Scout’s Honor, Part 16: An Audience with Bell

The following picks up immediately after the events at the end of the last episode and completes a secret-scene from 1/7/16 . Since it was an off-screen scene–and thus not tangled up with other characters in a load-bearing way–I ended up rewriting and expanding it a lot to explore some of the character angles I’ve been inserting into Scout’s arc. Content warnings are minimal.

***

THE PYRAMID

Scout goes to meet Rabenholz at the entrance to the stairwell as he finally reaches the fortieth floor. “Are you alright?” she asks, holding open the door.

He steps out, smoothing absently at his cloak. “Yes. It was a very odd encounter. I wonder what Ms. Johnson has caused for us.”

Scout eyes him suspiciously. “Why do you think Ms. Johnson has something to do with this?”

“I can’t otherwise imagine why Vannevar Hughes would try to attack me. Unless he was trying to attack Everton.” He turns to her. “Anyway, you wished to speak with me?”

She nods. “I originally came to the Pyramid to share information regarding one of the people of interest you gave me.”

“Excellent.” He gestures for her to continue, still striding down the hallway.

She follows silently a moment, gathering her thoughts. “It’s about the one called Cantor.”

Rabenholz eyes her as they walk. “Have you determined his plans in the city?”

“No, but I have learned some new information–” Her blood-bond starts to twist uncomfortably, choking her into silence. This isn’t betrayal, she tells herself firmly. The people most dangerous to Cantor already know this information.

Finally, the tension eases and she’s able to continue. “…He’s known by another name, in some circles. Cantor the White.”

Rabenholz lifts an eyebrow. “Is this some sort of metaphor?”

“Sort of. It’s not so much about his race, though he is some sort of Caucasian. It’s more about an unusual feature of his.” She affects her best nonchalance. “Apparently, he doesn’t have the same affliction affecting the others of his clan.”

“You mean he’s not a blood-addled diablerie addict?”

Dark laughter fights to escape her but she forces it back. “All evidence indicates he is, but his skin doesn’t darken the way other Assamites do. This seems to be a main factor in his success in the Black Hand. He can move openly unobserved in a way many others of his clan cannot.”

She had never been told this, she’d simply seen it in action; his slow campaign of working his way into packs and coteries only to devour them from the inside. A few years ago, he had single-handedly taken down a growing Camarilla court in southern New Mexico, freeing up the territory for Sabbat drug-runners. But he hadn’t done it for the accolades he received from Mexico City. His real payment came the following nights, as he walked openly among the humans of the town, hunting as he willed — at bars and bowling alleys, even a brief foray at a high school prom. And since she had inherited his mutation to leave her own skin unblemished, each night he had been free to drag her along with him.

Rabenholz considers this. “A most useful talent. What else were you able to discover?”

“As your earlier information indicated, he is based in St. Ignatius Church, near the park. Before he arrived in the city, there was a small Sabbat cell setting itself up secretly at the university associated with the church.” Scout hesitates. “When Cantor arrived, he claimed their…resources…for himself.”

They stop in the main antechamber outside Bell’s office. “This is good information Scout,” Rabenholz says. “Is that all?”

Her gaze darts to the office door. Bell’s voice echoes from the other side. He hadn’t passed them in the hall, so he must have used some secret route to return from the lobby. “That’s all I’ve been able to collect at this time.”

Rabenholz nods. “Very good. I note your efforts and appreciate them.”

The door suddenly opens. A ghoul sticks her head out and jumps briefly in surprise as she sees them standing right there. “Lord Rabenholz, sir? The Justicar would like to see you.” Her eyes dart to Scout. “Both.”

Scout’s stomach twists but she follows Rabenholz silently. Bell is back at his desk, scowling as they enter, just closing down a video phone. His gaze narrows as it slides across Scout, but he turns to Rabenholz first. “Rabenholz. Care to tell me what happened?”

Rabenholz adjusts his cloak. “I was on my way up when apparently the elevator stopped on the thirty-third floor.”

“And what was on the thirty-third floor?”

“Dr. Everton.”

Bell folds his arms. “And do you have his head?”

“I do not,” Rabenholz says coolly. “He was as surprised to see me as I was him. But what followed was very odd. A number of gargoyles appeared from the walls.”

“Gargoyles. Tremere gargoyles, you mean.” Bell sinks back into his chair with a creak of leather. “Where’s Everton?”

“I don’t know. A fire broke out and I fled. I did see someone I recognized in the lobby, though.”

Bell’s chair creaks again as he leans forward. “Who?”

“Vannevar Hughes,” Rabenholz says smoothly.

Bell glares a long moment, then taps the video phone next to him. “It’s interesting you should mention that, ‘cause I just got off the phone with him. He’s in Florida.”

Rabenholz doesn’t blink. “How very convenient for him.”

“He tried to explain to me that he’s been in Florida for the better part of two days.” Bell sits back. “He was lying. I tend to know when someone is lying to me about these sorts of things.  Something scared the shit out of him. And I don’t know if it was you.”

Scout listens to all this carefully. “Do Hughes’s people still control the Chantry?” she asks tentatively. And everything within it?

Bell glances at her, eyes hardening again. “I have no idea. But I intend to find out.” He turns back to Rabenholz. “The Chantry has been the focus of a lot of bad business the last few nights. A lot of bad business.”

“Is Ms. Johnson still in the city?” Rabenholz asks.

“I don’t know. She isn’t answering her phone. Again.” Bell grumbles and stands. “I’m going to go over to the Chantry and see what’s going on, whether Johnson or Hughes or whoever is there likes it or not. So if you can’t reach me, that’s where I will be.”

Rabenholz nods once. “So noted. Is there anything I can help with?”

“In this case, I think it’s best I do this myself, and I know you have other business matters to attend to. But…before I go, I’d like a word with her. Alone.”

Both men turn to stare at Scout. She freezes under their gazes: one man her enemy, the other quite probably so, no matter what looking at him makes her feel. She straightens and folds her hands politely behind her, slowly sliding one closer to her knife.

With a nod to Bell, Rabenholz leaves. Bell stares at her in the silence, leaning back against his desk. “You ain’t gonna draw that in time.”

Her hand stops. Against her better instinct, she smirks. “Been fast enough before.”

Before she can even think to blink, Bell is there, knife against her throat, free-hand grabbing her wrist and wrenching it overhead. “Fast enough for that?” he says coolly, face inches from hers.

The floor sways as her mind suddenly falls, flashing through a thousand similar scenes with Cantor, flinching at the expected strike, fighting down panic at what comes after. But there’s no hunger or lust in Bell’s actions, just a cold sense of purpose, and his hands don’t shift from where they’ve pinned her.

He’s a man with honor, part of her whispers suddenly, and he’s Camarilla. If he must kill you, it’ll be professional.

She latches onto this strangely comforting thought. After a moment, the panic begins to melt away. The swaying floor steadies under her feet and her head perceives other sensations: his grip on her wrist, the cold flat of her knife out of reach against her back, and Bell’s unrelenting mass looming over her. As the panic ebbs, her mind takes a moment to calculate the threat of the situation, but it’s soon overwhelmed as another part of her surges to the surface and responds…favorably.

Very favorably.

She stares into his sunglasses. Goddammit, what the hell is wrong with me–

“Who the hell are you?” he growls.

Don’t see why it matters,” she says, trying to focus.

He releases her hand, but keeps the knife at her throat as he slowly lowers his sunglasses. “This city is on the brink of a catastrophe. We got Methusulas, dragons, werewolves, and mages running around killing each other in the streets and you’re gonna tell me it doesn’t matter?

His naked gaze bores through her. She forces herself to stare back evenly. “I’m trying to help, aren’t I?”

“How the fuck do I know what you’re trying to do?”

“I’m following that Ventrue asshole around like it’s my damn job.”

“And is it? Who the hell are you? Really? Some Caitiff just come out of nowhere in the middle of all this shit? Bullshit.” He looks her over. “I know the look of a Caitiff. The smell, the posture, everything. You’re no Caitiff. What are you?”

A new emotion blooms within her, as unexpected as her sudden arousal: Pride. In the tumult of emotions, she can’t stop it leaching to the surface. “Think about all the things running around and ask yourself if you really want to know,” she says, arching her neck against his knife as if in challenge.

His face, already drawn, hardens like a stone. “I’m a Justicar of the Camarilla and right now I am about this far from deciding that who sent you was Sabbat. Or, for all I know, the Black Hand.”

She almost laughs, but decades of instinct keeps her pokerface even.

“Either case,” Bell continues, “I’m chopping your head right off right now, cause that’s one less problem I gotta deal with.”

A sheer sense of presence radiates off him, no magical amplification required. The truth of his statement is punctuated by the cold steel at her throat. Her mind scrambles for a reply, till deep down a sudden realization almost makes the room reel again:

She’s not just some irritation to him, or some toy to be used at whim. Unlike countless Sabbat lords, Bell isn’t ignoring her in favor of focusing on her master. For the first time in thirty years, someone is truly trying to see her, to penetrate the illusions and shadows she’s hid behind for so long.

And Theo Bell, Justicar of the Camarilla, sees her as a threat.  

The thought is intoxicating, stoking her spark of lust to life once again. This time, she doesn’t fight it, leaning forward smiling coyly up at him. “The Priscus can vouch for me.”

The leather of Bell’s coat creaks with flexing muscle. “The Priscus can’t vouch for my damn dry cleaning. He’s Sabbat. The fact he stands around acting personable like this doesn’t change what he is.” He presses forward. “What the hell are you? And you best have an answer that makes me happy in the next five seconds.”

The spark falters. Quickly, she runs through ideas on how to respond, trying to regain a grip on the deadly seriousness of the situation. He’ll doubt anything she says, but there isn’t much she can show him instead that won’t point right at her being an Assamite. Which, considering her pale skin and clean aura, would tip over entirely new cans of worms–

Suddenly, something rises from deep within, a voice rarely heard but never gone, whispering a suggestion with laughter at its edges.

Scout smiles, closes her eyes, and concentrates.

A meadow spreads from her feet, grass springing from the ancient rug and rising in twisting tendrils. Flowers uncoil from the mossy depths, bobbing on an unfelt breeze, releasing motes of pollen like pixie dust. Bell stares at the scene, the grip on his knife easing as petals bloom into butterflies and dance around them. After a few moments of swirling color, the entire garden dissolves into more glittering dust, swirling around on a ghostly wind, then disappears.

Bell stands quiet a moment. “Well, isn’t Flowers a sneaky bastard….” He eyes her again. “You’re here for the pirate then?”

Her pleasure at the successful illusion evaporates along with it. …What?

Once again, though, she keeps her face neutral. “I…have been trying to get more information on Anstis…” she says carefully.

Bell scowls. ‘The pirate ain’t burnt his ledger with me yet. But he ain’t exactly filled it out well either.” He sheathes his knife and steps back. “So why Rabenholz? What’s Flowers care about him?”

Who? As much will as it took to spin the meadow-illusion, it takes even more now to keep the confusion off her face. “Rabenholz is simply a useful player to attach myself to,” Scout says after a moment. “Being in the center of things is never a bad idea when everything else is eroding around you.”

Bell sighs and walks back toward his desk. “You’re not wrong. Rabenholz is going to run this city when this is all done, if we ain’t dead. Van Nuys shot his bolt, but Rabenholz got a pedigree and an interest in the job. Not a bad thing to attach yourself to.” He leans back onto the wood and regards her. “Can you get a message back to John Flowers?”

Scout lifts an eyebrow. “I can certainly try,” she says honestly.

He levels a finger at her. “Tell him I don’t care what bullshit went on between him and the pirate two hundred years ago. I don’t care what ships he wants to raid, I don’t care what gunfire he wants to get into, but he does it off my continent. You understand?

She nods, carefully filing this information away.

“I’m glad.” Bell drops his sunglasses back over his eyes. “Because if something does happen between those two within city limits, I’m coming for you too.”

He turns to shuffle some papers on his desk. She watches his shoulders flex under the leather of his coat, the predatory grace of even his casual movements. Without warning, the spark flares back to life. “Is that a promise?” she hears herself saying, the lust in her voice glaring obvious.

Bell stops. Slowly, he places the papers back on the desk. He turns, lifts his sunglasses again.

“Really,” he says, voice low. “Is that really the way you want to play this?” He looks her over slowly, expression cool. But not dismissive.

His posture is relaxed, not so much as a finger twitching in her direction, but she freezes as if he was looming over her again, fear binding her muscles even as excitement stokes higher. It’s the amaranth, part of her realizes. Or, more accurately, her lack of it. It had been months since she’d taken anyone directly and the addiction was boiling forth as other desires, no matter how ill-conceived. Her tryst with the boy in the truck had been an early symptom, and fortunately one she’d gotten control over before anyone accidentally died.

But Bell is no human so easily damaged, the voice within her purrs. Even it knew better than to try and diablerize him, but it ached to be released in other ways, ways she had so rarely been able to choose for herself.

I could say yes, part of her thinks with a sudden, freeing clarity. Say yes and damn the consequences. But the survivor within her, a voice blessedly too strong to ignore, reminds her that the consequences could still easily be deadly–this time for her, if Bell tastes the lies carried on her blood.

Scout stares back into his even gaze, then slowly, laboriously, shakes her head no.

“Good,” Bell says flatly. “Cause the last thing I need to worry about right now is getting the stains out of the carpet.”

He stands and moves back to his chair. Taking that as a dismissal, she shoves down her rising embarrassment and hurries toward the door.

“One last thing,” he calls suddenly. “Who’d you eat?”

A sudden throb of terror seizes her limbs before she can reach for the knob. “What do you mean?” she asks softly.

“You think that trick of yours can fool me?” Bell sneers. “I can smell diablerie all over you.”

Her mind races. That’s impossible, Cantor had always assured her that her aura, like his, was impeccably clear–

Bell folds his arms. “Who. Did. You. Eat?”

She closes her eyes. So many. More than she could count, or remember. Most of them weak-willed prey whose souls had dissolved into ecstasy on her tongue and left barely a memory behind. Except for one. The one so deeply engraved on her psyche it would remain until final death.

Laughter twinkles through the halls of her mind once again before drifting back to the depths.

“It was a long time ago,” she says softly.

Muffled footsteps approach across the carpet. “Camarilla doesn’t like diablerists,” Bell says slowly. “I don’t like diablerists. So it’d best stay a long time ago, cause I guarantee those parlor tricks aren’t going to fool me if it doesn’t.” He leans past her and jerks the door open.

Scout nods and hurries out.

END OF ADDENDUM

 

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2 Responses to Scout’s Honor, Part 16: An Audience with Bell

  1. Seth says:

    Everyone’s hot for Bell…

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