Hopefully at this point it goes without saying, but here now for the first time is what really happened the night of Rabenholz’s Elysium 2.0 (aka 3/22/16, part 1 and part 2. Note that the way the scene has been split is different between the main-line and Scout writeups cause the dramatic beats were different depending on the viewpoint). Also recall that the majority of Scout’s actions were made via secret texting to Jason, with a minimum of off-screen scenes so as not to arouse suspicion.
Please to enjoy.
MARK HOPKINS HOTEL
Still disguised as a young black chauffeur, Scout pulls the Chantry car up the front drive of the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Anstis gets out without a word and she watches him walk away. Once he’s entered the building, Scout drives off, turning off the main road into the nearest alley down the block.
Then gets out, obfuscates, and runs back to the entrance of the hotel.
She jogs inside, deftly dodging the scattered people in the lobby, and catches up to Anstis just as his elevator is arriving. Careful not to bump into him, she tailgates him into the car and up to Rabenholz’s presidential suite.
Rabenholz opens the door. “Ah, Captain.” He gestures him in. Scout scoots through behind Anstis just before it closes. “You will recall some days ago you and Marcus Sertorius left Candlestick Point on some expedition, along with a number of Anarchs,” Rabenholz continues.
Listening with half an ear, Scout carefully searches the suite. With as much time Rabenholz has spent with Tom in his possession and planning for this party, there must be something around to provide insight into his plans. The rooms, though, appear empty of anything interesting, with the minor exception of a selection of suits in the bedroom closet. Scout stares at them in defeat, half-heartedly reaching out to gauge the quality of material.
Behind her, Rabenholz and Anstis are discussing Ben Smith, Rabenholz’s missing lackey, apparently concocting a plan to track him down. “There is a risk, however,” Anstis is saying. “It will take you to his location wherever he is, even if he’s in daylight at the moment.”
Rabenholz eyes him coolly. “That would be most unfortunate.”
“Perhaps you should send someone you don’t care about instead.”
After a moment, Rabenholz nods. “I know just the person.” He pulls out his phone and dials.
A moment later, Scout’s phone buzzes in her pocket. She rolls her eyes and answers. “Yes?”
“Ms. Scout,” Rabenholz greets her. “Have you attempted to locate Benjamin Smith at Candlestick Park yet?”
“Not as of yet, no, and the evening is getting rather late—”
“Time is of the essence,” he says firmly. “Would you meet me at the Presidential Suite of the Mark Hopkins as soon as possible?”
Scout hesitates. Dammit, if I’m here they definitely won’t talk about Tom… “I’ll make my way there as soon as I can,” she says carefully.
“Excellent, I’ll expect you shortly,” Rabenholz says, then hangs up. He leaves the sitting room to join Anstis in the bathroom, who has begun drawing a teleportation circle on the floor. Scout follows, lurking outside the bathroom doorway.
Rabenholz holds out a small plastic device to Anstis. “Captain, this is called a panic button. It will summon the security forces to you tomorrow night. Simply flip it open and push the button.”
Anstis looks up from his spellwork and accepts it, examining it with his one eye. “How long will it take them to arrive, if needed?”
“Some will already be in the room, some stationed in the hallway. Most will likely arrive by elevator.”
Scout frowns. Note to self, take the stairs.
She lingers expectantly, hoping they’ll continue discussing logistics of the party, but Rabenholz leaves Anstis and continues making his own preparations. Rabenholz picks up his sword as if to begin practicing, then pauses as his phone rings again. “Ms. Tyler,” he greets as he answers, placing his cane-sword on his desk.
It takes Scout a moment to place the name: His assistant…the tall black woman who gave me the weird look…. She moves closer to listen in.
“Lord Rabenholz,” his assistant’s voice says over the line. “I wanted to know what provisions you wanted made about this…display of yours?”
“The wall mounts we looked at earlier will be adequate,” Rabenholz replies.
“What about setup?”
“We will have a crew in this evening to do this.”
“Alright. Where is the item being stored?”
Rabenholz stares into the distance a moment, gaze passing right through Scout. “My associate Ms. Johnson still claims Mr. Lytton. I will be attempting to check in with her. I was planning to bring him over tomorrow evening.”
Cool triumph settles over Scout. Got you now, asshole…. Scout quickly texts an update to Jalut, telling him to be prepared for events to go down tomorrow evening.
UNDERSTOOD, Jalut replies.
She puts the phone away and listens in on Rabenholz again, now talking about his missing lackey. “Still no luck in locating Ben Smith?” he asks.
“No,” Rhona. “We haven’t found much.”
Rabenholz eyes Anstis’s progress in the bathroom. “I shall hopefully have an associate here soon to take over the search. The one you don’t trust.”
Rhona pauses a moment. “Be careful with her,” she says, voice low. “Something about her is…off. I can’t explain it, I just…don’t like the feeling I get around her.”
Scout frowns. If a mortal is somehow picking up strange vibes from her, that cannot be a good sign….
Realizing that her hour is about up, Scout moves to the entryway of the suite and casts an illusion of the doorbell ringing. Rabenholz hangs up his phone and moves to answer the door. Scout lets him peer perplexed up and down the hall before reappearing right behind him, smiling as if she hadn’t been there the whole time.
He frowns at her and closes the door. “Very impressive, Ms. Scout.”
She bows. “You still need assistance seeking Ben Smith?”
“Yes.” Rabenholz nods toward the bathroom. “Mr. Anstis is preparing a method of taking one to his immediate location and I need someone good at investigation to follow the trail from there.”
Scout pretends to be surprised at this, glancing at the near-complete blood circle on the floor. “And you’re not sure where this location is?”
This time, she doesn’t have to fake her shock; not at what Rabenholz is proposing, but that he’s doing so without any show of pretense. “It’s only a few hours until sunrise!” she blurts. “What if it’s out in the middle of nowhere, like open wilderness? Or what if he’s been captured and the whole thing is a trap?”
Rabenholz eyes her a long, cool moment. “This is why I need someone as impressive as you.”
Her fingers twitch, aching to strike her dagger across his arrogant face, but she maintains control and nods in acquiescence. Rabenholz gestures for her to step into the bathroom.
As he turns away, though, she slides back into obfuscate and sends a Doppelganger in instead.
Anstis moves back. The illusion steps into the circle, arms folded in irritation. “Good luck, Ms. Scout,” Rabenholz says and nods to Anstis. There’s a flash of violet light, and the illusion disappears.
Leaning against the bathroom doorway, Scout smiles.
Rabenholz turns to leave, but Anstis suddenly tenses, peering at the circle. “That’s odd….”
Scout’s triumphant grin vanishes. She’s had little experience in pitting her illusions against blood magic. Could something in the enchantment have revealed her deception?
Rabenholz watches the pirate carefully. “Is everything alright, Mr. Anstis? That’s the second ritual you’ve been unsure about tonight.”
Anstis stands rapidly, smoothing at his coat. “Can you call her?”
Rabenholz pulls out his phone and dials. Instantly, Scout’s pocket buzzes. She hesitates, rapidly considering options, then decides that it’s probably best to assuage their concerns so they don’t go digging further. She pulls it out and answers. “Yes, Lord Rabenholz?”
“Ms. Scout, Captain Anstis has expressed some confusion about his magics. Are you alright?”
Quickly, she runs through just-vague-enough answers in her head. “I…seem to be in a single piece, though I have no idea where I am.”
“Very good. I’m glad to hear you’re okay, keep me in the loop.” Rabenholz hangs up and turns back to the pirate. “Captain, can you identify the location of Ms. Scout?”
Scout freezes. She’d forgotten about the pirate’s necromancy and its uncanny ability to pinpoint targets. In an instant of magic, he would discover her still here. She looks around the suite, searching for an escape, an excuse—
“Aye.” Anstis digs in his pocket for a blank rock. “Do you know her name?”
“Her birth name? No.”
“Do you know anyone that would?”
“I do not.”
Anstis stops rummaging in his pocket. The two men stare at each other a moment. “If you would like me to find her, her real name will be necessary,” Anstis says.
Relief washes over Scout, followed by an unexpected euphoria. She sags against the wall, racked by silent bolts of laughter, which increase the longer she watches the shock and frustration bloom on Rabenholz’s face. He pulls out his phone to call her again, but this time she doesn’t answer, letting their own minds run with the mystery.
Anstis watches Rabenholz. “Would you like me to remain here for the moment, or go finish preparations?” the pirate asks tentatively.
Rabenholz shoves his phone away, unable to hide the scowl on his face. “What do you have left to prepare?”
“Walk through the building, make sure no new surprises have arrived.”
Rabenholz pulls out his pocketwatch. It’s almost 4 am. “Wait here another hour. If I do not return in that time, come to the Chantry.” With that, Rabenholz strides swiftly to exit the suite. Scout follows close behind.
She trails him down through the hotel to the drive out front where a car is summoned for him, then hesitates as a valet opens the door. Instinct screams not to let him out of her sight, but she can’t climb into the car too, not easily. Frozen on the sidewalk, she watches the valet close the door behind Rabenholz and gesture for the driver to pull away.
As it does, with a silent yell, she leaps forward and throws herself across the trunk of the sedan. The car rocks a bit, but the driver apparently attributes it to a bump in the road and drives away without pause.
Scout clings as best she can to the well-waxed finish as they drive through the city. The car bucks up and down hills, sliding her forward and back, and almost throws her in a couple tight turns, but she digs into the seams of the metal with white-knuckled focus. As they descend into the lower quarters of the city, the streetlights shine through the rear window to gently illuminate the figure sitting calmly in the rear seat.
Her grip clenches tighter.
Finally, the car pulls up back at the Chantry. Rabenholz gets out while Scout slides off the trunk, futilely trying to breathe sensation back into her hands. She stares morosely up at the building as Rabenholz strides to the front doors. I probably should have just stayed here.
Rabenholz knocks at the doors and steps back. A few minutes pass, then a gargoyle opens the door. This time, it’s the other Tremere one, the grey one with the professional countenance.
Rabenholz nods to him. “I seek an audience with the Regent.”
The gargoyle looms over him, spines on his back and shoulders twitching subtly with the flex of his muscles. “The Regent is not available,” he rumbles.
Unseen, Scout watches from behind Rabenholz, smirking. Dug needs to take lessons from this guy.
Rabenholz nods and moves to step forward. “In that case, I must take possession of one of my belongings in the basement.”
The gargoyle remains firmly planted in the doorway. “I have been given no orders.”
“I order you to let me pass.”
“You are not Tremere.”
Rabenholz stares at the gargoyle a long moment. The gargoyle stares evenly back. “It is true you do not know who I am and you do not know whom I serve,” Rabenholz says finally, breaking the silence. “But your loyalty is to your regent, whom you know to be an ally of mine.”
There’s a rasp of rough stone as the gargoyle’s folded arms flex tighter. “My loyalty is to the Tremere. The Regent is of the Tremere, you are not. Too many have come through this Chantry.”
Rabenholz draws himself up “Escort me to Storeroom B at once,” he orders, the timbre of command rolling off his voice so strongly that even Scout takes a step back.
The gargoyle hesitates, then, with a low growl, moves aside to let him in. “The Regent will hear of this.”
“As she should,” Rabenholz says, stepping inside. Scout hurries in behind before the door closes.
Rabenholz scans the dim foyer. “Where is the Regent?”
The gargoyle glowers at him. “I am not ordered to know.”
“Is her head ghoul here?”
Rabenholz nods. “Bring him to me.”
The gargoyle growls again and walks away. Rabenholz begins walking down the hall, heading to the stairwell to the dungeons, unaware of Scout pacing close behind. After a few moments Bob appears and joins them. She listens idly as Rabenholz interrogates Bob but her anxiety rises as they approach the room with the mirror crates.
Rabenholz stops as he enters the room, staring at the damage from Thrace’s fire and Jalut’s burst through the floor. “What happened here?” he snaps.
In front of Scout, Bob cowers in the doorway. “There was an intruder—”
Scout watches tensely as Rabenholz rushes to his mirror crate, pulls off the burnt remains of the sheet covering it, scattering ash, and scrapes the sawdust aside…revealing the mirror inside, undisturbed.
Rabenholz relaxes. “Get a truck and bring it around,” he says to Bob. “With the Regent gone, the Chantry is clearly no longer secure. I shall move my supplies to an alternate location for the day.”
Anger flickers at Rabenholz referring to Tom as “supplies.” But at least a truck will be easier to hide in, she thinks, massaging her hands.
Bob doesn’t respond. Rabenholz turns to the ghoul. “You can drive a delivery truck, can’t you?”
Bob stares at him, then falls to his knees, bursting into tears. “I-I’m sorry!” Bob sputters, “I’m s-so s-sorry, please don’t tell the Regent! I tried to study everything but I didn’t know how—”
A sudden dread clutches her chest as she watches Bob cower before Rabenholz’s emotionless face. Sabbat ghouls are often killed for less….
But Rabenholz merely rolls his eyes. “There there,” he says, unenthusiastically. “None of us think the less of you for it. I have a towncar outside. Assist me in moving the mirror there instead and I shall forget the whole thing.”
Still sniffling, Bob nods, then leaves to go inform the driver. Rabenholz turns back to the crate, investigating it in silence. After a moment, he reaches in and touches the glass. His form shimmers a moment, then disappears from the room. Still obfuscated, Scout approaches the crate. The mirror glass has shifted transparency, revealing murky details of some defined space beyond. She moves closer, peering over the edge.
And sees her brother, pinned like a tanning skin to a massive rack of wrought metal, staring glassily into nothingness.
She sags against the crate, throat clenching to cry out, staring at Tom’s immobile face beneath her, disbeliefs twisting into further disbeliefs: that he’s actually here, that she’s seeing him with her own eyes, that he looks like this. Finally, she tears her gaze away like a knife from her gut and lets it fall on the other figure standing in the mirror-space, staring at Tom calmly.
Incandescent rage boils, evaporating her obfuscate like mist. She grabs her knife and slams at the glass, but it remains stubbornly solid. Below, Rabenholz doesn’t even flinch. Half-sobbed screams finally erupt from her throat and her legs buckle, sliding her to the floor.
He will pay, her mind gasps through the maelstrom. He will pay…. The words become a mantra, repeated in her head then whispered out loud as she clutches her knife to her chest. The whispering forces her to breathe, and slowly she falls into her practice of meditation, calming the storm, settling her thoughts….
He will pay…but not yet.
Other sensations gradually return: the stone under her knees, the cold draft of the room, and the itching sensation of being mere inches from her enemy and completely exposed.
She drops back into obfuscate and scrambles away from the crate. Moments later, Rabenholz reappears, shimmering like a scifi teleport in a glow of thaumaturgy. Scout watches as he reorients himself, making no move toward him.
But the grip on her knife remains taut as Rabenholz calls for Bob’s assistance and they remove Tom’s crate from the room.
The ride to Rabenholz’s bolthole is shorter and easier, with the entire crate to cling to, strapped to the roof of the towncar. Scout leaps off as they arrive and Rabenholz unloads the crate, levitating it into a shipping container stocked with enough gear to survive the fall of the city.
Which may well be what it’s for, she thinks as she eyes the stacks of money and drums of preserved blood.
Rabenholz settles the crate under a mattress at the back, then takes off his cloak to hang on a nearby hook. Still snooping around the other side of the container, Scout notices his actions and stops.
Shit, is he sleeping here? Her plan so far had been to stick to Rabenholz like white on rice, but there’s nowhere to hide within the container and nothing outside but the docks and the open bay. She could try to intercept him asap tomorrow night, but only if she knows exactly what he’s going to do next–
Suddenly Rabenholz’s phone rings. She watches nervously as he answers it. “Everything is in order,” Anstis’s voice echoes from the phone.
Rabenholz nods. “Very good. I will meet you tomorrow at the Bank of America building. Let us say 8:30 pm.”
Scout sighs. Bingo.
A moment later her pocket buzzes as Rabenholz tries calling her. She ignores it, sliding unseen past him to exit the container. Dawn is just beginning to kiss the eastern horizon so she jogs quickly through the warehouses, back to the road to catch a car to the motel.
Tomorrow, Tom, she whispers in her mind. I’ll have you back tomorrow.
SEAL ROCK INN
The next night, Scout wakes up mere moments after sundown, senses instantly on alert. She checks the time. 7:30. One hour to get downtown to intercept Rabenholz and Anstis.
Still, she lingers, staring at the ceiling. Rabenholz will pay, she tells herself again, the words much more assured in her mind than they’d been the night before. Rabenholz will pay, Cantor will pay. Everyone who tries to consume us will pay.
She texts Jalut, sending him the location of Rabenholz’s secret bolthole, then:
Tom will probably reappear above the BofA sometime after 8:30. Be ready. Take him to the Seal Rock Inn, near Lands End.
Moments pass, then a reply: I UNDERSTAND.
Scout smiles grimly, then gets up.
A few minutes later she’s jogging downstairs to the lobby, jacket over one arm, still buttoning her blouse. The teenage kid who works the evening desk stares at her, then blushes and looks away, shifting suspiciously on his stool.
Predatory senses instantly kick to high alert. Scout hesitates, stopping in front of the desk. Her demon purrs in pleasure but she ignores it, trying to evaluate herself with a rational mind. Hunger gnaws within her; nothing more than usual, but considering all she has planned for tonight, it’s too much. Tonight of all nights, she can’t afford the distraction.
She glances at the clerk, then out the front windows. No tourists are on the streets this late on the edge of the city, and no one is in the cafe. She checks the time. 7:54. After a moment, she closes her eyes, takes a breath, then leans on the end of the counter, a smile plastered on her face.
A hunting smile.
“Thanks again for getting my suit laundered,” she says to the boy.
His blush deepens. He stares more intently at his phone. “No problem,” he mutters. “Sorry they couldn’t fix it.”
“That’s alright, I got a replacement.” Scout lays her new suit jacket on the counter. “You’ve been very helpful while I’ve been here. You must really care about the job.”
The kid shrugs. “My dad makes me work here. My uncle is the manager.”
“Doesn’t matter the reason. A loyal employee is a loyal employee, and your customers appreciate it.”
Scout smiles and extends her arms in an offer of a hug. The kid hesitates, blushing hard, then climbs off his stool to awkwardly accept.
In one motion, she grabs his arm and pulls him close to bite, fast, ignoring his trembling and the rush of her own pleasure. She takes as much as she dares before releasing him, lowering him to the floor behind the desk. Kneeling over to seal the wound, she checks him over. He’s unconscious, breathing shallowly. Too shallowly.
Deep inside her, something dark laughs, twisting at her soul. Everyone who consumes will pay? it mocks.
Scout grabs the landline phone from the counter. She punches in 9-1-1 then tucks the phone into the kid’s hand.
She stands and grabs her jacket, avoids looking down at the boy as she shrugs into it, and ignores the chuckles echoing in her head as she leaves.
BANK OF AMERICA BUILDING
Rabenholz’s people are still setting up as Scout arrives. She tailgates in with some workmen hauling chairs and lurks in the corner of the room, watching, and waiting. She watches as Rabenholz arrives and talks with the staff. Moments later, she watches as he supervises the crate being wheeled in and lifted out onto the dais at the far side of the room.
The ghost of a heartbeat rocks her chest. Hands shaking, she texts Jalut again: Are you ready?
Minutes pass. No response.
The eerie echo in her chest pulses harder. Just relax, she tells herself. Maybe he can’t text while flying.
Across the room, the porters remove the mirror from the crate and lean it up against the scaffolding. Rabenholz steps forward. She watches nervously as he looks it over, but apparently he still doesn’t notice Jalut’s modifications to the wards. Rabenholz reaches out to dispel the enchantment. Scout leans forward, heart in her throat….
The glass ripples and fades away, leaving the gilded frame behind. There’s no sign of Tom.
Scout lets her head fall back against the wall. Thank you. Whatever gods direct our unlives, thank you. She would wait to watch a bit of the show, then leave to rush back to her room at the inn to meet Jalut, get Tom secured, then figure out a way to remove him from that damned rack.
At the dias, Rabenholz stares at the empty frame, then sticks his arm through. He examines the wood closely, running his hands over the wood, and as he does he tenses. One of his staff supervisors comes up. “Sir, is everything alrigh—”
“Not now.” Rabenholz picks up the frame and carries it back across the room, to a store room near the stairwell.
Unease creeps over her. She watches the door to the storeroom, but Rabenholz doesn’t reappear. Eventually Anstis arrives and is shown in. Minutes pass and neither emerge. Concern rising, she makes her way closer and peers into the room. The mirror frame is there, next to an active teleportation circle on the floor. There’s no sign of Rabenholz or Anstis.
SHIT. Scout ducks into the stairwell and climbs with celerity-speed. At the top, she crashes out onto the roof and stumbles across the gravel just in time to see Rabenholz and Anstis take to the air, following a trajectory to the north-west. She stops in shock and confusion, but the sight of Rabenholz fluttering through the night brings a memory rushing back:
Humboldt county. The helicopter chase after the Abomination. The realization clicks: Rabenholz has a way to track active targets. He can track Tom. He can follow Tom anywhere.
Hand shaking, she pulls her phone out and texts Jalut the first thing that comes to mind:
R in pursuit. Go to Saint Ignatius.
She hits send, then stares at the screen, hand heavy with the weight of what she’s just done. After a moment, she quickly texts a followup:
Stay quiet. Do not go inside.
Rabenholz knows what’s there. She had told him what’s there. With luck, he would see the destination and back off. Jalut could wait on the roof, then continue on. Once she was sure Rabenholz was back, she’d go to meet him.
She lowers the phone, a sick feeling settling over her like the chill from the night wind. After another moment, she returns to the stairwell and hurries back down to the party.
Soft light and the bustle of activity wash over her as she re-enters the ballroom. Most of the decorations have been set up by this point and a string quartet is warming up in the corner. Catering staff with the Camarilla logo on their uniforms are prepping silver trays of small blood-glasses. She grabs one when no one’s looking, but the rich fluid tastes like ash in her mouth.
Minutes pass, then half an hour with no word from Rabenholz. She texts Jalut, but receives no reply. Possibilities race through her mind, each worse than the last.
Finally, she calls Rabenholz. She waits as it rings, glass of blood slowly warming to room temperature in her hand—
“Ms. Scout,” he answers, voice as composed as always.
She releases a breath. So he’s alive. Not sure if that’s good or bad. “Lord Rabenholz,” she says carefully, “Is your party set to happen this evening?”
“Yes. Everything is going splendidly.”
“Ah. Good.” Scout hesitates. Nothing so far nothing indicate if he’s under Cantor’s thrall. Not sure if that’s good or bad….
“…I haven’t been able to locate Mr. Ben Smith,” she continues carefully, “Do you wish me to return to the city?”
“Yes. That would be fine.” Rabenholz hesitates. “Where did you wind up being sent to?”
Her mind races. “Down-peninsula, one of the open-space parks.”
“Which one?” he asks, suspicion clear in his voice.
Scout hesitates another moment. “…Sweeney Ridge.”
There’s a long pause. She waits nervously. “Alright,” he says finally. “I will have your fee wired to you.”
“Do you need more help this evening? Where shall I meet you?” she asks, trying to keep the urgency out of her voice.
“I’m afraid, given your current social standing, it would be inappropriate to have you at my party,” he says coolly. “Things are set to adjourn at three am. Perhaps I can meet you afterwards.”
Scout is quiet a moment before responding. “That would be fine. I’ll speak with you soon.” She hangs up.
She tosses back the glass of blood, then sets it down and leaves the party to head to Saint Ignatius herself.
SAINT IGNATIUS CHURCH
The church front is quiet as she arrives, no one around in this late evening hour, but something crawls along her nerves as she approaches. Obfuscating, she jogs up the stairs and heads inside.
The smell is the first thing to hit her: blood, and an animalistic stench of fear. Her eyes adjust quickly and as her steps crunch along the flagstone floor she realizes why. Every window lining the church has been destroyed, scattering broken glass and letting in the exterior street lights. As well as broken glass, soft things mush underfoot. She stops, then wills herself to look closer to see.
Birds, thousands of them, bodies and skulls smashed, scattering feathers and blood across the pews and across the floor, which are also cracked and scattered as if something burst from below. She stares around in the silence, trying to comprehend what she’s seeing. It’s like nothing Cantor has ever done before, and as she thinks of his name she suddenly realizes:
Cantor isn’t here.
Her bond confirms it, lying quiet in the root of her heart, but the relief from the realization is short-lived. Cantor doesn’t often claim territory, but when he does, he defends it with the same zeal he uses with any of his property.
Who will be blame when he comes back and sees this?
She continues moving deeper, glancing between the pews for signs of Rabenholz or Anstis. The trail of dead birds leads past the altar, to the catacombs doors, torn off their hinges. She stares at the maw of the doorway a moment, then draws her knife and enters.
The gristly trail leads down to the deepest level, through a half-collapsed hallway. Scout picks her way through the rubble and the muck, finally finding a small stone stone room almost completely torn apart. Under the rocks, the can just make out the glowing edge of a recently-used teleportation circle. There’s no sign of Rabenholz, or Anstis.
And no sign of Tom.
Her knees buckle. She reaches out to steady herself against the wall as rising despair tears her throat—
The wall ripples under her hand. She jumps back just as Jalut materializes out of it, fury radiating from him like heat from scorched stone. She composes herself and drops her obfuscate.
Jalut eyes her, then looks to the ruined room. “They came. They took.”
She stares up at the monster in front of her, his frustration clearly stronger than even her own. “You performed admirably.”
Instantly the gargoyle whirls, wings flared, the heat of his fury directed at her. “Do not patronize me, Assamite!”
Instinct honed from years of Cantor’s ministrations kicks in. She steps back, casting her eyes away.
Jalut eyes her a moment, red eyes almost glowing in the gloom, then eases, folding his wings. “They took Lytton and left via sorcery.”
“Yes. They both have it.”
Jalut turns toward the room and growls. “I do not like being scorned in this way. But I have no defense against magic of this scale.” He stared around at the ruined walls. “This is a terrible place. I have read its stones. Terror lies hidden here. Why did you send me here?”
Scout grimaces. “I thought it would scare Rabenholz off.”
“The Tremere are not dissuaded by fear.”
She frowns. “Rabenholz isn’t Tremere….”
Jalut turns to her with a slight smirk. “He wields magic like a second tongue. If he is not Tremere, he is very, very close to them. I smell the stink on him.” He reaches out a hand and draws his claws through the stone like butter. “I will break him on the wheel. But not tonight. I have done what I may.”
“You have.” Scout hesitates. “And what you’ve done has given me more hope than I’ve had in a long time.” She bows to him, deeply.
Jalut eyes her a long moment, face unreadable. “There will come a night when Lord Augustus von Rabenholz regrets what he has done here,” he rumbles finally. “We watch eternally. He will not evade us. But I will not stay here. What will you do, Assamite?”
Scout turns back to the ruined room. As she watches, the lingering glow of thaumaturgy fades from the traces of the circle.
“I…have a party to get back to,” she says slowly.
Jalut nods once, tersely. He steps back and melds into the wall as Scout runs back up the stairs, dialing for a car on the way.
BANK OF AMERICA BUILDING
By the time Scout gets back to the building, the party is just beginning. She tailgates up easily with the arriving guests and moves to linger out of the way against the wall. She watches the crowd, observing the various arrivals, but her gaze keeps darting to the curtained shape erected on the dias at the end of the room. A deep ache draws her toward it, telling her to rip down the curtain and tear Tom loose.
Not yet, not yet…. She tells herself, sipping at tasteless blood. Though Anstis is swaggering his way through the crowd, Rabenholz isn’t yet visible, and that uncertainty unnerves her.
If only Tom’s werewolf friend was still able to help, she thinks. If only she had actual Black Hand resources at her back. But now, with all other options exhausted, all Tom had was herself.
Just like when we were kids, and all I had was him.
Bell arrives, along with a man she assumes must be the “real” prince. Conflicting sensations coil through her at the sight of the Justicar and she finds herself drifting his direction. Anstis also approaches him. They speak in low tones, but at the mention of Cantor’s name, she moves closer rapidly.
“Cantor has made his first strike,” Anstis is saying.
Bell’s face hardens. “On whom?”
“On Lytton, of all people. And he’s an expert at Thaumaturgy, it would seem.”
After hours of roller coaster emotions, Scout’s amusement at this theory almost drives her to manic laughter. Rescuing Tom may not have worked, but at least her last minute misdirection had.
Bell snorts. “Cantor? Wouldn’t surprise me. Assamites tend to pick stuff up. He more so than most. What happened?”
“Stole Lytton right out from under Rabenholz.”
Bell turns slowly to look at Anstis. A wide smile breaks across his face. “Really?”
Anstis shifts nervously under his grin. “We remedied the situation.”
“Now, how’d you do that?”
Bell snorts. “On Cantor? Bullshit. You wouldn’t be standing here.”
Thank god someone knows what they’re dealing with, Scout thinks grimly. She continues to listen with half an ear as she scans the crowd, but the room hushes as a ghoul steps up to the dias carrying two wooden boxes.
The ghoul places them on a low table and turns to address the crowd. “Presenting his lordship, Pfalzgraf Augustus von Rabenholz.” He gestures. All eyes turn to see Rabenholz appear from a side room, dressed in a tailored outfit that’s classic Rabenholz-style and yet somehow even more so. Begrudgingly, Scout admits the quality of the tailoring as she sips her drink.
Rabenholz moves through the room, a space opening before him like minnows around a shark, and steps up onto the dais. The crowd and music hush to full silence as he lifts one hand in a gesture of welcome. “Good evening friends, new and old,” he says, voice rumbling smoothly over the crowd. “Many of you have never met me before—”
“I HAVE!!!” Emperor Norton’s voice suddenly shouts from the back of the crowd. She turns to stare along with everyone else. Norton blinks back, surprised at their surprise. “…Well, I have!”
A pained expression flickers across Rabenholz’s face, then he continues, “—And some of you have relationships with me dating back centuries. Your friendship, as always, is appreciated. I have come to San Francisco now for opportunity. The hope of peace and productive relationships. And to that end, it is important we all meet from time to time and learn to trust one another, and get along.”
Slowly, Scout finishes her drink, staring at him with skin-flaying intensity.
Rabenholz clasps his hands in front of him. “To that end, it is important we be vigilant against disorder, both within and without. Some time ago, a malfeasant by the name of Tom Lytton decided to rear his head and violate our sacred traditions. Fortunately, Captain Anstis and the Regent Georgia Johnson were instrumental in bringing this foe down and restoring order to this city.”
Rabenholz steps aside. A moment later, the velvet curtain behind him falls, revealing Tom bolted to his rack, black clothes barely covering the nails impaled through his skin, glass-blue eyes staring out sightlessly.
Gasps and murmurs roll through the crowd. Unseen, Scout stares up at Tom’s limp form and puts down her glass. Anger and horror bubble within her but she shoves them away, focusing on a plan. Perhaps after the party, when everything calms down, she can follow Tom to wherever Rabenholz plans on storing him and cut him free….
The crowd hushes again as Rabenholz steps forward. “Mr. Lytton forgot his sacred obligations to his kindred. Found himself lost. He remains with us for a time to learn the error of his ways. As a token of my appreciation, I present him as a gift to my friend, the Dread Pirate Ansitis.”
The darkness within her suddenly runs cold. She stares at Anstis’s arrogant, mutated face as he steps forward to take a bow.
No. I can’t let that…thing get ahold of him.
Her mind races, searching for ideas–or even pieces of ideas–to stitch together into some sort of elegant plan, but at this point the best one seems to be the most direct one: climb up there under cover of illusion to cut him down. But setting the illusion would be tricky with everyone in the room staring right at it. She needs a distraction, something to draw everyone’s attention away, even if just a few moments….
“Doesn’t he speak pretty?” someone next to her says.
She turns. Although she was alone a moment ago, someone has appeared right next to her. An old man, with withered skin, white hair, bent with age, bracing a cane of his own in front of him with both hands, watching Rabenholz with a self-satisfied smile. “Lovely words,” the old man mutters. “Master of the tongue. Silver. The most aristocratic, you know.” He turns to look at Scout. Directly.
A creeping intuition rises over her, freezing her limbs. During thirty years of Cantor’s care she had encountered monsters of all shapes and creeds. This man is clearly one of them.
The old man chuckles. A musty smell rolls off his antique suit. “Do you imagine yourself hidden? Not all eyes are blind. Some see far.” He nods up at Rabenholz. “Can you speak as he does? Rare that any do. None I ever saw who spoke as such.”
Scout watches the man silently, tensed.
He smiles at her again. “Are you nothing?”
She nods wordlessly.
“Good. In difficult times, it is better to be nothing.” The old man steps away from the wall, gliding forward through the crowd. No one even glances at him. She turns toward Rabenholz, still on the dias, greeting people and shaking hands. And watches his face blanch as the old man’s voice calls to him across the crowd.
The room stops. Everyone turns to look at the old man suddenly appeared in their midst. Rabenholz stares, pale as the walking corpse he is, then whirls to bolt from the room in a dead-panic.
Instinct seizes the moment. Before she can think about the man or Rabenholz’s reaction to him, Scout dashes up to the dias, casting a screen of illusion over Tom and his rack, copying every detail, even adding a gentle undulation to the curtains behind the dais as they drift with the air currents of the room. Behind her, the room’s attention fixes on the old man, who steps forward and says a few more words before disappearing again.
But Scout’s world has shrunk to the dias and body hanging above her.
He’s larger than she remembers. Last she saw him, he was eighteen and just starting to experiment with the rusting gym equipment in the garage. His style of clothes, though, are what she would have expected, given those magazines she found while cleaning out his room. The ones hidden deep in the trash so their father wouldn’t find them. Hesitantly, she reaches up a hand to touch his leg. Even through the leather pants, his skin is corpse-cold. Just like her own.
Steeling herself, she grabs onto the cross-beams of the rack and tenses to pull herself up—
The metal rattles.
Scout freezes, heart in her throat. She glances over her shoulder. The crowd is still milling and murmuring anxiously among itself. No one seems to have noticed the noise. She thinks quickly. Illusion can create sound, but it can’t nullify it. She could be careful, or she could be quick, but even with the old man’s distraction—Laertes, he had called himself—at a certain point someone would notice—
She stops, the answer suddenly painfully obvious. A frantic mind, she chides herself, then summons a zone of pure, blanketing silence around the rack.
Scout grabs the metal again and pulls herself up. The beams wiggle against their bolts, but no sound follows. She climbs higher, reaching the level of Tom’s legs and takes a closer look at what she’s dealing with.
It’s immediately clear Rabenholz spared no expense. Heavy bands and bolts of some type of wrought alloy are pierced and looped through Tom’s flesh with multiple levels of redundancy. She palpates the muscles of his calf. Some of them, it seems, are fused directly to the bone.
She glances back at the room and freezes. Rabenholz has returned and is approaching the dais. But he passes without a second glance at Tom. The energy of the room shifts as people resume normal party behaviors.
She turns back to Tom and grabs one of the long, straight nails driving directly through the muscle. It wiggles loosely in the flesh but the back side is welded to the metal.
Thank god for Rabenholz’s snacks, she thinks, pouring blood energy into increasing her strength, then tugs again. The metal shifts but remains intact. She concentrates more, bracing against the rack, willing a greater amount of strength than she’s ever used before—
The metal snaps at its base. Slowly, she slides it out of Tom’s flesh, vitae-stained and jagged.
She smiles, but the triumph is short-lived. Clearly some of the longer metal bolts could be removed this way, but she can’t get enough leverage to break the bands welded to the bone.
Grimly, she draws her knife, then gets to work.
Scout works quickly, prying out metal where she can and cutting it from flesh where she can’t, using methods Cantor taught her. She works upward, freeing his legs first to hang limply as she moves to the torso. The metal shifts as the weight redistributes, but holds. For a brief moment, she gives thanks for Rabenholz’s obsessive redundancy.
As she reaches the pelvis, the work becomes more difficult. The bolts aren’t just attached to the wings of pelvic bone, but driven through. She skips them, moving up to cut and pry the easier bolts free, but more and more of the body appears to be stapled directly to the rack, attached to rings encircling the ribs and bolted through the shoulder blades. She hesitates, debating risking dulling the blade to pry directly at the metal….
Under her, the rack suddenly shifts. Scout freezes and turns around. The cowboy—the one called Doc—has approached the dais and is bracing a foot up against it, peering intently at his leather boot. She watches as he whacks his heel against the dias, dislodging mud from under his spurs and sending more silent tremors through the rack. By all appearances, though, he’s focused on his foot rather than her. She relaxes, scanning the crowd again—
Across the room, Rabenholz is standing next to Don Esteban. Both are staring directly at her.
She gasps in silence, pressing herself against Tom and preparing to launch into defensive battle. But the two elder vampires remain calm, sipping blood and talking.
They’re just looking at the illusion of Tom, she tells herself, It’s fine. But such direct scrutiny might start to notice cracks.
Painfully aware of the seconds ticking by, she turns back to Tom, wrapping her arms behind him, exploring the bolts caging his ribs. There’s only one way….
Scout braces the hilt of her knife behind Tom’s rib, then closes her eyes and shoves. The bone snaps with a sickening shock felt rather than heard. She eases it back, feeling the metal bolt shift under the skin, loose enough to tear out.
Then she climbs up to do the next one.
The work continues. The stench of chemicals and old vitae grows around her as she cuts deeper into her brother’s flesh, leaving more and more bits of tissue and bone behind as her speed increases. Her mind numbs to the sensation of breaking bone, focusing on the mechanics of the task, focusing on finishing….
Finally, Tom’s body hangs limp from one last point, embedded in the back of his skull. Scout avoids his glassy stare as she climbs up to examine it. The bolt is thickest yet, almost the width of her wrist, and attached with an entire ring of individual screws.
She glances back at the room. Rabenholz is nearby, talking to the Nosferatu. There’s few people left in the room he hasn’t met with, and once he’s done with his socializing, the party will be over.
Hanging like a free-climber, she shifts on the rack to straddle Tom’s chest, looping her legs through the beams and bracing with her knees. She grips his head with both hands, thumbs caressing his temples, fingers cupping the back of his skull.
“Sorry, Tom,” she mutters soundlessly, then whams his head against the bolt with all her might.
The cranium distorts in her hand as fractures spider across it, but it takes two more good hits to shatter the skull into pieces. Carefully, she tilts his head forward. A clear trickle—part cerebrospinal fluid, part formaldehyde—leaks from the shattered pulp, dripping down the rack.
But with the soft compress of releasing suction, the bolt pops free.
Tom’s mutilated body sags forward against her. She slips a moment under the weight, but holds them both to the rack, taking a moment to breathe.
I have him…I have him….
Slowly she descends, careful to keep him draped across her so her obfuscate will enclose them both. Arms shaking, she lowers them bar by bar, passing rows of twisted, bloody bolts festooned with chunks of flesh, reaching her feet down one at a time for the next step, the next —
—Until they reach carpet.
Tom almost slips from her grip as she staggers in relief but she catches him just in time, cradling him against her. With the last remains of her fortified strength, she lifts him and stumbles off the dais toward the stairwell, the emergency exit sign glowing like a beacon to salvation. Her mind shrinks to single-minded determination, repeating to itself with every step. Need to get away…need to run….
Then, three feet from the dais, her will—pushed to the limits for so long—finally fails. Still clutching Tom, she falls to her knees.
Moments later, gasps echo across the room as the illusion fails as well.
Scout forces herself to lift her head. The crowd is staring at the remains of the rack and the gristly mess she left. No one nearby is looking at her, though, so thankfully the obfuscate is still active. Still, she freezes as Rabenholz forces his way forward to the dais, cold anger in his eyes…
…And stops no more than an arms-reach away from her.
The head guard comes up to Rabenholz and fires off a quick salute. “Sir?”
Rabenholz tears his eyes from the rack scans the room coolly. “The main decoration has been stolen,” he says. “I assume the building is sealed.”
“We are sealing it now, sir.”
Hot panic rises to clutch Scout’s throat as more armed guards pour into the ballroom. Rabenholz scans the crowd again, his dark cape swirling around him like a cloak of death. She pulls Tom closer as his gaze crosses them.
Rabenholz turns back to the guard. “No one leaves until he is found.”
END OF ADDENDUM