Scout’s Honor, Part 5: Arrival in Humboldt

The following sequence parallels the main-line events of 8/25/15, the start of Rabenholz, Anstis’s, and Scout’s trip to Humboldt County.

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

***

Scout stares out the window as the car winds its way through the black Humboldt countryside. The trip from the Bay had so far been quiet, but she could feel the other vampire’s curiosity about her growing. The pirate stared at her openly the whole flight up, smirking what was apparently a permanent self-satisfied smile. Rabenholz at least had the decency to pretend to be occupied with other things, but she could practically hear wheels turning in his Ventrue-head on how best to leverage her into his plans.

She takes a slow breath at that thought. Trying to grasp the older vampires’ plots was like peering into a dark chasm, futilely trying to see to the other side. But if she was ever going to get him to lead her to Tom, it was a chasm she would have to throw herself into.

“What be your plan for approaching the compound?” the pirate asks suddenly, breaking the silence.

Rabenholz inclines his head toward her. “Our associate here possesses many talents that makes her an excellent–if you pardon the phrasing–scout. It was my thought to send her in ahead of us to reconnoiter.”

The pirate swivels his eye toward her. “Scout, be ye skilled enough hide us all?”

She stares at the pirate’s slimy face and elaborately embroidered coat . “No.”

Rabenholz shrugs. “It’s for the best anyway. In my experience, large parties are more a problem at gaining intelligence than an advantage.” He continues, his smooth timbre outlining the plan to trick the cultists into taking the fall for the Masquerade. Scout listens, carefully keeping an ear out for hints of secret opportunities the Ventrue was no doubt looking to capitalize on.

The car finally arrives at the cultist’s drive. Scout stares suspiciously at the beaten NO TRESPASSING signs, her mind populating the shadows with shotgun-wielding rednecks.

Rabenholz nods to her. “Go ahead to observe. We’ll wait here. Report back with enough time for us to find shelter for the day.”

Anxiety rises. Without another word, she gets out of the car.

As the forest swallows her up and the car disappears behind her, though, her tension starts to ease. She walks tall under the darkness of the trees, drawing confidence from the shroud of Obfuscate over her skin and the weight of her knife at her hip. Over the years, her skills with veiling herself had helped her escape the notice of werewolves, methuselahs, and worse. What could this forest possibly harbor that you can’t hide from? she tells herself and settles into a familiar rhythm of stalking and scanning. A hunter’s meditation.

After ten minutes with no sign of civilization, the sound of engines echoes ahead, getting louder. Unhurriedly, she ducks to the side of the road and crouches down.

A primer-colored pickup truck pulls up from the darkness. For a moment, it looks like it’s about to pass, but then it stops no more than a few feet from where she stepped off the road. Three men jump out, all in paramilitary fatigues and carrying assault rifles. They spread out, staring into the woods lit by their headlights. Unnerved by their accuracy, Scout pulls further into the shadows.

“See, what did I tell you, ain’t nothin out here,” one man says, kicking at a stick.

The man next to him scans the darkness, gripping his gun tightly. “He said something was here.” Scout freezes as his eyes scan her location, seem to linger for a moment, then move on.

The men make their way into the trees, barrels of their guns sweeping ahead of them. Scout maneuvers past them and continues up the road, but the anxiety has returned and this time no amount of meditation calms it. She continues forward, but now keeps near the trees.

About fifty yards up, the rutted track crests a hill and plunges into open sky before descending into a small valley below. She stops under a tree at the top of the ridge.

A fortification fills the meadow, surrounded by razor-wire fences and guard towers studded with floodlights, most of them off for the moment. Structures of all sorts dot the camp, trailers and quonset huts and the occasional shipping container, all arrayed around a central structure, an actual wood-slat building with white-wash paint and a towering steeple. It looks identical to any of the antique country churches that still anchor the upstate farm towns, but instead of a gilded cross, the steeple is flying a deep red flag. The flag’s undulations in the low breeze reveal an emblem of what looks like lightning bolts over an 88.

Various vehicles are parked in rows throughout the compound, and armed men move slowly between them. She counts them carefully, intending to report back to the car as soon as she’s done, when suddenly a voice echoes from somewhere to her right, “There ain’t nothing down there!

Her muscles react instantly, throwing her back into the shadows. Another guard tower is half-hidden in the trees at the top of the road, looking out over the valley. A fatigue-clad man is at the top, scanning the ground in her direction with binoculars. She freezes.

A radio strapped to his gear crackles. “Something is there. Find it,” an unfamiliar voice orders. The soldier sighs and sweeps the ground again, then pauses, frowning, and moves slowly back toward the place Scout is hidden.

Instinct screams to run, or failing that, attack, but with armed men by the dozens lurking in the woods, she calms herself enough to form a more rational approach. Something subtle. Something Ramabai would have done.

The image of a coyote suddenly slinks from the brush on silent paws and runs in the opposite direction. As the guard’s gaze turns to follow it, she ducks past the tower and jogs back down the road.

#

The rented car is still parked at the end of the road when Scout returns, apparently unharassed by the men searching the forest. She feels Rabenholz’s gaze on her the moment she winks back into sight, but unhurriedly approaches and climbs into the car.

“What have you discovered?” he asks as she settles herself into the seat.

“There’s a compound, unsurprisingly,” she says. “I saw at least two dozen men but there’s probably more. Cars, a watchtower.  A collection of buildings in the middle of the compound, around what looks like a church.” She hesitates. “And they seem to be somewhat sensitive to my presence. They didn’t see me, but they were more suspicious than usual.”

Anstis at her from the front seat. “How about weapons?”

“They had them,” she replies curtly.

“Anything we need be especially concerned about?” Anstis asks.

This time, she can’t stop herself from rolling her eyes. “Yeah, they’re a bunch of Neo-Nazi separatist skinheads in an armed compound that seem to know we’re here.” She turns back to Rabenholz. “I don’t think this is a very good idea.”

Rabenholz nods as he processes this, fingers tapping slowly on his cane. ““Ms. Scout–” He hesitates. “Do you prefer ‘Ms. Scout’ or would simply ‘Scout’ suffice?”

She bows her head concedingly. “I am comfortable with whatever familiarity you’re comfortable with, my lord.”

Rabenholz nods again. “Excellent work, Scout.”

She keeps her face flat, but inside she glows. Maybe this plan is actually working–

“Tell me,” Rabenholz continues, “Would you allow Mr. Anstis to perform a small test on you?”

–The glow explodes into warning bells. “…What kind of test?” she asks carefully.

“I would like to measure his fluency with the discipline of Dominate.”

The bells become a klaxon. She glances between Rabenholz and the pirate’s amused stare. “…And why can’t he test this on you?” she asks carefully.

Rabenholz gestures vaguely. “It would be improper for him to do that with someone of my stature.” The pirate grins sickly at her and she grimaces. Two vampires of unknown strength and vintage, both possessing Dominate, and both apparently viewing her as nothing more useful than a cowed ghoul to be used at their whim.

Her hand itches to throw open the door and rush back into the woods, where she could draw on darkness and illusion to protect her. Here, in this intimate setting, she has nothing but her own will to stop these two from overwhelming her mind, a will hard-won from years of struggles against Cantor. Not enough to resist her sire completely, but enough to keep her own mind from slipping back into the darkness. Fortunately he had rarely been using his commands against her these nights. At least, not as much as when she was younger.

Especially when she was younger.

Scout takes a breath. “I…don’t understand what it is you’re looking for….”

“I thought that perhaps Mr. Anstis could fly into the compound in his avian form and speak directly to their top commander. However, if he is unable to persuade the man using his talents, he will be discovered. Considering his performances so far, I am worried things might escalate ahead of time.”

Scout nods slowly, mind racing. “…Unless you expect to find vampires down there, I don’t see how testing his abilities on me will be very empirical. My lord.”

Rabenholz regards her dispassionately a moment, but seems to accept her logic. He turns to Anstis. “Do you trust yourself to control a human? A strong-willed human?”

The pirate nods. “Aye. It depends how strong-willed, but most all of them.”

“Imagine a megalomaniac. Someone who, when confronted with reality, will not abandon his own illusions.”

Then why don’t you let him test it on you? Scout bites her lip to keep silent. It’s the sort of thing her brother probably would have said, and look where that got him.

The pirate shrugs concedingly, so Rabenholz continues. “Mr. Anstis, I see things proceeding in this way. You will fly into their compound, keeping under cover of darkness as long as you can. Find their leader. Approach him and attempt to coerce him into expecting us tomorrow evening.”

The pirate nods and opens the door.  “I will investigate. If I can do this task safely I will. If not, I will report back.” He morphs into his flight-form, which Scout is only half-surprised is a large blue-and-gold macaw. As she watches the bird fly off she makes a mental note to find out what his other form is.

The warning hum of anxiety settles over her again as she realizes she’s now alone in the car with Rabenholz. Or at least, alone but for their strangely-ubiquitous driver, which instinct is advising her to not think too much about. She turns to the window again, as if hiding her gaze will hide her from the Ventrue’s attention.

“Scout,” Rabenholz says finally, “It is usual for those of unknown lineage to try to seek their lineage out. I wonder if you’ve done any research on that front?”

She turns to him. “That is a rock best left unturned.” By you, the tone of her voice implies.

If Rabenholz catches the threat, he ignores it. “Do you know how you were created?”

“I was there,” she says flatly.

“You remember it?”

Human anger flares within her, from the same place the demons lie. Her hand twitches, aching to slap Rabenholz’s elegant face. How could I forget after three decades of reenactments?

Her face, though, remains successfully emotionless. After a moment, she turns away.

Unperturbed, Rabenholz continues. “You see, many vampires are called Caitiff, but it applies to several different groups. Some can do amazing things, but most are unworthy of note. Save, perhaps, for the many bits of literature that suggest they are heralds of the end-times. Are you a herald of the end-times, I wonder?”

“I sometimes think the end-times will be an improvement,” she mutters.

Rabenholz glances out the window at the xenophobic signs nailed up along the road. “I suspect people have thought that for thousands of years,” he mutters. “In any case, I wonder which type of Caitiff you are. Are you the kind that does incredible things, or just the kind that doesn’t know her sire? Mind you, I’m not criticizing. So far you’ve been a very effective companion. And your behaviors do you credit.”

The fires inside her start to cool. Distasteful as the Ventrue is, her deceptions seem to be working. Maybe he actually will begin to trust her, or at least be intrigued enough to keep her around.

But only if she cultivates that intrigue

She sighs and turns to him. “My lord Rabenholz. I have to confess, I wasn’t entirely truthful with Mr. Bell at the Pyramid. I do know something of my sire, but there is a difference between knowing him and knowing him.” She eyes him significantly. “I have found that the less I’ve delved into that, the better off I am for it.” And the better you’ll be, too.

Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “That is quite a thing to say. Numbering yourself amongst the clanless brings a number of burdens you would otherwise not have to deal with. Your sire must be very terrible indeed.”

She turns away again. “Indeed.”

Suddenly a parrot drops out of the sky to bounce off the hood. Scout watches as it shifts back into the pirate’s human form and climbs into the car. “I’ve met with the leader,” Anstis says. “He’s agreed to meet with us tomorrow.”

Rabenholz nods. “Excellent. Did you learn anything else?”

The pirate brushes at his coat. “Interesting man. Blind, yet sees.”

“In what capacity?”

“He knew there was a presence in the room before I made myself known and he had many insights.” A strangely rapturous smile shines briefly on Anstis’s face. Scout tenses, watching him carefully. It’s the same look she’s seen on Cantor in his more…pious moments.

Apparently satisfied with the progress of their business, Rabenholz tells the driver to take them back to town. The pirate hums an upbeat but broken tune under his breath, by the rhythm some sort of chanty. Scout stares out the window at the passing darkness, thinking.

#

The next night, the car drops them off inside the compound. Scout watches as it drives off, the gates grinding ominously closed behind it. Men, far more than what she counted last night, are grouped around them, some clearly leering at her. She makes a show of straightening her jacket as she checks the position of the knife tucked underneath it.

A man walks forward from the crowd. “You here for Uncle Ruland?”

“The blind priest?” Anstis asks.

The man smirks. “Ruland sees better than any of us. Or any of you.” He eyes the pirate. “Name?”

The pirate bows. “Thomas Anstis. He met me last night.”

The man nods slowly. “He mentioned you. Said you had a mean set of whiskers on you.” He peers at the pirate’s beard, writhing slowly against itself, then turns to Rabenholz. “You?”

Rabenholz inclines his head. “Mr. Espressé. Amaricé Espressé.”

The soldier’s mouth twitches in a frown at the foreign-sounding name but he doesn’t comment. He turns to Scout. “And you?”

She glances at Rabenholz. If that’s the way we’re playing it…. “Ms…Visa.”

The man nods then jerks his head toward the church, looming over the rooftops nearby. He leads the three to it silently, opening the front door and standing back to let them in. A few guards are posted inside, but Scout’s eyes are drawn to the old man at the front of the room, leaning on a pulpit, ancient as the weathered boards of the church, dressed in white robes emblazoned with a yellow rose across the front. A familiar-looking patch of a red-and-white cross is stitched above the rose. The familiarity is confirmed when she sees a white hood draped over a nearby chair.

Anstis steps forward and bows. “Uncle Ruland. Good to see you again.”

The old man–Ruland–approaches them, shuffling down the aisle between the pews, pale eyes staring past them. Despite his obvious blindness, he confidently takes the pirate’s outstretched hand and kisses it.. “My son. And you have brought me sinners.” He turns his stare–unfocused but intent–to Rabenholz. “Have you come to seek redemption? What are your sins?”

Rabenholz eyes him a moment. “Greed and wrath, mostly.”

Ruland nods slowly. “Yes, I see them in you. There’s something else. Such a terrible envy. A crown…a crown on a shadow.” He lifts a shaking hand toward Rabenholz. “Oh, it is terribly dark. Where have you been, my son?”

Rabenholz stares and does not take the hand. “Out of time, out of space,” he answers softly.

Scout tenses as Ruland turns to her. “And you, my daughter? What have you come to tell me? What have you come to confess?”

She shifts nervously. From her experience, the way to deal with religious fanatics is to be vague, but give them nothing to make them assume you were against them. “I’ve…come to see the way,” she ventures after a moment.

“The way. The way to what?” Ruland asks, leaning toward her. Stale smoke and the stink of medicine wash over her but she stands her ground. “To forgiveness? To redemption? Or the way to something else? Someone else?” A shiver rises up her back at his specific emphasis, but she doesn’t answer, waiting for his attention to wander.

Suddenly Ruland takes a shuddering breath. He lifts a liver-spotted hand toward her. “You have been poisoned…poisoned by lesser men. I can smell them on you. So much filth….”

This time, the coincidence is too much to ignore. She stares at him, face hard to mask the sudden fear climbing its way through her.

The old man sighs, lip trembling. “Oh, my daughter you have sinned. But it is not all lost. You can find redemption.” Ruland extends his other hand to Rabenholz. “You both can find redemption, as your brother has. Come to me, and know peace.”

Scout’s eyes dart around the room as Rabenholz and the old man talk. A set of double-doors behind them, and a single door at the back behind the pulpit. The windows look painted shut but are single-paned, easy enough to smash through if needed. Four armed men line each side of the room, but close enough together that she could probably take half of them down before the others had time to draw breath–

The familiar timbre of a Dominate spell snaps her back to the scene before her. “Perhaps it is time to take that beyond prayer,” Rabenholz says, staring deeply into the old man’s eyes.

Ruland gasps, reaching out to steady himself on a pew. “Have you seen a message from God? Has he sent you to portent, and to prophesize?” he asks eagerly.

It is time,” the pirate adds, stepping forward. Two predators focused on the same prey. “Share your teachings with the sinners.”

“Yes, time at least for Sacramento,” Rabenholz says.

“Yes…yes it is time….” Ruland’s smile spreads wider and he turns to stare into the invisible distance. “It is time isn’t it, my son?”

Rabenholz follows his gaze to the whitewashed pine boards of the church wall. “Tell me, Uncle Ruland, what do you see?”

Ruland takes a step forward, hand lifted toward nothing. “I see the pesthouses being consumed in flames. I see the mongrel men writhing as they burn. I see the true children of the Lord rising up to take their birthright. I see it all. I see…glory.” He turns to Rabenholz and continues, breathless. “I see shadows…yes, shadows. I see a man with a crown. He comes, he walks in darkness. He never veers away, or turns aside. He seeks he always seeks. He is nearly here.”

Before Rabenholz can react, Ruland turns to Anstis and continues, face twisting in concentration. “I see a man…I see him on an island. He stands before the waters and he compels. He compels and they obey. He casts his net so far and wide it covers the ocean entire, sweeps the seas clean. He hunts beneath the water and above. He hunts and his eyes are ever watching and they are everywhere, they are with you now. As we stand.” Anstis frowns suspiciously at the words but doesn’t respond.

Scout tenses as Ruland turns to her, his rheumy gaze pinning her where she stands. After a moment, his face falls and his breath shudders. “I see…him, behind. He watches, ever watchful. He wishes, he covets, he desires…and you know his desires, don’t you my sister?”

An unbidden wave of memories rush over her in a fragmented torrent. Scout shoves them away, along with rising horror, as Ruland steps toward her. She takes a step back, hand inching toward her knife. The old man chuckles darkly. “You know, for his touch is pollution and death and you have felt it.” He turns, encompassing the others with a gesture. “You have all felt it, and it comes for you now. You must embrace the vengeance of the Lord, or you will be swallowed in the pits of eternal flame….” He takes another breath, and sighs, “…In Gehenna.”

The last word echoes in the following silence, but any horror hearing it is nothing compared to the shock rising in Scout’s chest, the blow of hearing her deepest shame pulled into the light like an uprooted corpse. She risks a glance at Rabenholz and the pirate, but both seem lost in their own worlds, hopefully too far away to have noticed her pain.

Ruland takes another breath, then brings his hands together in penance. “It is terrible, it is so terrible, but…there is always light.”

“What is your next step?” Rabenholz asks.

Ruland lifts his arms. “I shall do the Lord’s will. I shall raise up a temple. I shall make offering unto Him, of all the malefactors and all the forces of darkness. I shall do this in the name of the Lord. Come to me, and I shall cast down your enemies, in His name. The crown shall be broken, the net shall be shredded, and the shadow shall be banished. Come unto me and see the glories of the Lord.” He extends one hand toward Rabenholz.

Scout watches as Rabenholz stares at Ruland’s hand a moment, then–after a glance at the pirate’s strangely encouraging face–takes it.

Instantly Rabenholz reels, face contorted in pain and grief, but he doesn’t let go of the hand. Ruland’s dead eyes stare intently as the tall vampire slowly sinks to his knees in front of him and begins sobbing. Ruland clutches his hand tightly. “Speak your sins, my son! Speak them aloud!”

Rabenholz lifts his gaze to the old priest. “When I was twenty-five I found the man who beheaded my brother and father. He had a prized collection of horses.” Rabenholz pauses. “…I do not know how he thought I would have forgiven him by that time. Perhaps he assumed I could not touch him. But I broke into his stable and sliced into his horses a large cavity while they yet lived. And into them I stuffed his grandson and his granddaughter, and finally I stuffed him, and sewed them all up.”

Scout tears her eyes from Ruland to stare at the Ventrue, blood still leaking down his face. For a moment, her personal horror stumbles. She’d heard of such…creative revenges before, but from a Camarilla?

As her shock temporarily displaces her fear, a faint call of instinct catches her attention. There’s something about Ruland, something about his presence seems familiar….

Meanwhile, Ruland beams at Rabenholz. “Your wrath is tremendous, purge it my son! Purge it all!” He tilts his head back, shouting to the rafters, “God! Hear now this sinner who wishes to be forgiven!”

Anstis, still beaming in rapture, sinks to his knees next to Rabenholz in a blood-streaked facsimile of prayer. Ruland stands before them, arms spread in welcome.

The pieces snap into place with a force that almost makes Scout stumble. This man is Imbued, from what she doesn’t know. She saw one once, a Hunter who’d forsaken his vows to make a deal with some sort of demon. Cantor caught the man in a warehouse not far from the Mexican border and held off finishing the job until she got there to watch, and learn. That man had taken three nights to die, buoyed by the supernatural power pumping through his soul. She had watched his agony with dispassion that gradually gave way to awe.

But that power would have paled next to the righteous force radiating off the old man in front of her.

Ruland shuffles past the kneeling forms of Rabenholz and Anstis. He smiles and lifts a hand to her. “Give me your hand, my daughter. Be free of that which chains you.”

She hesitates, glancing at Rabenholz, slowly coming out of his trance to watch her with a calculating eye. The guards lining the room also stare at her, shifting their guns. Ruland’s hand bobs at the edge of her vision, wrinkled and nicotine-yellow.  

Slowly, she calms herself enough to focus. Her hand hangs heavy at her side, but an illusion of her arm lifts and reaches out to the old man’s. With another twist of concentration, she shoves a slight sense of tactile weight as her fingers brush his.

Instantly, his face darkens. “Oh, my daughter….” He shakes his head sadly. “There is such deceit in you. If you will not have the glory of the Lord, then you will have his wrath.” He drops the hand and turns toward the guards lining the room. “Burn her.”

The guards shift, but before they can turn she’s gone, Obfuscated and bolting out the doors in the back of the room.

END OF ADDENDUM

 

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3 Responses to Scout’s Honor, Part 5: Arrival in Humboldt

  1. Corvidae says:

    This one’s for you, samjackson! 😦 Hang in there!

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