Chapter LXVI: Understanding
After an incredibly inane conversation with Chunk, who didn't seem to notice my latest maiming, I managed to get the Sarcophagus up to LaCroix's office with the help of some suited Ventrue goons. Beckett had been standing, waiting, and now regarded me with his trademark wry smile. I turned to face LaCroix. Struggled, to keep my face calm, to show some sort of sensation of victory. Struggled, as the idea to reach across and tear his tongue from his lying lips.
Poise. Calm. A smile. A wave. Patience.
'Indeed. The Giovanni would send their regards, if any were left. As it is, I've traded an eye for this thing.'
'What? Oh, of course of course.' LaCroix dismissed the injury with a flick of his hand. 'You're a young fledgling, it will grow back eventually.'
We walked over to the Sarcophagus, LaCroix's expression undisguised greed. Beckett's expression, on the other hand, was one of amused contempt. He looked at me, visibly rolling his eyes at me as the Prince ran his hands over the coffin.
'What a marvel. What can you tell me of it's origins?'
'Assyrian, if I'm not mistaken...which I'm usually not', Beckett deadpanned. 'The carvings are quite unique.'
'Yes yes, of course of course', LaCroix said impatiently. 'Well, time to see what all the fuss has been about. I wonder what's inside.' LaCroix pushed heavily against the stone lid, which didn't move an inch. He struggled, exertion plain on his face, his feet scraping against the varnished wood.
'Stuck tight. Beckett, do you see any kind of locking mechanism or switch anywhere?'
'I haven't yet had time to go over it with my fine-tooth comb...I think I have one in my bag.'
'Does this look like the time for jokes?', LaCroix snapped.
'There is someone in town who knows a little more about the Sarcophagus than I do', Beckett said. 'He may know how to open it. A professor, in ancient history, I'm led to believe.'
LaCroix turned, his face frustrated.
You were willing to wait, in your alliance with Ming Xiao, LaCroix. Why is it so urgent now?
'You! Find the professor, and find out what he knows!' He stormed back to his desk, and stared moodily at the window.
How did this man come to rule L.A? I was speechless, amazed, and becoming increasingly contemptuous of the Kindred who allowed themselves to be ruled by this man, who allowed themselves to be beaten by this man. He's a petulant child, no matter how old he is. Beckett looked at me, unspoken communion between us, and smiled once more.
'Good to see you don't believe in this Gehenna crap, despite how stirred up everyone else is about the whole thing. What do you think is in there?'
'Yeah, alright.' I laughed, genuinely for the first time that night, perhaps in many. Was Beckett the lone wolf, the one I could trust? I hoped so...he seemed above the petty politics, the games. He was in this mess because knowledge was his master. He sought to understand. In that, we were aligned. 'Stupid question, it's been a long night. Anything else you can tell me about this big stone box?'
'Oh, you know, the usual. Comes up all the time.'
I knew it was the professor Beckett mentioned earlier, but I couldn't help myself.
'Oh, that guy on the history channel, the one with the viking helmet? He's great!'
'I'm kidding.' Beckett looked so honestly confused in that moment that I felt almost guilty, as well as triumphant. It probably wasn't often that someone got the drop on him in a conversation.
'Excellent. Where do we find him?'
'Fuck!' I slammed my hand against the Sarcophagus, ignoring LaCroix's frown. 'There's always something!'
'Complications? Complications have cost me half my visual field.' Beckett's wry smile became more friendly, his unsettling eyes compassionate.
'Believe it or not, my angry young friend, it won't take too long for it to grow back. A few days rest, and it will be just as good as before. In fact, you continue to surprise me with your resilience for one so young.'
'Thanks...like I said, it's been a long night. Right, it looks like it's time for me to do some more fieldwork. Any evidence in his room?'
'You...got all that, from some perfume and a bootprint?'
I grinned evilly.
'I figured there was more than you were letting on. So what did they say?'
'I guess I'm the minion. I hate that term. Makes me sound so...I dunno...second rate.'
'I figured that I'd be flying solo, I seem to get all the messy jobs. How do I get to this monastery?'
LaCroix has more debts to settle than cab fare...
'Right, I'm sure the driver knows where to go. Before I go, why don't you tell me a little more about yourself?'
'Heh...me? I'm nothing worth hearing about. Born a few nights ago, just one man struggling to hold the Beast, and actually survive. How do you do it? I've spent every night since I was sired being shot at, a target for every man, vampire and weirdling that comes out of the bushes, lost, dazed and constantly hungry. How do you cope?'
'No, that's all for now, I better pick up our wayward friend.'
'Gotcha.' My face softened. 'Despite what you may have heard, I don't kill for the fun of it. I'll get him out in one piece.'
Beckett smiled that smile of his, but said nothing. I left the building, and made a beeline for the hospital. The Giovanni Book seemed to be burning a hole in my pack, making my skin itch, my flesh crawl. It was almost as if despite the thick leather I wore, my body was pulling away, trying to avoid contact with the leather bound tome.
You think it's tanned cow? The Beast chuckled unpleasantly. I tried to shut it out as I walked into Pisha's den.
The spider stepped from a shadow, her face still wet with gore. Had she found another victim, or not cleaned herself since the last one? I could not understand her complete lack of regard for her own appearance. It was like she actively embraced her destructive nature, rather than shying away or feeling responsible for it.
'Here's the book.'
'I went to pay them a visit', I responded shortly. 'They won't be needing it anymore.'
I laughed dryly.
'Somehow, I don't think that's an option. I'm in the goddamned middle of it, no matter how much I want out.'
'Cheery thought.' I looked at the blood-splattered woman, who both told me we were not allies, but also gave me warning. She was mysterious, alien. Not as obviously alien as the Tzmisce, but in her own way, even more distant from human than the clans I had met. Despite their appearance, the manner of the Nosferatu was still somehow human. Pisha was more of a shadow of humanity. An outline, an unshaded semblance, but ultimately indistinct and unknowable. I shrugged, shaking my head. Some things, I just wasn't going to understand. Not now, maybe not one hundred years from now, should I live that long.
'Enjoy the book.'