Rabenholz is waiting in the antechamber as Scout and Bell emerge from the office. The Ventrue’s body is relaxed but his eyes track them closely, lingering on her. She forces herself to stare back coolly.
Bell levels a finger at him. “Alright, as I said, I’m going to the Chantry to figure this out. I don’t need your help, but I do need you to let me know if anything new suddenly drops in–”
Suddenly, a door kicks open from further down the hall. Anstis strolls out, saunters up, and dumps a torn body at Bell’s feet.
Silence falls. Bell stares a long moment, then lowers his finger to point down. “–What the fuck is that?”
Anstis smooths proudly at his coat. “Nitocris. Leader of the Settites in the city.”
Rabenholz stares at the body. “I see she didn’t agree to do security for us.”
And I guess I won’t be feeding her to Fatima, Scout thinks with a scowl.
A stake projects from Nitocris’s torn flesh, its tip buried in the darkness of her chest. Bell steps over the mutilated body to approach Anstis. “Where did you get that?” he rumbles, inches from the pirate’s face.
Anstis smiles back, unflinching. “The caves in Fort Funston.”
“What was she doing there? And speaking of people in places they shouldn’t be, what were you doing there?”
Anstis gestures grandly at the body. “Dealing with this.”
“And how many others did you have to deal with?”
“Sertorius took care of the rest. Or at least, the ones we know of. Although, it would appear….” Anstis kneels down and peels open the chest cavity, showing the stone in place of a heart. “…What’s the modern phrase? ‘Our princess is in another castle.’”
Anstis beams up at them while Bell and Rabenholz stare back blankly. Scout, though, slowly facepalms at the awkward reference. Cantor may have stolen the last years of her childhood, but he hadn’t removed her from pop culture completely. Though the pirate probably has about as much experience with videogames as I do—
Suddenly Rabenholz tenses, staring down at the body. Scout follows his gaze. The stake is wedged deep between Nitocris’s ribs, nestled against the stone replacing her heart–
–Replacing her heart.
Scout stares another moment in disbelief, then takes a step back, reaching for her knife.
In that instant, Nitocris’s eyes snap open. Everyone watching jerks back in surprise. Nitrocis’s gaze flashes as it darts around the room, instantly taking in her surroundings, then she lifts her hands, sending gold bangles rattling down her dark-skinned arm. Rabenholz draws his sword and strikes at her, but her moves and the blade glances off the jewelry.
Nitocris’s chest spasms, vomiting a shriek in an unknown language. Up and down the hall, doors suddenly fly open as over a dozen armed Settites rush into the room, the glint of blades winking from their hands and robes.
Scout freezes. Each of these warriors is larger than the sorcerers she dealt with back at Fort Funston, and there’s half-again as many of them. For a moment, instinct screams at her to run, to hide, to wait for the dust to settle then report it all to Cantor. But then she hesitates, glancing at Rabenholz.
No…he needs to see what I can do.
While everyone’s distracted by the gathering mob, she draws her blade and discreetly runs it down the length of her thumb. The pain is a familiar friend and she ignores it, gathering the will needed to summon the poison from her blood.
Behind Anstis, the still-prone Nitocris shrieks in laughter, chanting again in her strange language. The Settite warriors stop a few feet away, leering through tattooed skin and sharpened teeth. For a moment, silence falls in the foyer. In the standoff that follows, Bell slowly scans the crowd.
Bell turns to Anstis. “Friends of yours?”
Anstis’s claws snick from his fingers. “Nay.”
Suddenly the crowd ripples and parts. A new warrior marches through the other Settites, dressed in similar dark robes but almost a foot taller than the rest, carrying a scimitar made of obsidian glass. This man–clearly a leader–stops in the center of the room and grins, the light catching on gold-capped teeth.
Bell smirks, hand reaching for his own sword, but before he can move Rabenholz steps forward. The room goes silent again as the Ventrue crosses the narrow no-man’s land to approach the massive Settite. Scout watches, aghast…
“Excuse me,” Rabenholz mutters, and moves to brush past the warriors.
Scout stares disbelief. Or maybe I shouldn’t risk my neck to impress this asshole.
The massive warrior reaches out a hand to stop Rabenholz. “Stay awhile,” he says with a wide grin.
Rabenholz eyes him. “I don’t think so.”
“I insist,” the man says, the soft compulsion of Presence rippling under his words.
Scout scans the room quickly. All eyes are focused on Rabenholz and the warrior. If she’s going to get a jump on such a massive crowd, now’s the best time. She selects a cluster of Settites on the left side of the room, notes their positions, then moves.
In the next instant, her knife is out and plunging into flesh. One warrior falls back in a spray of blood cut from a major artery, but the others are able to move away from her with nothing more than slashes. In the next heartbeat, chaos erupts around the room but she ignores it, her muscles flowing automatically into another attack, slashing and whirling to drive the cluster of warriors back.
Joy rises in her chest as both halves of her–human and vampire–slide into rhythm. All her fears and all her hungers fall away under the movement and the thrill of the fight, instinct and art rising to create one perfect whole, painting with motion instead of color. Bodies fall, whole or in pieces, splattering her with gore, but onward her knife sings. The last warrior of the cluster stumbles back, fumbling with his sword, and in one swing she removes it, as well as the hand clenched on its hilt. Before the man can scream she grabs him, tearing a gulp of blood from his throat before tossing him away, nerves singing with the hot taste–
Someone comes up behind, wrapping around her and pinning her arms to her sides. Instantly her joy turns to rage, snarling and kicking to free herself, then evaporates into pain as an unseen blade tears through her spine. Her legs crumple, sending her and her captor to the floor. A triumphant shout rises from the crowd and the pain becomes agony as more bodies press, more blades stab. Her halves unite again, this time in fear, as she writhes under the onslaught, angling for a bite, a slash–
Now is not the time for subtleties, an accented voice within her suddenly chides.
Scout freezes. Realization dawns. She concentrates….
…And forms an illusion of white-hot flame erupting from her skin.
All action in the room stops. The warriors on top of her throw themselves away, escaping the heat and the light. Scout stands slowly, burning like a phoenix, but untouched under the flames except for slashes already healing before their eyes. Every vampire in the room stares in shock as she slowly turns, finally locking eyes with the Settite’s massive leader. Of everyone in the room, he alone isn’t surprised. Instead, the smile on his face is one of admiration. Something about it sends an itch creeping up her spine.
While the Settite leader is distracted, Anstis sneaks up behind him, regrowing his claws and lifting them to swipe again–
In the next instant, Anstis yelps in pain and vitae sprays across the room. The Settite leader slashes in a blur that makes Scout’s own battle seem like a child’s dance. Each of Anstis’s claws flies off, not in one strike, but in rapid individual strikes that neatly remove each finger at the first joint, one by one.
The itch becomes a icy bolt slashing down Scout’s back, freezing her in place. That’s…that’s not possible–
Anstis stumbles back. The massive Settite turns toward the pirate slowly, still grinning, but doesn’t follow. Instead he lowers the obsidian blade and lifts his other hand to wave.
Then he’s gone.
Silence collapses in on the room, but in Scout’s head, terror rings. The movements, the rhythm, the finesse of that shock-and-awe attack. Every ripple of it was a poem sketched in blood, and it was a poem she knew far too well.
She had spent her whole unlife watching his skill, studying it, knowing she could never hope to match it, but also knowing she was the only person alive allowed to try. That level of cold precision was his signature style, and no one else alive could have made those movements except him.
But, at the same time, there had been no glimmer of illusion around the massive warrior’s form. Somehow, Cantor was the Settite, and the Settite was him.
Her stomach twists again. That cocky wave he had given Anstis; there’s no way he could have resisted mugging to her too. Cantor had always been too pleased to have her a witness to his glory, to watch the pain of his victims reflected in the shock on her face. So for him to all but ignore her this time–
–-Does he know that I know?
Movement and voices bring her back to the present as ghouls appear from the woodwork and Rabenholz leads a SWAT-armed team into the room. People are still staring, giving her a wide berth. She realizes her fiery illusion is still on and dispels it.
Rabenholz surveys the room. “What happened?” he asks sharply.
A warning shiver passes over her. She turns. Bell is staring at her, slowly cleaning the gore from his blade. “That’s a really good question,” he mutters. A guard shouts that one of the Settite warriors is still alive. Still glaring at Scout, Bell walks over and calmly stakes it.
“Anyone know who their leader was?” Anstis asks. “The one with the obsidian blade?”
“Never seen him,” Bell replies. “Looks like you pissed him off.” He stares down at Nitocris’s mutilated form, destroyed to final-death during the battle and already starting to crumble into ash. “Her boyfriend?”
Anstis shrugs. “Perhaps.”
Bell turns his glare to Anstis. “Nice move. Now we don’t have anyone to talk to. Except this asshole.” He kicks the staked body at his feet. “And how much you wanna bet this asshole knows about the same amount as all the other assholes I’ve been picking up?”
“You’re not familiar with the one with the scimitar?” Rabenholz asks.
“No,” Bell says, “Are you?”
“Is anybody?” Bell scans the room. Scout busies herself with cleaning her own knife, then tenses as she senses Bell approaching her. “You got something you want to add?” Bell growls.
Adrenaline throbbing, she shakes her head and wraps the handkerchief quickly around the blade, obscuring Cantor’s sigil. If anyone in this room could identify it, it would be Bell.
Bell peers down at her as she tucks it away. “Nice blade. Pick that up from Home Depot?”
“It was a gift,” she says softly.
“Whom,” Rabenholz mutters.
Bell fires a glare at the Venture, then turns back to her. “From whom?”
She glances back to the place Cantor was last standing. “An old friend,” she forces herself to say.
Anstis swaggers closer. “Does this old friend have a name?”
Anger flares, evaporating her anxiety. “I don’t see how that’s relevant at the moment.”
Instantly, she’s slammed against the wall, Bell’s forearm on her chest and sword at her throat, pressing her back and pinning her with his weight. “I have had just about enough of little miss fucking Caitiff over here,” he spits through clenched teeth. “When a Justicar asks you for a name, you answer with a name. And what about that little fire trick of yours?”
Panic rises, conjuring memories of Cantor. Her nerves scream in self preservation, instinctively anticipating a blade, a bite, forcing her to the edge of a frenzy just to escape–
She closes her eyes, trying to bring her mind back to the ease she had felt during the fight. Such moments are the closest she had yet come to the meditative focus Cantor had been trying to teach her for years. Everything else in her mind was flawed by comparison. Everything else could be ignored.
Slowly, her panic ebbs. She opens her eyes to meet Bell’s gaze evenly. “It’s just something I picked up.”
He shoves her again. “You are about this far from me stapling you to the roof! I’ve had enough of this mystery crap! I want to know what just happened here and what your part was in all of it, and if I don’t know those things in the next ten seconds, I’m going to cut you into pieces this size!”
Anger rises, not at the threats, but at how little they mean. “I had nothing to do with those assholes!” she shouts.
“Tell me about the fire,” Bell growls, pressing the blade closer.
She glares. “It got them away, didn’t it?”
He leans in. “…Do it again. Right now.”
Scout stares, then glances at the room. Anstis is lurking nearby, grinning at her from just over Bell’s shoulder. Rabenholz has secured an unbroken chair to sit in and is calmly watching, hands folded. Ghouls and guards also stare from the background, cowed. She looks back to Bell, still pressed against her. The anger simmers higher. Too many mysteries tonight, too many people pushing her around….
She summons the illusion again, but this time, for Bell, the flames are real.
Bell leaps back as she ignites, beating at his clothes, his real panic fueling her pride. She lets the illusion rise, until out of the corner of her eye she sees Rabenholz lean forward, a rolled magazine held in front of him. Before he can reach the flames, she dispels them. She fights back a pleased smirk as the room falls into silence around herstares at her once again.
“Is that real, or illusion?” Anstis asks, turning to Bell. Bell doesn’t respond, standing silently a few feet away, still rubbing at his exposed skin and eyeing her balefully.
Rabenholz stands, settling his cape around him. “Come, Captain. A magician never reveals her tricks.”
Bell glare deepens. He opens his mouth to say something–
Suddenly, the shadows of the room flicker and pulse. Out of a corner, Marcus steps from the darkness as nonchalantly as exiting an elevator. All attention turns to him as he surveys the carnage. “What happened here?” he asks.
“A party with the Settites,” Anstis answers. “Nitocris is gone, permanently.” He steps back with a grand sweep to reveal her body crumbling on the floor.
Marcus stares, then walks over to peer at the body. “How did that happen?”
Anstis beams. “I killed her.”
“You beheaded the body that appeared to be Nitocris,” Rabenholz admonishes. “Don’t jump to conclusions. Clear your mind must be if you are to reveal the true villains behind this plot.”
Anstis stares at the Settite’s body, slowly crumbling to reveal the rock where her heart should have been, then nods. “You’re right, give me a moment.” He fumbles in his pocket.
Meanwhile, Marcus paces the room, eyeing the other bodies, ignoring the ghouls and guards moving hastily out of his way. “Who killed these men?” he asks. “I assume of course Mr. Bell had a hand in it but not all of these have been killed with a sword.” He looks up at Scout. She nods once, grimly.
“I had a hand in it as well,” Anstis adds, revealing his regrown claws.
Marcus eyes him. “Really? How many did you kill?”
“You can count the claw marks if you’d like.”
Marcus scans the bodies again. “So…none. Interesting.”
Anstis’s grin falls. “I was occupied with their leader, a large man with an obsidian sword.”
Scout tenses, but Marcus shrugs. “Sounds like a Settite. Well I’ve had an interesting evening as well. There’s a great many people around who seem to have an adverse reaction to you and yours, Captain.”
“Whom do you mean?”
Marcus gestures across the room. “All these Settites, who seem to have pursued you across the city, as well as the ones you decided to leave to me to clean up at the cave.” He glares. “Those have been dealt with, but unfortunately they were not very forthcoming with the information I needed. I was rather hoping Nitocris would be, but apparently that’s not going to be an issue now, is it?”
Anstis shifts awkwardly, searching for a response, when suddenly the elevator dings and the doors open. A man in faded jeans and a black turtleneck steps out and stops, staring at the gathered crowd and carnage. “I came at an odd time….”
Scout frowns. Something about the man is familiar….
“Ah, Paul.” Marcus walks toward him. “We’re just finishing up with some minor interlopers. What can we do for you?”
Her stomach plummets. Paul Stewart. One of the few living people she’s interacted with since coming to the city, when she was ordered to follow him to his house and talked with him there.
In other words, one of the only living people who could, in theory, identify her.
Moving slowly, she steps back out of Paul’s direct line of sight and reaches up to release her hair from its loose ponytail, combing it down to shadow her face.
“Well I learned that the people who attacked my house this morning were a Nephandus and a Black Spiral Dancer,” Paul is saying, “and they are going to sacrifice my sometimes-house pet and summon some sort of evil thing in some sort of labyrinth thing in Marin, and Sophia wants Tom to be woken up so he can help, which at this point makes sense to me, I don’t know how you feel about that Rabenhol–I’m sorry, I mean Lord Rabenholz–”
Marcus holds up a hand. “Hold on a minute…labyrinth? A spiral labyrinth?
“Yeah that’s the one.”
Marcus lowers his hand slowly. “Paul. You’re telling me your werewolf friend told you there’s a passageway into the Black Spiral Labyrinth in Marin?”
“Yes,” Paul says.
“And she’s going there?”
“Yes, with her pack to track down a wolf cub.”
Marcus blinks. “Then she is dead.”
Paul sighs. “That’s what she said too. I told her to hang on.”
“So…you could join her in death?”
Paul nods grimly. “That’s what I’m afraid of. She didn’t sound optimistic.”
“Good, then she’s not as stupid as I thought she might be.” Marcus shakes his head. “I appreciate this is a concern to you Paul, but I don’t see how it matters to me. The werewolves hate me. But I assure you, if you decide to join her on this quest, you will die.”
Paul shrugs. “Well I just thought everyone should know. Especially Lord Rabenholz, since Tom’s presence was requested….”
Scout’s throat catches. She watches Rabenholz closely through a half-curtain of her hair as the Ventrue eyes Paul coolly. “Mr. Lytton is spoken for,” Rabenholz says. “It is not up to me what is done with him.” His gaze flicks to Anstis, then back.
Scout’s gaze also slides to Anstis, then narrows.
“Nor do I think he would be ready for such a quest anytime in the near future,” Rabenholz finishes.
“Nor have I made a habit of throwing my own clients into the damned labyrinth,” Marcus grumbles. “If the werewolves wish to kill themselves, they are welcome to do so on their own time.” He gestures dismissively. “Nevertheless. If this matter is concluded, I would like to know where you think we find ourselves, since we know know precisely as much as we did when we started this whole escapade.”
“Well, we are down a great deal of Settites,” Anstis adds helpfully.
“Which I will grant you always brightens the night, but does not help me to find what I need.”
“What do you need?” Anstis asks.
Marcus glares at him. For a moment, the shadows flicker. “I need a leader of theirs, alive, so I can question them! I have cornered many, many Settites over the last few nights, but none have been able to tell me anything about their plans, where they are denning, or even how many of them are in the Bay Area. Someone, or something, has been ensuring that they cannot.”
Scout finds herself suddenly stepping forward. “Priscus, may we speak in private a moment?”
Marcus eyes her, then sighs and gestures toward the office. “Very well.”
She follows him into the office, the demons inside her stirring restlessly under the tightening coils of her blood bond. What am I doing….
Before Marcus can close the door, though, Bell shoves a hand through to catch it and forces his way in. “What the hell is going on,” he snaps as he shoves the door closed behind him.
Scout adopts her best formal deferential pose. “Justicar. I am sorry I cannot be more forthcoming.”
He stalks toward her behind a raised finger. “I don’t give a fuck what kind of game you think you’re playing with everyone else, but when I ask you a question, you answer it direct. Or else we’re going to have more than words.”
There’s a chuckle from across the room. Marcus is making his way to the desk. “I see everything went well then.”
Her gaze darts between Bell and Marcus…then she turns toward the desk. “Priscus I have information that might be of interest to you….” She trails off, her blood bond suddenly swelling to choke down the words.
“Yes?” Marcus says.
She glances back to Bell. “…I don’t think you will want it shared with others.”
Bell’s face erupts almost as incandescent as her illusion during the battle. His mouth twists to a snarl and he takes a step toward her–
Suddenly Marcus is there, grabbing his arm hard enough to stop him in place. Bell glares down at him, then tears his arm from his grip and storms from the room.
Marcus watches the door slam. “Time’s gonna come you’re gonna have to deal with that, and it will not be an easy thing to deal with. He’s on a short chain, and he doesn’t like being on any chain. Certainly not mine.”
Scout flinches, but if Marcus realizes the subtext of referring to Bell being on a chain, he doesn’t indicate it. “The Settites were lead by a man when they came in,” she says quickly.
“Yes, so Anstis said. What about him?”
She hesitates. Her blood bond chokes again, cautious of revealing any information about Cantor, but she takes a slow breath and forces her way through. “I…have a strong suspicion that man was my sire.” She meets Marcus’s eyes. “Not trained by him, not associated with him, was him.”
Marcus stares. “That’s impossible.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t know how, he doesn’t have the same illusion skills I do. But I am sure of it.”
“You’re saying Cantor lead those Settites? Is he in the habit of hiring outside help?”
She shrugs. “Maybe he grabbed a bunch and forced them to do what he needed them to do. He’s certainly done it before.”
“Sons of Dis.” Marcus paces. “Did the Captain kill Nitocris?”
She nods once. “Yes, he ripped her head off.”
Marcus stops. “He didn’t eat her?”
He stares into space a moment. “…Then there might still be time. I need to talk to her, dead or alive.” With that, Marcus throws the door open and rushes from the room, yelling about needing a Necromancer.
Scout hides her anxiety as they appear in the underworld. Knowing the pirate is a necromancer is one thing, but actually participating in his ghastly rituals sets instincts she didn’t realize she had on edge. From what she’s been told, few vampires end up as shades, only the ones with serious grudges to bear. Diablerie, though, supposedly prevents it from happening.
The Priscus is missing when they arrive, but she doesn’t concern herself with it long. Walking between the worlds is endemic to his kind, he will likely find his own way. The shade of Nitocris, though, is missing as well.
Anstis looks around at the swirling grey mist. “This be a different place than last time.”
Rabenholz eyes him. “Captain, you collect odd hobbies.”
Anstis fumbles a rock from his pocket, closes his eye, and concentrates. “It says Nitocris is all around us,” he announces after a moment.
Scout eyes Anstis carefully. Cantor had always said to be wary of necromancers, for they could find you in unexpected ways. As she watches, Anstis suddenly steps forward, conjuring a handful of fire. Real fire.
Her stomach twists uncomfortably, and not from seeing the flames. The man who apparently has dibs on her brother after Rabenholz is done with him is a necromancer, and a thaumaturgist too….
A wailing shriek rises around them, like a thousand voices screaming at once for them to LEAVE!!!
Rabenholz turns to her. “Ms. Scout, I don’t suppose you could improve on his trick?”
She eyes him. “How so?”
“Summon more fire.”
She hesitates, unsure if illusions would even work here. “…I’ll let the necromancer take the lead.”
Anstis, still grinning, continues to swing his handful of fire through the misty air. “Do you want me to stop?” he shouts to the gloom. “Tell us, who was that man you brought?”
“Unbeliever!” The shriek comes from every direction at once. “Unbelievers all!”
Anstis turns to Scout and shrugs. She rolls her eyes. Well, guess there’s only one way to find out. She gathers her will and concentrates.
A ring of fire suddenly erupts around them, burning back the mist. The shrieks intensify.
Rabenholz eyes her. “Impressive.” She doesn’t meet his gaze, but inside she thinks, Good.
Finally the mists coalesce into the form of Nitocris, just outside the ring of fire. “STOP! STOOOOP!!!” she wails, cowering in pain.
“Then answer our questions,” Anstis says. Nitocris hisses and shrieks, pulling back as if to run away into oblivion. Scout concentrates again, shifting the illusion of fire to open up and close around her, drawing her closer. Nitocris huddles on the ground as Anstis strides forward.
He grabs her by the neck, hoisting her up and blasting her with necromantic compulsion. “Tell me!” he growls.
Nitocris claws uselessly at his hand. “About what?!” she gasps.
“Everything you know about the man with the obsidian blade!”
Scout watches intently as Nictocris falls still, though her green eyes remain wild. “…Anektahken,” she manages finally. “Lord of Sedge and Bee. Master of the Two Niles.” She sneers up at Anstis. “Your executioner, Gangrel!”
Scout blinks. My god, Cantor fooled the Settites too….
Anstis pulls Nitocris closer. “Everything you know. Tell me exactly what you were up to in the city.”
Nitocris closes her eyes. “I obey the orders of my lawful lord, in the worship and praise of Lord Set,” she murmurs. “I do as I am commanded, as a loyal subject of Set.”
“Anektahken,” Scout repeats carefully. “What is he to you?”
Nitocris’s eyes snap open. “My Lord, my Sovereign! He commands us in the service of Set and his glory!” Her voice rings with anger and passion, but underneath is a note of fear, one Scout wouldn’t have noticed it if wasn’t so familiar.
Anstis pulls the Settite’s head around to face him. “Where is Helgi Isarnbjorn Ogenherdi?”
“I will not tell you!” Nitocris hisses back.
Rabenholz finally steps forward, drawing his cane sword with a soft whisper, and carefully runs his thumb along the blade.
The sword erupts into flame, real flame. Another thaumaturgist trick. Nitocris scrambles back but the illusory flames surrounding them stop her. Rabenholz swings the sword down to hover an inch from her throat. “Please, tell us,” he says coolly.
Nitocris shrieks. “He’s beneath the temple of our Lord! He reposes there, at the command of Anektahken himself!”
Anstis grabs her again. “WHERE IS THE TEMPLE?!”
“In the catacombs!” she sobs. “Beneath the ruined coliseum! On the point by the water.”
A silent moment. “You’re referring to Candlestick Park, are you not?” Rabenholz asks.
Nitocris hesitates, but Anstis shakes her once and she shrieks. “Yes! Yes…abandoned, destroyed. We took it for our own purposes.” She sags down as Anstis releases her. “My master bade Helgi Isarnbjorn be taken there.”
“How do we contact your lord Anektahken?” Rabenholz asks.
She stares up at him, green eyes flashing again. “He will contact you, with his blade. He will drown you in your own blood!”
That much at least is true, Scout thinks.
Anstis’s face slowly turns thoughtful. “Why does Helgi need to be alive?”
Nitocris’s face twists in pain, though nothing is touching her. “I don’t know! I begged him to let us kill him, I begged my Lord to let us drink the blood of the betrayer. But I was refused.” Her head hangs. “My Lord consorts with others, I do not know why.”
Scout frowns. Could Anektahken have consorted with Cantor for a time before he…replaced him? It was a common habit of Cantor’s, to play with his food before he ate it….
Anstis crouches before her. “Why were you in my caves?” he asks.
Nitocris tries to turn away, but he grabs her chin and turns her head back. Her eyes flash again. “Because I suspected you, necromancer.”
“Did you frame him for the death of the mage in the tower?” Rabenholz asks.
“Do you know who did?”
“I suspect.” A mischievous smile plays across her face. “I know that you have enemies, pirate. Great enemies.”
Anstis grins back at Nitocris. “Aye. But which one?”
“The one who lies to the east.”
Scout watches as Anstis’s face falls. Instantly, Bell’s words from earlier slot into place in the rapidly-expanding political web growing in her mind: Flowers is Anstis’s enemy. Flowers set up the frame-job on the mage. Flowers is a Ravnos.
Anstis leans closer. “He’s here? Or just extending a wide net?”
“I have not seen him.” Nitocris’s emerald eyes glitter. “But his agents are here, closer than you think.”
Rabenholz removes his sword from the Settite’s throat. “You wish to continue serving Set, yes?”
Nitocris peers up at him. “I serve him forever!”
“But surely you are more useful to him in the living world.” He gestures to the pirate. “Captain Anstis could bring you back.”
Her gaze flicks between them. “You lie.”
“I do not,” Rabenholz replies.
“You are a Camarillan Ventrue, you lie with every breath you fail to take.”
“No, I am telling you the truth right now, and I will caution you, pirates are a very temperamental bunch.”
Nitocris levers herself higher. “Why should I believe you when you may well be the death of us all? How many warriors did you spill the blood of?”
“Not enough,” Anstis says, grinning.
She turns to him. “It shall be one of us that ends you. And I pray to my Lord that I see it with my own eyes.”
“Well, let’s see if we can do something about that.” In one movement Anstis’s hand snaps forward and tears out her eyes. She falls screaming at his feet as he stands calmly over her.
“I told you he was temperamental,” Rabenholz says smoothly.
“I suspected you, both!” Nitocris shrieks.
“Of what?” Anstis asks,
“Of corrupting my Lord!”
Suspicions twisting in her mind, Scout speaks up again. “When was the last time you saw your lord before this night?”
Nitocris falls silent a moment, chest heaving. “…Months. He would not allow me to enter his sanctum. He passed me his commands and I followed them, but they made no sense. He commanded us to bring low the Gangrel, and we did, but instead of drawing his heart’s blood in sacrifice, or consuming him as he deserved, my lord commanded he be left alive.” She curls in on herself. “My Lord consorted with demons, or other creatures. And then he bade us attack. First the Brujah, then the rest of the Anarchs….” She shakes her head. “It made no sense, we had few warriors left and he squandered them!”
Scout watches her impassively while running quick mental math. We’ve been in this city for months…when did Cantor start disappearing on his own plans? She had blessed each and every one of those solitary nights, even knowing he was out unleashing his attention on others….
“What if he no longer serves Set?” Anstis asks.
Nitocris stares at him with bloodied, sightless eyes. “It is not my place to question the Lord!” she shrieks, panic underneath her voice.
“It is if he’s a heretic,” Anstis replies.
Nitocris hangs her head. “I have no choice. He is my liege.”
Scout listens as Rabenholz and Anstis continue to interrogate Nitocris about Anektahken’s plans, and any possible involvement in the leadership of the city, but it’s soon clear she knows very little. Rabenholz next asks about their enemies. Nitocris spits at the name of Everton when it is mentioned but barely reacts to the others.
“What about Cantor?” Scout asks suddenly.
Nitocris turns her bloodied face toward her. “Cantor. He is an Assamite, he will burn with all the rest.” Low hate tinges her voice but there’s no sign of recognition beyond that.
Rabenholz glances at Scout but doesn’t seem suspicious at her addition. He nods to the Settite. “Thank you, Nitocris, you have been very helpful.”
He turns to join Anstis in the circle, but Nitocris thrusts herself forward, groping at the air after him. “Tell me truthfully, did you contrive to corrupt my Lord?” she gasps.
Scout stares down, watching her twist in panic and pain at the thought of losing her master, hearing the capital-L’s everytime she speaks of him, and suddenly a realization hits: There are no blood bonds in death. Actual devotion drives Nitocris’s words, actual love in her defense of her master.
A chilling thought shudders through Scout’s body. This is what he wants from you. Devotion through death. Devotion enough to accept death willingly. For him.
Rabenholz looks down at the Settite, face lit by the light of the surrounding flames. “No, but based on what you said, I don’t doubt someone else has already succeeded in that task. I’m sorry.”
Rabenholz steps into the circle. Scout follows, then glances back. Nitocris has crumpled to the ground of this dead, shadowy space, curled in on herself and wracked with silent sobs. Scout stares a long moment, then steps into the circle. Anstis activates it, and they disappear.
After this episode, and specifically after Jason dragged me off-screen to tell me what Scout realized about Cantor somehow being the lead Settite in the battle, the game took on a whole new horror for me. For the last two years I’ve had this knowledge of Cantor’s secret abilities, watched and suspected his movements layered beneath what everyone else has been seeing in the game, and yet since that knowledge has been wrapped up in my own secret, I haven’t been able to do a goddamn thing about it.
END OF ADDENDUM