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The great American city of Los Angeles sprawled like a giant, tobacco-ridden tarantula before her through the pristine plate glass window. No matter how often she paused to allow herself a moment to dwell on the progress of humanity, it never quite failed to amaze her. Of course, there were so many things to consider... this world was only a great facade, really - a beautiful, thick, terrifying and dangerous facade, but still... What she viewed through the window only scraped the surface of the horrors that lay beneath society's perfect tight rope.
'You have seen the city of angels before, I believe.' the voice behind her stated quietly. Yes, of course she'd seen it. And his insinuation of prior knowledge of her whereabouts would have only mildly amused her had he not been so rude as to interrupt her musings. Still, she could sense his fear of her even layered as it was between his intricate web of ambitions, and she kept watching the flow of life trickle through the streets below the window in hopes that he would take the hint.
He didn't, of course. Or maybe he was stupid enough to not care.
'Now then, mistress...' He floundered for a moment, and sighed as she turned slowly to regard him. Her slight show of annoyance was lost on the Ventrue. 'This would flow so much more smoothly if I could have your name.'
'They call me Sangria,' she said quietly. That was all he needed to know, all she ever released to anybody except a chosen few. There were those who knew her true name, of course, but she trusted they would not have dealings with this arrogant little anarch.
'Ahhh... Sangria, like the drink, I suppose?' If he was trying to bait her, he was failing miserably. She shrugged and walked forward to sit down slowly in one of the red velour chairs before his great mahogany desk.
'If you wish.' She looked down absently at the gold-encrusted ruby stone that hung on a long chain from her neck and dangled precariously between her breasts. When she was young enough to consciously arrange such decidedly thought-provoking ornamentation on her body, she had learned to chose every step and position with as much careful consideration as she chose her clothing. Now, of course, it was second nature, and the tightly-laced black corset she wore over a full taffeta skirt had been her only attire for almost two hundred years. She was careful with the corset - it was a relic of the French Renaissance after all - but the skirt had been replaced several times, and even now it was tattered and torn into fluttering wisps at the bottom, barely hiding her callused bare feet, a porcelain white so pristine they almost glowed in the dusky office air. She froze her eyes suddenly, realizing he had stopped speaking, and moved her head up slowly to look into his eyes. He stiffened almost immediately, but it was much too late, Sangria had become adept at this game a thousand years before his sire had even touched the blood of the Embrace to his lips. Amused, the Malkavian smiled and regarded him with a practiced sultry glint in her dark eyes.
'If you wish my aid, Borchalt, you will keep no secrets from me.' His eyes glazed for a moment, though she could feel him fighting the intensity of her gaze - it was no use. His stupidity and arrogance did not grant him the courage needed to withstand Sangria's ancient powers. Borchalt swallowed and finally Sangria glanced away and allowed him a moment to recover himself.
'There will be nothing kept from you then, Mistress Sangria,' he said slowly, in a halting voice that was very unused to granting truthful promises. He coughed, cleared his throat and continued talking. She listened only when his voice dropped away from the smooth-talking lawyer he had once been and floundered into the surprised, confused vampire he was trying very hard to conceal. Eventually, she smiled to her reflection in the polished mahogany and rose of her own accord. He cut off and stared at her, obviously unaccustomed to her callous behavior.
'You will excuse me, Mr. Borchalt. Mistress Sangria has other demands on her attention tonight.' She often spoke like that, switching from the first person to the third, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence. It was a habit she had fallen into when first learning the English language, and she found to her advantage that it often startled people into remember that beyond the powerful, seductive Mistress Sangria, she was also gifted with the insight and insanity of her Malkavian lineage. Being a Malkavian had its merits when it came to the manipulation of the finer intellects of the Ventrue and Tremere Clans. For some strange reason, they seemed a bit leery of being deprived even momentarily of their treasured sanity. Sangria chuckled to herself.
'Sanity is not statistical,' she murmured in Borchalt's hearing as she left the office. She had not paid much attention to his stammering after she rose to leave, there was nothing he could say that was of any importance at all. There was nothing he could say that she didn't already know.
The Malkavian elder smiled to herself as she stepped out of the office building onto the dirty sidewalk of Downtown L.A. Let the children play their games. It was more of a sport for her to watch.
Topaz raised her eyes to the door as the red light signaling intruders blinked to life on the corner of her desk. Curiosity gathered in her head and she lifted an elongated, powder-white finger to the intercom button beside the light. It was not an ordinary intercom, equipped as it was with a small keyboard and black-plasma screen to spit out the voices outside her door as neat, computer-green type. The Nosferatu paused only a moment before tapping out a sequence of letters into the little machine and then hitting the 'Send' button. She steepled her long fingers on the desk beneath her lips and waited, brilliant blue eyes locked on the little intercom screen. Finally, the return code came across, and Topaz curled her lips in a terrible rendition of a smile, tapping the button underneath her desk to allow the visitor access to her room.
'Topaz. It's all as clean as a goose,' the dark-eyed woman giggled as she entered the room and threw her fringed black shawl sloppily onto one of the comfortable round, gray chairs on the corner. She settled herself on the edge of the Nosferatu's desk, greedily eyeing over the papers spread out before her. Topaz, current guardian of the sewers, leaned back and tapped a button on her computer keyboard, watching intently as the Dos-screen spat out a sequence of numbers and then transferred them to a state-of-the-art laser printer stationed next to Sangria on the desk. The Malkavian tore at it before the printer had entirely finished and Topaz winced at the sound of the toner on harsh metal bars. Sangria did not seem to noticed. She giggled again, and practically shivered in delight.
'Oh, goody, the mirror is going to be mine!'
'Ours,' Topaz corrected with a raise of her eyebrow.
'Right, right. Ours. But Sangria has to negotiate with the Tremere, not you, not you.' She grinned at the Nosferatu's ugly face as if she didn't notice the impossible stretching of the bone structure, or the curled elf ears framing her bald white head. Topaz could remember a time when she had been more... acceptable to the eye, but she had never come close to Sangria's infallible beauty. Even with the changes the Tremere had wracked on her face, the little Malkavian princess would never be anything but beautiful. It irked Topaz that she would not believe it - despite the Nosferatu's assurances and those of certain other acquaintances who remembered the honey-golden locks and sky-blue eyes that were a rare jewel for a Mediterranean beauty - Sangria would not look into a mirror without meeting her own black eyes and sobbing silent blood tears. But Topaz wasn't sure if it was the pure, innocent despair the nasty Warlocks had caused in her Malkavian friend that bothered her, or t!
he fact that Sangria's playful innocence made it impossible to force logic through her thick head. Perhaps once they had gained this mirror and sold the Tremere on a false one, she would be willing to return to her former self. The usually playful and vivacious Malkavian was too somber and brooding recently for Topaz's liking, and she knew their other...acquaintance... worried about her as well.
At that moment a door to Topaz's left swung open and Sangria jumped up laughing.
'Danielle!' She cried, rushing to throw her arms about the other vampire's neck. Short and still round even after her long years of unlife, Danielle exerted a force of personality unequaled by even Sangria. Gently she pried the other woman's arms from her neck and got Sangria to hand over the printout still clutched in her greedy hands.
'Well,' the Salubri said solemnly. 'I have bad news.'
Immediately, Sangria's childish facade fell away and she faced Danielle with utter stability. Topaz stifled a shudder. Even after all these years, she had still not accustomed herself to the Malkavian's ability to so abruptly change her moods, like a regular person would change clothes. Not for the first time, she wonder which faces of Sangria were real and which were merely methods of manipulation. She hoped the woman had enough respect for herself and Danielle to keep her emotions truthful when in their presence.
Danielle took a moment to settle herself into her favored cross-legged position on the floor as Sangria closed and locked the door, resetting all the security options before she climbed into the large papizan chair directly in front of it. Topaz settled into the room's only other chair - a replica of the large gray ones she kept in her office.
'They are moving the mirror tonight,' she informed them suddenly.
'What?' Topaz signed rapidly. Sangria stayed silent, brooding.
'One of their acolytes stumbled upon it mistakenly and they had to have him killed. But his stupid little blunder has made them decide to move it just in case of the off chance that it wasn't merely a blunder.' Her voice was heated with annoyance and frustration at having their carefully laid plans thwarted by such an unexpected event. Topaz chewed her lips angrily, and they both pretended to forget about Sangria's inclusion. The Malkavian's brilliant mind seemed to work better when she was left with the possibility of shocking those around her by revealing it.
'Where is it?' The Nosferatu signed after a moment. Danielle shook her head slowly.
'I haven't the faintest. My contact disappeared right after he informed me of the event - I suppose he wants to lay low now that his elders are on the lookout.'
'We have to go tonight.'
Both the Salubri and the Nosferatu turned to look at Sangria incredulously.
'Sangria...' Danielle began, but the Malkavian shook her head.
'No. It's out best chance. I did not plan for two years to have a stupid Tremere neonate ruin all our plans. I will call Borchalt. He will set up a meeting with the Regent at a time I tell him. Topaz, you get a couple of the Nos to go with you and start a fire through that grate in the library. Dani... you know what you have to do. I will try to be outside waiting in time to rescue you, but if not - ?'
Danielle nodded quickly. 'The grate. And if not...' She shrugged. 'I'll get out, Sangria. Not even their Regent can match me if I decide to fight.'
Sangria nodded, but she stared hard at the Salubri before continuing.
'I will go and call Borchalt and the Ravnos. From here on, we must trust each other to carry out our half.'
Neither Topaz nor Danielle reminded her that there was three of them.
Serena perched low on the rooftop and waited for her little host on the fire escape to warn her of her expected company. To any within viewing distance, the Ravnos herself was merely another of a series of black stone gargoyles decorating the old apartment building - so what if they'd never been there before? People had a way of believing the ridiculous in themselves before they would believe in the supernatural.
The rat's senses picked up a trace of blood and dust on the air, and Serena tensed herself to pay attention. It would do no good to let the Malkavian slip up on her, and her pride would not allow her to accept a failure even if her contact was centuries older than herself.
She felt the sudden weight of an icy-cold hand on her shoulder, and jerked so hard she almost jumped off the roof. Shakily, she let the rat go and whipped around to face the creature who could pierce through her carefully crafted illusions so easily.
Sangria smiled and licked a trace of blood from her lips as Serena gaped at her.
'Come,' was the only direction she gave, but the young Ravnos was too stunned to do anything but follow. How had she seen through her illusions? And how would she even know to look up on this particular rooftop? They were supposed to be meeting in the alleyway! But she had no time to question, as Sangria led her quickly from one rooftop to the next, hardly pausing to make certain the Ravnos had survived the jump. She emanated a sense of urgency that put Serena's trained senses on high alert. When a Malkavian like Sangria was focused, very little would be suffered to stand in her way.
Finally, they reached then end of the row of buildings, and Sangria crouched low on the east end. She waited for Serena to kneel beside her, and then pointed across the street to a dilapidated building with windows that glowed with an almost imperceptible green light. The Ravnos shivered - she had seen this building before, and been warned away from it. No wander there were no animals of any sort within half a block of this place - the thing gave her goosebumps, and she was already dead.
'The Tremere chantry,' Sangria informed her. Serena could have guessed that, but she kept her mouth shut wisely. 'This is what you will do.'
She did not explain to Serena why her part in this was necessary, nor did she explain what exactly she wanted within that creepy building, but Serena eventually decided she was better off not knowing. Perhaps the Malkavian kept her in the dark for her own safety, and however arrogant and prideful the Ravnos was, she valued her life more than she did the knowledge of what Sangria wanted inside that house. Besides, she told herself, it's got to be a Malkavian prank, and those spooky freaks could use one.
As they moved in on the chantry, Sangria stopped and ducked down an alley, gesturing for Serena to go on.
'You know where to go. Hide yourself and wait for me.'
Serena shrugged and went on, but she did not fail to notice Sangria withdraw a beaten-up cell phone from the pocket of her skirt and dial a number. She made sure to be beyond hearing distance when the other line picked up.
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