Savannah Masquerade

Waking up in Savannah

Sound filters through the earth differently than through the air. It’s obvious that it would, but Ellis hadn’t ever thought about it before being turned, hadn’t thought about it before he figured out it even mattered. It wasn’t in his nature to consider things until they mattered. But then, somewhere on his trip down from Detroit, he figured out he could sink down into the soil to stay out of the sun. And it had been a fucking relief to do it, too. No more hiding in dumpsters hoping that nobody looked in there during the day.

So he could just travel after that, and it made the trip a lot easier, not needing to find a place to hide out. Instinctively, he knew the sun would kill him. Even thinking about being outside when it was up made him anxious and queasy. So yeah, being deep in the protective soil was a huge weight off his shoulders.

But he still needed blood. It didn’t have to be from a human. But if it wasn’t, it tasted like shit, and left him hungry. It was weird how he thought like that now. Humans. Like he wasn’t one of them. He guessed it was either considering himself inhuman or considering himself a cannibal. But thinking about that wasn’t go to help him solve any of his mounting problems, so he put it out of his mind whenever it came up.

Not burning to death in the sun. Check. Getting blood to drink every goddamn night was next. He didn’t need it every night, something he learned by necessity, but it was all he could think about from when he woke up until he got it. So on the nights he didn’t… they were long nights.

But he knew how to trap, and animal blood was drinkable. It wasn’t pleasant, but it also wasn’t murder. And it was a lot easier to get ahold of once he started setting out traps before sinking into the ground for the day. And that also meant he didn’t need to go through any population centers. He could just hoof it through the woods, and through fields, and set traps, wake up in the night to feed from whatever was caught in the day, and keep moving. It wasn’t as fast as stealing a car and driving down, but there were no cops involved. He could navigate by the stars and just keep moving. All in all, it took him about a month.

It wasn’t perfect, but nothing ever is. And his goal was to get home, intact and not draw any attention to himself. And that he accomplished. He still had shit to do. A lot of it. And he had a lot of work to figure out how he was going to do that shit with his new… circumstances.

But the trip was good. It gave him a lot of time to think, and to learn how he was going to get his blood. He got good at his traps, and he found with time, he could hear them go off. The scream of the trapped animal didn’t reach him, but the thud of the deadfall striking the ground did, and once the deer or whatever was pinned to the ground, he could hear its panicked heartbeats sure as anything, throbbing through the soil to his ears. It filtered into his dreams, and he would awaken with the sure knowledge that there was blood awaiting him.

And so this night, Sunday, July 29, 1984, started like several others in the past month, with the thud of a trap above him going off, followed by the startled and panicked beating heart of his prey drumming him up from his slumber. Ellis slipped up to the surface of the soil, emerging silently in the darkness to see and hear that, as it happened, this night would be distinctly unlike any previous.

There were two of them, both in shock. The first was pinned with the meat of his thigh skewered through into the ground with a sharpened wood spike, the weight of the log holding the spike in place. He twisted, and then screamed in pain and collapsed back against the ground. The other was incapacitated with indecision. He vacillated between trying to help his friend lift the log off of him, which would have pulled the spike out of his leg and maybe sent him bleeding to death, and running up the ridge to the highway nearby to try to get whatever help could be had by someone stopping for a lunatic on the side of the road.

The smell of blood was thick in the night air, and Ellis could feel his fangs extending unconsciously, and his mouth watering. He could hear the voice in the back of his head saying to just go and drink from him, to put him out of his misery. He was stupid for having gotten caught in the trap to begin with. And besides, he was probably going to bleed to death either way. And even if he lived, there was no way that didn’t end with police tromping all over the area. He almost gave in. He wanted that blood like he wanted nothing else, but he couldn’t just murder some hiker for wandering into the wrong part of the woods. He was not going to just start killing people. He had enough death on his hands already.

The other hiker seemed to have made up his mind, and started making his way up the ridge to the road. Ellis made up his mind as well, resolving to try to save the trapped one from his friend’s stupidity, and followed, gathering the shadows around him as he went, ghosting up behind the hiker, and in one smooth and swift motion, covering his mouth with one hand while wrapping his other arm around his neck, and squeezing. The blood was cut off from the hiker’s brain as the pressure from Ellis’s bicep pressed on his carotid artery, and the hiker went limp in a matter of seconds. He would wake up soon enough with a headache, and maybe some bruises.

But being this close, arms wrapped around this man, Ellis could feel the warmth of his skin, the rushed pumping of his heart, and before he even understood what he was doing, his fangs were out and plunged into the man’s neck. Ellis drank deeply, savoring the taste of life flowing out of this poor soul and into his open mouth, drinking it down into his endless hunger.

He forced himself to stop. Truth be told, he didn’t know how much he had taken. He had been famished, but he was always famished. And now he wasn’t as hungry, but it wasn’t like he felt full. He hadn’t felt full since the first night.

Ellis forced his fangs to retract. He sealed the bite on the hiker’s neck, and then made himself lay the man down on the side of the highway. He turned and stalked back into the woods. The other hiker was where he had left him, still pinned to the ground, still wailing in misery. Ellis felt a mixture of anger and guilt as he cloaked himself in shadow again, and coldly walked around the prone man, passing right in front of him, but completely invisible to his mortal eyes. If these fuckers had just not come this way, this wouldn’t have happened. And there might have been a deer here for him instead. But now he was going to have to try to save this one from dying, and hopefully he wouldn’t lose his leg. And maybe he killed the other one too. And even if he managed not to kill them both, he was going to have to move.

He stepped around the panicked and bleeding hiker and choked him unconscious as well. After fashioning a tourniquet out of the hiker’s belt, he pulled out the spike, and fireman’s carried the unconscious man up to lay him down by his friend on the side of the road. It was a stroke of luck that Ellis could spot a police car within a few minutes of getting there, and was able to flag it down, and then vanish into the darkness before the cop had time to see more than the two unconscious hikers with their flashlights standing on end next to them as beacons.

Ellis still had somewhere to be tonight, and he was already behind schedule.

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Session 1
A Bumpy Start, The Pirate House, and the Cotton Exchange

Sunday, July 29th, 1984

8:30 pm: the sun sets.

Our (anti?)heroes begin to stir and slowly awake over the next hour to another sun-free evening. Ashem, Ellis, and Patrick each begin their nights going out to feed.

Patrick went out to a bar, quickly seduced a woman, fed, and erased her memories of being fed upon. Once he finished he headed to the Pirate House to grab a private dining room and meet with the other kindred left in the city at the regularly scheduled time.

Ashem began the night by smooth talking one of his marks into demanding his investment back before leaving the house to hunt. Ashem then smooth talked a man into following him to an area where they were alone. Once there, Ashem’s supposed victim mugged him. Finally relying upon his vampire powers, Ashem tricked the mugger into running off with chimerical money. He then gave in and stopped into a local bar – “The Tool Shed” – to find some easy prey. Hopefully a meal was all Ashem picked up there.

Ellis went hunting for animals and caught the best animal of all in a bear trap: a human hunter. Unfortunately that wasn’t Ellis’ goal, but his hunger got the best of him and he drank a decent amount from the trapped hunter’s buddy – maybe a mouthful or two too much. He eventually got ahold of himself, freed the trapped hunter, and left the two by the road, where I’m sure they got the help they needed. Right?…R-right?

Saturday July 31st, 1984

12:00 am

Around midnight Ellis showed up at the Pirate House and met up with Patrick in the kindred-only dining room, who he was extremely surprised to see (and who was extremely surprised to see Ellis). As it turns out, the two knew each other from the security consulting world as mortals – and here they are, a little over a year later, meeting as vampires. Small world! After some catch up, Ashem joined them and the three talked about the sudden disappearance of the Savannah elders.

Eventually the trio was joined by Daniel, an obviously wounded man who, when you were near him, clearly smelled of smoke and burnt flesh. Obviously worried about sharing too much, Daniel asked for their help, explaining that the rest of his clan was gone – likely dead – after a fire was set in their Chantry – the Cotton Exchange – during the day. Daniel said that he escaped into the daylight, and the Sun took a toll on him that he found very difficult to heal. With his elders missing and likley dead, he asked for the trio’s help in figuring out what happened.

Throwing caution into the wind, the trio joined Daniel on a trip to the Cotton Exchange that someone who apparently wanted to kill at least some vampires knew to be a vampire residence. This person or group also knew enough to strike during the day. So what could possibly go wrong?

Once inside, Daniel shared that normally everyone except him wouldn’t have been able to get inside the building, at least not without substantial injury, and the same was true about mortals. This was possible because of Tremere Blood Magik. (ooOOOoooOoOO) He guessed that whoever broke in and burned it down during the day knew enough to counter the rituals that had protected the Chantry.

Patrick began to investigate and turned up the source of the fire – two melted plastic gas cans – as well as an interesting fact pattern: who or whatever started the fire appeared to have waited while it burned, trying to avoid burning the room behind the largest door. Then the intruder(s) broke into the room behind the largest door and ransacked the place. (Though Patrick was able to find some kind of fancy, likely magical, stake that he tucked into a pocket inside his jacket.) Daniel said that there were LOTS of magic items in the Chantry that were now gone – either stolen or destroyed in the fire.

Ellis found drops of blood on an exposed nail that had not burnt up in the fire – suggesting that it belonged to someone who came in after the fire, or who was otherwise protected from it (as was her blood). Daniel tasted it and, using Tremere Blood Magik, (ooOOOoooOoOO) determined that it was from a mortal human, but noted that it tasted odd. Daniel explained that the blood was somehow “peppery.” Just then, the three heard what sounded like a woman screaming outside of what was left of the Cotton Exchange. As the trio looked in the direction of the scream, the scene came to a close.

2:00 am

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Ellis's Embrace
Ellis Newton

It took Ellis almost a month to get home, and when he got there, it wasn’t really home anymore. A lot of things were going to be like that going forward.

At the outset, it had been a pretty regular business trip. He flew into the Detroit Metro and the company driver met him at the gate. From there, it was out to the facility. It was some kind of plastics manufactory; there were local environmental activists who claimed the manufacturing process put too many pollutants into the air, saying it was killing the planet. Ellis didn’t know if that was true, but he did know that these activists were breaking into the company facilities and damaging equipment. Pentex employees were showing up for work and all of the forklifts had had their steering wheels hacksawed off and the tires slashed.

It had been escalating. The company had hired extra security guards to patrol the facilities, but it was an added expense that they didn’t want to carry for long, and the turnover for nightshift security was pretty high. It did put a stop to the damage until the activists took advantage of Pentex’s need for new hires and got two of their own people hired in. It took them a while, but they were eventually put on the same shift, and then had unfettered access to the facility for almost 12 hours. They drilled holes in the boiling tanks, derailed the rollers on the feeding lines, dissolved tampons into the gas tanks of every vehicle on the lot. In all, they did a few hundred thousand dollars in damage. Pentext was thanking god for their insurance policy, but if they were going to be covered going forward, the underwriter demanded that they take their security seriously. So, Ellis.

He had the background. He was special forces, a military intelligence officer. He knew how to protect against incursions like this. Some of it was making it difficult to get in. Some of it was making it easy to catch the assholes who did it. And some of it was giving them a honeypot target that minimized the real damage while making it easier to catch the perpetrators. In this case, after three days of evaluation and discussion with management, Ellis suggested a few fixes, including running a 24 hour operation at lower capacity that would keep the facility with more people present than could permit anyone to do too much damage before they were stopped.

It was 12 hour days, followed by evenings at the White Horse, drinking whiskey until it was time to walk over to the Red Roof Inn across the street for the night and up the next morning for more of the same. The last night, after he had finished up business, and was clouding his head for the night’s sleep, there was a long legged woman at the bar with him. She had a wolfish smile and a hint of danger in her eye. Ellis had made the first move, and things had escalated quickly. 

He never actually got her name. They got into the room together, and the wind rustled the curtains as the camera panned away. But things did not go as Ellis planned. There was pleasure, ecstasy even, but there was also blood, and teeth, and ultimately, a long dark tunnel, only there was no light at the end. It only grew darker and darker. Darker than Ellis had believed it could get. And then darker still. Until there was nothing. Death had come. And he felt a presence. An offer was made. He could go back. If he wanted. But whatever lay beyond this darkness was not for him. Be it heaven, hell, or nothing, or something else, beyond the understanding of man. It would be lost to him, forever. But. He could go back.

And he accepted.

The next thing he knew, he was being crushed. He didn’t know where he was, but the smell and taste of filth and dirt was all around him. He could hardly move. He could sense things crawling, near him, on him, his mouth was full, and he tried to spit the dirt out, but there was nowhere for it to go. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t understand. His training had taught him to face the inescapable horrors of war with a cold steely resolve, to slow down, to take a deep breath and count. To closely examine the options he was face with, to truly grasp what was going on. And he fell back on that training now, to take stock of what he knew. And after a few seconds of rational though, Ellis realized that he had been buried alive. And then he panicked. 

His blood boiled, and a mixture of rage and terror and an insatiable hunger filled him with blind strength. He clawed at the soft earth, and snarled and wept and screamed, though there was no way for anyone to hear him. And after a time that felt endless, and which he could not track, he felt the soil give way, his hand breaking the surface of the ground, and he pulled himself up from the shallow grave into the moonlight, the wet, loose soil clinging to his body, his clothes, falling off of him as  he dragged himself loose. 

There were people there. He did not register more than that there were people there. Someone was shouting, cheering. Later, he would dimly recall that there was a fire somewhere behind him. But what he remembers. What he did notice. What he takes with him now, with every time he puts himself to sleep, is the woman who was lying at the foot of his grave. She was tied, hand and foot, gagged with a rope. Terror in her eyes, tears staining her cheeks, her clothes a crumpled and rumpled business casual, looking at him, her eyes pleading for him to save her. But he could not, did not. All he could do was smell the rich, heady blood coursing within her. Her fear only made her heart beat harder. And he knew in retrospect there was no way he could have heard it, but in the moment, and later in his dreams, he felt as though he could.

No hesitation, he had thrown himself on her, sinking his teeth into her neck. She spasmed in his arms, let out a slow sigh, and then went limp. And he drank and drank, until there was nothing left of her, until she was pale and light as the wind. And he felt the rage fade, and the fear recede, and the hunger, at least for that moment, sated. And he let her limp, exsanguinated corpse fall to the ground as he finally stopped and looked around to see the crowd of men and women looking at him, some of them clapping, and some of them engaged in conversation. And then one of them shouted something. And another came forward and clapped his hand down on Ellis’s shoulder and said, “Shit. I knew I should have bet on you. Anyway, welcome to the club.”

Ellis felt that rage again, sudden snarling, ferocious rage, welling up inside him. He wanted to snap this asshole’s hand off at the wrist. No. He wanted to bite it off. And he could feel himself about to. It wasn’t conscious, or controllable. He could feel the fangs in his mouth extending again. Shit. Fangs? He hadn’t even realized he had them until he thought about it. But looking down at the corpse still just at his feet, he could see the two puncture holes in her neck, just above the collarbone, blood smeared on her clothes around the dark holes in her flesh. They were dry as bone.

The crowd around him began to cheer again, this time with more enthusiasm, and he looked to where their attention was drawn. For the first time, he realized he was standing in a graveyard. Behind him, next to the hole in the ground where he had just come from was a headstone. There were headstones all around. And other people tied up and gagged, just like the woman… He shook his head. He didn’t have time to think about that. There was a hand coming up out of the ground three graves over from him, groping around, pulling, and a woman’s head, covered in fresh earth, emerged. She was screaming, dirt pouring off her, in her hair, falling out of her mouth. Her eyes were a bloodshot red, her mouth open, fangs extending, an animal fury on her face. There was nothing human in her at that moment as she struggled to free herself from the ground. Ellis would later learn her name was Shelby.

The people tied on the ground, and especially the man immediately in front of Shelby were squirming and trying to scream, but of course, they could hardly move, and any sound they could make was drowned out by the sound of the cheering around them. Shelby finally got herself loose and leapt for the man. Ellis shrugged off this asshole’s hand on his shoulder and jumped for the forward at the same time. He couldn’t believe what he had just done, and he didn’t understand what was happening, but he could at least keep it from happening again. He tackled Shelby sideways, just before she closed with the man on the ground.

Ellis didn’t see or hear what happened next, but he couldn’t move again. There were four faces looking down at him. One of them was the woman from last night. She was saying something. Another one of the faces looking down on him nodded impassively. He leaned close to Ellis’s face, looking him straight in the eyes, and all he said was “Sleep.” And Ellis slept.

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