This was, Danny reflected with a crooked smile, all that was good about being Prince. She was sitting at the top of the hill that separated Snowy Rock from I-5 and bore the old Qwik-Ee-Gas station, with its ancient pumps out of the sixties and its ancient bathroom that, or so rumor went, hadn't been cleaned in as long. Up here, Danny was literally on top of the world; all of her beloved hicktown unfurled its dingy-feathered plumage and spread itself out before her in its denim and old flannel glory. The paltry handful of lights from the windows of what freaks Snowy Rock had who stayed up past eleven winked up at her, as if they were sharing a secret joke and wanted to be sure she caught the punchline. Above her, galaxies of ethereal silver starlight dipped closer enough to touch, and Danny could have reached up and plucked that gleaming silver gauze out of the velvet sky and worn it for a cloak, if that was what she wanted.
It was a perfect night to sit up on a hill and feel regal. The wind that teased her limp, stringy hair carried the sounds of hickville and the trucks on the interstate somewhere else -- let them be someone else's problem -- and the unholy smell wafting from the bathroom made certain that no peons would come to bug her. Danny grinnined again and layed back on the scraggly grass, no doubt getting pine needles in her hair. She figured that this must be what being Ventrue was like. Smell of brown-nosing included.
"Danny? Is that -- Oh Jesus H. Fucking Christ! What the HELL is that stench?!"
Danny sat up; her sallow, emaciated face assumed an irritated frown that vanished the moment that she recognized the sihlouette that was partially doubled over some distance away. She grinned.
"Yo! Benny! Over here!" She waved over her head to be more visible.
It was impossible not to recognize Benny, even when he was only a shape in the dark that was trying not to start retching. There just weren't all that many midget bikers in Snowy Rock. Hell, Danny didn't figure that there were all that many midget bikers, period.
Benny recovered himself as best he could and swaggered with his peculiar awkward, rolling walk over to where Danny was sitting.
"Is this where you keep your store of spare decomposing corpses?" He joked as he got closer.
Danny laughed and jerked her thumb towards the bathroom door.
"Naw. 'S th' closest thing t' a wyrm caern 'at Snowy Rock's got, though."
Benny turned towards the bathroom door and leaned forward in a gesture that Danny found comically melodramatic. It wasn't that he was TRYING to be comically melodramatic, mind. It was more that, as non-politically correct as the sentiment was, she thought that midgets were funny. Fortunately, Benny was good-natured enough about the whole thing. He'd only beat the snot out of her when she'd called hin Andre the Giant, instead of permanently maiming or killing her. And even Danny admitted that'd she deserved what she got.
"Well, shit. No pun intended. We've gotta get Brennan up here with a purification rite."
"Oh, no." Danny shook her head adamantly. "I been innere. It'd be too much even f' Brennan. Trust me." She shifted on the ground, bringing her bony knees up to her chest. "So wassup, dude? Whachoo need?"
Benny heaved himself onto the ground next to Danny. He pushed his shaggy, pale hair out of his face.
"I need a favor," he admitted with a hesitance that put Danny immediately on her guard.
"Long as it ain't about savin' th' world again, I'm game," she quipped with an uneasy smile. "I'm done wit' th' hero business. Time t' let someone else take their turn, y'know?"
Benny's expressive, constantly flushed face became apologetic.
"OH no. No. N-O. No way." Danny waved her thin hands between herself and Benny in a negating gesture, as if she could fan the idea away. "I'm done wit' that, dude. Capiche? I'm sick an' tired of -- "
"It's about Brennan," Benny interjected.
"Fuck. You." Danny had been starting to get to her feet, but now she dropped back to the ground with heavy resignation, and not very much grace. "Fuck you, shorty. Ain't fair playin' the Brennan card on me, dude."
Benny flashed her a grin. One gold tooth gleamed in the moonlight.
"Call me shorty again, and I'll rip out your fangs and wear them on a necklace, wyrmspawn."
"Call me wyrmspawn again, an' I'll dunk y' inna sewer," Danny rejoined sullenly. "Fine. What's th' plan this time? Some fucked up machine? A sleepin' god risin'?"
Benny turned abruptly solemn. He lowered his voice.
"They say that a vampire called Bertrand is gonna start the Apocalypse by drowning a newborn child in the blood of a metis," he muttered.
It wasn't the sort of news that even Danny could take in without serious pause. Joking about the end of the world was one thing, but this... she felt compelled to let the silence linger, as if in the hush, the wind could blow away a subtle trace of the unholy that hung in the air. At length, she felt comfortable replying.
"And y' think it'll be Brennan's blood this Bertrand dude is gonna drown th' kid in?" She shook her head. "Shit, boy. Brennan ain't th' only metis around. Hell, you're metis."
Benny shook his head.
"It's more complicated than that," he explained. "See, this Bertrand guy, he's based out of San Fransisco, and they woulda caught him ages ago if Brennan woulda let them base in the Sept of Snow and Rock. But he was against it. Said that if a bunch of Garou came storming into San Fransisco and dragged out one of their big boys, there'd be no end to the trouble it would cause. Said we should find another way." He trailed off, looking distinctly pained.
"It sounds reasonable t' me," Danny admitted at length. "The times, they are a' changin', after all. How come they din't jus' base in th' sept downnere?"
Benny winced and looked away.
"Things've been seriously fucked up ever since that deal with the vampire god went down," he muttered.
Danny stared sheepishly at her boots.
"Yeah. I'm... you know I'm sorry 'bout that, right?"
"Ain't your fault." Benny looked back at his repentant friend and sighed. "The point is that Bertrand's a powerful mother, and well connected on top of that. Time's running out, and there's gonna be hell to pay -- for Brennan especially, given his past connections with the... well, you know."
Danny closed her eyes. SHE was the leech who was such a threat to her closest friend. She knew well enough. Only too well.
"Ain't your fault," Benny repeated softly, reading her silence correctly.
"Why din't Brennan tell me 'bout this earlier?" She whispered.
"He didn't want to get you involved. Said you'd done enough, that your place was here now." Benny smiled sadly. "That it was too dangerous."
Danny glanced at Benny. She smiled back, fondness overtaking her wasted features and softening the otherwise unsightly lines of her none-too-attractive face. They were trying to protect her, Brennan, Benny, all of them. Even with what she was, and what she was cursed to become, they were trying to protect her because of what she'd done to redeem herself. It was a legacy that Danny was proud of -- even more than the lights of the city that spread out before her, even more than the lights of her chantry that she could pick out, gleaming in the night.
"So how much time we got?" She asked after a pause.
"Not long," Benny answered, his tone unsettled again. "Maybe three weeks."
Danny glanced upward, fixing her huge hazel eyes on Luna's gleaming crescent.
"The full moon," she whispered.
"Just that." Benny turned his head away and spat. "We need this fucker dead -- for good, dead -- before then, or we're in deeper shit than that bathroom over there."
"So... what? You want me t' go innere, violate the rules of th' vampires, and kill this fucker for you?"
Benny turned awkwardly to face her, struggling a little bit with his short, stubby limbs.
"Look, I know it's a risk, but you wouldn't be going alone. If you don't wanna go on the hunt itself, fine. I just want you to deliver him to us, maybe use some of your magic to make him easier for us to take out." Reading her hesitation, he pressed: "He deserves it, Danny. Believe me, he deserves it."
Something had shifted in Benny's voice that gave Danny pause, stilled her excuses in her throat. He was muttering now, a dangerous sound that Danny knew well, and knew to be wary of. Almost a whisper, almost a growl, it was the sound of Rage. It wasn't something to be lightly dismissed.
"For what he's gonna do?" She asked carefully.
"For what he's done," Benny muttered. "And for what he's gonna do." The midget looked at Danny closely, and his clear grey eyes gleamed feverishly. "They say he fought in World War II -- that's the farthest back they can track him, though he's a lot older, no doubt. He was there, fighting, when the allies were retaking France."
"A Nazi?" Danny asked, frowning.
Benny shook his head.
"He fought for himself. He glutted himself with violence and the lifeblood of the soldiers -- he didn't care which side. They say that he cut an allied soldier, an American, from end to end. They say he cut him right open and feasted on his entrails, and that he wears that soldier's uniform, with pride. As a symbol of... I don't know what. He gorged himself that night. Dead, dying, alive... he didn't care, long as it had blood in it, but he liked 'em best when they were capable of feeling pain."
Benny was speaking more and more rapidly, his breath coming in hot, quick gasps. His anger was dangerously close to the surface, but Danny didn't notice, because her Beast, with its particular taint of madness, had awoken and heaved itself up through her psyche; she could feel it demanding blood, and its demands became hers. She wanted revenge. She wanted to see this fucker burn.
"They say he likes kids -- in the Catholic sense, if you know what I mean," the Garou snarled softly. "He's got a whole gang of them in 'Frisco. Uses them for blood. Uses them for more, too. The way the leech... you know the stories about Tianna Daughter of Midnight."
"I know 'em better 'an you," Danny snapped. "Arright. I'm in. I don' know shit 'bout no one named Bertrand, but when I find him, I'm gonna rip his Beast out through his balls." She gestured violently with one hand. Sharp black claws flashed in the moonlight. "Jus' tell me how I'll know 'im."
"He's a big guy," Benny explained, grinning ferally at his friend's described punishment, impossible though it might be. "Faster than you can believe, and strong enough to throw US around like we're a bunch of dolls. The first Pack sent to wipe him out..." He shook his head. "It wasn't pretty, if you get my drift. They said another leech helped him, some pansy fucker in an opera cape, but he did most of it himself. One of the guys who made it out said he stopped smack in the middle of the fight to 'refuel', as he put it. I think you get my drift. One less innocent in the City."
Danny nodded stiffly. An idea was beginning to form in her mind, and it drained the Beast out of her, drained her ability to be angry. Or more, her anger was drowned in a greater sensation, a rising sense of horror.
Unaware of her change in demeanor, Benny continued his description.
"He wears that army jacket I told you about. Wears it with pride. He's pretty well connected, too. Surprised you ain't heard of him. They say the leech who helped him was pretty important too -- more than one of us would like to get our claws on it, you know. For what it did. Helpin' him."
Danny looked away.
"And you say he's French?" She whispered. Her voice came out hoarser than she'd intended.
Benny must have heard the abrupt shift in her voice, even through his rage, because he calmed down immediately into a more benign state of curiosity.
"Yeah... why? You know something I don't." It wasn't a question.
"Maybe..." Danny hesitated. "I... I don't know yet."
Danny stared out into the darkness. She couldn't look at her friend, because she was betraying him. Because she couldn't tell him the truth. Not yet. Not until she knew more. Not until she knew what to do.
Not until she knew why the bloodthirsty vampire who was the harbringer of the Apocalypse named Bertrand was the spitting image of Valjean.