by Rick Jones (18 Jun 95)
Here's a freebie. Happy Birthday, Thanatos.
The sun set over New Orleans to the tune of a lone saxophone. It was the twilight time, as blues were replaced by oranges and reds, soon to be replaced by purples and then finally black. The crowds began to thin, as the inhabitants of the French Quarter gravitated to the innumerable restaurants and bars.
The saxophonist put down his instrument, and surveyed the change and small bills in its case. There had been worse days, there had been better. A sign of our times, he thought. Oh well, there will be better days, we hope. He pocketed the change, and walked across the street to the Cafe du Monde, swinging his saxophone case along with the music in his head.
"Hello, Ettiene," said the saxophonist to the man out front.
"Bonjour, Aaron. Table for one?"
"Non, mon cher, table for six, outside if you have it. And get the beignets ready, and a big pot of chickory coffee. My friends will be hungry."
The waiter looked around. A family stood up, leaving bills on one of the outdoor tables. "Looks like your lucky day, brother. Best table in the house." He hustled off to bus the table.
"Merci," said Aaron, grinning inwardly. Lydia, he thought. Always the best.
Aaron sat down, and watched the sun continue to set. It's been a long time, he thought. And now, after all the years, time has become the enemy.
One of the city's horse drawn carriages clip-clopped up, and stopped. The officious driver hopped down and offered his hand to the lady inside. She accepted the hand, and stepped down with practiced grace. She scanned the crowd, and smiled when she saw Aaron. She handed the carriage driver some money, and sashayed to the table. She drew a few stares, dressed in an elegant black evening gown that complimented her dark hair and fair complexion. Eyebrows were raised as she sat at the table of a shabbily dressed black street musician. But this was New Orleans, after all. The odd is considered everyday, and people went on about their business.
"Aaron, darling, how are you?" she asked, hugging her old friend.
"Well, and you?"
As she sat down, Etiennne arrived with the coffee and beignets. She beamed, and took a sip. "Perfect. Oh, the coffee that is. I do swear, if I have to hear one more Council Session, I will scream. It's 'the Hermetics want this,' and 'the Adepts want that.' It's enough to make me want to give it all up and run naked in the forest again."
Aaron chuckled, and looked at her expensive outfit. "Oh really?"
"No, but it's pleasant to think so. I notice your tailor has changed since last we met."
Aaron nudged the saxophone case, and said, "I am a street musician this time."
Lydia raised an eyebrow. "A street musician. What would the pharoh say?"
"'Help, I've been trapped in a pyramid for 2000 years,'" joked Aaron.
"Oh you are EVIL, Aaron. Absolutely evil."
"Not at all. I felt this life would be something more relaxing than the last one."
"Than a bodyguard in South Africa? I should hope so. How did it happen?"
"Oh, I was a shade too slow to save both me and the client. It happens." Aaron shrugged and sipped his coffee. "Now I can sleep late, watch the pretty girls, and practice my music. It's been a long time."
"The 30's wasn't it? That horried Jazz club run by Mister Capone?"
"That's the one. Shame about him. I hear he's going to be Prince soon."
"You'll have to ask Vlad, dear. I have enough to do."
"We all have our crosses to bear, Lydia."
Lydia sipped her coffee, "We do at that. Where is Diana?" She eyed the sunset carefully. "Vlad shouldn't be here for a few more minutes. But she and Goliath should be here on time." She looked at her watch. "And Joshua will be late."
"He's always late," sighed Aaron.
"Time doesn't pass for him like it does for us. He's lucky to hit the right day, much less the hour." She grinned a secret, gleeful grin. "And he _must_ make his dramatic entrances."
"He must. Thank you for the table, by the way."
Lydia cocked her head. "I didn't do it. My dear, even in a world as strange as ours, sometimes there is simply just a coincidence. But it is a lovely view. Oh, look, I believe Diana is coming." She pointed down the block. Jogging down the street was a young woman in sweatpants and a tee shirt. Her long, curly black hair was tied up in a pony tail. "That's a young one she's got there."
The woman jogged up to the table. "Aaron, Lydia. Hello." She bent over and stretched, touching her toes. She continued to stretch. Aaron waved to her with the beignet he was munching on. "Oh, you evil, evil people," she said, smelling the sugar coated pastry. "That smells wonderful."
Lydia shook her head dramatically, "My dear, live just a little. It will not kill you to eat a little. My goodness you're skin and bones."
Diana smirked. Her frame was considerable more than skin and bones. Lydia forgot to mention the firm muscles that packed her compact frame. For a teenager, she was in excellent shape, and moved with a grace that spoke either of dance or martial arts. The way she looked around, constantly scanning for danger hinted at the latter of the two. She looked at the couple, happily sipping coffee and munching away. "Oh all, right."
Aaron swallowed and gestured for Ettiene. "Another basket, and a large mug for my friend here." Ettiene nodded and ducked back to the kitchen. "You're barely a pup, this time."
Diana scowled. "Yeah. Dammit. Now I have to go through the whole cycle again.
I'm still Cliath, even though I know more than the damn Sept Leader."
"Ah, but you can't very well tell her that," said Aaron. "It would lead to rude questions."
"After all this time, though. I am sick and tired of the damn Rite of Passage. The spirts can barely keep from laughing their asses off each time they see me. And then I have to tap dance around it with some wet-nosed cubs, who wonder why. Remind me to look up who came up with that little bright idea so I can send them on the next go-round." She scowled and tore into the new basket. "Oh, Gaia, those are good."
"They sell the mix and a recipe book," noted Aaron. "They're a snap to make."
"Mumph. I may have to do it. Still, this one came from good stock. My great-grand daughter."
"I thought I saw the resemblance," said Lydia.
"Her great-grandfather was a wonderful man. He was one of the gardners on the Island. He could do things with plants..." The teenager sighed and looked away wistfully. "But, oh his children were a handful." She giggled, looking more her age. "How are your kids, Lydia?"
"Oh, fine. Marcus is joining the Brotherhood next month."
Diana's ears perked up, "the Akashics? Isn't that going to be a bit of a scandal?"
"It was at first, but I was able to smooth things over. Children have to live their own lives."
Aaron looked at his watch. "Where are the others?" he grumbled.
Lydia and Diana looked at each other. "Sorry," said Diana. "We didn't mean-"
"It's fine. Really. Ah, here comes Vlad." He pointed up. In the distance, a large, black bat was winging its way over Burbon Street. It flew off down the street. A moment later, a long haired man with bushy mustaches strode down towards them. He was wearing motorcycle leathers with torn jeans. But, for his scruffy appearance, he walked like a king.
He bowed to the ladies. "Lydia, Diana. Always a pleasure. Aaron. Hello."
Aaron looked the newcomer up and down. "Gone Anarch on us, Vlad?"
The man sat down, and shook his head, smiling. "No, old friend. Merely dressing the part. I spent some time in Los Angelas recently. You cannot swing a dead cat without it hitting a Brujah there. Leather and obnoxious attitudes go hand in hand there."
Lydia smirked, "and did you pay The Count a call?"
Vlad laughed coldly, "I did. I was going to kill him, but he amused me so much, I decided to let him live. The poor man has the worst accent, and such silly fashion sense. Well, I was too busy laughing to kill the derranged fool."
Aaron said, "Sorry I did not have time to procure you some nourishment of your own, but-"
Vlad held up his hands. "No, no. Quite all right. I have supped already. But please, pour me a cup of coffee. While it is not the Vienna blend, I do still enjoy the smell." He accepted the cup and breathed deeply. "Aahhh. For this, I might consider going back." Lydia and Aaron glanced at each other and laughed. "What?" asked Vlad.
"Oh, a private joke," said Aaron. "What news in Los Angelas?"
Vlad shook his head. "The Sleeper is about to awake. Those Anarchs are in for quite a suprise. But there's a Neonate there we should keep our eyes on. Once he gets over some foolish guilt and his abyssmal teaching, that is. He has promise."
"Really?" asked Diana. "Do you want us to start recruiting him?"
"Not now. Perhaps in a year or so. Let the poor boy deal with the Jyhad for a time."
"Do we have the time?" asked Diana.
"I believe so," sad Lydia. "I've been talking with the Oracle of Time. And once I sorted out what he was saying, I believe we have some time left." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "The Oracle knows something and isn't sharing. Either that, or the awful non-linearity of the Shard Realm confused me more than I thought. I have to record the whole conversation, and spend a month decyphering it before it makes sense. It's like talking in a blender. Based on the Oracle, we've got about twenty years."
"So soon," asked Aaron.
"I believe so. The signs are all there. And this means the Child will be born soon."
Ettienne brought out another plate and pot, and pulled up a chair. "Good evening to all of you."
"Joshua," said Lydia. "How are you?" She hugged the old waiter. "It must be the End Times. You're early for once."
Ettienne/Joshua shook his head. "As well as can be expected, I suppose. The Shadowlands have been awful lately. The Hierarchy gets worse every day." He poured himself some coffee. "Aaah. That's good. Charon the First never would have approved."
"I somehow doubt Caine approves of the way vampires are mucking it up," commented Vlad.
"How is the old boy?" asked Lydia.
"He's in Hunedoara, resting. He was up for a few minutes six years ago, but all he did was play Nintendo and drink until he went back to sleep. We tried talking to him, but he ignored us." Vlad scowled. "The most powerful being alive...."
"Alive?" asked Diana.
"You know what I mean. The most powerful being alive, and he's about as useful as a potted plant. I mean, even when that fool in Berlin was on the rampage, he just slept."
"He's waiting," said Joshua.
"I know, I know. Any luck on your side?" replied Vlad, pulling on his mustache.
"No. He's walking up and down in the Tempest. He doesn't respond. I have people watching him, in case his situation changes."
"Do we really want that to happen?" asked Aaron thoughtfully.
"What do you mean?" asked Diana, reaching for another beignet.
"We, or others like us have been watching and waiting for millenia. We have spent a thousand thousand lifetimes waiting and watching. And, when we felt necessary, pushing here or there. But we know as much about what will happen as the man sitting over there in the corner, reading the Weekly World News."
"We are doing this because it was necessary. Is necessary. The Apocalypse, or Gehena, or Ascension or whatever you want to call it, is coming. The wheels of fate are spinning faster and faster with each passing moment. The man on the streetcorner with 'The End Is Nigh' sign is right, for the first time ever." Diana pursed her lips. "It's coming."
A huge hand clapped Diana on the shoulder. She yelped as a deep voice rumbled. "You always did run off at the mouth, Di."
Diana's head snapped around. "Goliath, you complete and total ass. Every time, for five hundred years you pull that crap. How do you keep doing it? I had over a dozen spirits watching for your approach."
"Glamour, little girl." The huge man sat down. The chair creaked under his weight, until he whispered to the chair to stop complaining. He reached out and grabbed the rest of the basket of beignets, spilling powdered sugar all over. "Umm. I love this place." He licked the sugar off his fingers. "There's got to be more in back." Joshua sighed as Job must have, and ducked back into the kitchen. "Greetings all."
Lydia leaned forward. "So, are the rumors right? Are They coming?"
Golaith nodded. "The Five Houses are in agreement."
"And you've planted the seeds," asked Vlad.
"Naturally. The Kith are going to start poking their heads up, finally. I do believe we should have come forth earlier." Joshua returned with a tray full of baskets and pots of coffee. Goliath smiled. "Thank you, Jeshua."
"'Joshua' is the way it's pronounced now, Goliath."
"Of course." Golaith sipped from one of the coffee pots, then put it down to start pouring cream and sugar straight into the pot. "How goes it on the other fronts?"
Joshua wiped his face with a napkin. "They are slowly starting to come out. It's moving slowly, though. Some bad experiences with Giovanni and Tremere are hindering my efforts. However, we're starting to have some luck in Atlanta. A vampire has crossed over, and wants to keep up contacts. The Hierarchy is causing problems, naturally."
Lydia nodded. "We're starting to make some contacts. The Glass Walkers and Uktena tribes are the ones expressing the most interest. The Virtual Adepts had some problems with the Glass Walkers hacking their systems, but they've learned some countermeasures."
Diana grimaced, "watch out for them. Give them an inch..."
Goliath scolded, "Remember The Plan. We must present a united front. That sort of talk is backwards thinking."
"But, my friend, part of The Plan is 'backwards thinking'. Down through the centuries, we have kept our races apart," noted Vlad.
"This is different, and you know it, Vlad. Just because you had the fortune to, ahem, replace your predecessor does not entitle you to belittle a plan that was ancient when gods walked the Earth. It is of the utmost necessity that the supernatural races do not mingle until the Final Times. Had they not been kept apart, they would have corrupted each other. You think the Chaos Bringer was bad? Haight was child's play to defeat, compared the the possibilities of two thousand years of interaction. It was of the utmost importance to keep our people apart all these years. Look at the Kindred. The Jyhad rages on like never before. The Red Death walks the streets of Washington, where the Masqueade is ready to break like a twig. The Garou tribes war as much on each other as the Wyrm."
Lydia added, "The Traditions squabble like children fighting over toys. The Restless enslave each other. And the Houses of the Faerie...."
Goliath took a deep breath. "Apologies, my friends. I lose my temper." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "The Toybox is about to be opened, and I am tired. But The Plan was still the right thing to do. When the Reunification happens, it must happen quickly, before the children of twilight have time to get comfortable, to form petty alliances."
Diana looked up from her coffee. "The Toybox? I suppose it's about time. I'll ready the Fianna. They've been eager for this."
Goliath nodded. "You may want to swing by Appalachia soon. The Freeholds are having problems, and some of them are close to your Caerns."
"I'll check it out." She rolled her eyes. "But first I have to blood my pack some more. They need a little experience under their belts before something big."
"You could toddle over to Russia," said Vlad sarcasticly. "I'm sure a Zmei or two under their belts should have them ready for anything."
"Ha ha. It is to laugh. She's your baby, Vlad darling."
Vlad sighed. "That she is. She is the most unreasonable creature I have ever met."
Aaron asked, "Do you need any help? I know that Horus is arming for war, should she expand the Curtain."
Vlad shook his head. "Mina and my friends among the Romani are funneling me information, which tells me she is still in the consolidation phase. As am I. When she is ready to move at last, my forces will hold the line."
"How is Mina?" asked Lydia.
"She is as she always was. Perfection incarnate."
"Except for her taste in men," added Diana, sotto voice.
"Ha ha, pup. Well, is there any particular news any of you have left to share? I'm catching a Red-Eye to San Francisco tomorrow night." He looked to the east. "And the sun will arise soon. I must Hunt." Diana cast her eyes down. "Oh please. Would you rather I gnash my teeth, and bemoan my fate to the world like in that movie? We are in his city, after all. I should feed on rats? I doubt it."
Goliath laughed, trying to lighten the mood, "'A Red-Eye?' How appropos. Yes, the Underworlders are climbing to the surface. It will be coming to a head soon."
"Wonderful. Well, I must take my leave." The group stood, exchanged pleasantries, and went their seperate ways, leaving Aaron to settle the check.
Ettiene blinked, and looked at Aaron. "Aaron?"
"My friend, are you all right? You look a little dizzy."
Ettienne shook his head. "I... I suppose I am. Too many long nights."
Aaron nodded sagely. "More than you can imagine, Ettienne." He handed Ettienne a handful of money. "Our bill. Now go home to your wife and sleep." Aaron picked up his saxophone, and walked down Burbon Street, whistling a hapy tune.
The man reading Weekly World News folded his newspaper, and put it down. He walked to a payphone, and dialed. "Remiel. Yes, it's Michael...... Same as always. But they're right on schedule...... Yes, yes. I'll bring up some coffee for you. That's a nasty addiction you have there, brother...... I was *joking*. You need to spend more time Down Here, and less time Up There. I will see you soon." Golden light flashed, and the sun rose over the Cafe du Monde to the sounds of wings.