The Masquerade, Chapter 13

The return of revenge fantasies.

The chapter opens with a timeskip to summer. The book lampshades it by saying that the summer began to Pavel rather suddenly. Yeah, you know, given everything that happened before, we could have just started there and skipped the whole mess.

His first year of training to be a hunter exterminator was accelerated to be completed in half a year. He muses about how soon he’ll be thrown into some bloody mess to get him killed and becomes afraid, despite the horoscope (in which he apparently believes now) saying he has 92% chance of emerging victorious out of it. It’s not enough for him.

We learn that Sergei is laying low on account of annoying the Council to the point that four out of seven members are willing to start blood hunt against him. Yeah, blood hunt is not called lightly. It’s a declaration of war against an individual vampire. The vampire in question is no longer protected by any and all Camarilla laws, and all vampires in the city are expected to at least not help the vampire in any way, and preferably participate in hunting and killing the victim. Technically, it can be called at any time by the eldest vampire in the city (which typically means Prince, even when Prince is not technically the eldest) in response to the violation of vampire laws, but in practice it’s something reserved for repeat offenders and vampires too dangerous to be handled quietly. It’s almost never called for personal reasons, certainly not over being annoyed, since it makes the Prince look like a tyrant, and makes other vampires think if they really want someone like that ruling over them.

Besides, he’s a caitiff. He stands alone. Just kill him.

But back to Pavel. He attends a meeting with other candidates into exterminator where they are assigned practical work. As the head of exterminators enters the room and addresses the gathered vampires, we are treated to another revenge fantasy. Pavel flashbacks to when he was still human and went to take the military course.

I’ve mentioned before that the military service is obligatory in Russia. One way to avoid it is to go to college, which postpones the service, and take the military course (provided for government-sponsored colleges), which counts as service and gives you a lieutenant rank in reserve. In case of war, you’d probably get a desk job somewhere if you took the course.

The army man in charge of the course is a dick and picks on Pavel for looking boring with his speech. It’s actually not uncommon for army people to feel contempt for students, so it’s a rare occasion where I can sympathize with Pavel. Unfortunately, the scene is framed in such a way that Pavel’s humiliation is far from complete: the army guy just scolds him a bit. The narration informs us that he expected other students to laugh at his joke, but they didn’t, and Pavel didn’t get flustered and didn’t apologize. Later, when he was a vampire, he’s found the guy and brutally killed him, literally tearing him from limb to limb. Way to destroy any sympathy the scene might build here.

Seriously, the more I read, the more I am convinced the author is a shitty students writing this book just to live vicariously through a character who doesn’t need to care about keeping his grades up and not offending professors and related people. Pavel being in college serves no real purpose and mostly relegated to the background. It’s brought up only to tell us how much Pavel doesn’t care about college since all problems there can be fixed with an application of his vampire powers or connections.

We return back to the current scene. Apparently, the head of exterminators reminds Pavel of the army guy, but is better than him. Instead of being a dick, he relates to the young vampires and encourages them. It doesn’t prevent him from assigning Pavel on field missions. From now on, Pavel would go with more experienced exterminators to eliminate potential hunters who have a potential to see through vampire glamour, and possibly more dangerous tasks if the situation warrants it. Pavel panics a little. I think those bouts of fear are supposed to make him more sympathetic to us, but, being contrasted with him brutally killing innocent people, they just make Pavel look like a scum.

The next scene is set in Novgorod. We learn that Sergei was not actually lying low. He was busy recruiting other caitiffs, who have a huge population in that city for unspecified reasons (seriously, why? Is there a charismatic leader gathering them? More vampires failing the tests there and sticking around?). After some debates, they agreed to cooperate and petition to be accepted into Camarilla. Sergei hopes that it would inspire caitiffs in other cities to do the same, basically creating a union.

Yeah, OK, so, elaboration on caitiffs is in order. In VtM proper, caitiffs are clanless vampires. Their sires have left them or died shortly after the Embrace. Often caitiffs have diluted blood and don’t manifest clan’s signature weaknesses. Their main problem, accordingly, is the lack of connections to the vampire society. There is no one to care for them, no one to teach them how to use their power and how to behave in the society, and nobody to speak for them before Prince. As such, they are often either dismissed since they don’t have the power to affect vampire politics, or actively discriminated against since they are a potential competition for other vampires. Nobody would object to them dying, and other vampires know it all too well. However, speaking strictly technically, there are no laws aimed against them specifically, and they can climb the ranks of Camarilla same as any other vampire. It would just be an uphill battle, and it’s very unlikely they would get far before being stopped by older vampires clinging to their power. Alternatively, an old and experienced caitiff who managed to pick up enough vampire lore not to reveal their lack of heritage can skip town and appear in some other city posing as a Toreador*.

*Fun fact: Toreadors’ signature Disciplines are shared by a lot of clans, their weakness doesn’t come up that often (they are enamored by the scenes of beauty and often stand watching them for a long time, transfixed and uncaring of what happens around them) and is relatively easy to fake, their structure is loose enough that a new Toreador appearing from another town wouldn’t be too suspicious, and they are both respected and not taken too seriously. Those factors make them a perfect choice if for some reason you don’t want to reveal your true clan. I once participated in a game where five people claimed to be Toreadors. Only one of them actually was. It became a running joke to tell him that he doesn’t really know anything about art, unlike true Toreadors.

In this book, though, caitiffs are Camarilla dropouts who didn’t pass those asinine tests but managed to survive. Apparently, they are denied the support and job opportunities Camarilla provides to its members (at least, that’s what I figured from the vague talk about oppression) but are still given the cure and allowed to live their lives. Honestly, I have no idea why they are still alive. With the local vampires being so blase about taking lives, you’d think they wouldn’t be averse to some little culling of their ranks.

Certainly, that’s the expected response ancient monsters are going to give to some scum trying to demand something from them.

Proving my point, on the day of big decision when Novgorod caitiffs all gathered to speak with Sergei (but before he gets there), Alexei arrives and kills them all using the Elder blood. Truly, a worthy addition to Camarilla.

Oh, and Alexei is calling himself a messiah now. One thing I will give the author: he knows how to create hateable characters.

Sergei arrives to the meeting place to find the remnants of the battle. He comments on how caitiffs leave behind only ash, while clan vampires often leave bones. And no, VtM vampires don’t burn with their death and do actually leave corpses behind. They just start looking their true age, as if they were truly dead since the Embrace. For really old vampires, it does mean turning into dust, but young vampires like Pavel would leave behind a decomposed corpse. It’s far more creepy, symbolic and inconvenient than going up in flames, so naturally it was changed for an inferior option.

Anyway, Sergei surveys the scene and comes to the conclusion that a group of hunters has attacked caitiffs, thus rather obnoxiously building up Alexei’s threat level. Yeah, because I couldn’t possibly figure out that killing thirty vampires alone is impressive, we need to be told it.

Sergei thinks that someone must have told the hunters where to find caitiffs and suspects Moscow Council. It’s actually a reasonable conclusion: those caitiffs were becoming a nuisance, and hunters are a threat, so getting them to fight each other is pretty much what real Camarilla would try to do. Whoever wins, they benefit. Sergei then loses my respect for his reasoning by jumping between thinking they knew that he, the eldest caitiff in town, wouldn’t be there when they attacked, and then almost immediately suspecting he was a target as well. Dude, one or another. You can’t build yourself up as a threat the hunters fear and then worry they could have attacked you.

He resolves to work in secret from now on. The scene ends with the narration informing us that Camarilla is not actually to blame, the place was marked for Alexei’s training a long time ago. Out of all options chose the most boring is this book’s motto.

Next scene is about Pavel waiting in cafe for the arrival of a potential hunter. He meets with his friend Michal, who wasn’t introduced until now. Michal is dismissed from his college because he refused to give a bribe to some professor, so now he’s scheduled for the military service. Pavel sympathies and thinks how to help him, but couldn’t think of anything. Because it’s not like he has connections or anything. It’s an almost human, and thus pretty jarring moment, so it’s cut short by the arrival of the potential hunter. Pavel tries to speak with him about a “business proposal,” but the guy dismisses the young man, so Pavel drags him into a dark alley, mindfucking people around into not paying attention to them. He tests the guy, and eventually he sees through Pavel’s glamour, so Pavel kills him. He thinks that Michal seeing him is unfortunate, but decides against brainwashing him. You’d think it would be a setup for Pavel’s old life catching up with him and causing complications, but probably not.

Pavel kills four out of five potential hunters, which he ascribes to the attempts to kill him. Yeah, seems farfetched given he had no troubles with them. I guess the idea here is that he could come across a real hunter in the process, but that demonstrates pretty well why more direct methods are preferable.

He arrives to his apartment to find depressed Sergei. Sergei tells him about the slaughter of caitiffs and him blaming Camarilla for it. He plans to just go to the Council, openly blame them, and damn the consequences. Pavel points out that he would just be killed, which is the most reasonable thing I’ve heard from him. I guess he knows much about killing.

They talk, and in the process Pavel discovers his secret: Sergei was actually a prominent Ventrue member before being exiled from the clan. His plans are not a result of real concerns over caitiffs, but an ambition to create his own respectable clan, with blackjack and hookers. Every even vaguely sympathetic trait must be eliminated in this book. Pavel promises to help him once he becomes the Malkavian leader, but Sergei rightfully dismisses that delusion.

Pavel then gets a rise out of Sergei, pointing out that he’s the same as Camarilla Elders. Sergei becomes furious, but doesn’t seem inclined to go to the Council anymore.

Next scene is about Pavel participating in an operation against some hunters. He and a bunch of other Malkavians are assigned to a group of exterminators. Their leader is cocky and insults fresh meat. Anyone wants to take bets on how long this attitude will survive?

Pavel’s group are given a car, and they race across Moscow against the exterminators to their target, brainwashing the police into ignoring them and other drivers into letting them drive unimpeded. They arrive at the same time. The exterminators go in, while Pavel’s group remains at the entrance. Soon they are approached by people brainwashed by “holy power” and thrown at vampires for the sake of numbers. Surprising no one, Pavel’s group kills them all. Meanwhile, the exterminators are having troubles with a priest casting shields because all magic must work like CRPG here, and covering hunters’ retreat from another point. Naturally, Pavel’s group moves there and manages to kill all hunters with grenades (which the exterminators were too cocky to take), with Pavel managing to personally kill Teacher before that.

The leader of the exterminators apologizes and gives Pavel the credit for the success of the operation, despite Pavel going against a direct order. All shall love Mary Sue and despair.

We cut to Alexei who reads an SMS about what we just saw. He is summoned back to Moscow, the raid is finally getting organized, thus rendering the last chapter even more meaningless than it was. Alexei grieves for Teacher, but by this point I’ve lost any sympathy left for him.

We cut back to Pavel. He’s with Ira, but she doesn’t do or say anything meaningful. His practice ended with no more dangerous missions, and he hopes that he’ll be given some rest. Instead he is sent on free hunt, to go across the country, especially in places with few exterminators, and kill all hunters he manages to meet. The head of the exterminators even congratulates him with the achievement, which makes me think he truly doesn’t care about his people, and his supposedly likable demeanor is just a mask he wears.

I would approve of it, especially since there is a potential for something interesting to happen, but come on, it’s painfully obvious that Pavel will succeed with flying colors.

With that, the chapter ends.

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