Chapter LXIX: The Bloodprice
Someone had done a number on the building. Rubble from the tower had fallen into the street, molten, broken metal beams smoking in the night air, steam rising from the still glowing steel. I looked up, seeing the smoke wafting from the midpoint of the tower. Something was definitely amiss, and I didn't think that it was one of the Prince's fits of pique. I hurried inside the building, gun in hand.
The lobby was empty. Blood smeared the front of the desk, a large pool at the front.
If somebody's killed Chunk, I'm not going to be happy. Small droplets marked a trail through the security gate, and ran up the stairs.
The blood continued towards the elevators, ending in a bright red smear and hand-print on the door. I sniffed the air, but the blood was cooling now. Whoever had made that mark was probably dead. But by who's hand? I slammed my fist into the button, the lift doors opening. The inside was as clean as ever, no sign of any damage or struggle. Whoever had made it to the lift had made it no further. I shrugged my shoulders impatiently as I waited to reach the penthouse suite, trotted into LaCroix's office as the doors opened.
LaCroix stood waiting, his smug smile belying his cold fury. I sauntered up to the desk, playing on his irritation, the frivolous underling in the court of the Jester King.
'Somebody made a mess downstairs. You should probably call housekeeping.'
'Oh dear, they say persecution complex is a sign of a man on the edge. Which "they" would it be this time?'
LaCroix paid no attention to my insubordination.
Somehow I couldn't imagine the Prince lowering himself to 'dealing' with anyone personally. It wasn't the man's style. Wouldn't want to muss your hair, would you princess?
'So why come knocking on the door of your empire?'
That's what you did, sinner. The Beast taunted me. Tasty though, wasn't it? Bet you wouldn't mind a little more of the special sauce. I wonder how our kind taste compared to the Chinese appetiser?
Shut up!, I thought harshly. I didn't mean to. I was dying, I didn't have a choice. It's not something I'll ever do again!
The voice only laughed. Internally, I simmered. Externally, I kept my face still, praying that there was no way that anyone would know what had transpired. That was, if there was anyone I could pray to.
'So, what happens now?'
'Yeah, I sure can.' I turned to the Sheriff. 'You heard the man, go catch those pesky rustlers.' LaCroix frowned.
Ever get the feeling you're expendable, sinner? No, that your continued existence is a thorn in everybody's side?
'Go in, alone, and wipe out the L.A. Sabbat, who have been plaguing you for much longer than I've been alive', I deadpanned. 'Sure, then I'll take out the sun too.'
'Right. I'm on it.'
'You may want to sit down, my Prince. It appears, to unlock the Sarcophagus...you need...a key!'
'No, but Happy Birthday. Bach is dead.'
I sneered at the man.
'He died because I had no choice. I took no pride in it.' I turned on my heel, and walked towards Beckett. The scholar had watched the conversation with the same air of contempt that I had felt.
'Looks like it's been a busy night for everybody, wouldn't you say Beckett?'
I laughed. Beckett's demeanour and dismissal of events as nothing more than hysteria were spirit-lifting, as was the man's friendship. He spoke to me as an equal, notable in comparison with the way he regarded LaCroix, as something barely bordering on sentience.
'I got the professor out in one piece. He's grabbing his things from the hotel, and LaCroix's cabbie is taking him straight to the airport. He's going to be fine.'
Beckett smiled in gratitude.
'You were right. Assyrian.'
'Yeah. Strange thing is though, that the carvings along the side are of a woman called Lamatsu.'
Beckett frowned, running his finger along his chin.
'Don't ask me. Johansen mentioned that historical records don't add up, and for Messerach to have done all he's supposed to have done, he'd have to be 250 years old. Something is amiss, that's for sure.'
Beckett waved his hand.
'Nothing more than superstition. Historical records that old are hardly reliable, particularly regarding time.'
'True. Well, LaCroix's sent me on a bug hunt. You think a man of his power would be able to afford professional exterminators.'
I took the lift back to the lobby, and headed out of the doors. Before heading to the hotel, I thought I should return to the Haven, and restock and resupply.
As soon as I opened the door to the Chantry, I could tell something was badly wrong. The air was too still, the building too quiet. I proceeded up the stairs, that feeling of wrongness becoming stronger. My stomach sank. The door showed signs of being forced open, the lock broken, the wood around the hinge splintered. I threw the door open.
'Heather?' I called. Checked the bed. The small kitchen. Threw open the bathroom door. 'Heather?' I panicked. Something had come. For me, or had it come specifically for her? No sign of struggle, but the door. I hurried back down the stairs, and went to find the Regent.
'Strauss!' I ran into the man's private room, my eyes wild. 'Heather is missing.'
The vampire turned to regard me with his calculating eyes.
'And what concern of mine is that, Neonate?' I stood, stunned at his callous disregard.
'She is important to me, and was under your care! That is your concern!'
The Regent rolled his eyes, his lip curling.
'I am not your Ghoul's keeper. Frankly I am surprised someone was so easily able to breach your haven, but that probably says more about your inexperience than anything else. She was a frivolous distraction from what is important, Neonate, nothing more.'
Fury rose in me. The crazy fortune teller had been right. Trust no-one. I was a playing piece for every other player on the board. Nothing more. Trust the man on the couch, the lone wolf. No-one else. I looked at the Regent with bared, teeth, my one eye focusing on him with loathing.
'If something has happened to her, I swear-'
'You swear what, fledgling? You dare to presume any sort of power over me, any retribution? It appears I was wrong about you. You know nothing of what it is to be Tremere. Leave this Chantry. Your presence is no longer welcome.'
I spat at the man's foot, the blood landing on the toe of his expensive red leather boot.
'You are right. I want no part of this cherade.' Strauss' condescending laugh followed me out of the building. I had been a fool. I should have sent her away, made her safe. If something had happened to her, I'd never forgive herself.
Somehow, I had a feeling I knew who took her, and where. Slamming the door so hard the hinges creaked, I broke into a run.