Scout’s Honor, Part 1: Know Your Betters

These scenes are best read after one has caught up with the main plot. The following sequence parallels the main-line events of 07/30/15

Be advised that Scout’s storyline takes a darker tone than the main storyline and frequently deals with themes of abuse.

***

Isabella Lytton leans against the tinted windows to peer up at the Pyramid. It isn’t the tallest building she has ever seen, but the tilting angles give a dizzying sense of perspective as it climbs up to disappear into the fog.

The seat of Camarilla power, now the seat of a rogue Priscus. Politics and machinations can’t help but fester in such a place. She was never very good at either of them. But for some reason, Cantor decided to send her straight into the middle of it.

Be polite, my child, Cantor had said. He is old, and powerful. And he has asked to speak with you personally. She shudders. That’s the most terrifying part, that a simple request from this mystery vampire resulted in release from her sire’s direct management, if only temporarily.

Not that Cantor isn’t still finding a way to take advantage of the situation. Before she left his new nest in the church, he instructed her on his desires: find out what’s happening among the vampire leadership of the city, and investigate this pirate who broke into the haven some weeks ago. Cantor gave her kind words then, and encouragement. Promises that in this simple task, her past mistakes would be atoned.

She shudders again at the memory of his touch. It takes a few moments for the crawling sensation on her skin to subside.

The driver waits patiently in the silence, staring straight ahead. She ignores him. Cantor did the Dominate himself; the man would wait there until his last breath if need-be.

But no one needs to die tonight. Double-checking that her knife is secure at her back, the opens the door and steps out, the engine coughing back to life the moment she steps onto the concrete. She stares up at the building as the driver pulls away. The Dominate might drop now that the task is done. But Cantor could just as easily have instructed the man to come back to the church for…reprocessing.

She doesn’t linger on the thought long. With a steadying breath, she walks into the building, prepared–if not ready–to face whatever new demons lie beyond.

#

Ghouls greet her as she steps out of the elevator. A young man offers her refreshments, chilled or fresh, but she declines the proffered wrists and asks about her appointment. The man bows and leads her to an office, the door already open. She steps through, then hesitates on the threshold.

A boy is sitting behind the desk. Not a youth like the ghoul outside, but an actual boy, no more than ten. He’s writing something, half leaning on the desk to compensate for his too-short chair, but somehow nothing in the scene seems funny. His skin is pale, and when he looks up his eyes undulate with dark intensity.

She bows lightly then stands stiffly at attention.  “I was sent to make an introduction.”

The boy eyes her and puts down his pen. “Were you sent to make it to me, or someone else?” he asks.

A subtle, expectant tension rises in the room. She takes a slow breath. “I was sent to make it to the proper powers. I don’t see any other here.”

As quickly as it rose, the tension fades and the boy nods. “I am so glad to hear that.” He climbs out of the chair and walks around the desk to approach her. A strange sword is strapped to his back, small for a full-sized human but well-sized for him. “I don’t know if your master told you what to expect or not. My name is Marcus Sertorius Postumus. Priscus of the Sabbat. Do you know what that means?”

Surprise flutters, but discipline keeps her from showing it. “That…you’re higher-powered than any Camarilla who should be sitting in this room.”

The boy–the Priscus–smirks. “Very astute.” He gestures for her to enter the room. She approaches the desk but doesn’t take a seat.

“There are no Camarilla in this room because the majority of them are dead,” he says, walking to a drawer in a side table to retrieve a fresh pen. “And I didn’t even kill most of them. But that’s beside the point. I had words with your…regnant.” He glances at her, his four-foot frame somehow towering over everything in the room. That plus the reminder of Cantor threatens to send another shudder through her. She looks away, eyes cast down.

“He said he would be sending someone out,” the Priscus continues. “He mentioned it would be you. I won’t pretend to know why, but I will know what your intentions are, in this city that has somehow fallen to me.”

The Priscus paces back toward the desk, watching her. “There has been a great deal of chaos in this city of late,” he says slowly, his young voice macabrely laced with cool authority. “I have spent a great amount of time running around cleaning up other people’s messes and it gets tiresome. If I wanted to rule a city I would have stayed in Spain.” He stops in front of her. “Look at me when I talk to you,” he says sharply.

There’s no magic behind the command, but the threat is still there. Slowly, every other muscle in her body frozen, she brings her eyes up.  His are the color of still pools under nightfall, the kind you could fall into and never reach bottom. It took her years of struggle to surface from the well of Cantor’s control–an escape still not complete–and Cantor had been trained by the best the Black Hand could offer. But, this…boy, this Sabbat elder on personal speaking terms with her master, single-handedly overthrew an entire city and bound a Camarilla Justicar to his control.

She stares into the Priscus’s eyes, waiting to see if he will pull her back under the water.

After an eternity, he turns away, returning to the desk. “I know your master by reputation. I don’t care to know him much better than that. I don’t imagine that matters to you. If you’re going to be active in this city I must know what level of discretion you intend to employ.” He resettles himself in his chair and eyes her. “I know your clan. Whatever tricks you may have up your sleeve, I assure you they are not enough to take on something like me.”

She nods. The waters, apparently, are calm for the moment, but she knows better than to relax fully. She stares demurely at the desktop, waiting for him to instruct her in his will.

A moment passes. The Priscus frowns. “Did he cut your tongue out or do you have nothing to say?”

She blinks. “I…I’ve learned the less I speak, the less I will regret it.”

Something passes behind his eyes after she says this, a stirring in the depths. The tension in the room rises, but this time, she feels, it’s not directed at her. “That sounds like a lesson dearly bought,” he says seriously. After a long moment, he sighs and sits back in his chair. “I wish this city to remain as quiet and as intact as it can be for the next few days. After that, all bets will be off. The reasons for that don’t concern you and they certainly don’t concern…” he grimaces, “…your regnant. I don’t know his agenda, and I know you wouldn’t tell me if you did, but given your clan’s proclivities, do I need to worry about people turning up dead left and right?”

She blinks again, quickly masking the confusion on her face. In all her years, no Sabbat lord had ever voiced such a concern before. “Much of my job has been to clean up after my master. I’ve…gotten quite good at it.”

“Really. We may have to see how good.” He steeples his fingers, a strangely subtle movement to see on a child. “Tell me about Cantor.”

Her head suddenly plunges into turmoil, a writhing battle between gut feeling and conscious thought, and the bonds preventing her from voicing either of them. She takes a slow breath, carefully picking words out of the mess. “He’s…the sort of person that no matter how much time you spend together, you’re always learning something new.”

Marcus smiles grimly. “And how much time have you spent with him?”

“Awhile.”

“Too much?”

A shudder finally escapes her mask of control. She looks away again.

The room is silent a long moment. This time, the Priscus lets it linger until she brings her eyes back to him of her own accord. “We all had a sire once,” he says grimly. His tone, laced with hidden meaning, suddenly grounds her. She looks over his small form again, and nods.

He sighs and gestures toward the window, at the moment nothing beyond but drifting fog. “This city is far more dangerous than any other you’ve been to. Take it from someone in position to know. If you run about acting the fool you will last the night, at best. The Kindred population has been winnowed to the breaking point and others are flowing in to fill the vacuum. Those others who arrive may have very different ideas as to what is proper action. A neonate like you they will devour in an instant.”

She stifles a tired smile. That threat, at least, is something she is used to.

He watches her a moment, seeming to sense her irony. “Your sire is a bastard, you know that?”

Instantly the instinctive fear is back. She stares in surprise as the Priscus continues, “He has a reputation for being a bastard, even amongst Black Handers, where it’s very, very difficult to stand out in that regard. You can’t say it, you won’t say it because you’re too well trained, but I can. I don’t much care what he is, so long as he doesn’t try anything galactically foolish, like trying to take me on. But your sire–and you–are in immense danger. Now, he’s not stupid enough not to know that, so I must assume there is some compensating reason for him to be here. Gods know there is for all of us. But can you be relied upon to be discrete?” He scans her again. “You have put up with your sire and his…ministrations, for some time, so I must assume you know something of what that term means.”

She fights the urge to shrink back from his gaze, as if he could see through her unblemished skin to the deeper wounds underneath. “It’s apparently what I’ve been…reborn to do,” she murmurs.

“It’s what most of us have been reborn to do. Believe me, it can be worse.” He eyes her. “You look skeptical. One day you won’t be.” He gestures again toward the murky window. “There are a series of Kindred in this city that I have had mixed dealings with. They have been tolerably effective at doing what they’re told to do, but only tolerably so. Cantor indicated that I should feel free to give you little assignments as needed.” He smirks. “Courtesy, of course, for the Sabbat Priscus. Now, I haven’t much need for the errand runner, I tend to deal with such things myself. And I do have certain agents for those sorts of tasks.” He looks up, she follows his gaze. Perched on the light fixture overhead is the largest bird she’s ever seen. An eagle, but with feathers almost as dark as his eyes.

Scout stares a long moment, then slowly steps out from underneath the fixture.

The Priscus chuckles. “She won’t bite, unless I ask it. The point being, these other Kindred have many virtues, at least in theory, but subtlety is not one of them. I was hoping I would find some Kindred around here who do have subtlety.” He smiles. “Have I found one?”

Once again, she chooses her words carefully. “If I hadn’t been sufficiently successful at subtlety before, then I wouldn’t be standing in front of you now.”

The smile vanishes. Movement flickers in the corner of her eye. She glances over, expecting to see the bird, but there’s nothing there but shadows. “I’m not sure your master is one who respects or values subtlety,” the Priscus says coolly. “I have heard stories. They are disquieting. But are you capable of acting the requisite?” A moment of silence. “I asked you a question, girl.”

Her gaze snaps back to him. She once again feels herself drawn toward the darkness behind his eyes and takes a steadying breath. “If I’m not, then it is within yours–and his–purview to…remove me from your frustrations.”

“Yes, it is.” The Priscus draws his sword without breaking eye contact. “Spoken very glibly. One wonders if that isn’t your intent.”

Her knife sits cold in the small of her back, but she knows reaching for it is useless. Part of her–the part that has tasted death and nearly gone mad with the pleasure of it–rails in fear at the sight of his blade, screaming for her to slip from sight and run, run as far as she can before he or her master could find her. But the other part of her, a part once-forgotten, holds firm. She lifts her chin and meets his gaze evenly.

He snorts softly, smirks, and lays the sword on the desk, leaning back in his chair. “The three kindred in question are named Georgia Johnson, Augustus von Rabenholz, and Thomas Anstis.  You’ll make their acquaintances soon enough. It is my desire that you make yourself useful to them. At least apparently.” The smirk widens. “I would know what they are doing. They are not as forthcoming as I would like, and while I don’t suspect they are plotting against me, I do suspect they are, at times, very stupid. Are you very stupid?”

She smiles sadly. “My mother always said I was the smart one.”

“Good. That’s probably why you’re alive. In a manner of speaking.” He waves vaguely. “Assist me in this and I will be very pleased. And when I am very pleased, your master will be very pleased. I can make certain of that.”

Suddenly the shadows in the room swell, unquestionably this time. She freezes. The Priscus leans forward, hands folded over his sword, darkness rising behind him. “Cause right now I would like you to believe me when I tell you that I am the only thing within these city limits that your master will even slightly respect the opinions of. It is, therefore, in your best interests to keep me happy, isnt it?”

She nods, trying not to think too much about frying pans and fires.

The shadows settle and the Priscus smiles. “I have known Kindred who needed months to come to that conclusion.”

Outside the office, the elevator dings. He leans to look past her, and she turns in time to see an actual pirate stride past the door.

The Priscus closes his eyes, rubbing at his temples. “Would you do me the immense favor of seeing just what it is he’s preparing to destroy now?”

She nods wordlessly and instinctively slides from sight.

#

In her head, Scout runs through well-trod training mantras as she sneaks up on the pirate. Having a task helps clear her head of the confusion and fear built up over the interview. Tomorrow the Priscus could kill her, or change his mind and send her back to Cantor, but for now she is alive and will do what must be done to survive to the next one.

She peeks around the doorway to see the pirate standing in the middle of the white-tiled room, staring around as if he were in the middle of a field.  “TUKE! Get over here!” he roars at no one. Nothing happens. A few gestures and gravelly muttering, then he suddenly stiffens and strides across the room to rip a door open. He stands staring in shock at the supply closet beyond. She steps into the room a ways and peers around him. There’s nothing in there but bottles of soap and a mop.

“Captain?” the Priscus’s voice yells from down the hall. “Am I keeping you from something?”

“Aye, I’m trying to find Tuke!” Anstis scowls and shuts the door. She ducks out of the way as the pirate pivots on his heel and stalks out of the bathroom.

She follows him back to the Priscus’s office and listens to their conversation from the doorway, dropping her Obfuscate in the process. The pirate finally notices her, rudely evaluating her before returning to his conversation with the Priscus.

She remains quiet, but eyes him carefully. If the pirate gear wasn’t enough of a giveaway, his distressingly tentacular beard reaffirms it. This is the man who broke into St. Ignatius over a week’s worth of nights ago. The man Cantor is looking for.

She assesses Anstis, taking in as many details as she can. Cantor will be pleased she found him so quickly. Perhaps, then, she might be let even further off the chain. Perhaps she might be permitted to wander freely in the city, finally taking the time to search for–

“You brought a five year old child, embraced into a tribe of madman, to an engagement where you were expecting to battle Tom Lytton?” the Priscus yells.

The world falls out from under her. She grabs the doorway to steady herself, all composure evaporated. For a brief instant, she swears she can feel her heart pounding again. Did he…did he say–

Anstis shrugs. “The idea was to not have to battle Tom Lytton.”

Slowly, she pulls herself back together. Fortunately the pirate’s back is turned and the Priscus seems to be ignoring her. Tom…he knows where Tom is–

“And how well did that idea go?” The Priscus barks. “I have reports, Captain, that it didn’t go terribly well.”

As quickly as her hopes rose, they plummet again. Half a decade spent waiting, slowly convincing Cantor to take them to San Francisco–so carefully he didn’t even realize she was doing it–and now, was it too late?

Anstis and the Priscus talk, carefully toying with each other, but she ignores their game. All of her being is focused on the pirate, taking in his clothes, his hat, anything for clues as to her brother’s whereabouts, or fate.

The Priscus’s voice saying her name–or, rather, her selected one–brings her back to reality, and reminds her of the danger she’s in. “Scout has volunteered to be of some assistance to the Kindred in the city, to help calm things down. Would you be so kind as to give her your consideration, Captain? So long as you try not to lose her too.”

She composes herself. Scout. I am not an Assamite, I am not Cantor’s agent, I am not Isabella Lytton, I am Scout….

Anstis twists around in his chair to face her. She stares back. “What be yer skills?” he growls.

She blinks at him slowly. “Staying quiet.”

“Aye, ye’ve made that clear. What be yer clan?”

She knew this question was coming, just not so soon. Fortunately, in all of the years of darkness, horrors, and injustices, she had learned that sometimes the best lie was the truth. Ironically, Cantor hadn’t taught her that; Ramabai had.

She lifts her chin. “No clan claims me,” she announces.

Anstis raises an eyebrow, eyeing her a long moment, then turns back to the Priscus. “Do you trust her?”

The Priscus sighs. “Captain at my age I don’t trust much of anyone. But I have reason to suspect that she is something approximating what she claims to be.”

“Which be nothing at all,” the pirate says.

The Priscus’s gaze sharpens instantly and the shadows rise again. “Not all of us are something,” he says grimly.

She stares, in surprise rather than fear. Was he defending her? Or did the pirate’s words against her hit too close to home for him too? She’s not sure which would be stranger.

Her face becomes a mask as the pirate once again turns to face her. “How be yer skills as a tracker?”

Memories flash to mind, scenes of frenzy and desperation, the scent of fear like a Pavlov’s bell for her hunger. Cantor’s “hunts.” She shrugs to hide her shudder. “Pretty good.”

Anstis nods and hoists himself from the chair. “Then we shall start there. Once I complete my business here.” Without waiting for a dismissal, he sweeps from the room.

She hesitates, glancing at the Priscus. The shadows have calmed, but he’s watching her intently. He nods once, gesturing toward the door. She bows and slips out after the pirate.

#

Scout follows Anstis as he leaves the building, inexplicably collects a dog, then returns to the building. She misses catching up to him in the elevator, and by the time she ascends to the 40th floor, he is back in the bathroom. She carefully peers through the doorway.

He is standing in the middle of the room growling insults at the air as the dog barks at an empty stall. Suddenly the pirate tenses, sprouts claws from his fingers, grabs at his own shoulder, then flails at the air. A moment later he slips on the tile floor and crashes into the open stall.

The shadows around her flicker and she senses the Priscus step out behind her. They stare silently as Anstis tears at the walls, his dog now barking at him. After a few moments, the pirate scrambles back to his feet, surveys the damage and the water pooling around him, then slowly turns to face the doorway.

“Captain,” the Priscus says flatly. “If I asked what you just did, will I like the answer?”

Anstis takes in the room with a grand sweep of his arm. “I’m trying to deal with the situation in the bathroom.”

The Priscus steps forward and takes a slow breath. “Captain,” he says flatly. “Get. Out.”

Anstis hesitates, then sweeps off his hat in a bow. He scoops up his dog and leaves, squeezing through the doorway past them. Scout lingers, surveying the room.

The claws, the tentacles, the dog…. All these things say Gangrel, but so far his actions scream Malkavian. Perhaps he ran afoul of one of the local madman leaders Cantor warned her was about. Or perhaps he simply ate one too many. Cantor made her eat one once, early in her training. Visions hounded her for weeks afterward, terrors that made the horrors of the real world seem a familiar comfort by comparison. She suspected that was part of the reason he did it in the first place.

She stills as she meets the Priscus’s eye, the frustration on his face replaced with a strange smirk. “I hope you were paying attention,” he says.

She hesitates. He did ask her to find out more about what the pirate and the others he mentioned are up to, but something tells her he’s not referring to that.

Tom, she realizes, he said Tom’s full name right in front of me. Did he want me to know…?

She slips away without a word, catching up to Anstis at the elevators, and quickly recomposes herself. “Did you need assistance finding a plumber?” she asks.

Anstis punches the button and shifts the dog in his grip. “Not a plumber, a small boy. Goes by the name of Noah. We could go to where I last saw him. A building named Costco. I lost him during the battle.”

She stares straight ahead, carefully quelling the emotions rising inside. “The battle you engaged in recently? With this…Tom Lytton?”

“Aye.”

She turns to eye him. For years she had searched for her brother, ever since that night in the darkened alley, when she’d hunted a man not on Cantor’s order, but by her own escalating desires. In her prey she had found fragments of memories that shattered the coveted euphoria: Tom, older than the last time she saw him but younger than he should have been, working in the same thug vampire circles as the dead man at her feet. She’d combed through the thoughts–weak-willed, they were already melting like the body before her–and found just enough clues to place them: within the last few months, but many, many miles away, in San Francisco.

The hope of seeing Tom again had pulled her back from the edge of abyss. From that night on, she no longer shied from the monster in the mirror but stared straight at it, focusing on her eyes, the same blue as her brother’s. Those eyes were a link to him, a link to their lives before all of this, the key to recovering the pieces of herself she had thought long-lost, the key to retaining her sanity as she continued to do Cantor’s bidding.

She had come five years and thousands of miles to find him, to help him out of the darkness as he had unknowingly helped her, but if she had come so close only to have him snatched away….

Priscus or not, if her brother was dead, then his killers–and the entire city with them–would burn.

She stares at the pirate, and his insufferable grin. “Sure,” she says flatly. “Let’s go.”

***

END OF ADDENDUM

 

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