So, I must apologize. I’ve been putting this particular update off for awhile, avoiding even re-reading it for edits. I’ve known it’s been coming, of course, but still it takes a huge amount of will to actually push this one out to the world.
You know how I keep hounding on the fact that Scout’s story contains themes of abuse? This scene is why.
First, a little more context: this scene happens during the events of 10/22/15, after Rabenholz, Anstis, and Scout get back to the city. The way we played it, Jason took me offscreen for–spoiler alert–Scout to have a scene with Norton, then wrapped it up saying something to the effect of, “And Scout reports to Cantor and then everyone goes to bed for the night.”
But as it came time for me to write it, months later, I knew something was missing. I had been working on the Scout scenes in secret for some time, with zero feedback besides Jason. But still, some writers instinct within me knew that something was wrong. I had spent thousands of words implying Cantor’s…Cantor-ness, but there’s only so much telling people about it can do. I needed to show it, to have Scout and the reader experience it first-hand.
And I would need to write it all myself.
I want to make this absolutely clear: everything about Scout’s relationship with Cantor has been my idea. Before I began playing her, I approached Jason and said that I felt these themes should be part of her character arc and I was okay with it. Jason has obliged, of course, but honestly most of the specifics have been ideas I’ve come up with and passed on to him in frantic emails between game sessions. As the Scout writeups have progressed, I’ve gradually added in more and more details that were completely outside the realm of gameplay. This scene was basically the first time I really let myself loose in that regard and came up with a whole narrative for her completely out of whole-cloth.
And, looking back on it, it kind of scares me. I don’t really know from what darkness within me all this came from; all appearances to the contrary I actually don’t read or watch that much horror. By way of explanation, the only possible thing I can offer is that I wrote the majority of this the night I found out Alan Rickman had died.
Scout’s feet are heavy as she walks toward St. Ignatius Church. After everything that had happened in Humboldt, she had hoped she had earned enough of Rabenholz’s trust to be accepted into his retinue. Instead, she had to smile politely at the pirate’s shiteating grin as Rabenholz quietly–and unmistakably–dismissed her the moment they got back to the city. It meant one more wasted night in her search for Tom.
And one more night without an excuse to keep her away from this place.
She turns the corner. A large figure is standing at the foot of the church steps, staring up at the looming facade. Her stomach twists, expecting Cantor, but the beard is too thick, and the clothes both shabby and imperious at the same time. Probably homeless.
The man doesn’t react as she walks up behind him. Slowly she ascends the steps, angling to move past–
He holds out an arm to stop her. “I have seen the fire….” he mutters, still staring up.
She surreptitiously drops a hand toward her knife, watching warily.
“I have seen the fire,” he repeats, “And you shall not slay it with that blade.”
Unease crawls across her skin. “If you’re looking for a shelter, I can recommend some places downtown,” she says, enunciating her words clearly.
He finally turns, revealing wild, piercing eyes. “Why are you here?” he murmurs. His skin is pale, and there’s a hint of fang as he speaks. “Why are you here…hunter?” His cape shifts, revealing the pommel of a sword at his hip.
She stares. “I’m sorry, do you have me mistaken for someone else–”
He takes a step closer. “Slayer…killer…diablerist….” The last word hisses with disgust. “Why are you in my domain?”
She hesitates. The church door is only a few steps away. With a rush of focus she could make it in an instant, with a shout Cantor would appear to defend his property.
Instead, she turns to face the man. “I was brought here.”
She doesn’t respond.
The man chuckles, then roars. “By WHOM!????”
The echoes of his voice fill the porticos above the steps before tapering back to silence. “I don’t think you want to know that name,” she says coolly.
His cape wings open as he thrusts his arms out. “I KNOW!!! I know ALL the secret names!!! I have seen them writ on the walls in blood and fire!!11!1!!!”
Suspicion–coalescing underneath her caution–finally comes to a head: “…Am I speaking with…the emperor?” she asks carefully.
The man–Emperor Norton–sneers. “So subtly you speak that term.” He spits flecks of red onto the stone in front of her. “You are not fit to address an emperor. Slave…thrice slave.” His gaze slides back to the church doors, looming like an open maw. “Do you imagine it noble, to stand beside such a thing? To wait upon its command?”
Scout stills. “…I’ve never imagined that at all,” she says softly.
“No, you’ve imagined it elsewise. A servant bereft of the need to command, bereft of the need to pay for consequence. You have not ruled, you cannot comprehend what the fire will bring.” He turns back to her. “Do you welcome it? Do you welcome the fire?” When she doesn’t respond, he steps forward. “DO YOU WELCOME THE FIRE, GIRL!??!!”
Instantly her knife is in her hands, poisoned blade glinting dark in the yellow streetlight. The Emperor laughs. “So quick to challenge. And if I spill your heart’s blood, will you thank me for it?” His cape whirls and instantly his broadsword is at her throat, steady despite his one-handed grip. “Will you THANK me for it??!!”
She doesn’t flinch. Her eyes dart back to the church doors. Cantor’s fickle whims–and incessant hungers–had come so close to ending her for so long that the threat of death held neither horror, nor allure.
The blade follows as she lifts her chin. “Not before I finish what I need to do,” she says finally.
The Emperor glowers, pressing the edge close against her skin, and his voice drops to a hiss. “What is it you need to do…Isabella Lytton?”
Humanity and Beast clamoring over each other in panic, melting her feet to the stone. No one–Malkavian or otherwise–had ever guessed her true identity. If he knows, others could know. If others know, I’m no longer useful to Cantor….
The Emperor leans in, face wild and staring through her. “She comes…she comes, and no one, not even your master, knows.”
The words draw her out of her panic. “…Who?”
“The fire-bringer. Andrea.”
Scout blinks. Her fingers twitch on the knife in her hands. “This Andrea…is she enough to take him?”
The Emperor follows her gaze toward the church and smiles grimly. “She will take him. She will take us all….” Suddenly the sword is gone, shoved back under his cloak. “You seek ghosts, Isabella Lytton,” he says matter of factly.
The panic in her turns to ice. Ghosts…could he mean Tom? She stares as he fusses with the scabbard. “…Is he dead?” she whispers. To have come so close, after so long….
“We are all dead.”
“You know what I mean.”
“You mean Mister Lytton?” The Emperor smoothes at the fraying brocade lining his cloak, then looks up. “No…not yet.”
Her knife hand trembles. “The Ventrue has him, doesn’t he?” She steps forward. “Where is he?”
The Emperor chuckles. “The Ventrue think they know all that stands and crawls and quakes, but no. He cannot have what he does not understand. SHE will have him.” He raises a finger, then slowly inclines it toward her. “…And you. And me. She will have all of us. AAAALL OF US!!!” He turns as he shouts, outstretched arms encompassing the empty street and the black swath of the nearby park. “Kine and Kindred, shifter and spectre! All of us, she will have them!!”
Suddenly he whirls back, finger outstretched again. “She comes, but…there is one can stop her. Not you, not me. Perhaps…the one you seek.” He smiles and nods to himself, settling his cloak. “Find him. Find him, before we all burn.”
Ignoring her stare, the Emperor steps back and lifts his arms, bracing them as if holding a partner, then turns and waltzes down the wide stairs. Scout watches as he continues the silent dance along the sidewalk, then disappears around the corner.
After a long moment, she pats at her jacket to make sure her wallet is still in her jacket pocket.
It’s still there, but something’s next to it, a stiff rectangle. She tucks her knife away and pulls it out. A formal invitation, inviting the bearer to an event hosted by Lord Augustus von Rabenholz, in one week’s time, promising an evening designed to alleviate concerns of recent mishaps within the city.
The edges of the cardstock crinkle under her grip. Rabenholz…he’s going to show him off….
The shadowed eyes of the columned church facade watch her expectantly. After a long moment, she shoves the card away, ascends the stairs, and strides inside
Darkness engulfs her with an echoing sense of space, the church silent but for a muffled sound echoing somewhere through the columns. Scout moves toward red candlelight dancing within an alcove. A figure is there, silhouetted by the light of the votives, carefully lighting them one by one.
Scout stops just to the side of her master, waiting to be acknowledged, head bowed.
Cantor turns to her and smiles. Tonight he’s wearing his suit, the one he had tailored to match hers. “My child….” he sighs, “You have returned to me.”
“As I always do,” she murmurs.
“Your clothes are filthy.”
She looks down. Even in the wan light, dirt and wrinkles muddy the clean lines. “Yes. I’m sorry.”
“You should take them off.”
Ice plunges through her. “…It’s fine. I have more clothes back at my hotel. I can wait.”
Cantor doesn’t respond. He strikes a new match and carefully lowers it to a votive. From above, painted saints watch in flickering sorrow.
Scout takes a slow breath, then continues. “The Ventrue wasn’t able to find the creature. We tracked it into the woods but something interrupted the trail. Then the weather shifted and drove us away.”
Cantor’s hands glow red as he dips the light into the glass. “Did you cause this?”
She hesitates. He could sniff-out half-truths as easily as lies. “…No,” she admits finally. “I tried to distract them with my own illusions, but the Ventrue was tenacious. It took a real storm to chase us off.”
The fire licks steadily closer to Cantor’s fingers. The candle catches. He blows out the match and reaches for another. “You have done well,” he says.
Slowly, the ice melts from her blood. “Thank you,” she murmurs, then hesitates. “Master…something strange was going on up there. The Ventrue and the pirate tracked the creature to some sort of…magic circle,” she shakes her head in disbelief, “And then the storm came up out of nowhere, and frankly it shouldn’t have happened at all….”
A hiss and whiff of sulfur as Cantor strikes a new match. “Who was that man?”
Scout blinks. “…What man? Ruland? I don’t know, some sort of–”
“No. Just now. The man outside, on the steps.”
The ice climbs through her again. Did he hear me talk about Tom? Oh god, did he hear me talk about him— “I don’t know,” she sputters, “He just–”
She’s thrown backwards, head cracking against a column. Cantor’s weight presses against her, one hand pinning her throat and the other holding the lit match millimeters from her eye. His face, just beyond the fire, is still calm. “Who was that man?” he whispers.
Her legs shake as the Dominate washes through her, gripping her spine, but her mind remains her own, repeating a mantra instinctive by now: I will heal. He can hurt me, but I will heal….
Scout takes a breath, steeling herself against his control as she finds a way to wriggle through. “Just…just a homeless man. Crazy. Rambling incoherently.”
Cantor continues to smile, ignoring the flame crawling toward his fingers. “Sometimes the maddest see the most.” He releases her, stepping back to light another votive, then blows out the match. “Why did you let him go? You must be hungry after your long journey.”
Scout leans against the pillar, waiting for the trembling to subside. “H-he was some bum. I didn’t want to deal with whatever shit he had in his system.”
“Poisons are nothing to our kind. Those of true conviction.” He caresses a hand through the heat shimmering above the candles, then carefully lifts one lit votive from its creche. “But you must still be hungry.”
Strength finally returned, she stands and nods. With the evening waning, she barely has enough time to get back to her room at the Seal Rock Inn, but there are some bars near it she can try tomorrow–
“Good.” Cantor turns to her. “Because I am too.”
She stares, then grips the pillar again as the realization settles in. Oh no….
Cantor smiles beatifically and gestures with his candle. “Come, child.”
Hesitantly, she follows him deeper into the church. Once again, she hears the rustling sound, increasing as their footsteps approach the main altar. Cantor ascends the low stairs and begins lighting the altar candles with the votive in his hand. As the light grows, she sees the scene before her.
Gilded silks glint in the candlelight. A lacquered body of Christ hangs overhead, eyes rolled plaintively toward the heavens. Two people are tied up on the floor below him. A man with blood streaked heavily down the side of his face, groaning. Next to him is a woman, tied loosely but otherwise apparently untouched. Suspiciously untouched.
Cantor finishes with the candles and sets the votive down. He moves next to Scout and gestures grandly. “Choose.”
Scout keeps her face carefully emotionless. “For myself, or for you?”
He smiles warmly. “For both.”
…Of course. With a shuddering breath, she steps toward the altar. Both humans appear to be in their twenties, dressed for an evening out. Neither react to her presence as she approaches, the man clearly too injured and the woman curled in on herself, quietly sobbing. Scout eyes the woman dispassionately, then kneels next to the man. She tilts his head, exposing the unbloodied side, then leans down and bites.
Living warmth floods through her, rousing the beast within to rise up and gorge itself, unrestrained. For the moment the human part of her fades, surrendering to its need. The body beneath her gasps and moans, then shudders, heart rate increasing to compensate for the sudden drop in blood pressure. She drinks until the heart stills and the last breath escapes in a soft sigh.
Scout sits back on her knees. Her beast relaxes, sated, but the spoils of her prey sits uneasily inside her. She looks up at Cantor. He’s watching her intently, eagerly.
Next to her, the woman is still curled up, oblivious to her surroundings. Scout spares a sad glance, then turns back to the man. She bites her own lip, hard, welling forth a bead of vitae, then leans down once again to kiss his chilled lips. She holds the embrace until she tastes her essence dissolving on his tongue, then releases him, drawing her knife to slice his ropes as she stands. She steps back next to Cantor and waits. Candlelight flickers, and the Christ overhead stares beseechingly for salvation that wouldn’t come.
The body stirs.
Moments later, the new vampire sits up, staring around blearily. He can’t see through the bruising and dried blood, but he can clearly smell, and hear, and feel the warm body next to him.
With a bestial growl he falls on the woman, gnashing and tearing at her throat. She screams, then shrieks, the sound echoing through the church, till it gurgles wetly and cuts off. He remains hunched over her a long moment, hands clawing at her clothes, then sits up, panting. Blood is everywhere, smeared across his face, down his clothes, and soaking into the carpet underneath. But the bruises and gashes on his face heal before their eyes.
Slowly, his gaze comes back to sentience and sees the torn body next to him. He gasps and recoils, then reaches a shaking hand toward it. “W-What’s happening….?” he sobs, eyes burning with anger, with fear. “What did you do!?”
“I spared her,” Scout says cooly.
His head snaps up. He stares blankly, mouth opening to demand answers–
Instantly, Cantor is there, fist on his throat, lifting him one-handed and slamming him onto the altar. Knives appear, impaling each of the man’s hands, pinning him down in grotesque mockery of the effigy hanging above. The new vampire shrieks, but before he can struggle Cantor is upon him. The man screams louder, pulling against the blades, instinctively drawing on his new supernatural strength, but with a two-generation difference Cantor keeps him down easily. Blood and vitae seep across the cloth, staining the silk to match the carpet below.
Scout watches, numb. There’s no ache for this doomed childe of hers, just as there hasn’t been for any of the others.
The more Cantor feeds, the more his prey’s shrieks take on a bestial nature and the writhing intensifies. Cantor keeps him down with the force of his weight, hands clutched against the wrists. Finally, with one final halting gasp, the cries stop and the body–paler than it was before–goes limp.
Cantor slides back to his knees, head thrown back. Feeling returns to Scout in the form of cold dread. Just go…melt from sight, let him forget you’re here….
“My child,” he moans suddenly, reaching a hand toward her. She approaches, movements wooden and automatic, stepping over the body and bloodstains on the floor. She hesitates, then reaches out to take his hand.
Instantly he’s on his feet, towering above her. He jerks her close, holding her against his flesh–hot with stolen life–while pressing his other hand against her mouth.
“Drink,” he orders, blood-crazed eyes staring deep into her own. Her jaw jerks to obey, biting his hand and lapping at the vitae that spills forth.
Waves of ecstasy roll over her with every sip, not as strong as if she had taken the Amaranth herself, but enough. A hand reaches to grab his wrist and pull it closer. Her beast writhes in triumph, aching for more, and as Cantor pulls his hand away it twists in agonized frustration, grabbing for him, willing to do anything for another taste–
Which is exactly why he does it!!! the human part of her shouts, barely a whisper in a hurricane–
But it’s enough. Slowly, the bliss fades, replaced by nausea, and a creeping shame.
Her hands drop back to her sides. She tenses as Cantor strokes the back of her head, pressing her against him, choking her with the scent of spilled blood and the dead man’s cologne. She turns away, staring at the candles. Their flickering light fills her vision, and the longer she stares the more the rest of the world falls away, replaced by darkness and fire.
Do you welcome the fire, girl? The Emperor’s voice whispers in her mind.
Her hands clench. I welcome it for him.
Cantor steps back, kissing her forehead. She winces at the scrape of his beard against her skin. “Shall I deal with the bodies?” she asks. “The man will start to crumble soon.”
“Leave him on the roof for the dawn. The other….” Cantor gazes down at the torn corpse. “…Take her down to my chamber. I will deal with it tomorrow.”
She nods tersely, trying not to think about the implications of that. She moves toward the dead vampire, already wilting into ash. “I’ll need to leave soon if I’m going to make it back to my haven in time–”
An iron grip clasps her shoulder. “No, child. Today you will stay with me. It has been too long.” The hand slides slowly down her arm. “Far too long.”
She closes her eyes. Slowly, throat tight, she nods.
Cantor sighs and pulls her close again. “Ahh, dear child. You have liberty to explore this city for a time, but you must remember we are here by my will. Nothing must interfere with my work. Not pirate, nor Priscus. If you allow anything to interfere with my work, I will punish you. Though it pains me greatly, I will punish you.” His grip tightens. “Do you understand?”
She grimaces, but nods again.
“Good. Very good.” He picks up the votive, still flickering at the edge of the altar. “You must be careful, my child. There are dangerous men about.”
With a smile, he blows it out.
END OF ADDENDUM