Scout’s Honor, Part 4: The Dark Tower

The following sequence parallels the main-line events of 08/20/15.

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

***

SEAL ROCK INN

Scout’s alarm chimes softly a minute after sunset, but it’s unnecessary. Her eyes were open the moment the unseen sun sank below the horizon. She lies in the darkness a moment, then climbs out of bed and strides to the window, throwing the curtains open without flinching.

Color soaks the horizon, amber sinking to blood before plunging into the cobalt sea. The twisted pines of Sutro Heights claw at the sky, but their negative space only adds to the majesty of sunset in full bloom. Scout sighs, sinking to the desk chair underneath the window, and reaches for the notepad and pastels she bought the night before. Only a few moments to capture the vision the way it was meant to be captured, to not just observe the light but experience it through the act of creation–

There’s a knock at the door. Scout freezes, hand poised over the paper. A moment passes, then the knock comes again, more urgently. She sets aside the sketchbook and picks up her knife.

Three nights she’s been on her own in the city, wandering at her whim. Without specific orders from Cantor to return to the church, she’d instead taken a room at the very edge of the city, as far from him as possible. Undoubtedly, he knew where she was anyway, but if he desired her return he would summon her–through technological means or otherwise–instead of showing up himself.

Which leaves the question of who would be at her room at this hour. Quietly, she approaches the door and peers through the peephole.

A young man stands on the other side, shifting his weight nervously. After a moment, she recognizes him as the boy who works the front desk. Her anxiety drops a fraction, but to be safe, she spins wisps of illusion over her before opening the door.

The boy jumps as a large, tattooed man suddenly appears, looming from behind the open door and holding a bowie knife as long as his hand. “Uh…I’m sorry to bother you, but there’s a message for this room, left at the front desk.” He lifts a note. Still illusioned, Scout accepts and opens it as the boy hurries down the hall.

PYRAMID. ONE HOUR. –TB

She stares at it as she closes the door. Undoubtedly, the initials represent Theo Bell, the only other person in the city who could know she was here. She glances at the clock, then to the window. The color is leeching rapidly from the sky, absorbed by the descending night. Her fingers itch to reach for the pastels, but it will take almost the full hour to get to the Pyramid from Lands End. Being late would irritate the Justicar, and an irritated Justicar might start to take notice of far more things than the motel she was staying at.

With a sigh, she lets the illusion melt away, tucks the knife into her waistband at the small of her back, and reaches for the room phone to call the desk and ask for a cab.

#

THE PYRAMID

Two people are waiting in the hall outside the Justicar’s office when Scout arrives. One is a tall, bearded, gaunt man with custom tailored clothes and a fine enough posture that Scout can clearly see he’s not breathing. The other one, dressed in folds of deep black fabric embroidered with erratic gold shapes, is Georgia Johnson.

Scout hesitates. She knew it was only a matter of time before she ran into the woman, now apparently Regent of the Tremere, replacing Maximilian Von Strauss after he perished under mysterious circumstances at the Voivode’s manor down the coast.  Cantor hadn’t been specific on the details–nor did Scout want any–but he did say it was enough for him to consider the contract on Johnson void. Cantor had followed the news up with a grin, though, drawing a comforting hand down her back that quickly turned more pointed, and gave her permission to pursue the target on her own terms, if she so desired.

Standing in front of Johnson now, Scout’s Beast thrills with excitement, remembering how it felt to have her paralyzed and at her mercy, aching for the rush it was denied. Scout ignores it. Focusing on Tom the last few weeks has made it easier to quell the desire, but it’s been months since her last true kill, and the demons writhe higher every night.

Johnson smiles at her. Instinctively, Scout pulls her dyed-hair around her face and shoves her sunglasses higher, covering her eyes. Eyes the same color as her brother’s.

“Well hello!” Johnson says cheerily. “It’s nice to met you. I’m Georgia Johnson, Regent of the San Francisco Chantry.”

Scout nods to her. “Scout.”

“Scout,” the elder man rumbles, trying her name but not supplying his own. “What are you in town for?”

She looks him over. Something about his demeanour–too calm, too sure of himself–screams Ventrue. “A short period of time,” she replies curtly.

The man stares at her, but before he can respond, the Justicar appears and gestures all three of them into the office. “I don’t have a lot of time this evening so I’ll get right to the point. Who are you?” Bell snaps as he closes the door behind them, staring right at Scout.

She hesitates, finds herself fidgeting with her sunglasses again. “My name is Scout, I received a message to come–”

“Yes you did, I sent it. I mean who are you?”

“I’m…new in the city.”

The Justicar folds his arms, looking her up and down. “What clan, what sire?”

She takes a breath, focusing on maintaining an impassive veneer. “No clan which claims me, and…” she takes another breath. “…I don’t know.”

The Justicar eyes her a long moment. He eyes her a long moment. Her Beast twists in warning, sure that he’s going to see through her lies….

“Caitiff. Good, we need a stable situation around here.” There’s a mocking lilt to Bell’s voice but she’s not sure who it’s aimed at. She relaxes as the Justicar turns to Johnson and the Ventrue, but she remains standing, in the back of the room with an eye on the door.

Scout listens as the other vampires bicker, eventually landing on the topic of the pirate, who apparently is missing. Scout hasn’t seen him in nights either, which she now realizes is odd, considering how much wandering she’d done over the city the last few nights and how hard he is to miss….

The Justicar turns on the TV, revealing a gristly news report from earlier that day describing a massacre’s worth of bodies discovered in the caves at Fort Funston. Scout watches dispassionately. For a brief moment, she wonders if it’s part of some plot of Cantor’s, but he wouldn’t be so sloppy.

In front of her, Johnson leans toward the Ventrue as the newsclip plays. “Tom’s still in the basement, right?”

Scout continues to stare at the screen, but every shred of her being suddenly focuses on the two sitting before her.

“He’s more secure than that,” the Ventrue mutters.

“I am glad we’re all thinking the same thing,” the Justicar interrupts them loudly. “How secure is more secure?”

“Incredibly,” the Ventrue says, with a tone that sends a shiver down Scout’s spine.

The Justicar leans forward. “Mr. Rabenholz, you have absolute certainty that Tom Lytton did not do this?”

At the name, Scout’s gaze suddenly bores through the back of his elegant grey haircut. This is the third man involved in Tom’s capture, the one who took him to the Chantry. The one who may hold him still. Or worse.

Oblivious to her intensity behind him, Rabenholz nods at the Justicar. “Positively.”

Scout listens more carefully now as they continue to chat, but can’t help reel in surprise as Johnson gets up and cheerfully leaves the office without warning. In the original contract on Johnson’s life, Von Strauss had identified the woman as a serious threat. With her banter and bright disposition, though, nothing about her actually appears to be dangerous.

Which, in Scout’s experience, means she is. Extremely.

Scout continues to listen as Rabenholz and the Justicar test each other, debating the fate of the pirate. She stills as the Justicar suddenly turns to her.  “I’m told you’re good at finding things,” he says, then adds in a grumble, “I’m told this by people I’m required to work with.”

Which can only mean the Priscus. For a moment, she’s surprised Sertorius seems to be helping her cover story, but doesn’t have time to dwell on it now. “I…can find most things–”

“Can you find a psychotic Gangrel dressed like a pirate who still thinks he’s in the age of sail?”

She shrugs. “I’ve met him before, I can’t imagine there’s anybody else fitting that description.”

The Justicar lifts his finger warningly. “Caitiff aren’t generally welcomed terribly much into a city. You wanna avoid that? Find me the pirate, and I’ll make all the obstacles disappear. And if the pirate didn’t do this, find me the one who did.”

Scout hesitates, glancing at Rabenholz. “So it definitely wasn’t this…Lytton everyone is speaking of?” she asks, using every subtle nudge she can to make her nonchalance sound genuine.

“This Lytton everyone is speaking of, I have it on good authority, could not have done this at this time.” The Justicar transfers his glare to Rabenholz. “Quiet this down, and then we can get back to dealing with Humboldt.”

Rabenholz nods and stands. “Very good. I’ll speak with you later.” With a bow, he sweeps from the room. Scout bows and leaves as well, before the Justicar decides to give her a more pointed interview.

She hesitates outside the office, mind racing. Nights of wandering this city and she still hadn’t found any leads toward her brother better than what she already knew. On top of that, Cantor could summon her back at any moment, evaluating her infiltration of the activities of the city. If he wasn’t satisfied with her progress, he could simply decide to cancel whatever plans he had for her and collect her gathered knowledge…directly.

Two dark birds clawing for her attention, and the stone she needs for both of them is sweeping away down the hall in front of her.

She hurries to catch up. “Herr Rabenholz,” she says.

Lord Rabenholz,” he corrects smoothly, turning to face her.

Instinctively, she flinches at his chastising tone, but he levels nothing more than a firm glare. She lets that instinct carry her, bowing respectfully and clasping her hands in front of her. “Lord Rabenholz, my apologies. I’m new in this city but it doesn’t take much experience to understand the direction that things are flowing. You seem to be a man at the apex of such a current.” She casts her gaze down demurely, hiding a pleased slant. Submission and servility, the second quickest way to a Ventrue’s heart.

But as Rabenholz regards her, her hands itch to reach for the first quickest way, cradled in the small of her back.

He gestures with his cane. “Your flattery is appreciated. You may skip to the point.”

She nods. “Mr. Bell is correct that I have some skill with tracking, and other services. If there is anything I can do to be of service to you and your interests in this city I would be glad to make myself available.”

“Indeed.” Rabenholz eyes her appraisingly. “Well, so refreshing to meet someone as helpful as yourself. I’m glad our city has assets such as you. Do you mean to pursue the Dread Pirate Anstis, as the Justicar has requested?”

“I mean to make the attempt, yes. Although he is someone so imminently obvious that if he hasn’t turned up yet then I can’t imagine where he could be,” she says with an ingratiating smirk.

Rabenholz eyes her a long moment. Anxiety twists her, wondering if he’ll dismiss her with the same aloof ease he showed to the concerns of the Justicar.

Finally, he turns and presses the elevator call button. “I am heading to one of my hotels. I spoke with Anstis on the roof there a few nights ago. Perhaps there we may find clues as to his whereabouts. If you are so inclined, you may accompany me.”

Relief floods her and she bows to hide it. “I would be glad to.”

#

SUTRO TOWER

It’s not until they leave the hotel roof to head to the tower that Scout realizes just how dangerous her position shadowing Rabenholz is. She expected him to dismiss her as easily as any other underling–passingly useful but ultimately disposable–but as the hour drags on she feels his interest in her grow more and more pointed the less she says. She remains silent the ride to the tower, staring out the window, feeling his gaze on her the entire time.

The car drops them off at the bottom of the drive and they make their way through the dripping forest up to the tower.  “You seem to have an eye for things to come, or have enough sense to flatter me into thinking you do,” Rabenholz says as they stroll, his cane clicking against the asphalt. “You apparently have an idea why I am here, but I put the question to you. Why do you come to San Francisco? How do you hope to profit by being here?”

Scout stares out into the trees, considering her answer. Normally she would push the submissive angle, but she needs Rabenholz to trust her, and something tells her that, paradoxically, he only trusts those like himself.

She straightens her shoulders and affects a haughty air. “I am someone who tends to find herself in places of confusion and unrest, whether I intend to or not, but I’ve found it’s worked to my favor in the past.” She shrugs. “Word of this city’s situation preceded it.”

He nods. “Opportunity does collect people that way, doesn’t it? I suspect more than just you or I will arrive in this city before things calm down.” They reach the guard shack. Rabenholz turns to face her. “Be more specific, though. What opportunity do you seek in the chaos here?”

Scout cranes her neck at the tower overhead, momentarily struck by its looming shape against the sky. “Like I said, I’m pretty new. I’m simply keeping my eyes out.”

Rabenholz twists his cane in his hands, then nods. “Very well, your secrets are your own. For now.”

Scout forces herself not to roll her eyes at the puerile attempt at a threat.

“Mr. Bell seemed to think you were good at finding people,” Rabenholz continues. “What, or perhaps who, has given him that impression?”

She shrugs. “I assume that, as the official figurehead of the city, he has many contacts still in his purview.”

“Contacts who know you.” Rabenholz tilts his head, gaze going soft as he eyes her closely.

She knows instantly what he’s doing. The way Cantor explained it, Aura Sight not only allows people to gain insight into your mood, but could indicate if you had recently taken the amaranth. “Recently” being an arbitrary designation, since apparently it could take years for the scars to clear from your aura.

But according to Cantor, for reasons he could never explain, Scout’s aura was and had always been clear as cool water. Just like Cantor’s own.

She smiles at him. Rabenholz frowns thoughtfully. “Where did you say you came from?” he asks.

“I didn’t,” she says smoothly. “But…it’s been so long it doesn’t really matter.”

“Humor me, then.”

She holds his gaze. “It doesn’t really matter.”

Rabenholz’s eyes narrow. “…Quite.”

Just then, footsteps jog rapidly up the drive. Johnson appears, clearly having just been dropped off by her own car. “Hello!” She waves cheerfully. “Fancy seeing you here!”

Rabenholz nods at the Tremere. “Ms. Johnson. Are you still on the trail of the Dread Pirate Anstis?”

“I am. Are you as well?”

“Yes.” Rabenholz peers up at the tower.  “Although we had not expected to find anything of importance here.”

Johnson shrugs. “Well, maybe so. Where’s the guard?”

They turn to the shack, noticing its emptiness for the first time. They investigate, but there’s no sign of struggle inside, even to Scout’s practiced eye.

Johnson hangs up a call as Scout and Rabenholz step out of the shack. “I think we should be prepared for a trap,” she says, apparently unconcerned.

Rabenholz looks up at the tower again then nods. “Ms. Scout, perhaps then you would be so good to take the lead.”

It takes everything Scout has to keep the irritation off her face. Perhaps her initial suspicion on how Rabenholz would view her was correct. Maybe it’s time, then, to remind him that she could be much more useful than one of his ghouls.

She smiles at hims sweetly, bows, and lets herself wink from sight. Her smile widens as she sees the look of surprise on his face, staring into the place she was just visible, then she turns to head into the building.

#

Scout investigates the lab, discovering the pirate–unconscious–and the mutilated remains of some sort of scientist next to him. Finding the gore-spattered mess is unexpected, but not particularly shocking to her.

What is shocking, though, is Johnson’s reaction once she’s lead down to the lab, halting on the threshold and staring in shock at the mutilated scientist. Scout watches Johnson carefully as she collects the body and moves it to a room at the edge of the lab. If she didn’t know any better, she’d say this Tremere was actually showing grief. It may be some sort of act, but it’s unclear what gain she could possibly get from it.

Rabenholz and the newly-awakened pirate bicker nearby but Scout ignores them, watching the rising tide of Johnson’s grief. Finally, moved by something dangerously close to pity, she grabs a stool and climbs up to remove the heart from the ceiling, pinned out of Johnson’s reach.

The moment she touches the dripping mass of flesh, an unsettled feeling rises in the back of her mind. She’s handled body parts before, but something about this is…off. Scout frowns, peering at the heart, chasing the sensation like a slippery fish.

Finally, she grasps it: this heart, and the body is was ripped from, have been soaked in illusion magic. Not only that, extremely powerful illusion magic, far beyond anything she–or Ramabai before her–has ever seen.

“Ms. Scout,” Rabenholz’s voice rumbles suddenly, breaking her reverie, “Would you please get in touch with the Justicar and have him send a cleanup crew here? Possibly forces to quarantine this tower as well.”

Scout nods absently, still staring at the heart. “Who was this man?”

“A very powerful mage,” Rabenholz says flatly. “Please head outside and wait for the Justicar. Make sure no one else comes. Or leaves.”

A shiver rises up Scout’s neck. It’s possible the mage cast the magic himself to fake his own death. But it’s also possible someone else did it to cover up something done to him. She doesn’t know much about mages–Cantor went to lengths to avoid them–but from what little she does know, anything able to take one out would be a terrifying thing indeed.

She climbs down off the stool, hands the heart to Georgia, then leaves to follow Rabenholz’s request.

Once reaching reception outside, she gets in contact with the Justicar easily, informing him of the situation. He curses, tells her to watch the pirate and wait for his men, then hangs up without waiting for a reply.

Scout stares at the screen a moment, then glances around. Rabenholz is still in the basement, yards of concrete and rock between him and where she now stands. That just might be enough to prevent even the most prying Auspex eyes.

She lifts the phone and thumbs a text to Cantor.

THE PIRATE IS INVOLVED IN NECROMANCY. HEAVILY. POSSIBLE DEAD MAGE AT THE TOWER, SOAKED IN ILLUSION MAGIC.

She hits send and waits. Minutes pass, the breeze rustling the eucalyptus trees in a death-rattle. Finally, the phone buzzes a reply. She looks down.

BE CAREFUL, MY CHILD.

“No shit,” she mutters to the night, then heads back inside.

 

END OF ADDENDUM

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9 Responses to Scout’s Honor, Part 4: The Dark Tower

  1. samjackson01 says:

    Better than the Dark Tower movie.

    • Corvidae says:

      …I mean….

      ….

      …But yeah, about the movie, we saw it and my reaction has been to recommend it only as a chance to see Idris Elba run around in pretty awesome western gear.

      Although, funfact, when we watched it, Jason remembered that initially, back when he was conceiving of the game, “The Man in Black” was his mental model for Perpenna.

      So if you want to imagine Perpenna running around drawling, “Alright alright alright,” you’re welcome. 😉

  2. samjackson01 says:

    Two things I’m waiting for this week. Part 5, and is Hurricane Irma going to wipe out my house. 😂

  3. pulseofnight says:

    It has been a while since I got to post a comment. I simply wish to tell you that not only recent regular posts have been great, havinga closer look at Scour was amazing.

    I hope at one point in the future she sends whatever is left of Cantor’s soul to oblivion and reunites with Tom.

  4. Josh says:

    Been a long time since I’ve commented, but just wanted to tell you that this is my absolute favorite tabletop gaming story. Your write-ups are legendary, you all are the kind of players I’d love to game with, and Jason is the man for keeping this madness together. I’ve got email notifications on, and its like Christmas when a chapter goes up. Best of luck in your writing endeavors!

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