Scout’s Honor, Part 7: Humboldt Thunder

The following scene parallels the events of 10/15/15, after Scout and Rabenholz have rejoined Anstis and continued their hunt for the Abomination.

Content warnings for Scout’s storyline still apply. 

***

EUREKA AIRFIELD

Scout stares at the helicopter as they cross the tarmac, listening with only half an ear as Rabenholz and Anstis greet the pilot. Just thinking about the Abomination beast Rabenholz is intent to find–its rotting smell, its red milky stare–sets her skin to crawling. With any luck it died in the daylight and this whole excursion would simply be a waste of time.

Her phone buzzes with a call as the pilot jogs ahead to start up the helicopter. Letting herself fall back, she  looks at the screen. The caller ID reads: “No One.”

Her throat catches. With a shaking hand, she answers and lifts it to her ear.

“I hear strange tales from the north,” Cantor’s voice says smoothly, rolling across her and leaving shivers in its wake.

She chokes back an apology for not checking in sooner. Apologizing showed weakness, and weakness only excited him. “Tales which are still unfolding,” she says instead.

“In what way will they unfold?”

“I don’t know.” She looks up. The pilot gestures for them to approach as the helicopter blades spin up. She follows a few paces behind Rabenholz and Anstis. The high-pitched whine masks the sound of her call from the others, but even if they were standing in silence, Cantor would have other methods to ensure his privacy. “I’m with the Ventrue and the pirate, we’re going to track the…creature.” Hopefully that would be enough intel to sate him and make the mission worth it.

“You will not find it,” Cantor responds evenly.

She stops.

“Do you understand?” Cantor continues in her silence, “You will not find it.”

She shakes off confusion–and a creeping dread–and nods. “…Yes.”

“Good. Be certain that the others have only their own ignorance to suspect.”

She glances at their backs. “I understand.”

“Do not damage anything irreplaceable.” A pause. “…And once it is not found, encourage them to return, and to bring you back to me.” The words hang on the air a long moment. “You do wish to come back, don’t you?

The dread changes course, clutching her throat. “…I always have, haven’t I?” she finally manages.

“That is not what I asked,” Cantor says, tone sharpening. “You do wish to come back to me.” He states it as fact, no hint of compulsion in his words. Somehow, that’s even worse.

She closes her eyes. “…Yes.”

A low sigh creeps across her ear. “I am filled with joy,” he murmurs breathlessly. “See to it, my childe.” With that he hangs up.

She shoves the phone away, resisting the urge to wipe her hand against her pants. Rabenholz eyes her as she catches up and approaches the helicopter. “Is everything alright, Ms. Scout?”

“Yes,” she snaps, shoving past him to climb inside. She grabs a headset and stares out the window as they lift off, mind racing fast as the blades overhead.

Whatever reason Cantor had for keeping them away from the Abomination was probably convoluted–and best not dwelled upon–but fulfilling his desire wouldn’t be easy. Rabenholz mutters some sort of incantation as they pull out over the forest, then smiles in triumph and directs the pilot to change course. She frowns, long-held suspicions confirmed. Whatever magics Rabenholz has, one of them seems to be the ability to track his prey. Keeping him from reaching it would take subtlety.

Her fingers twitch nervously against the handle on the door, then, staring at the pilot, she concentrates.

The pilot presses his hand to his headset a moment, listening to a private radio band. Frowning, he switches over to the main channel to speak to them. “Sir, we have a problem. There’s a stormfront coming in, just south of us. Should hit us in ten to twenty minutes.

She watches Rabenholz’s face closely as he examines the sky to the south, stomach sinking as suspicion narrows his eyes. “In what conditions can you fly? Will this put you down?” he asks.

“If the radio report is correct, storm this bad just might,” the pilot replies.

“Can you tell when we are approaching it?”

“Maybe.” The pilot taps at one of the displays on the dash. “Fronts sometimes have sharp edges to them, I’ll keep checking the barometer.”

From her seat, Scout carefully eyes as much of the dash as she can see. Most of the screens and dials are a mess of numbers, but now that the pilot has pointed out the barometer, that one makes sense. She concentrates again, crafting an illusion over the screen to show the ambient pressure slowly dropping.

A few minutes later, the pilot notices. “Uh, sir…?” He taps the barometer again.

Rabenholz eyes it silently, then looks out the window again at the trail only he can see. “Are we in any danger if we maintain our current altitude?”

“Not at the moment, but if we hit that storm wall….”

Rabenholz nods. “I have faith in your ability. Continue south.”

The pilot cranes around to stare at him. “…Are you sure about that?”

“How many hours of fuel do you have?” Rabenholz says coolly.

The pilot checks the dash. “Couple hours,” pilot says.

Rabenholz nods. “Continue.”

Scouts fingers twitch again. She shifts subtly in her seat, trying to follow the pilot’s gaze to find the fuel gauge–

“Ms. Scout,” Rabenholz says suddenly, “How are you liking Northern California so far?”

Surprise jolts her, breaking her concentration. The Ventrue is watching her intently. She forces herself to relax. “Um…I mean, it’s pretty dark.”

Rabenholz gestures to the black windows. “Yes, but there is a certain majesty to the trees and mountains, is there not?”

“I wouldn’t know,” she mutters, eyes drifting to the barometer again. Why won’t he listen to the pilot? “We haven’t been outside during the day–aren’t you concerned about the weather?”

Rabenholz smirks and settles back in his seat. “Ms. Scout, this is the 21st century. Man has conquered the elements.”

She glares. “Yes, of course, that’s why nobody ever dies of exposure anymore.”

The pirate–sitting shotgun to the pilot–swivels in his seat to face them.  “I have first-hand experience with the dangers storms can represent. Might I advise caution.”

“And when was your experience acquired, Mr. Anstis?” Rabenholz asks.

“In the 18th century, at sea.”

“Indeed.” Rabenholz nods, gripping his cane in his lap. “I too have seen the march of progress, and let me tell you, a wooden vessel powered by the wind is a very different thing than the modern birds of glass and steel.” He pats the door frame.

Scout’s glare deepens. “If we were in a plane, maybe, but these things tend to be very finicky. Once they go down, they go down hard.”

The pilot turns around again. “We should be hitting the storm anytime now, sir. In fact I’m surprised we haven’t already.”

“Indeed.” Rabenholz examines the darkness. “If this hadn’t been radioed in to you, would you have been aware of the storm-wall at all?

“Maybe, but….” The pilot squints toward the southern horizon. “…But I don’t understand. At this point, the winds should be howling.”

Rabenholz gestures. “Proceed, but remain cautious.” He corrects the pilot’s course based on the trail only he can see, then resettles himself in his seat. “Perhaps the storm is a ruse,” he mutters. “I wonder who would be considering a single helicopter a threat. Something does not add up.”

Scout shifts stiffly in her seat. It’s a good thing we’re not actually in danger. His arrogance could kill us all. Her fingers twitch, itching to solve the problem by a more direct route. She shoves her hand under her thigh before Rabenholz notices.

They clear a ridge and suddenly Rabenholz sits up. “Excellent.” He smiles and points toward nothing. “We are getting close now.

Scout tenses against the rocking cabin wall, mind flooding with images of what Cantor will do if she fails in his direct order. Her focus is running low after these long nights in Humboldt, but she scrapes the last of her will, digging her nails into the handrest in concentration….

Lightning flickers on the horizon, then again, arcing from high clouds to ground itself behind the hills. Moments later, ear-splitting thunder rolls across the aircraft. Scout lets out a relieved sigh as everyone else in the helicopter whip their heads around in surprise.

“Can you fly through that?” Rabenholz asks the pilot.

The man’s hands tighten on the controls. “Uh, how much you wanna be alive when I finish?”

“Here, stop.”

Scout smiles, sure that now the Ventrue will give up, but falters when she sees him staring intently below them.  “Can you find anywhere nearby to set down?” he asks.

The pilot’s shocked stare mimics her own. “Here?! I can’t even see the ground!”

“Surely you have some sort of light,” Rabenholz says reasonably.

The pilot curses, then–with another glance at the distant storm–carefully lowers the helicopter closer toward the canopy and flips on a floodlight. Skeletal trees leap from the shadows, tightly packed.

Scout stares nervously between the window and Rabenholz. For the moment, fear of Cantor’s wrath wanes as the reality of the situation starts to settle in. There’s an unholy monster somewhere below us, and Rabenholz won’t stop till we find it. “W-what’s our strategy?” she stutters. “We’re just dropping out into the middle of the forest to attack it, when we have no concept of its strength?”

“Is this helicopter equipped with any cannons?” Anstis suggests helpfully. Rabenholz and Scout glance at him, then turn back to each other.

“Scout,” Rabenholz says smoothly, “Tracking this creature was tricky enough already. I do not know the ability of this thing to hide, and it has already survived a day. If we lose it tonight, we may not find it again.”

“So we three Stooges are going to be the ones to take it down?” She throws up her hands. “We couldn’t even take down a regular werewolf, let alone whatever this thing is!”

“It did not kill us last night,” Rabenholz says.

“Because it was wrangled by its….”she shudders at the memory of Ruland’s rheumy gaze, “…Keepers!”

“It escaped from them.”

“So things will be better now that there’s no one controlling it?” She glances out the window at the endless forest around them.

Rabenholz peers calmly out his window. “I don’t know how they were controlling it–”

“And you think you’re going to figure it out in the middle of the woods at midnight!?”

Anstis leans back into the conversation. “He was able to ride in the truck with it without being killed,” he says pointedly to Scout.

Scout glares back. “Again, with its keepers around!”

Rabenholz turns to stare at the pirate thoughtfully. “…Captain, you have some means of protecting yourself during the day, do you not?”

Scout gapes at him. He’s really going through with this…. She watches helplessly as he somehow convinces the pirate to transform and go out to confront the beast. She looks at the horizon as the parrot flutters away from the aircraft. Lightning is still flashing periodically, the last of her illusion, but she’s not sure she has enough energy left to conjure something else.

The radio channel is silent as they wait for Anstis to return, the helicopter occasionally bobbing as the pilot adjusts their position. Ten minutes pass, then fifteen. There’s no sign of the pirate.

“We don’t have much longer before we have to go!” the pilot announces suddenly, tapping at the fuel gauge.

Rabenholz’s fingers drum on his cane, then he carefully sets it aside and starts unbuckling his seatbelt. “Wait here another twenty minutes. If I don’t return in that time, refuel and come back before morning.” Before Scout can react, he opens his door and steps out, levitating himself into a slow fall through the darkness.

Scout stares, then leans over to jerk the door closed. Briefly, she considers ordering the pilot to leave, letting the creature cover its own tracks by killing both of them….

But I need Rabenholz to get to Tom.

She sits back, fingers fluttering against the handrest, glancing out the window again every few seconds. The spotlight is off, the only illumination now coming from the distant lightning flashes. That illusion is lasting longer than I thoug–

Suddenly the helicopter bobs in the air, pitching hard to the side. The pilot curses and stabilizes, then curses again as another jerk rocks the aircraft. “Wind is picking up,” the pilot shouts over the radio. “I think we’re getting to the wall.”

She frowns. That’s impossible, no way I put enough force into the illusion to create wind. She peers toward the south. Lightning flashes again, closer than before, illuminating roiling clouds. The afterimage lingers in her mind and her hand grips tight as her mind processes the shape of it. That’s impossible….

A noise rises above the drone of the engine, something half-remembered from childhood. She stares into the darkness, waiting for another glimpse. Another lightning flash confirms it: The clouds have formed into a funnel, coming right for the helicopter.

“Get the light back on! Find them!” she yells. The pilot nods tensely, white-knuckled hands clutching the controls to hold them steady in the air. She braces against the cabin walls as they buck and rise, strafing across the forest to scan the spotlight below.

Finally, she sees both Rabenholz and Anstis, standing in the middle of some sort of circular grove,  no sign of the Abomination in sight. They peer up into the light. The pirate–still a bird–launches into the air and is instantly battered by the winds. Rabenholz, though, remains below, turning to stare at the ground.

Come on, come on…. She looks toward the south. The funnel is now a third of a mile wide, engulfing almost the entire ridgeline. Lightning illuminates the debris cloud at its base, barely a hundred yards away and racing closer.

Two shadows finally lift from the forest below. Scout leans over to throw the door open. The parrot flops through the cabin to land in the seat next to the pilot, while Rabenholz settles himself gracefully, smoothing at his cloak as the helicopter suddenly drops four feet in the air.  She leans over him to grab the door as the pilot banks around.

The storm is there. For a breathless moment, she stares out into a swirling wall of clouds, nothing between her and the tornado but cold, empty air–

–Then the door slams closed. The aircraft stabilizes and roars away, out of the line of the storm and out of the mountains.

#

They sit in silence for most of the ride, toward an airfield in Redding the pilot suggested. As they clear the mountains and the lights of towns bloom in the distance, Rabenholz finally speaks up. “Something very peculiar is afoot.”

“Yes….” Scout mutters, staring out her window. Could the Abomination have created that storm? Or was it something else? Something enough to make Cantor warn her to stay away…. “…Did you find any information about the creature?”

Rabenholz gestures vaguely with his cane while the pirate babbles something about the Abomination staring at something else, something unseen that took him out. Scout doesn’t respond, but she makes a mental note to pass that information along.

She tenses again, though, as she hears the pirate offer to share blood with the Ventrue. Would he expect her to do the same? Refusing him might damage his carefully-cultivated trust in her, but Cantor had warned her of tricks some vampires possessed, including the ability to trace the lineage in the vitae they consumed….

But Rabenholz declines, and she relaxes again. She glances surreptitiously at her phone. No messages, and as long as they don’t dawdle in Redding, there should be enough time enough to get back to the city–

You do wish to come back, don’t you? Cantor’s voice suddenly echoes in her mind.

Scout takes a slow breath and slips her phone away. She had survived one monster this evening, she could handle another.

END OF ADDENDUM

***

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