Monday, December 7, 2020

VtM: A Coffee, a Park, and a Beautiful Ghoul

Edhem found Shannon leaning against a square concrete arch in Gasworks Park, and nodded to her before stopping to unroll the king-sized blanket he'd brought. He was smiling behind his mask, which was absolutely ridiculous: there was no way to get to know her without pushing into Malachi's business, and he knew full well that pushing into Malachi's business was dangerous. And yet... he wanted to get to know her. He was glad to see her. It had been years since he'd felt this way. 

Suicidal, you mean? asked the voice of his worse-if-wiser self, but he closed it away and set the paper bag in the middle of the blanket. Shannon strolled casually over, then knelt over the bag and pulled out the coffee he'd brought for her. He could see her smile even behind her mask -- which probably meant that she could see him grinning like an idiot behind his -- and retreated to the opposite corner of the blanket. 

The park was surprisingly empty, but then it was nine in the morning on a Tuesday, and all the solid citizens were probably either at work or huddled in their homes -- or, where possible, both. They were far enough apart that the risk of transmission was negligible, and there was nobody close enough to hear them. The air was chilly, but not unpleasant. 

"You're not a ghoul, are you?" asked Shannon. 

Edhem shook his head. "I don't even know what that is." 

"It's what I am," she told me. "I asked you who you belonged to because I belong to Malachi -- though it's loyalty, not slavery, despite how it might sound." 

Edhem nodded slowly, putting things together in his mind. "And this... belonging... is what allowed you to move the way you did?"

"Well, partly. Practice plays a big part, you know." 

"I know." He shook his head. "I've never met anyone like you, that I know of."

"Then how were you able to keep up?"

"Practice does play a big part, but... I belong to a tradition, an ancient one. My ancestors were the defenders of the First City, and something of their strength lives on in my blood." He met her eyes. "I think that's how I got caught up in this: I was trying to find out what happened to Jack and Valeria, and something... like Malachi... saw me using one of those ancient skills." 

"Ah," said Shannon. "Yes, that would explain a lot. Especially if the one who caught you belonged to Jack's bloodline." 

Edhem hesitated a moment, then said: "They're real, then." 

Shannon tilted her head. "You've never met one?" 

Edhem shrugged. "That I know of. We hunted dark spirits, rogue magicians, unquiet ghosts."

Shannon nodded slowly. "That explains... I doubt they know any more about you. At least, Malachi's never mentioned anyone like you. Everybody keeping their secrets so carefully that they didn't realize that others around them were as well." 

Edhem considered that. "I'm not sure that's an entirely bad thing," he said. 

"I don't know," said Shannon. "Things are bad now, and seem to be getting worse. It might be better if you walked away and pretended that you never learned anything." 

"I don't think the one who found me would let me go that easily," Edhem replied. He'd been thinking about turning his back on all this, but it didn't seem like the same sort of escape route now that his secrets weren't entirely secret. "...And I don't know how to escape it, not with any certainty."

Shannon shook her head. "I don't know what to tell you, then. They do recruit allies, sometimes, but they're... obsessive about loyalty... and they have ways to ensure it. If you've caught the interest of an Elder, my advice would be to be as boring as possible and hope it becomes distracted by some other entertainment, but that isn't much of a strategy and you're probably not helping it by meeting with me."

"Honestly, meeting with you has been the best part of this whole thing," said Edhem, and was rewarded when Shannon smiled. "No, I think the only thing I can do is press forward -- cautiously -- with this investigation, and hope that I can reach some sort of accord with this thing when we're done."


  1. I have a feeling I'm going to be talking about Seattle by Night for years to come.

    I saw a conversation a while back about worldbuilding, and how there are many stories one can tell in speculative worlds that are *informed by* the differences in that world but aren't *about* the differences. Like how Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a murder mystery that could only take place in a world with mind backups but isn't *about* how the invention of mind backups changed society, or writing a story about a 10-year-old in a world that's invented immortality (and enough social technology to stabilise its population despite that) who is *shaped by* the child-raising dynamics that arise in such a society without the story being *about* the invention of immortality (and the creation of new forms of child-rearing that account for the fact that children are much rarer than before and there's absolutely no rush to have them).

    I love how you've done this with the real world. I love what you've done with the setting, how Seattle by Night is *very much* set in 2020, one never forgets that it's set in 2020, but it's not *about* 2020. Plot is plottening in the foreground, while in the *background* the threat of plague pervades everything.

    I suspect most stories set in 2020 are either going to be *about* the plague or set in an alternate 2020 where the plague didn't happen (indeed, I've already seen one twenty-minutes-into-the-future story declare COVID-19 to be non-canon†), and future-me is preemptively refreshed to see a story that does neither, that balances the extremes.


    †that being said, the Chilliad *is* great and I highly recommend it

  2. Thank you! I am not acquainted with the Chiliad, and it looks like I should be!


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