The hulking Mexican-Indian biker sits in a dive bar called the Lava Lounge in Pittsburgh’s South Side, nursing a boilermaker and stewing over the events of the past few weeks. At least, he tells himself, you’re far the Hell away from Arizona and that mess of trouble.
His name is Danny Santana. He got to Pittsburgh exactly one day ago after a run-in with a stranger named Carter, and hasn’t yet approached these people that Carter told him about. Part of it, he hates to admit to yourself, is nerves. He doesn’t know these folks and he’s made a career out of being a loner. It’s not just that he doesn’t trust them, either: what if they don’t want him? What if they tell him to hit the bricks? Christ, what if they decide to try and take him out as a threat? He’s not used to dealing with other supernaturals.
This place has an odd vibe to it. He can sense a lot of supernatural energy here, but doesn’t see too many other Gifted around. There’s one guy, a few stools down, who’s watching him pretty intently. Finally, he gets frustrated, slams his glass down and says, “What?”
“You look like a guy with something on his mind,” the other fellow says, moving to sit next to Danny. “Maybe a guy on the run.”
Danny looks grim, ready for a fight if need be. “What would him know about it?”
The newcomer gives a half-smile. That’s when Danny notices there’s something almost artificial-looking about him. “We can smell our own,” the man says, and extends a hand. “The name’s Harlan.”
Danny looks him up and down and say, “You’ll forgive me if I don’t shake hands.”
Harlan shrugs and turns to look straight ahead. Danny notices he’s not drinking and wonders if he can trust a man in a bar who doesn’t drink.
“You mind if I ask you what brings you to Pittsburgh?” Harlan asks.
“Yes,” Danny says. “I mind.”
“Every man’s got his secrets,” Harlan says. “You’re not the only one on the run. But for what it’s worth, this is a pretty good place to keep your head down.”
That’s about when everything goes all to Hell.
A wave of strange, mystical energy erupts through the entire place. It’s a kind of Essence, but a kind he’s never felt before. The only thing that comes to mind is Insanity. It’s like pure madness, personified into an infectious energy. At first, he’s overcome with a desire to simply start tearing people’s throats out. Then he finds the prospect hysterical and it’s all he can do to keep from laughing. It takes a moment for him to realize that Harlan is pretty frantically calling him, telling him to get hold of himself. Danny looks down and sees his hand, getting covered with tawny fur, claws growing.
Gods dammit, he’s changing. And he’s all but overwhelmed with a desire to give in to it. It’s only with a Herculean effort that he manages to hold it off…but the Change is coming and there’s not much he can do about it for long.
Harlan grabs him by the arm and says, “Quick! Come with me.”
Confused and overwhelmed, Danny lets Harlan drag him through the bar and through a hidden door in the back room, where he suddenly finds himself in another bar…that is full of demons and supernatural creatures. The situation is no better in here, except that there aren’t any humans. Demons and other supernaturals are tearing at each other randomly, in sheer chaos. It’s like some horrific demonic Fight Club. He glances back through the door behind him and sees that the humans in the normal bar aren’t much different. It’s like the whole world has gone crazy.
Harlan steps back and says, “Have at it, boss.”
Danny grin at him, and lets the Change wash over him. It’s all he can do to hold back and keep from tearing out throats, keep his wits about him. It lasts all of five or ten minutes, and then it’s just…over. Danny finds himself on his hands and knees, clothes tattered, out of breath. He looks up and around and finds Harlan sitting at a table in the corner. He walks over and says, “Thanks. Thanks for that.”
Harlan shrugs. “Like I said, I know what it’s like.” He looks at Danny for a second and says, “I’ve never known a werejaguar before. I knew a werewolf once. If book covers are to be believed, you’re a lot like him.”
Danny holds out his hand. “Danny,” he says. “My name is Danny.”
Harlan takes Danny’s hand with a grip that is surprisingly strong. And cold. Danny notices a glowing rune carved into the back of it.
“Well, Danny,” Harlan says, “If we’re to be honest, I got a cable from an old friend that you might be coming. A guy named Carter. He said to make sure you find your way to the Hive Arcana in Oakland. Ask for Anita Blake, and tell her that Harlan sent you. After what just went down here, I have a feeling she’ll be putting a new crew together, and they could use a guy like you.”
Harlan’s head snaps up and he looks around almost like he’s sniffing the air. “Listen,” he says, “I’ve got to run. But if you need me, I can usually be found around here or Club Apocalypse in the Strip District. Just ask around. I’ll find you.”
Then he dashes out the back door without another word.
Danny signals for a boilermaker and knocks it back, thinking about what tomorrow might bring…