The following segment directly parallels events of 2/02/16 but from the angle of Scout’s perspective, as well as completing one secret-scene phone-call. Content warnings apply.
Also just a reminder for any new visitors clicking in to the landing page: first off, welcome! These Scout scenes are a special project which parallels the narrative with the mainline writeups, contains some spoilers, and is intended to be read after reading through the main episodes in the order in which they appear in the table of contents.
THE SUNSET DISTRICT
Baron Esteban’s ever-present goons eye Scout as she strides up to his bar, but their gaze is nothing compared to the echo of Cantor’s touch still lingering on her chin. Simmering anger drives her forward, enough to power through the twinges of her blood-bond protesting at what she’s about to do. Her emotions must be clear on her face because the guards don’t challenge her as she approaches, nor do the men inside as she strides through the darkness toward Esteban’s table.
The elderly Brujah nods to her as she climbs up to his balcony. “Good evening. You have returned. I hope it is with good news.”
Scout slides into a chair across from him. “I have come to follow through on our deal as discussed. I have tracked down information on the Assamite known as Cantor.”
Esteban lifts an eyebrow, then gestures with his cigar. “Well, I am all ears.”
She takes a breath and launches into the same information she revealed to Rabenholz: how he is sometimes known as Cantor the White for the fact that his skin isn’t dark, that he destroyed a Sabbat cell at the University of San Francisco upon arriving in the city, and to date no one knows exactly why he’s here.
Not enough to hurt him directly, she reminds herself as her blood-bond twists, but maybe enough to make things difficult.
Esteban strokes his beard. “This is fascinating information. How did you acquire it, I wonder?”
Scout smiles thinly. “There are others with Sabbat connections in the city.”
“There are. You are in with the Priscus?”
“I am familiar with him.”
“And Marcus Sertorius has told you all of this?” Esteban gestures again. “Of the Black Hand?
A new warning twists inside her, this one from her own gut. “He told me nothing that I wouldn’t have been able to collect on my own,” she says carefully. “I simply decided to save the time.”
“Not so sure of that, the Hand does not like to be seen. They wish to operate in the shadows, as we all do.” Esteban stabs out the cigar. “Do you know why Cantor is here?”
“I do not,” she replies truthfully.
“Most distressing. He comes and destroys one of the only Sabbat cells in the city just before everything goes to hell.”
She eyes Esteban’s men lurking around the bar and rakes her mind for a diplomatic answer. “One could say it made things more convenient for the rest of us.”
“One could say, but the Hand is not in the habit of making anything convenient for anyone. Except themselves. And who knows why.” Esteban picks up a tumbler of blood and leans back in his chair. “You have brought me all of this to honor our deal. What was my end of that deal, again?”
Scout bows respectfully. “Forgiving me my trespass earlier, and generously granting me access to your territory.”
“Of course.” Esteban smiles. “Well. My territory is not infinite, but within its bounds, you may conduct your business as you wish. Although, what business could a Caitiff have so quickly in this city, I wonder?”
Keeping her face carefully blank, she shrugs. “Nothing of much import. I tend not to stay in one place for too long.”
“I think not. Any Caitiff–and I know some–would have fled by now.” Esteban slowly scans his bar. “There are powerful vampires about. Cantor is merely one of them.”
She forces a polite smile. “Fortunes were never made by the overly cautious.”
Esteban considers her a long moment, the last whiffs of smoke lingering around his face, then he smiles back. “Well, if fortune is what you seek, if you find me more things I would want, I will pay.”
Scout eyes the men lurking about the bar, many of their profiles spiked with the shapes of barely-concealed weaponry. “What sorts of things do you want?”
Esteban’s grin widens and he pulls out another cigar. “I never know until I see it.”
Scout considers Esteban’s words as she leaves the bar. His attitude is clearly one of a man willing to play ball with whatever team shows up on the far side of the field, but something about him still unnerves her. He clearly knows enough about the Hand to know not to meddle in their business, but here Esteban is, paying people to do exactly that. Does he suspect something about Cantor’s dealings to make it worth the risk? Does he suspect her?
A chill nothing to do with the foggy air settles over her as she walks. Something deep inside whispers that her time–either in this city, or on Earth itself–is running out. Cantor would not have let her have this much freedom for so long if he didn’t have something in mind for her at the end of it.
All the more reason to get something done while she still could.
She passes a few minutes walking in silence through the sleepy suburban neighborhood, trying to determine what to do next. Finally, she pulls out her phone to call Rabenholz.
“Ms. Scout,” he answers.
“Lord Rabenholz. How is your evening going?”
“Fascinating. I’m watching a giant octopus fight a giant snake while a shadow-boy tries to kill them both.”
Scout stops. “…Where are you?”
“Candlestick Park.” A hiss, rising to a roar, echoes in the background. “Ms. Scout, I’m afraid I shall have to call you back.” He hangs up.
Scout stares at her phone a long moment. The fact that he’s fighting giant monsters is something she can accept–as a walking vampire assassin, she’s not one to throw stones about the limits of reality–but the development is worrisome nonetheless–
Something tugs at her sleeve. Something short. She looks down.
A small boy is standing next to her, maybe five years old, wearing an outfit like a pirate costume, but missing the hat. He stares up at her with wide, dead eyes. Her dread morphs to wariness. Child vampires are never a good sign.
Scout stares back. “Can I help you?” The boy doesn’t respond. She carefully removes her sleeve from his grip and crouches down. “Kid? Are you alright?”
The boy’s lip move softly, whispering. Scout leans closer to hear.
“One…two…three…four…..five……six……” the boy takes a shuddering breath, “…….seven.” With that, he suddenly turns and runs.
Scout tenses, then stands in one movement, drawing her knife and scanning the street behind her while instinctively dropping into obfuscate.
The suburb street is empty, stretching off into the fog behind her, cool and silent, the only sign of movement the blinking hazard lights of a UPS truck parked a few houses down.
Scout eyes it a moment, then frowns and looks at her phone to check the time. It’s almost midnight, a little late for deliveries. Still obfuscated, she approaches the truck carefully.
Moments later, the driver exits the house next to the truck, hauling an empty hand-cart, and lifts it up into the back of the truck. There’s a rumble as he closes the door, then he climbs into the cab, starts the engine, and drives off.
Scout stops on the sidewalk, staring after the truck, then examines the house. There’s no package out front. The doors and windows are all shut, and all the lights are out. Nothing seems unusual about the other nearby houses as well. And the vampire kid has completely disappeared.
Scout exhales slowly. I don’t know, I don’t want to know.
She continues walking through the night, this time remaining obfuscated, mind snapping back to Rabenholz. Vannevar was clear that if he can’t kill Rabenholz himself, he needs proof of his death, and that would be difficult to get if he winds up in the belly of a snake.
…Or maybe I can just help Vannevar take advantage of the current situation, she thinks, and pulls out her phone to call him.
“Talk to me,” Vannevar Hughes answers.
“I thought I should inform you that the would-be Prince of the city is fighting Settites to the south,” she says smoothly.
“Is he. Well, we should be so lucky. What of the Regent?”
“I haven’t found her.” Largely because I haven’t looked yet.
“No one has found her,” Vannevar snaps. “I understood your master to be good at finding people no one can find. Am I correct in this assertion?”
His condescending tone sends a spike of fear through her. Unhappy clients mean an unhappy Cantor, and an unhappy Cantor–
Suddenly she stops. …Except…I set this deal, not Cantor. Vannevar has no way to contact Cantor except through her, and Cantor doesn’t even entirely know what she’s doing.
The world suddenly opens with cavernous possibilities. Her mind reels, teetering on the edge, but one massive, tantalizing thought leaps from the darkness like a ray of light: she had hid behind illusions for so long, why not the illusion of power?
Scout straightens. “My master has been occupied with…other business,” she says firmly, dropping just a hint of insinuation under her words, and waits.
“…I understand,” Vannevar responds after a minute, tone suddenly more polite. “As for Rabenholz, I shall let that situation play out on its own. I’ve withdrawn from the city for a time.”
An instinctive breath catches in Scout’s throat. Which means there’s no Regent at the Chantry….
“This area is more volatile than I expected,” Vannevar continues, even more respectfully. “But I intend to return in force. When I do, I would like to know the location of Georgia Johnson.”
“Have you left the Chantry open to her arrival?” Scout asks carefully.
“For the moment. As acting Regent, I am currently in possession of the Chantry Key to allow me access to and passage through the wards, and undoubtedly Johnson has a copy of her own. But just in case she does not, I have left the wards down so we can use her precious Chantry as a honeypot.”
Scout nods. Unless I get there first.
“When I come back it will be with enough force to oust whatever she wanted to install there,” Vannevar continues. “But I must know where she is.”
Scout smiles in the darkness. “So long as you are able to pay what we agreed, then I will deliver.”
“Good. Keep your eyes open.” He hesitates. “And tell…your master that Vannevar Hughes understands the meaning of gratitude.” Vannevar hangs up.
Scout looks around. Her wandering has taken her from the quiet neighborhood streets to a scattering of shops and bars huddled around the edge of the Sunset. Still smiling to herself, she pulls up an app for a car service, entering her final destination as the approximate address of the Chantry.
Not long later, she approaches the Chantry under deep obfuscate, but as she turns the corner she stops in surprise. For the first time since arriving in the city, the Chantry building is visible to the unaided eye. Crenellations and stonework claw toward the nighttime sky, but there’s no signs of movement, not even lights in the few windows.
Scout takes up her post across the street and stares at the front-door. So close…. She can almost feel Tom’s unbeating heart, locked somewhere within the walls, calling her with poetic urgency. So close… Vannevar had said it was empty, she could slip in unseen….
She stops as she’s about to step off the curb. …But the Tremere are not stupid. Even with the wards down, doubtless other traps are still active, less magical ones, ones that a fellow Tremere would know how to avoid but would catch any other ill-informed intruders.
She ducks back into the alley, frustrated. Her whole plan orbits around Vannevar’s assistance, and putting so much trust in a single blood-mage was starting to make her nervous. He could be wrong, he could be lying, but even knowing that, she still needs his Thaumaturgy to break the mirror….
She taps her fingers against the nearby wall. I need insurance. I need another Tremere.
And with Georgia Johnson missing, there was only one other rumored to be in town. One Rabenholz had already set her to look for.
Perhaps it’s time I actually figure out how to find him.
An hour later, Scout scrambles down a berm at the entrance to the sewers outside Bayshore, the one the Nosferatu were supposed to use. Something catches her eye amongst the scum and grime along the concrete wall: “KARL – 4 A GOOD TIME CALL,” in relatively fresh pink spray paint. Something about the words nag at her suspiciously, but she shoves the thought away as she ducks into the sewer under deep obfuscate.
Graffiti and litter line the tunnels as she makes her way into the bowels of the city, but there’s no sign of movement, human or vampire. Finally, she finds her way to the bottom of a large, dry cistern, half-lit from an open grate above. She stands in the middle of the space, drops the obfuscate, and waits. Minutes pass. Finally, there’s the light sound of someone clearing their throat politely behind her. She turns to see a man in a ratty dark business suit, watching her from the darkness few feet away.
“Now, what do we have here?” he asks. Shadows obscure the details of face, but deeper pools imply ridges and folds that should not be there. Cantor had always cursed the Nosferatu, avoiding their presence whenever possible, but Scout’s artistic eye often found them fascinating.
And it’s not like I’m a stranger to monsters.
Scout nods in a half-bow. “I am seeking information. I was hoping we could negotiate a partnership with your people. Do you speak for them?”
A wheezy chuckle echoes. “Suddenly everyone is coming down here wanting to talk.” He looks her over. “Yeah, I guess you could say I do. Name’s Abelard, acting Primogen. Now let’s see, what could you have that we want?”
She stares evenly back into his gaze, reflecting the dim light like a cat’s. “What do you want that I could have?”
“You’re the one who came down here. Buyer’s market, Caitiff.”
She tenses at the last word, sifting through his tone for any sense of mocking. “So you know who I am?” she asks carefully.
“I’d be a pretty piss-poor Nosferatu if I didn’t.” Abelard snorts. “You’ve been presented. Been sucking up to the new Ventrue lord in town?” He chuckles again. “Another European, great. Cause the last one went so well.”
She relaxes. In her experience, his people–so poor in appearance–had learned to invest their pride elsewhere. If they had really discovered who she was, there’s no way he could have resisted wallowing in smugness at the fact, like the muck around their feet.
And those holes in their knowledge mean more I can sell. “There certainly are a lot of new figures poking around the city,” she says. “I’ve collected some information about one of the more secretive ones.”
Abelard’s eyes glitter in the shadows as he shifts. “Which one’s that?”
“One by the name of Cantor.”
He chuckles again, darkly. “Cantor? You have been snooping around where you don’t belong.”
She smirks. “You’ve seen my skill with deception.”
“Good enough to fool a sewer rat and good enough to fool a Black Hand assassin are very different things.” He folds his arms. “What do you know about Cantor?”
Inwardly she grins, but outwardly she shrugs noncommittally. “I know he is able to hide himself in ways even other Assamites cannot.”
Abelard shrugs. “Assamites like to eat people, they often show up with unusual little tricks.”
“Yes, well something about him keeps his skin pale.” She hesitates. “And possibly other aspects of his demeanor as well.” She’d never learned the trick of reading auras, but from what she understands, Assamites’ are usually so dark they’re like a second shadow. Cantor, though, had never been identified on the basis of his aura alone.
And, come to think of it, she realizes suddenly, Neither have I….
Abelard blinks. “Pale? That’s not very common for them.”
“No, it’s not,” she says coolly.
“Hmm.” He picks at his teeth, considering this. “You know what he’s in town for?”
“No. But I know he ate a Sabbat cell to clear out space for himself.”
Abelard clears something from his molars and spits it across the space. “We knew that already. Shame too, they were personable enough guys for Sabbat.” He shrugs, then eyes her again, more amiably this time. “So what is it you want?”
“I’m looking for a man named Thrace.”
The Nosferatu’s broken laughter echoes through the tunnels. “You do try to dance with the devil!”
She watches him flatly as his laughter finally dies down. “Oliver Thrace,” he continues. “Tremere bigwig, or at least he was. Kind of lost a little bit of his position when everything went tits-up over in Hong Kong.”
“There seems to be people around town expecting him.”
“Expecting him here? Not if he knows what’s good for him, with Vannevar Hughes’ posse in town.” He smirks. “Thrace is under Blood Hunt. Nothing official of course, but the Tremere want him dead, really really badly. They suspect he’s been trafficking with people he really shouldn’t be.”
“People like whom?”
Abelard glances at the rotting walls and moves closer to her, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “Word is, Thrace got a little too friendly with the Kuei-jin. If you want more information, ask around Chinatown. But it’s your funeral.”
Scout’s heart sinks. Even Cantor had warned her against going into Chinatown. “Thank you, you have been…fairly helpful.”
Abelard nods back. “You got some skill on you for a Caitiff. You learn anything else, I’m open to discuss.” He levels a finger at her. “But you walk into these sewers openly. Come in here again all furtive-like, you ain’t walking out.”
She bows agreeably, turns to leave, then hesitates and turns back. “The primogen who was just killed…his name was Karl?”
Abelard’s smile evaporates. “Yeah. Karl Sutro.”
“There seems to be a message for him, painted outside.”
“Yeah. I know.” His voice could chill concrete. “Brujah walked in here decided to make himself a nuisance. He got his. Lesson number one of undead living, Caitiff? Nobody fucks with the Nosferatu and gets away with it.”
The realization hits her like a blow. Considering the rumors she’d collected around the city, there’s only one Brujah he could be talking about.
“…You made sure this Brujah didn’t get away with it?” she asks carefully, eyeing him assessingly.
Abelard smirks. “Arrangements were made.” He chuckles again, much more darkly.
Instantly anger flares, deadly as a sunrise. Her inner demon–whetted by the recent battle with the Settites–aches to lash out, to tear out this creature’s withered throat and soul and continue on through the sewers like a wildfire, killing and devouring till she had taken all the knowledge and power she could ever need–
–Till a softer thought winds through her mind like a calming breeze:
They don’t know what you can do. They can’t know what you can do. Not yet.
The Nosferatu’s laughter finally dies and he nods to her. “Have a good night, Ms. Scout. Watch your suit on the way out, it’s a little dirty.” With that, he disappears from sight.
Scout waits a few moments, waiting for her rage to cool. Finally, she turns to leave the sewers, this time openly visible.
Once back outside under open sky, she takes a deep breath of bay air, then turns to study the pink graffiti again. There…the slight curve of the K, the way the 4 overshot itself at the top, all of it marks of handwriting she had seen on dozens of birthday cards and Christmas presents, on secret notes and shopping lists taped to the fridge. Handwriting she’d once hoped to see in a letter from some far away place, then not long later had thought she’d never see again.
One hand twitches, as if about to reach out and trace each shape, but she stops herself just in time. They’re still watching. Someone is always watching.
As if to prove her point, at that moment, someone steps from the shadows at the edge of the berm. “Evening,” he drawls.
Scout whirls, instantly catching an impression of western-looking gear and a cowboy hat, which he tips to her. She watches him warily, hand instantly drifting to her knife. “You don’t look like the usual public works employee.”
“I’m assuming I do not.” The cowboy looks her over. “But then, you don’t look like the sort that would normally be trawling through the sewers looking for trinkets.”
Dammit. She shrugs. “Urban exploration.”
“In a designer suit. Very cosmopolitan.” He tips his hat again. “I do not know if we’ve had acquaintances made. My name is Holiday. There are those who call me Doc.
“Doc….” she repeats suspiciously, taking in his garb again, but decides against commenting on it. She’d met many vampires over the years who’d prefer to leave their living-past safely locked away in history. “Most call me Scout.”
“Scout.” He treads forward a few steps, cowboy boots crunching on gravel. “Now that is an interesting appellation. I have known others for a time. Most used it not as a name, but as a title. I wonder which you claim.”
“Well, I do try to keep an eye out.”
“It is always wise to keep an eye out. In fact, I’d advise as many as you can.” He smirks, as if to himself. “And what, may I ask, are you keeping an eye out for in the underbelly of this city?”
She hesitates. Everything about this man says “supernatural” in some way, but which way? “New ways of transporting oneself around the city unseen are always useful,” she says vaguely.
Doc nods slowly. “True, but I have a hunch–and it is only a hunch–that transporting yourself about in an unseen manner may not be a particular worry. You have the demeanor of one who knows how to not be seen.” He looks her over and smirks again. “But then, we have not made our full acquaintances. Tell me, what brings someone such as yourself, observant as you are, to a city like this?”
Unbidden, her head turns to the north, as if pulled by a string connected to the unseen Chantry. “New opportunities,” she mutters, then turns back. “You’ve asked me why I’m skulking about the sewers but I could ask you the same question.”
He rocks back on his heels, thumbs looped through his belt. “Oh, I have my interests. I am a sporting man now. Retired from my previous occupations which were less than savory. But in my capacities as a sporting man, I must keep abreast of the odds on the latest game. The better to make my bets. Gambling is, afterall, an honest trade. Do you engage, Ms. Scout, in honest trades?”
She allows herself a genuine, sad smile. “I’m afraid I’ve not been able to pursue my own interests in quite a long time.”
Doc nods sagely. “You have a dependant. Or perhaps you are one?” he asks, smirking knowingly. Her stomach twists, but she doesn’t respond.
After a moment, he continues. “Well, I do not wish to take up your valuable time. It is, after all, a fascinating city. One that has experienced its share of misfortunes in the recent past. But should you find yourself in a position to need company, or a quick conversation about what has been transpiring, well, I remain at your disposal.” He bows chivalrously. “At the very least, you can always join my poker game in Brisbane.”
She eyes him. “And why should I trust the word of a man come to me at the edge of the sewers in the middle of the night?”
“Why Ms. Scout, I’d suggest you not trust the word of anyone you encounter in the vicinity of a sewer.” He smiles, tips his hat again, then walks away, disappearing around the berm of the storm drain, the gravel crunch of his boots slowly receding into the distance.
Scout hesitates a long moment, then obfuscates from sight to scramble up the embankment and back to the road.
RIDE THROUGH THE CITY
Scout leans back against the seat on the ride back through the city, eyes closed. Conflicting plans and feelings race through her head, spurred on by her many conversations so far this evening, an evening drawing steadily to a close.
I should probably see if Rabenholz survived. She gropes for her phone and dials.
“Ms. Scout,” he greets her after a few rings.
Relief flickers briefly. “Lord Rabenholz,” Scout says. “Were you successful in your efforts this evening?”
“Yes I would say so. What may I do for you?”
“I was calling to check on your status and see if you needed my assistance in anything….” For a brief moment, she considers sharing out some of the things she’s learned, then decides against it. It’s time he started paying back. “…There’s been a lot of talk around town about this event you have coming up. What are your plans with that, and do you need assistance there?”
“The Dread Pirate Anstis is handling security for that,” he replies. “I believe he’s doing adequately. If you’d like to discuss it further, perhaps you wouldn’t mind meeting me and Dr. Everton at the Palace of the Legion of Honor?”
She sits up. Why would Rabenholz be meeting with Dr. Everton in the most remote corner of town? “…Legion of Honor. Certainly, that’s not far from where I’m staying.”
“Come prepared for trouble.”
“I usually do.” Scout hangs up, unease settling over her. Something about Everton had been worrying her since she met him. He was a man who clearly knew much and, despite speaking profusely, said very little. She suspects he knew more about Cantor than he initially lead on. From there, it’s only reasonable to assume he might know more about her—
–And Rabenholz might be trying to eat him.
She leans forward to ask the driver to move faster.
Scout jogs obfuscated across the damp grass of the park, heading toward the lights of the Legion of Honor, perched at the top of Lands End like a literal palace. The parking lots around the building are empty, the fountain off, but the echoing murmur of voices off marble lead her to the far side of the building, where she finds two figures staring out across the park and talking–one in a cloak, one in tweed, both holding canes. She slows to a walk and stops a few yards away, listening.
The tweed-figure of Everton turns to Rabenholz. “There are undercurrents in this city that are not to the Camarilla’s liking and not to mine either. And while our interests may coincide momentarily, I do not wish to reinforce some new prince’s conclave in an effort to convince all who would question your abilities. Even if I did, after I eliminate the Prince, what exactly is to become of me?”
Rabenholz stares calmly across the dark, rolling lawns. “Well I’m sure after some amount of time people will forget van Nuys ever existed.”
“They likely will, but they will not forget I existed,” Everton says firmly. “I’ve made a name for myself, sir, I intend to carry on doing so. Not for any particular love of fame, but because it is warranted. And I’ve always prided myself on doing what is warranted.”
Everton falls silent and turns back toward the park. After a moment, he continues. “If I were to agree with this plan, and serve as your Trojan horse, what becomes of Lytton, may I ask?”
For one panic-inducing moment, Scout thinks they’re talking about her, until Rabenholz replies, “Captain Anstis has laid an interest in him.” Her panic eases, then morphs instantly to anger. As if it isn’t bad enough Rabenholz has Tom in his clutches, now that disgusting pirate wants in on the act as well? She takes a step closer, knife-hand twitching.
Everton grimaces. “For devouring, I’d suspect. The man has engaged before.”
“I offered him Lytton on the condition that he not diablerize him,” Rabenholz replies. “I have his word and oddly enough I’ve come to trust it. He parts with it stingily enough.” He hesitates. “…But you may be right. In any event, Lytton’s situation should not have any bearing on our agreement.”
Unseen, Scout snarls. Emotions within her–both human and vampire–slowly swell, smothering rational thought. She takes another step closer…
“The difficulty, sir,” Everton says, “is I’m not entirely sure what assistance you can render. Even if you had at your disposal a force of men under arms, you could not storm the spiral hive–”
Scout stops and frowns. Spiral hive?
“–Nor, for all your martial skill, are you likely to survive an attempt to unseat the Devil.” Everton shakes his head. “I have been wracking my brain trying to find a way out of this predicament myself. There are some things you cannot shoot your way out of.”
“I agree completely.”
Silence falls and with it Scout’s anger. Something more is going on here, something beyond her single-minded focus on Tom. She settles back to wait and listen more.
The men continue to stare off across the park. Foggy wind tugs at their clothes. Off toward the channel, a foghorn groans.
“The thing I still don’t understand is what Perpenna has to gain by all this,” Everton muses. “If he succeeds, he will use his forces to bring forth a hideous abomination not seen on this planet since the works of H.P. Lovecraft. But that monster won’t be loyal to Perpenna, or anything else but raw destruction and death. What could he possibly hope for? He could simply wish to unmake the world, but he has given every appearance of a man with deliberate purpose.”
Scout’s frown deepens as Everton talks. Since coming to the city, she’d heard more and more about this Perpenna, but–focused as she was on her own issues–she’d largely put the rumors to the side. Besides, she’d survived the last thirty years largely by keeping her nose out of vampire plots without direct connection to her own.
But references to Lovecraftian monsters were not thrown about often. Or lightly.
Rabenholz scans the park, cool gaze passing directly across her without pausing. “It seems to be we have precious few options.”
“There are several options, as a matter of fact, but I dislike them mostly,” Everton grumbles. I could venture into Marin, you could come with me. In all likelihood, neither of us would emerge.”
“Do we have anything slightly less dramatic in mind?” Rabenholz asks.
“I have several, but I doubt they would work. The difficulty is, if the werewolves have what they think they have, then it will take a great deal of luck and power to unmake what is certain to be a grotesque disaster inflicted upon this portion of the world. And if they do not have what they think they have, then their ritual will fail and we will have a very large, very angry, and very frustrated group of Black Spiral Dancers with nowhere to vent their anger except upon the city we are currently standing in.”
“For the moment, let’s assume the ritual will work and we will need to prevent it.”
Everton nods and taps his cane thoughtfully against the ground. “If the cub is being held within the hive, then there is little hope of overwhelming and destroying it. The hive connects to other hives, and other hives as well, and on from there into the bowels of Malfeas.” Everton raises a finger. “However. Spiral Dancers are like any other werewolf, ultimately. Vainglorious, shortsighted, and temperamental. They are not thinkers, they are actors. If the Spiral Dancer that abducted this cub wishes to attain standing and power amongst her kin, then she will keep that cub as long as she can until the ritual is performed, and likely close to home, rather than transporting it deeper into Malfeas where something far worse than may take it from her. If she has done that, then theoretically, without attempting something so foolish as to assault the Black Spiral itself, one might be able to mount a minor incursion into the local hive, isolate it temporarily from the rest of the spiral network, and retrieve the cub.”
Everton takes a breath. “Now, the instant one attempted to do this, a vile nest of horrors, the likes of which you have never seen–and even I likely have not–would come boiling up through any connection this hive had with the others to try to devour us all. But in theory, if you move quick enough, you could exfiltrate the area before they could do so. Because horrors that terrible cannot exist upon the surface world.”
As Scout listens to this, her confusion sinks into the roots of a growing, gnawing horror. Perhaps she should have been paying more attention to other issues in the city. The twisted, mutated werewolf up north. That creepy child vampire she just met in the Sunset. Perpenna’s labyrinthian plots. What the hell is going on–
“I have seen my share of horrors, Doctor,” Rabenholz replies coolly.
“I don’t doubt it, but this?” Everton waits for Rabenholz to meet his gaze. “You and I are, by some measures, damned, sir. We are the walking dead. We fashion and fancy ourselves to be evil incarnate, or at least some of us do. Monsters that lurk in the dark and prey upon the living. But I have seen the actual monsters that lurk in the dark. To them we are nothing but children, play-acting at the jobs of their betters. I have seen what the spiral dancers call gods. It’s not a sight to be undertaken lightly.”
Rabenholz smiles grimly. He scans the park again. “What do we need to stage this incursion?”
“Far more martial force than either of us are capable of. In short, sir, you need someone mightier than you. And while I do have a high opinion of myself, I don’t believe that I am that man. You need to find-like minded people. Preferably ones with firepower to spare.”
“How much firepower do you envision?” Rabenholz asks. “Would the National Guard be adequate?”
Everton pauses, then shakes his head. “No. The National Guard could not possibly survive in the environs of a Spiral Hive. They would be torn to pieces, if they didn’t go mad first. You’re entering a realm of Lovecraftian horror, sir. I have long harbored suspicions that Herbert himself may have had interactions with a Hive.”
Rabenholz fusses a moment with his cloak. “What about another pack of werewolves?”
“If the pack was large enough it might suffice.”
“Stewart has some relation with the werewolves,” Rabenholz says thoughtfully.
“Then Stewart would be the man to contact. I had converse with him earlier tonight, though I do not know what he intends, but he did inform me there are werewolves preparing to assault the hive at this very moment, albeit a paltry number.” Everton shakes his head sadly. “They have no chance by themselves, and they are too stubborn to ask for help.”
“If we assault the hive, will you be able to serve as a guide?”
“I may, to a point, but no one knows all the secrets of the hive, including any who live there.” Everton snorts. “In all likelihood, anything that I might predict will prove entirely wrong.”
Everton sighs and shifts his grip on his cane. “It reminds of something that occurred when I first arrived in the Bay. I met with Baron Leeland, who kindly agreed to take me to the university archives–”
The attack is so quick even Scout doesn’t have a chance to react. One moment the two men are standing talking, the next Rabenholz has whipped out a stake and driven it through Everton’s chest. Everton staggers a moment, open-mouthed, then collapses face-first to the ground.
Rabenholz leans over to pick up Everton’s cane. “Good evening,” Rabenholz says, tucking Everton’s cane under his cloak.
With a start, Scout realizes he’s talking to her. The attack was so sudden she dropped her obfuscate in shock. “…Do…you need a hand with anything?” she asks.
“I may.” Rabenholz scans the park once more. “Your timing is perfect. See to it we are not disturbed.”
“What do you intend to do?”
Rabenholz eyes the tweed-clad body at his feet. “Everton is a very dangerous man. But I have a pre-existing arrangement with the Prince.”
Scout stares at the body of the scholar. The man clearly knows far more than any of them realized. Perhaps even who she is. “Are you bringing Everton to him?” she asks nervously.
“After a fashion. He’s not out permanently. I must take measures to make sure he cannot escape.” Rabenholz draws his cane sword. “This will go easier if there are no witnesses.”
Macabre relief floods her as she eyes the blade. At least he’s not going to eat him. She nods and moves to patrol the area, slipping back into invisibility after a few yards. The front of the museum is still clear, and nothing but wind rustles the bushes nearby. She scans a few moments, then turns back to Rabenholz.
Just in time to see him grab Everton and lean down to bite.
Shit shit shit-– She takes a few steps toward them, then stops.
Take him! the dark voice within her cries. Take Rabenholz NOW! Stop negotiating and take what you need!
Too risky! another part of her counters, paralyzing her with indecision. If he planned to attack Everton, he came prepared.
Not prepared for you.
But before she can respond, Everton suddenly comes back to life, struggling with Rabenholz despite the stake in his chest. They grapple over something in Everton’s hand and Rabenholz lunges for the neck again. “Release me!” Everton shouts in echoing timbre.
The words are a hotwire to her spine. One moment she’s watching, the next she’s barreling forward, slamming herself into Rabenholz to get him off Everton. Rabenholz ducks under her blow, sending her rolling off. She flips quickly back to her feet, instinctively coming around for another attack, but as she turns she meets Rabenholz’s eyes.
An instant later she’s lifted off her feet and hurled through the air, sailing high over the trees, into the inky fog engulfing Lands End. Cold wind tears past and she sucks in enough air to scream–
–Which is immediately driven from her as she plunges into the icy sea. Water rushes into her lungs, pulling her down, but she fights her way to the surface and flails to find direction in the dark swell. Waves boom against rocks to her left. She crawls toward them, pausing periodically to peer against the fog and the spray, finally making out a pale slash of beach further along the coast.
An eternity later, she hauls herself out on the rocky shore, vomiting seawater and struggling to remain on her feet. Still coughing, she sits down heavily on a driftwood log and peers up. The Lands End cliffs stretch up above her, but above them the low glow of fire is lighting the fog, growing steadily brighter. She watches it dispassionately, mind occupied with another vision entirely:
Rabenholz’s face in the moments before he ejected her, staring at her over a bloodsoaked mouthful of Everton’s neck, his eyes filled with such raw ambition and cold power it would have stopped her in her tracks if his magic hadn’t already. It was a look she had seen many, many times before.
And now it’s on the face of the man who has my brother.
The firelight grows enough to reveal a beer-can studded trail winding its way back up the cliff. She stands, making a feeble attempt to brush her suit clean. Did Rabenholz eat Everton? Could even now he be cursing her deception and maneuvering to track her down? And what about these werewolf mysteries, which part of her is beginning to suspect Cantor may know more about as well?
She exhales a breath of salt air. One thing at a time.
Slowly, she starts the long climb up toward the light.
END OF ADDENDUM