Chapter XXX: Grout
The room had once been a dining room, although whether anyone had eaten there for years was a mystery. More of Grout's housemates huddled in corners of the room, gibbering, shuddering, displaying at once signs of great distress and great detachment. So oblivious were they to the world around them that it was no great chore to dispatch them one by one with one flash of the blade.
Another one of Grout's tapes lay on the floor. In it, he sounded just as professional and calm, talking of his experiments to root out the causes of the condition. He mourned the loss of his sire (though he did not use the term), saying that had he known then what he knew now, he never would have had her confined to an asylum where unfortunately she was reduced to ash at sunrise. He spoke of experiments on people. The people in the building, I now discovered, were his test subjects. What tests he was performing I didn't want to know - 'one particularl subject went so far to elude me as to gnaw off his own arm in escape. Even now I hear him running underneath the floorboards. Such a ghastly noise.' Shuddering, I moved quickly to the next room.
Another tape was in this small sitting room. Making quick work of the occupants, I took a quick look around. Two mirrors were on adjacent sides of the far wall, a fire place in between. I sat in the chair for a moment, listening to the tape, as the man I now knew to be Grout talked at his surprise of meeting others of his kind.
'They seem to be surprised at my eloquence. Apparently sufferers of my particular form of the condition are not known for coherence, and so they have elected me as a representative, although they use the unusual term, primogen...'
How to progress from here was eluding me. The room only had one entrance. I walked around the room slowly, trying to determine what was slightly unusual about it.
Looking at the mirror, it struck me. I had laid low the women in the room, and yet their reflections still stood, still huddled and clutching their heads as when I had entered the room. I placed a hand on the mirror. No, not mirror, but glass. A window. I searched along the wall for some sort of switch or lever to gain access to the next room. I found it on the fireplace, the button lodged in the mantlepiece.
As the back of the fireplace moved away, I crawled through, gun at the ready. I took careful aim, shooting one of the patients in the back of the head. She gave a mindless roar, and turned to face me. Swearing, I shot her twice more. Unfortunately, locked in whatever state they were in made them immune to pain. I fired again, catching her in the neck. She took another step towards me, and dropped, twitching as blood spurted from the wound. By now, the other woman had turned, and so I holstered the .38 and finished her by hand.
What's the point in a fucking gun when my hands do better work? I need better equipment.
The tape on the second level of the library showed that Grout's grip on reality was weakening. Although his tone remained the same, he expressed concern at 'hearing voices that continued speaking long after conversations had ceased', and the feeling of being watched. For this reason, he had decided to put the experiments on hold, focusing on this new development. Pulling another candlestick caused a section of a bookcase to swing aside, revealing some stairs. I vaulted over the railing, landing on the ground floor, and ran through the door as it closed behind me.
'For an eminent psychiatrist', I muttered in annoyance, 'he's read way too many trashy horror stories'.
At the bottom of the stairs was some kind of generator room. Electricity arched down from metal objects in the ceiling, crashing down into a pentagram design. Was this a power source or the affectation of a diseased mind? I could imagine Grout down here, bringing the unfortunate cadaver from his latest experiment, and throwing it into the electrical pit while screaming 'let there be life!' Not for the first time, I thanked whoever was listening for the fact I hadn't been reborn Malkavian.
A series of switches cut the power to the electricity supply, allowing me to step through the room and into a corridor with two levers. The first caused a section of wall to raise into the ceiling, allowing exit. The second opened the main door in the room with the hidden staircase to the attic, allowing access to Grout's inner chambers. I stepped inside, unsure what to expect.
I felt a combination of interest and sick disgust. Obviously, Grout's home doubled as his operating theatre. In the main room, operating tables were strewn as makeshift barriers, bloodstained and tooth-marked. Shining surgical implements were spilled to the floor. Those that were not bloodstained and wielded by mindless patients. I snarled in pain as one I had not seen sliced a large section of skin from my arm. I turned, teeth bared, as I moved towards it. However, out of the shadows came another man. This one dug both teeth and claws into my bake, raking down, tearing the leather and the flesh beneath. I hissed again, feeling the skin rended. Another jumped at me, scalpel parting the skin of my scalp. I was bleeding profusely, and unable to see. My vision clouded red, anger consuming me. I snarled again, an animalistic noise of rage and hunger. I turned on the first woman, ignoring the blade thrust into my hand. Such details were unimportant, unregistered. I grabbed her, sinking my teeth deep into her throat, sucking, feeling her life trickle into mine. I threw the body to the floor as I felt another stab from behind. The clawed man gave a cry as I grabbed his throat, squeezing, pulling. It came apart underneath my fingers, a sticky mess of gore and splintered bone. The final creature, unaware of the slaughter of it's companions, came forward. I met it, the wolf facing the deer. It's antlers may hurt, may cause small wounds, but my teeth would bring it down. I pounced, roaring, taking the body to the ground. Grunting, my teeth dug into the throat, tearing the flesh, blood spurting from the wound. My mouth found it, drinking deep, grunting as I tasted the iron on my tongue. My eyes flicked from left to right, ears twitching at every sound...and then, I came to my senses. My vision cleared, my mind returned. I looked at the remains of my ambushers. Usually when I fed, barely a puncture mark was noticeable on the victim. Here, the victims were barely recognisable. Sticky, mangled corpses, torn apart by hand and mouth.
Was that you?, I asked the voice inside. Did you do this?
The voice was silent, sated. Troubled, I searched the operating room, finding a freezer key. I used it to open a large metal door, stepping into a storage freezer. Several bloodpacks sat on a shelf, labelled 'Elder Vitae'. Curious, I took them with me.
I walked through the door at the end of the hall, passing through a stone corridor with reinforced doors on each side. Looking through them I could see patients huddled in corners, or chewing at their own restraints, mumbling and laughing under their breath. Shuddering, imaginging what torments they were subjected to, I proceeded through a maintenance shaft, coming to a collapsed roof section. I climbed up the sections of splintered wood, lifting myself into a formal sitting room. I played the tape I found, listening to Grout's panicked voice.
'I am no longer safe. The voices warned me, and they were right. They tell me of his blackest deeds, past and future, and I see his eyes, and know it to be true'. Grout talked of a man he dared not name, of how he was convinced he was to be killed, that he could not keep his fear or suspicion from his face. This was the reason he had decided on seclusion, in order to protect himself. 'The search for a cure for my beloved wife will have to wait.'
I opened the door, revealing an embalmed woman in a glass container. Puzzled, I looked around the room at the small mementos placed on tables surrounding the large glass vial. A rose, a portrait...I concluded that this must be Grout's wife. Suddenly, I realised what ailment Grout had been trying to cure. Death. Was he so far gone as to think his wife still alive? Did he know she was dead, and was trying to bring her back? I wasn't sure. I switched on the gramaphone, listening to the crackling music from a time long past. As the figure in the glass rotated, carried by a clockwork mechanism in it's base, the door behind me locked, and the door in front opened. Hopefully I would find Grout so I could get out of here.
'Well, that explains that', I muttered, looking at the remains on the bed. The impaled skeleton staked and chained to the bed must have been Grout. Was it his absence that had driven the patients mad, or had it just made them wors-
The room shuddered, rocked by a large explosion directly beneath it. I could smell smoke, could feel the heat rising up. Running to the door on the other side of the room, I flung it open.
The entire building was in flames, a man I did not recognise standing on the opposing balcony.
'Do I look like Grout you fucking idiot?', I screamed at the lunatic. 'You already killed him!'
'Well, this seems like the perfect time for a theological discussion', I yelled, my voice dulled by the roar of the flames. 'Now who the hell are you?'
Bach...well, it is you who'll have to be giving names, when they ask who eviscerated you and left you for wild dogs to feast on...
As the man ran off, I jumped from the balcony, running to the only door not on fire. Avoiding Grout's screaming patients as they ran in circles, their skin peeling and bubbling, fire etching their entire bodies, I kicked the door open, and ran through a corridor, the sound of the fire following me. What had they used to create such quick spreading, such hot fire? Running up the stairs, I found myself in another small attic.
A quick scan of the room showed that my only possible escape was through the window. Taking a step back, I rammed it with my shoulder, sending glass flying. I followed not soon after, leaping from the attic down to the grass below, landing on my knees. I turned to face the building, watching at the fire tore through the upper levels, quickly gutting the house. By the time the fire department arrived, I'd be surprised if they found even the hints of what Grout was up to inside. Slightly singed and extremely annoyed, I got back into the cab that against all odds was still waiting by the gate. 'Take me back to LaCroix.'
I walked into the building, my clothes burnt and ripped, my face smudged with ash and soot. I looked at Chunk, bewildered, stunned at his lack of any sort of comprehension or investigation.
'Not now Chunk, I'm going up.'
'Sure thing chief, he's expecting you...', he trailed off, his mind elsewhere. 'I sure could go for a space burger right about now...'
I ignored him, stepping into the open elevator, and riding up to LaCroix. I wrenched the doors open, striding in with long steps, stopped in front of LaCroix's desk. He looked up in surprise and annoyance at my entrance, and began berating me almost instantly.
I spoke through gritted teeth. Somehow I had the suspicion LaCroix already knew everything I was about to tell him.
'In that case, I suggest you hold a seance.'
'He was caught taking a nap. Just as I found his body a man called Bach was setting fire to the place. He sends his regards.'
I looked at LaCroix intently. Did he already know? Was he just playing the part of the distressed leader? I wondered now why I had initially felt in such awe of him. All I felt now was irritation. I would listen to him, do his bidding...so long as it suited me to.
'I didn't say that. Bach was as surprised to find out Grout was dead as I was.' But are you, LaCroix?
I wasn't putting up with that tone any longer. LaCroix was a pompous ass, and whatever power he had held on me felt as if it was slipping away.
'If you would stop talking and let me finish my report', I interjected.
'As I was saying, sir, as I arrived, I saw Nines Rodriguez leaving the building. Although, he was acting very strangely, and would have had to be in two places at once to be there.' LaCroix looked surprised for an instant, then looked at me, eyes blazing.
The feeling that his every word was part of an elaborate act grew. I thought back to my earlier conversation with LaCroix. Why send me there indeed. Especially as I was acting as a go-between between the Camarilla and the Anarchs. I returned to his question.
'I don't, but I suppose you do, captain dramatic.'
And I'm sure you've been thinking on them for a great deal of time, I thought viciously.
'Alright', I murmured. 'What information do you have for me?' I was becoming increasingly curious about this coffin. Everyone seemed to want it, or fear it.
I felt an evil thought come to mind. Deciding to test the range and power of my newly-realised abilities, I leaned familiarly on LaCroix's desk, speaking to him calmly, lazily, like an equal, or at least a favoured child.
'Of course. Unfortunately, I am running a little low on funds right now, your previous jobs have been a little expensive.'
I smiled maliciously. 'You're too kind, my prince', I said, keeping my amusement contained. To think that a charlatan's tongue, a parlour trick, had worked on the great Prince of Los Angeles. 'Now, how do I get into the museum?'
I nodded, pocketing the key. With a curt farewell, I left the office, taking the elevator down. Before I headed to the museum, I needed some better weapons. I unloaded the .38, wondering how much it was worth. It seemed like a worthwhile time to visit Fat Larry.
Maybe he could be persuaded to put me on the most valued customers list.