"You say you want a revolution, well you know
we'd all love to
see the plan.
You ask me for a contibution, well you know,
we're all doing what we
The Beatles, "Revolution"
And who is this, and what is here? Hobbie quoted to himself. We are none of us the same, save perhaps for Wedge.
The blonde poet spared a glance at his former commander, slumped in a chair as though he lacked the strength to sit up straight. Hobbie had seen him weather many storms-- freezing on Hoth, the second Death Star, battle after battle and death after death. Wedge had never seemed so beaten down.
* Rome, 1783
Perhaps he has changed. Not his appearance, though he does look a bit shaggy, but his soul. Perhaps he's seen too much. The Toreador shook his head ruefully. And I thought we'd seen too much with the Rebellion. That was nothing.
"How did Wes get free?" Hobbie finally broke the silence.
Tycho sat in his chair with an air of conscious casualness, as though he were forcing himself to appear calm and unconcerned. Though he kept a tight rein on his emotions, as he always had, Hobbie could sense his rigid fury. He sat quietly for so long that Hobbie wondered if he'd heard, then--
"I found him."
Wedge stirred and looked at his second-in-command. Tycho's voice was steady, and he looked straight at Wedge as though he were speaking of the weather.
"I came back that night, as I promised. You," his eyes flicked toward Hobbie, "were gone, and Wes was trussed up in the alley. I freed him."
He answered the question that none had asked. "He was mad. Not to this degree, not yet, but it had already begun to poison him. I tried to help him, but he ran from me."
"Where did you go from there?" Wedge asked, his gruff voice quiet.
"Back to Merando."
Hobbie's head jerked up so fast that it hurt. Tycho stared straight ahead, looking at neither of his comrades.
"Back to Merando?" Wedge half-rose, his voice deepening, his eyes narrowed. "Back to Merando?"
"Back to my sire."
Hobbie's heart would have stopped if it had been beating to begin with. So that was how Tycho became a Prince-- he had Merando's backing. The source of their unlife, the most hated among all the Damned, and Tycho was his creature? Absently, he realized that he had little room to judge, but the shock was too great. I expected better of you.
The same emotions played out over Wedge's face and Hobbie found a moment to muse about this new evidence of change. Commander Antilles had the best sabacc face in Fleet Command, but this Gangrel-- Hobbie could read every thought he had.
The lines on Wedge's face settled into something resembling determined vengeance, and he spoke.
"I'm going to kill him."
Tycho merely looked at him.
"I'm going to kill your sire. I thought you should know, so you can choose your allegiance."
"My allegiance lies where it always has, Wedge." Tycho's voice was mild. "And I'm glad to hear that you share my feeling for the Prince of Rome."
"Do you not love your sire?" Wedge mocked him.
The blonde Ventrue held Wedge's gaze, then began to speak.
The pain was excruciating. He couldn't remember the last time he felt such agony. Not even his torture at the hands of Ysanne Isard came close. He was lying in a pool of his own blood, staring up at the ceiling, trying to make sense of the ornate painting on it. He wanted to look around, to gauge the size of the room and find possible escape routes, but he couldn't turn his head. He wondered if his neck were broken, but he couldn't remember any specific blow that might cause such an injury.
Footsteps echoed in the chamber. Tycho's eyes flicked to the right, trying to detect movement in the shadows.
"Well, well, well." The sound came from his left now, or perhaps the shape of the room confused direction.
"So you have finally come to me." With a start, Tycho realized that he understood the words, just barely, for the accent was quite thick. It had the air of sound recordings from Alderaan's Golden Age.
The Rogue tried to speak, but managed only a low gurgling. Panic raced through his veins as the voice drew nearer, caressing him in soft, dulcet tones.
"I shouldn't try to speak if I were you. You're quite incapable of it." The voice hovered over him, and a man came into view. He seemed like a giant, looming over the injured pilot, built like an athlete, in ornate robes of violet and gold. He held a candelabra aloft.
"You're quite incapable of many things now, are you not? In fact," the candles tilted a bit and wax spilled onto Tycho's neck. He wanted to flinch, but couldn't and found to his growing alarm that he couldn't feel the hot wax on his skin."It seems you are going to die."
The man crouched beside him, the hem of his robe trailing through the blood. "What does it feel like?" The man looked down at Tycho, icy gray eyes curious, then he barkeda laugh. "But you can't tell me, can you?" he asked quietly as Tycho stared up at him with agony-filled eyes.
"You weren't meant to be so badly injured, young Master Tycho. My Malkavians did not anticipate such a spirited defense. I do apologize for that."
The man chuckled as Tycho's eyes widened. "Of course I know your name. I've had my people following you ever since you crashed on this remote rock. At least until those Outlanders the gypsies traveled with chased them away."
He paused and lifted Tycho's hand, feeling for his weakening pulse. "I'm terribly sorry. I would speed this up, it would be far less painful, but you are not... how shall I say... to my taste."
"Where was I? Ah, yes. Those who understood your speech-- my speech-- told me your names. I must confess, I was fully prepared to have you eliminated, but for your name. You are a son of Alderaan, yes?"
As Tycho tried to wrap his mind around this strange spiel, the man hissed, his eyes narrowing.
"You can't tell me, can you? Damn them! This is precisely why I ordered them to be careful. You can't tell me anything. Not your name, not your home system, you can't even tell me what it feels like to die. And I did so want to know," he sighed heavily. "I don't remember, you see, and when you awaken, you won't either."
Awaken? He's insane! I'm dying; he said so himself.
The man knelt in the blood next to Tycho and leaned over him, staring into the Rogue's blue eyes.
"Do you know that you're dying? Can you feel it? You can-- I can see it in your eyes. Does it frighten you? Or is there a white light? Does the Force welcome you home?"
The voice droned on, almost soothingly, as the room blurred and Tycho drew one last shuddering breath.
- - - - - - - - -
He was suddenly, overwhelmingly ravenous, and the sweet copper that hung on his lips wasn't enough. Tycho sat up, blindly reaching for anything, anyone, and mewled hungrily as a soft, warm body was propelled into his arms. To the end of his life, he would never know the name of that first victim, nor, indeed, if it were man, woman or child.
Someone tried to draw the body away and he held on until a sharp voice commanded him to let go. Then another living being, and another, though he did not kill the last, his hunger sated for the moment.
Tycho loosed his hold and the girl slid from his arms and slithered bonelessly to the floor. The pilot stared up at the ceiling. The gray stone arches glowed as if they held some fire inside. This was not the room he'd (died?) fainted in.
Warmth trickled from the corner of his mouth and he swiped at it, absently wondering why he could move. A smear of red on the side of his palm made him stiffen, then sit upand look around. He was laying on a stone slab, an altar, perhaps, or a funeral bier. Aside from the small female form crumpled at the base, he was alone in the chamber.
Tycho swung his legs over and slid off the side of the altar. He could walk, move his arms, breathe-- all without pain. The taste of blood wetted his lips and he licked it off, part of his mind wondering why he craved it, the other part merely accepting.
"Awake at last?" The pilot turned toward the sound of that soothing silken voice, more beautiful than ever, if that were possible. "Splendid."
The man, not so tall now that Tycho was upright, had changed out of the soiled robe. He wore the breeches and jacket that Tycho had seen on wealthy citizens of the city. The faint candlelight made the burgundy velvet look like banked embers and the leather shoes glowed with an otherworldly warmth.
"What have you done to me?"
The man smiled beatifically. "I have given you the greatest gift that one can give to another. I have given you life." He turned and called for a servant, then looked back at Tycho. "Find a lovely jeweled skin to wrap our Ventrue Princeling in."
- - - - - - - - - -
That night, and the next, and the next, was spent learning all that Merando (for that was the man's name) could teach. He explained the Kindred, the clans, how he passed this wondrous gift on to Tycho and how Tycho might, in time, create his own Childe. And he told a tale so fantastic that Tycho almost didn't believe it.
"Many, many ages ago I was born on Alderaan. Many, many ages ago I set forth in my ship to discover new worlds, new systems, new peoples. Deep into Wild Space, my crew and I found, spinning silently amid the dead rocks surrounding it, this lovely blue-green planet.
"This world, we discovered, was quite unlike any we had ever seen. All the climates and ecosystems of all the galaxy were here, on this one tiny planet. The snows of Hoth, the deserts of Tatooine, the prairies of my beloved Alderaan. I loved this planet, and I resolved to stay. My crew set me down on an island in a broad sea, and there I planned to marry and live. So my fate might have been, had I not been strong in the Force. My abilities attracted the notice of a god, or one who was worshipped as such. He Embraced me, as I have you.
Now the Kindred face a turning point. Many clans have turned against the Ventrue, resenting our ability, believing that they are more capable of leading the world. My enemies are many, but I shall train you well, and together we can end this destructive conflict and restore peace to the planet.
Through the millennia, many others have found this world. Like yourself, they were unable to leave. Unlike yourself, they did not prove worthy of my assistance."
Tycho looked up at his sire. "What did you do to them?" he asked, apprehension in his voice.
"Do to them?" Merando sounded insulted. "I did nothing to them, I simply did nothing for them.
"But I have done for you. You do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me, and I will complete your training." The Prince walked to the window and stared out at the night sky. "Stand beside me, and together we can rule the world as sire and Childe." *
"And I believed him." Celchu's voice dropped to a whisper. "Force forgive me, I believed him. Until that night."
* Rome, 1783
He stumbled back to the palazzo only an hour before dawn. The servants who met him at the door insisted on bathing him and brushing the alley dust from his clothing, but he pushed past them into Merando's audience chamber still covered in grime.
The Prince sat on his throne, an ornate gilded seat on a dais. He looked up grimly at Tycho's entrance, his eyes traveling disapprovingly over his childe's bedraggled attire.
Tycho came to stand before the throne, trembling with the effort of holding his panic in check. "They're gone. Someone took them."
Merando raised his eyebrows. "Yes, I know."
"You know? Do you have them? Are they safe?"
"I think not. Toreadors have a reputation for being quite vindictive."
Words crowded his brain, and the pilot tried to sort through it all. "What would Toreadors want with my friends?"
The Prince stood and looked down his nose at his young protege. Walking lightly down the steps, he moved past Tycho toward the door. "They were sending you a message, I imagine."
The Rogue watched as the other man calmly left the room, then sped after him. Grabbing his arm, Tycho pulled him around angrily.
His voice was an angry growl. "Why do they care about me, and why are you so calm?"
The Prince stared at Tycho's hand on his sleeve until the Rogue let go, his arm falling to his side. When last Merando spoke, his voice was low and tinged with darkness.
"Your friends have served me well. You lured my enemies out; the young ones went after you and left their elders unguarded. While your comrades... distracted the young ones, I rid myself of those most troublesome pests."
"You..." Tycho shook his head as if to dislodge the words he sought. "You knew? You knew!" He found himself face to face with his sire, hands clenched around the collar of Merando's coat. "You know what would happen when you sent me out. You used me-- you used them!"
Merando barely moved, but suddenly Tycho flew across the corridor, struck the wall, and landed in a crumpled heap on the floor.
"You are young, and sentimental lapses can be expected. But you will never presume to question me again. Question me?" The Prince threw his hands up and whirled about, his robes billowing.
"I am the Prince of Rome! I ruled before the Ceasars, before their gods were even a dream! I was sired by Ventrue himself, and I will not be questioned by a maudlin Childe."
"You spoke of peace," Tycho accused. "This is only more death."
"There will be peace," Merando said. "When I rule absolutely, there will be peace. When those other, worthless clans are dust in the sun, there will be peace."
"Yes, there will." The Rogue drew himself up and faced the Prince. "There will. When you are gone."
"Don't test me, my Childe." Merando's face lit up with a malevolent smile. "You don't want to cross me."
Tycho stared hard at him, arms loose at his sides, feet apart as though he expected the Prince to charge him. "I'll make you pay."
"You may try." Then Tycho was a foot off the ground, held to the wall by Merando's hand squeezing his throat.
"Had I but one-tenth my mortal power, I might crush you with a thought," Merando said regretfully. "Now, I'm afraid I must rely on crude muscle. Guards!"
They must have been lurking nearby; they appeared in a flash and grabbed Tycho by the arms as Merando dropped him.
"Put him out with the rest of the rubbish," the Prince ordered, then stepped close to Tycho and whispered in his ear. "You will return to me. You will see that I am the one true power in this world, and you will return to me."
"I'll kill you."
The Prince laughed as the guards dragged the struggling Rogue through the palazzo. They tossed him into the garbage-strewn alley, screaming at the top of his lungs.
"I'll kill you, Merando! I WILL KILL YOU!" *
Silence reigned. Each of the men seemed lost in their own thoughts. Wedge stared at his hands, flexing them, watching the veins move under the skin as if he could find some answer in the motions. Tycho slumped in his chair, his eyes fixed on the carpet.
Hobbie's eyes darted from one to the other, studying their auras. Wedge was brown and silver, bitterness and sadness mixed in him. Tycho was leaking-- emotionally exhausted by his tale, he didn't have such a tight hold on himself now. His guilt, fear, hurt pride--all battled for dominance, and he seemed much like the Tycho that Hobbie knew of old.
At last Wedge spoke. "What's your plan?"
Hobbie looked at him in surprise. Tycho smiled and, just like that, he was closed off again.
"I have the support of the world's most powerful Princes," Tycho said. "Their Intelligence network has uncovered hidden entrances in Merando's stronghold. They'll send their subjects publicly against Merando while we break in."
"Publicly?" Wedge snorted. "And break Masquerade; let the humans see us?"
"Perhaps I worded it incorrectly," Tycho said with an almost-indulgent smile. "Everything will be done through Kindred channels, unnoticed by mortals. Tristana, the Prince of Venice, has agreed to challenge Merando's seat. Merando will send his henchmen to deal with her, leaving himself relatively unprotected."
"You're sure of this?" Wedge asked.
"It's his standard response when challenged."
Hobbie watched with interest, almost able to see the wheels turn in Wedge's head. He sincerely wished that the mental changes could be physically seen, as his friend shred through two hundred years of Gangrel, shedding pack mentality, his outsider ways, even his Beast, as a wolf sheds his fur in summer. An apt simile, Hobbie decided as Wedge stood, burned down to the cold hard core of Commander Antilles.
"I want schedules. I want to know when he sleeps, when he rises, when he feeds. I want to know his preferences-- does he have a herd? Will they defend him?-- and his toadies. I want maps, aerial views of his... his... whatever you call it-"
"Palazzo," Hobbie quietly. Wedge glanced at him, and it was not an entirely friendly look.
"Right. How many guards does he have, of what clans, what generation, what skills? What are they afraid of? I want the city maps, the underground channels, the sewers--they're ruled by the Nosferatu, will they help us escape?"
"Through the sewers?" Hobbie asked, louder than he'd meant to.
Wedge whirled around and fixed him with the glare that made generals quake in their boots. "If you've lost your nerve, lieutenant, perhaps you'd better run back to your Toreador friends."
Hobbie felt a hard knot in his stomach. "I haven't lost anything, Commander."
Wedge continued to stare at him until Tycho broke in quietly. "I have all that you've asked for, Wedge. Do you need anything else? Any questions?"
The Gangrel's eyes flicked toward his Toreador comrade, then the men jumped as the sound of running footsteps echoed down the hall like gunshots. Tycho flung the door open and came face-to-face with Fonteyn.
"Master, I apologize." The man was trembling, practically wringing his hands. "The news, Master-- Merando-"
The Prince shoved him aside and sprinted down the hall to Fonteyn's office, the other Rogues at his heels. The office had several televisions and a computer to allow the aide immediate access to the news. There seemed nothing amiss; most of the screens showed local news or sports coverage and two droned on about the recent stock market troubles.
A flash of red drew their eyes to the lower right screen where police and fire trucks sat outside a burning high-rise. Celchu gasped and turned to Fonteyn.
The aide nodded. "Emeh."
Two other screens changed as the networks sent their people to the scene. Celchu hit the volume control on the set nearest him.
"...across from Central Park. Neighbors reported the fire approximately forty-five minutes ago, and you can see how quickly it's spread. Officials have effectively given up hope on this building, and are concentrating on preventing the spread to surrounding structures. We have... wait..." The anchor paused and touched his earpiece, listening to the new information.
"There is another fire, not far from the first." A new picture sprung up. Again, a high-rise inferno.
"Nureyev." Fonteyn's voice was hushed. The Prince looked at him in horror, then turned back as the other screens began to cover the fires. New ones broke out, three, four, five, each one in a safehouse for one of the Ventrue delegates. Hobbie watched in horrified fascination as Tycho looked from one screen to the next, unable to control his rogue-orange, frightened aura.
"Did you do this?" Celchu asked, turning to his aide.
"No, my Prince." Fonteyn's voice held a warning note. "I did not expect this." A strange chill crept over Hobbie as Tycho spoke again.
"These people, every one of them," he said in a ragged voice, "they all sat here not three days ago and agreed to help me. Not three days ago."
"And Merando found them." Hobbie watched as a roof collapsed, sending sparks and flames to light the sky. "Oh, sith!"
He raced back to the room they'd met Wedge in, grabbed his jacket, and started for the stairs.
"Where are you going?" Tycho blocked his way.
Tycho looked confused for an instant, then his face cleared and he nodded. "Right. Bring her back here, then we'll get on with the operation."
"No. I'm getting her out of this. I'm getting out of this."
"What about him?" Hobbie snapped. "He took one life from me already. I'm not giving this one up to chase after him."
The Prince moved in a blur, gripping the other man's biceps. "You have to do this."
"You don't give me orders, Captain." Hobbie jerked away, eyes blazing, then his shoulders slumped and he leaned against the wall as though he no longer had the strength to stand. When he spoke, his voice was ragged.
"I've got so little time with her. Merando is forever, Tycho. She's only got a few more years. Just a heartbeat, really. He'll be there when she gone and I'll be right beside you. But I'm not risking her, not for him, not for you, not for anyone." He stood and pushed past the Prince, disappearing up the stairs.
On to Chapter Thirteen