Scout’s Honor, Part 22: Occupy the Chantry

The following segment parallels the events of 2/22/16 , 3/01/16, and 3/08/16, with a secret scene completed as well, as Scout infiltrates the Chantry and the culmination of her plans are set in motion. Content warnings are minimal.

***

NORTH BEACH

Scouts mind races as she leaves Chinatown. After years of hoping, and against all odds, all the pieces she needs are falling into place, and just in time before Rabenholz’s party tomorrow. It’s been work, and risk, but even at that, it almost seems too good to be true.

Which means something is bound to go wrong.

She considers possible threats to her plan as she hurries through the nighttime city. The list is long, but there’s a clear one she hasn’t accounted for yet: Georgia Johnson. She’s been so focused on Rabenholz, she’s lost track of the would-be Regent’s whereabouts, and thus has no idea if and when Johnson could turn up unexpectedly back at the Chantry. As Scout heads back to the Chantry on foot, she pulls out her phone to remedy this situation.

The phone rings many times, more so than it should before going to voicemail, and Scout is about to hang up in frustration when suddenly Georgia answers. “Hello?”

Scout breathes a quiet thank you to the night air. “Ms. Johnson?”

“Who is this?” Georgia says.

“My name is Scout, I believe we’ve met.” When I tried to kill you. “I’ve been working with Lord Rabenholz, assisting with some of his business around the city.”

A moment passes. “…Ah. Yes. Good for you.”

Scout slows her pace, composing herself back to a nonchalant, professional demeanor. “With the recent unfortunate expiring of Mr. Vannevar Hughes, I assume you are going to be reclaiming your position as Regent of the city?”

“Uh…maybe. Why do you ask?”

“Well, you seem to be an ally of our Lord Rabenholz and I wanted to offer you any assistance you may need in securing your property.”

“Oh, thank you. It’s so helpful to make friends. They just come with more and more friends.”

“Excellent. Do you have need of my assistance this evening?”

“Absolutely. Can you send a car to get me?”

Scout smirks a moment in triumph. “Where are you?”

“No idea. Hold on, let me see if this thing can send you my location.” Static echoes briefly across the line. “Any luck?”

Scout glances at her screen. “I don’t think so…. Can you drop a pin on your location?”

“Absolutely.” Georgia pauses.  “…I don’t seem to have a pin.”

Scout rolls her eyes.  “I mean on your phone. There may be an app or–”

“Oh, I don’t have a phone.”

Scout stops. “…Then how are we speaking?”

“With our voices.”

Scout leans her forehead slowly against a nearby wall. No wonder Max wanted her dead. “Look around you, can you see something to tell you where you are?”

“Oh, well, it’s dark, and I’m in a shack. In a forest.”

Scout frowns. “You’re outside the city? Can you see maybe the glow of the city in the distance?”

“No. I think I might be in ancient Germany.” Georgia pauses a moment. “There’s a thane,” she adds helpfully, “but I don’t think he has a phone.”

Another moment as Scout parses this. “Did…you go to the renaissance fair?”

“Oh no, I think this is pre-Renaissance.”

“…Okay. How did you get to where you are?”

“Ah! There was a dial that said don’t turn to the right, and I turned it to the right.”

Scout stares into the darkness. “…Did it go to eleven?”

“No, there weren’t any numbers on it.”

“Where was this dial?”

“In Sutro Tower, in a secret room in the lab.”

Scout’s frown deepens. “Where we found the possibly-dead mage?” The one created through illusion….

“Yes! Dr. von Natsi! He’s not dead, actually, he’s here. But he’s not healthy.”

Something about this nags at Scout. She adds another note to her mental list of threats. “…Do you think he turned the same dial to get to where you are?”

“Probably, yeah. Though I’m not sure why he did after he put the note on it not to do it. Or how he put the note on it after he did it. But it was definitely his handwriting.”

Scout takes a slow breath. “So you don’t have a phone with you, even though I’m able to speak with you, which means I assume you’re not able to call out?”

“Correct.”

“…Would you like me to pass any messages along?”

“Yes! Can you ask Lord Rabenholz to come get me, please?”

“…I will do my best.”

“Thank you. Oh! Also, do you know Victoria Lovelace?”

“No….”

“Well you should contact her and tell her what I told you.”

“…Do you have her number?”

“Yes.”

There’s a long pause. “…Do you have it on you?” Scout prompts.

“Ah, no. But there’s a rolodex on my desk in the Chantry Regent’s office, her card should be there. And I have no wards, so you can just walk right in.”

“…That seems convenient,” Scout says carefully, suppressing a smirk. “I will pass your message along to Lord Rabenholz and see what we can do about returning you to…not the past.”

“Great! Thank you! In the meantime, let’s just both keep moving forward in time, shall we?”

“I…always do.”

Scout is about to hang up with another voice suddenly cuts into their conversation, “Pardon me,” it says, “I need to interrupt this conversation a moment.”

“Oh hello, who’s this?” Georgia says brightly.

“No one in particular,” the voice says, though it barely counts as a voice. It’s more an alien collection of sounds haphazardly arranged to form words. Something about it sends chills down Scout’s back.

Scout listens as the voice banters back and forth with Georgia, concern increasing with each passing minute. Half-remembered warnings about demons–real demons–rush suddenly back to mind. “Who are you?” She blurts finally, the only one in the connection with any hint of nervousness in the voice.

“Oh, me?” the voice replies after a moment. “I am a metaphorical allegory for pre-Christian lack of enlightenment.”

“What do you want from us?” Scout asks.

“To shatter your wills and grind them into paste beneath my booted feet,” the voice says frankly.

Scout tenses, glancing around her instinctively.

“Oh, I’d rather you didn’t do that,” Georgia replies. “I’m using my will.”

“That is unfortunate,” the voice says. “And no, you aren’t.”

Scout pulls back into nearby shadows, comforting herself with the darkness and the wall at her back. As much as she’d seen, as much as she’d tried to learn in her decades of unlife, some part of her had always suspected there were deeper, unknown horrors just waiting beyond the edges of perception….

“In any event,” the voice says, “it was very nice to talk to you.” With that the entire connection ends.

Scout stares at her phone. She tries calling Georgia back, but it shunts right to voicemail each time. She hesitates, staring out into the nightlife traffic of Columbus Avenue as she thinks. So Georgia is trapped by some sort of evil spirit, in a realm in which there may be no escape….

Scout smirks into the darkness. …Which…seems like all the more reason to send Rabenholz there too.

She dials Rabenholz, leaning against the wall as it connects.  

“Ms. Scout,” he greets her.

“Lord Rabenholz. I have a message for you from Ms. Johnson. She appears to be stuck in the past, in Germany.”

The buzz of traffic fills her other ear in the silence that follows. “…That is unusual,” Rabenholz says finally.

“Yes. She also claims to have found the dead mage, who apparently isn’t dead, just badly injured in some way. Since they have no way back she asked to be rescued.”

“…Did she explain how she got to the past?”

Scout waits for a drunken couple to pass on the sidewalk before continuing. “Yes, something about a secret room in the mage’s lab where she turned a dial to the right.”

“Hmm.” Rabenholz falls silent a moment. “Thank you very much for the information.”

“You’re welcome.” She hesitates. “How has your evening been going?” she asks nonchalantly.

“…Intriguing,” Rabenholz says finally. “Captain Anstis keeps unusual company.”

“Yes. That is what I’ve heard,” she says grimly. “Should you need my assistance, let me know.”

“Actually I might. I have a man working for me by the name of Ben Smith. He should still be awaiting the return of Captain Anstis and Marcus Sertorius at Candlestick Park. In any case, Captain Anstis has returned by other means and I have other uses for Mr. Smith. If you would find him, instruct him to meet me at my penthouse at the Westin St. Francis I would be much obliged.”

Scout fights the urge to laugh. “…I shall handle it before the end of this evening,” she manages to say seriously.

“Very good.”

As soon as Rabenholz hangs up, she continues toward the Chantry.

#

THE CHANTRY

After checking that the street is empty, Scout jogs quickly up the front steps and hoists open the heavy wood doors. With all the Tremere left in the city accounted for, she steps unobfuscated into the darkness of the foyer–

–Then stops as a figure holding a knife appears in front of her. A small, middle-aged man, in glasses and ghoul robes stares up at her, the knife in his hands shaking.

Scout closes the doors behind her. “I assume you work for the Regent.”

“Yes,” he replies with a slight squeak, then puffs his chest proudly. “I’m Bob. Head ghoul.”

Scout looks him over. The man in the kitchen, she remembers from the last time she was here. The one being intimidated by the cat. She approaches him, straightening her suit jacket. “Regent Johnson sent me to collect some information for her.”

Bob takes a single step back. “She did?”

“Yes. She seems to be stuck in the past and I need to contact someone. The information I need is only available in her office.”

“Oh…” Bob lowers the knife, then suddenly tenses and jerks it back up again. “Wait, how do I know?”

Scout eyes him down the trembling length of the knife. “I asked her if she had the phone number and she said yes. Then I asked her if she had it on her and she said no.”

The knife droops again. “That…sounds like the Regent…. Who are you?”

“My name is Scout.”

Bob looks her over. “Are you Tremere?”

“No.”

He glances over his shoulder, down the long hall behind him. “I’m not supposed to let you in.”

Scout gives him a long, flat stare. Bob takes a step back. She follows, glancing over his shoulder. “Is anyone else home, Bob?”

His head bobs rapidly. “Yes.”

“Who?”

A massive, cold fist suddenly engulfs Scout’s shoulder, wrenching her off her feet and dragging her down the hall. She shouts and flails, twisting around to see the form of gargoyle stomping along ahead of her.

“You are not Tremere,” the gargoyle growls. “You are a trespasser and must be slain.”

“Should I contact your mistress to clear up–” She’s cut off as he shifts his grip to her throat. This is a different gargoyle than the one she saw in the dungeons, smaller, but something tells her fighting it directly will be futile at worst and waste valuable time at best. Thinking quickly, she gropes at her pocket for her phone….

The gargoyle throws open a door and storms into a parlor room, dragging her behind, then lifts her one-handed and throws her into a wooden chair in the middle. Scout coughs, healing her crushed throat, while the gargoyle grabs chains and starts strapping her down. She struggles against them, lifting the hand holding the phone as high as she can–

Stop what you’re doing!” Georgia’s voice suddenly echoes from the phone.

The gargoyle stops. “Second Master?”

I sent this woman to get some information for me. Let her find what she needs.”

The gargoyle’s face falls. “But I was going to slay your enemies, Second Master.”

Scout frowns and hoists the phone higher. “She is not your enemy!

“Oh. Shall I not show her the film, Second Master?” He turns to stare forlornly at a flatscreen TV mounted on the wall.

Scout follows his gaze, perplexed. “Ah, no. Not right now.

His wings droop. “Yes, Second Master.”

Release her.”

He unwinds the chains from Scout’s chair, then twists them nervously in his hands. “…May I play the film anyway, Second Master?”

Scout stares, then holds the phone up again. “…Yes, you may watch the film. Do not leave until you finish watching the film.”

A grin like the sun breaks across his face. He dumps the chains in the corner, then rushes to grab a remote. As the Disney logo boots up on the screen, he sits down heavily in a cross-legged pose, the DVD case for Up clutched eagerly in his hands.

Scout puts her phone away and gets out of the chair, stretching her bruised shoulder and eyeing the gargoyle oddly. Perhaps Johnson hand-selects her staff to be as strange as her.

She turns to see Bob lurking in the doorway. “Did you hear what the Regent said?” she asks.

Bob nods eagerly. “Y-yes! I would never question!”

“Good. Why don’t you stay here and watch the video.”

Bob tenses. “Are…are you going to tell the Regent….”

Scout approaches him and lays a hand on his shoulder. “That you’ve done a good job? Yes.”

Bob falls to his knees in front of her. “Oh thank you, thank you….”

Scout pries her pants out of his grip, carefully steps over him, then heads down the hall.

Nothing else accosts her as she moves through the building. She reaches the office rapidly, remembering its location from her survey earlier. She scans the room once, taking in the blood-red velvets and hardwood furnishings, then walks to the desk. The rolodex is clearly visible on top, but at the moment the bright yellow cat is sitting on top of it. Scout tries to shoo it away, but it just blinks back at her. She sighs and moves to lift it–

–Then stumbles at the surprising weight of the animal.

Scout lets go and steps back. The cat hasn’t moved an inch and the rolodex is still cleanly pinned underneath it. What the hell is wrong with this place?

She stares at the cat another long moment, considering other ways to get at Lovelace’s contact information, then stops. Screwing around with Johnson’s private Chantry circus has been novel, but she really doesn’t have time to waste right now.

Scout eases herself into the desk chair, pulling out her phone and placing a call. She leans back as it rings, eyeing the room’s gothic decor distastefully.

“Yes?” Thrace answers.

“I’m in the Chantry office.”

“…So soon. Impressive. How did you bypass the guards?”

“Let’s just say I have experience with these sorts of people.” Scout smiles thinly and waits for him to connect the dots into whatever horrible picture a Tremere elder could conjure. The best illusions, afterall, are the ones you don’t have to make at all.

“I understand,” Thrace replies grimly. “Can you acquire what you need?”

“I can, but I need you to meet me.”

“Some affairs have come up and I am some time away. An hour at most. Non-negotiable.”

Scout frowns, but nods. “I can wait. Ms. Johnson is apparently stuck in the past and Lord Rabenholz is on his way to meet her. So things will be quiet around here for some time.”

Thrace is silent a moment as he considers these words. “I seriously doubt that, but they may be quieter than otherwise. I will see you when I arrive. Take care to ensure I am received properly.” He hangs up.

Scout tucks her phone away, noticing then that the cat is staring at her judgmentally. Something about its stare is as weighty as its mass. She glares back. “What?”

The cat gets off the rolodex, stretches, drops off the desk, and strides from the room. Scout watches it go, then picks up the deck and idly flips through, eventually reaching the card of Victoria Lovelace, impossible to miss with its elegant script and embossed motifs of gears gilding the corners. Gears which are slowly moving.

For a moment, Scout considers ignoring Johnson’s request. Whatever is going on, if Johnson dies that’s just one obstacle removed from Scout’s life permanently. But something about the situation nags her with guilt. Even with the failed contract on her life, even with her associations with Rabenholz, Scout didn’t have anything against her in particular.

In fact, maybe the association with Rabenholz could be used to her benefit, if helping to save Georgia strengthens his trust in her….

Her fingers hover over the card, then pull it off the roll.

#

After passing along Georgia’s message to the mage, Scout goes to walk the Chantry, checking again for things she might have missed. The lack of wards, once her boon, now nags at her. But the cool silence of the stone halls is strangely reassuring.

Scout passes the parlor room where Bob and Dug are watching the childrens movie and listens in. Apparently the cat wandered into the room not long before so the two of them decided to restart the movie for its benefit. She peers through the doorway curiously, then steps all the way in as she watches over their shoulders.

Over the years, she’d kept up on movies and TV on occasion—Cantor was especially fond of Game of Thrones—but she’d never had much chance to watch animated movies. Even when she had her choice in film, Cantor usually accompanied her to the theater, and something within her dreaded the implications of bringing him to a place with children present. But this cinemagraphic gap had never concerned her much. Kids movies were for kids, after all.

But now, watching the crisp, brightly-colored shapes on the massive screen, she finds herself enthralled. The art—no, the design—is unlike anything she’s seen, simultaneously realistic and larger-than-life. The movements are subtle, controlled, and the simple shapes capture an amazing eloquence of emotion. The sort of thing she had struggled to achieve in her sketching for years, taken to heights she’d never considered.

If I had been given a choice, she thinks, not for the first time, I probably would have become a Toreador.

She watches in awe as this supposedly-kids movie unfolds the story of two people over the course of an entire lifetime. Barely minutes have passed since she stepped into the room and suddenly she knows these people, living the beauty of their lives through their mundane details, never enough to completely fill the time given, even in a simple life.

A simple life. Many Kindred willingly sacrifice such in hopes of something greater. For her, it had been forcibly taken. And what had she received in return? Almost half a century on this planet, three-quarters of it under Cantor’s thrall, and almost half of that looking for Tom….

The TV screen suddenly tints red. She blinks, realizing it’s her own eyes. Wiping quickly, she clears her throat and steps forward.  “Gentlemen.”

The gargoyle pauses the movie and they both turn to her.

“Bob, and…I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”

The gargoyle taps the DVD case in his hand, pointing out the dog printed on the front. “I am called Dug.”

Scout stares flatly. “…Right. The Regent has a visitor coming soon. Be sure to let him in and treat him with great respect.”

Bob’s eyes narrow. “Is he…Tremere?”

“As a matter of fact he is.”

Dug nods sagely. “Third Master. I will not slay him, Non-Master.”

Scout watches them a long moment, staring up at her with uncharacteristic wonder. Bound to the Tremere, they are slaves just as much as she is, but somehow, they had found a way in their lives to cling to their simple details.

“Actually…I recommend you simply stay out of his way. Both of you.” She hesitates. “Please.”

Before they can respond, she leaves.

#

Scout walks the halls for some time, alone in her thoughts. Ennui gradually fades to pragmatism as she considers the details of her her plan, idly fiddling with the stolen key around her neck. Even though she has no interest in the secrets of the Tremere, its value is almost palpable in her hand.

There are far greater prizes it could probably be traded for…. the darkness within her whispers.

Not more valuable than Tom, she tells herself firmly. And it’s not like I can just take it down to the hardware store to make a copy—

Suddenly she stops, looks at the key, then heads back to the parlor, rapidly.

Bob and Dug are still watching the movie, the cat curled up on Dug’s lap. “Bob,” Scout says as she enters and waits for him to scramble to his feet. “The Regent has some business she will need attending to soon, but she wanted me to show you this….” She takes the chain off her neck and holds up the key, “…and ask if you could make a copy. Within the next hour.”

Bob gapes at it. “I…don’t know if I should….”

Scout pulls out her phone. “Do you want me to contact her to confirm?”

Bob stares at the key, stares at Scout, then turns to the cat. “Should I….?” he whimpers.

The cat blinks up at him slowly.

“…Okay.” Bob grabs the key from Scout’s hand and takes off.

Dug, oblivious to the exchange, is still staring at the TV, but the cat turns its yellow gaze to Scout. Scout scoots away from its stare and leaves. She wanders the Chantry again, but now that her mind is buzzing again with details of her plan, she feels her heart tugging down, toward the dungeons.

Once again, Scout descends to the dungeon room with the crated mirror and peeks under the sheet. The mirror lies nestled in the sawdust, undisturbed. Reassured, she moves to explore more of the dungeons.

Most of the rooms are filled with what she would expect from the Tremere, most of all a large room equipped with a shrinking ceiling and spikes on every wall and labeled “MASTER EXSANGUINITORY.”

She’s reading the sign as Bob suddenly rushes to her from down the hall, two keys held aloft. “I have the key–!” He stops, eyes darting between her and the exsanguinitory door. The blood drains from his face. “…Did…did I do something wrong?”

“No, this is fine.” She takes the keys from his shaking grip. “These both work identically? Enchantments and all?”

Bob nods rapidly. “Yes!”

She examines them carefully. Not only do the carvings match, but he somehow managed to match the tarnishing. “Good.” She nods and puts one back on the chain around her neck, then tucks the other one safely away. Best not to let Thrace know his prize can be mass-produced.

Bob wrings his hands nervously. “Anything else?”

“Yes, actually, do you know what this is?” Scout says, digging around in one of her jacket pockets. She pulls out the small trinket in the shape of a star and holds it toward him.

Bob eyes it. “Oh, yes I do!” he says, smiling beatifically. And doesn’t continue.

“…What is it?” Scout prompts, glaring.

“Oh! It’s a sarcophagus key.”

“Like…mummies?”

Bob blinks. “What?”

She rolls her eyes. “Show me.”

Bob leads her further down the hall to a large storeroom filled with stone sarcophagi propped up against the wall. Scout paces slowly down the line, examining the runes covering their pitted surfaces. “Are these filled at the moment?”

“Not all of them,” Bob replies.

“What’s in the ones that are filled?”

“People.”

She turns to him. “What sort of people?”

Bob shifts nervously. “I’m not ordered to know.”

Scout frowns at him, then takes the key, fits it into the matching slot on the nearest sarcophagus, and twists it. There’s a grinding groan and the lid creaks open. A withered corpse is strapped inside, vaguely male-shaped. The desiccation, though, seems less like a torpored vampire and more just a dead corpse. She opens a few more, finding various shapes of people in an assortment of clothes, but all identically long-dead.

Scout closes the last one and turns away. “Well. Our guest should be arriving soon. Go…find something to clean.”

“Yes, Ms. Scout!” He runs off.

Scout pulls her phone to check the time, then compares the keys once again. She smiles, then tucks them away and goes up to the office to wait.

#

At almost exactly an hour after their initial phone call, there’s a knock at the office door. Scout composes herself and stands. “Enter.”

The door creaks open at Bob’s hand. Oliver Thrace sweeps past him, entering the room as if he owned it.

Which he soon might. Scout gestures for Bob to leave.

“Ms. Scout,” Thrace says in his clipped British accent, glancing briefly around the room.

“Mr. Thrace. Or should I say Regent Thrace.” She indicates a chair in front of the desk.

Thrace smiles thinly and remains standing. “I haven’t been regent in some time. Not since the handover.”

“Well, this seems to be a city where many have found a new start.”

“The last three regents of this city met a quick and unseemly end. I should not like to join them.” He glances at the room’s decor again, disdainfully. “I believe you have something for me.”

“I do. But first I need assistance with…my end of the bargain.”

He nods coolly. “I expected you might.”

Scout moves toward the door. “Shall I show you what I need?”

“By all means,” Thrace says, following.

Scout leads him down to the dungeons, to the room with the mirror. Thrace steps forward, peering into the glass. “Intriguing….” He runs a hand along the carved wood frame. “You have quite a conundrum on your hands. What’s inside?”

Scout smiles thinly. “What’s inside isn’t important, it’s whether you can get it out.”

Thrace straightens. “I’m afraid it’s rather important if you want me to extricate them.”

Scout shifts, nonchalantly revealing her knife, hung at her hip at the moment. “It’s a target I need. I need alive.”

Thrace eyes the knife, then slowly touches the glass of the mirror. His face furrows, then widens in surprise. “Interesting… You’ve been hired to bring this one down then?”

“I’ve been hired to bring him away.”

Thrace eyes her a long moment. “You’re lying.”

She stares evenly back. “I assure you I do need him alive.”

“You mistake me.” He paces around the crate. “I don’t require your truth. But don’t lie to me.”

“I don’t appreciate lies either.” She shifts her knife-hip again. “None of my kind do.”

Thrace stares at her flatly, then nods. He leans over the crate again. “Given time, I could extricate this man.”

“How much time?”

“Quite a bit.”

Scout fights a scowl. “We may not have quite a bit, the way things go in this city.”

“That is the trouble then, isn’t it.” Thrace traces a few of the symbols carved into the wood. “This is a Tremere’s mirror,” he says conversationally.

“A Tremere’s mirror? I thought it was made by Augustus von Rabenholz.”

He glances up at her and smirks. “So it was.” He stands. “How old are you? Truly.”

She shrugs. “Roughly fifty years.”

“Not very long then. Practically a neonate. You will learn quite well, that no one—strictly no one—is what they claim to be. Least of all Pfalzgraf Augustus von Rabenholz.” He taps at the glass. “This mirror is intended to keep what is inside secure and away from all eyes. It cannot be broken without great expenditure of some effort. I might be able to. But not here, not instantly.” He folds his arms. “My understanding is Rabenholz has plans for this captive at a party of his?”

“Yes, I’ve heard.” She smiles thinly. “I wasn’t invited.”

“Mm.” He returns the smile. “The rumor is he will be unveiling symbols of his authority. This man is wanted dead, so he will be a very important symbol. A prize Rabenholz will not let go of very easily.”

She stares. “So you’re saying I should leave him to Rabenholz’s plans? Then what good was bringing you here?”

A smirk flickers across Thrace’s mouth. “That depends on what you require. You require him dead you will have it. You will require him alive, that is a more difficult proposition.”

Scout shifts. “I require him alive. For my own uses.”

Thrace nods. “I can’t extricate him in twenty four hours. But…I might be able to do something else.” He slides his hand along the wood, assessing it. “I can enchant the frame as a form of blood circle, targeted to your target. The instant he is retrieved from the mirror, he’ll be whisked away.”

Something inside her twists in warning. “What is the radius limit?” she asks.

“On short notice? Not far.”

“The other side of the city?”

“No. A few hundred yards at best. But I can do one better.” He smiles. “Do you bear particular ill animus toward Mr. Rabenholz?”

Scout hesitates. “No more so than most other vampires,” she says carefully.

“Ah. Well you see, the interesting thing about blood magic is what is and is not difficult to do. To break this enchantment and whisk your friend away, that is quite difficult. But to replace him with something else upon his emergence?” Thrace spreads his hands. “Simplicity itself.”

“Replace with what?”

“How about half a ton of high explosive?”

Scout stares. “Do you have access to such explosives?”

Thrace leans against the crate, hands curled over the lip like claws. “I might.”

Scout stares at the mirror, mind racing with possibilities. “If Rabenholz removes his captive during the middle of his little show, that could take out the entire Kindred population left in the city….”

Fangs flash in Thrace’s grin. “More’s the pity.”

She continues to stare. “I don’t not like that plan…” Finally, she looks up. “…But I’m trying to keep a low profile while I’m here.”

Thrace shrugs. “Your decision then. But you must make it quickly.”

Scout looks around the room, casting for ideas, then suddenly tenses. “Come with me a moment,” she mutters and leaves the room. Thrace eyes her, then follows.

She leads them down the hall into the sarcophagus room. One by one, she opens the stone caskets till she finds what she’s looking for: the desiccated corpse of a man, roughly the same height and build as Tom would be.

She stands back proudly. “Like I said, low profile.”

Thrace nods slowly, a genuine smile tugging at his mouth. “I think you might be suited for this world yet.” He steps forward to eye the body’s proportions. “Keep everyone away from here while I work. Think on where you would like your friend to be recalled. When you do, come and inform me.”

Scout nods and removes the key from around her neck. She holds it up with a smile. “Should you require access to any other parts of the Chantry to do your work.”

Thrace accepts it with a smile then returns to the mirror room. Scout follows, lingering in the doorway as he pulls a small brass dagger from his pocket and slices his palm. Vitae wells forth. He smears it across the frame of the mirror, then, with the same knife, begins reworking the runic carvings underneath.

Unable to contain a smile of triumph, Scout leaves.

#

An hour later, though, with still no word from Thrace, the triumph has faded. Scout paces the thick rug of the Chantry office, glancing at the clock to mark the passing of every minute.

Of all her planning, one black hole still looms in the near-future: what to do with Tom once she gets him. She can bring him back to the motel for awhile, perhaps, at least until she can find something better. Something secure enough to keep him from Rabenholz.

And Cantor, she realizes.

She stops, uncertainty rising. Cantor knew she wanted to come to the city because of Tom. What else does he know? What plots of his own could he be manipulating, through her…? She paces again, faster, then stops at the desk, flipping nervously through the rolodex. No matter her skills, or her plans, the only way to truly protect Tom from Cantor is to eliminate him—

Her blood bond twists like a knife. She gasps in pain and stumbles, catching herself on her desk. Rather than cowering away, she fights it, closing her eyes gritting her teeth against the soul-wrenching stabs as she forces the thoughts through.

I will kill him. I will free myself, and I will kill him. The more she repeats it, the easier the words come, the pain no longer punishing but reaffirming. After a few moments, the bond has faded to a dull ache. Considering that success enough, she opens her eyes.

And sees a rolodex card with Fatima El-Amin’s name and phone number scrawled across it.

The night in the Fort Funston caves slams back to mind. Fatima implied she could be an ally against Cantor, but did not yet have enough power to do so. Despite everything, Scout isn’t ready to offer herself as sacrifice to the cause.

…But perhaps I can offer another.

Nerves singing, she checks to make sure the office door is closed, then plucks the card free and calls the number.

“Who speaks?” Fatima’s voice answers.

Scout smiles thinly. “The slave.”

Fatima is silent a moment. “…How did you get this number?”

“From the would-be Regent.”

“Found it, or consumed it?”

“Found it, I’m in her office now.”

Another pause. “Impressive. Most impressive.”

Scout glances at the clock again. “When last we spoke, we spoke of…opportunities.”

“We did.”

“I’m not alone in the Chantry at the moment. Another would-be Regent is here. Oliver Thrace.”

“…Thrace? Thrace is here?

“He is here, he is doing something for me. When he is done, I have no further need of him. And from what I hear, he already has a Blood Hunt declared on him.”

The words hang in the air a long moment. “This is valuable information,” Fatima says finally. “To what do I owe the honor?”

Scout’s gaze falls to the desk, and the knife laid out on it. The red-shaded lamplight in the room glints wetly along its length, but the grooves of Cantor’s mark lie in darkness. “You remember what else we spoke of last time?” she says hesitantly.

“I do.”

“I—” Scout chokes suddenly the blood bond grips her again. She braces a hand against the desk, forcing herself to concentrate, finding words to shove through the weak points of the bond. “—I…still need assistance with that.”

“It is no simple thing to ask,” Fatima replies, grimly.

Still staring at the knife, Scout’s hand clenches. “I think I know that more than most.”

“How long will Thrace be there?”

Scout looks to the clock again. “I don’t know. The task he’s working on may take more time. I also need to be sure it’s going to work at all. But when I leave the Chantry, there is a possibility he will take over occupancy. For how long, I don’t know, considering how the leadership has turned over lately.”

The clock ticks fill the silence as Scout waits for the answer. “…So be it,” Fatima says finally. “I cannot overcome Thrace myself, but another associate of mine will be there soon. Together we may have a chance. Await him.”

Scout sags against the desk and nods. “He can let himself in.”

“Yes. He can.” Fatima hangs up.

#

More time passes, now almost two hours since Thrace arrived. Tired of pacing, Scout settles herself on the carpet in an attempt to meditate. The scent of old blood—human and vitae—drifts to her nose as her knees sink into the soft pile. Closing her eyes, she tries not to think of how the blood-red hue of the furnishings came to be.

A knock echoes suddenly at the office door. Scout gets up, drawing her knife. The knock comes again, more urgently this time. She hesitates, then slides into a doppelganger copy, leaving it in front of the door as she opens it and stands to the side.

Bob blinks up at her. “Oh! I’m sorry, Ms. Scout, I saw the door was closed and thought the Mistress had returned.”

The illusion looks down at him impassively. “No,” it says. “I don’t know when she will return. But I’m sure she’ll be extremely pleased with the work you’ve been doing.”

His eyes grow wide. “Do…do you really think so?”

“I do.” The illusion makes a show of glancing up and down the hall. “Do you need anything, Bob?”

“No! No, I just wanted to see if you wanted anything.”

“No. Our visitor is working on some things in the dungeons. Stay out of his way.”

“Of course, of course. I will.” Bob bows as he backs away, then hurries down the hall.

Still obfuscated, she steps forward to align herself with the illusion, reaching out to close the door.

“That was unkind,” a deep voice behind her grumbles. Nerves instantly fired, she and her illusion whip around, knives at the ready.

A nine-and-a-half foot monster looms in the room behind her, a wall of hardened muscle and slate-blue skin. After a moment of shock, she identifies it as the gargoyle she saw the first time she snuck into the Chantry, the one stalking the basement corridors. He folds his arms and stares at her with a blood-red gaze.

She hesitates. Her vocal illusions had fooled the simple-minded Dug, but this one looks far older, and practiced. Slowly, the obfuscated-Scout steps away from the illusion. The gargoyle’s eyes remain focused on the illusion, even as she moves toward the side of the room. She relaxes slightly but keeps her knife in-hand.

The gargoyle looks the illusion over, growling. “Who are you?”

“My name is Scout,” the illusion replies. “Who are you?”

The wings unfurl, pinion claws scraping the walls. “I am called Jalut. What I am should be apparent.”

“How did you get into this room?

“The same way you did. Skill.” His gaze slowly scans the furnishings of the office. “Tell your bodyguard to come out.”

Scout tenses. The illusion looks puzzled. “Which bodyguard?”

“The one sliding around this room. The one I can smell.” Jalut bares his fangs. “The one who thinks she can’t be seen.”

Scout hesitates a long moment. Before this night she had barely ever seen a gargoyle, let alone fought one. But from what she had heard, they were built for obedience. Obedience, as Cantor is so fond to remind her, usually comes through dominance and fear. But a deeper memory of hers, hidden over from a simpler time, recalled that obedience could come from something else: trust. And trust is a two-way street.

Scout straightens and drops the illusion the same time she drops the obfuscate.

Jalut tenses, gaze flicking between her and the space where the illusion just was. It lingers on her knife but doesn’t comment. “Why am I here?” he growls finally.

“Are you working with Fatima?”

“I am working with myself,” he snarls. “But I am told by her there is something here worth seeing.”

Scout nods once. “Oliver Thrace. He’s in the basement.”

His wings spread wider, creaking like brittle shale. “And you asked us to destroy him. Why?”

“I offered him as a courtesy.”

His eyes narrow. “There is no courtesy in your kind. No honor, no friendship. Nothing but hunger.”

The way he says ‘your kind,’ it’s clear he’s talking about something more than just Kindred. “There is courtesy among those worthy of it, in my kind.” She hesitates, fingers twitching on her knife. “…Or so I hear.”

“You think yourselves worthy and the rest cattle.” He stalks forward, crushing the thick carpet under his taloned feet. “What do you hunger for, Kindred?”

She shrugs one shoulder. “Same thing any of us do, it seems.”

“Power. Lordship.”

“Surviving,” she says flatly. “From one night to the next.”

He eyes her, an indistinct sound rumbling his chest. “How do I know this isn’t a trap?”

“Why would I have tried to lure you if I didn’t even know who you were?”

“To curry favor with the Tremere.”

Scout snorts.

His talons dig into the carpet, piercing through to scrape on stone. “You laugh. Few laugh at them and live. Few besides me.”

“Yes,” she smirks, “You seem quite the jovial type.”

An angry tremor crosses his face. “I have hunted Tremere for two hundred years. Many times they have sought to destroy me. Or trap me. Every time, they have died. If you are lying, you will join them.”

His tone, coupled with his presence filling half the room, chills her. She nods. “I need Thrace to finish something for me. When he is done, I do not care what happens to him.” She eyes him a moment. “Why are you associated with Fatima?”

“Because she has what I want.”

“What is that?”

He bares his fangs. “Vengeance.”

Despite the fearsomeness of his presence, Scout feels a flicker of a smile cross her face. She glances to the door. “Is she coming as well?”

“In time. She sought to curry favor. To obtain my aid.” His wings flare again. “She cannot destroy Thrace. I can.”

Scout glances at the door again. “Part of her agreement with me is she needs Thrace in order to…accomplish something else.”

This time, Jalut bares his teeth in a gargoyle approximation of a smirk. “She will have what she needs of him. She does not need all of him.”

Scout hesitates a long moment. She would feel better if Fatima was here to help and claim her amaranth, but Thrace could be finishing any moment now…. “Let me go check to see if he has completed his task.”

Jalut nods and settles his wings tight around himself. “I will follow.”

She eyes him up and down. “Um, you’re a little obvious.”

Jalut grins and steps back. Instantly, his slate skin melds with the rough stone of the wall. A moment or two later, he’s merged completely and gone.

“…Wow,” Scout mutters.

Recasting doppelganger, Scout leaves the office, heading downstairs to the dungeon workroom.

#

Thrace is consulting a heavy leather-bound tome as both her and her illusion step into the room. The mirror lies exposed next to him, all traces of his blood magic wiped clean. If the runes have been changed, she can’t tell from this angle. “Yes?” he mutters without looking up.

Her illusion bows politely. “I was coming to check on your progress and see if there was anything you need assistance with.”

Thrace turns a page in the book, flashing brief glimpses of thaumaturgical symbols. “Are you familiar with fourth-circle Tremere rituals?”

“Not at this time. But there are some ghouls upstairs who might be.”

“I doubt that quite seriously.” Thrace snaps the book shut, looking up at her. “I am an experienced thaumaturgist,” he says sharply, “I know what I am doing. The question is, do you?”

A tingle of warning climbs through her at his tone. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

Slowly, he takes a step toward her. “You know there’s a gargoyle in this building?” he says nonchalantly.

Both Scout and the illusion freeze as her mind races. “Well, yes. I met him upstairs, he’s watching Pixar movies.”

“Quite.” He follows her glance to the ceiling, then back. “Fascinating creatures, the gargoyles. Did you know we created them?”

“I’ve heard this, yes.”

“Do you know why?”

“No.”

“It was to wage war.” Thrace tucks the book under his arm. “We were hunted once, you see, by other clans. Tzimisce. Gangrel. Nosferatu. Unhappy, I should imagine, with some of the experiments we were doing. One can hardly fault them. Creatures of low repute and instinct.” He shakes his head sadly. “But we paid for our arrogance. The gargoyles turned on us. Tore our headquarters at Ceoris apart. It’s why we had to relocate to Vienna. It’s not in the official Chantry histories, of course, and you won’t have many Tremere tell you this, but I don’t care. It’s better to speak of the truth, isn’t it?” He smiles thinly. “And the truth is after the gargoyle revolt, we took some pains to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. Magic was bred into the rituals used to create them. Things that would alert us in case they were ever plotting treason once more.”

Thrace glances at the ceiling again. “That gargoyle upstairs hasn’t a treasonous thought in his head. I know. Because you see, when a gargoyle who does mean treason enters the building…” he withdraws a stake from his jacket, “…I can tell immediately.” He smiles. “Now. Is there something you’d like to explain to me?”

Scout paces carefully across the room, instinctively flanking him, as she lets her illusion maintain a veneer of bewilderment.  “A gargoyle besides the one watching Up?” the illusion says, innocently.

“Indeed. One flowing through the stones as we speak. No doubt he thinks himself clever.” He takes a step forward. “But how did he get word that I was here?”

Both Scout and the illusion tense.

Thrace suddenly releases the stake, letting it hover in the air at chest level. “I’ll tell you something else,” he says, conversationally. “Something I’m sure you’re unaware of. Something you’d know if you’d ever been a part of an organization such as this. The office is warded for privacy, independently from the main Chantry wards. But whomever holds the Chantry key can access those wards.” He draws the key from his pocket and smiles.  “And all outgoing calls are logged.”

Scout stares at the stake, slowly rotating from air currents in the room. Right now it’s aimed at her illusion, but if he attacks, he’ll discover the deception and work harder to find her. And she’d learned from her attempts on Georgia Johnson that the Tremere have tricks she’d never imagined. Her eyes dart around, searching for signs of Jalut….

Thrace tucks the key away, then draws a swirling red gem from the same pocket as the last trace of forced-amiability evaporates from his elderly face. “Do you have any idea what it is to betray me?” he says, voice practically a growl.

Stall. Scout crouches against the wall and concentrates, drawing on the depth of her willpower to simultaneously maintain her obfuscate, her doppelgänger-figure…and a new illusion of Jalut stepping out of the wall behind Thrace.

Thrace whirls toward the image of the gargoyle, staking a step back. “You,” he snarls.

Scout braces herself against the wall, limbs shaking with the force of concentration needed to maintain both illusions, forcing through only as many details as she dares. The illusion of Jalut glowers silently, flaring his wings.

Finally, slowly, Thrace smiles. “Well now. A rare opportunity.” He flicks his hand disdainfully. Instantly, the stake flips and blitzes toward the gargoyle’s chest, passing right through the illusion to smash to pieces on the wall behind it.

Thrace hesitates. “Learned some new tricks?” He glares at the motionless illusion of Scout. “Or found new allies? So be—”

At that moment, his words are cut off as the real Jalut erupts from the floor underneath him.

Cracking stone rings like gunshots through the dungeon, followed by a scream and a roar as Jalut and Thrace grapple with each other. Thrace’s gem explodes, showering blood across the room. A moment later the writhing figures are consumed in a column of fire. Real fire. Scout’s illusions drop as her focus shifts to maintaining self-control in front of the flames. She presses against the stone wall, turning away from the light and the heat—

—Until cold silence falls across the room. Scout looks up. The column of fire is gone, replaced by a hulking black shape in the center of the room the color of scorched earth.

Flapping footsteps echo down the hallway, approaching. Bob appears in the doorway, panting and carrying a fire extinguisher. He takes a step inside and stops. “Uh…Ms. Scout?”

Still shaky, Scout stands and reappears right next to him. “Yes?”

Bob yelps in surprise and bolts, dropping the fire extinguisher on his way out. His footsteps recede back down the hall.

Carefully, Scout eyes the black shape. Thrace’s thaumaturgy book lies forgotten and half-burnt on the floor, and the mirror crate is scarred from the fire, but nothing is as dark as this hulking mass. As she watches, it slowly rises and unfurls, revealing the red eyes and massive shape of Jalut, skin crinkling like cinders as the black scars across his skin slowly heal back to slate.

Jalut sees her, rumbles deep in his chest, and holds up a pale humanoid arm, wrenched off at the shoulder. “He has fled.”

Scout stares at the arm. “…Fuck.”

Jalut tosses it away. “He will not escape.”

Fear clutches her throat. “Did he finish the thing?”

Jalut glares at her. “What thing?”

Scout hesitates, glancing at the mirror—blessedly untouched—then at the ruined book on the floor. “Do you possess skills in magic?”

Jalut’s wings unfold, showering ash. “Why should I tell you?”

She steps toward him, one hand raised plaintively. “Please, I need to know if he finished the enchantment—”

Jalut growls, deep enough to rumble the stone. “Why should I tell you?” he repeats.

Instantly Scout halts, taking a step back, eyes fixed on the monster looming above her.

Trust is a two-way street, part of her whispers again. Slowly, Scout takes a breath. “He was working on an enchantment on that.” She points to the mirror in the fire-scarred crate.

Jalut follows her gesture. “He used it to flee.”

“Is he trapped in there?”

“For the moment, but he will undoubtedly find another way out.”

Scout hesitates. “What about the…other thing in there?”

Jalut turns his red gaze to her. “What is in there?”

“There’s another person in there. If he’s desperate, Thrace may try to eat him himself….” Scout approaches the crate, knife in hand, then braces herself and touches the glass. Nothing happens. She slaps her hand futilely against the glass in growing frustration.  “Is there a way in?”

“Yes, but it is beyond my ken.” Jalut draws one long claw delicately along the carved wood. “Thrace has command of such enchantments, able to use them, create them. I can merely read them, and modify some.” He eyes her. “What is it you seek?”

Scout curses softly and sags against the crate. “I need to get that person out, but I need to know if Thrace completed that enchantment or didn’t because everything went pear-shaped, and if he did I also need to know if the other person gets taken out, will he be teleported a hundred meters away like we agreed, and if so where, or is he going to be taken out at all, or is Thrace going to be taken out instead, or will both come out and show up in different locations like this is some sort of quantum neutron bullshit?”

Jalut watches quietly until the stream of words stops. He smiles. “You have not thought this through have you?”

She glares up at him.

Jalut’s smile vanishes. “Who is in the mirror?”

“A target I need. Alive.”

“Which target?”

“Why does it matter?”

His wings curl forward, engulfing him in shadow. “I do not like secrets, nor machinations of Kindred.”

“Yet you’re working with an Assamite.”

Says an Assamite,” he growls, then drags his claw across the glass. “Who is in the mirror?”

Scout takes a breath. “A certain Brujah of apparently infamous local renown.”

Jalut’s eyes narrow. “Which Brujah?”

“The one everyone’s been talking about, the one who apparently killed a primogen.”

Something like a smirk crosses his face. “Lytton. Why do you wish for Lytton?”

Scout shifts. “For…reasons.”

“What reasons?”

“Not important.”

Jalut folds his arms with a sound like grinding boulders. “What will you do with Tom Lytton?”

Her gaze falls to the glass, currently showing nothing but the stones of the ceiling and her own face: anxious, scared, and eyes the same color as her missing brother’s. “…Rescue him,” she says softly.

“Is that what your master wants?”

“No. That’s what I want.”

Jalut eyes her a long, suspiciously moment. Finally, he raises his claw and taps the mirror. “The spell is complete. It does as Thrace said. When Lytton emerges from the mirror, he will be taken to another place.”

Scout nods. “Right, a hundred meters away—”

“Not a vector, a location. Also named in the runes. Vienna.”

Scout stares at the mirror as the implications of this hit her. That fucker double-crossed me before I crossed him! then, Oh my god, Tom could have been gone. Forever.

She sags against the crate, red tears of relief tugging at her eyes, but straightens as further realizations come to mind. “So…if Rabenholz takes Tom out of the circle, he’ll be transported to Vienna?”

Jalut nods once. “Unless the runes are changed.”

She stops herself from grabbing him in earnest. “Do you know them?”

Jalut eyes her a long moment, face a death-mask of stone, then slowly nods. “I do.”

A single relieved sob rocks her chest. This time she can’t stop the tears welling in her eyes. She clasps her hands in a thin veneer of professional composure. “What do you require in exchange for your assistance?”

Jalut eyes her. “The truth. Fatima says you are an Assamite, working for another. Who is this master of yours?”

She opens her mouth to name him, then chokes, willpower too sapped to battle the bond at the moment. Instead, she lifts the knife in the flat of her hand. “Do…you recognize these engravings?”

Jalut frowns curiously and steps forward. “No. But I have seen similar. These are Hand marks.” He taps one claw against the metal and hesitates, red eyes unfocused. Unfamiliar emotions flicker across his face. “Cantor…the White….” he growls slowly, then releases the blade and steps back. “Perhaps I was wrong.”

There’s no fear on Jalut’s face, like Thrace had when he did the same read. Instead, he stares down on her with something similar to pity. Scout looks away.

“I will change the runes,” Jalut rumbles finally. “Thrace’s original plan, the one he told you, is still the groundwork for the spell. One hundred meters in any direction. I can remove the Vienna marks so it reverts, but you must still choose a direction.”

Relief floods her again, but she forces it aside as she tries to think. “I don’t know when and where Rabenholz will remove him,” she mutters. “What if I specify one hundred meters to the south but there’s a building in the way?”

“Then he will be transported into solid rock,” Jalut says coolly.

Scout paces. Logic says Rabenholz will remove Tom at his party in the Bank of America building, but she doesn’t know which floor. Or maybe Tom will be revealed at a separate, exclusive party she hadn’t even heard about yet. Or maybe Rabenholz will take him out here, in the Chantry dungeons, dozens of feet below the ground, calling Bob and Dug from their movie to haul him awa—

Scout stops, the answer suddenly burning like fire. She looks at Jalut. “…Up.”

Jalut eyes her appraisingly.

“One hundred meters up. No matter where he is in the city, no matter what building, that will put him out into clear air.”

Jalut’s eyes narrow. “And what then? The spell will not stop gravity.”

Scout steps toward him, hands clasped plaintively in front of her. “If I give you information on Rabenholz’s plans and locations, will you continue to help me?”

Jalut eyes her. Finally, he nods acceptance. “It will be done.”

Once again, the grace of her relief is an almost physical force. Yet still, something nags at her, a whisper from the depths of her mind. “Why?” she asks.

Jalut is silent a long moment before answering. “Because I was once a slave,” he rumbles. “I know the look of someone who still is.”

Scout bows her head. Before she can think of a worthy response, though, banging echoes from one of the other dungeons down the hall, heavy thumps on stone.

Jalut instantly snaps to full alert. “Who else is here?” he growls, then stalks from the room. Scout obfuscates and follows, knife ready.

In the sarcophagus room, one of the stone caskets is jolting back and forth as something struggles inside. Jalut stops and growls. Scout draws the star-shaped key from her pocket and reappears, stepping forward to unlock the lid. She obfuscates again as Jalut tears the lid open and steps back.

Captain Anstis leaps from the sarcophagus, grinning triumphantly. Until Jalut grabs him by the throat and hoists him into the air.  “Who are you?” Jalut growls.

“Anstis,” the pirate gasps, grabbing weakly at the massive slate-blue forearm. “How did I get here?”

Jalut pulls him up to eye level. “You tell me.”

Anstis’s one eye glares, his beard-tentacles writhing against Jalut’s fingers. “Release me,” his voice rings in command. Unseen nearby, Scout cringes instinctively at the familiar cadence of Dominate.

Jalut tenses momentarily, then growls, clenching his fist tighter. Anstis sneers back, extending his claws—

Then Anstis’s phone rings.

Eyes still locked with Jalut, Anstis gropes at his pocket, pulls it out, holds it to his ear and answers. In the silence of the room, Scout catches the smooth timbre and cadence of Rabenholz’s voice echoing from the phone. She moves closer to listen in.

“Have you spoken with the Regent?” Rabenholz’s voice asks. “I am unable to get ahold of her.”

“I am speaking to one of her gargoyles now,” Anstis says. Jalut growls again and digs his claws deeper into Anstis’s throat.

“Hmm,” Rabenholz responds. “I suppose we should alert the Justicar on these recent developments. I also wish to speak with you about tomorrow’s arrangements. Meet me at the presidential suite of the Mark Hopkins in an hour.”

Scout’s smirk widens. If Mohammed won’t invite me to the mountain….

After more threats and irreverent attitude, Jalut releases Anstis and lets him leave, watching the pirate over folded arms. Once the pirate is gone, Scout allows herself to reappear next to Jalut.

Jalut meets her gaze and nods once, reassuringly. Scout returns the nod grimly and disappears again. As she exits the room, she hears a slight rustle as Jalut sinks into the floor.

She hurries down the hall, catching up with Anstis as he climbs the stairs back to the ground floor. He glances back a few times, but each time his gaze slides right past her. He reaches the main hall and swaggers toward the exit, then pauses as he passes the parlor where Bob and Dug are still watching the movie. Scout lingers nearby as he talks to them, then jumps as Dug leaps up with surprising speed and drags him into the room.

She checks the clock in the room. There’s no time for this, she needs Anstis to go to Rabenholz tonight. But she can’t order Bob and Dug to stop without revealing her presence.

Or can she?

Scout closes her eyes, focusing on the features of Georgia Johnson, imagining the lines and curls of her hair as if going to sketch them. Then, recalling her voice from the recent phone call, she weaves an illusion and sends it into the room.

Bob straightens like a rod suddenly shot down his spine. Dug drops the pirate. “Second Master!”

“Oh, Dug!” The Georgia illusion falters a moment as Scout struggles to get the right cadence for the voice. “What…what are you doing with our guest?”

“I have slain your enemy, Second Master.”

“Oh. Good job, Dug!”

Dug bows, wings extended. “What is your command, Second Master?”

The image of Georgia glances around the room. “Um. I think that’s enough slaying for today.”

Dug’s wings droop. “But he has not been fully slain, Second Master! The movie is only half over!”

How does Johnson talk? Scout considers. Irreverently, yet with a directness that’s jarring…. “He seems to have had plenty of slaying. Perhaps we can finish the rest of the slaying later.”

Dug and Bob exchange a panicked look. “But he has not met the dog, Second Master!”

“…Is the dog in the Chantry? That doesn’t seem nice for my cat.”

Bob stares. “…You mean your space whale?”

Scout blinks at this. “…Yes, of course,” the illusion says, then quickly turns to Anstis and smiles graciously, hands clasped in front of her. “Captain. I am so sorry to have kept you waiting. I need to take care of some things in the Chantry since I’ve been gone—”

Anstis, though, eyes her suspiciously. “How did you get free?”

The illusion smiles as Scout’s mind races. “I’m not sure, that’s one thing I need to look into.”

“We thought you had died. Where did you wake up?”

“Well, in my bedroom, of course.”

Anstis stares a long moment. “How is Dr. von Natsi?”

It takes her a moment to place this: The mage from the tower. “Oh he’s lovely, thank you for asking.”

“Have you seen him since we’ve returned?” Anstis asks.

“Well no, I’ve just seen the Chantry and now you.” Quickly, Scout tries to bring the conversation back on track. “I seem to have overheard that you need to speak with Lord Rabenholz?”

Anstis nods once. “Aye.”

“I will have a car sent around for you.”

After a moment, Anstis nods again. “That would be most agreeable.”

“Excellent.” The illusion grins amiably, then turns and walks out without another word. As soon as it’s out of sight, Scout dispels it, then jogs unseen down the hall toward the entrance to the Chantry garage.

Affecting the look of a young black chauffeur, Scout picks a sedan, finds the keys, then brings the car around to meet Anstis at the front of the building. She jumps out to open the door and he gets in without a second glance.  “Where can I take you sir?” she asks, casting a masculine vocal illusion over her words.

“The Mark Hopkins,” Anstis replies, settling into the seat without a second glance at her.

A thrill shoots through her–part pride at a successful con, part excited fear. After all this time, it’s finally happening….

Scout closes the door, then, smirking to herself, gets back in the driver seat to take them away.

END OF ADDENDUM

 

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