SEAL ROCK INN
It’s moments after nightfall, but Scout is already awake, lying in bed and staring at the ceiling. She runs over the myriad events from the night before, backwards and forwards, trying to find a way to untangle them. Trying to find some leverage.
She reaches for her phone to check the time, then curses as her hand hits the empty nightstand, remembering her dunk in the sea. Rabenholz could already be trying to get in contact with her. Vannevar could be trying to get in contact with her. Cantor could be trying to get in contact with her….
Panic entwines with the chaos in her head, driving her up and toward the bathroom to get dressed. Only one more night until Rabenholz’s party, she has to move, she has to plan—
She stops, leaning against the bathroom doorway, Cantor’s voice suddenly echoing in her head:
The frantic mind is an ill-fated mind.
Despite coming from Cantor’s mouth, the phrase calms her. These words, oft-repeated during her last thirty years, had never been laced with malice or lust, but rather the cool patience of a teacher. In these brief moments his monstrousness strips away and she glimpses the human he might have been, before: a guardsman, a soldier, or perhaps a swordsmanship tutor for children of the elite.
Of all his martial teachings though, this is the one she had struggled with the most. Not just a koan for spiritual strength, but physical as well. Many times she had watched him begin his night with meditation, face a mask of rapturous-bliss, then launch into his subsequent plans with such determination and force of will as to rival any elder they had ever met. And then do it again, night after night, till all his quarry lay dead.
She hesitates, hand fluttering against the wall, then turns back to the room. Settling herself cross-legged on the floor, padded by pillows, she faces the windows and the last colored light of sunset leaking through them.
Then, forcing herself to take slow, measured breaths, she mediates, focusing on the words, the instructions on how to empty her mind like sound from a room…
…Sometime later, she opens her eyes. As so often before, there’s no rush of insight, or resolve, but the steady rhythm of cool, cycling air has helped settle her spinning mind. Her muscles relax in a memory of life, and for the briefest moment, the yearning ache within her stills….
Then the night floods back, hungry and wary as ever. As she stands, though, she can feel something else riding along with it: hope.
She strides to the bathroom and resumes getting ready.
VERIZON STORE, GEARY BOULEVARD
Acquiring a new phone is her first priority, and fortunately nothing interferes. As the clerk rings her up she leans against the counter watching the screen, waiting for the data transfer to complete. The first notification to appear is a text message, timestamped just an hour before:
CONTACT ME —R
She eyes it nervously. Until she knows for sure whether Rabenholz ate Everton and discovered who she is, she would have to continue with her plans at hand. With his party just a night or two away, his preparations for Tom must be coming to a head soon. She quickly pays for the phone, downloads car service apps, and leaves the store.
Outside on the sidewalk, waiting for a car, she continues scrolling through her call-logs, then stops. During the last half-day without an active phone, Cantor had called as well. Twice.
The lingering peace from her mediation evaporates as her mind starts conjuring up his reactions. Would he be worried about her safety, thus canceling her leave and summoning her back to his side? Or would he be angry at having been ignored? Both were equally possible, both equally terrifying.
After a moment she dials back, lifting the phone to her ear with a shaking hand.
The call connects before it can ring. “My child,” Cantor sighs. “Tell me the tale.”
Shivers trace down her back like fingers. “Of what happened last night?” she asks. He doesn’t respond. She closes her eyes, takes a breath, then continues. “Rabenholz made an attempt on the Toreador, Dr. Corwin Everton. I was there for it, but things went weird. He launched me into the sea, and by the time I climbed back out of the water the museum was on fire. I haven’t heard details but Rabenholz has contacted me since so I assume he’s still alive.”
There’s a moment of silence, then: “Excellent,” Cantor sighs. “You have done well, my child. I am pleased.” A pause. “You do wish me pleased, do you not?”
“Yes,” she responds automatically. “But I don’t see how this is excellent for you, since it only seems to help Rabenholz’s plans.”
“His plans are nothing. His desires are all. He will consume, and consume, and be consumed thereby. And I shall be the one who gives…and who takes. As I always am.”
Scout shudders, ducking her head as if to turn away, but there’s nowhere to turn.
“And what will you do now, my child?” he continues. “My beautiful, wayward Scout?”
She grimaces. “I’ll get back in contact with him, and smile like nothing happened.”
“Do not make it so easy upon him. He will suspect if you do.”
She nods vacantly, staring at the passing traffic. “Well, I need to give him the bill for the suit he ruined anyway.”
“Appeal to his vanity. Insinuate yourself with him, ensure his appetites are furthered.”
She tenses. “I don’t know if he’s as enamoured with…appetites…as others are—”
“He shall find himself enamoured,” Cantor says sharply, his tone driving panic through her again. “And the more he consumes, the less remains to stop what must come. Do this, my child, and I shall—”
Suddenly a loud slam echoes in the background of the call, resounding, as if a door was thrown open in a cavernous space. Cantor falls quiet. There’s the sound of footsteps approaching. A moment later, the connection cuts out.
Scout slowly lowers her phone, staring at the screen. Her dread slowly gives way to confusion. This could be some test of his, to see if she’ll come to his aid. Or he could really be under attack. As she hesitates, a car pulls up, the blue Uber logo glowing in its dash. She shoves her phone away and jogs to the curb to meet it. “Destination?” the driver asks as she climbs in.
“Just head down Geary for the moment,” she mutters. If I don’t go, I could be punished, she thinks, watching the neighborhood pass slowly. But if it’s real, he could die….
She catches her reflection in the window. It’s smiling.
Suddenly her phone rings with an unlisted number. She answers. “Caitiff Scout?” a voice says. After a moment, she realizes she’s heard it before: the haughty Pyramid ghoul with the frosted tips.
“Yes?” she replies.
“Your presence is requested by the Justicar. Now.”
Still grinning, she sits back. “I’m already on my way.”
On her way to the Pyramid, Vannevar texts her, demanding updates. She summarizes what she can about his battle with Everton and advises him that Rabenholz is on his way to the Pyramid. He responds asking for Georgia’s location as well. Scout hesitates, saying she’s unsure. After a moment, Vannevar sends a curt reminder that the deal is to provide him with both vampires.
Scout scowls and shoves the phone away as the car pulls up at the Pyramid. Working on it.
She’s waiting at the elevator bank of the lobby when heavy footsteps draw her attention around. Rabenholz is approaching, heavy cape flaring like a stooping hawk. She tenses and quickly composes her face into a mask of professionalism.
“Ms. Scout,” Rabenholz nods to her as he stops beside her. “I hope you have recovered from last night.”
She eyes him carefully. At the moment, his mood appears to be nothing more than his normal level of bored dismissiveness. “I have recovered but my clothes have not. I will be sending your people the bill for their dry cleaning and replacement.”
“I shall have three new suits sent to you,” he replies without hesitation, stepping into the elevator as it arrives.
After a moment, she follows. “Thank you.” She stands next to him, angling her body just enough to watch him. “And what were the results of the evening?”
Rabenholz hits the button for the fortieth floor. “Dr. Everton will not be a threat.”
A chill settles over her as the elevator climbs. She watches Rabenholz on the other side of the car, staring at the mirrored walls and tapping the head his cane idly with heavy-ringed fingers. If he had learned who she is, now would be the time to act on it. She affects a bored air to match his own while inwardly her muscles coil, ready to react in an instant if necessary….
“I trust you can be discrete and follow my lead,” Rabenholz murmurs.
Still eyeing him suspiciously, she nods silently.
More silence lingers.
“I hope you find the suits to your liking,” Rabenholz says suddenly. “I will spare no expense.”
Slowly, her tension eases. Rabenholz has a skillful lying tongue, but his body isn’t nearly so accomplished. Everything about his attitude so far screams business as usual. He still clearly doesn’t trust her, but he doesn’t suspect anything more specific beyond that.
She smiles thinly and turns to the door as it dings their arrival. “I prefer Theory.”
Georgia and Anstis are already in Bell’s office as they enter. Bell’s gaze, unreadable, lingers on Scout. She ignores it—and the nervous thrill it sends through her—and moves to stand just far enough back from the cluster of the group that maybe Rabenholz will forget himself and reveal more information.
But the Ventrue retains his composure as Bell interrogates him, formally announcing Everton’s death and presenting his fangs. Scout eyes them grimly, her mind drifting back to the conversation with Leeland. The skinny little Anarch’s apprehension about Rabenholz is clearly justified.
“I will present them to the Prince at my party tomorrow night,” Rabenholz says at the end of his show, tucking Everton’s fangs away.
“Yes, let’s talk about that party of yours.” Bell leans forward. “This isn’t a formal Elysium, but it’s the nearest enough thing, so I want to be clear on something. You wanna make announcements, you gotta cement your authority, you gotta do whatever you gotta do, that’s fine. But no. violence.”
Rabenholz bows. “That is my intention as well, Justicar. I have taken steps to ensure security.”
“Glad to hear that.” Bell stands and turns to the rest of the room. “I’m going to make something clear to everybody right now. Everton made his bed and that’s fine. But there’s no be no more. No more feuds, no more vendettas. I’ve said it before but now I’m enforcing it. The next Kindred who winds up dead is going to be joined by the one that killed him.” He levels a finger. “I don’t care what it is, I don’t care how self-defense it is, if someone tries to engage with you, you disengage and you report.”
Bell’s gaze scans the room, lingering on her. “Anyone violates this. I will come down on them with the wrath of God. Understand me?”
She stares back evenly, but before anyone can respond, a knock echoes at the door and Vannevar Hughes bustles into the room. Scout tenses, but Vannevar’s gaze passes over her as if she wasn’t even there. “Justicar, I received your summons and I have arrived.” He glares at Georgia and Rabenholz as he crosses the floor. “I understand we need to have a conversation about the propriety of certain—”
Vannevar is interrupted mid-sentence as Theo Bell, with the speed of a springing cobra, blinks across the room and decapitates him. Bell’s sword is already back in its scabbard as Hughes slides to the ground.
Scout gapes, composure gone, the bottom fallen out of the room. Rabenholz won…. He doesn’t even know it, but he’s won. Just one day till the party and he isn’t showing any signs of trusting her, any signs of letting her into the Chantry to find where Tom is stored. She has to start over with fewer resources, fewer Tremere, fewer options to get Tom back.
Rage boils within her. Attack! NOW! the hunter within her cries, drawing her eye toward Rabenholz’s infuriatingly cool countenance and her hand toward her knife. Bell would execute her and Tom might be trapped forever in whatever limbo he had been thrown in, but it would be worth it if he was no longer in Rabenholz’s clutches—
The frantic mind…. Cantor’s voice whispers.
She stops. Nervous chatter rises in the room around her, punctuated by Bell’s baritone commands, but she ignores them, forces herself to take a breath, and looks. Vannevar lies in pieces on the floor, slowly crumbling to more pieces. His clothes and other possessions slowly settle in a pool of leaked vitae, but none of them disappear.
She glances around. Bell is ranting at Rabenholz and Georgia. None of them are paying her any attention.
Before she realizes what she’s doing, she gathers her focus and wills forth a Doppelganger to replace her as she slides out of sight. Leaving the illusion quietly watching from out of the way, she sneaks forward, stepping carefully around Bell and crouching over the body. She rustles carefully through Vannevar’s clothes, looking for something, anything that might give her leverage over the Tremere—
—And stops as her hand closes on a cold, brass key.
She palms it and searches more, skipping over his wallet, eventually finding a star-shaped medallion, which she grabs and pockets. But the key draws her attention the most as she sits back on her heels to examine it. A simple-looking skeleton key, but wrought with arcane symbols, and somehow heavier in her palm than its size would indicate.
A Chantry key.
“Anything I need to know?” Bell growls suddenly, followed by silence. She looks up to see him and the rest staring intently at her illusion, which is staring at the body with an amiably-bank expression on its face. Quickly, she retakes control and has it turn to them. “No, sir,” it says.
Bell’s eyes narrow. “What have you been up to the last few nights?”
“Helping Lord Rabenholz.”
“Did you see what happened with Everton?”
The illusion glances at Rabenholz. From her position on the floor, Scout sees his hand drift surreptitiously toward his cane sword. “I saw part of it,” she says, “but then I was sent for a swim.”
Rabenholz’s hand relaxes. Bell exhales. “Alright. Keep a low profile and you won’t have to see what happens when I get upset.”
The illusion nods. Scout sags in relief and climbs to her feet.
Bell scans the room. “Are there any questions?”
“May we ask what Mr. Hughes’s specific crimes were that lead to his judgement?” the illusion asks, staring down at the body. The rest of them follow its gaze, allowing Scout to step back into the Doppelganger’s place, dismissing it in the same instant she reappears.
Bell grumbles and stalks back to the desk. “I instructed him that this city was off-limits to his personal vendettas. He stepped in, tried to continue old habits, thought the fact that he is in with Vienna would protect him. It didn’t. I am a Justicar of the Camarilla and I supercede all protections and all requirements. Fuck with me and you’ll feel my wrath. And no one is immune.” He sits down heavily in the chair, leather creaking against leather. “Now get the hell out of my office.”
Scout files out with the rest of them, hand clutched around the key in her pocket. In the antechamber, Rabenholz and Georgia fall into low conversation. Scout lingers nearby, adjusting the collar of her suit and pretending not to listen as they discuss Hughes and Georgia’s plans for the Chantry. Scout fiddles with the key, trying to suppress her grin—
Rabenholz bows. “I shall call upon you later this evening. There is the matter of transporting Mr. Lytton to arrange. Till then, it was good to see you again.”
Scout’s heart leaps to her throat. Before she knows it, she’s at Rabenholz’s side. “Lord Rabenholz,” she greets him pleasantly, “Do you require my assistance this evening?”
Rabenholz eyes her a moment. “Perhaps. Do not go far away. Stewart may need something.”
She smiles politely, hiding her disappointment.
He looks her over. “Ms. Scout, you still haven’t mentioned what you really want here. I may be able to help you with that as well.”
She glances back at Bell’s door, then smiles. “I have been continuing to survive in uncertain situations. That seems to indicate things going well.”
He nods curtly. “Your service has been noted. It may come that I can provide you with some legitimacy. Or lineage, if you so desire. Provided our arrangement continues being mutual and profitable.”
She bows. “That is most generous of you.”
“Good evening, then. We will be in touch.” Rabenholz nods and strides to the elevator.
She watches him walk away, cloak flaring like a shadow. Her face is calm, but her grip around the key clenches tight as a hungry voice twists through her mind:
You will watch your empires burn.
The voice isn’t Cantor’s, nor her ever-present demon’s. It’s her own.
The key weighs heavy in Scout’s pocket as she heads down the building, alone in her own elevator. In her mind’s eye, many possible paths open out before her. Right now, though, she needs allies. Allies who hate Rabenholz as much as she.
She pulls out her phone to call Leeland, watching the floor numbers slowly tick by as it rings.
“This is the Provost,” Leeland finally answers, grimly.
“Baron Leeland,” she greets him. “If I recall correctly, the last time we spoke, you asked for information about Rabenholz, as it may come up.”
“That was one thing I wanted, yes. Do you have something for me?”
“Earlier this evening, I watched him execute Dr. Corwin Everton.”
There’s a smash and clatter over the line as Leeland drops his phone, followed by muffled fumbling as he picks it back up. “Wh-what did you say?” he asks.
Scout smiles. “Rabenholz and Everton were having a conversation and Rabenholz staked him. He made…an attempt on him, but apparently Everton had a contingency plan and was able to immolate himself instead.”
“I would like you to define what an ‘attempt on him’ means,” Leeland says, forcing authority into his quaking voice.
“I think you know what I mean,” she says sharply.
A silence lingers. “…I see,” Leeland says. “Th-Thank you for that information. Where is Lord Rabenholz now?”
“He disappeared with the pirate, apparently they’re going on a cruise.” The elevator dings to the bottom floor but she presses the button to keep the doors closed. “I don’t know what you’ll be able to do with this information but I thought it was too interesting to pass up, considering how interested you were in his actions.”
Leeland mutters a moment. “You are absolutely certain Dr. Everton is dead?”
“Rabenholz brought his fangs to the Pyramid.”
“He brought Tom Lytton’s fangs to the Pyramid too! And he’s still alive!”
Scout stills. “From what I’ve heard, this Lytton everyone speaks of barely counts as alive at the moment,” she says with forced nonchalance.
Leeland mutters again. “Thank you, Ms. Scout. I will take this information under advisement. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a phone call of my own to make.” He hangs up.
She takes a breath. Maybe Leeland will help her. Maybe he’ll succumb to what his instincts are obviously screaming at him to do and lock himself down until everything boils over. But for now, the possibility is enough.
Scout releases the button and steps out into the lobby. The desk guards barely glance at her as she moves out onto the street. Phone still in hand, she begins texting the one ally she’s sure will make her plans possible: the werewolf Sophia.
Confirmed that Tom is in the Chantry, she types rapidly, and I have a way in. Meet me there in ten minutes.
She pings for a car as she waits for Sophia’s reply. Seconds pass, a car pulls up, and as she’s climbing in she feels the buzz of a response:
Can’t help. End of the world stuff going on. Tell Tom I’m sorry.
Scout stares at the screen, sagging back against the seat as the car drives off. “Shit,” she mutters into the silence of the cab.
It’s probably for the best, part of her whispers. Werewolves are too unstable an element. But the thought doesn’t quell the ache in her gut as she makes her way to the Chantry, alone.
Scout stares up at the stone facade, eyeing the ward runes carved into the doorway lintel, fiddling with the key in her pocket. Stories of people who had tried to cross Tremere wards flash through her mind, and she’d seen enough of the abilities of Sabbat thaumaturgists to believe them. But the weight of the key feels reassuring in her hand as she traces her thumb along the engravings. And the sense that her brother is close pulls her toward the stone in front of her.
The carved-wood front doors are massive, gouged and smoothed by the decades, if not centuries. She climbs the front steps, places a hand on them, closes her eyes, and shoves.
They swing open with a groan.
Scout glances up at the runes. Nothing flares, nothing incinerates. She smiles to herself, obfuscates, and steps inside.
The interior is dim, the silence ringing with emptiness. She moves cautiously at first, then with more confidence as no traps trigger to her presence. Not far down the main stone hallway, she passes a set of stairs leading down and pauses. All evidence she’d heard so far indicates Tom’s mirror is in the dungeons, but she has to see what she’s up against with the shifting Tremere forces occupying the rest of the building.
She tears herself away from the basement stairwell and keeps searching.
Further down the hall she passes what looks like a grand office door, flanked by two gargoyle guards–one stern and spiked, the other smoother-skinned, stealing glances at his compatriot and surreptitiously trying to match his posture. In a dusty kitchen, she finds a middle-aged man in simple Tremere-ghoul robes rummaging nervously through the cabinets while a fat yellow cat eyes him impatiently from the counter. Besides these strange figures, though, the rest of the building is empty.
After almost an hour of exploring the building, the tug in her heart becomes too much to ignore. She returns to the top of the basement stairs, then descends.
The dank chill of the building intensifies as she drops into its depths. Dungeons and storerooms spread through the earth like a warren, many of them locked, most of them bloodstained. She passes rooms filled with baroque equipment–much of it spiked in some way–then eventually reaches a room with nothing but a few wooden crates, two of them larger than the rest and covered in greying sheets. Conflicting emotions and the ghost of a heartbeat twist within her as she enters the room and drags a sheet off.
Revealing an open crate filled with sawdust, and a large, gold-framed mirror nestled inside.
Scout gasps and reaches out to steady herself against the crate. It’s here, he’s actually here—
But is he? Enchantments are engraved across the wood frame, similar in shape to the ones carved in the building and molded into the key in her pocket but otherwise inscrutable. She peers into the glass and sees nothing but the reflection of the room around her. The span of the mirror fills her vision as she lingers, one hand drifting toward the glass….
Heavy footsteps echo down the hallway, approaching. Instincts snap into play and she withdraws toward the walls of the room. Moments later, a shadow passes across the dim light in the hall and an enormous figure steps into view. Another gargoyle, much larger than the ones above, the weathering in his stony skin much older, and his entire color a deep, slate blue.
The gargoyle looms in the doorway a long moment, red gaze sweeping the room and passing right over her. He growls, then turns to continue down the hall.
Gradually, her nerves cease their warning hum. She returns to the mirror crate, but warily this time. The carved runes look rough-edged and spidery. Touching them could dispel the mirror, or—as far as she knows—it could trap her too.
Her fingers drum softly against the crate. Just as she suspected, the Chantry key was only step one. She still needs a Tremere. Johnson is still out of the question, and Vannevar already played his final part. Which means Thrace is the only Tremere left in the city.
Which means she has to go to Chinatown.
Scout steps to the doorway, listening for the gargoyle’s heavy footsteps. Silence echoes back. Quickly, she ducks out of the storeroom and heads back toward the stairs.
END OF ADDENDUM
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The meditation thing I keep mentioning is basically back-story explanation for a special rare combo discipline that Scout eventually was able to purchase. It’s a Black Hand-only ability called Deed the Heart’s Desire and basically allows for huge replenishment of Will; you regain one point for every fifteen minutes spent meditating, once per night. So, you know, not useful for someone with Chimeristry at all 😉
Also, meta-game fun-fact: the “You will watch your empires burn” line references something that happened in real life. Basically, during DragonCon 2015–well after Operation Scout had begun–it was late Saturday night and I was with Chris and Kara in the basement of the Hilton exploring the massive game room that (used to be) located there. Unfortunately, it was also 3am and diurnal-me was fading fast. Chris mocked me, making some reference to me being an opposite-vampire, and then made some crack about me spitting blood instead of drinking it. The secret irony of the situation is that spitting poisoned blood actually IS part of the Assamites’ Quietus discipline, and even if Chris knew that, he had no idea it was something I could actually do. After he teased me, I smiled sweetly up at him through sleepy, sleepy eyes and thought that line to myself with as much secret venom as I could muster. The righteous justice of it kept me warm all the way back to our hotel.