The taxi drives away, and I am left alone with the Gangrel and Brujah, in the middle of the most dangerous district in San Francisco.
Nicoletta fixates me with a stare. "And what is your business in Colma tonight, Morgana?"
Her voice is calm, but it still betrays her distrust of non-locals. I've so far been able not to step on any sore toes a particularly patriotic Kindred might have, having seen my share of them previously, but there's always a first time.
"I want to talk to the Giovanni." I reply carefully. "You're fairly lucky to have necromancers in a city with ghost and zombie problems. I'm hoping they can shed some light on these restless spirits. If I may ask, are you here for the same?"
"Not until now, no." She replies. "We are going to meet the Baron Evan, as he has been out of touch with the other Barons recently. The Malkavian is prone to disappearances, but now is really not a good time. I want to know if he's all right."
"You are going to meet the necromancers alone?"
I shrug. "It is not as if I have much of a choice."
"Come with us." She offers. "And we will accompany you to the Giovanni." A low growl escapes her. "I want to know what is going on in my city."
"Certainly." I've been able to talk my way out of being killed by more powerful Kindred after sticking my nose in their affairs before, but having a Gangrel and Brujah as backup is rather reassuring. Especially since we've already fought by one another's side, and have formed a tentative alliance.
She nods curtly, and struts towards the cemetery. Rebecca follows her, visibly bored, and I follow Rebecca.
Our road winds on through the many graves. Luckily, it's a fairly calm cemetery for now. No restless spirits come out to taunt or harm us. But there is no Baron, either.
The Gangrel calls out to the Baron, and as we wait, I let my eyes wander. A grave marker catches my attention. It reads, "Morgana Lakes. 1837-1855."
"Why, hello." I say quietly. "It's not often you find someone named exactly as you are."
As if in reply, something moves behind me. I spin around, only to see a thin, gaunt blonde man, smartly dressed, slowly moving towards me. He smiles a welcoming smile, but there is an axe in his hand that kills the reassuring effect completely.
I back away at the same slow pace.
"Nicoletta," I call. "Is this the Baron?"
"Oh! Evan! Glad to see you!" The Gangrel says. "I need to talk to you, please."
But he's looking only at me, and smiling in obvious relief. He finally speaks in a quiet voice, "I'm so glad you came. So very glad. It would have been hard to find you, this is a big city. But you came on your own. Thank you."
"Is there a way I can be of service to the Baron of Colma?"
"Yes." He stops close to the grave of Morgana Lakes. "I need your hand. Please. It won't hurt. It won't take long. I need to return it to its rightful owner."
Ah. He is hounded by a wraith, I presume. And, yes, the solution does make sense if she's missing a hand. The magic of name is important, and it *is* possible that the wraith will move on if I provide her with what has been taken away.
But I'm really not too keen on giving away an important magical link to some wraith I don't even know. Maybe there's another way around this?
"Wait, Evan." Nicoletta says, coming up to us. "Morgana *is* her own hand's rightful owner."
"No, you don't understand." The Malkavian says kindly. "I need to help her. Please, miss. Your hand."
"It's all right, Nicoletta. May I look at her grave? I may be able to help her without such drastic measures."
He looks uncertain. "Y-yes, yes, but quickly, please. I am a very busy man."
"Rebecca," I turn to the redhead. "I have a favor to ask of you."
The Brujah raises an eyebrow. "Yeah?"
"Catch me if things get out of hand." A medium who fears the spirit world is almost a joke. A vampire medium whose Beast fears the spirit world is nearly always a joke. I need backup these nights, backup to hold me while I deal with fear. It frustrates me to no end.
"Ok, fine." The Brujah shrugs.
I come up to the grave, and kneel beside it. My hands stroke the grave marker as I concentrate.
...And sickness overcomes me. There is sharp pain in my stomach, and the blood in my body rises up, and I cannot keep it down, vomiting blood over the grave. When the fit passes, I see the ground of the graveyard seep with yellow bile. I hear voices that whisper "leracholeracholeracho..."
Oh gods. A whole cemetery of cholera victims. They are reaching for me! They will infect me!
My body jerks away from the grave, but two strong hands catch me in time.
Stay, you fool, you are undead and in no danger here! Don't you dare run!
"Morrigan, Washer at the Ford, prophet who knows of the dead, give me strength to see through their pain, give me the sight to know what happened to this girl!" I mutter in Irish, forcing myself to concentrate. "I am better. Release me, Rebecca."
The Brujah does as I ask. The pain fades into the background, and I can look down into the grave. Into? Yes, for the earth has been torn open by a man with a shovel. He resembles Evan, but has a greedy glint in his eyes and a wicked grin on his face. A grave robber?
He finally reaches the coffin, and opens it. The girl looks nothing like me, whether in death or in life. But she does have a few valuables on her. He quickly tears the jewelery off, but has some difficulty with the bracelet on her left arm. The bracelet is some kind of charm, I think, worthless except as a memento. But the greed of the man is too great. He tries to remove it, but it sits too tightly. The grave robber scowls, and removes her hand with a few certain chops of the shovel. He is obviously used to doing this.
Someone whimpers behind me, and I turn to see a scared-looking young boy, who will grow up in one hundred and fifty years to become the Baron of Colma. The grave robber notices him, too. He screams at the boy shrilly.
"Evan, you little bastard! Get the hell to sleep! Get out! Get out!"
The boy takes a step away and starts to fade. I take one last look at the girl and know with the certainty of a medium: her spirit is not restless. She passed on long ago, and with relative ease.
This is not a matter of restless spirits, but the Malkavian's guilt speaking within him.
The real world comes into view, and I find myself on hands and knees on an undisturbed grave, with blood streaming down my cheeks.
"Well?" The Baron says sharply. "Are you done? I need your hand."
I stand up and meet his eye. I am far taller than he is, and yet he is Baron, over a hundred years older than I am, and with a very sharp axe.
But I cannot give way to insanity and lies.
"I am sorry, Baron." I say firmly. "The girl's spirit is long gone. My hand would not help her in any way. It is you who need help, not her."
"What are you talking about?" Confused and angry, like all who must meet with their lies to themselves. "I need your hand, miss, please. I thought I was so lucky, that it's not going to be like always, in dark alleys, with the police and all the noise afterwards, please, do not disappoint me!"
Oh gods, I wonder how many people he killed to right the wrongs done by his father. And possibly in vain, too. I really can't leave this be, I must tell him the truth. Looks like I'm going to make an enemy of a Baron. Just. My. Luck.
"She does not need it." I repeat. "She is long gone from this world, and nothing remains. I do understand that you would like to right the wrong of a grave robber." His face contorts in fear. He knows that I know. "But this is not the way to do it. If you like, we can talk about how we can help you."
"I thought you understood!" He looks lost. "Please don't make me hunt you in an alley somewhere!"
"I do understand, Evan." I come up to him, and try to hold his shoulders reassuringly. Oh gods, save me from a close combat Frenzy, I'm going to die if he Frenzies, he's older than I am... "I do understand why you want to repent. But this is really not the way to do it. I can help, if you want. But it's not the kind of help you're asking for."
He sobs - and disappears from my hands.
I brace myself for impact.
But the axe blow does not come.
"Evan! Call Nicholas, please!" Nicoletta says, and then scribbles the same message on the earthy path with her foot. Then she turns to me. "What's going on, Morgana?"
"He wants to right an old wrong. But there is no one to make it right to." I reply. "There is no ghost here. Merely his own imagination. I am sorry for hurting your negotiations."
"I got what I came here for." The Gangrel answers. "Let's move on to your Giovanni.