Scout’s Honor, Part 25: Heart of the Sabbat

The following concludes the multi-stage rescue of Tom Lytton, originally portrayed from Rabenholz’s perspective in 3/29/16. When I wrote up that main-line scene, I was very very careful about how I described things and which meta-quotes I included, so once again I recommend going back to review it if you have the chance.

While this Scout version contains a few game-played conversations that Jason and I played in secret, once again the vast majority of it–including the entire last half–are new creations of my own to fill in what happened in a character-exploring way. Fewer content warnings of abuse in this one but definitely warnings of violence.

***

OAKLAND DOCKS

Scout watches the dockyards as Leeland’s car winds through empty roads lit by the amber light of the cranes. Why did you tell him all that? the dark part of her whispers angrily in the silence.

I don’t know, she thinks with a mental sigh. All conversation had died the moment they mounted the bridge and Leeland had spent the last twenty minutes if the ride avoiding her gaze.

Risky, to reveal so much of yourself. Weakness, to feel the need to.

Scout’s fist balls in her lap. It’s not weakness to be what I am!

Baring your own weaknesses is a human instinct, the voice continues coolly. A way to attract allies through empathy. But if vampires see you acting human, what else will they see you as?

Scout shudders and doesn’t respond.

The car finally pulls up in an empty lot surrounded by stacked containers. Another towncar is already there, the driver out and leaning against it. Scout and Leeland climb out in silence. Scout moves to get Tom out of the trunk while Leeland talks to the other driver. After a moment, the driver nods and pops the hood of his trunk.

Scout carefully gathers Tom up and brings him to the new car. Leeland watches as she settles Tom into the trunk but doesn’t say anything.

“I promised you we’d discuss what to do about Rabenholz,” she says finally, breaking the tension. “And I have an idea.”

Leeland folds his arms. “Does this idea involve me marching into his clutches?”

“No. He thinks you’ve been captured by Cantor. We need to maintain that illusion.”

“For how long?”

Scout assesses Tom’s ruined body once more then closes the trunk. “All I need you to do is to continue to be ‘captured’ and I’ll try to maneuver him to places that…are not beneficial to his well-being.”

Leeland glares. “You really think that will work on something like him? I can stay ahead of him for awhile but he has resources I don’t know anything about.”

“Right now I’m assuming all his anger is focused on Tom’s disappearance.”

Leeland steps toward her. “And what if you’re wrong?” he hisses. “Do you know the stories of what this guy does to his enemies? I heard something about horses!”

She smirks grimly. “Well then, he and Cantor should be perfect for each other.”

She watches Leeland’s face as he slowly comes to the same realization. “I’ll see what I can do,” he says with a nod.

Scout smiles, then glances around the yard. Rabenholz is far behind on the other side of the bay, but something nags at her. Keep moving, something within her whispers. Keep running…. “Where can I find Leidesdorff?”

“San Jose,” Leeland says. “The Winchester Mystery House. I’ve told the driver to take you back over the bridge to go down the peninsula. Rabenholz won’t be expecting that and it’ll get you into Sabbat territory faster.” Leeland shakes his head a moment in disbelief. “It’s been a long time since I helped anyone run to the Sabbat.”

“Yeah well, for me, it’ll be like going home,” she says grimly, folding her arms against a sudden chill.

Leeland eyes her a moment. “Be careful with Leidesdorff. He’s a Malkavian but he doesn’t show it, which is even scarier. He might kill you for the hell of it.”

“Even if I present myself as Sabbat?”

Leeland barks a mean laugh. “Your tricks are good, but really? You’re going to try to fool the Archbishop into thinking you’re Sabbat?”

“It wouldn’t be an illusion,” she says grimly.

Leeland’s laughter dies. “Then you’d better make sure he continues to believe it,” he says. “There’s been…rumors about him. He passes himself as a reasonable businessman but the deaths and disappearances around San Jose haven’t abated since he took over.” He shifts nervously, feet grinding the gravel. “Even at the universities.”

Scout watches Leeland, in his antique suit and bowtie, and for a moment it’s as if she’s seeing him for the first time: an old vampire as young as her, up against forces he doesn’t understand, outclassed by forces he barely even recognizes…and yet somehow still moving forward.

A weak man, the darkness within her scoffs once again.

Far from it, Scout snaps back.

“Thank you, Leeland,” she says.

“You already said that,” he mutters.

“I mean it.”

He scowls and looks out across the gravel lot. “You know, the last time I was here I was getting my teeth kicked-in by the Prince of Oakland. While your brother sat in the car and laughed.”

Scout winces. “Yeah, well…he hasn’t exactly been known for making good choices.”

“Just make sure it doesn’t run in the family,” he says seriously, holding her gaze. “Watch Leidesdorff, watch Rabenholz. Those two may differ in their faces but they’re cut from the same cloth.”

With that, he turns and heads back to his car. After a moment, Scout gets into hers. Both drivers pull out of the yard, heading back to the freeway. Leeland’s car merges and accelerates, heading north, while Scout’s banks west, back toward the bridge.

#

WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE

An hour later, the car arrives at the house, pulling up outside the gate by the gift shop. Scout gets out and looks around. The landscape lights of the formal garden are on, illuminating the front of the house facing the main avenue, but the rest of the grounds are dark. The odd geometry of groomed shrubs and topiaries loom in the shadows and Victorian gables lining the roof claw at the sky.

Footsteps approach on the far side of the gate. A small old woman materializes from the darkness, dressed in a dark wool dress and amiable smile. She peers up at Scout. “Can I help you dear?”

Scout glances around. No one else is in sight. “I heard they did nighttime tours of the house,” she says carefully.

“Oh no, no, they haven’t done those in years. Are you lost, dear? You can borrow my phone if you’d like.” The woman digs around in a small beaded clutch then pulls out an enormous late-80’s analog phone and holds it out. “Here you are, dear. My grandson set this up for me.”

Scout eyes it. “Thank you, I don’t think that will help me right now. I’m trying to reach a man named Leidesdorff.”

The woman stops and blinks at her a moment. Then she tucks the phone away. “And who are you, if I might ask?”

“My name is Scout.”

The woman smiles. “Scout, that’s a lovely name.”

“Thank you, I picked it myself.”

“How precious. Come this way.” The woman turns, gesturing for Scout to follow.

Scout hesitates, glancing around the parking lot again. Exposing Tom so early might be a risk, but she doesn’t dare leave him alone. Not now, not after all this. “Just a moment,” she calls after the woman, then retrieves Tom’s body from the trunk. The woman watches patiently and without comment as Scout hefts Tom over her shoulders again, then continues toward the doors of the gift shop.

“Shouldn’t we use the front door?” Scout asks as the woman fumbles with a large roll of keys.

“Don’t be silly, dear. I haven’t used the front door since the day it was built,” the woman says, unlocking the bolt and throwing the door open.

Scout follows her through the gift shop, through a receiving courtyard, and then through a side-door into the house proper. The woman grabs a lit candle as they walk, passing through twisting narrow corridors. In the flickering light Scout catches glimpses of storerooms, an unfinished parlor, and redundant sets of kitchens, until finally the woman reaches a set of grand carved doors and opens one. Scout hefts Tom on her shoulder and steps through.

Inside is a large ballroom lined with polished oak walls, dripping with heavy crystal chandeliers, and dominated by a baroque burlwood mantle crouched over a lit fire. The light is almost blinding after the darkness of the house, but it clearly reveals the swarthy men dressed in fatigues and holding Russian assault rifles along the walls of the room. Scout’s eye, though, is drawn to the large wooden desk at the far end in front of the windows.

A portly middle-aged black man sits at the desk, with a trimmed, greying beard and well-tailored suit. He stands as she enters, eyeing her suspiciously. Gun clatter echoes around the room as the guards train their weapons on her.

She stops, glancing back toward the old woman for reassurance, but the door she just walked through is gone, replaced by a solid, panelled wall.

“Scout,” the black man says. She turns to him and forces herself to stand calmly while he looks her over. “Well now. I hadn’t expected to see you down this way. And I certainly hadn’t expected to see him.” He nods at Tom’s body. “Sounds like there’s a story here.”

She bows as respectfully as she can while still balancing Tom. “You are acquainted with me?”

“Only by reputation. I hear you’re the would-be Prince of San Francisco’s new errand runner. And that does not look like Rabenholz’s dirty laundry.”

Despite the clear danger of the situation, a manic smirk dances across her face. “As a matter of fact it is.”

He smiles grimly. “In a sense. As I hope is clear, my name is William Leidesdorff. Lord of San Jose and the entire South Bay. Archbishop of the Sabbat.” Liedesdorff looks her over again, coldly. “You have balls, ma’am, to walk into my house, even bearing gifts. Or am I mistaking this conversation?”

Scout eyes the guards, still holding their guns at ready. “I do run errands, but not entirely for the good Lord Rabenholz. This is a matter of somebody else’s interest.”

“And whose interest might that be, if I might ask, because I have a feeling it has something to do with Rabenholz’s helicopter joyrides in the North Bay this evening.” Leidesdorff leans forward, bracing his knuckles against the desk. “How many minutes do you think I have before a really angry host of Camarillan vampires come down to knock on my door? And how many reasons do I have not to toss your dessicated corpse out to them the moment they do?”

Leeland’s warnings come to mind, conjuring up the ghost of a pounding heartbeat. Slowly, Scout walks forward, crossing the polished wooden floor. She feels the gaze of the guards and bead of their sights track her across every step. Liedesdorf doesn’t move, watching her as she approaches and stops in front of the desk.

It will work, she tells herself. It’s the truth, after all.

Underneath her fear, the darkness writhes in pleasure. Yes. The truth of who you are.

“Well?” Liedesdorff says.

Keeping her movements slow and deliberate, Scout draws her knife and places it in front of him.

He stares at the emblem along the blade a long, long moment. “…Well,” he says finally. “That certainly raises a few questions.”

“Like I said,” she says coolly, “I don’t only run errands for Rabenholz.”

Liedesdorff glares at her a moment. “You’re here with the Hand’s authority?”

Her mind races. She’d known Malkavians with the ability to detect lies, sometimes before the words were even formed. Better to stick to fragments of truth and let him fill the rest in himself. “I’m here because Rabenholz has gotten a little too…irritating,” she says.

Leidesdorff lifts an eyebrow. “Irritating in an official sense?”

“No, just an immediate one.” She rests a hand against Tom’s leg. “I need a place to stash this for awhile, until he’s a bit more functional.”

Leidesdorff straightens. “And what, if you’ll forgive my asking, is the interest and connection between that,” he points to Tom, “and this?” He gestures to the knife.

Scout meets his gaze evenly. “I tend not to ask too many questions. I just do as I’m told. I find things go smoother that way.” She lets the implication of that hang in the air.

Leidesdorff folds his arms. “Is this an investigation?”

“No, this is a back-up plan.”

“And if I say no?”

She shrugs. “Then I’ll keep moving, easy as that. But…you will also be saying no to the payment for your assistance.”

“What payment is that?”

Still balancing Tom, she manages as graceful a bow as she can. “A favor…from the childe of Cantor the White.”

Silence falls. Leidesdorff regards her, face unreadable. Scout stands firmly, ignoring the stares of the guards, ignoring the dark laughter within her, ignoring the fact that she’s now weaponless and buried somewhere deep in the bowels of this labyrinthian mansion….

Finally, Leidesdorff speaks, his voice a jaguar’s growl. “This is my house. Not the Hand’s. I don’t give a shit what kind of Noddist crap you decide to get up to, but this is my territory and I don’t appreciate problems like this being dropped in my lap. We are not all so eager to start wars in our own backyards. The Hand may look at this place as the front line. I don’t. On my territory, you obey my writ. I don’t care if you’re Jalan-Aajav himself. Is that understood?”

Relief floods her. She moves to bow again but, knees close to shaking, she nods instead.

Leidesdorff picks up her dagger, examining it in the warm light from the chandelier. “Sergei,” he says. One of the guards next to him steps forward, a man of Eastern European stock, his face marred by a deep scar cutting across one eye to twist his mouth into a permanent smirk.

“Show her to the meat locker,” Leidesdorff says to him. “Hang Lytton from one of the hooks. Looks like he was torn from one.” He turns back to her and hands out her knife, handle first. “I’ll handle the Camarilla. I suggest you stay out of sight.”

She takes the knife with a thin smile. “I’m good at that.”

“Good. Cause right now I have a very distinct feeling we’re about to have a visitation. One that’s a bit realer than my usual.” Leidesdorff gaze lifts to the ceiling, eyes suddenly unfocused, tracking unseen shapes. A moment later, the rising rumble of an approaching helicopter thunders through the house.

Scout nods and follows Sergei from the room.

They head back through the corridors of the house to a cellar where a modern meat locker has been installed, empty at the moment. Sergei drags a hook along its track to the middle of the room and helps Scout hoist Tom onto it, hooking it under his leather chest-harness.

Once the body is settled, Sergei grins and slaps Tom’s cheek in mock-affection. “Tovarich…. Do you know? This man, he kill werewolf!”

“I’ve heard,” Scout mutters.

Sergei grins wider. He turns to face her, draping one arm companionably around Tom’s ruined shoulders. “He promise me we hunt werewolf together. Back when I work for Andre. Perhaps now it actually happen, da?”

Scout eyes him coolly. “It’ll happen a lot faster if he’s in one piece. Maybe you can find some blood for him?”

Sergei’s grin dims, but his mouth remains twisted into a smirk. “Da. I find.” He removes his arm from around Tom, slaps him once more on his torn, oozing back, then swaggers from the room.

Scout stands stiffly in the middle of the room as the door closes behind her. She eyes the walls. No cameras are embedded in the smooth metal. However microphones are almost a certainty, especially if this place is used for interrogation. With a pulse of concentration, she sends a nexus of silence radiating around them, expanding to encompass her and Tom in a sphere of perfect stillness. For one clear, crystal moment, everything within her quiets as well.

Until she collapses into sobs.

Fat, bloody tears roll down her face, joining the stains already ruining her jacket and shirt and the concrete floor below. She steps forward, silent gasps racking her body, and clasps the ragged remains of Tom’s hand.

“Tommy,” she whispers. The silence of her Quietus absorbs the words but she continues anyway, spilling them into the void like the petitions of prayer flags on the wind. “Why didn’t you run?” She stares at the damage caused by Rabenholz’s rack and squeezes her eyes shut against the spikes of sympathetic pain. “You were so good at running. From bullies. From chores. From dad.” She wipes at her face with the heel of her hand. “Can’t say I was surprised when you finally ran from home.”

She pauses, staring at his mess of a hand. Her grip on it tightens. “But why did you leave? Not leaving dad, I know that, I mean why did you leave me?” Her breath shudders. “We were a team, Tom. Till you let dad get under your skin.”

Another sob clenches her throat. She hesitates a moment, waiting for it to clear. “Mom died, you know. Almost a year after you left. Cancer. Dad tried to get her to get treatment. It was nothing like they have now, but it was something. He even offered to sell the Mustang to pay for it. But she wouldn’t take it. She just…let herself go.” Scout shakes her head. “I think she was gone long before she stopped breathing.”

Scout stares around at the barren metal walls, spattered with streaks of old blood. And worse. “I tried to imagine you in a better place, Tom. A better life. It helped get me through, made me feel like there was hope for me. For awhile I imagined you would send me a message, asking me to come join you somewhere far away. But the months passed and you didn’t, and then mom was gone and dad got worse, so I started hoping for anything to take me away.”

Scout tenses, the cold of the room suddenly sinking into her. “That’s…when he came.”

She closes her eyes and forces a shuddering breath under the blanketing silence. For a moment, she imagines it’s the silence of death, true death, embracing her and washing away the memories of the last thirty years, the stains of what she had done. She shuts out her senses, willing herself into a semblance of oblivion.

But the only sensation she can’t push away is the feel of Tom’s broken fingers clutched in her hand.

Scout opens her eyes. His face is broken, his stare glassy, but even after the years between them there’s no question that it’s him. Her brother. Here with her at last.

She wipes the wet streaks from her face and gently dabs some of the fluid against his lips. “We’ll make them pay,” she says, feeling the words evaporate in the silent air. Her grin turns to steel. “We’ll make them pay,” she repeats, more forcefully.

The thuds of approaching footsteps vibrate through the floor. She drops her Quietus-silence moments before Sergei re-enters the room, carrying no blood but leading more guards. Many more guards.

“The Prince is here,” Sergei announces while the men fan out through the locker. “He wish to see Tom Lytton. Leidesdorff brings him down.”

Scout meets Sergei’s eye and draws her knife. “He will not take him.”

Sergei glances at the blade. “The Hand orders it?”

I order it.”

For a brief moment, Sergei’s perpetual smirk falters. Wordlessly, he moves to join the rest of the guards. Scout obfuscates and waits in the long silence, the only movement Tom’s body swaying gently on and unfelt draft.

Until Rabenholz is shown into the room.

Her insides writhe. The predator within shrieks in anger, screaming to rend, to kill, while another part of her pulls away, shouting for her to run from this man she had barely escaped, the man now approaching the body of her brother with cold, clinical calculation in his eyes.

Leidesdorff and Anstis enter the locker as well, stopping just inside the door. Rabenholz paces closer, footsteps heavy on the metal floor, but stops as the guards in the room lift their guns threateningly. Shimmering, undulating outlines of two more obfuscated figures hover just behind Rabenholz’s shoulders. Scout leaves her brother’s side and moves forward to join them, knife ready, watching Rabenholz carefully for any sign of building magic.

“I’m afraid we haven’t found a way to wake him up yet,” Leidesdorff says, stepping forward to join Rabenholz. “It looks like something’s implanted in him. Probably in his heart.”

Rabenholz’s face is carefully neutral. “Probably for the best.”

“As I said, I’m happy to pass him a message.”

Rabenholz eyes Tom a few silent moments. “Just give him my apologies I was not able to keep him safe personally and that I trust that Archbishop Leidesdorff will take on my obligation.”

Leidesdorff smiles thinly. “Well. I’m not a gentleman of such esteemed vintage as yourself, but I’ll be sure to pass it to him. And I do not intend to see him dead.” He nods toward the guards. “Afterall, if I wanted him dead, surely you can tell, he’d be dead already.”

“Yes, though he’s not exactly far from that state.”

Liedesdroff chuckles. “You certainly did a number on him. If I might ask, what was your intention with him when the show was over?”

“Well I was going to give him a few decades to cool off. Then, sometime around 2050, wake him up. I believed by then he would have paid his debt to society.”

Unseen next to him, Scout sneers.

Leidesdorff nods slowly. “Not a terrible idea. But then this isn’t entirely up to me. See there’s a Sabbat Priscus regards him as a client. And I tend to be rather cagey about violating the wishes of Sabbat Prisci. Still. I won’t be killing him. Not yet.” A smirk plays across Leidesdorff’s face and he gestures grandly to the door. “Now then, if you’ll excuse us, I do have other business to attend to. I hope the traffic isn’t bad on the way back north.”

Anstis bows grandly. “Have a pleasant day, Archbishop.” The pirate steps out of the locker, a handful of the guards following behind. The tension in the room eases and the rest of the guards wait for Rabenholz to leave after him.

Rabenholz, though, doesn’t move away from Tom.

A strange, cool certainty settles over Scout. She steps closer, hovering inches from the drape of Rabenholz’s cloak. The other two obfuscated guards sense this and move away respectfully. Her whole being, though, focuses on Rabenholz, watching the curve of his bearded jaw and the twitch of his eyelid as he stares at her brother, thinking, plotting. The demon within her writhes in pleasure, sensing the slow, rich flow of vitae under his skin, aching for the release she had been denying for so long….

Do it, she hisses in her mind. Give me a reason. One flick of a finger in Tom’s direction and she would be on him, tearing out that aristocratic neck, shredding his fine clothes, surrendering to everything he pretended not to be, everything Cantor had tried to make her be, and would have succeeded at if not for the lingering hope of finding the man hanging from the hook in front of them now….

Finally, Rabenholz turns away, nodding at Leidesdorff and striding smoothly to the door. Scout sags. Relief and frustration roil through her in equal amounts. After a moment, though, both are eclipsed by shame.

Once the retreating footsteps have disappeared back up the stairs to the ground floor, she lets herself reappear. Leidesdorff eyes her grimly. “You may want to make sure our visitors find their way out of the property. Sergei, go with her.”

Scout hesitates a moment, reluctant to let Tom out of her sight, but Rabenholz is clearly the greatest threat at the moment. Leaving Leidesdorff and the remainder of the guards in the meat locker, she follows Sergei out, up into the house and back to the ballroom office. She peers carefully out the front curtains while Sergei moves to speak with more of his men.

Rabenholz and Anstis are in the gardens out front, talking to the old woman and some gardeners. Scout watches as they finish their conversation and exit the grounds, getting into a car right outside the gate.

A minute passes. Then two. The car doesn’t leave.

Scout realizes she’s twisting the curtain lace to knots in her hand. Rabenholz is planning something….

Quickly, she pulls her phone and calls him.

“Ms. Scout!” he answers. “What information have you discovered?”

“I’m at the Richmond bridge,” she replies smoothly, “but traffic is light for a Tuesday night, and morning rush hour hasn’t started yet.”

“You’re unable to locate Leeland’s towncar?

“No.”

“Unfortunate.” Rabenholz pauses a moment. “Tell me, do you know Mr. Lytton well?”

Scout can’t help smirking into the glass. “This is the person you’ve been talking about, the one from the attack at Costco?” she asks breezily.

“Yes.”

“No, I’ve just heard rumors, and what you’ve said about him.”

“Ah. Someone unfortunately made off with him. It appears they did so at the same time Leeland escaped. I suspect these events are one in the same. It seems quite obvious to me that Baron Leeland has stolen Tom Lytton and has fled with him.”

Footsteps echo across the polished floor behind her. She turns to see Leidesdorff approaching, face grim. “Do you have any leads on where they could have gone?” she continues into the phone, suppressing a smirk.

“They were followed as far as the Richmond Bridge. I do not know where they went after that.” Rabenholz falls silent. “Did you know Mr. Leeland well?”

Leidesdorff lingers close, clearly listening. She tilts the phone’s speaker away from her ear so he can hear. “I’ve met him once or twice since being in the city,” she replies, “but no more so than any of the other leaders around here.”

“I see.” Rabenholz takes a slow breath. “I’m grievously wounded this evening. I had counted him very near my dear friends. It’s a shame be betrayed me thus.”

Next to her, Leidesdorff rolls his eyes.

“You’re also certain you had no luck locating Benjamin Smith?” Rabenholz continues.

Scout hesitates a moment, trying to remember what she last told him. “…No. I can check Sweeney Ridge again tomorrow night, but the trail there seemed cold.” She glances significantly at Leidesdorff and continues, “I don’t seem to have the tracking ability you utilized when we were in Humboldt.”

Rabenholz is silent a moment. “Hmm. Yes, well, with Ms. Johnson not answering her phone calls, I worry such abilities are gone for all of us.”

She frowns suspiciously. “…Quite.”

“Thank you for checking in. If you find out anything more about Mr. Leeland, let me know.” Rabenholz hangs up.

Scout peers again through the window. The car idles for another long moment, then starts up and drives away. She lets her forehead fall forward against the cool glass. “They’re leaving.”

“Good,” Leidesdorff says crisply. “Then so will we.”

Relief evaporates. She turns to him. “What? Why?”

Leidesdorff leans past her to peer out the window and scan the streets outside. “Rabenholz is a man with ambition. A public strike against the Sabbat could be the final demonstration he needs to inaugurate his praxis, especially if he reclaims his trophy in the process.”

The darkness within her writhes again, excited for a fight, but she pulls back. “He’ll track us,” she says, unable to keep the fear out of her voice, “Just like he tracked Tom….”

“I think you’ll find, Ms. Scout, that I did not become an Archbishop by failing to consider how to deal with a situation like this.” Liedesdorf raises a hand and snaps Sergei over to him. “Take some men and secure Lytton for transport,” he tells him. “Meet us in the central courtyard in ten minutes.”

Sergei nods and strides away, Scout hurrying after him. By the time they reach the meat locker more guards are already there, carrying a stretcher. She helps them lift Tom off the hook and strap him to the board. His head rolls unconsciously to the side, glass eyes staring up at her in a creepily-accurate mirror of her own. Using her knife, she carefully pries the glass out and slides his eyelids shut. She then gestures for the men to carry him out.

More guards are gathered in the courtyard as they arrive, along with a handful of tall, muscular shapes. For a moment, Scout thinks tzlocha, then realization hits with a shock as one turns toward her:

Gargoyles.

They’re the same basic form as the Chantry gargoyles, but leaner, more angular, and cast in pale shades of bone and flesh instead of stone. She tries to ignore their silent stares as she moves through the crowd, approaching Leidesdorff.

The Archbishop is off to the side, talking with the old woman, smiling down at her and holding her hand in his own. “Are you sure you don’t want to join us, Sarah?”

Sarah pats the back of his hands. “Oh no, dear, I’ll be fine. I haven’t left the property in a hundred years, I’m not about to start now. And if Lord Gussie does come back, I’ll be sure to show him a nice time.”

Sergei steps forward. “We’re ready.”

Leidesdorff kisses Sarah’s cheek, then strides over to open a large door into a breezeway of the house. A different cellar door is here, larger than the one leading to the meat locker. Guards pry it open, releasing a blast of cold air and the smell of rust. Wooden stairs lead down. Armed men begin to descend.

Leeland gestures for Scout to enter, but she hesitates. “Where are we going?”

Instantly, his amiable grin vanishes. “You have contracted with me to keep Lytton safe, with the assumption that I would be using my own network of resources to do so. If you do not trust me to execute my end of the bargain, then I would be happy to consider the agreement void and leave you and your quarry here.”

Scout hesitates, eyeing the dark cellar maw as men and gargoyles disappear into it. Finally, she gestures for the men carrying Tom to enter, following close behind. Leidesdorff waits at the top until the last of his party enters.

His War Party, Scout realizes as the chill envelops them.

Leidesdorff enters last, leaving Sarah holding the cellar doors at the top of the stairs. The woman waves cheerily after them, then closes them into darkness.

#

SAN JOSE

For almost half an hour the procession walks through the dark and the damp, passing through abandoned basements and cutting across sewer mains. Finally, they come up at an abandoned gas station, somewhere deep in the San Jose valley. A fleet of black cars—towncars and Escalades—wait for them there. Leidesdorff orders everyone to load up quickly. Scout directs Tom and his guards to one of the SUVs and crouches in the back next to him as the engines start up and the gargoyles take to the skies. The party continues south along surface streets another half hour, then finally pulls up outside an decrepit warehouse at the edge of an industrial district.

More cars are already here, and clusters of armed men, many dressed in gang colors. Scout gets out of the car, instinctively counting them. The gargoyles reappear, dropping out of the light-polluted sky to land with a clang on the corrugated metal roof.

Leidesdorff climbs out of his towncar. “Get Lytton inside,” he orders. Scout hovers nearby as guards unload Tom’s stretcher. She paces next to them, one hand resting surreptitiously on the board, as they enter the warehouse.

Inside, the space is wide and dark, the cloying tang of cleaning solvents lingering on the air. A circle of halogen floodlights is set up in the center of the space, angled down on a shining metal operating table and revealing multiple layers of dark stains in the pitted concrete floor. More men patrol the shadows outside this circle—some conspicuously armed, some conspicuously not—eyes flashing like jackals in the darkness.

Leidesdorff appears, gesturing impatiently. The guards carry Tom to the center, untie him from the stretcher, lift him to the table, and start strapping him down with layers of heavy chain.

Scout approaches Leidesdorff. “Are the chains really necessary? He’s barely in one piece.”

Leidesdorff eyes her over folded arms. “In case you haven’t noticed, Ms. Scout, I take threats seriously, both from without and from within. Mr. Lytton’s reputation is nothing short of ‘bloody,’ and those are on his good nights. I am in no rush to see the damage he can cause on what is clearly one of his bad ones.”

The guards finish and move away. Scout approaches Tom. The bright lights reveal the damage to his body in clinical detail. She winces but moves closer, peering through his mangled ribcage into his chest cavity. The dark lump of his heart is visible, clearly no stake impaled through it.

“I’ve seen vampires in worse condition than this still fight,” she says. “Rabenholz did something to him.”

Leidesdorff nods grimly. “I suspect that as well. I’ve already called for assistance, she should be with us shortly.”

Scout moves down the body, forcing back her emotions to take objective stock of the damage. Damage I caused….

She straightens. “He’s of no use to Cantor in this condition. He needs blood.”

Leidesdorff eyes her. “The agreement was for protection, not room and board.”

Her skin crawls, sensing the gaze of every guard in the room leering over her. In thirty years of observing Sabbat negotiations, she’d never been the point of focus before. But she ignores the unease, focusing on Leidesdorff. “The agreement was for protection while he healed. I could handle transfusing him myself, but there’s only so much I can do in a night. So unless you want to leave your men hanging around this warehouse till Gehenna, I strongly suggest you assist in the process.”

Leidesdorff stares at her a long moment, then smiles grimly and waves a soldier over to speak with him softly. The man nods and runs off.

Leidesdorff thin smile lingers. “I still am having trouble understanding what use he is to Cantor at all.”

Scout rigidly avoids his gaze. “As I said, I’ve found it best not to question Cantor’s orders.”

“Or his motives?” Leidesdorff steps closer to her. “I’ve heard rumors about him through the years. Rumors that would make even the most hellfire-hardened Inquisitor blush. Whether or not they’re true, I fail to see how this whelp of a Brujah could have any use to him beyond cannon fodder.” He pauses. “Which would be appropriate, considering the loose cannon that he is.”

She turns to him, gaze hard. “If you are so concerned about Cantor’s actions, I am sure he would be more than happy to come down and discuss them with you personally.”

Leidesdorff stares back. A tense silence falls across the warehouse, but it takes Scout a moment to realize it’s not because of her. Figures move in the corner of her vision. She turns to see.

A group of guards are approaching, escorting a woman dressed in a dark, flowing dress that undulates around her like shadow. Heavy jewelry drips from her hands and head, but her neck is bare. Instead, the dresses’ low-cut neckline reveals a thin frame with no cleavage and the Sword of Caine tattooed across her chest, tip resting at the nape of her throat. The detail that gives Scout pause, though, is her eyes, bound shut in a strip of thick cloth. Despite this, the woman moves confidently through the warehouse. Around her, men step back to let her pass, casting their gaze down.

The woman arrives and extends a hand to Leidesdorff with a smile. He accepts and kisses it. “Amarinda, thank you for coming on such short notice.”

Amarinda nods to him, then turns her eyeless face to Scout. Her smile widens and she approaches. “Child of the Hand. You bless us with your presence.” She takes Scout’s hand and kisses her lightly on the cheek. Her lips are dry and cool and her clothes swirl with an aura of faded incense and blood. “In gratiam invenimus liberum,” she says.

Vincimus ad mortem,” Scout murmurs automatically.

The priestess releases her and turns to examine Tom. “This is the Brujah bound to Priscus Sertorius?”

“Apparently,” Leidesdorff says.

Amarinda tsks. “A young thing, to cause so much trouble. What could the Hand want with him?” She smiles again at Scout, sightless gaze strangely piercing. Next to her, a smirk plays at Leidesdorff’s mouth.

Scout moves to quickly redirect the subject. “Lord Rabenholz, the would-be Prince of the Camarilla, had him captured. I recovered him earlier tonight. Apparently, Rabenholz isn’t pleased to have his prize stolen. He tracked us all the way down the bay.”

Leidesdorff snorts. “He’s far more tenacious than van Nuys ever was, and about three times as irritating,” he grumbles.

Amarinda merely smiles at this, then draws a knife from somewhere in the folds of her skirt. She mutters something, then slices open her palm, crouches down, and draws a circle of vitae on the concrete around the table. Once she completes it, she stands and licks her wound closed. “This will help block attempts to spy on him remotely, or summon him away. For a few nights at least.”

A fraction of the anxiety gripping Scout’s chest eases. “The Gangrel working with Rabenholz—the pirate—is also a necromancer,” she adds.

An elegantly-sculpted brow arches above Amarinda’s blindfold. “That I cannot help with. I do not know enough about the spirit arts to guard against them.”

Amarinda moves to examine Tom’s body more closely, poking at open wounds, running her hands along the jagged remains of the limbs. Scout hovers nearby while Leidesdorff paces at the edge of the light, watching silently. The priestess sinks her fingers into the chest cavity, prying the ribcage apart with the ease of opening a book. Scout winces at the wet crack of bone.

Amarinda cleans close, peering at the heart with her blinded eyes, then stops. “Something is here.”

Scout leans in too, seeing nothing but wet, raw flesh.

Does this Rabenholz have a thaumaturgist at his disposal?” Amarinda asks.

“He is one,” Scout replies.

An accomplished one, then.” Amarinda straightens. “There is a shard in the heart, a piece of stake enchanted to evade capture.”

Scout blinks. “…Can you dig it out?”

Not without destroying the heart in the process. I’ll need to draw it out. But I will need more blood.”

Both women turn to Leidesdorff, who smirks grimly. “Well. Fortunately we have some already on the way—” A sudden scuffle erupts at the far end of the warehouse. Leidesdorff turns toward it. “—And what perfect timing.”

A new pack of Leidesdorff’s men, these ones dressed like gang-bangers, are hurrying forward, dragging two struggling human figures with them: Hispanic men in filthy clothes, their mouths gagged, and staring around the warehouse with wide eyes.

Scout’s stomach twists. “That was fast.”

“I keep a coyote on retainer.” Leidesdorff turns to her. “Given the urgency, I assumed you wouldn’t be too particular about the source.”

Scout looks at the ravaged remains of Tom’s body. “…No.”

The guards drag the men to the edge of Amarinda’s circle and force the men to their knees. Amarinda approaches them. They fall still, staring up at her with wide eyes. She leans down in front of the first one, touching the simple crucifix hanging against his chest with a lacquered-black fingernail, then smiles and blesses him with the gesture of a cross. She murmurs a chant in Latin. It’s not Sabbat in origin, yet something about it is familiar. It takes Scout a moment to place it, from deep in her childhood: a Catholic prayer for the dying.

Then Amarinda draws her knife.

The man struggles again, tearing against the hands gripping his arms and shoulders. A bucket clangs down to the concrete next to him. Amarinda steps back and gestures. The guards hoist the man into the air over it, upside down, as Amarinda kneels and opens the throat with a swift cut.

Scout turns away, staring at Tom until the gurgling sounds cease.

The other human man watches this, frozen and white with shock. Amarinda ignores him and dips her arms into the bucket, coming up with cupped hands full of blood. She murmurs to herself, raises it to her lips, and drinks. Blood runs down her chin in rivulets, spreading across her tattoo, soaking into the dark folds of her clothes. She stands, then moves to the table to paint sigils onto the steel surrounding Tom with her stained fingers.

The scent of blood rolls through the warehouse. Scout tries to retain focus, but the demon within her stirs hungrily, urging her toward the bucket, to the living man next to it, excited by the scent of sweat and piss and terror pouring off him….

Scout shoves it away, fixing her gaze on her brother.

Finally, Amarinda completes the painting. She dips her hands into the bucket again, murmurs a new incantation, then quickly removes them and plunges into Tom’s chest cavity, cradling his heart. Tossing her dark hair back, she chants, voice echoing through the warehouse, the language unfamiliar. The chant repeats, louder, and her hands and arms begin to tense. Under her grip, Tom’s heart twitches as if alive. She repeats again, faster, barely pausing to draw new air….

Slowly, a fat sliver of bloodsoaked wood exudes maggot-like from the flesh clenched in her fingers. All at once, Amarinda ceases her chant, grabs the wood, and throws it into the bucket. There’s a brief sizzle, then nothing. Amarinda releases the heart and steps back from the body. Silence falls across the warehouse as everyone watches.

Suddenly Tom jerks, thrashing against the chains. His battered head smashes against the table and a rough-edged yell escapes from his half-torn throat. Bones crack, followed by a pop as one of the chain links splits.

Amarinda snaps commandingly and holds her bloody hand out. Leidesdorff steps forward, drawing a plain wooden stake from under his jacket and hands it to her. Amarinda grips it in both hands and plunges it down into Tom’s heart. Instantly, he falls still.

Scout stands frozen, staring at the stake. “…What just happened?”

Leidesdorff smooths his suit jacket flat. “Exactly what I was afraid of, the beginnings of a Brujah frenzy. From hunger, or pain, or some combination thereof.”

Or Wassail,” Amarinda says.

Suddenly it’s as if the stake had plunged into Scout’s own heart. Some of her earliest hunts had been against wights, on the streets of Mexico City. They were neither monsters nor animals, but mindless things, a virus animating dead flesh and driving it through the same motions till it fell apart. Eliminating them was necessary, but meaningless, as their souls held no memories and barely tasted of anything at all.

“How can you tell?” Scout asks Amarinda softly.

Amarinda peers into the empty sockets of Tom’s eyes. “Let him heal some more, then we’ll try again.”

Some more men appear carrying a funnel attached to a tube. Absently, Scout realizes it’s a beer bong, but the anxiety twisting in her gut keeps her from laughing. Under Amarinda’s direction, the men shove the tube down Tom’s throat, lift the blood bucket, and pour it in.

Slowly, new flesh blooms across the holes dotting his body. His ribcage levers shut like a venus flytrap, snapping on the stake still impaled through him. Finally, the blood trickles out and the healing ceases, leaving him still significantly damaged, but significantly better.

Leidesdorff gestures to one of the guards, who hands him a long sword. Brandishing it, he steps forward and lowers it to hover over Tom’s throat. He catches Scout’s eye. “Ms. Scout. I respect your master’s desire for this man, but Hand or no, I cannot risk letting the wight of Tom Lytton escape into my city. Do you understand?”

Scout nods slowly and watches, heart in her throat as Amarinda removes the stake again.

Tom’s body twitches. His head rolls back, sockets still empty. A deep, anguished groan rolls through the warehouse.

Holding the sword steady, Leidesdorff leans forward. “Mr. Lytton?”

The body grunts.

“Can you hear me, Mr Lytton?”

The body tenses, jaw muscles working a moment. “…Wheeeedesdoooooooorf?” Tom gasps

Scout almost sags in relief.

Leidesdorff withdraws the sword. “You can hear me then. What have they done to you?”

“Dnn. Knnw,” Tom grunts, voice deeply garbled.

Amarinda grabs his jaw, peers into the mouth, palpates his throat. “His tongue is still half missing, and his voicebox is severely damaged,” she reports.

Good enough for now.” Leidesdorff leans against the table. “Mr. Lytton, I’ve known Brujah who’ve pissed people off but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like you.”

“Nnhhk. U.”

“Oh don’t thank me. There’s someone else you should be thanking.”

“…Bss?”

Leidesdorff chuckles. “No, I’m afraid your little friend the Priscus is nowhere to be found. Last I heard he’d gone to Hell. No, the person you should be thanking is someone else entirely.”

He looks up at Scout and steps back. Slowly, she approaches.

The Black Hand seems to have taken an interest in you, for reasons I dare not fathom,” Leidesdorff continues, then nods to her. “Care to introduce yourself?”

Shakily, she stops next to the table. “…Tom?”

His body tenses.

“Tom, my name is Scout,” she says, dropping as much subtle emphasis on the name as she dares. “I…got you out. Rabenholz had you bolted to a rack, I had to cut you down. We’re going to try to get some blood in to you to heal, but it might take awhile.”

Tom’s body sinks back against the table. He nods. Though his sockets are still empty, a small bead of blood tear wells at the corner of one eye. “I…sorr’e….” he gasps.

Scout gazes down at him. “Don’t be,” she murmurs.

Leidesdorff suddenly beckons her away from the table. She approaches him.

“I hope you have a plan on what to do next,” Leidesdorff says, “Because I certainly can’t sit around here playing his day nurse.”

Scout stares across the shadows of the warehouse to hide her uncertainty. Decades of planning, of hoping, had lead her to this moment. Rarely had she dared risk her hopes by considering what would happen after it. “He will be fine here while he heals,” she says, summoning her best tones of authority. “Once he is, I’ll return from the city to collect him.”

Leidesdorff stares. “You just ordered the movement of half the packs in San Jose to get away from Rabenholz, and now you’re going back?

She fixes Leidesdorff with a cool gaze. “I have work I still need to do, and Rabenholz will be even more suspicious if I disappear completely right now. I’ll continue watching him, and the Camarilla. I’ll be happy to pass on whatever I might learn.”

He frowns. “Is this the favor of my payment?”

“No, this is a courtesy.”

Leidesdorff stares at her a long moment, then nods. “Fine. Well, what happens if Lytton wakes up from his nap but you’re not ready to pick him up yet?”

Tom suddenly sputters, “Or…la…do….”

Simultaneously, Scout and Leidesdorff turn to stare.

Voivode Orlando?” Leidesdorff says, frowning at him.

Tom nods.

Scout’s shifts uneasily. Cantor had mentioned the Tzimisce lord down the coast, not long after they arrived in California. Even he had warned her to stay away….

Leidesdorff folds his arms. “Lytton, I am not spending this much time, effort, and resources just to feed you to a lunatic.”

Tom grunts and struggles against the chains, but no clearer explanation comes.

Amarinda walks over then, holding out the stake. “The pain may be too great for him to think clearly at this time.”

“Apparently,” Leidesdorff says. “Put him out until he’s solidified enough to be more cogent.”

“I’ll do it,” Scout says suddenly, holding out her hand. Amarinda turns her sightless eyes to her, the rest of her face unreadable. After a moment, she holds out the stake.

Scout takes it and approaches the table. “Tom, we’re going to stake you while you heal. We don’t know how long it’s going to take, but you’ll be released as soon as it’s complete.”

Tom grunts and nods. Scout looks down his body, her own body aching at the sight of the damage. One of his hands, though, strapped down before her, is almost completely repaired with pale, fresh flesh. With her back to Leidesdorff and Amarinda, she lets her fingers fall to brush against the mangled hand and catch on his fingers. She squeezes.

He squeezes back.

Lifting the stake, she braces herself, summons strength, and jams it down through healing ribcage. Tom’s body instantly relaxes.

Scout turns back toward the room. Leidesdorff is on his phone a few feet away, pacing at the edge of the light and not looking at her. The second human is still kneeling nearby, held down by the pack of guards. Amarinda has moved to stand behind the man, but her attention is still focused on Scout, sightless-gaze boring through her coolly, suspiciously.

Scout nods to her tersely. Amarinda bows, then kneels to slit the captive man’s throat.

***

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

This episode was obviously followed by Tom’s glorious return in 4/05/16, but remember that out-of-game, Chris and Jim still didn’t know who Scout was and I decided to keep it that way in case I needed to move her to protect Tom from Rabenholz again (a plan which did eventually come in useful a full year later. Stay tuned.) This led to the need for a little bit of character-railroading on my part, in that I couldn’t have Tom immediately blurt out that his sister had rescued him and her name is Scout (because, lets be serious, we know he would. Somehow.) So what I did was declare that because of his injuries and healing, for the next few sessions he wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, what had been real and what was hallucination, and thus couldn’t say for sure whether or not his sister had been involved and definitely couldn’t connect her with Scout. But it also meant that for the next year and a half I had to work extra hard to keep these two characters apart so I wouldn’t be forced to reveal everything.

There are a few more Scout updates I would like to do before moving back to the main-line writeup, specifically some important secret-scenes and one or two that show her side of a couple other key events that happened. These will be short and non-continuous with each other so I’ll give some context for each. Unfortunately, while I have notes and outline on each, I haven’t formally written them yet so it may be a little bit. But I am pleased to have completed this main course of her arc and shared it with you all before the end of this year. 🙂

END OF ADDENDUM

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2 Responses to Scout’s Honor, Part 25: Heart of the Sabbat

  1. samjackson01 says:

    Happy New Year! Thanks for another year of amazing storytelling!

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