[Lisa, 09. 01. 2018]
Emma spends the night visiting Ophelia in her graveyard, whom she finds decorating a grave. The two women chat amicably about this and that for a while, and the topic of Gabriel comes up inevitably, who unfortunately has been his stubborn self in regards to the love letters that Ophelia wrote him. Disappointed with his lack of a reaction, the Malkavian declares that she is going to look for what she calls quality drama elsewhere, perhaps by searching for the city’s Setites something may come her way. Before leaving to go drowning for the night, though, she asks Emma if she wants her future foretold, which the latter agrees to. Being as vague as the Brujah expected, Ophelia only tells her that both love and war are coming for her, though not from the direction of Mithras, which was Emma’s first guess, and she leaves after passing on Mr. Johnson’s advice of attaching grammar lessons to her charity.
Elsewhere, Marcus is contemplating Chris’ questions about his sister by using his more enlightened means of deduction, though the end result of this attempt only leaves him blinded for the rest of the night. Undeterred, he attempts to let his intuition guide him to an answer, listening to the faint voices he can hear, which unfortunately seem to be speaking only nonsense. A particularly spooky voice, sounding as if the speaker was standing just behind his back, warns him that “He’s watching you”, but all attempts to gain further information come up empty.
After regaining his vision without issue at the start of the next night, he meets with the unlucky Brujah Bill, who explains his stepsister’s predicament that left her entire family dying of various accidents except for one last remaining granddaughter. Marcus wonders if Bill had previously met Anthony, but he only seems confused at the description of the Malkavian and denies it. After drawing a family tree and marking the deaths and their causes on it, Marcus inspects it and tries to find a common link among the deaths, but he only sees a black shadow passing by, like a film being laid over his vision for a brief moment. Even literally mapping out where the various family members died provides little in the way of information, and the Malkavian primogen sends his visitor away without either of them having made progress in the matter at hand.
Back in London, Sinead spends her time interviewing various performers of greatly varying degrees of talent for her new establishment. Among the myriads of singers, a few otherwise talented mortals stick out, like a ventriloquist trying to teach a business class on theatre with a puppet held together with bits of string and hope, or Marvellous Mortimer the Necromancer, whose summoned spirits insult all those present instead of replying to his questions, or the duo of acrobats that juggle and throw a variety of weapons, not just at each other, but also in the direction of the audience. A differently exciting show is performed by a graceful ballet dancer in a partially-transparent dress, and the man calling himself the “Professional Swallower” who sticks all sorts of weapons down his throat without injuring himself draws attention for wholly different reasons, as does the following performer, who sits on a bed of spikes playing a flute to charm a group of snakes into doing all sorts of dances and acrobatics. Upon listening more closely, the Ravnos finds that the snakes are thoroughly enticed by the promise of tasty chickens for their cooperation. The snake charmer’s brother attends as well, though as a hypnotist, and the person he hypnotizes to run around like a chicken on stage promptly attracts the snakes’ attention.
After they are shooed off-stage, a guitarist sits down to play a few very catchy songs in a lively, modern style of music that are accompanied with biting political commentary, the subject of which finds itself mocked on stage immediately afterwards by a ventriloquist with a menagerie of animals who take on the personas of political figures and discuss the issue of raising taxes. Intrigued, Havoc jumps on stage to investigate the animals, and is promptly turned into a member of the group, and afterwards the ventriloquist tries to either buy him from Sinead or hire him for his show. Slightly less exotic is the next duo of singers, who perform various feats on stage like imitations of famous political figures or voice projection around the stage.
The theme of music continues with a whole group of singers from the slums of London performing as an unironic religious choir, who are followed by a man who brings a box on stage that he proceeds to unfold and unfold and unfold, until he steps inside and disappears entirely, not even bothering to stay to hear whether or not he has been hired. The closing performance is given by a group of ladies of various ages sitting down over tea and providing the most vicious gossip about everything and everyone, including Sinead’s fashion sense, before Sinead reties from work for the night.
As arranged beforehand, Sinead meets with Marcus during the next night to go searching for Stepano, but after he explains what happened with the basement and that the Assamite went missing, the two of them are interrupted by Charles, who announces a visitor. The woman in question, who is dressed in foreign-looking clothing with a long veil, turns out to be an Assamite sent to retrieve Stepano’s body and introduces herself as Taliah in rather broken English. Marcus brings her to Sinead, who acts as a translator for her, and the Assamite explains that Stepano woke up when she approached him to take him with her and went “poof” like the clan’s sorcerers do, after which the basement’s ceiling collapsed. Since she couldn’t find him afterwards, she went into the city to befriend some of the locals and learn English, as the fetch mission she was sent on didn’t originally require a knowledge of the local language.
After questioned as to what will happen to Stepano after they find him, she only says that the clan elders will talk to him once he gets better. She also shows them the special chain she has for catching him, which is supposed to entirely prevent him from escaping using supernatural strength, but otherwise seems content to defer to the decisions of Marcus and Sinead, who decide to set up a few Obfuscate traps and summon Stepano. This plan is abandoned after nothing happens despite the summoning, and a few questions directed at Incitatus point them in the right direction, as the horse helpfully explains that Stepano always left in the same direction after his previous visits, which Marcus identifies as being in the direction of his burned-down mansion.
Hunting for tracks reveals that foot prints lead through the rose garden and also towards a large rock that resembles a headstone. Despite having no visible mechanism for lifting it, they find a spot that smells faintly of blood, and after Taliah pours her own blood on it, the rock disappears and reveals a staircase leading downwards. Chains of Arabic writing, translating into protective charms, decorate the walls, though they have been disturbed, and pressing onwards, the group hears cheerful whistling from behind a door left slightly ajar. Stepano’s voice sounds from within the room, asking them to step in, and when they push open the door, it turns out to be an ideal circle full of candles, with diagrams and pentacles painted onto the walls and floor. Marcus recognizes some of the occult symbols as being related to the astral realm, and establishes a telepathic connection to Stepano, who is working on chalk drawings. He finds that Stepano’s mind is torpored inside his body and inaccessible, though there is a different conscience controlling his body which feels strange, though not immediately hostile.
The entity cheerfully explains that it is borrowing Stepano’s body to do some unnamed things since it is lacking a body of its own, but it offers to talk with the group instead of turning hostile. Apparently, it made a deal for this body with what it calls a being of a different plane, and it plans to use Stepano to send its own conscience back through the astral plane to return to its own body. The entity seems confused and has almost no memories of who or what it is, though there is neither untruth nor hostility in its words. Still, Taliah attempts to capture it, and though her first attempt fails, with the help of Marcus and Sinead she manages to restrain Stepano with the chain she has at her disposal. Further questioning only reveals that the entity used Stepano’s knowledge to build a road through the astral plane back to its body, and that it doesn’t intend to harm its host as it isn’t necessary, and it tries to plead with them to just let it finish its ritual.
During their journey back to Marcus’ mansion, the Malkavian haggles with Taliah for a few nights of time so he can investigate the entity further and see if he can help it. Taliah seems reluctant and asks for his word of honor that she can leave with Stepano in three nights, but Marcus only promises to hand him over if he can’t at all remove the entity from his mind; otherwise, he admits that he wants to try and remove the spirit from his body. Without commenting on the conditions he puts on his offer, the Assamite agrees that she will take Stepano back in three nights’ time. Back at the mansion, she also requests that she be allowed to stay guard over Stepano’s body in the meantime, which Marcus acquiesces to before leaving her to her duty and making contact with one of the spirit experts he is acquainted with.