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Blankets the Night

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Almost two weeks had elapsed since the one night stand in which Sunny had died, and was reborn anew into a world they were only just beginning to understand. Within that time, they'd become a hotel exorcist, chosen a side in the Camarilla-Sabbat war in order to repay the debt owed to the Prince of Los Angeles, and liked the idea of the Camarilla enough to sneak onto a ship (exciting!).

After that, LaCroix seemed so impressed with Sunday's ability to sneak in and out of places undetected that they were then asked to go check on the Malkavian Primogen, which seemed simple enough, but was immensely complicated, instead.

"From what I was able to piece together, not only was Dr. Grout kidnapping and torturing kine, but he was also contacting a vampire hunter named Bach. Grout was dead, staked and restrained, when I got there, I believe. I didn't perform a forensic analysis, but from his tapes, he didn't sound put-together enough to have done a disappearing act." Sunday reported, standing straight backed in front of the desk.

The Prince was shocked, "Bach. I know him, yes. And I agree with your assessment of Grout's - unfortunately - deteriorating mental state. So Grout was murdered by Bach."

Sunday shook their head, "I don't think so. From what he was saying, it sounds as though he got there a little after me, and didn't know Grout was dead."

"Then who?" LaCroix sat back, "It is no small crime in our society to assassinate a Primogen. The Camarilla is inclined to discourage it."

The Nosferatu was already beginning to understand - and appreciate - why Tung thought so highly of the Ventrue. Seeing Sebastian already overstressed and having to bring more problems up to the tower wasn't fun, but having the problems without a supportive or functioning Primogen unit, based on what Sunny had gleaned already, had to be incredibly taxing. Sunday was grateful for the little things they could do, but didn't know enough yet about how to help repair the big things. LaCroix had opened up a bit about how stressful it was, and Sunday had been supportive. When they had floated their nonbinary pronouns, LaCroix said she'd appreciate if Sunday returned the favor and used 'she', while also practicing Nosferatu discretion.

About the murder, though. "I don't know. But I plan to find out."

LaCroix's lips twitched involuntarily into a smile, "You are a credit to your clan, then. Are there no other suspects?"

Sunday's eyes wandered the room idly, noting as ever that dagger with the ankh design, and that the papers they'd retrieved from the Dane were untouched from when LaCroix requested they leave them. "Smiling Jack?" They suggested.

The Prince squinted at the Fledgling, "Why do you say that?"

"He's had nothing but awful things to say about the Camarilla since I met him. He has that thing vampires can do when they move fast?"

"Celerity." LaCroix provided.

Sunday looked a little concerned, "I can't prove anything, I only had a few moments to look at the body, and I don't know who set the fire. It would be logistically challenging, if not impossible, for Grout to have done it. Probably not an accident during a struggle, the only stuff that looked knock-over-flammable was in the medical area, which I passed in order to get to Grout's and isn't where the fire broke out. Bach shouldn't have set the fire, because it puts a time limit on his murder attempts, and people can escape in the confusion, like I did. He didn't fight me, even though," Sunday gestured to their own face in willful acceptance of how obvious it was that they could be identified as Kindred.

"You're fortunate; Bach is deadly. His whole family line have reality-bending abilities based on how strongly they believe in their murderous God." LaCroix steepled her fingers, "If our suspects involve those who dislike the Camarilla's presence, then that would also encompass Isaac Abrams and Nines Rodriguez, who also have Celerity... I don't see the Nosferatu Primogen's motivation, nor Strauss'."

"I met with Nines outside Grout's mansion," The Nosferatu turned away, "I didn't mention it at first because it... seemed wrong."

LaCroix watched Sunny for a beat, "Wrong how? Sunday... Are you sure it was Nines?"

"No. I'm not. That's how. It sounded hollow... nothing like Nines at all. And that Nosferatu who turned - who Embraced me, sorry? They looked like someone else at first. Is that something a lot of Kindred can do?"

For some reason, LaCroix looked ... ill. "Yes. I need to convene with the Primogen and discuss what you've told me. Keep yourself available, we may need you to provide more detail, if there's anything you can remember, or if they have further questions. Until the Ankaran sarcophagus is safely in the museum, we can take no action, so I have nothing else for you to do."

Sunday's ears drooped, from the way LaCroix's expression changed, how their information was unhelpful, at best, confusing, muddled. But they hadn't known what to look for. "I'm actually willing to say it probably wasn't Nines." Sunday elaborated, but that only made LaCroix look more worried. The Nosferatu took a step back, looked to the door, then at the lonely Ventrue in the chair, shadowed only by the protection of her Sheriff.

"I'll keep an eye on my emails. Keep in touch if I can help more." Sunday said earnestly, and was gratified by the way LaCroix's expression noticeably softened. Then they was gone, heading down to the special elevator that LaCroix had taken the time to have installed so that the Nosferatu and the Nagloper could come and go without disturbing mortal happenings. Sunday wound their way through the tunnels, deep in thought and heading almost unconsciously toward the Chantry that Strauss had invited them to come visit.

So far, Sunday had offered their assistance to almost everyone who asked for it. They helped LaCroix because even the Anarch leader seemed to believe Sunday owed LaCroix a life debt, they helped the Anarchs because, while finding them crass, offputting and somewhat bullheaded, it was obvious they were shellshocked from the Kuei-Jin war and without means to repay assistance, largely... and they had helped Strauss with the spreading of diseases in the city, finding the Tremere soft spoken and pleasant. The door opened to them, as it had before, and they wandered the hallways before coincidentally finding themself at the sitting room door. It smelled of mahogany and sweet burning candles or incense, and Sunday knocked before entering, finding Strauss on the couch with a handful of texts beside himself.

"Strauss? Do you have some time to talk? If you're not busy." The Nosferatu lingered by the door, but the Tremere closed his book at once, looking up as if out of a deep fugue.

"Please, sit, neonate. What can I help you with?"

It was not with too fine a point that Strauss indicated listening was a favor, or at least contained an offer of assistance. But Sunday was getting used to this as just the way that Kindred society worked. Very few individuals of any clan seemed to want to do anything with no expectation of return. Only Nines, so far, had truly wanted nothing back for helping Sunday, and that was still with the possibility of swaying them to the Anarch cause. (Well, Nines and Jack, but there was something wrong about how friendly Jack was. Sunday felt guilty for casting aspersions without proof.)

Sunday described the scenario at Grout's mansion with earnest detail, including their observations of Nines as a monosyllabic, concerned individual who didn't seem suited to the role, and Strauss confirmed LaCroix's answer that yes, there were 'many means' by which a diverse array of Clan disciplines might conceal themselves.

"How many?"

"At least half of the Camarilla can do such things. Not shapeshifting, necessarily. It could be as simple as a Malkavian planting a suggestion that you remembered the face of Nines, in place of whoever was actually there. And outside the Camarilla, there are other groups with similar abilities. Sunday, did you remember seeing anything on 'Nines' clothing? Residue of any kind?"

Sunday thought back. "No...?"

"Did he smell of blood, or smoke, or show signs of injury?"

"No." This with more certainty.

Strauss' logic was relentless, slow, and surgical. "Can you think of any reason that the Anarch upstart should have any business in being at Grout's mansion, other than his murder?"

For a third time, Sunday shook their head, deep in thought. It felt as though they were getting somewhere but also - getting nowhere, at the same time. But Strauss didn't seem to share that opinion. "You have ingratiated yourself with their sect, Sunday. You are aware of the flippant, violent philosophies which the Anarchs espouse against Camarilla presence here. Is it possible that you simply don't want to have seen Nines Rodriguez in a compromising position?"

"It is possible." Sunday looked earnest, "I know you can't tell me Tremere secrets, and I respect that, but is there anything you do for the Camarilla that involves truth potions? Magic like that?"

Strauss was astonished by the question, and took some moments to answer, employing silence as his ally in the matter of handling the - outspoken but very courteous Nosferatu. Finally, he indicated, "There are methods such as you describe. They require a donation of a pint of blood, belonging to the individual being questioned, and their presence. Neither, I think, you would be likely to acquire from Mr. Rodriguez. The Tremere have a reputation among the lesser clans of abusing our authority and abilities."

"I think you're nice." Sunday said, impulsively, though they didn't know enough to know if the reputation was deserved, the Tremere were one of the few clans Tung seemed wholly negative about. Perhaps he'd had a bad experience, or knew more than he was telling. "But I understand why Nines might be slow to trust, at least at first. Taking a whole year not trusting is kind of extreme, given that you weren't violent against them, though. Or Prince LaCroix, too. I think - the Camarilla was holding back under LaCroix, when they could have destroyed the Anarchs."

Strauss folded his legs. "Not destroyed. I would have been satisfied to flex more power against them and demonstrate the futility of their opposition. But LaCroix..." He shook his head, "Too young. Too ... forgiving. I am concerned, as you know, with Los Angeles' future, and the political instability is extreme without Grout's murder."

Sunday digested that opinion, knowing that everyone they spoke to was biased - knowing they themself was biased! - but happy to indulge everyone to a point, and try to reach the closest possible objective truth with the information available. Strauss didn't seem frightened, or even bothered by the prospect of assassination. The Chantry was much safer as a stronghold than Grout's house: the front door wasn't even locked. That meant the abandoned hotel had better security! But there was something really wrong with Grout, he hadn't been thinking clearly and hadn't trusted anyone to help him. Strauss also didn't appear particularly quick to trust, but he did value information, and clearly there were wheels turning that Sunday could sense but not quite see.

They sighed, getting no closer internally to an answer. Nines had been kind to them. Grout had probably deserved retaliation, from what he'd been doing to the kine and what he was about to do to a different Kindred, sell them out to someone? A Faustian bargain? Maybe he hadn't deserved murder, but it was hard to say.

"I think Grout was talking to a vampire hunter to try to kill you or Prince LaCroix. One who showed up ready to kill Grout, too." Sunday lay across the couch, digging claws unhappily into the boiled leather BDSM restraint of their armored bicep. "It's a mess. You don't want to tell me what to do, but can you advise me at all?"

Strauss opened his hands, a curtailed shrug, "At the moment, I believe you are doing what you ought to be. Asking questions, paying attention, and remaining alert to your own opinions clouding your judgment. It is unfortunate that Grout's mansion is destroyed, with no witnesses or evidence available to us for analysis, but before Prince LaCroix commands a bloodhunt, the Primogen must allow it. There will be discussion." At Sunday's worried look, he continued, "A bloodhunt is not necessarily a death sentence. The Kindred in question can leave the city limits, and is legally allotted until midnight to do so. While it is an open invitation to some Kindred to perform acts of violence against the individual, in reality it more often serves as an exile."

The Nosferatu buried their face in their arms, still thinking hard. Manipulation was not their forte, but they liked people and gave a lot of thought to why people might do what they did. The quiet crackling of the fire was not uncomfortable either, warding off a chill without inducing a particular discomfort, and Sunday relaxed, permitting themself a few quiet moments. They felt Strauss' presence nearby as a comfort, regardless of how often they disagreed with the Tremere's soft opinions.

"From what you've said, and in the absence of more certain proof, I would be slow to approve a bloodhunt against Nines Rodriguez." Strauss admitted. Apparently, as biased as he thought Sunday was, he was willing to credit their observations somewhat. That lightened their dessicated heart further, and they left in as good spirits as could be expected. They returned to Santa Monica to check on their haven, and happened to glance down the street toward 'Gimble's Prosthetics'. They'd called in the little basement of horrors to the police a few days ago, and Carson had left promising to arrange official involvement, but there were no signs that anything had happened since then, and Sunday was beginning to get anxious about it. If there weren't so many other things to do, they might have done a followup sooner, and investigated the building again, but all they expected to find were the bodies of McGee and Gimble, so they didn't. They stopped by Tung's hideout, but that too was empty, and, as it was dangerously close to sunup, retreated to the haven supplied to them by LaCroix.

Outside, the mortal side of Santa Monica was just waking up, and Sunday fired off a quick email to Tung, asking for him to get into contact with them ASAP and discuss developments - too cautious to say explicitly what, even though they trusted the LaCroix Foundation secured internet to some degree... they could see how a hundred year old Kindred might get a little nervous.

Exhaustion from the past few nights of activity caught up to them as the sun edged over the horizon, and they slipped off into merciful oblivion.

They may not have slept quite so soundly, if they'd had all the facts.