01 Elysium with Ralph and Charles

It was rare that Ralph came to the warren. But he really wanted someone to go with him to the next Elysium. He knew the other kindred there well, he knew he would be needing help handling them. His plan to deal with the hunters was sound but it’s hard to spur some kindred into action. I volunteered to help him out. I would be able to keep track of who was doing what and how that was going, while Ralph was working on new information, or negotiating with kindred who felt they were too important to speak to anyone else than the primogen. I couldn’t suppress a grin. The other clans never quite understood how the Nosferatu Primogen was chosen.

My knife and my gun lay ready to take with me and I was about to pick them up, when my mind wandered down an old, familiar path. What would I wear? A glance in that old broken mirror in the corner of my room told me the irony in that question. My hollow eyes stared back at me, surrounded by bruised skin. The corners of my mouth were a sickly mess of green and grey and I had festering wounds where my breasts had once been. I was as hideous as ever.

Dark colours, covering and functional. But something relatively new and intact. The kindred and their servants would shy away if my clothes were mouldy. I picked a new hat that would cover my hair and my ears but not my face. There were things to be said about covering up every inch of repulsive skin, but the face is the part that others need to relate to. No matter how misshapen, my face is still my most powerful weapon.

With my weapons hidden under a huge shapeless sweater I followed Ralph into the nightclub where the elysium was being held. Entering through the front door, welcomed by men in black suits, I had promised myself I wouldn’t let it get to me, but it did. Old memories are deep stains on your soul, much harder to remove than recent ones. The suits were revolted as expected, but they also wanted our attention. Ralph had warned me that they were the security, so I ignored them. They didn’t need much convincing to realise that they really didn’t want to search me.

Ralph was almost instantly swamped by people who wanted to speak to him about the plans and he gave me the “I told you so”-look. As he joined the Council to listen to the presentations, I found Charles in the crowd of kindred. He stood out like a sore thumb in his full combat armor and his gas mask among the Toreador and Ventrue in their fancy dresses and spiffy suits, and he liked it that way. I gave him a pat on the armor and nodded to the people surrounding us.
“Fucking pretties.”
He nodded and it was hard to hear him articulate behind the gasmask. “You said it, Belle. Good to see you.”
“You too.”

When Charles was not out scouting in the city, he and I spent our time trying to keep other kindred off Ralph’s back. Of course Ralph’s plan had a flaw; the fact that everyone need to report back to one person. That and the simple truth that some kindred just don’t seem to understand the use of orders or command chains, because they are fucking special. Sigh. Charles and I had a good Nos/bad Nos routine going on; I soon found that the kindred who couldn’t stand Charles’ direct answers or Ralph’s busy schedule turned to me. I checked in with Ralph from time to time and he was… not unhappy with how his plan was working out. Despite Sherriff Hawkshaw’s shouting for attention.

Hawkshaw felt he was wronged because Ralph’s plan had put him in a place where he had to report to someone who was inferior to him: Charles. Hawkshaw had always been an alpha-male sort of man who couldn’t make a point without shaking his fist, or his gun, and excessive shouting of profanity. Especially when the point was about who was in charge. Ralph was playing a little game with him. That game one plays with a spoiled child who wants to have his way. The louder and more frustrated Hawkshaw became, the more Ralph dismissed him and ignored him. It was an agonising show to watch. Who would think a man of more than a hundred years old could be so terribly childish?

A list of addresses surfaced. The Hunters were going to attack each of them. Number one on the list had already gone up in flames. The address of the Sherriff’s girlfriend. Each address was someone’s haven. The mental institution of the Malkavians was on the list. The Sherriff panicked. The Malkavians panicked. Hunters were suddenly a real threat. The Elysium erupted into fevered paranoia.

I let the Sherriff plan an ambush at one of the addresses, against Ralph’s orders, but I just knew that the only way Hawkshaw would pipe down was if we gave him something to do. Charles was out on a rooftop, keeping us informed with a walkie-talkie. I noticed that some people were worried where the list had come from. How did the Hunters get their hands on this information? Was there a logic to that list? They became suspicious towards the ghoul who had tried to make contact with the Hunters a few weeks ago.

Each of these questions made Ralph twitch, I noticed. So I decided to push his buttons. “Is the list correct?” I asked Salimah, who was manning her laptop. “Did you check whether these kindred really live at these adresses?”
“The list is correct.” Ralph snapped. He gave me a long look that told me: Please, leave it alone. No more questions about the list. And I nodded to show I understood his request.

I identified the people who worried about the list: Spiegel, the skilled and demure Caitiff, Salimah, the muslim Nosferatu ghoul, Samael, the Malkavian catholic seer. I took the time to talk to each of them about it, to tell them that I had some leads on where the list came from, and to promise them that I would get to the bottom of it. Leave it to me. Trust me. I think they stopped trying to investigate the list after that.

Then I asked Ralph to talk privately for a moment. We skulked into a dark corner of a small room and he waited for my questions.
“You know where that list came from.” I tried to say it matter-of-factly, without any accusation.
He nodded and cast his eyes to the floor. “It was provided to the Hunters by our mole. They were threatening to attack his family. The Council decided to give these addresses.”
I took a moment to let the information sink in. “So they consulted you? You gave your opinion?” I studied his eyes. His skin was wrinkled and decaying which made it hard to read his expression, but his eyes were still alive.
“I managed to make sure none of our own were on that list. But we had to deliver. Fake addresses would have worsened things.” He looked at me. He was not happy with this.
I wondered for a moment what other things the Council decided for us behind our backs. But that question was pointless. We trusted Ralph and he had kept us out of trouble. Again.

The Sherriff and his men went in, guns blazing, as we had expected. But to our surprise, the Hunters were caught alive. It was Charles who in the end caused the operation to go awry when he lost his patience during the interrogation and stuffed a grenade in one of the Hunters’ mouths. The Hunters were quite the fanatics; they all laughed as the victim spit it out again. The damage was huge and I was sorry to have trusted Charles with grenades. We knew he was overconfident, but this was quite definitely the stupidest thing he had ever done. He was lucky he wasn’t executed.

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