Chapter XXI: The Last Round
The Last Round was in a seedier part of town, it's sign brown and peeling, vagrants huddled miserably around small fires, coat collars turned up to ward off the cruel autumnal breeze. Breathing in deeply, a human conceit, but a reassuring one, I stepped inside.
The smell of cheap booze and sweat hit me as I entered the bar. A few hardened patrons drank noisily in the corner, yet apart from that the lower floor was empty, the seats along the side of the room vacant. I turned to the barman, intending to ask about Nines. He looked me up and down, then jerked his head to his left.
'You'll wanna talk to Damsel', he muttered, wiping a glass. I followed the movement of his head to a pretty, yet pretty pissed-off looking vampire loitering by a beer barrel.
'Damsel?' I asked. The girl looked me up and down, recognising me, and not liking what she saw. She spat, deliberately aiming for my boot.
'That's right. Sabbat chase you in here, Cammy?'
I frowned, looking at my boot. 'What's that?', I said coldy.
Yeah, alright, Nines saved my ass, again. What's it to you, Bitch?
'You're talkin' about the theatre, right?'
I was getting sick of the attitude. I didn't have to take this shit, not from her. I owed her nothing.
'Just what is your fucking problem?' I growled. To my surprise, Damsel actually smiled, seeming to reevaluate me.
I admit it. Sure, I like pushing her buttons. It's like taunting a cat - you know you're going to get scratched, but hey, it's worth it.
'And I'm supposed to give a shit? Give me a break.'
'Oh really?', I said innocently, considering the information Strauss had given me. 'Sounds like there's some bad blood here.' Damsel groaned, rolling her eyes.
'Imagine that', I said with a vicious grin. 'Me and my big mouth. Now what the fuck is a plaguebearer?'
'Yeah, I've seen the biohazard crew. Guess I'll be avoiding the local cuisine. How do you fix this shit?'
What was this? Compassion from this little ball of rage? Taken aback, I figured I had some reevaluation to do myself.
'Be best for everyone, plaguebearer's included', I shrugged, not making mention of her soft streak. Ammunition for later.
Do the Camarilla really help anyone out but the Camarilla?
I dismissed the thought. Another thing to keep private, until I knew who I could trust. I can't imagine LaCroix would make life any easier if I was seen to be an Anarch sympathiser...
'Well, Cammy or not, I'm willing to help. Got any leads?'
Damsel paused, thinking.
'Will do', I murmured. Something else worth thinking about. Damsel, at least, seemed to know what was happening amongst the humans, seeming to pay them attention equal to that given to the vampires. Another difference in comparison to the Camarilla...
'Hey', I said, remembering. 'Any chance Jack is here? He told me he'd probably be here at The Last Round.'
Damsel's eyes widened. 'You met Jack? Jack asked you to meet him?'
'Yeah? Why wouldn't he? He's just another guy, right? One of the cooler guy's I've met too, willing to help me out when everyone else ditched me.'
'Will do. Later, tough girl.'
Damsel gave me the finger as I walked up the stairs, and I blew her a kiss in return. She muttered under her breath, so low even my finely tuned hearing couldn't catch what she said.
What a motley crew, I thought to myself, looking at the vampires at the top of the stairs. Jack and Nines I knew, but the black guy I knew from sight only. As I stepped onto the landing, he turned to face me, looking at me with disdain.
'Now aren't you a funny guy', I deadpanned. 'I'm here to see Nines, chuckles, got a problem with that?' I maintained eye contact, and to my credit, he broke it first.
'I'll be a good boy Skelter, I promise. Vampire's honour.'
'What in God's name are you talking about?' I shrugged. 'Is this anything more than conspiracy-theory crap?' I played it cool, hiding my displeasure. After all, was this really that far-fetched? From the moment of my awakening I was just a puppet dancing on LaCroix's strings...
Again, that mention of Caine. First, his name on the paintings, now this.
'Caine? As in, killer of Abel?'
Ok, fair enough. A few days ago I would have laughed at anyone swearing vampires were real. But to believe that it all came from Caine? The biblical villain?
'You don't expect me to believe this bullshit do you, Skelter? Caine is supposed to be real?'
Skelter looked around uneasily, at Jack and Nines who were too immersed in their own conversation to notice, then leaned forward, whispering in his deep baritone.
And spend eternity as as LaCroix's hound? Got to be fucking kidding!
'Well, what about all that Masquerade stuff? Isn't that a good reason to join up? Don't you guys believe that too?'
And so it seemed then that being a ghoul was like being a drug addict of any different kind - anything to get that buzz.
'So, haven't you tried telling her he's gone?'
Off her? Like that? Wasn't sure, there must be another way. She may not count as innocent...'I'll see what I can do Skelter.'
Skelter hesitated, before giving a mental shrug. 'You know what man, you might just turn out alright after all.'
I shrugged. For the bunch of antisocial, ignorant bunch of fuckheads LaCroix had made them out to be, these Anarchs didn't seem too bad. They'd saved my ass more than the Camarillia...from the Camarilla...it seemed my thinking would go on...