Capital Intrigue

Part Five: Princely Investigations

"What the HELL are you on?"

Portia awoke in Gideon’s room at the Chateau de Laurier to find it empty with the exception of a note on the pillow beside her own, admonishing her to “Stay Alive.” She pocketed the note and gathered her things, returning to her apartment and preparing for work after a session of sword practice. At work, there are several serious burn injuries and fatalities incurred due to smoke inhalation. Though she treated them as best she could, many were beyond saving. When her shift ended, she went home and switched on the television to watch the news. In addition to the regular reports of violence erupting just at the border of Hull and Ottawa, there was a report of a fire being started at St. Matthias’ Church – undoubtedly the cause of the greater numbers of ER victims. As she watched, her phone chirruped with a text. Portia checked the anonymous message, which simply ordered her to go downstairs to a waiting car.

A bit suspicious, she pulled on a jacket and grabbed her purse, making her way to the street curb, where a black SUV waited in silence. The back door popped open – yet there was still no one there. She approached slowly and, seeing no one in the back seat, poked her head inside and asked of the driver: “Who sent you? Where are we going?”

“The Prince wants to see you.” He responded gruffly, matter-of-factly.

Against her survival instinct, Portia climbed into the back seat and closed the door behind her. The SUV took her back to the Chateau and she was escorted to the very top, frisked, and her purse taken away before she was permitted to enter the room with the Prince. In there was the ruler along with his very, very tall and very inhuman looking bodyguard. The Prince seemed agitated, pacing back and forth rapidly. It emerged over the course of the conversation that he believed the Toreador – namely, Scarlett – were openly plotting and moving against him and that the Brujah would be soon to follow. Even the Tremere and Nosferatu were not above his suspicion. Portia expressed concern about being sent alone into a Kindred stronghold and, after some deliberation, the Prince decided that he would assign her a new ‘handler’ while Gideon was in Toronto on business (for her own protection, of course) and ordered her to go and investigate the arson at St. Matthias’ Church, as it had been seemingly important to the Sabbat and Dr. Moreau, and he believed a mortal might have a better chance of wheedling information from a Tremere than another Kindred might. Being under Ronan’s orders to continue the investigation, she couldn’t refuse and so was driven to the site.

The church itself was encircled with yellow police tape and, inside, the authorities still seemed to be investigating. There was a group of gawking pedestrians as well as a tall priest in their midst. Portia made her way through the dwindling crowd and took up a position beside him, querying in what she hoped was a sufficiently off-handed manner, “Was anybody hurt? It looks like it was a pretty fierce fire.”

“Oh, a few unfortunates,” He agreed in a deep voice, making some attempt at sounding regretful, but mostly just sounding distant and unconcerned. “But the majority of those present were unharmed.”

“Were you inside when it happened?” She hefted her purse, standing on tiptoe to peer through partially open doors.

“Most certainly. Though I’m certain the Prince would have you ask more pertinent questions than that.” He gave her a long, steady look, practically daring her to deny who sent her there.

After a brief hesitation, Portia extended her hand to be shaken. “That he would. Portia Blackwood. Do you have a place where we could speak privately?”

He shook her hand firmly with his large, cold one. “Father Keane. I have another office in Kanata, if you don’t mind asking the driver to go out of his way.” The two of them made their way to a sister church outside of the city, where a priest immediately offered his workspace to Father Keane, who accepted it solemnly. Once inside, he offered Portia a seat, and the two regarded each other from opposite sides of a mahogany desk. The discussion indicated that the fire had most certainly been the result of arson, though a few details were curious: for example, those present had been meeting in the basement instead of the church proper. Additionally, those present had been only Kindred and their ghouls. Those who had been killed were the poor mortals who had panicked, being trapped downstairs, and attempted to flee straight into the fire. Those who stayed in place suffered from the effects of breathing too much smoke, which killed a significant number. Naturally, the Kindred were unharmed and relatively undisturbed by the loss of their ‘flock.’

Father Keane probed Portia for any information about the Prince’s state of mind that she could offer, which she mostly avoided sharing, and he seemed very unforthcoming about what had happened to the former Prince, who had been a Tremere himself. If Father Keane’s words were to be believed, he was merely “on vacation.” With no reason to doubt him, Portia instead requested a look around the burned church when possible. Stipulating that she would be under escort and abiding by the rules of their hospitality, Father Keane agreed and gave her an appointed time to show up the next night before dismissing her.

Portia made her way home after thanking him for his time. Once there, she took a seat and flipped open a book, curling up to continue her research into whatever dubious tidbits she could unearth about Kindred and Faerie alike.

“I don’t know what you expect to find in these.” Came a skeptical, gravelly voice from behind her chair. “Most of this is BULLshit.”

Twisting around in her armchair, Portia came face to face with someone she could only assume to be a Nosferatu. “Um…” She managed eloquently. “… Who are you?”

“Call me Scratch.” He continued to flip through some of her books before glancing over in her direction. “The Prince assigned me to keep an eye on you while you’re investigating; not that you’re very good at it. Don’t ask any worthwhile questions.”

“What are the worthwhile questions?”

“Ahahahaha. That would be telling.” He set the book in his hands down. “Say, you don’t have anything to drink in here, do you?”

“I’m… assuming you don’t mean something alcoholic so, no, I’m afraid not.” Portia closed her own book and carefully put it to one side, standing up to face the surprise visitor more directly.

“Great,” Scratch grumped, “Means I’ll have to go hunting before sunrise. Unless you care to offer me some of yours.” His eyes glinted with dark humor as he began to advance, acting as though the answer would be an affirmative.

“I don’t make a habit of that, no.” Portia hastily denied.

“Why not? You might even enjoy it. Unless you’re someone’s property already… someone’s blood doll? Is that it?”

“I am no one’s property!” Came the indignant reply, which in retrospect might not have been the most wise response, though it was the most honest.

Scratch grinned and closed the distance. “Well then, you won’t mind being a good host then, will you? Most Kine who have a lot of Kindred visitors have the good graces to keep a supply handy.”

Beginning to find a healthy level of skittishness, Portia moved to put the chair between them and eyed him warily. “I am not letting you bite me! You will just have to go out as normal. I’ll try to have some on hand next time, though.”

Though he might have pressed the issue, something else caught his attention. Lying on the living room table was the rare, first edition of Dracula that had been gifted/recommended to Portia by Vlad. He picked it up ever so slowly, eyes narrowing with suspicion. “And where… did you get this?”

“I bought it at the secondhand shop down on Clyde.” Portia reiterated the not-quite-lie-not-quite-truth that she had committed to keeping.

“BULLshit!” He exclaimed, waving it in her face accusingly. “No way this just shows up in a store! Someone gave it to you or you were meant to find it.”

“Then maybe I was meant to find it.” She responded impatiently, hoping she sounded more angry than nervous.

Scratch flipped through it, scowling suspiciously at its pages. “Are you in cozy with the Tzmisce?”

“Certainly not,” She sniffed haughtily. “Besides, given how much everyone seems to know about my personal life, you’d know if I was.”

He gave a low, ugly laugh at that. “You mean cozy like you and Gideon? That ain’t how the Tzmisce work… you wouldn’t even remember it if they got their claws into your pretty little head.” For a moment, there was silence as Portia glared and Scratch weighed his options. “So what’s to stop me from taking this straight to the Prince, huh? What’s in it for me if I don’t?”

“I… could be persuaded to be a more accommodating host.” She offered carefully.

“Like how?”

“I haven’t offered you a drink.” She pointed out meaningfully, igniting a small spark of understanding in the information broker’s features.

“I guess that sounds fair,” He agreed casually, tossing the book back onto the table.

“You have to promise you’ll stop, though!” She added, feeling her heart begin to race. “I don’t want to wind up dead.”

“Heheheh, I promise I’ll try. And if I kill you, I’ll bring you back.” He leered, somehow managing to look even more unsettling than before. Gritting her teeth, she offered him her wrist, which was bitten, as expected. The first few minutes progressed without incident, until Portia began to feel light-headed.

“I think you’re taking too much,” She informed him… yet he did not stop. “Hey!” She protested, attempting to pull free and failing miserably. “I’m serious, you could kill me!” Black spots began to fade in and out of her vision, her knees wobbling ever so slightly. Becoming genuinely alarmed, she grabbed the nearest book and whacked him upside the head with it. Though the blow was too weak to even bruise, it seemed to get his attention. As he released her wrist, Portia fell over in an undignified heap.

“Hoooooly shit…” He swayed a bit on his feet, closing his eyes and licking his lips with obvious satisfaction. “What the hell are you on?”

“I’m not ‘on’ anything.” Came Portia’s somewhat muffled and resentful reply.

“No, really.” Scratch blinked down at her and squinted, trying to clear his vision. “I gotta get me somma that.” She pulled herself up from the ground, trying not to bleed on the carpet or furniture, and stumbled to the bathroom, where she began to clean and bandage her wrist with a first aid kit. Scratch followed Portia and kept blinking in her in that foggily disbelieving way. “You look good.” He marvelled after a moment of watching. “Weird… but good. Even more than before.”

Portia side-eyed him with probably warranted suspicion. “Focus on the weird part,” She advised sternly. “I don’t want you to bite me again; that was far too close for comfort.”

“Here.” He bit at his own wrist and then offered it to her. “It’ll help you heal faster.”

Portia’s side-eyeing of Scratch intensified at that. “I hope you’ll understand when, as a medical professional,” She turned her suspicion on his bloody wrist, “I say that I definitely do not drink blood.” He shrugged and licked at it, causing the wound to seal over almost immediately. Mumbling to himself about needing to go handle some things, he stumbled his way to the front door and let himself out, clearly high as hell and tripping like he licked a toad. Portia herself collapsed into bed and slept deeply, without dreaming, until the next day. When she awoke, she called Ronan to see if she could get permission to let one vampire know she was a faerie, using the reasoning that hostile ones were going to bite her anyways and it would probably be wise to have a friendly one aware of exactly why it was so dangerous for this to occur. He agreed, but claimed the right of veto power and insisted she clear it with him first. When she offered up Gideon’s name as a possibility, he considered it and then agreed that he could be bargained with.

At the appointed time, she made her way to St. Matthias’ church, where Father Keane was waiting for her outside. Together they explored the church, which was relatively intact, given that it was constructed primarily of stone. They descended into the basement, which turned up similarly few clues, with the exception of runic writings on the wall that seemed to shift or vanish whenever Portia tried to observe them directly. The Tremere Kindred balked when she pulled out her phone and prepared to take a picture, seeming nearly ready to snatch it from her hands and dash it against the wall if she hadn’t stopped in time. He made it clear that she was under no circumstances to take pictures of ANYTHING down there. Placatingly, she immediately put the phone away again and apologized for the assumption. There was also evidence on the ground of a spot that was more pale, more clear of dirt than the rest of the room, seemingly in the shape of a podium or stand or something similar. Beyond that, however, she found little of import. Forced to admit the trail was cold here, she thanked Father Keane for his time and cooperation, promising that she would relay his helpfulness to the Prince when next they spoke.

The meeting with the Prince was exceptionally brief, as he seemed to be even more distracted and paranoid than the time prior. His suspicions extended to include the Tremere and he soon seemed to lose all awareness that she was still present, so she excused herself rather nervously.

When she went to work the next day, she was paged by Gideon to leave her usual shift to once again meet him in the Psychiatric Ward to perform preliminary evaluations on patients that did/did not require further attention from a mental health professional. Though Portia was uncomfortable with being asked to make such a judgment call, she came along. For the most part, the people who were still being held were definitely in no frame of mind to be released. There was, however, one teenage girl named Jackie whose file reported that she had been having schizoid hallucinations about fantastical creatures; kings, dragons, and faeries. This struck an uncomfortably familiar chord. Peeking in through the door, she clearly saw that the girl was a Sidhe. She excused herself from Gideon and made a call to Ronan, stating her discovery that she had just found a fellow Faerie in chrysalis. Apparently, he had made a bargain with Dr. Moreau to allow experiments on Faeries in exchange for the Malkavian using his contacts to notify Ronan whenever a changeling was admitted to any mental ward under his influence sphere. Again, exceedingly unconcerned, he ordered Portia to take the girl to the nearest noble – to which Portia replied with frustration that she WAS the nearest noble. He laughed and said, “Well, I guess you’ve got a new charge then, don’t you?”

When the conversation ended, Portia asked to speak to Jackie alone, without Gideon present. Though he raised his eyebrows, he didn’t argue, and she proceeded to give the girl the good news that she wasn’t crazy and would be released to go home just as soon as her sister arrived to pick her up. Significantly more awkwardly, she also revealed to the girl that the visions she had been seeing were real. Though Jackie seemed to go back and forth between believing it and wanting to be normal, she did let Portia know that Dr. Moreau had held group sessions with her and five other ‘Shifter People’, as he dubbed them, and that they weren’t crazy either. Before leaving, Jackie gave Portia an impulsive hug, thanking her for reassuring her that she wasn’t insane. Portia also promised to call her within the week to talk more about the Faerie business, if she wanted. Gideon attempted to question Portia about the meaning behind her private conversation, but she ducked the queries, brushing it off as a shared experience, as she had once been hospitalized at a mental ward. Dubious, he let it slide and she returned to work as normal.

After her shift the next night, she and Gideon stepped out for a friendly pint and had a pleasant conversation, discussing matters both mundane and masquerade. During the discussion, he revealed and explained how blood bonds and ghouls were formed, causing her to be grateful that she hadn’t accepted Scratch’s offer. When the pints were done, they parted ways.

During the next day, before work, Portia ordered a silver Ankh tie tack online and had it expedited so that it would hopefully arrive the next day. Afterwards, she attended her second sword lesson and then made her way to work when it concluded. After Portia finished her shift at work, she sent a text to Scarlett, taking her up on the offer of shoe shopping. Unfortunately for Portia’s wallet, Scarlett’s idea of shopping was exceptionally high end. She took her to a boutique so classy that it was rumored to have only thirteen customers in the entirety of Ottawa. It was, however, very chic, with mobile displays and perfect lighting and the most plush changing rooms Portia had ever seen. Scarlett and the owner of the establishment gushed over each other non-stop, while fitting Portia for very expensive heels. This is, she thought to herself, what credit cards are for, right?

Upon discovering that Portia had nothing worthy of wearing to the Chateau de Laurier, Scarlett immediately insisted that they find a dress within the boutique’s selection as well. Initially, Scarlett selected a pair of very scanty (while still remaining classy) black dresses, similar in design, but different enough to distinguish. One of which she tried on herself and the other on Portia. The owner took some measurements and promised to tailor them to perfection, and Scarlett dove back in to search for another one. This time, she returned with a flowing, floor-length gown of a deep autumn green, iridescent with other fall colors. The proprietor gushed over how green was absolutely her color – a vision sent to him by the gods, even! In return, Scarlett insisted that Portia pick one out for her. Portia also opted for a gown, but chose one in the most ravishingly flamboyant shade of red possible, which sent Scarlett into paroxysms of glee that she knew her favourite color.

Scarlett insisted on paying for the lot of it, claiming that it was scarcely a gift at all because the salary of a surgeon couldn’t possibly compare to the accumulated wealth of the woman who had invented flapper fashions in the 20s, and besides, it made her truly happy to enhance beauty with beautiful clothing. She seemed confident that she could purchase anything – just not everything she wanted. At that, she gave Portia a look, perhaps insinuating something more. Portia had to concede the point, glossing over that which was left unmentioned and accepting the gift while lamenting that she had no idea what to buy the immortal who had almost everything! Scarlett was quick to reassure her that anything would do. The two took a taxi back to Portia’s apartment to drop off Portia’s things, and somehow Scarlett managed to wheedle the driver into waiving the fare.

Once they put Portia’s clothes away upstairs, they chatted about her tryst with Gideon (briefly) though Portia was coy about giving away any details and reluctant to call him her boyfriend, citing past experiences with being drawn to bad boys like a moth to flames. Scarlett sympathized a bit, sharing her own experience with being Embraced by a lover, who drifted away from her in unlife because the passion had died away. They also discussed the tendencies of the Toreador and how close they are to humanity, how much they adore beautiful things and understanding the beautiful tragedy of the exquisitely brief lives that humans lead. This lead to Scarlett asking, “You aren’t friends with Heinrich, are you?” She made it quite clear that she found all of the Brujah to be distasteful and even expected that he had something to do with the paint-bombing of the art gallery, since he is the Brujah primogen. She mused briefly that Enlai seemed to be his only weakness, at which point Portia commented that she sounded surprisingly Machiavellian. Portia wasn’t quick to call Heinrich a friend, exactly, though she did make it clear that she got on well with him and liked him a fair amount.

Scarlett didn’t press the issue, though she seemed disgruntled by it. She offered to be roomies with Portia, should she ever want to leave the apartment she was in, and tried to tempt her with promises of access to the art gallery and pool whenever she felt like it – why, she herself frequently took naked visits to both! This lead to the two of them discussing the wildest things they’d ever done, at which point Portia admitted to breaking into Big Ben with a few friends after an epic bender. The police came almost immediately, of course, but she wasn’t one of the unfortunates who were apprehended. For Scarlett, she had dated a man who had “heard the call of Gaia” and was fated to become a werewolf. She stayed with him until he turned and, sigh, just had to rip him to pieces when he tried to attack her, since he would never, ever be a normal man again, just a ravening beast, and it was so heartbreaking to have to kill him in the blink of an eye. Portia, knowing nothing about werewolves, didn’t think to question the information and gave Scarlett a few pats on the back in sympathy for her loss (being careful not to question out loud how vicious the action seemed.)

Scarlett offered to date Portia if she should ever decide that she liked girls, at which point Portia mentioned that she liked both men and women, she just happened to have her eyes caught by Gideon at the moment. Scarlett pretended to pout and insisted that she had to have caught Portia’s eye, which Portia agreed with heartily, assuring the Toreador that she was absolutely gorgeous. Scarlett reassured Portia that she was just fine with being besties, as she didn’t lack for any attention and could have any mortal in the city, but would be quite happy to have her. With that, she kissed Portia on both cheeks and flounced away, promising that they had to go shopping again sometime, and have a sleepover with wine and movies!

Left alone again, Portia took up her sword and began to practice the katas she had been learning in the class, hoping to get them memorized more swiftly than she would without extra practice. From over her shoulder, a gravelly voice startled her. “You really think that’s going to save you? I’ve seen better swordplay in kids movies.”

She whirled around and, seeing no one, ventured a guess. “Scratch?” He laughed and stepped into sight from thin air, advancing on her with a somewhat unbalanced manner.

“I dunno what the fuck you were on last time, but I want MORE.” Despite Portia’s insistence that she wasn’t on any drugs, he persisted in demanding more blood. Eventually, even through what sounded like the junkie-fiending-for-a-fix ranting, she determined that the Nosferatu had seen himself as an incredibly handsome man and ached beyond reason to see it again, to feel all of the filth and ugliness he had endured for the past countless years was worth it. His desperation began to wear at her insistence of saying no – partially because she was worried he would attack her despite the refusal, and partially because she was beginning to feel genuinely sorry for his plight and wanted to help. When he promised her anything in return, she made him refine the promise to include three conditions in exchange for one cup. One: He would not ask for more. Two: He would give her one secret in exchange for it. And Three: He would return to her when sober and NOT craving it, to have a talk about it. He was offended at the last, insisting he wasn’t an addict, but she insisted. When he agreed, she went into the bedroom and withdrew a syringe from a medical kit in her duffel bag. With it, she filled a cup with her blood and then offered it to him. He guzzled it greedily, licking every last drop from it and then setting it down hard as he shuddered, feeling it rush through him.

When he opened his eyes, Portia realized that he was seeing her Faerie Seeming – her true self. More than that, she could see him as he had seen himself before, somehow transformed into an incredibly handsome man in the Dreaming by her blood running through his veins. Grateful, he collapsed at her feet and flung his arms around her in a gigantic hug, as big as he could manage, all the while on the verge of tears, thanking her and declaring her a goddess, swearing that he would never harm her and that he was infinitely remorseful for spying on her all these past weeks. Awkwardly, she tried to comfort him, saying that she understood he was doing his job, but maybe he could leave her personal life out of the accounts from here on out. He agreed immediately, even going so far as to offer to kill anyone who knew about her personal affairs. She was hasty to promise him that it wouldn’t be necessary. Suddenly, Portia realized that in her distraction, both of them had been drawn into the Dreaming itself instead of merely seeing aspects of it in each other. They were in the middle of a meadow, the grass waving all around them gently, and a copse of trees surrounding. From within the trees came a trio of handsome men – Sidhe, specifically – and began to circle the two.

They taunted her, wondering why she had brought a child of Lilith into the Dreaming, and into someone’s domain uninvited, no less. One of them reached out and backhanded Scratch across the face. Where the blow fell, his handsome features melted away, revealing the Nosferatu visage beneath. Scratch grasped at his face, desperately trying to hide the ugly half, begging no one to look at him. Portia insisted they leave him alone, as he was there under her guardianship and therefore had more rights than most strangers to the Dreaming. At this, they laughed at her, still circling, and mocked her for not knowing what she was talking about. The one who struck Scratch before attempted to hit him again, but she stepped into the way and deflected it. Further, they insinuated that Ronan was ‘doing things’ to the Faeries in his court, always leaving them in the dark. Why, they even bet that she didn’t know how to get out of the Dreaming with her Child of Lilith in tow. She called them on that bet and grasped at Scratch’s hands, pulling the both of them back into the real world. It took a few for him to calm down and for him to realize that something had actually happened instead of being a bad trip. When his mental faculties had finally cleared enough, he managed to ask Portia: “What /are/ you?”

Anxious and not wanting to waste her one single permission from Ronan to let someone know what she was, Portia replied very carefully. “I’m… not allowed to say.” Scratch boggled at her for a moment before calling bullshit and asking why. She thought for a moment before telling him that she had made a promise, but that he should look at the books lying around in the living room. Still somewhat high from the blood, it took him awhile, but eventually he figured out that she was referring to the books about Celtic mythology.

“Holy fucking shit.” He breathed, staring at her. “You’re a fuckin’ FAERIE?”

Somewhat awkwardly, she reiterated. “I’m not allowed to say.” He urged her to tap her finger twice if he was right, and she obliged, causing him to swear loudly again. “But you can’t tell anyone!” She insisted. “Not your head of clan, especially not the Prince, not anyone!”

“This is the best secret in two hundred years and you’re telling me I can’t tell ANYBODY?!” Desperate to give him a reason to be on her side, Portia made an offer to give him a vial of blood weekly in exchange for his silence and occasional omission of details about her personal life when making reports. He seemed awed at the idea of a steady supply and – though he wanted to press for more, she insisted that she couldn’t afford to lose more blood than that, and he acquiesced. Then, recalling that besides the Sidhe attack, he had just experienced what he had hoped for, he asked her: “Did you see me? Was I handsome?”

Portia nodded, confirming that she definitely had. He gave her a look and then asked, “Did I look good enough that you’d do me?” She laughed nervously, then shrugged and said, “Probably!” This seemed to cause him to marvel, commenting that even when he’d looked alive he had never looked that good, nor had anyone as gorgeous.

Somewhat reluctantly, he left, and Portia shakily locked the door behind him and gave Ronan a call. He was exceedingly evasive, not even telling her why he hadn’t warned her that giving vampires blood would let them see her true self. He also seemed unconcerned that she and Scratch had been harassed in the Dreaming, instead seeming amused and blaming her for accidentally bringing a Kindred into it. Too frustrated to pursue the line of questioning since Ronan never gave her a straight answer in their relationship, she changed tacts and asked if she could go home and reconnect with her parents.

This caught his attention and he wondered why, to which she replied that she hadn’t seen them in a few years and would like to catch up. He considered it and then replied, “You can visit your parents for as long as you like… just as soon as you give me a bit of information about Gideon Wolfe.”

“Like what?”

“What does he see in you? Why hasn’t he kicked you to the curb yet?”

Portia was silent for a moment before asking: “Why would you want to know something like that?”

“Maybe I’m jealous. Maybe I want to know things about a person who has slept with my Portia.”

“Yours?” She questioned dubiously. “Quite a claim for someone I haven’t seen in six months… who has a new girl with every party.”

“Aw, Portia,” Ronan replied, “I only bed them to soothe my aching heart in your absence! You’re the only real one for me.” Though he couldn’t see it, Portia rolled her eyes. “So… until you get that question answered for me, you’re not allowed to leave Ottawa. In fact, I forbid it.”

Portia gasped, “What? Why?”

“Because I said so, that’s why! And if you get me the answer, well, then you can take a week’s leave to anywhere you like, and see your parents to your heart’s content.” And with that, he hung up, leaving Portia boggling at her phone. Disgruntled and discontented, she went to bed and immediately slipped into a dream.

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