Scout’s Honor, Part 3: Artistry and Illusion

The following sequence parallels the main-line events of 08/13/15 and completes a secret scene therein.

Be aware that Scout’s storyline often takes a darker tones than the main storyline and deals with themes of abuse.

***

THE DE YOUNG MUSEUM

Scout stares at words blazoned stop the flyer in her hand: Friday Nightlife at the DeYoung. For a moment she tries to recall the last time she was in a museum. Probably that field trip to Cleveland her advanced art class took in high school, not long after her mother died. Losing herself in art had been the most comfort she’d had in months, her frenetic sketches her only counseling. Then her childhood ended and the years with Cantor began. But now, for the first time in decades, the stars had aligned to offer her a rare glimpse of what she had lost, and an evening away from Cantor’s influence.

Something more priceless than art, these nights.

The sound and light spilling from the museum in front of her eventually bring her back to reality. With another glance to make sure that whole thing isn’t some sort of hopeful delusion, she tucks the flyer away and heads to the front doors.

She nods at the guards–carefully angling away so they don’t see the bulge of her knife at her back–and slips into the crowd. The foyer is crowded and humid, but she ignores the press of humanity around her and moves toward the galleries. A velvet rope blocks the gallery wings off, hung with a sign saying they’re closed for the night, but that doesn’t slow her, as she drops from sight and leaves the party to step through into the museum proper.

Her footfalls echo through the empty galleries, audible only to her. Gradually, tension drains from her body with each piece she pauses to view: glass, pottery, modern sculptures, antique portraits, and things harder to classify. Inspiration starts to awaken from deep within and her fingers itch to sketch, to paint, to create something, but she holds it back. This night, like so many of her nights, is for feasting, to consume as much as possible to sustain her in the nights ahead.

She completes the lower galleries and moves up a stairway to the second floor, coming out into a long, dim hall showcasing religious sculpture of the South Pacific. Here she hesitates, as flashes of memory bring her briefly back to reality. The carvings’ dark woods, exaggerated features, and fetish accents of real human hair and bone remind her of fleshcrafted figures–human, animal, or both. Impressive work, but hard to disassociate from memories of the Tzimisce who would call such horrors art. Tzimisce whom Cantor would call colleagues.

She stops to stare at one, a life-size figure with matted palm-frond hair and a real human skull embedded in the face. The rotted cheeks and broken teeth grin mockingly through the glass. She shudders and hurries out of the gallery.

With the South Pacific room behind her and the noise of the party still just a distant murmur, she relaxes again, moving down a long hall of antique dishware and handcrafted furniture. A guard passes her at one point, moving lazily down the hall in the other direction. She steps out of his way easily, casting the same appraising eye across his features as she does the china behind him. When he turns a corner, she continues on. At the end of the hall, she steps into a large gallery, then stops.

Paintings are spread before her, great oil works in rich colors, on canvases almost as large as the landscapes they’re displaying. She sighs in awe, almost letting her Obfuscate slip in relief. This is what she came for, works of texture and captured light, somehow more alive than a photo or video could ever be. She paces the room slowly, savoring each one, then lingers especially long in front of a sunrise over a field. Gazing at it brings her back to the fields of her childhood and a similar painting she did herself, long ago. Finally, she moves on, then when her first tasting is complete, she loops back to admire each one in the gallery again.

Footsteps suddenly echo over the hardwood floors. Heavier than the guard’s were, and approaching steadily. Scout stops in front of a snowy landscape in the corner and turns to the door.

An apparition of a man steps into the room. Pale skin, pale wiry hair, and a matching pale linen suit. He stops on the threshold, scanning the room with strangely red eyes, then enters with the purposeful grace of a hunting cat. More footsteps, and the guard suddenly reappears behind him in the doorway. Still moving, the pale man meets his eyes. The guard nods once, respectfully, then leaves.

Scout frowns. The pale man is clearly a museum employee, but something about him seems wrong. The demon within her twists in anxiety as she watches his evenly-paced movements. That more than anything unnerves her; all the horrors she’s witnessed–or committed–during her decades with Cantor, and yet a middle-aged albino man sets it off?

The man’s path brings him closer to her. She backs out of his way, but because of his angle of approach, this puts her further into the corner. He stops in front of the snowy painting, eerily standing exactly where she was a moment before. Stuck, paralyzed by fear, she watches him closely as he scans the painting and smiles

Suddenly the temperature in the room plummets. Frost patterns limn the windows and the wood floors groan. Scout stifles a gasp. The man, though, doesn’t react, still smiling blissfully. He exhales slowly in a long sigh, his breath coiling around him like smoke, sending her Beast into a panic. Unable to ignore it any longer, she slides her way carefully past the man, giving him as wide a berth as possible, and heads toward the door.

The man follows, arms folded casually behind him. He stops in front of the painting of the sunrise. He smiles again. Slowly the temperature in the room starts to rise.

And keeps rising. The halogen lights spotlighting the paintings come up to full strength, and somehow become brighter. Scout freezes in shock, instinctively lifting a hand to shade herself, and gasps as she realizes her skin is starting to itch….

“I can smell you, you know,” the pale man says to the empty room.

Scout’s dead heart lurches. None but the most elder vampires should be able to sense her right now. She had worked hard to advance her Obfuscate skills since that neonate tech-head had seen through it, months before. Even Cantor had been impressed with her improvements. But this man was clearly alive, and clearly following her.

Stalking her…. she realizes with another twisting lurch. Quickly, she moves toward the door.

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” the man continues, still looking at the painting. “You don’t want to know what’s out there.” He turns, eyeing the ceiling. “I can make every light in this building channel the sunlight of a hundred years ago. You won’t make it to the front door. Unless you’re that…stripling in the Pyramid.” He scans the room, eyes narrowed. “Are you that stripling in the Pyramid?”

She glances toward the door, gauging whether she can bolt for it.

The man steps away from the painting, into the room. “Are we to play a game?” His footsteps echo with unnatural weight. “Must I flush you out?” The lights pulse once, brighter.

Her skin burns again, a warning brand. Her last few decades had taught her to recognize such threats, and exactly when to submit to them. She takes a slow breath, then drops her Obfuscate.

The man stops and blinks, surprised. “Well…this isn’t what I expected.” The lights dim to normal strength and he approaches her. “Now…who might you be, and what might you be doing here? So many of your kind have been skulking around recently, I start to lose track.”

Scout stands her ground, staring into his red gaze. Something about his eyes nags at her, something half-remembered, but the fear swirling within her keeps her mind firmly locked in the present. “I…saw the invitation to this event. It’s been some time since I’ve been able to visit a museum.”

“Oh you came to visit the museum, not devour the guests?” he asks lightly.

She looks around. “I don’t see any guests here.”

He sneers. “Here, perhaps, but if I go back to the party will I have to check my guests for sudden losses of consciousness? Anemia, perhaps?”

His words give her an idea. Still meeting his gaze, she lets her mind slip toward a trance, trawling her subconscious for memories of lines and shadow. She tugs at them, collecting them to her like a painter gathering his brushes, wills them into existence, then releases–

Lighter footsteps echo behind her and she senses rather than sees her conjured shape of the guard step into view. “Sir, you’re needed downstairs,” the illusion mutters roughly, then moves around the corner, literally disappearing once he’s out of sight. She watches the albino man closely. She had to guess at the guard’s voice, but hopefully it would be enough to lead him away….

The pale man stares after the guard, then turns back to her. His eyes narrow. “What have you done?” he practically growls.

Her stomach lurches. Is he able to see through her Chimerstry too?

“Coordinated matter, maybe?” he continues. “Funny, I didn’t smell anyone else. But then they do hide, don’t they? Should I just dispose of you and go see what your friend is up to?” He steps closer. “What is it I’m needed for downstairs?”

She stares at his unexpected anger. “I…don’t know, I came here alone–”

“Oh, two vampires coincidentally decided to walk into my museum tonight, on a weeknight, for no reason other than to stare at the paintings? What could I possibly be needed for downstairs?” He grabs her forearm in one striking movement. Terror reels at his touch, freezing her. “Why don’t you come with me and we’ll see what’s going on,” he says as he drags her from the room. She doesn’t resist. In her experience, such efforts usually made things worse.

He leads them through the empty second floor galleries, toward the main stairs. “I don’t know what you think this is,” the man hisses. “A hunting ground perhaps, open territory now that the wolves have left. Who sent you here?”

“No one,” she sputters. “I just came. I’m new in the city–”

They enter the South Pacific room. Long teakwood faces leer from all sides. “Oh you’re new,” he sneers, “And you think the city is what, open season? A number of leeches have died here recently, you must think it’s the wild west all over again!”

“If I’m in someone else’s territory, I’m sorry, if I had known this had a claim I wouldn’t have come–”

“No one told you? Well they must not like you very much.” He stops suddenly, whirling her into an alcove next to one of the cases. He looms to block her escape, though by the strength of his grip she couldn’t if she tried. Beyond his shoulder, the skull-fetish carving laughs from behind its glass.

The man leans down, bringing his red eyes inches from hers. “My name is Charles Steinhardt. These are my museums, this is my park, and this is my city. The more you leeches forget that, the more I’m made angry and have to remind you all. I thought I had, but apparently word didn’t get around. Now who should pay for that? Whose door should I kick down?”

She gapes back at him, terror pinning her in place as easily as his grip, but through the maelstrom a memory from another lifetime surfaces, something else from high school. Her biology teacher had taught them about albinism, explaining the lack of pigmentation, and mentioned something offhand she’d forgotten until just now:

Human albinos have irises of pale blue or green. Only albino animals have eyes of red.

Charles watches her face, smirking at the fear she can no longer conceal. Slowly, he leans forward and inhales deeply, red eyes closing in mock pleasure. “Corpse. Carrion. You know, alligators are scavengers….”

The tone is all too familiar. She turns away, trying to calm herself enough to attempt another illusory distraction. He growls and tightens his grip. “Speak, or I’ll forget that you have any use to me other than food.”

The threat, too, is familiar. She shudders, for a moment imagining Cantor standing in Charles’s place. But then, suddenly, a preternatural calm settles on her, like the eye after a storm. Whatever he is, this man before her, breathing hot breath, is alive. Whatever he can do, it can’t be worse than what she’s seen, or what she’s done. For the living, death is simple. For the living, death is a release.

Scout meets his eyes again. Ramabai’s last words–a surrender, an absolution–echo in her mind, giving her strength. She lifts her chin. “Better you than him.”

Charles stares a moment, then something about her meaning seems to register. He sneers and takes a step back. “Maybe I’ll send your fangs to the Pyramid, see what they have to say about–”

Suddenly he stops, turning to stare down the hall. She follows his gaze. Another man is standing there watching the two of them, his features obscured in the low light. Charles tenses, then turns to her, glares…and releases her arm.

Without another word, Charles walks away, down the hall to join the other man. Scout watches blankly, rubbing her wrist, trying to comprehend what just happened. The man isn’t an illusion, but Charles doesn’t greet him, just walks past to open a nearby door. The man enters, Charles steps in behind him, then closes the door with a soft click and not a single glance back.

Scout is left alone, carved faces staring at her from all around. Slowly, the drifting sounds of the party bring her back to the present. She takes a breath, then melts from visibility again, not even checking to see if the guard is around.

Muffled now from sight and sound, she rushes toward the stairs to head down and get the hell out of the museum.

#

GOLDEN GATE PARK

The night air does little to calm her as she walks through the park. City light glows over the darkened trees around her, and to the east, the sodium-lit towers of St. Ignatius tear high into the fog. Her feet take her slowly toward them, her mind too occupied to consider any other destination.

Until the cool press of a gun against her neck breaks her from her daze.

“Don’t move,” a female voice says in her ear. A young voice. “Empty your pockets.”

Scout hesitates, hands lifted, but the gun presses harder. “You’re fast, but not fast enough to stop this,” the voice growls.

Slowly, perplexed more than frightened, Scout pulls the knife from her waistband and kneels to place it on the ground, keeping her hands visible at each step.

The press of the gun eases slightly. “Good, now walk. Off the path, into the woods. Slowly, and very quietly.”

Scout hesitates again. She’s seen enough to know that not all disappearances in the world are due to the supernatural. She scans the shadows under the trees for teenage meth heads waiting to jump her….

The gun clicks. “These bullets are tipped with phosphorous,” the girl says.

…And with that, fear rises. For the second time tonight, something supernaturally-affiliated has gotten the drop on her, something she doesn’t understand or know how to respond to. Bereft of options, she complies, walking quietly into the darkness of the forest.

Shaded now from view from the road, the gun eases but still hovers over her skin. “Alright, who the hell are you?” the girl says.

Scout turns her head lightly, hands still visible. “Who the hell are you?

“The person with a gun to the back of your head,” the girl hisses, a touch over-emphatically. “Who are you, leech?”

Scout’s Beast twists anxiously at the venom layered under the epithet, but she maintains a careful veneer of calm. “My name is Scout.”

The girl snorts. “Scout. Really. What are you scouting?”

Scout sights. “Honestly? Tonight was my night off.” She glances to the east, the lights of St. Ignatius still visible through the park canopy. “But it’s turned out just like all the rest of them,” she mutters.

The gun is removed from her neck. “Turn around,” the girl growls. “Slowly.”

Scout turns It’s a teenage girl, much younger than she was expecting, perhaps sixteen, with short-cropped hair and an army jacket about three sizes too big. Her gun also looks too big for her, but she’s holding it surprisingly steady. Her eyes are intense, bright even in the shadows, and deep down the Beast within Scout recoils from them. But there’s something else about her, something off, but in a more familiar way. It takes Scout a moment to place it, but once she does, it’s because she recognizes it from experience:

The girl is in pain, terrible physical pain, and trying not to show it.

Scout lowers her hands a fraction. “You don’t look like the normal street-kid crowd.”

“I’m not,” the girl snarls, shrugging her jacket higher on her shoulders. “Scout’s not your name, is it?” Scout doesn’t respond, and the girl smirks. “What are you doing in the city?”

“My job,” Scout replies evenly.

“What’s your job?”

Scout’s gaze doesn’t waver. “Not good things.”

The girl shifts her grip on the gun. “What kind of not good things?”

Scout is silent a moment before responding. “Things I don’t want to do.”

The girl falls silent at this, the only sound around them the drip of condensation off the trees. “Join the club,” she mutters finally. The gun quivers almost imperceptibly in her hand. “Why did you come to the park?”

Scout shrugs. “It’s my night off and I heard the museum was open at night–”

“Bullshit!” The gun suddenly steadies. “You don’t know anything about what’s in the park? You just nearly got eaten by a dragon!”

Scout blinks. “A dragon. Really?” She looks the girl over, momentarily reassessing her age.

The girl laughs darkly. “You don’t believe in dragons? What do you believe in? Vampires?” She smirks as Scout stills. “Witches? Werewolves?” The gun clicks. “What are you doing here?”

Scout stares down the barrel. “I was looking for art.”

The girl hesitates. “…What kind of art?”

“Anything. Something beautiful.” Scout’s eyes flick toward the St. Ignatius towers. “Something I haven’t seen in a long time,” she mutters.

The girl eyes her a moment, suspiciously. “…How about this.” Keeping the gun levelled and her eye on Scout, she pulls out a phone with her other hand. Thumbing quickly across the screen, she turns it around. It’s a photo of a painting, an amateurish watercolor of a sunrise over a field, or maybe a sunset.

But it’s a sunrise. Scout knows because she was facing east when she painted it.

Scout’s composure drops. For a moment, the world reels. “Where did you get that…?” she mutters, reaching toward the phone. The girls pulls back. Scout blinks, then snarls. “Where did you get that?!”

“I took it. Before someone else did.”

“From whom?” Scout takes a step forward. “Who had that painting!?”

“Someone I knew.”

Scout stops. “…Knew,” she repeats flatly.

The girl shrugs and lowers the phone, the gun still level. “I don’t know if he’s alive,” she mutters. Her face wavers briefly with a different sort of pain, then hardens. “What’s your real name?”

Scout eyes the girl a long moment. “The last person who had that painting called me Izzie.”

The silence continues as the girl stares back, then suddenly her mask falters. Pain shoots across her face, tremoring down her body. Her arm shudders.

Scout’s training takes over. Faster than thought, she lunges for the gun, shoving the girl’s arm up. The gun fires, showering the trees with trailing streaks of incandescent light. Despite her pain, the girl grips harder, struggling with Scout. Their eyes meet. Something new flashes across the girl’s face.

In an instant, the girl disappears, replaced by a wall of fur and muscle seven feet high, towering and snarling overhead. Scout’s instinct screams and she stumbles away. The creature doesn’t follow, and as Scout gets a better look she sees why.

Gouges, deep and blackened at the edges, lace the creature’s–the werewolf’s–body, tracing the flesh in a cracked spidery pattern. Less like claw marks and more like cracks from something trying to burst out from inside. The werewolf’s sides heave with shaking breath and its eyes burn at her. As Scout stares, trying to comprehend what she’s seeing, the creature slowly raises the gun again, massive finger tightening on the trigger.

Then, as quickly as it appeared, the monster is gone, collapsing back into the shape of the girl. She stumbles, gasping. “Don’t…do that…. I don’t care who you are, I’ll blow you in half.”

Scout’s instinct still shrieks to flee but she fights it down and recollects her composure. Ignoring the gun, she waits till the girl meets her gaze. “Did you kill Tom?” she asks. Saying his name out loud–the first time in who knows how long–sends new emotions reeling, but she holds them back, waiting for the girl’s response.

Still breathing heavily, the girl shakes her head. “No.”

Despite the girl’s pain, somehow, it’s clear she’s telling the truth.“Where is he?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been trying to find out.”

Scout falls quiet.  She had heard rumors Tom is a killer of werewolves, which might explain why one was looking for him, but it didn’t explain why she would have his painting. “What are you to him?”

“I don’t know. I…think I reminded him of you.” The girl grimaces, then draws herself up straighter. “He was a friend. He helped me out of a lot of really bad places, and I owe him something.” She’s quiet a moment. “Why are you here?”

Scout takes a steadying breath. “I came to this city at the behest of…my master, but before I came I heard Tom might be here. Last I heard, some of the other local vampires captured him, lead by someone named Rabenholz.”

The girl nods slowly, then jerks her head to the east. “This master of yours, he’s that scary super-leech in the church?”

Scout follows her gaze toward the St. Ignatius towers. Part of her aches to spill epithets against him but the blood bond forces her words back. “He has been there, yes,” she manages finally.

“What’s his name?”

“He goes by Cantor.” Scout turns back. “I’ve never known for sure if that’s his real name.”

The girl eyes her a long moment then, slowly, lowers the gun. “The park isn’t for leeches. Used to belong to us, now we’re all dead. Belongs to the dragon now.” She gestures toward the museums. “Albino guy, dresses in white. He’s Mokole. If you don’t know what that is, don’t ask.”

Scout’s stomach drops. The man who captured her, who shook off her illusions like water, was a dragon…. Her Beast claws in anxiety at the memory.

The girl’s voice draws her back to the present. “If you’re here cause your master wanted you here, why do you care what happens to him?” She lifts the phone, flashing the painting still on the screen.

Scout’s eyes narrow. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because you’re a leech, I don’t know you think! I don’t know any of you think! None of this is how it’s supposed to work! Do you have any idea what’s been going on around here? Your master been telling you?” She shoves her gun toward the east. “There’s spirits around that church, and they don’t have nice things to say about him.”

Scout lifts her chin. “Neither do I.”

For a brief moment, the girl’s eyes flash with something primal. “What do you want?”

Scout opens her mouth to spill out everything everything she can about Cantor, but the words choke in her throat. His control over her, his bond, is too ingrained. She feels it spreading, starting to mute her rebellious thoughts as well as her words, but she draws on techniques collected from decades of practice to work past it. “I want…to be rid of him,” she spits out finally, “And I want my goddamn brother back. I don’t know what Tom’s been up to, but if he’s anything like he was when he ran away from home, then he’s gotten himself into more shit than he knows how to shovel.”

The girl smiles a moment, but it quickly evaporates. “I…think Tom might have gotten worse. He did some really, really bad things. I don’t think he knew what he was doing when he did them. He…killed some people.”

“We’ve all killed some people,” Scout says evenly.

The girl shakes her head. “Not like this. He was captured because he killed some really important leeches, or got them killed….” she looks away, “…And he did it because I asked him to,” she mutters, shuddering again.

A tense silence settles around them, broken only by drips of fog. Scout waits as the girl wrestles with multiple layers of pain. It’s a familiar sight. Finally, the girl strengthens and looks up. “How do I know you’re not just gonna run back and tell your master about all this? How do I know he didn’t send you to the park?”

Scout smiles grimly. “Cause if Cantor had wanted to send me to my death, he would have done it personally,” she says coolly. “Extremely personally.”

The girls eyes narrow knowingly. Too knowingly, for a sixteen year old. “Tom helped me when I really needed it,” she says seriously. “When nobody else would. I owe him. And if you need to find him too, then…okay.” She nods. “But I don’t know where he is, and I can’t just walk around and ask. If you figure out where he is, let me know.”

An unfamiliar sense of relief blooms in Scout’s chest, chasing away the fear and the pain and the lingering choke of her bond. It takes her a moment to realize why. For the first time in who knew how long, she had an ally.

“What’s your name?” Scout asks.

The girl hesitates a moment, then smiles shyly. For a moment, she actually looks her age. “Sophia.”

“How do I contact you?”

“Do you have a phone?”

Scout snorts. “It’s more like a leash. Cantor likes to check my messages sometimes, like I’m still a teenager.”

Sophia smirks. “He won’t see this. Look for the roaches. You’ll know.” She backs toward the deeper shadows under the trees. Before Scout can say or ask anything else, her form is replaced by a wolf–a real wolf–that turns and bolts off into the darkness.

Scout stands a moment after she’s gone, listening to the drips and sound of the breeze through the trees. Confusion and fear roil within her again, but now they’re joined by something else: hope.

She looks to the lights of St. Ignatius. Something deep inside pulls her to them, toward the master at the other end of the bond. He would be expecting her, and soon.

Slowly, moving with as much care and focus as the injured werewolf, Scout turns away from the light, and forces herself to walk in another direction.

END OF ADDENDUM

 

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