put steel in Sarah's spine.

"If it must be," she said, "it must be." Without a further word and with Swara-Ann's photo clutched firm in cold fingers, Sarah turned from Shiva's back and marched back down the Sullivan Fire Road, her thoughts on the difficult task ahead.

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[Evening, 10 May 2009]

The hunt had not been going well.

First of all, Sarah really didn't have much of a clue where to look. The old stand-by - a phone book - turned up plenty of Osbournes (including a particularly infamous pair), but none with "Swara-Ann" or anything close for a first name. Nor had repeated fly-overs of the UCLA campus, where she knew that the girl had attended classes. A quick check of the school logs showed her still registered, but Sarah knew all too well that purging the logs could come weeks or months or even years in some cases after a student had left for whatever reason. There was her dorm room, of course... but the last thing Sarah wanted to do was cause a huge scene in the middle of a college dormatory.

Part of the problem wasn't the finding, though. The Dead-Wolf was more than aware that she had people who could help her with that. No, the core problem was one of that creaky structure she'd cobbled together over the past four years and loosely dubbed as a conscience. The idea of hunting down and killing one of the people - even a man-eater like Shiva had insinuated Swara-Ann had become - didn't sit well with the peculiar code of ethics the vampire had adopted. "The People do not murder the People," she had sworn, "and neither do I." She held tight to her Oath, tighter even than some Uratha encountered over the years, because in a very real sense it was her bulwark against the predations of her Beast. Now, she was being told to break that key element of her manufactured ethics by the very same werewolf who was supposedly testing her adherence to the Oath and her hoped-for path of Harmony.

After three nights of wrangling with the issue to increasing distraction from her hunt, Sarah knew she needed advice. And unfortunately, given those that she knew, the only one suited to give her that advice was the last in the world who would want to do so.

Rather than call her cousin in the middle of whatever she may be doing - either for her pack or her damned leech boss - Sarah simply sent a text message, hoping to phrase it in a way that would earn a minimum of anger from one of the most angry people she knew.

*Nothing urgent, but when you have time, I'd like to get your advice on something. Thanks.*

With what passed for her emotions still in turmoil, Sarah went back onto the search, hoping that Amber wouldn't begrudge her a meeting soon.

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Amber sighed as she read the message. Grumbling a little, she went to Theo's office. "Hey, Theo," she said, leaning on the doorframe. "I've gotten a call from someone. Do you need me tonight?"

"Another night with your mysterious contact?" Theo asked, looking at her over his reading glasses. "Go on. I'll need you more tomorrow."

"Done," Amber said, smiling at her boss. "I'll come back tonight when this is done."

"No, you don't need to," Theo said. He smiled at her. "Enjoy your night."

"No, I want to come back. See you later," she said, waving.

"Very well, Amber," he said, waving in kind before returning to his paperwork.


A few exchanged texts put the erstwhile cousins back together. "So," Amber said, choking back her unnatural hunger, "what do you want?"

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Carefully choking back her own reactions to the slightly hungry glint in Amber's eye, Sarah laid her dilemna out on the table.

"You know those tests the Topangas are running me through? The latest one has me all kinds of confused." The photo was clutched tight in her hand, and she handed it over.

"They tell me that she's gone off the deep end, that she's killing for the thrill of death. They want me to hunt her down. And kill her."

Amber looked with non-comprehension; she didn't say it, but there was a definite "...and?" written on her face.

"I know you don't agree with what I've done, but I did take the Oath. 'The People do not murder the People.' And neither do I."

Realization came into Amber's eyes, that and the unmistakable fire of anger. "So," Sarah finished, "that's the deal. I'm in a situation where to pass the test of Purity, I need to violate my Oath... unless I'm wrong and I don't understand the Oath right. That's why I came to you. Of everyone I know, you're the one other than the Topangas who's been with the Oath the longest, understands it the best. Are they telling me to break it, or is this... allowed?"

The look on the Dead-Wolf's face was one of a person being torn in two.

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"Aw, hell, Sarah," Amber sighed. This was typical Sarah, a thought that was more than a little unsettling. Her cousin had always been so black and white. She hated the way that the thing in her cousin's body could emulate her so perfectly. "The Oath... it's a moral guideline, in what is essentially a religious war." She let Sarah soak that up for a moment before she continued.

"'Imru Nu Fir Imru' is one of the most contentious aspects of the Oath," Amber said, her irritation at the situation clear in her voice. "Is murder the same as killing? Is murder the same as having to put down a dangerous criminal? Is murder the same as self-defense?"

She shook her head. "Anyone who says they have the answers to those are fucked up," she said. "The simple truth is this: follow 'Imru Nu Fir Imru' to the best of your heart's dictates. Were I hunting Swara-Ann, I'd try to find a way to not kill her. Death should be the final option when dealing with the People."

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Sarah mulled Amber's advice for a long, long minute. When it came right down to it, Amber was telling her that in what she'd always wanted to be a black-and-white Oath, there was actually a lot of grey. Not exactly a welcome thought... but then, maybe this is what Shiva had been trying to drill into her.

Nodding in a downright tired fashion, she sighed before saying, "Well, that at least makes some sense out of the situation. I'm... well, I'm not sure how this'll end up. Can't say I'm overly thrilled about the idea of tangling with one of the People anyway" - her dead flesh twitching slightly with memories of the damned near final wounds she'd received from the Balehound up in Sonoma - "but I'll have to see if there's a way to fulfill my task without killing her. That'll be a helluva trick; not sure words can twist that far without snapping clean. But I'll try."

Looking up at her cousin once more, a real smile creased her lips. "Thanks Amber. I owe you."

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Amber shook her head. "Some of my People are daring to bring you into our world, but they won't give you the tools you need," she said. "It's like handing a kid a loaded gun. Even if he doesn't shoot himself or someone else, it's still a retarded thing to do." She was quiet a moment before adding, "Did you ever consider that maybe the best way to serve the People is from the outside? Rather than taking some arbitrary tests to prove yourself to one pack, that your deeds should stand instead? Face it, what the Topangas think is proof of your deeds will be bullshit to another."

Amber's gray eyes bore into Sarah. "Frankly, what it means to be Uratha varies from region to region, even pack to pack. Even jumping through the Topanga's hoops doesn't guarantee that others will see the value in what you're doing." There was a hint of sympathy as the werewolf finished. "Thought someone should tell you, if no one ain't already."

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Part of Sarah felt that old familiar rage threatening to well up; over two decades of enforced outsider status didn't die hard. But she was starting to notice a few things about Amber - namely, that she seemed to be trying to actually help her. That helped her to choke down the envy and actually listen.

What Amber said made sense... for as far as it went. But then, Amber didn't know that this was about something quite apart from trying to win some kind of respect that she could never in truth hold in full.

"I get what you're saying, but these tests? They're a means to an end." She hesitated, while Amber rolled her eyes. Probably thinking that the 'end' is that respect, Sarah thought. "Look, it's not about trying to win their respect exactly. I'm... um...." The Dead-Wolf looked nervous; there was no telling how her erstwhile cousin would react to the truth.

But as usual with Sarah, the truth won out. She sighed, took a deep breath, and explained.

"When I managed to take wolf form, it was sort of an anti-climax after the initial rush. I've got the form, but not the mindset... or more like the soulset. The inner ethical compass that you get at First Change so that you can do what needs to be done without cracking up. It's not here," she said, tapping her chest. Amber opened her mouth to give the obvious reply, and Sarah cut her off with a raise hand.

"But it can be. My sire had it, felt it; made the transition that let him overwrite the People's ethics right onto his soul, so that the old human ethics didn't eat him alive... um, so to speak. He would have taught me eventually, but when the Azlu killed him, I'd only been around for a year, a blink of the eye. So now I'm trying to find a new teacher. The Topangas are willing to do it, but only if I prove myself as worthy by these tests.

"That why I'm doing this," she finished. "I need to do this, or instead of being able to live the Oath in my soul, I'll turn into a fucking depraved monster like most of the leeches wind up after a few decades or centuries." She looked up at Amber, her eyes nearly pleading. "I need this."

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"Sarah, did you ever think that maybe Luna made you to be the way you are?" Amber asked, quirking an eyebrow. "If She wanted you to have our moral code, She would have given it to you. She picked ya, didn't ya say?"

She sighed. "I just never liked nor trusted the Topangas," she said simply. "I respect and honor their clear prowess, but I can't feel comfortable with what they're doing here. And this test in particular sounds like a tidy way to get rid of you."

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"It might be just that," Sarah admitted. "But if Swara-Ann has really dropped off the edge, it's still something that needs to be dealt with."

She sighed, trying to think of a good answer to Amber's previous statement. What she scrounged up in the end wasn't all that hot, but it was something. "And yeah, I did say that I thought this was Luna's will, my becoming a Dead Wolf. But if the avenue is there to improve myself, should I really just sit on my pasty ass and let myself slide down the leech slope? I was always taught that anything worth having was worth fighting for... even more so after I died. So I'm fighting for this." Her face fell a bit before adding, "Even if the Topangas are setting me up to fail."

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"I guess you never learned about the will of Luna, huh?" Amber said. "Look, I can't tell ya you're wrong, but I think you should think about the possibility that what you think you need, what you're striving for so hard is not what Luna wants you to have. You've never really considered that, have you? Your... sire said it was true, so it was..."

Amber rolled her neck. "Shit. I hate talking like this. Gives me a god damned headache." She stared off into the darkness. "I'm wasting my breath anyway. You're gonna fuckin' do what you fuckin' do." She looked back at the vampire. "Got anything else?"

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[Evening of 12 May 2009]

Vampires - even ones in denial - are largely creatures of habit. And as had become her own, Sarah dutifully used her phone to log onto the CalNet chatroom Tuesday evening, which seemed by unspoken agreement to be when most of what she'd started thinking of as "the gang" would be online.

Sure enough, Adrian was there under his usual "Crescent Sun" moniker. Others popped in and out as the minutes ticked by, chatting about the usual subject. Then Moss logged in, and Sarah jumped on the chance.

(20:09:07) (Sarah): (whispers to (Moss)) Got a question for you, btw.

(20:09:37) (Moss): (whispers) go ahead

(20:09:59) (Sarah): (whispers to (Moss)) You know one of the People by name of Swara-Ann Osbourne?

(20:13:33) (Moss): (whispers) Sounds like the one who some people thought did that spirit laden howl some months back, and killed a group of the Uni kids

(20:14:20) (Sarah): (whispers to (Moss)) Topanga Pack has let me know that she's out of control, lost her marbles, killing for pleasure now. I need to get a bead on her.

(20:18:06) (Moss): (whispers) We checked he room out, heavy bad spirit shit going down there, I don't know if she has turned Bane or is possesed o what but it was real shitty looking - real chuthloid type stuff I saw

(20:18:52) (Sarah): (whispers to (Moss)) Well, shit. I take it she's bugged out then, not even trying to do the human-y stuff anymore?

(20:22:01) (Moss): (whispers) I can give you her hall room address from when we last checked it, but that was months ago, I don't know if anyone was going to follow it up...

(20:22:37) (Sarah): (whispers to (Moss)) That would in fact rock. Is Morgan still living there?

(20:24:51) (Moss): (whispers) No idea, haven't seen her around to talk to for ages, and didn't really get on real well at the time. Not sure why

(20:25:13) (Sarah): (whispers to (Moss)) She was here in chat a week ago. Morgan, that is.

(20:28:52) (Moss): (whispers) Fair enough, I didn't see her if I was on that night

Even as the hope for meaningful leads from Moss was drying up (other than that brief mention of a spiritual mess in the target's room, which would bode checking), another familiar name formed on the LCD, one with whom Sarah was a bit more familiar. She didn't hesitate a moment.

(20:34:29) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) You're a sight for sore eyes.

(20:34:48) (Ariel): (whispers) Oh? How so?

(20:35:29) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) You know a kid called Swara-Ann, right?

(20:36:19) (Ariel): (whispers) Wasn't that Morgan's old roommate? Declan thought she was...in the club, so to speak. I thought he was going to go talk to her, but I never did hear from him about it.

Saving keystrokes, the Dead-Wolf clipped and pasted her earlier explanation:

(20:36:58) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) Topanga Pack has let me know that she's out of control, lost her marbles, killing for pleasure now. I need to get a bead on her.

(20:38:33) (Ariel): (whispers) ...I don't even know where to start with that. Swara Ann? The...pink girl who liked fluffy things? What the hell, Sarah?

(20:40:29) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) Yeah. Her. Gone batshit bonkers and killing people for the sheer joy of death. It doesn't happen often, but it happens.

(20:41:17) (Ariel): (whispers) No, I know it happens. Remember, we hunted one down. But -Swara Ann-?

(20:41:50) (Ariel): (whispers) She's not the type. And if something like that was happening on campus, Dec would know about it.

(20:41:58) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) I know. It bites, and hard. Maybe she wasn't geared right for the reality of being of the People, and it broke her.

(20:42:39) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) Have you seen or heard from Dec lately? I sure as hell haven't, and my haven's not five minutes from his house. I get the feeling that he's spending most of his time in the Shadow or something.

(20:43:11) (Ariel): (whispers) Is it possible they're wrong about her? I mean how the hell would they even know unless they've been snooping around the University? And...actually, no, I haven't heard from Dec lately.

(20:44:10) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) Possible. Not likely, though. Dredge is one of the best info-mongers I've ever met.

(20:45:00) (Ariel): (whispers) Alright well...either way, I guess we'd better find her. Any ideas?

(20:46:52) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) Not a lot to start with. I was figuring to check with Morgan to see if she's been seen around the dorm anytime recently, and then start scouring the police reports for dog-mauling deaths.

(20:47:26) (Ariel): (whispers) Bear mauling. If she's really crazy, it won't look like a dog.

(20:48:43) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) True.

(20:49:20) (Ariel): (whispers) It just seems weird. I mean, if there'd been deaths around campus, I'd have heard something.

(20:50:24) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) Hmmm.

(20:50:48) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) If we can find her, we might get some answers. Possible the Topangas are giving me a bum steer.

(20:51:41) (Ariel): (whispers) Doesn't seem likely. But it could be that she's left the school.

(20:52:19) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) She's still listed on the roster. But with the U-Cal system, that doesn't mean much; they can be whole semesters behind on their records.

(20:52:46) (Ariel): (whispers) Well yeah. Or she could be 'hunting' away from campus.

(20:54:21) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) True. Either way, I need to find her.

The private conversation petered off at that point, both because there just wasn't much left to say and because one of the resent newcomers to the board - "Midnight Twist" - was talking about her experiences as a television "ghost hunter". Chuckling a little at the idea and at Ariel's questioning of the evidence, Sarah sent a further private note to her lupine friend.

(20:57:35) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) Funny though it may sound coming from me: I don't quite believe in ghosts.

(21:03:11) (Ariel): (whispers) Er...but...oh right, you can't see the spirit world.

(21:03:11) (Moss): shit the time... I gotta go do a check aound the buildings and alarms... See you lot another time

(21:03:55) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) Sure I can. Clear as day. Just have to have someone drag me over to it. But those are spirits, not something left over from someone dying.

(21:04:45) (Ariel): (whispers) Oh. Okay. Didn't realize there was a difference.

That caught Sarah completely off-balance; she'd never met one of the People who at all confused the terms. Trying to explain from her own limited knowledge, she posted:

(21:07:03) (Sarah): (whispers to (Ariel)) As I understand it, spirits are the results of abstract concepts that take form. Or at least, whatever's actually at the core of them sort of gravitates toward those concepts and forms up to kind of represent them. So in an old textiles factory site, you get a yarn spirit like Weave.

(21:07:24) (Ariel): (whispers) Right right, I get that.

There was a distracting tangle of non-private posts after that, largely revolving around unsafe hiking locations and the possibility of meeting up for a beach party at some point in the future. She was about to reply further when the unmistakable sound of a trashcan getting dumped caught her sensitive ears. Oh no you don't, not in my territory... The phone forgotten, Sarah took off quietly across the park, heading east toward the source of the sound.

A gibbous moon shone down through the trees, newly leafed and caught in a strong spring breeze from the ocean. Silvery light played in patterns across the well-groomed grass... and suddenly, something broke from the pattern, a dark shape that registered about the same time as Sarah felt a deeply feral presence from it. It moved with preternatural speed off toward the trees, but stopped long enough to throw a look back toward Sarah. The Dead-Wolf stood momentarily transfixed in the gaze of those red eyes, shining bright from shadow; then, the form shifted and flowed into something far faster and dashed off, leaping the fence into the country club with ease and leaving Sarah's territory behind.

There wasn't a doubt in Sarah's mind that she'd just seen one of the People. It didn't feel the least bit like Declan or Amber. Ariel and Moss were online. The Topangas were pains in the ass at times, but they weren't the sort to come stomping into someone else's territory, either. With trepidation in her heart, Sarah closed the remaining distance to the trashcan, now battered and leaning up against a tree. With pupils dilating so far as to make the park seem almost like mere dusk, she peered over the rim.

A severed head looked back.

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Adrian drove up in the familiar Gunmetal Grey Mustang. What was unfamiliar was the woman sitting next to him. She wore a blue ball cap with LADA on it and a blue windbreaker. She eyed Sarah with something resembling fear. The car came to a stop and the doors sprang open. Adrian approached first.

"Sarah, this is Gwen. She's my ghoul. I'm making it so she's not blind to what goes on. She needs to know."

Gwen came up and kept a good distance away from Sarah, using Adrian as a shield.

"Hi ... I'm Gwen. Nice too ..." and Sarah's dead eyes stopped her in her tracks. Gwen backed up.

"I'll get the car ready now."

She stumbled away and headed for the trunk quickly.

"Okay, what do we have here?" Adrian took off, eyes intent and focussing on the task at hand.

"How many bodies and what's special?"

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Sarah gave Gwen a once over that could have meant anything from figuring out if she was a threat to sizing her up as a snack before giving a curt nod, then glanced at Adrian, jerking a thumb toward the trashcans. "One body, several pieces. Not my work. C'mon."

Flies were starting to collect over the offending can, and the scent of blood was on the air as they drew close. "Torn into handy chunks, by exactly the kind of thing you can expect to be capable of exactly that." She reached in, grabbing the severed hair of what might have been a handsome young man once, lifting it out and giving it a good look before setting it carefully into one of the bags. "Remember that Swara-Ann from the forums? We'll, she apparently changed. And lost her fucking mind. I think this is her kill."

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"Damn it, we didn't do anything about her when we had the chance and the numbers. Now ... do you want me at your back? I can be there. Got two other irons in the fire at this time too."

He puts on his latex gloves and began picking up chunks, examining them, and putting it in the bag.

"It definitley is some sharp teeth and claws. Have you seen her about here?"

He stops and looks at Sarah,

"I ask because I worry about you. If she is thinking about having enemies, you would be high on the list. She's crazy, not stupid."

After putting away a particularly gruesome leg bit severed above the knee in a slivers of torn flesh and cracked bone.

"Ouch," he comments at seeing the largest bone in the body snapped like a toothpick.

"Some hunters took out a changeling a few nights back. They left a note and we are attempting to track them back. I can give you their descriptions, but you seem to have a full plate. We also lost a human kid killed by some drug dealer dealing in Crimson - real scumbag."

Adrian puts another piece away and looks around,

"I'm no doctor, but that seems to be all of him. Let's take the bags back to the car."

Once there, Gwen has indeed cleared out the trunk and spread out the tarp. Adrian put the first two bags in and made sure they were secured. He took the other bags from Sarah and put them in as well. He walks around to the side and pulls out a jug of something that turns out to be vinegar.

"Helps deal with the blood," he tells her.

Dousing down the trashcan he looks over at Sarah.

"We going to keep up cleaning up after her? My side of the fence, someone gets that sloppy, there's a Blood Hunt and we put them down. Something has got to be done about her. Do the Topanga's know? They took care of our last problem, right?"

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The most Adrian got by way of replies was the occasional growl until he mentioned the Topangas.

"Oh, the hunt is underway," Sarah replied. "The Topangas are the ones who put me on her trail. Wish to hell I'd known about this screwed-up shit before - like you apparently did - but she's killed in my territory now, and I'm going to take her down."

She gave Adrian a smile; it was full of fangs and not the least bit nice. "I'm not stupid, either. If you want to cover my back, I sure as hell won't say know." The smile faded to one of the most deadly serious expressions he'd ever seen on her pale face. "But I want to know who was involved in the earlier attempt to rein her in. I figure Moss for one of them from what he said earlier tonight. Who else was in on this shit? Who let this get so fucking far out of hand that I have to hunt down and kill one of the People?"

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"Declan led us. This was while you were up north. No Moss, Morgan, Grayscale I believe as well ... and me."

He looks somewhat shame-faced.

"I had thought that Dec would have kept you abreast of the situation, but with him and Morgan ... I guess somethings go lost in the shuffle."

"And now we have a problem."

"All I can tell you is her room was hellish on the Shadow - did I get that right, the Werewolf spirit plane. Anyway, No Moss said it was polluted and twisted like nothing he had seen before. Is it possible she's being ridden - spirit ridden - and if so, is there any way we could tell?"

"You bent over backwards for the Man-Eater before. Is this going to be different?"

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Sarah listened to Adrian's words, all the while clamping down on her anger lest the Beast take advantage.

"It's going to be different, yeah. By all accounts - and from what I saw tonight - she's cracked. Gone over the edge. Lost any shred of balance left. The People have a word for it, not that I can pronounce it, but it translates as Broken Souls. The best thing - the only think - you can do for one of those is to put it down."

She frowned, trying to puzzle through something Adrian had said. "To the best of my knowledge, spirits can't grab hold of and 'ride' the People, because they're half-spirit themselves. Corrupt the shit out of them, sure, and then you wind up with a Balehound or a Broken Soul. But I don't think they can be ridden. And no," she said, shaking her head, "I wouldn't be able to tell, even if I was in Shadow. Not sure if one of the People could or not."

The Dead-Wolf was clearly less than thrilled with the task before her. "Wish I could get hold of Dec, but he's been spending most of his time away lately. Still, wouldn't hurt to stop by his place on the odd chance. He'd wanna know what's gone down; probably would want in on the fix, too." Sighing, she took a look around; the look in her eyes was difficult to read. "Tell you what. If you can take care of Mr. Unfortunate there" - she thumbed at the trunk - "I'll head over and see if Dec's home. Meet us there when you're done, OK?" A glance shot daggers at Gwen. "An' you might wanna leave her home when you do."

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"Okay. I'll meet you at Declan's but I'll need to drive up to the hills and back, so say ... two hours."

He could say something about Gwen, but Adrian really doubted that Sarah cared to here it. Gwen needed to see some of what he had her writing about and seeing the visceral side of a vampire's work. This was more than punishment, it was education. A bit of both were called for. Death, witnessed first hand was part of being supernatural. Mortals were key components fo the supernatural game. Either they were prey, or protected, but in no case could they be allowed to know - special circumstances not withstanding.

Adrian got in the car and started it up while Gwen's gaze flickered back between Sarah's receeding form and Adrian right next to her. They were driving up into the hills above Holmby when she finally spoke.

"Can you protect me against her?"

"It would be a tight thing. We are each lethal in different ways. It would boil down to who struck first. If she got the drop on me, it would be over quick, so don't piss her off."

"But ... but you would defend me?" she asked not quite believing he would even consider it.

"Yes Gwen, I would."

She snuggled up against him. He put an arm around her shoulder and rubbed her upper arm in a comforting motion.

"When we finish burying the body, you will need to go home. You can't go any further tonight."

"Will I meet others?"

"Yes, I think so," Adrian started, "There are others I want you to meet. You can be of some help to them and they can help you, if it comes up."

After a few minutes, she put her head on his shoulder and rubbed his chest,

"I think I would like that."

Suddenly burying a torn-to-shreads human body in an unmarked grave up in the hills didn't bother her at all. That little shard of humanity was hardly missed at all when compared to the gifts her Master bestowed on her.


When Adrian showed up at Declan's around two a.m. he was dusty and alone.

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[just past midnight, 12-13 May 2009]

Sarah had never been so happy and sad to see a light.

She'd not dallied on the way over from the park, though she didn't shift; it was only a few blocks, really, and the vampire didn't tire at a full run. But she was of a divided mind: half of her dreading seeing an empty house, the other half dreading explaining what had happened to her friend. So when she rounded the curve and saw a lit window in his kitchen, it was even odds for her whether that was for good or for ill.

Either way, she knew her duty. Leaping the back hedge like it wasn't even there, she crossed his yard in a handful of steps to his rear patio. As she'd done dozens of times before, two sharp raps on the glass were followed by a more distant third: her trademark, a sound to let Declan know that it was friend and not foe at his door.

And then, she waited.

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Tuesday night was training night. The burly torso of the Rahu gleamed in the dim light of his lounge as he worked on a reinforced kickbag, wearing only a pair of gym shorts as he rained solid crunching blows and danced on the balls of his feet. Just over two hours and he wasn't slowing down, he noted with some satisfaction. Fatigue was a distant memory now to the werewolf, his conditioning excellent even by the standards of his people. Iron-hard muscles never slowed or tremored as he kept up a blistering pace that would tire out pretty much anything with a working respiratory system. With every punch on the heavy gortex and kevlar bag he would take a few layers of skin from his hands, but he saw the pain as a friend, felt the hot sting as a spur to his almost-meditative exercise.

Hell, it wasn't like he was doing much else with his nights. Patrolling his turf in both Shadow and Real worlds, visiting holy terror on any rogue spirits or stupid drug dealers pretty much his regular routine. Oh, and feeling sorry for himself, of course. It would be an understatment to say that he'd become somewhat withdrawn since Morgan had stopped returning his calls. He still went on with his job, still carried out his duties as an uratha, but he found any moment he wasn't beating the shit out of something to be colorless and washed-out these days. He'd not heard much from Amber or April since they'd agreed to try things out as a pack, but to be fair he'd not made himself very available either. Even the sexual encounters he'd been enjoying had lost their attraction after he'd belatedly figured out that Morgan had to have heard about them and somehow (he wasn't sure how) decided to get mad about them. He snorted as he smacked the bag hard enough to send it swinging particularly wide. Like she wasn't getting any from god-knows-who, anyway! Who the hell was she so mad at? It wasn't like he'd not been obvious about his yearning for her, but she'd always pulled back...

The knock at the door caught him off-guard, but the pattern and the fact it was the patio door left only one possibility. As he padded into the kitchen, he saw the familiar slender shape of the Dead Wolf and sighed to himself. He wasn't good company lately, and he knew it. But a friend was a friend. He crossed the kitchen and slid open the patio door.

"Sarah. C'mon in, frail." The shaggy face gave a ghost of a smile as he stepped aside, letting her in. "How've you been doin'?"

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As smoothly as ever, the undead thing entered Declan's kitchen. She did summon up - not entirely with effort - a smile for the man she desperately hoped would someday be her Alpha. "Good to see you again, Dec; been a while. Figured you've been hitting the Shadow pretty heavy lately."

The niceties passed back and forth as usual (and as usual, Sarah was oblivious to the subtle downturn in Declan's mood, other than perhaps a tiny shift in how he held himself, one that could be written off as it having been a few months since seeing each other). Then, Sarah dived into the grim business that had brought her here tonight.

"We've got a problem. Or rather, I do. Remember Swara-Ann, that little sweeter-than-pie thing from campus? Well, apparently her change didn't set with her very well. She's completely lost it. Her most recent kill was dumped in a trashcan on my territory a couple hours ago; I caught sight of what she's turned into before she booked out of there. Dec, I think she's gone Broken Soul. And the Topanga's have tasked me with putting her down for good."

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They talked. Well, they talked after Declan calmed down from an angry rant in words that Sarah didn't have a prayer of understanding. Oh, she got the gist of it from body language - both human and otherwise - but she had to wait for him to get down to at least a low simmer before his words made any sense.

By the time she left, it was nearly three in the morning, but in those hours she'd learned a lot of things she never, ever wanted to know.

At least a half-dozen of her fellows had known months ago, while she was up in Sonoma with the "foster pack" she'd taken under wing, that Swara-Ann was around the bend and down the rabbit hole. Indeed, the mournful howl that had brought the Sonomas and Sarah to reply in kind had come from the pup, apparently as she'd broken. It turned out that her room was a Wound - a festering hole in the gauntlet between the physical world and Shadow, breeding madness and rot... and Swara-Ann had for all intents and purposes been wallowing in it.

There was little doubt at this point that the poor girl, Changed and alone and tormented by things she couldn't hope to understand, had truly snapped and become a Broken One.

But that wasn't what had Declan - and, she had to admit - Sarah to a smoldering rage. No, that particular slice of guilt and loathing was reserved for "the Gang": Declan, Moss, Adrian, Morgan and yes, even her dear Lucien. They'd known. They found the Wound. They'd even found one of her kills, Swara-Ann's scent still thick on it. But somehow, incredibly, infuriatingly, they'd dropped the ball. Whether it was because of the huge falling out between Declan and Morgan or the seventeen irons that Adrian always seemed to have in the fire or even because of Sarah's sudden and blood-tinged advances on Lucien upon her return from Sonoma, no further effort had been made to go after sweet, deadly, mad little Swara-Ann. And her kills swelled in the night.

Declan was, to Sarah's surprise, in no condition to go after her now. Besieged by guilt, she knew that he would be more of a liability than an asset in the hunt; his conscience would drive him to reckless acts in a hope to make up for his earlier mistake, and it would lead her dear friend off a cliff - perhaps even the same one that had claimed Swara-Ann. With every drop of empathy she could summon up, Sarah reassured her Full Moon friend that it was OK, that it was better that she take things from here. After all, the Topangas had tasked her with this, not him; "No point letting them see you get all the glory," she quipped with a wink and a grin.

There was no grin on her face however as she walked back toward her territory. A great deal of work was ahead of her, and there was no guarantee that she'd survive.

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He met her along the way back, somewhat surprised to see her in human form. He was more surprised to see her alone.

"Sarah, hop on in," he says as he pulls up alongside of her. Adrian has some dust on him and smell of vineagar mostly, but a tiniest snatch of blood. He's tried to be careful.

"Sarah, when you go to Lucien it, tell him it was me that told you. I think I fucked up telling you. We swore an oath on this matter and it shouldn't fall down on anyone else. It was a magical Oath. I've go no idea what that means, but it seemed pretty bad when Lucien had us all swear it."

"As long as I can, I'll help you, but I'm lettin you know that you could get other people in trouble talking about it, even unitentionally, and even if you already know."

He looks at her more closely, engine idling,

"Sarah? You okay? You look like woke up and found someone took down all your scent markings."

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"You let her go." The words were spoken in the flattest possible tone, Sarah's eyes not so much as flinching from the unmoving road ahead.

"You. Declan. Moss. Morgan. Lucian. You knew at least part of what was happening. Knew about the Wound. Knew the howl was hers. Knew about the killing. And instead of continuing until you found her, you let her keep falling." It was strange, hearing so little emotion in the Gangrel's voice; usually she was either excited or angry. It didn't bode well, and Adrian knew it. Either something had snapped in her as well, or she was angry beyond expression.

When he saw her white-knuckled grip on the door handle, Adrian realized which was the case.

"I don't want to know why. That's for later. I just want her found, want to finish my duty. Then," she said, finally turning to look at the little Mekhet with fire in her eyes, "we can talk about why it had to be this way."

The latch on the passenger side snapped open, Adrian's sensitive ears hearing the strain in the handle. With that strange grace and economy of movement unique to creatures like he and she, Sarah slid out of the car. "I'm going to get some sleep. Then, I'm going to start working toward ending this. Expect a call in the coming nights." To her credit, the door didn't slam; it was as precisely controlled as every other movement by the Dead-Wolf as she turned and stalked off toward the cold comfort of home.

Even through the anger, Sarah wondered as she put one foot in front of the other, What the hell did he mean, magical oath? Because for all Declan had told her of Swara-Ann's apartment and their grisly find in the cemetary, not a word had been breathed about what had happened in the basement of her lover's home all those months ago.

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[evening of 26 May 2009]

Two completely awful weeks later, Sarah took a long enough break to poke into the CalNet chat. It wasn't like anything else was doing the slightest bit of good; Swara-Ann was playing an extended game of cat-and-mouse, and doing a damned and deadly good job of it. Four more deadly maulings - some with obviously missing tissue - confirmed that she'd not only gone over the edge, but was eating humans now. And Sarah was trying to hunt her alone.

It didn't have to be this way. She'd taken precious hours away from the hunt on a few evenings, time spent with Lucien. And she was pretty sure that if he put his mind to it, her Mastigos lover could find this monster and help her put it down. But she couldn't quite bring herself to ask. Maybe it was because she didn't want to risk him winding up on the end of Swara-Ann's claws. Maybe it was because she knew he'd not told her about his previous involvement with this situation, and she didn't want the kind of knock-down, drag-out fight that was likely to erupt when the laundry was brought into full view. Maybe it was even her stubborn pride. Either way, she was still on her own.

The Dead Wolf was in a pretty miserable mood when she finally finished logging into the chat. And that mood poured out onto the screen in ways dangerous and with results unforseen.

(20:05:22) (Sarah): @Moss: that little problem we discussed? It's still a problem. A big, ugly, hairy, brutal and quite insane problem.

(20:05:56) (Queen_of_Spades): big ugly hairy brutal insane problem?

(20:06:12) (Queen_of_Spades): Sarah, somebody really ought to teach you how to speak in code

(20:06:31) (Queen_of_Spades): Sounds like you have a bear loose in your pool or something

(20:06:58) (Sarah): At the moment, I'm not sure I can bring myself to care. And yeah, that's pretty much the sum of it. If the bear was rabid. And in the public park system.

(20:07:19) (Sarah): Care about the code, that is. Not the problem.

As always, Sarah stank at lies. And as always, her difficulty at doing so spiraled down unplanned roads.

(20:07:48) (Queen_of_Spades): lovely ... which one? I'd like to avoid Yogi on those days I didn't pack a picnic basket

(20:08:05) (Sarah): In short: the trails aren't safe. And the streets aren't much safer.

(20:08:46) (Sarah): Some truly horrific and final maulings happening.

(20:08:47) (Queen_of_Spades): Well this is LA

(20:09:04) (Crescent_Sun): Sarah, you are not alone. Well, I hope you aren't alone. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

(20:09:08) (Queen_of_Spades): When is a mauling _not_ final?

(20:09:16) (Sarah): When you survive.

(20:09:24) (Sarah): Folks ain't surviving this one.

(20:09:55) (Sarah): CS, that's just the thing. The little task force assigned to this thing got distracted, remember?

(20:10:06) (Sarah): It's in my lap now. Yay me.

(20:10:22) (Crescent_Sun): By the pricking of my thumbs ...

(20:11:43) (Sarah): And no, it's not going to get into the papers. Can't exactly let people know this thing is running around, for all the obvious reasons.

(20:11:51) (Sarah): *sigh*

(20:12:21) (Sarah): Awful quiet over there, Moss.

(20:12:24) (Crescent_Sun): At least my guvernmint can get cover-ups right.

(20:12:32) (Sarah): Feh.

(20:12:55) (Queen_of_Spades): The public has the right to know if there is some rabid animal or something

(20:13:03) (Sarah): Well, think about it. If folks knew this was running around, they'd freak right the hell out. Panic.

(20:13:04) (Queen_of_Spades): what gives you the right to hide that?

(20:13:38) (Sarah): "Rabid" was more a euphemism on this one, QoS. It's not rabid. Just fucking mad as all hell.

(20:14:07) (Queen_of_Spades): regardless

(20:14:17) (Queen_of_Spades): people have a right to know about this stuff

(20:14:44) (Sarah): I know. Believe me, I know. But you know how the system is.

(20:14:52) (Crescent_Sun): I don't think most people want to know. Democracy of the Heads in the Sand kind of thing.

(20:15:22) (Queen_of_Spades): fine, but there are some of us who DO care and want to know

(20:15:24) (Sarah): In any event, now you know. Try and stay safe, OK>

(20:15:27) (Sarah): ?

(20:16:16) (Queen_of_Spades): I know what? You haven't _said_ anything

(20:16:58) (Sarah): Sure I have. I said something bad and deadly and wild is in the parks. I said it's mauling people to death. I said it's best to avoid remote areas.

(20:16:59) (Moss): Sorry was putting the laundry in the dryer

(20:17:05) (Sarah): Ah.

(20:17:26) (Moss): @Sarah - big hairy problem, understood, let me know where and when

(20:17:26) (Crescent_Sun): Moss, that is what the domestics are for!

(20:17:33) (Sarah): ...

(20:17:38) (Queen_of_Spades): you know how many square miles of parks there are in LA county?

(20:17:45) (Sarah): Yes, yes I do.

(20:17:58) (Sarah): And I know that this thing can move at speed.

(20:18:19) (Queen_of_Spades): what is this "thing"?

(20:18:40) (Moss): CS trust you to have domestics

(20:19:33) (Sarah): Animal. Big. Strong as all fuck. Claws about on par with a brown bear. Has a habit of rearing up on hind legs. We're working from the theory that it's a very much deranged and pissed off bear.

(20:20:30) (Sarah): And before you ask: there's a huge number of places for something of even that size to hide in this county.

(20:20:54) (Sarah): Hell, remember when the big cat got out of the zoo a while back? Took forever for them to track it down.

(20:20:57) (Queen_of_Spades): this is why this kind of information shoud be public

(20:21:18) (Crescent_Sun):

(20:21:21) (Queen_of_Spades): I'm sure there are people who have seen something that was relevant

(20:21:38) (Queen_of_Spades): but they don't know it and don't know who to call

(20:21:40) (Sarah): Think about it, though. "Deranged Bear On The Loose. Location Unknown. Don't Leave Home."

(20:21:57) (Moss): Heh, if they saw it, they are probably dead

(20:22:00) (Sarah): That's pretty much what the media would do with it.

(20:22:12) (Sarah): And honestly, Moss nailed it. This thing is deadly.

(20:22:25) (Queen_of_Spades): you think that is better than "Alls well, nothing to be afraid of!" when you know damn well the case is very much the opposite!?

(20:22:33) (Sarah): I've been tracking it for the past couple of weeks.

(20:22:34) (Crescent_Sun): And who gets the blame for not catching it yesterday?

(20:23:18) (Sarah): But we're understaffed as all hell. And believe it or not, the human dangers take priority in the system.

(20:23:32) (Sarah): The animal dangers? They get short shrift.

Increasingly desperate and irate, Sarah tried - badly - to spin things. It didn't go well....

(20:24:44) (Sarah): Welcome to the world of insufficient budgets, personnel cuts, hiring freezes, and all the other fun that goes along with a crumbling economy and crumbling infrastructure.

(20:24:51) (Queen_of_Spades): So instead you let people go out and go on thinking everything is fine, you ALLOW the victims to go on ignorant of the danger? My god, that's sick.

(20:25:16) (Sarah): I don't have much say in it, QoS. I don't make the rules, and I'm not the PR Dept.

(20:25:52) (Queen_of_Spades): leaks happen, the press gets information that was supposed to be suppressed

(20:25:58) (Sarah): I go to the papers, and (1) I'll be out on my ass and (2) they'll have even less of a chance of getting it.

(20:26:05) (Queen_of_Spades): you could be part of the solution

(20:26:14) (Moss): Have you actually seen what happens in a panic? More people are likely to die that way than in the time it takes to track this thing down.

(20:26:31) (Sarah): Now that said... if *you* go to the papers... you know, as one of those "unofficial leaks"... that's different.

(20:26:48) (Sarah): Though you may want to listen to Moss.

(20:27:25) (Sarah): I've seen panics. They aren't good. You'll have people shooting other people because they heard a noise and "thought it was the mad bear".

(20:27:43) (Sarah): Hell, that's how hunters die by the dozens every year.

(20:27:58) (Sarah): People, by and large, aren't all that bright.

(20:28:12) (Queen_of_Spades): clearly

(20:28:23) (Queen_of_Spades): I'm seeing evidence in heaps tonight

(20:28:25) (Sarah): There's a reason I generally prefer the animals.

(20:28:29) (Sarah): (though not this one)

(20:30:16) (Sarah): And believe me, I wish there was a good way to let people know that this thing is out there, without winding up with a whole bunch of armed idiots running around blazing away at shadows and ghosts. But there isn't one.

(20:31:14) (Moss): You KNOW the local NRA are going to be vieing for it

(20:32:01) (Crescent_Sun): I imagine somewhere someone looked into how this should be handled.

(20:32:14) (Sarah): NRA, hell. Little Grandma Weisselman and her 12-gauge will open up on the paper-boy when he tries to put the paper in the screen door.

(20:32:44) (Sarah): We have that kind of thing happening enough *without* a dangerous animal panic.

(20:33:10) (Queen_of_Spades) shakes her head

(20:33:47) (Sarah): @CS: Glad you have that much faith in the system. I work for it and don't. Someone somewhere looked at how to shuffle schedules around and squeeze a few more dollars thinner than human hair, and this is the resul.t

(20:34:37) (Sarah): In a better world, two or three full teams would be after this thing, and it would have been dealt with fast.

(20:34:46) (Sarah): Be nice if we had that better world.

(20:35:05) (Queen_of_Spades): so do something about it

(20:35:24) (Crescent_Sun): Sarah, you have a bitter world outlook. I should try to put aside my rose-colored glasses.

At that, Sarah finally blew her stack, the Beast nearly reaching into the very internet.

(20:36:27) (Sarah): I *AM* doing something about it, QoS! I'm doing the only fucking thing I *CAN* do! Try to catch and kill this thing before it takes someone else apart at the seams! I've been at this without break or rest or day off from the start.

Exasperated, the Dead Wolf hoped to find some way to take a different tack. Based on something Adrian had said earlier, she shot him a private note.

(20:37:50) (Sarah): (whispers to (Crescent_Sun)) If you think you know who this QoS is, for Luna's sake, find out. Fucking ask her. And if she's useful and trustable, we might be able to put her to work.

Then, a lackluster attempt at an apology went out.

(20:38:18) (Sarah): Sorry QoS. I'm just a bit frazzled.

(20:38:29) (Sarah): No need to take it out on you.

No reply came for a while, until finally Moss piped up again.

(20:43:15) (Moss): Anyway as I said if you want a hand give me a call

Sarah wasn't about to let the offer slip away. And even as she did, confirmation about the mysterious Queen_of_Spades came in.

(20:46:12) (Sarah): Consider yourself called, Moss.

(20:48:37) (Moss): No prob, give details of where/when offline? Or I could come by your place?

(20:49:09) (Crescent_Sun): (whispers) Talking with Spade. Is a friend, but not in the know.

(20:49:49) (Sarah): (whispers to (Crescent_Sun)) Fuck. Any usefulness? Resourceful individual? Crap... just human? Would be dogmeat...

(20:50:39) (Crescent_Sun): (whispers) I don't want her to be dogmeat, Sarah.

(20:50:42) (Sarah): @Moss: Swing on by Holmby Park sometime after midnight. I'll be tied up until then.

(20:51:17) (Sarah): (whispers to (Crescent_Sun)) I know. That's what I'm saying. If she faced this as a plain ol' mortal, she'd be toast.

(20:54:49) (Moss): Sure thing Sarah, I'll bring my binoculars and see about spotting that comet

(20:55:24) (Moss): you gotta have a better view from there than my place

(20:55:32) (Queen_of_Spades): feh, your cleverness is wasted at this point

Gambit time. Maybe, just maybe, Sarah could impress on this not-completely-unknowning mortal just how dangerous this situation was.

(20:55:41) (Sarah): (whispers to (Queen_of_Spades)) I understand you're a friend of CS. I trust him. Good guy, as far as it goes. Helps me out with a few things from time to time.

(21:04:41) (Sarah): (whispers to (Crescent_Sun)) How goes the talking with her, Adrian?

(21:05:26) (Moss): (whispers) true, that would be worse. Is there many left from then?

(21:06:11) (Crescent_Sun): (whispers) She knows something more is going on, but isn't pushing the matter yet. It is almost that she shys away from the ultimate tell of what's going on. I can't say I blame her. ONce you know there is no turning back.

(21:06:12) (Sarah): (whispers to (Crescent_Sun)) And when you say "not in the know", do you mean "la-de-da, mundane world, nothing strange here" or "there's strangeness out there, I just don't know the extent"? No offense, but you are kind of a weirdness magnet.

(21:07:41) (Sarah): (whispers to (Crescent_Sun)) Ah, you answered my question.

(21:07:58) (Crescent_Sun): (whispers) More like she's walking a fine line between what she suspects, but won't see, and what she knows.

(21:08:59) (Sarah): (whispers to (Queen_of_Spades)) OK, CS has given me a little more to go on. Enough for me to tell you that this isn't a bear, and isn't something that can go in - or be believed in - the morning paper. Can't really be much more specific than that, but it really is pretty bad, and you're best off avoiding the parks at night.

(21:09:50) (Sarah): (whispers to (Queen_of_Spades)) And if you don't believe me, ask Adrian.

(21:14:21) (Queen_of_Spades): (whispers) I don't and he won't tell me anything either

(21:16:12) (Sarah): (whispers to (Queen_of_Spades)) Crap. Look, he tells me that you know that there's more to this tired old world than meets the eye. That there's stuff out there that isn't in the textbooks. The thing running around killing people is one of those things. And to be honest, I'm another, just differently so. I stink at this talkaround bullshit, but that's the gist of it.

(21:17:11) (Sarah): (whispers to (Queen_of_Spades)) I'd love nothing more than to show you all the cards, but that'd break every fucking rule in the whole damned book and a few others besides.

(21:17:37) (Sarah): (whispers to (Queen_of_Spades)) And I'm most assuredly not talking about a government rule book.

(21:20:07) (Queen_of_Spades): (whispers) no, if Adrian to be belived its probably the Yakuza or the Triads. Not that I believe that load of crap either

(21:21:12) (Sarah): (whispers to (Queen_of_Spades)) Hmm. OK, I guess this is where I start asking questions. How much *do* you know about the general weirdness out there?

(21:21:45) (Sarah): (whispers to (Queen_of_Spades)) (And for the record, I've got no idea why he's tossing around Yakuza or Triads)

There was nothing further from the newcomer, and Sarah couldn't help but wonder if she's effectively chased Adrian's friend off. Then new hope came from an unexpected vector... and with it eventually came a most unexpected conversation.

(21:25:43) (Sarah): ...and the board goes silent.

(21:25:53) (Crescent_Sun):

(21:26:54) ChatBot: (Lady_Luna) logs into the Chat.

(21:28:58) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Good to see you. Things got worse. Swara-Ann is solidly a Broken One. And she's killing (and starting to eat) humans. I've been hunting her for weeks, and I'm pretty sure she knows it and is toying with me.

(21:31:14) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) Oh. Yay.

(21:32:24) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Oh, it gets worse. Some of the gang knew. Started looking into it months ago, found out that her dorm room was a Wound and that she'd started killing. This was back when I was up in Sonoma. They didn't follow up. And nobody told me until now.

(21:33:30) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) Wait... my brain is telling me something about that...

(21:33:54) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) A big horrible howl?

(21:34:02) (Lady_Luna): (Queen_of_Spades) Wow, you're Literal Woman.

(21:35:45) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) You mean after all that bullshit and cutting me out of the action because I wouldn't take that fucking oath, and they didn't do shit about that?

(21:36:06) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) W.T.F?

(21:36:45) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) I don't know about this oath, other than an obscure reference Adrian made, but apparently they dropped the ball pretty badly.

(21:37:24) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) And there was a howl at the time that even the Mighty Sonomas and I heard clear the hell up north. It was her.

(21:37:53) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) I went there with everyone else, but before anything got done, Lucian said everyone had to swear a magic oath to not reveal what happened in that room. As if my fucking WORD wasn't enough for them.

(21:38:23) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Oh fucking hell. Goddamit, Lucien... just goddamn it.

(21:38:56) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Well, now it's in my lap. I'm not dropping the ball. But it's a fucking big ball, and I've got the bad feeling it's gonna kill me.

(21:39:29) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Talked with Dec. He's not going to be a help with this one. I won't go into the why.

(21:40:46) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) I'll help. Might see who else I can wrangle.

(21:41:26) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Much appreciated. Moss is offering to help, too; gonna me at my park shortly after midnight tonight. If you're available, might be good for us to compare notes.

(21:42:16) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) Lemme ask Theo for the night off.

(21:43:02) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Sure. I'll, um... not ask who Theo is. Probably better that way.

(21:43:46) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) My boss.

(21:44:40) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Figured that much. Just really, really don't need to know the vampire you're working for. You know me: self-loathing leech.

(21:45:35) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) You know, they always mention clans and covenants and such. What are you?

(21:45:55) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Me? I'm a Dead Wolf, like I've said.

(21:46:59) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) Nah, they've mentioned five names, that isn't one of them.

(21:49:26) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Ah. Full-on clans. Technically, I'm a subset of the Gangrel clan. But I'm... eh, not sure this translates well. Different clans have different blood, different innate stuff. Sort of like how different auspices work. But there's some changes that can happen within the clans, where the blood changes more. That's what happened with the Dead Wolves. Really did happen because of the originator's blood-tie with the People, and the use of biting and silver to try to save him after his embrace.

(21:50:42) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) As for the covenants... they're sort of like tribes. You pick them. Which means being willing to associate with them. I'm not, and have no truck with them.

(21:51:23) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) Ah. They call that Unaligned, I think.

(21:52:11) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Yup. Unaligned, Unbound, Freebooters, Rabble, etc, etc. Whole lot of names for those who don't want to play happy vampire games.

(21:54:06) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) Got it.

(21:54:36) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Eh, sorry. Didn't mean to sound pissy. Just not really thrilled with "my kind".

(21:56:09) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) Some aren't so bad.

(21:56:46) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Some. Damned few and far between though. Most would knife their own sire if they thought it'd get them up the power structure.

(21:58:05) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) Just gotta know the right ones.

(21:58:52) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) If you know decent ones, you're lucky. Or being very skillfully lied to. A lot of them are really, really fucking good at that.

(21:59:56) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) I believe that.

(22:00:54) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Boy, aren't I just a bundle of cheer? *sigh* Truth is, I'm tired. Been after Swara-Ann non-stop, and I'm frustrated as all hell.

(22:11:05) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) What's the problem? Can't find her?

(22:11:47) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Oh, I can find her. Sort of. When she wants me to. To show me the latest kill as she takes off. I swear, I can damned near see her smile in the big form.

(22:11:59) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) Garou?

(22:12:34) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) The big battle-form, yeah. The one I don't like to see all that damned often. She takes it like it's second nature.

(22:12:55) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) All the time? Holds it for a while?

(22:19:02) (Lady_Luna): (whispers) Great

(22:20:24) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) Yeah, that was kind of my feelings on it. I've hear that some Brokens do that, in rumor. Maybe they're just in near-constant rage. No idea.

(22:21:50) (Sarah): (whispers to (Lady_Luna)) OK, I'm going to scout around for a bit before the meet-up. See you then.

With that, Sarah logged out of CalNet and shifted quickly to her falcon form. If nothing else, she thought, I can try to make sure we don't get any rude surprises around here for the meeting. On strong wings, she took to the air and patrol.

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Amber drove up the border of Sarah's territory and parked her truck. At the border, she paused to text the Dead Wolf. here about to cross brdr be there soon It served as a howl, and since she was invited, Amber didn't need to wait for Sarah to meet her. She went to the locus and stopped just inside its influence, enjoying the connection. After a moment of thought, she pulled out the phone again and typed in, going other side brb That done, she stepped sideways.

Several dark spirits had been lurking, but they scattered at her arrival. Once they saw it was just her, they began to circle back. Turning, Amber glanced at the wall spirit and the lust spirits, and found them looking a little ragged. Scowling, she turned back to the circling spirits, noting their curved claws and lean, strong bodies. She stomped on the urge to engage them - such fierce spirits should be able to find enough essence to exist here naturally, which made them invaders. She needed Ariel or Moss to tell her what they were, and Sarah needed to know that she had a problem. And to be honest, Amber was pretty sure they were tied to Swara Ann - if the mad Uratha was spending a lot of time around Sarah's territory, then her presence and actions could encourage these dark spirits. Or she might be able to make deals with them, though Amber was sure that the Soulless were beyond that kind of interaction.

Still, it wasn't something she was going to deal with right now. Side-stepping, she sat down on the grass to wait for Sarah.

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Sarah wasn't long in coming. In fact, she'd watched the Rahu step back across from nothingness to reality on the east side of the Grotto fence, gazing from a good ten feet up on a branch. Amber's text had been clear, and this was - as far as Sarah knew - the only place in her territory to do the magical, incredible Uratha act of stepping into Shadow.

"Glad you made it," she said in a voice just loud enough to carry to her cousin before hopping down from the branch.

"I'm expecting No-Moss, too; shot him a quick text letting him know to detour up here to the locus. Everything look more or less OK over on spirit-side?" If there was a hint of wistfulness in Sarah's voice, it wasn't deliberate; part of her soul still yearned for those things the People took for granted.

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Moss had just been pondering whether to get his homeless clothes out and do a perimeter of the park before meeting Sarah when he recieved a text from her changing the meeting place.

Behind the Playboy Mansion? I wonder if she has become a voyeur, or maybe she thinks it might distract any snipers? Neither mind, better get a move on.

Reverting to his normal (dedicated) clothes he quickly made his way on foot to the back fence of the Playboy Mansion and made his cautious way along until he found Sarah and Amber.

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"No," Amber was saying as Moss approached, her pretty face screwed up in a grimace. "You have an invasion. Moss or Ariel's going to have to tell you exactly what you've got, but they aren't lust spirits - I'd guess murder or cannibalism, given that I'm pretty sure they're here because of Swara Ann. They're fighting with your natural spirits - been tearing them up pretty bad, and if they're raiding the locus, which I didn't check on, then they might be overtaxing it. That'll kill it if they keep it up." She smirked and said, "Time to call Furry-Orkin."

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"Well, crap." Sarah's mood darkened palpably. "Declan had been keeping an eye on things for a while, but then he sort of... well, I don't really quite know what exactly. All kinda moot, really."

The Dead-Wolf looked over the fence at the infamous Grotto - empty on a Tuesday night - and shook her head, sighing. "I'll need to ask one of you for a lift. Sounds like I've got a mess to clean up, and can't get there on my own. Which is, I'll add, mighty inconvenient." She tensed her muscled in series in that odd way so many people - human or otherwise - did in preparation for a fight. "Either of you willing to ferry me over? I know the debt keeps rackin' up, but I'll owe ya' for the favor. Well, and for a ride home when I'm done," she said with a wry grin.

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"Well it's not something I'm practised at but I'll give it a go for you. However, let's have a look and see if I can identify them for you first. Moot point I know as we're going to hit them anyway, but sometimes it's nice to know what you're picking on before you do it."

That said Moss turns to look towards the locus and then around the area using his split sight to see into the Shadow. Spotting the spirits that Amber had seen he tries to work out what type they are.

Click to reveal..

Int + Occult 9Spirits) to identify what type they are = 5 dice

(04:17:36) ChatBot: (Moss) rolls 5d10 and gets 6,9,10,10,7.

(04:17:47) ChatBot: (Moss) rolls 2d10 and gets 4,3.

3 sux

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What Moss saw was deeply unsettling. The invading spirits that Amber had spoken of, with wicked hooked talons and teeth, we're preying on pretty much anything... including each other, he noted, as one took a sudden and unprovoked swipe at another's throat. Within a blink of an eye, the rest of what were obviously spirits of cannibalism were devouring their brother, right down to the marrow of its bones.

Oblivious to this, Sarah shook her head in reponse to part of Moss' comment. "Actually," Sarah said in a cautious voice, "the hitting will be by me, not we." A look that was somehow both sheepish and determined came to her face. "My territory, my problem, and I don't have a pack. Had a deal with Dec on this stuff, but that was with Dec. Bad enough that I have to ask for help to get there. But I do thank you for the recon, Moss; knowledge is a good thing."

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